Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire
If the Minnesota Twins win the AL Central by one game, they can remember this play by Willi Castro on June 9 as one that may have made the difference in their season.
The Twins and Blue Jays were tied in the ninth inning and the winning run was 90 feet away from scoring. Alejandro Kirk shot a ground ball to the right side that looked like it was going to be the winning hit.
But Castro was positioned just right, corralled it, and threw Kirk out. The Twins survived the rest of the inning and then won the game in the 10th, with Castro catching the game’s final out.
As the AL Central continues to plod along, the Twins have gotten hot recently, or at least hot by divisional standards. They’re 10-6 in their last 16 games.
And they’ve been playing pretty good defense recently.
In fact, beginning with that June 9 game, the Twins players have the most Defensive Runs Saved in MLB from their skill (in other words, anything that doesn’t involve defensive positioning) with 17. They’ve vaulted to 6th in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved overall.
Most Defensive Runs Saved – Teams
Castro is the unlikely defensive standout. He has 4 Runs Saved in that time, 8 for the season, and has recorded at least 1 Run Saved at 4 different positions (second base, third base, shortstop, and left field). Not bad for a guy who entered the season with -22 Runs Saved for his career. The Twins have minimized his innings at his weakest positions (shortstop and second base). In that Blue Jays game, he played right field for the first 8 innings before making a fortuitous move to second base for the 9th.
Other than Castro, the Twins have a few players with modest Defensive Runs Saved totals, though none rate as elite. Catcher Christian Vzquez has 4. Shortstop Carlos Correa, center fielder Michael Taylor, and right fielder Max Kepler have 3. Those are all players with solid defensive reputations who are now doing what they need to do to succeed. Those numbers might be small individually, but they add up collectively.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 20, 2023
What they do well
What are the team’s biggest strengths? Here are 3 of them:
1)The collective performance of their outfield has made up for the move of Byron Buxton from the outfield to DH.
The Twins rank 2nd in how often they turn a ball hit in the air to the outfield into an out (63% of the time), trailing only the Tigers and 4 percentage points better than MLB average. They don’t necessarily do it with a lot of flash. Twins outfielders have 20 Good Fielding Plays on flies and liners. That ranks 13th in MLB (Blue Jays lead with 32).
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 8, 2023
2) That clip leads right into another strength. Also meriting mention is the team’s stolen base prevention. The Twins have allowed the third-fewest stolen bases in the majors. That’s a combination of good work from Vázquez and Ryan Jeffers as well as the pitching staff, particularly Bailey Ober, who has allowed only 2 steals in 7 attempts.
The Twins 8 Runs Saved when you combine the Stolen Base Runs Saved totals of their pitchers and catchers rank 2nd in MLB, trailing only the Rockies’ 10.
3) We mentioned that Castro was positioned just right on that ball hit by Kirk. Only 2 teams have more Runs Saved than the Twins do for infield positioning (12). The Twins got 0.6 Positioning Runs Saved of credit for that play, the fifth-most they’ve gotten on a defensive play all season.
The Twins and Guardians seem likely to battle it out for the AL Central title all the way to the final days of the season. You could make a case that right now, the difference between the teams is their defense. The Twins are two games in front and have an 18-Runs Saved edge.