Twins’ Buxton bashing breaking balls as playoff chase continues

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The Minnesota Twins are a good team without Byron Buxton.

Minnesota has plenty of sluggers that can put up numbers and carry the load offensively – Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano to just name a few. Max Kepler can fill in nicely in center field. After all, Minnesota is 12-10 in games Buxton doesn’t start.

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But when Buxton is firing on all cylinders, the Twins go from good to great.

The former No. 1 overall pick is currently on a September tear.

Before going on injured reserve Aug. 20 with left shoulder inflammation, Buxton was batting .221/.225/.456 with five homers, 12 RBI and 20 strikeouts in 21 games.

Since returning to the Twins’ lineup Sept. 1, Buxton has started 11 contests and has collected at least one hit in 10 contests. He’s hitting .349/.349/.884 with two doubles, 12 RB and is one of six big leaguers to mash at least seven dingers this month.

On Thursday afternoon in Chicago, Buxton had his best game yet, mashing a pair of homers for his third career multi-dinger game.

His first home run came off an 83-mph hanging breaking ball by Reynaldo Lopez in the second inning.

Buxton’s next tater came three innings later on nearly an identical pitch.

That wasn’t just a one-game mirage. Buxton has seen 116 breaking balls this season and is batting .390 with one double and seven home runs against the pitch, much improved from .226 last season and .192 in 2018.

He even mashed a hanging slider into the seats off AL Cy Young award frontrunner Shane Bieber last week. It was the hardest-hit batted ball Bieber had allowed all season.

Buxton is heating up just in time for the postseason.

The 26-year-old has only played in four career playoff innings, as he missed last year’s short trip to the postseason due to a shoulder injury and was taken out early in the 2017 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium. He made a circus catch in the second inning of the one-game playoff, but he crashed into the wall and was removed from the contest two innings later.

The Twins will need Buxton to stay healthy for the final eight contests of the regular season as they open up a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs — Buxton’s first time playing at Wrigley Field.

Avoid those ivy walls, Buck.

NOTABLE

— Only two teams hit more ground balls than the Chicago Cubs, who do so 47% of the time. Minnesota, on the other hand, hits the second-fewest percentage of ground balls (39.3%).

— Minnesota is 12-8 against winning teams this season. The Cubs are 5-2.

— In four career starts against the Cubs, left-hander Rich Hill has logged a 2-0 record, 1.50 ERA, 27 strikeouts and five walks. Chicago is batting .174 as a team against him.

— After batting .196 in July and August, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras’ bat has come alive in September. He’s hitting .352/438/.463 in 15 contests.

Statistics courtesy Sportradar, Baseball Savant