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Zulgad: Nelson Cruz shows Twins' power surge won't be slowing anytime soon

Nelson Cruz
Minnesota Twins’ Nelson Cruz hits a three-run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, July 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The explosiveness of this Twins lineup isn’t best illustrated by who was successful during a season-opening series against the White Sox in Chicago but rather by one player who wasn’t.

Veteran slugger Josh Donaldson, who was signed to a $92 million, four-year, free agent contract last winter, went 1-for-10 in his debut series with the Twins, getting a meaningless infield hit in a 10-3 loss on Saturday. In an ordinary lineup, this might be a problem. For these Twins, it only meant that Donaldson’s time will come. Minnesota departed Chicago having taken two of three, winning the opener 10-5, despite getting four subpar innings from ace Jose Berrios, and then rebounding for a 14-2 victory on Sunday in which the Twins led 9-0 after two innings.

That’s 27 runs, 30 hits and seven home runs over the first three days against an opponent that’s expected to be much improved and challenge the Twins in the 60-game race for the American League Central title. The White Sox have some punch in their lineup with addition of guys like Edwin Encarnacion and young standout Luis Robert — Chicago hit five home runs on Saturday — but the Twins are the team that set the single-season MLB record with 307 home runs in 2019 and they look like a group that has no intention of powering down anytime soon.

Max Kepler blasted the first pitch of the season on Friday night from righthander Lucas Giolito for a home run and then did it again an inning later. But Minnesota saved the majority of its fireworks for Sunday. Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez, who went 0-3 with a 9.60 ERA in three starts against the Twins last season, got the first two hitters but didn’t retire another hitter. Jake Cave hit a grand slam home run in the first and after Luis Arraez singled, Lopez left the game because of right shoulder tightness with a 3-2 count on No. 8 hitter Marwin Gonzalez. Chicago brought in veteran left Gio Gonzalez and the Twins scored five runs off of him in the second inning.


Kenta Maeda, acquired in an offseason trade with the Dodgers, gave the Twins five effective innings in his first start, giving up two runs and four hits with a walk and six strikeouts, but even if Maeda hadn’t been sharp it might not have mattered.

Especially with 40-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz in the lineup. It came as a bit of a surprise last winter when Twins general manager Thad Levine volunteered during TwinsFest that the team was in talks with Cruz’s agent about a contract that would run beyond the remaining season left on the veteran’s deal.

Cruz had hit 41 home runs and driven in 108 in 120 games in his first season with the Twins in 2019, but his age was going to catch up to him at some point, right? Given how Cruz has started the season, the Twins might want to come to an agreement with him on a multiyear contract as possible.

The National League is using the DH this season and there’s a chance it could adopt it for the 2021 season. If that happens, Cruz is going to have no lack of teams knocking on his door if he does hit free agency, especially with how sharp he looks after the coronavirus pandemic caused a four-month delay to start of the season.

Cruz continued to obliterate White Sox pitching on Sunday, hitting a double to left in the first inning, a bases-clearing double to right in the second, a solo home run to left in the fourth and a three-run shot to left center in the eighth inning. Throw in Cruz’s lone out of the day — a sixth-inning strike out — and he was 4-for-5 with seven RBIs. Cruz also homered in Saturday’s game and was 7-for-13 with 10 RBIs in the series and has 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in his past 19 games against the White Sox.

“It’s something I love,” Cruz told reporters in reference to remaining strong during the pandemic. “I love to work out. I don’t see it as a job or work. I love to do what I do, so hitting or going to the weight room, it’s fun, it’s part of my life.”

The Twins also played Sunday with first baseman Miguel Sano sitting out after going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the first two games — Sano continues to try to get his timing back after missing much of summer camp because of COVID-19 — and with center field Byron Buxton not yet ready to play because of a mid-foot sprain.

That means without Sano and Buxton and with Donaldson struggling (calm down, he’ll figure it out) the Twins still produced double-digit run totals in two of three games. Only veteran starter Dallas Keuchel, a nice addition to the White Sox, was able to slow down The Big Twins Machine.

One would have to figure that it won’t be long before Sano gets his timing back and hits a few monster shots. Donaldson is a true professional at the plate and no one is going to worry about him. Buxton, well, hopefully for the Twins’ sake he can stay healthy because if that ever happens he’s a nightmare for opposing teams.

Until those things happen, the poor Twins will have to make do with the lineup they used on Sunday against the White Sox. You know, the one that scored 14 runs, was up by nine after two innings and got the majority of its production from a guy who doesn’t seem to be aging.