A month ago, the Twins revealed their plans for Byron Buxton.
His goal was to get them 100 to 110 games from Buxton with a rest and rehabilitation program, which, at best, would keep him off the list of efficient, productive and injured.
Those numbers are a crunch on the faces of some fans.
Why limit the number of games your best player can play? Why avoid using it as a pinch hitter, assigned hitter, pinch runner or defensive substitute in a close game?
Twins baseball boss Derek Falvey unveiled the plan on May 15 to defend manager Rocco Baldelli’s lineup and Buxton-related game decisions.
Falvey then said Buxton was suffering from patella tendinitis in his right knee, swinging the bat hurt Buxton more than he ran, and Buxton needed rest and rehabilitation the day he played.
By then, the Buxton Twins had played 23 of 35 games. That gave him the speed to play 106 games. The Twins saw healthy Buxton play a number of games, especially if Buxton remained healthy enough to play more often in the late-season Pennant race and later in the season.
The plan remains the same, but Buxton’s knee has improved so much that the Twins have used him twice as a late-game option and nine times as a DH since May 15. He has appeared in 27 of 33 games since the plan was unveiled, and the team will go 14-13 and 18-15 overall when he plays.
Entering Tuesday’s series against Cleveland at Target Field, Buxton has played 50 of the Twins’ 68 games, giving him the momentum to play 119 games this season.
Baseball can be counterintuitive. By limiting the number of games he played at the start of the season, the Twins have increased the number of games he has played.
If he plays 119 games and continues to hit at his current pace, he will complete the season with:
- The second highest number of games in his career. He played 140 games in 2017. He has played more than 92 games in one season. Since then, he has played in 28, 87, 39 and 61 games, averaging 54 games a year. He could cross the average this week.
- Total 21 doubles and 45 home runs, OPS of .897 and WAR of 5.9 (Vince Above replacement). It’s an all-star caliber season, especially considering Buxton’s defensive prowess.
If Buxton and every other player in the game ended the season with their current launch battle, Buxton would be the 16th most valuable player in the game.
Given that Buxton could be one of the top five players in the game, this is not a dream come true. But it is the stuff of eternal reality.
“I’m sorry the number is 100 games, because it’s become a marker in a lot of conversations,” Falvey said Monday. “I joked with Roko: What will people say when he plays 100 games and it’s August? ‘Won’t they play him now?’
“I hope that was not an explanation. Our approach, then and now, was to constantly evaluate where he is and how he feels every day. This is the most important part. We don’t have a crystal ball. Predictions and plans can change.” Hopefully, we can continue to increase the number of games that can be played, and we can be thoughtful in doing so. “
Falvey reiterated that Buxton is “a great opponent” who wants to play every day, but has learned that strategic days when he’s in the lineup make him a better player.
“He’s definitely very interactive with Rocco,” Falway said. “And sometimes he doesn’t even talk to Rocco, sometimes he lets the medical staff know how he feels.”
It’s the end of June, and Buxton is quick to play more games this year than his previous two seasons combined.
If the Twins are lucky, their 100-game plan for Buxton will turn 120-game into reality.