Ending (The Season) Strong
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn (USA Today)Before Friday’s doubleheader, manager Paul Molitor was asked about what he’d like to see from his team over the final weekend of play.
Molitor said, “More of the same, in terms of energy. There’s life in the dugout. You know that the win total isn’t critical right now, but it’s certainly more fun to win. Playing another divisional opponent, starting with a doubleheader today, a lot of these guys want to finish on good notes, particularly the pitchers. Hopefully Jose (Berrios) gets us off to a good start.”
And Berrios did just that, starting right away in the first inning when he struck out the side. He also struck out the side in the sixth inning including a strikeout of Daniel Palka, his 200th of the season. He became the eighth Twins pitcher to reach the 200 strikeout mark, and it was the 21st time that it has happened in team history. The last time was Francisco Liriano who struck out 201 batters in 2010. Berrios ended with 202 strikeouts which is the highest number of strikeouts by a Twins pitcher since Johan Santana struck out 235 batters in 2007.
It was a number that meant a lot to the Twins 2018 All Star. “It means a lot, obviously. That was one of my goals before the season started. That’s when I wrote it down and I accomplished it and I’m thankful to God for that.”
In the second game, the Twins offense showed up early, particularly Mitch Garver. The Twins catcher hadn’t been in the Twins starting lineup since September 12th because of his concussion. He started at first base. Through the game’s first five innings, he was 4-for-4 with two doubles and six RBI. As much as the numbers were great, for him it was really important just to get back in the lineup before the season ended.
Garver said, “That was definitely in the conversation, that we’re not going to come back at all, and just shut it down and take it into the offseason and get better. but I wanted to end on the right foot, i wanted to come back and get into the offseason knowing that I’m healthy and I can really shoot for 2019 like really feeling great.”
But it was important for more than just Mitch Garver as he explained. “Peace of mind for myself and for the people that care about me, my family, my wife. She was pretty concerned about the whole deal, so just to show her I’m healthy and feeling great.”
Chase De Jong was the beneficiary of of the big run support. He gave up just two runs over the first six innings to record his first MLB win. As a 23-year-old in 2017, he began the season in the Mariners pitching staff. He made three appearances in April. He made three starts in May, and pitched once against the Twins in mid-April. But his 2017 season ended poorly. So to end 2018 on such a positive note was important.
“Last year, technically, I started in the big leagues and ended at Double A. This year was all about re-establishing myself as a quality starter and that I could go out there and put together quality innings. I've done that. I've proven that to myself and now I've proven to the Minnesota Twins. It's WONDERFUL to finish the year on a high note.”
This week, pitchers have been making their final starts of the season.
On Tuesday night, Kohl Stewart was the “primary” pitcher. He gave up just two hits over six shutout innings. He needed just 75 pitches as he struck out five and did not issue a walk. He gave up zero earned runs in three of his four September starts. He credited his catchers and pitching coach Garvin Alston.
Stewart noted, “Short story, I just felt more comfortable.”
Stephen Gonsalves was credited with his second big-league win on Thursday night when he threw 3 1/3 innings as the Twins “primary” pitcher. Over his final three appearances, he gave up just three runs (two earned) over 12 1/3 innings, nearly cutting his ERA in half.
It’s been a challenging year for Gonsalves in some ways, but it was nice to end the year strong and feeling good about most of his pitches.
He said, “This has probably been one of my worst years in my professional career, I mean, other than getting up here (which he called “A dream come true.”). The walks have been a mystery to me this year. I’ve lacked fastball command. Sometimes I’ve lost my velos. So, I think that I need to adjust my delivery a little bit to get rid of some of the inconsistencies. My offspeed feels great. My slider felt really good last night. My changeup, I can feel that and throw it blindfolded. It’s been the one that goes straight, we’ll have to figure out.”
For Gonsalves, he’s happy with the end of the season and showed to himself that he can compete at the major league level, but he fully understands what he needs to do to be more successful.
For Aaron Slegers, getting back into a game on Friday night, even just for the final three outs, was very important. He had been on the disabled list since July with a shoulder injury. Just getting back on the mound was important.
One could argue that Kyle Gibson has been the Twins most consistent starting pitcher in 2018, something that had eluded him in the past. On Saturday night, he’ll have the opportunity finish his season strong. And on Sunday, Zack Littell will pitch for the Twins in their final game of the year.
For Robbie Grossman, it’s been all about getting a consistent opportunity, and he’s taken advantage of it. In his past four games, he is 7-for-12 with five walks. Others have noted improved defense through the consistent playing time since Eddie Rosario’s season-ending injury. In his last 15 games, he is hitting .370 with a .988 OPS.
Manager Paul Molitor has taken notice, “For him to play as well as he has, it’s going to help him moving forward. I enjoy having a player like that, because when he plays, he’s ready. And when he doesn’t play, he’s ready. What he’s done, he’s caught a lot of people’s attention. The defense, he understands that people have been critical at times, but he has gone about it very meticulously in terms of the drills and the work and the throwing, and angles and everything he can do to try to make himself a better defender. And for the most part, in running him out there all month, he’s held his own. There have been obvious signs of improvement.”
And finally, Joe Mauer is ending his season strong. The 35-year-old is all the talk right now because he mentioned that he will contemplate retirement following the season. If this is the end of his (possibly) Hall of Fame career, he’s got some great moments and memories. Since August 31st, he’s hit .308. In his last 15 games, he is hitting .356 (.857). He’s on a seven-game hitting streak. He’s had multi-hit games in four of his last six games. In the five games so far on what could be his final homestand, he’s been nothing short of spectacular. He’s 8-for-21 (.388) with three walks (.458 OBP). There’s no doubt he’ll be in the lineup the next two days.
Mauer told reporters before Friday’s doubleheader, “It hit me a little bit today. I’m looking forward to going out there today two times. It’s kind of the thing, the end of the season sneaks up on you. Here are we, the last weekend. Just trying to enjoy.”
The Twins have won their past four games and nine of their last 12 games.
Two games remain, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, in the 2018 season. There is still a lot to play for despite the team not competing for the playoffs.
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