The Show Must Go On: Bashing into the All-Star Break
Image courtesy of MLB The Show 20, SonyTo get caught up on what we're doing here, you can check out the introductory post in the series for an explanation of the premise and setup. But the quick version is this: We're playing a progressive simulated Twins season on MLB The Show 20 on PS4, and y'all are helping guide the ship. In each installment I'll update you on what's happened since the last, and put at least one key decision up for vote.
Date In Game: 7/17
Team Record: 58-40
Leading OPS: Luis Arraez (.926 in 293 AB)
Leading ERA (SP): Kenta Maeda (3.23 in 117 IP)
Leading ERA (RP): Tyler Duffey (1.43 in 44 IP)
LATEST RESULTS (6-2)
Gm 91 @ CLE: W 8-5 (Sano 4-5, 3 HR, 5 RBI)
Gm 92 vs KC: W 3-1 (Bailey 7 IP, 1 ER, W)
Gm 93 vs KC: W 5-2 (Pineda 6 IP, 0 R, W)
Gm 94 vs KC: W 2-0 (Berrios 8 IP, 0 R, W)
Gm 95 vs TOR: L 10-9 (Sano 2-2, HR, 3 BB, 2 RBI)
Gm 96 vs TOR: W 6-2 (Donaldson HR, 2 RBI)
Gm 97 vs TOR: L 6-2 (Bailey 2.2 IP, 6 ER, L)
Gm 98 vs TOR: W 12-4 (Donaldson 3-5, HR, 4 RBI)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
In our last edition, commenters voted unanimously in favor of moving Luis Arraez to the leadoff spot. So I did just that, and in eight games since, the Twins have gone 6-2 while averaging nearly six runs per game. Arraez certainly did his part at the top, going 8-for-27 (.296) with six walks and eight runs scored.
Here at the break, Arraez is tied with Mike Trout for the AL lead in batting average at .334. But his tremendous first half wasn't enough to earn Arraez a trip to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game at second base, where Gleyber Torres and Jose Altuve got the nods.
Our Twins did, however, send five players to the Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium:
- Mitch Garver (.300/.392/.517 with 15 home runs through 71 games) was the AL's starting catcher.
- Max Kepler (.289/.373/.462 with 13 homers through 87 games) was the AL's starting right fielder.
- Eddie Rosario (.284/.324/.494 with 15 homers through 83 games) got in as a backup outfielder.
- Kenta Maeda (12-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 9.8 K/9 rate through 117 innings) made the team as a starting pitcher.
- Taylor Rogers (26 saves, 2.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP as Twins closer) made the team as a reliever.
Here was the American League's starting lineup, with Houston ace and reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander getting the starting nod:
- Jose Ramirez (CLE), SS
- Tommy La Stella (LAA), 3B
- Mike Trout (LAA), CF
- J.D. Martinez (BOS), DH
- Gleyber Torres (NYY), 2B
- Matt Olson (OAK), 3B
- Eloy Jimenez (CWS), LF
- Mitch Garver (MIN), C
- Max Kepler (MIN), RF
No, I am not sure why Cleveland's third baseman Ramirez was able to start at shortstop, nor what's gotten into the All-Star team's actual third baseman La Stella, who already has career highs in almost every offensive category at the break. But for the most part, this All-Star lineup felt reasonable.
It was a fairly eventful night for our hometown Twins in a 6-3 loss for the American League. Garver grounded into a double-play in his first at-bat, then delivered a two-run homer against Stephen Strasburg in his second, putting the AL on top 3-2 at the time.
Kepler went 1-for-2 with a single. Maeda threw a perfect fourth inning, and Rogers allowed one run on one hit in his single inning of work, with two strikeouts. Rosario didn't make it into the game, due to a bench deep on outfielders.
Meanwhile, Alex Kirilloff represented Minnesota in the Futures Game, though he was sadly our lone rep. He started in right field and batted cleanup for the AL team. Kirilloff delivered an RBI single in his first at-bat of the game and finished 1-for-3.
Getting back to the bigger picture, as our Twins now put the first half behind them and gear up for a contested stretch run, here's a quick overview of where things stand at the break.
Anchored by All-Stars Maeda and Rogers, along with several others who could've been in the conversation (Berrios, Odorizzi, Duffey), Minnesota's pitching has been very good. But the lineup was this team's calling card in the first half, as the Twins are leading MLB in runs scored with 512.
Repeating 2019's recipe, they've been productive up and down the lineup, with no MVP-caliber standout. Seven regulars are sporting an OPS above .800 (through none higher than Arraez's .926). That doesn't include Jorge Polanco, whose .796 mark is four points short, but he's slashing .282/.369/.427 and that qualifies as plenty good.
The only hitter who's struggled is Byron Buxton, sitting at .231/.309/.331 through 79 games, but even he's been coming on a bit lately, and he's got 23 steals.
A well-rounded effort places the Twins in the driver's seat, with their 58-40 record ranking as the third-best in the majors, behind both Los Angeles teams. Yes, while the Dodgers are predictably leading baseball in wins, the Angels have been 2020's big surprise, jumping to a 62-34 start in the AL West despite Shohei Ohtani tearing his labrum in his first start. The Halos have gotten it done behind an offense powered by Trout (1.108 OPS), Andrelton Simmons (20 HR), and Justin Upton (.326 AVG).
Our Twins still have plenty to worry about as we turn our attention to trade deadline season. Cleveland lurks only 2 1/2 games out of first. We'll have Berrios (11-5, 3.45 ERA) lined up to open the second half in Texas against Jordan Lyles and the Rangers.
After a bit of a contagious dry spell, our power bats are getting their juice back. Sano homered three times with five RBIs in the series-clinching win at Cleveland. Later on, the final game fo the first half saw Sano, Donaldson and Cruz all go deep in a 12-4 win against Toronto. Those three reach at the break on pace to finish with 40, 38, and 31 home runs, respectively.
Michael Pineda is settling nicely into his rotation spot. He went 2-0 in his two starts over the past eight games, allowing four runs in 12 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and no walks.
And while he didn't make the All-Star Game alongside the closer Rogers, Duffey continues to shine. He made three more scoreless appearances during the latest stretch, lowering his ERA to 1.43.
Homer Bailey ended his first half on a sour note, allowing six earned runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings against Toronto to push his ERA up to 5.01. But in his prior start against Kansas City he threw seven innings of one-run ball, and he's 10-4 on the season.
For the most part, this entire team is clicking right now. That doesn't mean we don't have clear areas for improvement as we turn our attention to the upcoming trade deadline, which brings us to...
DECISION TIME: WHERE TO FOCUS AT THE DEADLINE?
I'm confident in saying we don't need to further supplement the offense, unless a big injury pops up over the next two weeks. There isn't a single spot in the starting lineup that sticks out as a weakness (accounting for Buxton's defense and speed), and even our bench guys have been productive.
Much like at 2019's deadline, pitching appears to be the make-or-break factor in a potential championship run. As we start sizing up opportunities, I'll follow the crowd's guidance.
Three options, as I see them:
- Upgrade the rotation. I'm feeling good about our top three (Berrios, Maeda, Odorizzi) but Bailey is no more than a placeholder, and while Pineda's pitched well in three starts since joining the team, he's hardly locked in. Not that we're limited to these options, but here are some SP names listed on the trading block: Jameson Taillon (PIT), Alex Wood (LAD), Steven Matz (NYM). I'd probably lean toward aiming higher
- Upgrade the bullpen. Here too we are strong at the top (Rogers, Duffey, May, Clippard) but there are some soft spots below in the form of Zack Littell (4.03 ERA, 1.63 WHIP) and Fernando Romero (5.06 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). Among RP names listed on the trading block: Oliver Drake (TB), Jake Diekman (OAK), Craig Stammen (SD), Adam Ottavino (NYY).
- Upgrade both.
I won't make any big moves without the blessing of our collective braintrust, but the direction you all provide will shape my exploratory inquiries ahead of the next edition, at which point we will dictate our deadline splash(es).
Vote your preference by sounding off in the comments.
7/17: @ TEX
7/18: @ TEX
7/19: @ TEX
7/20: @ ARI
7/21: @ ARI
7/22: @ ARI
7/23: @ CWS
7/24: @ CWS
7/25: @ CWS
7/26: @ CWS
Part 1: We Can Build This Thing Together (0-0)
Part 2: 10 Games In, 6 Games Back (4-6)
Part 3: Roaring Back (11-9)
Part 4: Over the Hill (17-13)
Part 5: Checking In at the Quarter Point (23-17)
Part 6: Rising Power (30-20)
Part 7: First Place! (Barely) (34-26)
Part 8: Drafting and Dropping (38-32)
Part 9: Cruz Control (45-35)
Part 10: Pulling Ahead (52-38)
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