The Show Must Go On: Down to the Wire
To 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: 9/22
Team Record: 90-66
Leading OPS: Luis Arraez (.917 in 506 AB)
Leading ERA (SP): Alex Wood (2.72 in 168.2 IP)
Leading ERA (RP): Tyler Duffey (1.78 in 65.2 IP)
LATEST RESULTS (6-4)
Gm 148 @ DET: L 5-4 (Snell 5 IP, 4 ER)
Gm 149 @ DET: W 11-0 (Berrios CG SO, 10 K, 1 BB)
Gm 150 @ DET: W 11-1 (Donaldson 4-6, HR, 3 RBI)
Gm 151 vs TEX: W 4-0 (Maeda 6 IP, 0 R, W)
Gm 152 vs TEX: W 6-3 (Bullpen 4 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K)
Gm 153 vs TEX: L 4-0 (Garver & Sano 0-8)
Gm 154 vs DET: W 1-0 (Berrios 8 IP, 0 R, W)
Gm 155 vs DET: L 3-1 (Kepler 1-2, HR, 2 BB)
Gm 156 vs DET: W 4-1 (Maeda 6 IP, 0 R, W)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that I've simulated nine games since our last installment – going through a trio of three-game series – and our Twins went 6-3, taking two out of three in each set. The bad news is that Cleveland went 8-3 over the same timespan, moving a half-game ahead in the AL Central standings with less than a week remaining.
We're even with the Indians in the loss column, so we do control our own fate. A good final road trip ought to put us over the top. And even if we come up short in the Central, Minnesota does hold the No. 1 wild-card spot. Houston, leading for the second one, is a game ahead of Boston and Tampa, so the Twins are three games clear of being outside the postseason picture. It'd seemingly take a pretty brutal final week for us to miss out entirely, but ... I'm counting no chickens yet.
Let's quickly recap the events of the past 10 days and then break down this critical final stretch.
When we left off last time, we'd taken two of three from the Indians in Cleveland, claiming a narrow lead in the division. Then we headed to Detroit, where we lost the opener 5-4 in 14 innings.
The Twins managed to turn 18 hits into just four runs in that game, which was disappointing, but they bounced back quickly in an 11-0 blowout victory the following day. The offense launched four homers (including two from Jake Cave) behind Jose Berrios' complete-game shutout. Berrios allowed five hits (four singles) and one walk with 10 strikeouts in picking up his 18th win. In the series finale, our lineup scored 11 runs once again, while riding another brilliant effort from the starter – this time Jake Odorizzi (7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K).
In the next series, our rotation continued to roll at home against Texas, with Kenta Maeda tossing six scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory. The next day, we won 6-3 to extend our winning streak to four games, this time with the bullpen stepping up. Alex Wood allowed three runs over five innings, then stepped aside as Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers combined for four perfect frames, striking out six. We were unable to complete the sweep, however, as the bats came up silent against Mike Minor in a 4-0 loss to wrap the series.
Next up: a final rematch with the Tigers at home. The offense once again struggled in the series opener, mustering just one run on Alex Avila's solo homer, but that was all Berrios needed. He fired eight shutout innings while allowing a walk and three singles. Rogers closed it out. We dropped the second game 3-1, setting up a rubber match against a familiar foe:
For a third time this season, our Twins faced Tigers starter Nick Nelson, and for a third time we beat him, once again knocking him out of the game early (3.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 2 K). I'm starting to think the 24-year-old right-hander (who is a fringy prospect in the Yankees system in real life) might not have a very bright major-league future, although he does have an 80-grade name.
We won 4-1, with Maeda tossing six more scoreless innings and Josh Donaldson contributing a pair of RBIs. So now, here we are, with six games left to go. This is our remaining slate, all on the road:
- 9/22 @ SD: Alex Wood (7-6, 2.72) vs. Zach Davies (7-12 (3.32)
- 9/23 @ SD: Blake Snell (12-10, 3.95) vs. Chris Paddack (5-6, 3.29)
- 9/24 @ SD: Jose Berrios (19-5, 2.96) vs. Dinelson Lamet (5-7, 5.08)
- 9/25 @ KC: Jake Odorizzi (14-10, 3.73) vs. Mike Montgomery (5-7, 4.99)
- 9/26 @ KC: Kenta Maeda (17-8, 3.39 ERA) vs. Jakob Junis (4-17, 5.57)
- 9/27 @ KC: Alex Wood (7-6, 2.72) vs. Danny Duffy (7-15, 5.62)
Seemingly a pretty favorable setup to close out the schedule. The Padres (78-78) are mediocre and Royals (59-97) downright terrible. We don't face a single starter with a winning record the rest of the way. But like I said, I'm not taking anything for granted, especially with Cleveland also enjoying a soft finishing stretch (two more at White Sox, then three at home vs. Toronto).
Berrios missed the All-Star Game for the first time in three years, thanks to a good-not-great first half. But, flipping the script on his typical tendency, he has been absolutely on fire in the second half. The spectacular output over his past two starts (17 IP, 0 R, 8 H, 16 K, 2 BB) adds to an amazing run – in 12 turns since the All-Star break, Berrios has gone 8-0 with a 2.28 ERA and 70-to-19 K/BB ratio over 90 2/3 innings. He has completed at least seven innings in nine of those starts, and at least eight in six of them.
At the break, Berrios was 11-5 with a 3.44 ERA. He is now 19-5 with a 2.96 ERA, angling for win No. 20 in his final start and vying with Chris Sale (17-5, 2.96) and Justin Verlander (19-7, 3.23) for the AL Cy Young.
Kenta Maeda, who did make the All-Star Game, hasn't been quite as stellar as Berrios in the second half but he has solidified his status as an outstanding No. 2 behind the ace. Maeda too was lights-out in the latest batch, hurling 12 scoreless innings in two starts to improve his record to 17-8 and lower his ERA to 3.39. Maeda leads the Twins in strikeouts (211).
Pitching is leading the way for us down the stretch but the offense is doing its part – albeit it while showing some inconsistency. We scored 36 runs over the first five games in the latest slate, then totaled just six in the last four. But those explosive outbursts were nice to see, fueled in part by Donaldson, who provided plenty of power in these past nine games with two homers, four doubles, and six RBIs. The big free agent pickup has made a major impact, leading the team in games played (145), plate appearances (677) and WAR (4.3) while trailing Miguel Sano by one in home runs (35) and RBIs (98).
With 94 walks, Donaldson ranks third in the AL behind Yordan Alvarez (111) and Xander Bogaerts (100).
While the rotation has mostly been a steady force, the weakest link is the biggest name we added at the deadline to strengthen it. In his first start of the latest sims, against Detroit, Snell gave up four earned runs over five innings, allowing five hits and three walks with just two strikeouts. The lefty went up against Texas at home in his next turn, and was again very ordinary: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. Those were two of the three games we lost.
Snell has the highest ERA in our rotation (3.95) and while he has shown the ability to dominate at times, he hasn't been remotely consistent since we added him. It's gonna be interesting to determine where he'll fit into a potential playoff rotation, but that's a discussion for another day (we hope).
After opening his MLB career by going 2-for-19, Alex Kirilloff showed some improvement by going 4-for-11 while getting a few more starts, but he's still looking for his first MLB extra-base hit. Kirilloff has been rotating through a left field mix that has not been terribly productive since the Eddie Rosario trade. Maybe that's worth discussing as we size up this final week of games.
DECISION TIME: MAKING A PLAN FOR LEFT FIELD
It feels like our lineup is going to be the differentiator in this last sprint (and in the playoffs, if we get there). The rotation and bullpen have been doing their parts consistently. When we score, we win; in September, we're 8-2 when scoring four or more runs, but 3-5 when scoring three or fewer. Stretches like the recent one where we scored two runs over three games are tough to endure.
The lineup is mostly locked in, but there's one position unsettled – LF – and our gameplan there could make a big difference in these last six games on the road.
My approach has generally been to mix and match on any given day, based on the match-up and who's rested. Jake Cave gets most the starts, with Brent Rooker and Alex Kirilloff getting occasional nods, along with Marwin Gonzalez here and there.
These are their respective numbers on the season, and in the most recent nine-game stretch:
- Jake Cave: 165 PA, .301/.368/.486, 7 HR, 19 RBI (L9: 7-for-21, 2 HR, 6 RBI)
- Marwin Gonzalez: 343 PA, .292/.353/.497, 16 HR, 46 RBI (L9: 5-for-15, HR, 3 RBI)
- Brent Rooker: 146 PA, .250/.315/.409, 4 HR, 14 RBI (L9: 2-for-6, 1 RBI)
- Alex Kirilloff: 31 PA, .200/.225/.200, 0 HR, 1 RBI (L9: 4-11, 1 RBI)
With four right-handed starters and two lefties remaining on the docket, it might make sense to stick with our current plan of relying mostly on Cave, while subbing in Rooker or Gonzalez against the lefties. The thing that makes me nervous about Cave, in spite of his strong production, is his strikeout rate, which is highest of the four at 28%.
Since I don't anticipating resting regulars much during this final week, we could roll with Gonzalez as our regular left fielder. He brings the advantage of switch-hitting, and he's an experienced vet who's been one of our better hitters in the second half. I'm not sure how else he'll see much action in these last six games, if not in left.
Finally, if we really wanted to get wild and crazy, we could run with Kirilloff as the regular and see if he takes off.
With the season on the line, who should we turn to? You can voice your opinion in the comments.
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)
Part 11: Bashing into the All-Star Break (58-40)
Part 12: Deadline Decisions (62-46)
Part 13: Inauspicious Debuts (66-52)
Part 14: Treading Water as the Clock Ticks (71-57)
Part 15: Stretch Race & September Call-Ups (78-59)
Part 16: Dancing for the Division (84-63)
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