Week in Review: Battery Power
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/29 through Sun, 5/5
Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 20-12)
Run Differential Last Week: +0 (Overall: +25)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (2.0 GA)
Willians Watch: DNP last week :-(
Quick housekeeping: Adalberto Mejia was placed on IL with a calf injury following a brutal outing in Tuesday's loss. Replacing him (and newly added to the 40-man roster) is Mike Morin, who looked solid in his Twins debut at Yankee Stadium on Friday, allowing one run on a solo homer in two innings but striking out three. Meanwhile, our guy Willians Astudillo remains sidelined, but he's eligible to return this week!
Last year, Twins catchers posted a collective .675 OPS, which sounds pretty bad but actually ranked right in the middle of the MLB pack, tied for 15th. One just can't expect much offensive production from the position. Right?
Don't tell that to Jason Castro and Mitch Garver, who've been lighting things up through the first month. The duo has helped vault Minnesota to the top of this year's AL ranks for catcher OPS, at an astonishing 1.084, and both were instrumental in the team's success this past week.
Castro played a big role in Thursday's series-clinching win against Houston, putting Minnesota on the board with a home run in his first at-bat amidst a four-RBI day. The previous week he'd also homered against his former team.
On Saturday in New York, it was Garver opening up the scoring with a two-run blast – his sixth of the season already. Last year when he was named Twins Daily's top rookie, mostly because of his impressive work with the bat, he hit seven home runs in 335 plate appearances. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle of so many strong offensive starts, but Garver's early improvements on both sides have been astounding.
Speaking of astounding improvements, the ones we're seeing from Martin Perez have potential to be transformative for the Twins rotation. Following three impressive performances out of the gate as a starter, the lefty took it to another level on Wednesday, firing eight shutout innings against an Astros offense that ranks among the league's best. He now has a 2.08 ERA through four turns in the rotation.
Perez's newfound superlativeness owes to several factors: better health, a pumped-up fastball buzzing in at 94 MPH on average, vastly superior control (he's throwing 67% strikes and averaging 1.7 BB/9 as a starter; last year those figures were at 62% and 3.8). But the biggest driver may be a cutter that's replaced his slider and become a HEAVILY utilized (35%) offering:
The Twins took a chance on a guy who posted a 6.22 ERA while yielding a 329/.389/.527 hitting line in Texas last year, and it's paying off bigtime. Especially when you keep in mind that he's only 28 and his contract includes a $7.5 million club option for 2019.
Perez isn't the only pitcher who has Minnesota's front office looking savvy. Jake Odorizzi turned in two stellar performances against top-tier offenses last week, holding the Astros and Yankees scoreless on six hits over 13 innings and improving his ERA to a team-leading 2.78 in the process. Odorizzi is averaging a strikeout per inning with a 13% whiff rate, and what's been most remarkable is the way he's completely flipped his greatest weakness upside-down.
By the end of his tenure in Tampa, Odorizzi was obscenely homer-prone – part of the reason the Rays traded him for minimal return. In 2017 he surrendered 30 bombs in 143 innings, and that carried over last year to Minnesota where he coughed up 14 through 63 innings in April and May. At that very point in time, a switch just flipped. He allowed no home runs in June, and only six total the rest of the way. This year, he has given up two long balls in seven starts, despite facing the Phillies, the Astros (twice) and the Yankees.
I mean, look at this ridiculous split:
Odorizzi, start of 2017 through May 2018: 40 GS, 206 IP, 44 HR (1.9 HR/9)
Odorizzi, June 2018 through present: 27 GS, 136 IP, 8 HR (0.5 HR/9)
It seems unfathomable he could continue to avoid home runs at an elite rate as a fly ball pitcher who throws so many high fastballs, but he just keeps on doing it. In case you were wondering about the prospect they traded to Tampa for him, Jermaine Palacios is slashing .160/.236/.200 at Class-AA Montgomery after posting a .575 OPS between Single-A and Double-A last year.
Like I said, the front office is lookin' pretty good these days.
From red-hot to ice-cold: Eddie Rosario has been slumping badly of late, with a hitless stretch extending to 28 plate appearances before he finally snapped it on Saturday. So it goes for the streaky slugger, who had registered an OPS north of 1.200 in 15 games prior to the outage.
As I shared in one of the first Week in Review columns this year when discussing Rosario's mini-slump to open the season: "I've come to learn that any drought in production for Eddie is usually the precedent for a scorching hot streak." He followed by hitting eight home runs in his next 10 games. Take that as you will.
While Perez and Odorizzi have emerged alongside Jose Berrios atop the Twins rotation, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda have had a harder time distinguishing themselves.
Gibson took the L in New York on Friday, although poor defense played a big part. Three of the five runs he allowed in five innings were unearned. But the fact remains: Gibby has yet to deliver a quality start against a non-Baltimore opponent.
At least Gibson feels headed in the right direction. The struggles of Pineda are more troubling. Since opening the season with a trio of strong efforts, the big right-hander has been totally ineffective, with an 8.53 ERA over 19 innings in four starts. He hasn't completed six innings in any of those outings, with his control eroding and gopherballs piling up.
On the bright side, Pineda did notch eight strikeouts and 18 swinging strikes against the Yankees on Sunday – both season highs. The quality of his stuff, along with the circumstance of re-acclimating to the major-league mound after 17 months away from it, makes me inclined to show continued patience.
In the bullpen, Trevor Hildenberger had a really rough week. He made two appearances and allowed two runs on three hits in each, though thankfully the Twins had large leads in both cases. Rocco Baldelli has noticeably eased up on Hildy's usage, with only three appearances in the last 12 days after calling upon him a dozen times through Minnesota's first 21 games.
Miguel Sano's comeback is officially in motion. He got his rehab stint underway on Tuesday in Fort Myers, though he didn't stay there long; after going 4-for-4 with a home run in his second game for the Miracle, he was quickly moved up to Double-A. Sano wasted no time getting acclimated in Pensacola, where he launched a prodigious three-run bomb in his first at-bat on Sunday:
Obviously, it's foolish to draw any substantive conclusions about a tiny sample from a 25-year-old in the minors. Sano has played only four games. But in those games, he has already blasted two home runs, which matches his total from a 23-game, 94-PA, five-week stretch in Fort Myers and Rochester last summer. He slugged .410 over the course of that midseason demotion. His lack of dominance against younger, less experienced minor-league pitchers was another clear sign that Sano just was not right, and so it was unsurprising he continued to look underwhelming upon being recalled.
This year, no one could describe his early showing as a "lack of dominance." Very encouraging to see. Bringing his bat into the mix for a club that already leads baseball in slugging feels like an almost ridiculous proposition. Sano figures to replace Marwin Gonzalez, who is the only Twins regular slugging below .433.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Even beyond Sano, it was a week of big returns in the minors. On Thursday, Twins Daily's #2 prospect Alex Kirilloff finally joined the Pensacola lineup after missing the first month with a wrist injury. He's 4-for-13 through his first four games. On the same day, #11 prospect Nick Gordon made his season debut for Rochester, collecting three hits and then adding three doubles in his next two games. If the mission is to quickly put that nightmarish 2018 campaign behind him, so far so good.
Getting back these two heralded prospects will hopefully provide a jolt for a position-player group in the system that's been surprisingly quiet thus far. Here's what the hitters among Twins Daily's preseason Top 10, other than Kirilloff, have been able to accomplish through one month:
- Royce Lewis (#1): Hitting .227/.323/.273 with zero home runs at Fort Myers after hitting 14 last year
- Trevor Larnach (#4): HItting .279/.325/.369 with zero home runs 28 games at Fort Myers, belying his power profile
- Wander Javier (#5): Still in extended spring training
- Brent Rooker (#6): Hitting .210/.269/.484 with five home runs in Rochester, but striking out in 45% (!) of PAs
- Akil Baddoo (#1): Hitting .208/.292/.416 at Fort Myers
As a testament to their consistent play this year, the Twins have lost only four series so far this season. And only one of those can you definitively say they *should have* won. It was their four-gamer against Toronto at home back in mid-April. Now they'll have a chance to go on the road and avenge it, in another ballpark where they haven't fared particularly well. Then, the Twins return home for a weekend series against the Tigers, including a makeup doubleheader on Saturday.
MONDAY, 5/6: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Marcus Stroman
TUESDAY, 5/7: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Aaron Sanchez
WEDNESDAY, 5/8: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Trent Thornton
FRIDAY, 5/10: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Spencer Turnbull v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SATURDAY, 5/11 (1): TIGERS @ TWINS – TBD v. RHP Michael Pineda
SATURDAY, 5/11 (2): TIGERS @ TWINS – TBD v. LHP Martin Perez
SUNDAY, 5/12: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Daniel Norris v. RHP Jose Berrios
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 26 | MIN 1, HOU 0: Let’s Go Crazy
- Game 27 | HOU 11, MIN 0: Completely Dominated
- Game 28 | MIN 6, HOU 2: MARTIN! MARTIN! MARTIN!
- Game 29 | MIN 8, HOU 2: Twins Win! Take Season Series vs Astros!
- Game 30 | NYY 6, MIN 3: All Too Familiar at Yankee Stadium
- Game 31 | MIN 7, NYY 3: Curse This
- Game 32 | NYY 4, MIN 1: Twins Fizzle, Bronx Drizzles
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