Week in Review: Firing On All Cylinders
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/6 through Sun, 5/12
Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 25-14)
Run Differential Last Week: +26 (Overall: +51)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (4.0 GA)
Willians Watch: 1-for-5 last week (Season AVG: .315)
Willians Astudillo is back! He was activated from the disabled list on Sunday and batted leadoff in his return. Meanwhile, Tyler Duffey (called up for Saturday's doubleheader) and Fernando Romero were sent back to Triple-A over the weekend. It's unfortunate because both have shown some nice signs (especially Romero, firing four scoreless innings with a 15% swinging strike rate in his past four appearances), but both will see more chances soon enough.
As we reach the quarterpole in the MLB season, Minnesota has two players creating legitimate noise as MVP candidates.
The case for Jorge Polanco thus far is easy to see. After another stellar week (11-for-26 with two home runs and three doubles), Polanco is hitting .324/.393/.607 ranks second only to Mike Trout in the AL with 2.1 WAR. Polanco's K/BB ratio is among the best in the league and he's hitting for incredible power. Best of all, he's doing it as a SHORTSTOP who holds his own defensively.
It's a little tougher to make an MVP-pace argument for Mitch Garver, mainly because his playing time doesn't quite stack up. Splitting reps in a three-way catcher committee, Garver has fewer than half the plate appearances of Polanco. Yet in that time, he has produced more home runs (8 to 7) and nearly the same RBI total (16 to 17).
We keep waiting for his seemingly unsustainable start to slow down, but week after week, Garver stays on fire. This last one was no exception: he went 6-for-13 with two more homers and six walks. Among American League players with 75+ PA, no one has a higher OPS than Garver (1.214).
There's little doubt the catcher is going to cool off at some point – maybe in a big way – but that's no knock against him. There's just no credible reason to believe he can keep up this Barry Bonds impression for long. But Garver has erased any semblance of doubt surrounding the legitimacy of his bat, while showing clear improvement behind the plate as well. And it's nice to know that should he fall into a slump, the Twins have Jason Castro (4-for-7 with two home runs last week, and slugging 1.000 in his past nine games) and Astudillo bringing his .870 OPS off the Injured List on Sunday.
If you could lump all of Minnesota's catchers into one player (Masians Castrudiller?), he'd be the runaway MVP frontrunner without question.
Those backstops continue linking up with Twins starting pitchers to produce amazing results. On Tuesday, Jose Berrios fired seven shutout innings in Toronto to pick up his sixth win and seventh quality start in eight turns. He's completed six or more innings in every outing. Fresh off earning Player of the Week honors, Jake Odorizzi extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings on Friday with seven near-perfect frames against the Tigers. Martin Perez was excellent in his first turn (7 IP, 0 R vs. TOR) and solid in his second (5 IP, 3 R vs. DET). He has a 2.13 ERA in six starts for the Twins.
Even the previous rotation laggards are starting to join the fun. Kyle Gibson struck out 11 and notched 19 swinging strikes in a dominant showing versus Toronto on Wednesday. Suddenly he's got a 2.25 ERA and 28-to-3 K/BB ratio over 24 innings in his past four starts, resembling the overpowering force he was for much of last year. Michael Pineda still doesn't look all that sharp, but he logged a quality start on Saturday with three runs allowed over six innings. In 39 frames, Pineda has struck out 35 and walked nine. Egregious home run rate aside, there's plenty of underlying positivity in his early output coming off Tommy John surgery.
A couple other strong performances from the past week worth highlighting:
- C.J. Cron, who'd been one of the lineup's weakest producers, turned that around in a big way with a pair of four-hit games and three homers. He now has nine bombs in the books, which is more than his predecessor at first base (Joe Mauer) managed in either of the past two seasons.
- Ryne Harper chipped in three more clean outings, allowing only one hit in 3 2/3 with a walk and four strikeouts. The 30-year-old rookie has made 15 appearances this year, and 14 have been scoreless. What a wonderful story.
Last week in this space, I expressed some concern over Trevor Hildenberger and his sudden vulnerability, noting that his usage had dissipated as his results had taken a downward turn. Seven days later, those concerns are only louder. He coughed up two runs on three hits in one inning against Detroit on Saturday, and then did the same on Sunday, this time with a more costly impact (his two runs allowed were the difference in the game).
Throughout most of April, Hildenberger appeared to have re-established himself as one of Minnesota's most reliable late-inning arms, but now he has fallen right back into the rut that plagued his second half in 2018. In his past seven appearances Hildy has surrendered 10 earned runs on 14 hits in six frames. He's a complete mess, and the Twins can't afford to stick with him much longer at this rate. The 28-year-old does have options left, so a move to Triple-A is in play.
On the bright side, there really aren't any other poor performances worth calling out from the past week – a huge credit to the comprehensively high-quality play we continue to see from this roster.
For a third straight week, Miguel Sano is grabbing out attention. First he was preparing to start his rehab stint, then it was officially underway, and now he's on the verge of wrapping it up. Sano moved up to Class-AAA Rochester over the weekend after a brief stay at Pensacola. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his first game for the Red Wings, but bounced back with a 2-for-4 effort (plus a walk) on Sunday.
Barring any setbacks, I suspect we'll see Sano recalled during the coming week. It'll be interesting to see who's moved to make room. The likeliest candidate seems to be Ehire Adrianza, who's been woefully unproductive. Then again, maybe the issue takes care of itself, as Nelson Cruz could be headed for the shelf with a wrist injury that knocked him out of Sunday's game.
At this moment, I'm even more curious about another Triple-A rehab stint. Reliever Addison Reed is on the road back after missing the first month with a "left thumb injury," and has looked utterly terrible in Triple-A, just as he did in spring training, and just as he did for much of last summer. In three appearances for Rochester, he has coughed up four runs on eight hits over three innings of work, striking out two of 17 batters faced.
Where to go from here? There's no way the Twins can add Reed back to the roster. Stashing him on IL for a month with a vague non-throwing hand issue was already a bit of a stretch, but now they're running out of places to hide him. It's unfortunate, because a peak-level Reed would be such a huge difference-maker for this Minnesota bullpen, but that player is clearly long gone. At this point I think the Twins have no choice but to cut their losses and designate him for assignment, eating millions in remaining salary. For now, Reed still has a couple weeks left in his rehab window.
DOWN ON THE FARM
On July 31st of last year, the Twins traded longtime stalwart Brian Dozier to the Dodgers, in exchange for what appeared to be a modest return. Dozier was trudging through a disappointing season, slashing just .227/.307/.405 for Minnesota, and was just two months from free agency. The Twins had no hope of prying any top prospects, but they procured a couple of intriguing pieces from LA in outfielder Luke Raley and left-hander Devin Smeltzer.
Well, Dozier's struggles only worsened down the stretch as he batted .182/.300/.350 over 47 games and barely saw any time in the postseason. Over the winter, he signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, but in Washington it's been much of the same: Dozier's slash line sits at .197/.301/.331 through 38 games. (His Twins replacement at second, Jonathan Schoop, is at .276/.324/.504.)
Meanwhile, Raley is mashing at Rochester, where he's 14-for-33 in the month of May and sporting a .299/.364/.542 line overall. He's still not going to sprout up on any top prospect lists but the 24-year-old lefty swinger is solidifying himself as viable MLB-ready depth. In Triple-A, he's mostly played right field with a little center mixed in.
Smeltzer is an even more compelling case. There was no significant buzz around him as a middling southpaw coming out of the Dodgers system, but ever since joining the Twins organization he has been completely lights-out. In 42 innings at Double-A, between the end of last year and the start of this one, he posted a 1.29 ERA and 49-to-5 K/BB ratio. He moved up Rochester at the beginning of May and has somehow gotten better, hurling 15 shutout innings with only seven hits allowed.
I'm not sure what to make of him. You watch the guy pitch and you aren't wowed by his velocity or stuff, but the superlative results are eye-popping, and he's doing it consistently at the highest levels of the minors. Smeltzer, 23, isn't currently on the 40-man roster, but is putting himself in line to get a chance when the need arises.
One more pitching note from the minors: Brusdar Graterol was in the middle of another stellar outing on Wednesday, with 5 1/3 scoreless innings logged, when he was pulled from the game due to an apparent injury. This understandably caused instant panic to sweep through Twins Territory, but Darren Wolfson of KSTP swooped in quickly with a relieving report:
Assuming this optimism proves valid, it looks like the Twins dodged a bullet with their top pitching prospect, who has held opponents to a .168 average through his first 38 innings at Double-A.
Another seven-game week lies ahead, with the Twins first hosting Trout and the Angels, then traveling to Seattle for four games against the Mariners.
MONDAY, 5/13: ANGELS @ TWINS – LHP Tyler Skaggs v. RHP Jose Berrios
TUESDAY, 5/14: ANGELS @ TWINS – TBD v. RHP Kyle Gibson
WEDNESDAY, 5/15: ANGELS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Cahill v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
THURSDAY, 5/16: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Erik Swanson
FRIDAY, 5/17: TWINS @ MARINERS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Felix Hernandez
SATURDAY, 5/18: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Jose Berrios v. LHP Marco Gonzales
SUNDAY, 5/19: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Yusei Kikuchi
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 33 | MIN 8, TOR 0: Perez Impresses, Bats Bounce Stroman Early
- Game 34 | MIN 3, TOR 0: Berrios Hurls Gem, Twins Get Second Straight Shutout
- Game 35 | MIN 9, TOR 1: Twins Steamroll Toronto
- Game 36 | MIN 6, DET 0: Odorizzi Deals (Again), Twins Win Fourth in a Row
- Game 37 | DET 5, MIN 3: Tigers Out-Tater Twins, Gardy Gets Tossed
- Game 38 | MIN 8, DET 3: Now Witness the Firepower
- Game 39 | DET 5, MIN 3: We Have a Problem
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