Twins Fall To Yankees... Again. Looking Back, Looking Forward.
Image courtesy of Brad Penner, USA TodayComing into the game, there were several things that the Twins needed to do to give themselves a chance to advance to the AL Division Series against Cleveland. A couple happened. A couple did not.
We all know about the Yankees bullpen. We knew how dominant they could be. Luis Severino was one of baseball's best starting pitchers in 2017, but he struggled against the Twins in a start two weeks ago and at 23, you never know how he would handle the spotlight.
Many believed that the Twins would need to be aggressive to try to get ahead early. Well, Brian Dozier led off the game for the Twins. He was patient and on a 3-1 pitch, he hit a home run to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. With one out and Jorge Polanco on first base, Eddie Rosario came up and rocketed a hanging, spinning slider just over the fence in right field. 3-0 lead Twins.
Fast Start - Successful!
Score Runs When Possible
Severino gave up a single to Eduardo Escobar and a double to Max Kepler. That was the end of the night for Severino. Chad Green came on with runners on second and third and just one out. He struck out the next two batters, and the Twins had their 3-0 lead after 1/2 inning, but it could have been worse.
In radio interviews earlier on Tuesday, I thought runs would be at a premium in this game and that any time they had the opportunity to score runs, they needed to. They needed to find a way to score runners from third base with less than two outs. In the above situation, the Twins really needed to find a way to score at least one more run.
At game's end, the Twins had left six runners on base.
Twins Needed A Strong Start
The Twins didn't need Ervin Santana to throw a complete game shutout, while that would certainly have been just fine too. They just needed him to get them to the sixth and preferably the seventh inning having given up two or less runs. Santana was the easy choice for the Twins and Paul Molitor to start. With his 2017 numbers, he earned it. He showed good stuff, and he was throwing harder down the stretch. He was the one Twins starter that we felt would be able to handle the pressure of Yankees Stadium and keep them in the game despite his lack of playoff success or lack of success in Yankees Stadium.
Well, after being given a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, Santana gave up a three-run homer to Didi Gregorius in the bottom of the first inning. Sure, Aaron Judge reached out and muscled a blooper into center field. Sure, a 2-2 pitch was shown by technology to be a strike three and when it was called a ball instead, Santana gave up the home run. In other words, he could have been out of the inning with a two- or three-run lead.
Santana then gave up a solo homer to Brett Gardner in the second inning. He got through the second inning, but Todd Frazier crushed a ball to dead center that Byron Buxton leaped and caught before banging into the wall.
Santana didn't give the Twins what they really needed.
Berrios Get Them to the 7th
Jose Berrios was in the bullpen for the Wild Card game, and if Santana had a short start, or even a five-inning start, I felt it was important for Berrios to get them through the seventh inning. Well, he went three innings, and gave up three runs, and got them only through the fifth inning. He sure impressed the ESPN broadcasters with the movement on his fastball, but like Santana, his slider was often more of a spinner.
And Then There's More
Trevor Hildenberger had a 1-2-3 sixth inning, but he left with one out in the seventh inning and the bases loaded. Taylor Rogers struck out the one batter he faced. Alan Busenitz was brought in and walked the first batter he faced on four pitches to give the Yankees another run. He came back with a strikeout.
Zack Granite had to replace Byron Buxton who left the game a couple of innings after slamming into the center field wall. He stole a base and came up twisting his back. It affected his swing, so he had to come out. That felt like a dagger as much as anything.
Granite did well. In his first at-bat, he singled. In his second at-bat, he grounded toward first. The first baseman flipped to the pitcher who dropped the ball. The ball went to second baseman Starlin Castro who was backing up the play. Castro tagged Granite who was called out. Had he turned the wrong way? No. He inexplicably did not touch first base. I'd offer some explanation, but as I noted, it was inexplicable.
While some may say that it is some sort of sign that Granite 'gave up,' I don't think that's fair. No one was giving up. This was a resilient team and a bunch of gritty players. Granite wasn't giving up, but somehow his footwork got messed up to completely miss the bag. It's something that does happen, but you don't want it to happen in a playoff game, and unfortunately, it ends up being almost a microcosm of the Twins/Yankees situation.
The Twins lost 8-4 in New York and the streak continues. Unfortunately, the Twins season comes to an end, but it's hard to look at the Twins 2017 season as anything but a huge success.
The Twins improved by 26 wins, jumping from 59 to 85. While some may choose to say that this team just could not match up with the top four teams in the AL (Cleveland, Houston, Boston, New York), they were able to beat all of the rest of the teams in the league by five games. So yes, they are "just" the fifth best team in the American League, but when they were the worst team in all of baseball in 2016, being the fifth best team in their league is pretty good.
There are a lot of questions for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to consider. One is will they be more active than last year. Their first decision will have to be whether or not to keep manager Paul Molitor or bring in their own manager. How will that affect the rest of the coaching staff. Many more front office decisions are likely, and that's all before even getting to the on-field decisions they have to make.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine deserve a lot of credit. They've begun to implement their systems and a new culture. It's clear that it is much more analytical than a year earlier and it will continue to emerge as more analytical. The coaches and players will have more and more information.
But Terry Ryan and Bill Smith and Rob Antony deserve a lot of credit too. They brought in much of the core of the 2017 and helped their development by being patient and pushing them at an appropriate pace.
Brad Steil and his staff deserve credit for the player development in recent years that brought this team of young core players .
The managers and coaching staffs in the minor leagues deserve a lot of credit as well for developing these players.
James Rowson has earned and been given a lot of credit for his work with the young hitters, especially Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton. Jeff Pickler worked with the outfielders, but part of his job title involved being a liaison between player development and the big league coaching staff.
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