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4 Head Scratchers for Baldelli Against Astros

The Minnesota Twins came into their Wild Card series against the Houston Astros as the series favorite. Despite an early lead, they coughed up the game due to defensive miscues. With Rocco Baldelli’s job defined by positioning for optimal outcomes, he too should shoulder blame.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
A season ago Baldelli was named American League Manager of the Year. It was warranted. The former star player guided the Twins to a record setting home run total and one of the most successful seasons in Twins history. Often times the award is handed to a guy leading a surprising organization to new heights. In 2020 expectations were lifted, but Baldelli created plenty of confusion.

The vaunted lineup on paper failed to perform plenty of nights and drawing the infield in during early stretches of games became commonplace. In the biggest game of the season however, four decisions struck me as poor.

Kenta Maeda is lifted after 5 innings and 91 pitches

Minnesota had a 1-0 lead at the time, but the only thing going for the Twins in this contest was Maeda. Despite forcing Zack Greinke to work in the 1st inning, no runs were scored with the bases loaded and just one out. The Astros starter then settled in, and Framber Valdez dominated after a shaky first inning of relief. It seemed questionable to assume that one run would be enough to win this one and hoping the bullpen could lock things down for nearly half the game was a big ask.

After getting both Matt Wisler and Trevor May warm previously, it’d have been nice to see Maeda return for the 6th and at least go one batter at a time. He could’ve been lifted at any point then. Instead the horses of the pen have no all been used while Houston didn’t trot out a single reliever.

Mitch Garver pinch hits for Ryan Jeffers to start the 7th inning

It was maybe an aggressive move to start rookie Ryan Jeffers in game one despite just 26 games of action. His .791 OPS and they way he worked behind the plate had earned it, however. Combine that with Garver slumping massively since his IL return and there was nothing about the decision that needed defending. In response to a lefty being on the mound though, Baldelli became convinced that 2019 Garver was who he was calling off the bench. Instead four straight curveballs, each one looked at, was all it too to get Minnesota’s pinch hitter.

Letting Jeffers hit in that spot was the right move. You started him because of what he’d shown thus far, and he put up exit velocities of 105 and 109 mph earlier in this one. It was a second guessing that was unfounded and made no sense. From here, we get two more problems.

Alex Avila replaces Mitch Garver defensively in the 8th inning

Immediately following a poor at bat, Garver is lifted prior to taking the field. Despite being arguably a better receiver than Avila, Baldelli decided the veteran backstop was the play. Of course, there was still another catcher on the roster thanks to the Twins rostering four in this series, but it never was going to make sense for the position to become a revolving door.

Garver could’ve caught the 8th inning and been more likely to steal strikes. Avila remains on the bench and represents your last true catcher behind the plate.

Willians Astudillo pinch hits for Alex Avila in the 9th inning

Now we get to the third cascading effect of the original choice to lift Jeffers. Trailing by three runs in a momentum setting first game, the Twins responded with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco singling to right field. The batter would represent the tying run with a single out and runners on first and second. The right-handed bats left were Ehire Adrianza and Astudillo. Neither ideal, and the latter had just 16 big league at bats this season. On the very first pitch Astudillo lunged at a bender and hit a routine ground ball to third for the double play.

The entirety of this move was necessitated because of Rocco’s initial mistake to lift Jeffers. It was in this at bat though that highlighting Astudillo’s negative impact is so simple. He’s not Luis Arraez, and his ability to make contact is quite literally a negative. His chase rate is not good, and neither is the hard-hit percentage. By putting the ball in play, which is his sole intention, you’re more likely to experience a negative result.

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52 Comments

I agree with all of these and also wondered why Romo in the 9th?Yes, the unearned run was the unraveling and the runs would not have scored had Polonco and Arraez made the play - but if we had to pitch Romo, I was not comfortable with him coming in a tie game in the top of the 9th when he has struggled the last two weeks.I would have preferred Rogers and I can give benefit of the doubt if Baldelli felt Rogers is more comfortable in his old 7th-8th inning role, but there has to be better options in the 9th than Romo. 

    • jun likes this
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Doctor Gast
Sep 30 2020 06:44 AM

Yes I question all those calls also. HOU piggy- backed Zeinke w/ Valdez even when Zeinke seemed to have settled down. I`d have left him in longer but piggy-backingmade perfect sense.Baldelli should have done the same, Hill would have been great in this situation while at the same time saving our BP. I didn`t understand this series roster. I believe Baldelli thought he could waltz through this series & finesse his way. I`m a fan of Astudillo but he hasn`t been given a chance during the season to find his groove & work out the bugs, putting him in a situation of PHing during a wildcard game was unfair, he`s not a veteran.

    • jun likes this

I definitely wanted Maeda to come out for the 6th inning and then follow with Stashak, May and Duffey. They were the best we had coming into the series. 

 

Baldelli's use of the bullpen during the season, (trying to keep relief pitchers from gong out there on back-to-back days) will hurt in in the playoffs (while we last) with the games being played on consecutive days. Don't forget to consider using Dobnakor Hill (as someone else mentioned) Tuesday for relief in game two like Dusty Baker did for the Astros in game one.

It’s almost like someone bet Baldelli he couldn’t find a way to use 4 catchers in a game and he said Hold my beer...

The most egregious head scratcher is Astudillo pinch hitting in the 9th. I mean, come on. He’s been mostly bad since late 2018. I understand a lefty vs lefty matchup isn’t ideal for a 1st MLB PA, but I would have gladly taken Kirilloff in the 9th, or literally anyone except Astudillo.
    • jun likes this

 

It is almost like Rocco was trying to justify having four catchers.

I just posted in another thread how it was a little odd how Baldelli used Garver as pinch hitter on Sunday too in a similar spot -- tie game, late innings, leading off an inning vs a LHP. Jeffers was available to take both PAs (and that was when we were still ostensibly trying to win the game Sunday, before the White Sox officially lost).

 

It seems like Baldelli is either ignoring 2020 results that he keeps relying on Garver at the plate over Jeffers, or he's just trying to give Garver reps to get his bat going -- which might be fine in a non-critical regular season game, but was decidedly not okay yesterday.

    • jun, DocBauer, rdehring and 1 other like this

Lifting Maeda after those 5 innings I wouldn't have done until he got into trouble in the sixth, but if you do I would have gone the same route as the Astros did and used Odorizzi or Dobnak first, not the bullpen horses. You didn't have a lead to lock down with them yet. Agree moderately.

 

No idea why you pinch hit for Jeffers other than wishful hope you had Garver's bat from last year. Agree this was a bad move.

 

Only reason I see that Avila needed to be in, was Garver couldn't catch for some physical reason. Which then makes the prior one even worse.

 

Willians Astudillo's pinch hit appearance I don't dislike for the matchup, but massively dislike it for how he treated it in the game situation sense. If I'm going to him there, knowing who he is, I'm grabbing him by neck before he goes out to the batters box and sternly advising he not swing at non-fastballs before he's got 2 strikes. Just incredibly poor awareness of the game.

 

    • jun, Vanimal46 and Huskertwin like this

 

Lifting Maeda after those 5 innings I wouldn't have done until he got into trouble in the sixth, but if you do I would have gone the same route as the Astros did and used Odorizzi or Dobnak first, not the bullpen horses. You didn't have a lead to lock down with them yet. Agree moderately.

Twins did have a lead when they lifted Maeda, albeit only 1-0.

    • Steve Lein and stringer bell like this

I generally agree with the points as well.The least is the decision to pull Maeda, I would have let him try the 6th, and maybe if we had more than a single run lead he would have, but he is your ace, need to treat him like one.  

 

The other three make little sense to me.I get Garver crushed lefties last year, but he has not this year.Jeffers has been our best overall catcher this year, we are playing this year, not last year.Then that moves compounds the strange moves after with the ending of astiduilo.You could have left Garver in for a second at bat against the lefty or then pinch hit a lefty if you wanted to, but taking him out for a lefty means you need to hit a lessor right handed bat later on.  

 

Overall I defend Rocco, not today. 

 

Willians Astudillo's pinch hit appearance I don't dislike for the matchup, but massively dislike it for how he treated it in the game situation sense. If I'm going to him there, knowing who he is, I'm grabbing him by neck before he goes out to the batters box and sternly advising he not swing at non-fastballs before he's got 2 strikes. Just incredibly poor awareness of the game.

If that's what you want Astudillo to do (assuming he is even capable of flipping that switch), why not just let the scheduled batter Avila do it instead? Lefty-lefty isn't ideal, but Avila is more than capable of taking pitches, and there was only 1 out. You could even tell Avila not to be afraid to take strike 3 if necessary to avoid the DP and take your chances with Marwin.

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FritzDahmus
Sep 30 2020 08:36 AM

Twins will hit the crap out of the ball today and win. No help from Berrios...as usual.

 

We will get all very optimistic........Twins will revert to the usual no-hit, bullpen-choking version and lose Game 3, 5-2.

 

Go Gopher football!!!

    • Bomba2026 likes this

Another huge head scratcher was Buxton's PA in the 5th inning. Marwin and Arraez draw walks in their PAs. Valdez can't find the strike zone without google maps... What does Buck do? Goes up there hacking at the first pitch. Then swings at a no chance curve in the dirt. He didn't swing at a single strike in the at-bat, and thus, gave Valdez confidence to settle down and get out of the jam. 

I am pretty sure Rocco threw this game so we can get the postseason losing record for all American sports. I think we have it in the bag now, so now we can win em all. I do think our chances are much improved today. They used their best starters and they only have one good bullpen arm. We just need to get to their starter early, then have a lead late, so we don't see their closer. 

    • Bomba2026 likes this
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stringer bell
Sep 30 2020 08:51 AM

As I said earlier in this thread, the pitching substitutions are gray areas for me. Let me defend Baldelli/Johnson with these rationales: Maeda after 5. Kenta pitched scoreless ball for 5 innings, but threw 91 pitches and was under stress about as much as he had been all year. He would be facing the Astros for the third time through the lineup in the sixth and would be on a short leash due to the score and his pitch count. I don't think Wes/Rocco wanted to bring in May with runners on mid-inning and thought the chances were good that Maeda would get in trouble or go high on his pitch count in the sixth. Maeda had only exceeded 94 pitches once and that was when he was chasing a no-no. May for one inning--maybe they believed since May flew through the sixth, that he would be available today (Tuesday). When Duffey labored to get the third out in the seventh, they decided that he was used up and that he wouldn't be available on Tuesday, so they let him continue. Romo-I know he has struggled lately, but he has tons of playoff experience and he's effective against right handed hitters with that slider. He gave up zero hard contact, but after the error, he walked in the eventual winning run. Thielbar-he has had good success against left handed hitters. He needed to get Brantley, a tough out. Brantley didn't hit the ball hard either, but hit it in a good spot. 

Baldelli believes in the concept of repeating mistakes over and over and never learning from them. Kenta is a Superstar and Baldelli has pulled him all year as well as the other starters...Once again, we lose. I'm so glad he was not managing Jack Morris in the World Series, as he would have yanked him in the 7th.....
    • Greglw3 likes this

 

It almost feels like Baldelli intentionally managed to lose this game.

Sadly, I’ve felt that many times over the last two years. A miracle that he’s won as much as he has while booting away several games with his consistently questionable in-game management.

    • jun likes this

 

Actually we would have been lucky if were only 4 head scratchers....unfortunately there were more than that

For example, a solid case could be made to use Odorizzi in the 9th rather than the recently ineffective Sergio Romo.

 

Twins will hit the crap out of the ball today and win. No help from Berrios...as usual.

 

We will get all very optimistic........Twins will revert to the usual no-hit, bullpen-choking version and lose Game 3, 5-2.

 

Go Gopher football!!!

Optimism, pessimism, and indifference -- all in one post! Good work. :)

 

As I said earlier in this thread, the pitching substitutions are gray areas for me. Let me defend Baldelli/Johnson with these rationales: Maeda after 5. Kenta pitched scoreless ball for 5 innings, but threw 91 pitches and was under stress about as much as he had been all year. He would be facing the Astros for the third time through the lineup in the sixth and would be on a short leash due to the score and his pitch count. I don't think Wes/Rocco wanted to bring in May with runners on mid-inning and thought the chances were good that Maeda would get in trouble or go high on his pitch count in the sixth. Maeda had only exceeded 94 pitches once and that was when he was chasing a no-no. May for one inning--maybe they believed since May flew through the sixth, that he would be available today (Tuesday). When Duffey labored to get the third out in the seventh, they decided that he was used up and that he wouldn't be available on Tuesday, so they let him continue. Romo-I know he has struggled lately, but he has tons of playoff experience and he's effective against right handed hitters with that slider. He gave up zero hard contact, but after the error, he walked in the eventual winning run. Thielbar-he has had good success against left handed hitters. He needed to get Brantley, a tough out. Brantley didn't hit the ball hard either, but hit it in a good spot. 

But he threw well over 100 pitches in that near no-no.  He should have been able to go 7 then maybe May and Rogers or Odorizzi. I’ve long thought I true that the more relievers you bring into a game, the greater the odds that one of them will not bring their good stuff to the mound.

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nicksaviking
Sep 30 2020 09:51 AM

I didn't mind pulling Maeda, but I thought it would be for Wisler. The catcher maneuvers were odd, but I don't know why we are this late into the season and Baldelli hasn't realized that it needs to be Duffey and May at the end of the games instead of Rogers and Romo. Wisler, Clippard, Theilbar and Stashak have been great in bullpen games and middle innings, use them first.

 

If that's what you want Astudillo to do (assuming he is even capable of flipping that switch), why not just let the scheduled batter Avila do it instead? Lefty-lefty isn't ideal, but Avila is more than capable of taking pitches, and there was only 1 out. You could even tell Avila not to be afraid to take strike 3 if necessary to avoid the DP and take your chances with Marwin.

 

That certainly would have been fine instead for me, too :)

    • spycake likes this

 

Very good article. The one thing that wasn't mentioned when Jeffers was lifted for Garver that shows Baldelli's brain freeze is that Garver hits fastballs not curveballs. Valdez throws curveballs. Why then put Garver into that situation in the first place? He would be one of your worst options. 

Also would have liked to see Buxton bunt when they had guys on 1st and 2nd no outs. The announcers said later that you don't ask a player to do something they can't do. Buxton used to bunt. Don't think he tried it at all this year. Don't understand why they don't make that part of his game and why he doesn't WANT it to be part of his game. I've never understood why major league hitters can't bunt. High schoolers know how to bunt. With the shifts being deployed on almost every hitter nowadays there are base hit bunts available on almost every at bat. Evidently 2 hits in the first 8 innings, swinging for the fences, is acceptable. To me it's poor baseball.

Not just poor, it's dumb. Take what you are given and force the opponents to make changes and then change accordingly.

 

I agree with all of these and also wondered why Romo in the 9th?Yes, the unearned run was the unraveling and the runs would not have scored had Polonco and Arraez made the play - but if we had to pitch Romo, I was not comfortable with him coming in a tie game in the top of the 9th when he has struggled the last two weeks.I would have preferred Rogers and I can give benefit of the doubt if Baldelli felt Rogers is more comfortable in his old 7th-8th inning role, but there has to be better options in the 9th than Romo. 

Alcala should not be left out of the roster. Dobnak is not needed with this pathetic offense.

    • LanceJS likes this
I missed it if there was one: was there an explanation for leaving Alcala off the roster?

I missed it if there was one: was there an explanation for leaving Alcala off the roster?


There was some item in the media speculating that the Astros would know his stuff, but I doubted that.

Alcala generally only came in when we were behind in the regular season, so I think he just deemed less essential than long relief options Dobnak and Odorizzi. (Without the runner on second extra innings rule, long relievers may have more value in the postseason.)
    • ashbury likes this

There was some item in the media speculating that the Astros would know his stuff, but I doubted that.

Alcala generally only came in when we were behind in the regular season, so I think he just deemed less essential than long relief options Dobnak and Odorizzi. (Without the runner on second extra innings rule, long relievers may have more value in the postseason.)

TWO long relief options? In a 3 game series?? Both of which were either ineffective or hurt?

If that's the case, that's just incredibly stupid.

I had assumed there must be something wrong with Alcala.

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