CHC 1, MIN 0: The Professor Schools Twins
Image courtesy of Chart via FanGraphsBox Score
Hill: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
Home Runs: None
Bottom 3 WPA: Donaldson -.269, Rosario -.134 Sanó -.093
Twins fans’ confidence in Rich Hill as a reliable postseason starter took a minor hit after his lengthy first inning. Before recording the third out at 27 pitches, he walked the first two batters and gave up an RBI-single to Wilson Contreras. However, he settled in after allowing the run, retiring nine of the next ten batters, eight consecutive. The only baserunner he allowed in that span came on a bunt single in the third. He caught a break when home plate umpire Ángel Hernández made a terrible call on a clear hit by pitch, saying Kyle Schwarber leaned into the pitch.
The problem was that Kyle Hendricks was pitching just as brilliantly, shutting out the Twins lineup for six innings in a little over 80 pitches. A leadoff single from Byron Buxton in the first posed a threat, as he ended up reaching third on a groundout and a wild pitch. Eddie Rosario worked out an unlikely walk to put men on the corners, but the Twins never capitalized. The first Minnesota hit after the second inning came in the sixth, when Josh Donaldson hit a bloop single that came off the bat at 74.5 MPH and had a .090 expected batting average, per Statcast.
Hill continued to impress, pitching four more shutout innings. This was the first time he managed to pitch more than five innings in a Twin uniform, making it his best start in Minnesota, with a season high in pitches thrown (95). His season ERA has now dropped almost a full run in his last three starts. If injuries don’t get in his way, his progression may point out to the fact that he can be a real contributor in the postseason.
Hendricks completed eight innings of shutout, so the Twins’ only hope to win it came against reliever Jeremy Jeffress in the ninth. Things then got interesting. Buxton drew his second walk of the season with a nice eight-pitch at bat, to leadoff the inning.
Buxton is 61-for-70 in stolen base attempts over his career (.871 success rate) and Jeffress has a 56.9 GB% this year, 24th among the 177 qualified relievers this season. It's easy to look back and wonder why Rocco Baldelli didn't have Buxton running in that situation.
Instead, Jeffress induced a double play against Donaldson. Nelson Cruz drew a walk, Rosario started out the next at bat nicely, getting ahead 3-0 in the count, but struck out to end the game.
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