The Show Must Go On: Cruz Control
Image courtesy of MLB The Show 20, SonyTo get caught up on what we're doing here, you can check out the introductory post in the series for an explanation of the premise and setup. But the quick version is this: We're playing a progressive simulated Twins season on MLB The Show 20 on PS4, and y'all are helping guide the ship. In each installment I'll update you on what's happened since the last, and put at least one key decision up for vote.
Date In Game: 6/23
Team Record: 45-35
Leading OPS: Luis Arraez (.906 in 232 AB)
Leading ERA (SP): Jake Odorizzi (2.86 in 103.2 IP)
Leading ERA (RP): Tyler Duffey (1.69 in 37.1 IP)
LATEST RESULTS (7-3)
Gm 71 @ KC: W 10-3 (Arraez 2-3, 3 RBI)
Gm 72 @ KC: L 5-1 (Maeda 3 IP, 5 R, 2 ER, L)
Gm 73 @ KC: W 11-1 (Rosario 3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI)
Gm 74 vs MIL: W 5-3 (Cruz 3-4, 3 HR, 5 RBI)
Gm 75 vs MIL: L 4-3 (Cruz 0-5, 4 K)
Gm 76 vs NYY: W 8-7 (Sano 1-3, HR, 3 RBI)
Gm 77 vs NYY: W 6-4 (Cruz 3-4, HR, 3 RBI)
Gm 78 vs NYY: W 9-8 (Garver PH walk-off single)
Gm 79 vs NYY: L 13-1 (Balazovic 4 IP, 5 ER, L)
Gm 80 @ HOU: W 7-0 (Berrios 7 IP, 0 R, W)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
If I were running an actual MLB team, I would adhere to the type of patient, big-picture approach I tend to advocate as a writer and fan. Baseball's season is a long haul, and overreacting to small-sample struggles (or successes) within it is a recipe for mismanagement and self-sabotage.
But when running a fictional team, as in our current ongoing exercise, I like to abandon any pretense of rationality or restraint. I'm all about shaking things up constantly. Bench people. Make trades. Stir the pot. Why not?!
So I'll admit, when I presented a decision here in our last installment – To bench or not to bench the scuffling Nelson Cruz? – I was kinda hoping the voters would feed into my chaotic appetite.
You didn't. Commenters showed a clear preference to stick with the veteran slugging DH. And here's what happened: Cruz went 12-for-31 (.375) over the next 10 games with five home runs and 10 RBIs. In a 5-3 win over Milwaukee, he hit three home runs and drove in ALL FIVE RUNS. Days later, his three-run homer against the Yankees proved decisive in a 6-4 win.
Cruz did have one ugly clunker mixed in – an 0-for-5 golden sombrero following the three-homer binge – but he has quickly re-emerged as an offensive force, raising his OPS by 60 points in the process.
So uh, yeah, good call on that one.
With Cruz leading the charge, our Twins went 7-3 over the past 10 to pull back within two games of Cleveland for first. With almost exactly one-half of the season (80 games) in the books, the Twins are on pace for 91 wins, but that likely won't be enough to edge a very good Cleveland squad, led by MVP contender Jose Ramirez.
The big highlight of our latest stretch, outside of Cruz's takeover, was of course winning three out of four against the Yankees. New York is actually kind of lying in the weeds, four games back in the AL East with a .500 record, and we took advantage with a trio of tight victories. The wildest of these came in the third game, in which Minnesota was down 8-1 entering the bottom of the seventh, and 8-4 entering the bottom of the ninth. Here's what went down at that point:
- RHP Tommy Kahnle enters to pitch for NYY.
- Jorge Polanco hits a leadoff HR. 8-5.
- Josh Donaldson reaches on an infield single.
- Miguel Sano walks, Donaldson to second.
- LHP Aroldis Chapman replaces Kahnle for NYY. (Aaron Boone sweating.)
- Max Kepler grounds to third, Gio Urshela throws to second to get Sano but Kepler beats the relay at first. Donaldson to third. Runners on the corners, one out.
- Nelson Cruz walks. Kepler to second. Bases loaded.
- Marwin Gonzalez strikes out swinging. Two outs.
- Eddie Rosario singles to right. Donaldson scores and so does Kepler, beating Aaron Judge's throw to the plate. Cruz to third.
- Byron Buxton reaches on an error by first baseman Luis Voit. Cruz scores, Rosario to second. Tie ballgame.
- Mitch Garver pinch-hits for Willians Astudillo.
- Garver singles to center. With no chance to get Rosario at home, Aaron Hicks tries nailing Buxton at third, but to no avail. Eddie scores and the Twins complete their stunning comeback, walking off against Chapman.
Baseball, I miss you so much.
One final note before we move on: As of today (in the game's calendar), the Southern League (AA) All-Star Game is upon us. I am pleased to share that five Twins prospects, playing for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, made the roster:
- Ben Rortvedt is the starter at catcher, standing out with his solid offense (.243/.330/.373, 6 HR, 19 RBI) and excellent defense.
- Shortstop Wander Javier (.311/.379/.429 in 49 games) and third baseman Jose Miranda (.286/.355/.411 in 53 games) both made it as bench players.
- Right-hander Edwar Colina gets in as a starting pitcher. He's 8-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 72-to-25 K/BB ratio through 14 starts.
- Lefty reliever Sam Clay rounds out the bullpen, somewhat oddly as he has only thrown 15 1/3 innings, although he does own a 2.93 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
Cruz, obviously. Outside of the slugger, Luis Arraez continues to rake, and now leads the team in OPS, with his .315/.415/.491 slash line reflecting a real-life best case scenario for the scrappy second baseman. Arraez is seventh among AL hitters in average and fourth in the All-Star voting at second, behind Gleyber Torres, Jose Altuve and Cesar Hernandez. Meanwhile, Rosario keeps coming through with big knocks and has his RBI total up to 53, leading the team and tying him for seventh in the AL.
On the pitching side, Jose Berrios stayed hot with two more quality starts. In the most recent game we simmed, a series opener in Houston, Berrios had one of his finest efforts yet with seven innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits and two walks with six strikeouts as the Twins rolled 7-0. The trashcan-less Astros are 37-40 in our sim season.
Kenta Maeda was once 7-0, and the last starting pitcher in MLB to be tagged with a loss. He has since gone 1-4. The performance across his last two starts (8 IP, 5 ER, 11 H, 7 K, 5 BB) is reflective of Maeda's new norm, as his ERA has risen to 3.89.
Homer Bailey's latest sample epitomizes the up-and-down nature of his season. First, he spins 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball against Kansas City, allowing four hits. Then he lasts only three innings against the Yankees, allowing five earned runs and walking four.
With an 8-3 record, 4.96 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, Bailey is what he is: an adequate back-of-rotation piece that we should probably be looking to upgrade as the deadline gets closer.
On offense, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano are still in the dumps, but after the lessons learned from Cruz's ordeal, I'm not going to dwell on it one bit.
With that said, there are two rookies whose performances (and possibly miscast roles) compel action. Which brings us to this week's decision.
DECISION TIME: CALL UP AN OUTFIELDER OR A STARTING PITCHER?
Several weeks back, we called up Brent Rooker, with hopes he could help boost the offense coming off a strong opening run at Triple-A. While he's had his moments since joining the team, Rooker has generally looked overmatched, slashing .241/.305/.315 with 17 strikeouts and four walks in 59 PA.
We could swap him out for Jake Cave, who leads the Rochester Red Wings in OPS (.808) and offers the ability to play center. Or... we could call up Alex Kirilloff, trailing Cave by just four points in OPS (.280/.359/.445) and riding a hot streak. But can we get him the playing time to justify it?
Alternatively, we could turn our attention to the rotation. Jordan Balazovic, who you may recall was a free agent for some reason at the start of the season, has shown some nice signs since being acquired and thrust into a big-league role, averaging a strikeout per inning, but he hasn't fared much better as a starter than he did as a reliever. Through 15 appearances (six starts) he has a 6.12 ERA and 1.73 WHIP.
We've tried bringing along our top young pitching talent through aggressive means. Maybe it's time to take a step back and send him to Triple-A for recalibration. Several pitchers in Rochester have intriguing cases to take his job:
- Rich Hill, who accepted a demotion after we DFA'ed him and he went unclaimed, is 6-1 with a 2.68 ERA in nine starts.
- Devin Smeltzer has a 2.52 ERA and 1.17 WHIP through 11 starts, although he did struggle during a brief long-relief stint with the Twins earlier this year.
- Michael Pineda has a 70-to-15 K/BB ratio, 3.45 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 13 starts.
- And a fictional 19-year-old left-hander named Reid McMahon, who opened the season in Single-A but has risen on the strength of his performance, now has a 1.70 ERA in his nine starts since joining the Red Wings. He also has a 5.9 K/9 rate, but the pitch-to-contact technique is working for him.
Part 1: We Can Build This Thing Together (0-0)
Part 2: 10 Games In, 6 Games Back (4-6)
Part 3: Roaring Back (11-9)
Part 4: Over the Hill (17-13)
Part 5: Checking In at the Quarter Point (23-17)
Part 6: Rising Power (30-20)
Part 7: First Place! (Barely) (34-26)
Part 8: Drafting and Dropping (38-32)
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