The Show Must Go On: Dancing for the Division
Date In Game: 9/11
Team Record: 84-63
Leading OPS: Luis Arraez (.938 in 472 AB)
Leading ERA (SP): Alex Wood (2.64 in 163.2 IP)
Leading ERA (RP): Tyler Duffey (1.87 in 62.2 IP)
LATEST RESULTS (6-4)
Gm 138 vs CLE: W 4-2 (Snell 6.2 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 11 K)
Gm 139 vs CLE: L 6-3 (Clippard 1.2 IP, 3 ER, L)
Gm 140 vs CLE: W 3-2 (Bullpen: 4 IP, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB)
Gm 141 vs CLE: W 8-6 (Arraez 3-5, HR, 3 RBI)
Gm 142 vs CWS: W 7-4 (Arraez 2-5, HR, 4 RBI)
Gm 143 vs CWS: L 3-0 (Polanco/Sano/Donaldson: 0-12, 5 K)
Gm 144 vs CWS: L 4-1 (Romo 0.2 IP, 3 ER, L)
Gm 145 @ CLE: W 3-1 (Odorizzi 6.2 IP, 0 ER, W)
Gm 146 @ CLE: W 7-5 (Arraez 2-4, 3 RBI)
Gm 147 @ CLE: L 8-3 (Wood 5 IP, 4 ER, L)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
In the most critical 10-game stretch of our season thus far, we played the Cleveland Indians seven times and took five of them. As a result, we've gone from a half-game behind in the division to a half-game up, with 15 contests remaining on the schedule. But we are far from out of the woods.
Here's what happened since we last checked in:
On the final day of August, Blake Snell took the hill to open a crucial four-game home series against Cleveland. And he delivered exactly the kind of performance we hoped for when trading a big haul for him one month earlier: 6.2 IP, 2 R (0 ER), 11 K, 1 BB. The offense's four-run second inning, keyed by Jorge Polanco's two-run single, was all we needed in a 4-2 win.
Then the calendar flipped, so we selected these September call-ups, which were voted upon last week by overwhelming consensus:
- Recalled Rich Hill, LHP
- Promoted Alex Kirilloff, OF
When laying out the options last time, it turns out I overstated the downside of calling up these players, both of whom needed to be added to the 40-man roster. I sorta forgot we had a couple openings left already after our deadline dealings. So those two were brought into the fold with no displacements.
Kirilloff debuted the next day, starting in left field and going 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts. He followed by going 2-for-4 in the series finale. In that game, Hill made his return with a relief appearance, but looked much more like the guy who was sent down in May with a 9.78 ERA than the guy who'd posted a 2.58 ERA in Triple-A since.
Brought in to pitch the eighth with an 8-3 lead, Hill gave up three runs on two hits and two walks while recording only two outs. This narrowed our lead and forced us to use Taylor Rogers in the ninth, though we secured a win to take the series three games to one.
Now leading the Central, we opened a series against the White Sox. In Game 1, we headed into the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-3, but rallied against Aaron Bummer to come back and win on Marwin Gonzalez's walk-off three-run homer. Unfortunately the lineup came out flat for the rest of the series, scoring just one run in two games, both losses. Now back in second place, it was off to Cleveland for another showdown.
In a 3-1 series-opening win, Jake Odorizzi allowed only two hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings, combining with Clippard, Duffey and Rogers to shut down the Indians. Luis Arraez led the charge with three RBIs in a 7-5 Game 2 victory, pushing us up by a game and a half on Cleveland. But we couldn't quite pull off the sweep, dropping the finale 8-3 with Alex Wood and Hill giving up four runs apiece.
That leaves us with a very thin lead in the division, and without much of a fallback; Cleveland leads the wild-card standings currently, but they're effectively tied with Boston and Tampa, and two other teams are within a couple games.
There will be no breathing room, so we need to keep winning as we head to Detroit.
Arraez isn't quite hanging with the American League's premier sluggers (J.D. Martinez, Eloy Jimenez, Mike Trout) in the MVP voting, but he deserves to be in the conversation. After another stellar stretch, in which he went 13-for-36 (.361) with three doubles, two homers, a triple and 10 RBIs in eight starts, Arraez is slashing .345/.436/.502 with 13 home runs, 75 RBIs, and 78 runs scored. He's drawn more walks (70) than strikeouts (67) and ranks second behind Mike Trout in batting average and OBP. What a leadoff man.
I've mentioned this before, but it bears reiterating: Arraez's attributes are actually not outstanding in the video game – his 76 overall rating is 16th on the Twins roster. But clearly, MLB The Show 20 recognizes his scrappy over-achieving brilliance, and that's fun.
In the rotation, it's been nice to see Snell settle into a groove and ward off an initial wave of buyer's remorse. His second start of the latest slate (6 IP, 3 ER) wasn't quite as good as his first (6.2 IP, 0 ER) but he did pile up 12 strikeouts, for a total of 23 in 12 2/3 innings. He's got an 11.0 K/9 rate on the season.
As our deadline centerpiece finds his stride, the true star of the rotation continues to be Jose Berrios, an absolute workhorse. He's still in search of that elusive 18th win, but doing all he can to earn it. In his first turn against Cleveland he went nine innings, allowing three runs, but the Twins eventually lost in the 12th. Berrios' second start saw him toss eight innings of one-run ball with 10 strikeouts and one walk, but again Minnesota lost in extras.
He's been working efficiently, piling up zeroes, and keeping his pitch counts in check, so Berrios is really giving me no reason to pull him in these games. He currently ranks third among American League starters in innings pitched (201.1), trailing only Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.
The back end of the bullpen has been absolutely essential in helping us win consistently tight ballgames. Taylor Rogers picked up saves in all six of our wins during the past stretch, and is now 39-for-44 on the year. But while the closer was our bullpen's lone All-Star, it's pretty clear who is its brightest star: Tyler Duffey, now rocking a 1.87 ERA and 1.02 WHIP on the season after four more scoreless appearances in the latest slate.
It's a bummer to see Rich Hill come back with such a thud after excelling for a few months at Rochester. He did deliver a solid long relief appearance in one of the losses to Chicago, following Snell with three shutout innings, but Hill sandwiched that outing with complete clunkers, coughing up seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks while recording just six outs. I'm not sure he has enough time left to regain trust in time for the postseason.
Fellow September call-up Alex Kirilloff has gotten his MLB career off to a rough start, with just two singles to show for his first 19 plate appearances. But we'll keep running him out. Only four strikeouts.
DECISION TIME: SKIP A START TO MAXIMIZE BERRIOS?
We have 15 games remaining, and we're back at the top of our rotation with Snell, Berrios and Maeda scheduled to start our next three in Detroit. Given the layout of our remaining schedule, we COULD hypothetically skip Odorizzi's upcoming start, and set up our ace Berrios to get an extra turn in the final game of the season. (We could also use this method to get Snell an extra start, but to me Berrios is the clear choice.)
9/11 @ DET: Snell
9/12 @ DET: Berrios
9/13 @ DET: Maeda
9/15 vs TEX: Odorizzi
9/16 vs TEX: Wood
9/17 vs TEX: Snell
9/18 vs DET: Berrios
9/19 vs DET: Maeda
9/20 vs DET: Odorizzi
9/22 @ SD: Wood
9/23 @ SD: Snell
9/24 @ SD: Berrios
9/25 @ KC: Maeda
9/26 @ KC: Odorizzi
9/27 @ KC: Wood
9/11 @ DET: Snell
9/12 @ DET: Berrios
9/13 @ DET: Maeda
9/15 vs TEX: Wood
9/16 vs TEX: Snell
9/17 vs TEX: Berrios
9/18 vs DET: Maeda
9/19 vs DET: Odorizzi
9/20 vs DET: Wood
9/22 @ SD: Berrios
9/23 @ SD: Snell
9/24 @ SD: Maeda
9/25 @ KC: Odorizzi
9/26 @ KC: Wood
9/27 @ KC: Berrios
That final game at Kansas City could prove decisive given how close the race is. This plan also would give Berrios a better shot at reaching 20 wins, if you're into that sorta thing.
The downside is that it would mean tacking more innings onto his already huge total, and would likely make him unavailable for Game 1 of the ALDS or a wild-card match. (Of course, if the season is clinched by then, we can just throw a bullpen game, or give Pineda or Hill the nod, and Berrios will be extra-rested.) Another consideration is that that while Odorizzi – who'd be losing a start at Berrios' expense – has been our "worst" starter per ERA, he's hardly been bad (13-9, 3.86 ERA, 1.33 WHIP).
It's one of our last decisions in this 2020 season and it could be a significant one. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.
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)
Part 9: Cruz Control (45-35)
Part 10: Pulling Ahead (52-38)
Part 11: Bashing into the All-Star Break (58-40)
Part 12: Deadline Decisions (62-46)
Part 13: Inauspicious Debuts (66-52)
Part 14: Treading Water as the Clock Ticks (71-57)
Part 15: Stretch Race & September Call-Ups (78-59)
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