Week in Review: Bounceback in Baltimore
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/15 through Sun, 4/21
Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 12-7)
Run Differential Last Week: +8 (Overall: +20)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (1.0 GA)
Willians Watch: 5-for-21 last week (Season AVG: .295)
Outscoring their opponents by eight over the past seven days, the Twins now find themselves tied with Houston for the third-best run differential in the American League. Minnesota has spent 12 out of 25 days since the season started in first place.
It was a positive week for Willians Watch, as La Tortuga delivered some big hits and – most importantly – saw plenty of playing time. Rocco Baldelli was quite creative in finding spots for the unconventional utilityman, who made appearances at four different positions (C, 1B, 3B, RF). More this, please.
Last summer, as I put together these weekly recaps for Twins Daily, one practice became quite familiar: writing about Eddie Rosario in the "Highlights" section. It was a Sunday night tradition as reliable as pre-workweek dread. And Rosie has wasted no time resetting that routine here in 2019.
Following a strong finish to the previous week, Rosario was simply unconscious against the Blue Jays and Orioles, going 8-for-30 with six home runs, a double and nine RBIs. At one point, he launched five homers over a span of 11 plate appearances, and seven over a span of 24.
His monstrous performance during the doubleheader on Saturday was part of an 11-homer barrage by the Twins offense. Baltimore's pitching didn't navigate The Minefield very successfully.
Others who enjoyed strong offensive weeks:
- C.J. Cron, who went 7-for-23 with a pair of homers and five RBIs, and has quickly pushed his OPS into the .800 range following a slow start
- Byron Buxton, who collected six hits, all of them doubles. His total of 12 now leads the majors
- Mitch Garver, who didn't see a ton of action (just two starts) but made the most of it with a double and two more home runs
- Jorge Polanco, who went 7-for-22 with a 3-to-5 K/BB ratio and finished the week with the fourth-best batting average in the American League (.362)
- Nelson Cruz, whose 7-for-24 owed mostly to a four-hit night on Saturday
After his victorious outing on Wednesday, Jake Odorizzi gave an in-depth self-assessment to The Athletic's Dan Hayes. "I think I'm a lot more consistent with these first four starts, just from stuff-wise, not results-wise, than any point last year," the right-handed opined. It can be tough to explain away poor outcomes without sounding like you're making excuses, but I think Odorizzi hit the right notes. And his confidence is warranted: Through his first four turns, he has held opponents to a .172 average with a blistering 14% swinging strike rate. Those are outstanding numbers.
Odorizzi's disastrous second start, on a cold and rainy night in New York, will inflate his overall numbers for a while. But if you take it away, he's got a 2.76 ERA and 20-to-6 K/BB ratio in 16 1/3 innings. He's generating whiffs at one of the highest rates in the league. If he can keep the bouts with control at bay, there's something special here. Monday's road date with the Astros presents a big test.
The most notable performer in the bullpen was actually Ryne Harper, who pitched three times and allowed zero runs on three singles while recording 15 outs. He's fast changing his narrative from "good story" to "good reliever."
It was a rough week for the bullpen. The unit's questionable depth came into frontal focus on Monday night, when Adalberto Mejia entered in the eighth inning with Minnesota protecting a two-run lead, and completely bombed. The left-hander allowed four runs before recording his first out, effectively turning a win into a loss.
Mejia is ostensibly slotted as more of a low-leverage long man in this pen, but Baldelli's hand was forced by necessity: Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers and Trevor May had all thrown 20-plus pitches the previous day, while Trevor Hildenberger was coming off appearances on consecutive days.
But those types of situations are going to arise often, and the Twins need to be ready for them. They can ill afford to have a single reliever on the roster they can't trust. To his credit, Mejia bounced back with a solid scoreless outing two days later.
Tuesday night featured another bullpen botching. After Rosario tied the game with an invigorating three-run bomb, May came on for the seventh and just couldn't throw strikes. He gave up a single and walked the bases loaded before giving way to Hildenberger, who's been thrown into some obscene pressure spots early on. This time Hildy couldn't bail the Twins out, as Teoscar Hernandez's two-run single was the difference-maker in another loss.
Betraying the high expectations he set with a dazzling showing in 2018, May just hasn't looked right this year. His command seems to go amiss every other outing. Swinging strikes are way down. And to whatever extent body language matters, his hasn't really inspired confidence since the start of spring.
Of course, this is a guy who had thrown 25 total innings in the past two years coming into 2019. Hopefully he just needs a little time to settle into his groove. There's no question that he's an absolutely critical factor in a successful turnaround for this relief corps.
For the foreseeable future, it seems likely the bullpen will be this team's most pressing issue – specifically, what the front office can do to bolster it. Fernando Romero wasn't overly impressive during his brief appearance on Saturday. Tyler Duffey (while intriguing) is probably not the answer for late-game leverage. The current IL members (Matt Magill, Addison Reed, Gabriel Moya) can't be counted on for much. If the Twins want to sustain in the division race, they absolutely must avoid leaning too hard on their top relievers early on, which means infusing more high-quality depth.
Naturally, there is a continual fan focus on Craig Kimbrel, given his availability in free agency. I myself favor the idea of pursuing the trade market, where the Twins could procure a prime-aged player with multiple years of control on reasonable financial terms. Through savvy drafting and "sell" moves, Minnesota's front office has built up considerable prospect depth in the minors. If the Twins can acquire an equivalent talent to Ryan Pressly, for an equivalent price that Houston paid, they should be looking to make that move at least once.
Granted, it's early for in-season dealing. But the landscape has never been better, with so many teams unabashed in their tanking intent. Indeed, reports are already arising that the hopelessly irrelevant Giants are open for business:
There are impact arms in that bullpen. Will Smith, Sam Dyson and Nick Vincent, to name a few. And as it happens, the Twins have already swung two trades with San Francisco in the last month (Michael Reed and Tyler Austin). One would hope Thad Levine is already getting on the horn.
DOWN ON THE FARM
For two members of this system's "Big Three," the 2019 season is off to a low-key start. Alex Kirilloff still hasn't played as he recovers from a wrist ailment, and Royce Lewis is hitting .214/.357/.286 at Fort Myers. But there's been nothing quiet about Brusdar Graterol's arrival at Double-A.
The 20-year-old flamethrower was flat-out brilliant on Tuesday night, hurling seven shutout innings with one hit, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Our guy Tom (whose Twitter account is an absolute must-follow for any Twins fan on the platform) has the grisly highlights:
Through three starts at Pensacola, Graterol has allowed one run on seven hits in 17 1/3 innings. If things keep going this way, there's no telling how quickly he could become a factor in the majors.
Orioles, Astros, Orioles, Astros. A weird quirk in the schedule (which have been plentiful early on) has the Twins alternating between these two opponents exclusively for a two-week period. It'll be interesting to see what they do on Wednesday; Jose Berrios was slated to start, but with Friday's rainout he'll be on three days rest. For the purpose of my probable listings below, I'm assuming the Twins slot in another starter (Mejia?) and push everyone else back a day.
MONDAY, 4/22: TWINS @ ASTROS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Brad Peacock
TUESDAY, 4/23: TWINS @ ASTROS – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Wade Miley
WEDNESDAY, 4/24: TWINS @ ASTROS – TBD v. RHP Justin Verlander
FRIDAY, 4/26: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Dan Straily v. RHP Jose Berrios
SATURDAY, 4/27: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Alex Cobb v. LHP Martin Perez
SUNDAY, 4/28: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Dylan Bundy v. RHP Kyle Gibson
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 13 | TOR 5, MIN 3: About That Bullpen ...
- Game 14 | TOR 6, MIN 5: Gut Punch
- Game 15 | MIN 4, TOR 1: Pitching Staff Redemption Night
- Game 16 | TOR 7, MIN 4: Rosario Homers Twice as Twins Drop Game, Series
- Game 17 | MIN 6, TOR 5: Super Rosario Stars as Twins Sweep Doubleheader
- Game 18 | MIN 16, TOR 7: Super Rosario Stars as Twins Sweep Doubleheader
- Game 19 | MIN 4, BAL 3: Gibby Good, Hildy Holds, Rogers Saves the Sweep
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