Week in Review: Closing In
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/16 through Sun, 9/22
Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 96-60)
Run Differential Last Week: +2 (Overall: +167)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (4.0 GA)
Magic Number: 3
The Twins got Marwin Gonzalez back last week. The versatile vet returned on Monday following a three-week absence, starting six of the team's seven games. Max Kepler, however, remains sidelined. He played only one inning all week, appearing briefly at the end of Saturday's loss to Kansas City as a pinch-runner and center fielder. He hasn't taken an at-bat since the doubleheader in Cleveland two weekends ago, and there is still no firm timeline for him to rejoin the lineup.
Adding to the team's injury woes is Mitch Garver, who came out of Sunday's game midway through with right hip tightness, which seemed to be affecting him at the plate beforehand. His removal was deemed precautionary, but at this late stage it's worrisome to see the club's best hitter dealing with any kind of new health issue.
In a season full of a good stories, Randy Dobnak might have 'em all beat.
The pitching staff on its own has a number of inspirational and remarkable rookie narratives, from Ryne Harper to Devin Smeltzer to Cody Stashak and beyond. These are underdogs contributing to one of the greatest teams in Twins history, each with his own uniquely heartwarming backstory. But Dobnak has got to take the cake.
The story detailed by Dan Hayes at The Athletic pretty much says it all: Dobnak has a wedding coming up on September 28th and he had to sheepishly ask his manager for permission to attend it. Why, you might ask, would a baseball player schedule a wedding for the final weekend of the MLB season? Because two years ago, when the date was set, what's happening now was not even on the radar.
Dobnak was an undrafted pitcher out of the GMAC, throwing in Utica for an indy team before the Twins signed him in 2017. While not the most flashy or dominant, all he's done since coming aboard is shut down hitters. He improbably flew through the minors on that strength and now is logging big innings during a pennant race. On Friday, Dobnak fired 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Royals, lowering his ERA to 2.01 through eight appearances. It seems very likely he'll be on the playoff roster. A case can even be made for him as their Game 2 starter. Unreal.
Another starter building confidence as October approaches: Jake Odorizzi, who was in dominant form against Chicago on Wednesday with nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball. With 13 swinging strikes on the night, Odorizzi notched double-digits for a 10th straight turn. His 13.9% whiff rate over that span ranks 12th in baseball.
The Twins can't count on Odorizzi giving them much length – he has completed six innings only once in his last 15 starts, and hasn't pitched into the seventh since early May – but he has reliably held opposing offenses in check. The recipe in October will call for him to get through five solid frames, with Minnesota relying on its bullpen depth to handle the balance.
That bullpen, for the most part, continues to deliver. Trevor May gave up two solo homers to the White Sox Tuesday in his worst outing since July, but came back with a vengeance, striking out six over 2 2/3 innings against Kansas City. His save on Friday night, which saw him strike out the side on 13 pitches, was one of the most dominant appearances we've seen from a Twins pitcher all year. At least, up until Tyler Duffey did it on 12 pitches in the fifth inning Sunday, running his scoreless appearance streak to 25 in the process. Stashak added onto his quietly fantastic rookie campaign with seven strikeouts over three scoreless innings.
Stashak has a 3.13 ERA and 23-to-2 K/BB ratio in 23 innings since being called up, and his swinging strike rate is eighth-highest among AL relievers since the All-Star break – one spot behind Duffey. With his outstanding ability to pound the zone and miss bats, Stashak is making an ironclad case for inclusion on the postseason roster.
Offensively, Miguel Sano is driving the bus. He was an absolute slugging force last week, piling up four homers, a double, and a triple (!) while driving in 11 runs. He struck out only eight times in 31 plate appearances, with four walks. It is just a joyous delight to watch that powerful swing connect:
Nelson Cruz broke out of his minor slump on Thursday, launching a pair of homers with five RBIs, and the DH added five more hits over the weekend. On Sunday he boomsticked his 40th home run of the season and the 400th of his career. Best free agent signing in Twins history? He could lock up that title with a big October.
I would be remiss not to mention LaMonte Wade Jr.'s awesome week. He didn't get a ton of ABs, but made the most of them, going 5-for-13 with a monster home run and contributing a key play on the base paths as a pinch-runner in Tuesday night's thrilling win. He has quietly been tremendous during his rookie stint, showing zero signs of intimidation. The Twins have gotta be feeling quite good about their outfield depth moving forward.
Flashy contributions from Sano and Cruz notwithstanding, the offense has been rather tepid of late. You'd like to see hitters getting fat against the weak pitching staffs in town over the past week, but the lineup was silent for long stretches, and put forth a couple of strikingly sub par efforts – most notably when they were no-hit through five innings in a one-run effort against Chicago in a bullpen game Wednesday.
Sunday's 12-run outburst marked Minnesota's first time since August 30th reaching double digits, their second-longest such drought of the year. The Twins' team OPS in September is the lowest of any month by 50 points. They've been held to two or fewer runs seven times, which is already more than any previous month.
Yes, some of this does owe to injuries – Kepler's absence looms large – but there's also been a lack of thunder and/or consistency from some players the Twins are counting on. Eddie Rosario had a couple big games, but also went hitless in three of seven, with his undisciplined plate approach and generally questionable effort level causing some frustration. Jonathan Schoop went 1-for-14 on the week. Willians Astudillo's (0-for-6) at-bats have become so uninspiring I had to finally pull the plug on the Willians Watch weekly tracker.
If they are to have any hope of moving past the first round of the playoffs, the Twins will need their offense to rise to the occasion, plain and simple. Because, despite the bullpen's impressive rise and Odorizzi's potency, this pitching staff isn't offering much reason to believe.
Jose Berrios lapsed on Saturday night against Kansas City, coughing up five runs over six innings. His performance wasn't as bad as the numbers show, but nevertheless it was another poor result for Minnesota's likely Game 1 starter.
Kyle Gibson might've pitched his way off the postseason roster on Thursday with an abhorrent performance that saw him fail to get through two innings. Gibson walked four of the 12 batters he faced, threw only 25 of 52 pitches for strikes, and visibly ran out of gas in a hurry. He's scheduled to get one more start in Detroit on Tuesday, but I'm not sure what he can do at this point to convince the Twins they can trust him in any capacity.
With Gibson becoming a nonfactor, the Twins will be pressed into relying on Martin Perez, who looked flat-out awful while surrendering an egregious 18 hits over seven total innings in two starts against poor lineups. They'll also need maximum efficacy throughout the bullpen ranks, which is why it was troubling to see Taylor Rogers lit up by Kansas City on Saturday night, when he gave up three runs on three hits while recording only one out (on a sacrifice). It was his first time allowing multiple runs in an outing since the grand slam against Cleveland seven weeks ago, so hopefully nothing but a late-season hiccup for the closer.
How are the Twins going to piece together enough quality innings to have a chance against New York or Houston in a short series? That's the urgent question with one week to go until the playoffs. Impressions made here in the final days of the season are going to matter; Rocco Baldelli has only two viable starters and a shortage of experienced, established relief arms. He will need to ride his hot hands to some extent. Can Gibson do anything to salvage the end of his season? Can Perez inspire any semblance of faith? How will the back end of an October bullpen come together, with numerous deserving candidates for a limited number of spots? These are pivotal questions needing answers.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Action is underway in the Arizona Fall League, and Minnesota's top prospect has wasted no time putting on a show.
On Thursday night Royce Lewis started in center field and made a dazzling catch that brought to mind visions of Byron Buxton:
Shortly thereafter, he uncorked a towering home run to left field:
It's certainly been interesting to see Lewis, who played shortstop almost exclusively for the Miracle and Blue Wahoos this season, make starts at both center field and third base in his first week in the AFL. This is a necessary machination in a league where many prospects need to be fitted into lineups, but it's especially interesting to monitor with Lewis, whose future defensive home could very well be one of these positions.
Given his speed and instincts, it always stood to reason that Lewis could be an asset in center. It was fun to see the skills manifesting on the field.
The best road team in baseball heads out for a final midwest swing, which will bring them through Detroit and Kansas City to close things out against the dregs of the AL Central. They should theoretically be able to wrap up the division before the weekend, then start prepping for the ALDS. All eyes will be on the health status of guys like Kepler and Garver, who now have about one week left to get right.
TUESDAY, 9/24: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Spencer Turnbull
WEDNESDAY, 9/25: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Daniel Norris
THURSDAY: 9/26: TWINS @ TIGERS – TBD v. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
FRIDAY, 9/27: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. LHP Eric Skoglund
SATURDAY, 9/28: TWINS @ ROYALS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Glenn Sparkman
SUNDAY, 9/29: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Jorge Lopez
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 150 | MIN 5, CWS 3: Berrios Tosses a Strong 7.1 Innings
- Game 151 | MIN 9, CWS 8: Twins Win Wild Game on a Walk Off Hit-By-Pitch
- Game 152 | CWS 3, MIN 1: Twins’ Offense Absent Against Chicago Bullpen Game
- Game 153 | MIN 8, KC 5: Nelson Cruz Crushes 2 Homers in 8-5 Win
- Game 154 | MIN 4, KC 3: Randy Dobnak Continues to Dominate in 4-3 Win
- Game 155 | KC 12, MIN 5: Twins Blow Lead, Implode in Ninth
- Game 156 | MIN 12, KC 8: Twins Offense Erupts for Twelve Runs Over Royals
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