Week in Review: Crisis of Leadership
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/14 through Sun, 5/20
Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 19-23)
Run Differential Last Week: -4 (Overall: -21)
Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (2.5 GB)
Before we dive into the usual highlights, lowlights, storylines and minor-league updates, let's just get this out there: the Twins are in disarray, and it is the guys who are supposed to be leading that are in fact dragging them down.
Prior to the season, my bold and optimistic prediction was that Dozier and Buxton would both be Top 5 finishers in the American League MVP voting:
Call it homerish or pollyannaish if you please, but the take wasn't without solid founding. Dozier and Buxton were among the league's most impactful players in the latter portion of 2017, each earning down-ballot MVP votes.
This year, circumstances favored big seasons for both: Dozier in a walk year staring down free agency; Buxton with 1,000 MLB plate appearances in the bank, appearing to have legitimately turned a corner with his approach.
Instead, both players have fallen back into their most frustrating patterns at the plate – Dozier skidding through lengthy stretches of unproductivity with an exploitable swing, Buxton resembling an overwhelmed A-baller trying to fend off peak Pedro Martinez in pretty much every AB.
Over the past week, the two combined to go 3-for-37 with 13 strikeouts. Dozier is batting .175 in 26 games since the start of the Yankees series. Buxton's OPS is teetering around .400.
Meanwhile, other top contributors from 2017 who were hoped to be integral cogs in a contending effort – Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana, Jorge Polanco – have been either mostly or entirely absent. And now another is sidelined with Joe Mauer hitting the disabled list this week following an ominous return of concussion symptoms.
Granted, you can't plan for all the injuries and attrition; I'm sure no one foresaw the Twins with Jake Cave, Ehire Adrianza and Bobby Wilson comprising one-third of their lineup for an important Saturday night game in mid-May. But times like this are when you need your leaders to step up. Right now Dozier and Buxton keep falling down.
Since moving to 8-5 with an extra-inning victory over Cleveland in Puerto Rico, the Twins have gone 11-18 over the past calendar month. They've been outscored by 31 runs. That's an extended run of performance suggesting this team just isn't very good, which is distressing at a time of such ripe opportunity.
More than a dozen clubs are actively trying to tank. The Twins conversely have pushed their payroll past historical thresholds in an effort to contend, and they're coming up empty, being outpaced by acknowledged non-factors.
The good news is there's a lot of season left. The ripeness of this opportunity won't go away too soon. Cleveland has yet to take off, and Minnesota still has plenty of games remaining against the division's dregs to help fuel a rapid climb.
But before we can even re-enter discussions about their merits as a contender, the Twins actually must first prove they're a quality team. Right now it's very much in question, and urgency is building if they're to prove these aren't their true colors.
It's time for the leaders to stop lagging and start leading.
Because he endured such a prolonged slump to open the campaign, it's going to be a while before Logan Morrison's overall numbers broadcast on the Target Field scoreboard look any good. But over the past month he has quietly transformed into the powerful offensive infusion we all hoped he would be.
Morrison's low point came in April's 16-inning marathon against the Indians, when he went 0-for-7 to drop his average to .068, his OPS to .271. The next game, in Tampa, brought the slugger's first home run as a Twin, and that sparked a healthy uptick. Since going hitless in Puerto Rico, Morrison is slashing .281/.385/.517 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 27 games. Over the last week he went 6-for-17 and delivered key hits in both victories, a rare bright spot for this sputtering offense.
(Of course, as things are going, even Morrison couldn't escape the infectious jinx plaguing the team; he was picked off at second after a leadoff double on Saturday night, an absolutely critical error.)
Now that he's playing up to his ability, we can appreciate the 30-year-old's addition for the majorly impactful move it was by the front office. With Dozier dragging along, Sano absent, and now Mauer gone, Morrison's bat has been life-saving for the lineup.
This is especially true when you consider Kennys Vargas, who'd have been counted on for the same role if not for LoMo's spring training sign-on, is batting .213 at Triple-A.
While Morrison has come around, another late-offseason free agent addition continues to flounder.
What is the freaking deal with Lance Lynn?? After a horrendous month of April the veteran righty appeared to be finally getting on track with his first start of May, picking up his first win on six innings of two-run ball against the White Sox. Most notably, he issued zero walks and threw 73% strikes.
But Lynn regressed in his next start, and further unraveled in his latest effort, lasting only three innings against St. Louis on Wednesday while issuing four walks and throwing only 46 of his egregious 82 pitches in the zone.
There's a school of thought suggesting the starter's struggles can be attributed to his late start in spring training, and I was sympathetic to that notion for a time, but at this point it's out the window. We're now seven weeks into the season and Lynn has made eight starts. Plus, he came out of the gates firing in his first Grapefruit start, making it clear he was taking care of things on his end while waiting to sign a contract.
It's possible, maybe even probable, that being thrown out of his routine contributed to Lynn stumbling out of the gates this year. But this no longer qualifies as a viable excuse. With each successive inexplicably erratic dud, it's becoming easier to see why he was forced to settle for a one-year contract in mid-March, despite his impressive career numbers.
At least to some extent, the league saw this coming.
Another thing that wasn't too hard to see coming: Jason Castro's absence, like those of so many Twins players to go down with injuries this season, extending beyond than the team's initial timeline. In this case, however, the news is especially bad: upon going under the knife last week, it was determined that Castro needed more extensive surgery than anticipated, and he'll miss the rest of the season.
This is a bigger loss for the pitching staff than the lineup, but it's a painful one on that front. Castro brought excellent framing skills along with a good arm, and had developed trust and rapport with the staff. Now, the Twins are forced to rely on still-unproven Mitch Garver and 35-year-old minor-league journeyman Bobby Wilson. Not a situation that inspires a lot of confidence.
It seems the best hope for the Twins right now is Sano returning to provide a serious jolt that electrifies this sleepwalking lineup. He's on the rehab trail, having played at Rochester on Saturday and Sunday. In those games, Sano went a combined 0-for-4 with three walks and two strikeouts. He committed an error on one of his three chances in the field.
Rust is understandably a factor, particularly since Sano wasn't looking very sharp before the injury. But as long as that hamstring is sound, the Twins need to get him back in the fold ASAP to try and ignite something, anything, for the offense.
It sounds like the plan is to take it slow with Sano, who will be in Triple-A at least through Wednesday. Ideally he'll show promising signs in LeHigh Valley early this week, then join the Twins in Seattle next weekend when they kick off a six-game road trip.
Meanwhile, Trevor May is almost back. The righty stretched out to 58 pitches in a solid four-inning start at Rochester on Thursday. He'll likely work up to ~80 pitches this week and should basically be ready to start in the majors on May 28th, when he's eligible to come off the disabled list. Incidentally, that date (next Monday) coincides exactly with Lynn's turn in the rotation.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Things are happening in Cedar Rapids. While the most imminent wave of high-caliber young talent is either in the majors (Fernando Romero) or soon to arrive (Stephen Gonsalves, Nick Gordon), the slightly more distant group terrorizing the Midwest League should have Twins fans licking their chops.
Right-hander Brusdar Graterol is the most exciting pitcher in the system right now and one of the most exciting in baseball. He dazzled everyone in attendance last Monday with 5 2/3 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. Unleashing numerous 100-MPH heaters, he racked up 10 strikeouts on 21 batters faced.
In Twins Daily's profile on Graterol when we ranked him as the organization's No. 9 prospect before the season, Tom Froemming laid it out like this: "Graterol is one of the highest ceiling/lowest floor prospects in all of baseball, let alone the Twins’ system. He definitely has true ace potential, already possessing two plus pitches."
We're seeing the ceiling early on from the 19-year-old flamethrower, and it is towering. We saw the floor a little bit in his fourth start on Sunday, when Graterol issued five walks in five innings, but nonetheless he has a 0.93 ERA and 27-to-6 K/BB ratio through 19 1/3 frames.
On the same day of Graterol's 10-K masterpiece, Alex Kirilloff was firing up another big week at the plate with a two-hit game. He went on to collect 13 hits in 30 at-bats, and on the season he's batting .324 with seven home runs and a system-leading 34 RBI. Much like Graterol, Kirilloff is finding his stride quickly after losing major time to injury, quickly reaffirming his status as one of the farm's elite talents.
We'll get our first look at Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers to start the week, then it's off to Seattle for late-night West Coast baseball on Memorial Day Weekend. Afterward, the Twins will head to Kansas City for three games before returning home to face Cleveland four times. That has the potential to be a pivotal mid-season series. Will the Twins be within striking distance by the time it arrives? Not if they keep playing the way they have.
MONDAY, 5/21: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Blaine Hardy v. RHP Jose Berrios
TUESDAY, 5/22: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Matthew Boyd v. RHP Lance Lynn
WEDNESDAY, 5/23: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Michael Fulmer v. RHP Kyle Gibson
FRIDAY, 5/25: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Fernando Romero v. LHP James Paxton
SATURDAY, 5/26: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. LHP Wade LeBlanc
SUNDAY, 5/27: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Mike Leake
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 37 | SEA 1, MIN 0: Twins Get LeBlanc'ed
- Game 38 | MIN 4, STL 1: Berrios is Back
- Game 39 | STL 7, MIN 5: Lynn with a Dud Again
- Game 40 | MIL 8, MIN 3: Gibson Falters, Mauer Exits Due to Neck Injury
- Game 41 | MIL 5, MIN 4: Jake Cave Homers in MLB Debut
- Game 42 | MIN 3, MIL 1: Odorizzi Ks 10, LoMo Delivers Go-Ahead Hit
- Tickets are available now for our "Picnic with the Saints" event, coming up on June 8th. It's an excellent value and a perfect outing for the family. Make sure to sign up before we sell out!
- Jamie Cameron looked at the evolution of Jose Berrios, highlighting the many adaptations and alterations he's made along the way.
- Twins Daily user and orthopaedic surgeon Heezy1323 shared some helpful information on knee surgeries and what may have happened with Castro.
- Platoon and caninatl04 like this