Week in Review: DEFCON 1
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA Today
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/11 through Sun, 6/17
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 31-37)
Run Differential Last Week: +3 (Overall: -8)
Standing: 3rd Place in AL Central (5.0 GB)
Heading into the series opener against Minnesota on Friday, Corey Kluber was hot as could be, with a 5-0 record and 1.09 ERA in his past six starts.
The first man to step into the box against him was Mauer, thankfully back after losing a month to a scary recurrence of concussion symptoms.
Second was Eddie Rosario, who jumped on the first pitch he saw and launched it over the fence. It proved to be the tone-setter in a big game for the offense, which scored more runs against Kluber (4) than any other opponent has this year, while also becoming the first to send Klubot to the showers before reaching the sixth inning.
Rosario followed up on Saturday with a four-hit game, which included his 16th home run. He finished the week as the 12th-best hitter in the majors by OPS.
One spot behind him was Eduardo "Double or Nothing" Escobar, who tallied three two-baggers on Sunday but failed to score a single time thanks to the Nos. 4 and 5 hitters going 0-for-7. Escobar has collected an incredible 30 doubles through the team's first 68 games, putting him in rare territory:
He went 10-for-23 (.435) last week while driving in six runs in six games. Escobar's inability to cross the plate on Sunday epitomizes a flabbergasting trend: he leads the majors in extra-base hits, but ranks 68th – SIXTY-EIGHTH – in runs scored. The guy they call "Mighty Mouse" is doing everything he can to power this offense, and being let down tremendously by his teammates. But hey, let's stick to the highlights for now.
Kyle Gibson provided his own. On a rare night where he didn't have much on his pitches, Gibby still motored through seven innings in Cleveland, allowing just one run on three hits in a victorious effort. He issued four walks, induced only seven swinging strikes, and tied a season-low with three strikeouts, but Gibson still came through. He has allowed more than three runs only once in his past nine starts, despite completing five or more innings in all of them.
It might sound like hyperbole, but Gibson has legitimately been one of the AL's best pitchers, ranking among the top 20 starters in WAR while consistently giving his team a very good chance. (Of course, he's earned only two "wins," speaking to the offense's lackluster contributions, but again, we're covering highlights here.)
Others in that category last week included Trevor Hildenberger, who delivered two scoreless outings and has quietly been lights-out in his past 20 appearances (1.14 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .188 OBA). Lance Lynn logged his fifth straight quality start, although it ended in ugly fashion.
And we've gotta give some props to Matt Magill, the rarely-used last man in the bullpen who continues to step up when called upon. After Fernando Romero's short start on Saturday, Magill tossed three hitless innings to help seal a W that was in question before he entered.
Magill has pitched only three times in the past three weeks, throwing three or more innings in each appearance and allowing zero runs on one hit. As a low-leverage long man, he ranks first among Twins relievers – and third among all pitchers, after Gibson and Jose Berrios – in Win Probability Added.
That Magill leads the bullpen in WPA, and Escobar has been left standing on base approximately one billion times, both speak to the lack of execution we have seen from this team, time and time again.
The trend carried on this week. Minnesota notched a big victory to open the series in Detroit and then laid down for two lifeless losses. In Cleveland, offensive breakthroughs against Kluber and Carlos Carrasco were followed by a puzzling dud against rookie Shane Bieber, making his second big-league start.
The Twin just can't overcome a complete lack of output from so many contributors. Max Kepler's two-run double off the wall Saturday was nice to see, but it's the only extra-base hit he's mustered in his last 18 games dating back to late May. Logan Morrison's two-hit effort on the same night was helpful, but after turning in another 0-fer on Sunday he's batting .191 and slugging .344 for the season (still hitting cleanup daily, though).
The club's biggest problem child was sent packing after Thursday's loss in Detroit.
Confounded by his total collapse at the plate, the Twins have resorted to extreme measures with Sano, sending the 2017 All-Star down to Single A in what's being framed as essentially a second spring training.
It is telling the front office found Sano's deficiencies so severe that a typical Triple-A demotion wasn't viewed as the solution. They feel he needs a complete rebuild, both on the field and off, so they've sent him to their developmental HQ in Ft. Myers.
Who could argue with the decision?
Since a strong showing in Minnesota's first three series of the season, Sano has been a black hole in the lineup, slashing .182/.237/.331 with 52 strikeouts and nine walks in 131 PA. Worse than the results were the process – ugly AB after ugly AB, marked by constant chases and check swings.
Back in his rookie season, when he took the league by storm with a .916 OPS in 80 games, the most impressive aspect of Sano's performance was his ability to work counts and capitalize. He ran the count full in 28% of his 335 plate appearances, and hit .240/.581/.700 with seven of his 18 homers once he got there, reflecting a tremendously advanced approach.
This year, Sano has reached a full count in only 30 of 163 PA (18%) and has collected two singles. That just about says it all.
He took the demotion in stride, at least publicly, and now Sano will begin the (potentially lengthy) process of trying to find himself, as the Twins try to find themselves without him.
Buxton had a .156 average and .200 slugging percentage in 94 plate appearances before landing back on the disabled list at the end of May. The root of his offensive issues was apparent enough: a terrible approach full of guesses and whiffs.
Fellow young outfielder Kepler, in his last 94 plate appearances, is batting .171 and slugging .268. That includes a .137 average and .157 SLG in June. Unlike Buxton, he doesn't have the unparallelled CF defense to offset his dearth at the dish.
Nor does he have the broken toe, or broken plate approach, to help explain it.
The 25-year-old is taking good at-bats. His 41/32 strikeout-to-walk ratio speaks to a discerning eye; Kepler's BB-rate is third-highest among active Twins and his K-rate is second-lowest. He doesn't get fooled easily. But when he puts the ball in play he's doing no damage. This club just can't afford to be getting nothing from Max with so many others slumping or sidelined.
What to do? At this point there aren't a ton of appealing options.
Send him to the minors, along with so many other members of the team's supposed core? Hardly a likable thought.
Bump him down in the lineup? He already finds himself batting seventh now, even against righties.
I welcome your opinions in the comments. Seems to me that Kepler's swing needs some serious work, given that it's not producing any kind of thunder upon contact. Is James Rowson ready to guide him toward the right path? And is Kepler willing to listen, after showing reluctance to alter his swing during spring training?
DOWN ON THE FARM
While Minnesota's bats have lagged this year, it's been encouraging to see so many promising developments with hitters in the minors. Let's take a quick run through some of the organization's top prospects:
On Thursday, Alex Kirilloff put forth his best effort yet in a season full of strong ones, collecting four hits including a pair of home runs in his second 4-RBI game of June. After clubbing two more doubles on Sunday, he's now slashing .333/.391/.607 for Cedar Rapids, with 38 extra-base hits and 56 RBIs in 65 games, to put himself right back on the national radar following a lengthy absence. I'd expect to see him move up to Ft. Myers within the next month.
Royce Lewis will likely be joining him. The team's No. 1 prospect enjoyed a monster week, going 10-for-24 with four doubles and a home run for the Kernels. We did learn over the weekend that Lewis has been dealing with patellar tendinitis in his knee for the past month, which only makes his resounding success all the more impressive. The rapid development of the teen phenom's power tool this summer has been extremely exciting.
Speaking of power, Travis Blankenhorn won the Florida State League Home Run Derby on Friday by smashing 12 bombs in the final round.
It was a good reminder of the 2015 third-round pick's innate power, which hasn't always shown up on the stat sheet; he hasn't hit a homer for the Miracle since May 11th. However, Blankenhorn is batting .333 with a .388 OBP in June.
With first-round draft pick Trevor Larnach – considered one of the best college bats in the country – expected to sign soon, the organization's long-term offensive outlook is bright.
After treading water again during their 3-3 road trip, the Twins return home and face a tall task with the 49-24 Red Sox coming to town. Last-place Texas theoretically presents an easier assignment over the weekend.
The Indians are looking ahead to home series against the White Sox and Tigers, so if things go as one would expect this week, the Twins may find themselves in dire straits come next Sunday. They are already five games out, with the season's halfway mark approaching, after failing to seize a prime opportunity for the sweep in Cleveland.
TUESDAY, 6/19: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Chris Sale v. RHP Jose Berrios
WEDNESDAY, 6/20: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP David Price v. RHP Lance Lynn
THURSDAY, 6/21: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Rick Porcello v. RHP Kyle Gibson
FRIDAY, 6/22: RANGERS @ TWINS – LHP Mike Minor v. RHP Fernando Romero
SATURDAY, 6/23: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Yovani Gallardo v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SUNDAY, 6/24: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Bartolo Colon v. RHP Jose Berrios
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 63 | MIN 6, DET 4: More Grand Slams, Please
- Game 64 | DET 5, MIN 2: Bulldog Berrios and the Addison Reed Experience
- Game 65 | DET 3, MIN 1: Lynn Overexposed, Offense Overmatched
- Game 66 | MIN 6, CLE 3: Anything is Possible
- Game 67 | MIN 9, CLE 3: That’s Our Eddie
- Game 68 | CLE 4, MIN 1: Lots of Traffic, Just One Run
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