Week in Review: Hitting a Stride
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/13 through Sun, 8/19
Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 59-64)
Run Differential Last Week: +12 (Overall: -21)
Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (12.0 GB)
It's been awhile since we've had a noteworthy Joe Mauer highlight to celebrate, which speaks to his generally disappointing production this summer, but that didn't make last week's big moment feel any less special. Called upon as a pinch-hitter Friday night with the Twins trailing by a run in the seventh, Mauer got a hold of one and drove it over the wall in right-center, propelling Minnesota to victory.
For all his shortcomings – among 23 qualified MLB first basemen, he ranks 18th in OPS – no one could accuse of Mauer of being unclutch:
Even in his greatly diminished state, Mauer remains a genuinely trustworthy player in key spots. He's not the best hitter on the team but I'll still take him over anyone else with a crucial run 90 or 180 feet away. If this is the end of the road for him (more on that in a bit), that's definitely something I'll always remember about the latest stage of his career.
Mauer added another home run in his first at-bat on Saturday, nearly matching his previous season total (3) in a week that saw him go 8-for-21 (.381) overall.
Although he has moved around in Paul Molitor's lineups a little, last week Jorge Polanco batted third in every game, and sure looked like a No. 3 hitter, driving in eight runs in six games. He flashed some nice pop with three doubles and a big home run.
There were several other big contributors in an outstanding week for the offense, which produced 41 runs in six games. Miguel Sano sustained his invigorating re-emergence, launching three home runs and a double while driving in six. Logan Forsythe tallied five hits in Thursday's 15-run explosion and is batting .361 since joining the team at the end of July. Tyler Austin went 8-for-16 with two homers. Eddie Rosario collected hits in every game, and delivered the decisive dinger on Sunday afternoon.
In the bullpen, Trevor Hildenberger rebounded from a run of bad outings, converting all three save chances in his first full week as closer. But it's Taylor Rogers who now stands out as the leader and stalwart of this bullpen. He's been pretty much spotless in August, and kept it rolling last week with four scoreless appearances.
Fresh off his misguided "front office gave up on us" grumblings, Ervin Santana took the hill and contributed another clunker. Despite being staked to eight early runs on Thursday night, Santana made things interesting by serving meatballs to Detroit's meager lineup, coughing up seven runs over four innings.
In five starts since rejoining the Twins rotation, Santana has an 8.03 ERA and 4% swinging strike rate, with his fastball rarely reaching the 90s. Astonishingly, he has surrendered nine home runs in 24 2/3 innings.
Clearly not close to 100%, and showing no meaningful progress, Santana was shut down again following his latest outing. It's unlikely we'll see him on the mound again this season, and that's for the best. The Twins gain far more benefit from giving those starts to others going forward.
One very deserving candidate will finally get his chance on Monday, jumping into Santana's vacant spot. We'll cover this excellent news shortly.
Jose Berrios endured his own struggles on Wednesday against Pittsburgh. It was the third time in his past four turns he's failed to complete the fifth inning, and on this occasion he couldn't even get through four. The right-hander's control, so sharp for much of the first half, has gradually deteriorated – in his first 13 starts he issued 14 walks in 83 2/3 innings (1.5 BB/9), while in the latter 12 he's issued 30 in 70 innings (4.3 BB/9).
Speaking of shaky control, Kohl Stewart was plagued by it in his second MLB start, which lasted only 2 2/3 innings on Saturday. He threw just 31 of 65 pitches for strikes, and issued four walks, showing poor command while failing to replicate the grounder-heavy contact mix from his debut. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd love to see Stewart in relief before year's end. It's fairly evident the stuff doesn't play as a starter. But it'll all be moot if he can't stay in the zone.
Mauer's big home run on Friday night was a nice moment, but it doesn't change the reality that he's having one of his worst seasons at age 35. One has to believe he's had conversations with the Twins about his future.
Maybe they're happy to bring him back on a cheapish short-term deal. Mauer can still be helpful in some capacity. Then again, the new regime isn't really attached to him, and Mauer doesn't necessarily fit with the vision of a rebuilt winner for the future.
It's hard to imagine him playing anywhere else, so if the front office is signaling lukewarm interest, perhaps Mauer will determine the time has come. If so, how would it be handled?
The homegrown MVP has enjoyed one of the better careers in franchise history, one deserving of celebration. It's not exactly in Joe's nature to make himself the center of attention, but I'd hope he will facilitate a bit of a send-off if he decides to retire with time remaining in the season. The fans would really enjoy it and I'm sure the team's marketing department would too.
Following Monday's makeup game against the White Sox, the Twins have three homestands remaining – a four-game set against Oakland next weekend, followed by a six-gamer in early September and seven games to wrap up year, with Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers on hand for the second-to-last series.
Worth keeping in mind.
DOWN ON THE FARM
The top three Twins pitching prospects are all trending up, and one is moving up.
Brusdar Graterol and Stephen Gonsalves were already established as the cream of the system's crop, and reinforced their standings with big performances last week.
On Wednesday, Graterol fired seven innings of one-run ball for the Miracle, scattering three hits and three walks while striking out six. In his last five starts he is 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA, and opponents are batting .196. The hard-throwing righty, who turns 20 next week, has wasted little time transferring his dominance from the Midwest League to the Florida State League.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves took care of business yet again, and finally got his just reward. He tossed six shutout innings on Tuesday to extend a spectacular run in the International League, where he has allowed only nine runs on 34 hits in his past 64 innings. On Sunday, we learned that he'll be making his major-league debut on Monday against the White Sox.
A brief Red Wings teammate after joining Gonsalves in Rochester roster last week, Lewis Thorpe solidified his case for being mentioned alongside him and Graterol. In his first Triple-A start on Wednesday, Thorpe threw 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball with no walks and nine strikeouts, inducing an eye-popping 22 swinging strikes. In his last 10 Double A starts before the promotion he'd posted a 2.09 ERA and 66-to-10 K/BB ratio in 52 innings with opponents slashing .178/.221/.259.
Thorpe is a stud and given his presence on the 40-man roster I wouldn't be surprised if we see him in September alongside the newly promoted Gonsalves.
Monday's game is the kind of exciting draw that keeps fans watching in a lost season. We've been waiting a long time to see Gonsalves on the big-league stage and now we'll finally get our chance after his magnificent stretch at Triple-A. It's a much-needed glimpse of the team's hopefully bright future.
White Sox fans are surely feeling the same way about the next game, which will see Michael Kopech make his big-league debut against Minnesota. Ranked as the game's 13th-best prospect by Baseball America, Kopech has an incredible fastball that's sure to give Twins hitters fits, on Tuesday and well beyond.
MONDAY, 8/20: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Lucas Giolito v. LHP Stephen Gonsalves
TUESDAY, 8/21: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Michael Kopech
WEDNESDAY, 8/22: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Carlos Rodon
THURSDAY, 8/23: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Cahill v. RHP Kohl Stewart
FRIDAY, 8/24: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – LHP Sean Manaea v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SATURDAY, 8/25: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – RHP Mike Fiers v. LHP Stephen Gonsalves
SUNDAY, 8/26: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – LHP Brett Anderson v. RHP Jose Berrios
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 117 | MIN 5, PIT 2: Odorizzi, Polanco Spark Comeback
- Game 118 | MIN 6, PIT 4: New-Look Bullpen Boosts Twins Over Buccos
- Game 119 | MIN 15, DET 8: Five Hits for Forsythe in Busy Night on the Bases
- Game 120 | MIN 5, DET 4: Take a Bow, Joe
- Game 121 | DET 7, MIN 5: Stewart Bombs Second Audition
- Game 122 | MIN 5, DET 4: Late Rosario Homer Lifts Twins to Elusive One-Run Victory
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