Week in Review: Home Cooking
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/10 through Sun, 6/16
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 47-23)
Run Differential Last Week: +4 (Overall: +116)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (10.0 GA)
Willians Watch: 12-for-25 with 2 HR last week at Triple-A
First of all, I must point out that the "Willians Watch" tracker, which has been a depressing sight for the past many editions, is firing up again. During his first full week back at Triple-A, Willians Astudillo made a pretty strong case that it's beneath him, putting up the absurd numbers you see above. In eight games since his demotion, Astudillo is now hitting .545 with three homers and nine RBIs. He's come right back out of his shell.
There wasn't too much activity on the transaction front last week. On Thursday, the Twins sent down reliever Ryan Eades and recalled Fernando Romero, who was himself demoted a day later (for reasons you'll read about in the Lowlights section below). Zack Littell was recalled to replace him following a very successful run in the Rochester bullpen (2.35 ERA, 13/1 K/BB ratio in 7.2 IP).
Like any other week, it'd be appropriate to start out by shoveling praise on the offense. The bats were tremendous once again, averaging nearly six runs while extending their games-with-a-homer streak to 14. We'll cover some top performers in a moment. But first, let's give a shout-out to this team's starting rotation, which continues to amaze.
On Wednesday, Jose Berrios was on his game once again, holding a potent Seattle lineup to one run over 6 2/3 innings. It was his fourth straight turn pitching into the seventh inning, a feat he's accomplished in six of eight starts since the beginning of May. He's been a workhorse and a stud. After striking out six with two walks in this latest effort, Berrios is now rocking a 4.94 K/BB ratio, which ranks sixth in the American League.
Closing in on Berrios in those rankings is Kyle Gibson, who's now seventh with a 4.53 K/BB after notching six strikeouts and zero walks on Friday night in one of the best outings of his career. Dueling head-to-head with Kansas City's top starter Brad Keller, Gibby fired eight shutout innings, matching Berrios' gem on Opening Day for the highest Game Score by a Twins pitcher this year (84).
Slowed by an offseason illness, Gibson was running a little behind in his spring build-up, and it showed early on: In his first three starts, he allowed eight walks and 18 hits over 14 2/3 innings with a 7.36 ERA. In 10 starts since, the right-hander has posted a 2.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 65-to-9 K/BB ratio in 60 2/3 innings. He also has a 14.9% swinging strike rate during this span; that'd rank fifth in all of baseball between Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg.
Gibson is every bit as good as he was last year, if not better. That's a huge development for this unit.
Even Michael Pineda joined the fun this week with his finest start as a Twin. On Thursday, the big righty tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits. He left the game with a zero on the board, but reliever Ryne Harper quickly let an inherited run score, depriving Pineda of his first clean outing for Minnesota.
Still, it was another positive step forward from the 30-year-old, who's shown a noticeable velocity bump after returning from a two-week stint on the Injured List:
The reasonable expectation for Pineda was always that he'd improve over the course of the season as he ramped up in the wake of Tommy John surgery. That's exactly what we're seeing, and I really like how the Twins are managing his workload to keep him fresh for the second half. His IL stint was seemingly designed to give him a breather (with no real downside, as Devin Smeltzer pitched well in his stead) and Pineda has yet to throw 100 pitches in a start.
Okay, on to that offense. Once again there were plenty of monster performers last week, so let's just run through them in bullet-point fashion:
- Max Kepler has been on an absolute tear. After collecting four hits in Sunday's series finale against Kansas City, he finished at 9-for-23 on the week with two homers and three doubles. He drew five walks, and is working a free pass in nearly 20% of his June plate appearances.
- Ehire Adrianza is earning himself regular playing time on merit. The utilityman started four of six games last week, as Rocco Baldelli found him opportunities at third, short, and first. Adrianza responded by continuing to rake, with five hits in 15 at-bats. He's hitting .404 in his last 22 games.
- Mitch Garver had a magical night on Friday, delivering a dramatic two-run homer that broke a scoreless tie and propelled Minnesota to victory over KC. He was 4-for-15 on the week and has mostly picked up where he left off since coming off the IL, with nine RBIs in 10 games.
- Marwin Gonzalez continues to be an incredibly value asset. Last week he played in all six games, starting five. He appeared at four different positions while tallying eight hits (including a pair of home runs) in 23 at-bats.
- Nelson Cruz provided further evidence his wrist is feeling okay as he collected six hits in 20 ABs, including a pair of big homers.
- Jonathan Schoop rebounded from a quiet week with a 7-for-19, sprinkling in a home run and a double.
- Jorge Polanco just kept on doing his thing, finishing 8-for-27 with as many walks (3) as strikeouts. It wasn't even really a highlight week by his standards, but that alone seems worthy of calling out.
Can anyone fix Romero? As he rose rapidly through the minor-league ranks, the hard-throwing righty gained repute as the system's best power arm in years. He looked decent last year as a rookie for Minnesota, but the decision to shift him into a bullpen role here in 2019 made all the sense in the world, from my view.
Unfortunately, it's been pretty much a total disaster. His latest call-up wasn't exactly earned by his performance in the minors (he posted a 6.06 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over a month in Rochester following his early-May demotion), but the Twins evidently wanted to take another look and have their big-league coaches work with him more closely. It took only one appearance to reverse that plan. Romero was unbelievably brutal when called upon to pitch with a nine-run lead on Thursday, allowing all four batters faced to reach on two hits and two walks. He threw just six of 16 pitches for strikes and induced zero swings-and-misses.
The good news, I guess, is that Romero's arm appears to be healthy; he was bringing upper-90s heat with movement. Yet he lacked any semblance of command, and hitters were feasting, as they have all year. Getting him on track seems like one of Minnesota's best bets for impactful late-inning bullpen help, but sadly, it now feels like more of a long shot than ever.
His absence looms large in a bullpen that showed its problematic lack of depth last week, especially with Taylor Rogers unavailable for a few games due to back tightness. Harper continues to dazzle but the unit is lacking for other trustworthy options. Blake Parker looks so bad right now it's semi-shocking the Twins haven't found an excuse to put him on the shelf; he has coughed up nine earned runs, and five homers, in his last seven appearances. Tyler Duffey is filthy at times, but prone to clunkers like the ugly 10th inning that cost Minnesota Wednesday's game and spoiled Buxton's big moment. Trevor May navigated a precarious save conversion on Tuesday, then struggled through a shaky outing the following night. He's still having a really hard time getting opponents to chase, resulting in prolonged counts and plenty of stress. Matt Magill's been filling the bases with runners all month, including last week when he yielded two hits and three walks in four innings. None of three runs allowed by Mike Morin on Sunday were charged as earned, preserving his misleading 1.17 ERA, but he didn't look good.
This bullpen is a problem. We already knew that, but it was resoundingly reaffirmed last week, even against substandard competition. Anxiety is going to run high if any tight late-inning situations develop against the imposing Red Sox lineup in the coming series.
Minnesota generally had an ugly week defensively (which is, refreshingly, uncharacteristic). But no one's poor glovework stuck out more than Miguel Sano's. He had a fine week at the plate (4-for-14 with a home run) but Sano butchered a couple of plays at third base, and they were both costly. On Wednesday in extra innings, he mishandled a grounder and then airmailed it to first, allowing two critical runs to score. He was charged with two errors on the play, a rarity. Sano logged a third error for the week when he let a bad hop eat him up on Sunday, allowing yet another key run across.
When Sano is able to secure the ball and whip it across the diamond, it's a beautiful thing. His arm strength is unassailable. But overall consistency has been amiss, and to my eye, Sano has missed quite a few plays he should've made. He already has five errors in just 21 games.
With Cruz and C.J. Cron entrenched at DH and first, the Twins have little choice but to run Sano out at third base and hope he improves if they want his bat in the lineup. I did find it quite curious that Baldelli put Sano at third and Adrianza at first with Cron sitting on Sunday, though Adrianza did have his own ugly defensive gaffe at the hot corner one night earlier.
The first domino has fallen, so to speak. On Saturday, the Yankees traded for Seattle's Edwin Encarnacion, adding the American League's leading home run hitter to their lineup (which already features No. 2, Gary Sanchez). The Mariners, apparently, are completely open for business:
There are some interesting candidates there from the Twins' perspective (albeit no game-changing bullpen additions). The bigger story is that Buying Season is officially underway. Minnesota isn't compelled to wait until late July to pull the trigger on improvements. Although the Twins don't really need to worry about their division lead – still in double-digits as we head into the second half of June – they do need to be thinking about building for primetime. The aforementioned bullpen issues make clear that there is some work to do.
One tidbit to file away: Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press wrote over the weekend that Minnesota is pursuing a deal for San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner...
DOWN ON THE FARM
As the Twins evaluate internal relief options, Sean Poppen is a name we should probably be paying attention to. He's been fantastic since a promotion to Rochester in late May, working as a starter but showing traits of a guy who might level-up in the pen. On Thursday he struck out nine over six innings of one-run ball; through four starts with the Red Wings, he has a 1.13 ERA and 29-to-9 K/BB ratio over 24 innings. A former 19th-round draft pick out of Harvard, the 25-year-old righty owns a 3.17 career ERA in the minors, averaging a strikeout per inning.
Of course, Poppen is likely behind a couple of fellow Rochester starters in line. Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe are both already on the 40-man roster, and making their own strong cases for consideration. Smeltzer struck out 10 with zero walks over 5 2/3 frames on Sunday, while Thorpe had fired five shutout frames on Wednesday, allowing one hit and striking out nine. The Twins could really use another left-hander in the pen (they had none available when Rogers was sidelined in the early part of last week) so I'd expect to see one of these two get a look soon. Both have the potential to be legitimate difference-makers.
Big test on deck. The Twins have taken care of business thus far in a home stand full of also-rans, winning series against Detroit, Seattle and Kansas City, but now they'll wrap it up with a tough challenge against the Red Sox. Don't be fooled by Boston's third-place standing in the East and pedestrian record. They started 6-13 but have been rolling since with a 33-21 record since, and they head into Minnesota on a five-game winning streak. Can Berrios, Pineda and Gibson back up their latest performances against a far better lineup?
Next weekend, the Twins will head down to Kansas City. As will I, along with a large group of rowdy fellows on a big booze-filled bus for my bachelor party. Which is to say, when you read this column next week, it'll be authored by someone else. Hopefully that person will have plenty of happy things to write about.
MONDAY, 6/17: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Rick Porcello v. RHP Jose Berrios
TUESDAY, 6/18: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP David Price v. RHP Michael Pineda
WEDNESDAY, 6/19: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Eduardo Rodriguez v. RHP Kyle Gibson
THURSDAY, 6/20: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Glenn Sparkman
FRIDAY, 6/21: TWINS @ ROYALS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Jakob Junis
SATURDAY, 6/22: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. LHP Danny Duffy
SUNDAY, 6/23: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Homer Bailey
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 65 | MIN 6, SEA 5: Comeback Victory Capped By Trevor May Save
- Game 66 | SEA 9, MIN 6: Bullpen, Errors Spoil Buxton’s Dramatic Homer
- Game 67 | MIN 10, SEA 5: Another Double-Digit Scoring Effort, Another Bullpen Scare
- Game 68 | MIN 2, KC 0: Gibson Shines on Night Honoring Mauer, Prince
- Game 69 | MIN 5, KC 4: Bats Rally, Bullpen Protects 1-Run Lead
- Game 70 | KC 8, MIN 6: Struggles With Men on Base, Errors Prove Costly
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