Week in Review: Hurting & Humbled
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/3 through Sun, 8/9
Record Last Week: 3-4 (Overall: 10-6)
Run Differential Last Week: +1 (Overall: +23)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (0.5 GA)
Bomba Counter: 25 (Pace: 94)
Everything seemed to take a turn for the Twins on Thursday afternoon in Pittsburgh. With a two-run lead in the eighth inning, they appeared to be headed toward a seventh straight win. But the Pirates rallied to manufacture three runs against Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers, despite not hitting anything especially hard. Rogers ended up getting walked off on a two-run ground ball single, and the Twins haven't won since.
Making matters worse is the rash of negative injury news to emerge over the course of the week.
- Homer Bailey and Rich Hill were both placed on the Injured List, with fairly ominous issues. Bailey is bothered by right biceps tendinitis and, as of Saturday, had yet to resume throwing. Hill's injury seems more minor, as he's traveling with the team and going through his throwing progressions, but it's unsettling to hear about a 40-year-old experiencing shoulder fatigue after his first start of the season.
- On Friday the Twins announced that Josh Donaldson, who hadn't played for a week, was being placed on the Injured List retroactive to August 4th, meaning he'll miss most of next week at least. I had written on Thursday night about Donaldson's cursed (and blessed) massive calves, which have given him plenty of trouble in the past.
With the offense still looking to find its rhythm, pitching continues to steal the show. Granted, the Twins faced a soft slate of opponents over the past week, but their arms still deserve plenty of credit for taking care of business. With the exception of Saturday's lapse, it was another strong week for the pitchers, most notably:
- Randy Dobnak, who delivered yet another sterling performance with six scoreless innings against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. His ERA sits at 0.60 after three starts.
- Kenta Maeda, who made one make mistake the following day – a three-run homer – but was otherwise outstanding in delivering another quality start.
- Jorge Alcala, who joined the bullpen just ahead of the week and made three appearances, totaling five innings. He allowed two earned runs on three hits and struck out eight while walking only one. That last stat is most encouraging – if Alcala can keep his 99 MPH heater and hard slider in the zone, he's going be a difference-maker for the bullpen.
- Tyler Duffey, who pitched only once but extended his remarkable early-season run with a scoreless frame. On the season, Duffey has faced 16 batters and retired 15 of them – 10 on strikeouts. Very nearly perfect. It's interesting, though, that Alcala threw as many innings this past week as Duffey has all season, and that reflects a broader trend: Rocco Baldelli has seemed more inclined to use his lower-tier relief arms than his top dogs, even when his better options are well-rested. Trying to save as many bullets as possible for later?
In a quieter week for the bats, there were still some standouts at the plate. Most notable among them is Byron Buxton, who shook off an early-season slump to homer in three straight games, and now finds himself on a six-game hitting streak. He raised his OPS from .167 to .779 from Monday to Sunday. Seeing him start to get rolling at the bottom of the order is a huge positive as so many other players struggle, and injuries take their toll.
Another key figure in the lineup, especially with Donaldson absent, is Marwin González, and he has risen to the occasion. He started all seven games last week, manning every infield position other than short and looking sharp at each one while going 8-for-26 with a homer and three RBIs. His .855 OPS on the season ranks behind only Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler, who both also had good weeks.
For more on Marwin, check out Cody Pirkl's recent article expressing appreciation for González and what he brings to the table for Minnesota.
The Twins lineup still has not been able to get going. They've averaged fewer than four runs per game since the season-opening series in Chicago, and were held almost completely in check by a mediocre Royals staff. As Seth wrote over the weekend, Minnesota's struggles might be a little overstated in the context of the entire league, where offense is down generally, but it's still disturbing to see so many hitters in this vaunted group scuffling.
At the head of that list is Mitch Garver, who just cannot seem to find it. He started four of the team's seven games last week and went 0-for-14, dropping his average to .094 on the season. He showed decent discipline, drawing four walks against five strikeouts, but the catcher isn't squaring up anything. According to Statcast, his home run against Cleveland last weekend is the only ball he's barrelled up all year; in 2019, Garver ranked among the league's top 4% of players in Barrel %.
Also struggling mightily from the right side is Miguel Sanó. The first baseman hit a double and home run against the Pirates, but otherwise went 0-for-20 on the week with 12 strikeouts. For the year, he has struck out 23 times with only one non-intentional walk. Unlike Garver, Sanó is at least crushing the ball when he makes contact, so I expect him to get into a zone soon as he sees more pitches, but it hasn't happened yet. He went 0-for-11 in the KC series.
With Garver and Sanó both failing to click, the lineup's right-handed power threat is severely diminished, which might help explain why the teams is slugging just .339 off southpaws. Last year they had a collective .521 slugging percentage against lefties.
Count Luis Arráez as another expected spark plug who's been fizzling of late. Since opening the season on a five-game hitting streak, he's gone just 3-for-25, including 3-for-16 over the past week while missing a couple games due to knee soreness. His plate approach is still just fine – he drew four walks with only one strikeout – but the results aren't there right now for the scrappy second baseman, who basically hit non-stop as a rookie.
While the pitching staff has mostly been quite good, an overt outlier is Lewis Thorpe. He got the starting nod against Pittsburgh on Monday and was quite shaky, allowing three earned runs on six hits and four walks over four innings. His second appearance of the week came in relief, as Thorpe came in after Odorizzi's exit on Saturday night, and it was even more brutal: He was charged with three runs on three hits – including a home run allowed to light-hitting second baseman Nicky Lopez – while failing to record an out. This year's version of Thorpe looks very little like the intriguing whiff machine we saw last year; his velocity is now down, his command has been poor, and batters aren't getting fooled as evidenced by a 7.4% swinging strike rate.
He frankly doesn't look like a very palatable option right now. One wonders if the Twins would consider swapping in a higher-upside arm like Jhoan Duran from the alternative training site to see if it provides a jolt.
Speaking of reinforcements, the offense could maybe use some right now. The current 18-to-12 ratio of pitchers to position players is quite lopsided, and a lot of key relievers just aren't getting much work. Perhaps that's by design, to an extent, but there have to be downsides to it in terms of maintaining sharpness.
Travis Blankenhorn stands out as a sensible short-term add, given that he can play both infield positions (third and second) where the Twins have players banged up. If the team concludes that Donaldson will be out for a prolonged time, might they consider something a little more drastic? Like, say, shifting Sanó back across the diamond to third and using someone like Alex Kirilloff or Brent Rooker at first? Or even sliding a Jorge Polanco or Arráez to third and giving Royce Lewis a look?
Of course, there's also a beloved guy by the name of Willians Astudillo who is now recovered from his COVID bout and ramping up in St. Paul...
The Twins are off to Milwaukee to wrap up their road trip in a border battle against the Brewers. Dobnak will open the week tryin build upon his spectacular start to the season on Monday. After three games against the Brew Crew, the Twins get their only day off in the month of August, and then head back to Target Field for a rematch against Kansas City.
MONDAY, 8/10: TWINS @ BREWERS – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Adrian Houser
TUESDAY, 8/11: TWINS @ BREWERS – TBD v. RHP Josh Lindblom
WEDNESDAY, 8/12: TWINS @ BREWERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. LHP Eric Lauer
FRIDAY, 8/14: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jakob Junis v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SATURDAY, 8/15: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Danny Duffy v. RHP Jose Berrios
SUNDAY, 8/16: ROYALS @ TWINS – Kris Bubic vs Undecided
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 10 | MIN 5, PIT 4: Nelson Cruz Delivers a Walk-Off Hit to Cap Comeback
- Game 11 | MIN 7, PIT 3: José Berríos Overcomes Command, Drone
- Game 12 | MIN 5, PIT 2: Randy Dobnak Delivers 6 Scoreless, Max Kepler Provides Key Insurance Homer
- Game 13 | PIT 6, MIN 5: Taylor Rogers Blows Save, Win Streak Snapped
- Game 14 | KCR 3, MIN 2: No Cruz, No Donaldson, No Arráez, No Offense
- Game 15 | KCR 9, MIN 6: Brief 2020 Debut for Odorizzi; Royals Bust It Open Against Bullpen
- Game 16 | KCR 4, MIN 2: Bad Day for Berríos, Bats
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