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Week in Review: Hurting & Humbled

After racing to a 10-2 start, the Minnesota Twins hit a speed bump against what should've been an exploitable soft spot in the schedule. A six-game winning streak gave way to a four-game losing streak as the team is suddenly overcome by sleepy and punchless performances.
Image courtesy of Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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.
On the bright side, Jake Odorizzi was activated to take Donaldson's place on the active roster, and made his season debut on Saturday. He looked okay, allowing two runs over three innings, but what's most important is that he's healthy and back in this depleted rotation.

HIGHLIGHTS


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.


LOWLIGHTS


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.

TRENDING STORYLINE


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...

LOOKING AHEAD


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

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15 Comments

It was a mistake to go overboard on the praise when everything was going well, so it's probably wrong to overdo the worry now. But man, it sure looks like the four losses weren't just a matter of timely hits and lucky at'em balls for the opponents, but some real weaknesses that other teams will be able to exploit.

    • Steve Lein, glunn, Dantes929 and 3 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Aug 09 2020 08:23 PM
Brutal week. The good news is the Twins are still in first place (just barely with Cleveland and Gardy's Tigers nipping at their heels) and it's a 16 game playoff. One barrel all year from Garver?
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Tom Froemming
Aug 09 2020 08:25 PM

For anybody needing a pick-me-up, here are the best highlights from the past week:

    • Seth Stohs likes this

This is not an over reaction when the bad stretch is against the worst teams.If this was Chicago or Cleveland there might be some excuse - but Pittsburgh and KC!!!

    • Danchat likes this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 09 2020 09:26 PM

The Twins lineup still has not been able to get going.

 

Runners left on base in past four days:

  • 6 Aug: 7
  • 7 Aug: 6
  • 8 Aug: 6
  • 9 Aug: 7

Rocco and the pitching staff have a few things to answer for, but the batters (no exceptions) need to regain their form and learn from how the Royals throwers worked them.It is no longer 2019.

    • mikelink45 likes this

Two words: La Tortuga.

 

 

    • howeda7 likes this

Time to move Buxton up in the batting order & bat Sano & Garver 8th & 9th!

    • birdwatcher likes this
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twinbythebay
Aug 10 2020 12:41 PM

 

This is not an over reaction when the bad stretch is against the worst teams.If this was Chicago or Cleveland there might be some excuse - but Pittsburgh and KC!!!

They also managed to go 7-2 against CWS/STL/CLE, which looked to be their toughest stretch of games this season. Baseball!

    • DocBauer likes this

There is no doubt that injuries have hurt us. However, as I had said before, you cannot go by what happened last year. Garver may not be the hitter we think he is. But he should certainly be better than what he has shown so far. I like Sano but he can't hit a slider or curve to save his life. The batters are taking too many pitches that are down the middle and falling behind in the count. It seems to me that everyone is so enamoured with the "bomba" that they are swinging from the heels and looking horrible when they get behind in the count. I guess that is the nature of today's game when all you hear about is exit velocity (which can mainly be provided by the pitcher) and how far did it fly. We will be ok (I think) because our division sucks. However we had better get back on track fast. Where is Kiriloff is my question.

The batting order desperately needs a shake-up. Garver and Sano are Punto-esque black-holes.

 

1. Arreaz

2. Polanco

3. Kepler

4. Cruz

5. Rosario

6. Gonzalez

7. Buxton

8. Sano

9. Garver

 

 

Two words: La Tortuga.

Honestly, get that man on the roster and at least let him catch once or twice per week.

    • bighat likes this
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theBOMisthebomb
Aug 10 2020 05:01 PM

The batting order desperately needs a shake-up. Garver and Sano are Punto-esque black-holes.
 
1. Arreaz
2. Polanco
3. Kepler
4. Cruz
5. Rosario
6. Gonzalez
7. Buxton
8. Sano
9. Garver

Avila at least looks like he has a puncher's chance at the plate. Maybe he should start to take ABs from Garver. It's tough to endure slumps in such a short season.
    • bighat likes this
I'm not upset the Twins blew the 4th game against Pittsburgh. What little I saw, which was only late, if memory recalls, nothing got hit hard and 2 of our best relievers had bad days. It happens, we win 3 of 4 Despite not playing great, you won't play great all the time. You will lose games.

Losing all 3 to the Royals stinks! To be fair, I am not worried long term about IF, but they always play the Twins surprisingly tough. And I commented about that in a thread before the season began in relation to the schedule. Now that 4 game losing streak has happened, it's time to move on.

The problem is, are we ready to move on?

Offense is down across baseball. Every team, not just the Twins, are dealing with injuries. But this team has better depth and talent than most to overcome those injuries. And there is no Redmond to walk naked through the clubhouse, no Hunter to lead a dance party. And guys have to play to get in a groove. But it's up to Rocco and his staff to find a way to jump start the lineup. Shuffle the lineup? More batting practice? Less?

I have applauded Rocco's usage of the pen. But I am confused about some of his usage the past few days. Nobody has been overworked. But it feels that with Hill, Bailey and Pineda out and Odorizzi just coming back, he is "saving" his best arms for ties and leads and letting the "rest" of the pen pitch while behind. But the Twins don't have just 2 or 3 really good arms, even with Littell out. Even with the offense struggling, could a game or two have been different if the game had been kept closer despite being behind?

I don't have the answers. Alcala is looking like a keeper, so him pitching is not the reason we have lost, as an example. We have been in all of these games but never gotten over the hump. Despite massive mistakes of walking or allowing a regrettable single to a speed guy who ran rampant on the basepaths and created something few teams can...and speed will come back to the game again one day...the biggest problem, IMO, has been such a poor performance from a lineup that should almost accidently score 4-5 runs.

We are still in 1st place and have a talented team. I am not upset or panicking, but I am disappointed. It's a weird season for EVERYONE. But we don't care about EVERYONE, we care about this ONE TEAM. There is a lot of this short season still left. There is so much talent here, and guys who will come back healthy at some point. But this is where Rocco and his staff will earn their stripes. What do/can they do in this weird season to get guys untracked?
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 10 2020 06:48 PM

As of 10 August, the AL slash line in 574 PAs is .229/.309/.394.Apparently whatever ails our offense is rather widely shared...

    • ashbury and twinbythebay like this

Arraez is still hitting pretty well. His baseball card stats are ugly, but head over to statcast and you'll see a different story.

 

His xwOBA thru Friday was higher than the same number in 2019. It fell over the weekend, but he's still hitting great.

I'd even consider moving him up to leadoff at this point. We are only scoring runs on homeruns and having one of our best OBP guys on base for more of those homeruns by putting him immediately ahead of the homerun hitters seems like a great way to score more runs period.


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