Week in Review: Limping Home
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA Today
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/17 through Sun, 9/23
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 72-83)
Run Differential Last Week: +15 (Overall: -63)
Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (14.5 GB)
Many players are simply running out the string at this point, but for a few, these late-season opportunities matter quite a bit. That group includes Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves, who both brought it last week.
The Twins have turned to using both rookies as "primary pitchers," inserting them after a reliever tosses the first inning or two, and each has responded well. Gonsalves fired six innings of shutout ball in Detroit on Wednesday, picking up his first major-league win.
He has turned things around in a big way: after yielding 16 earned runs on 24 hits over 12 1/3 innings in his first four Twins appearances, Gonsalves has allowed no runs on one hit over nine innings in his last two. He fired 69% strikes in Wednesday's impressive showing.
One night earlier, Stewart had notched his second MLB victory with six innings of three-hit ball in relief of opener Gabriel Moya. He allowed one unearned run and struck out five with three walks. After some rough going in his first few outings with the Twins, the 23-year-old is putting together a stellar September, with a 1.88 ERA and .517 opponents' OPS.
His process hasn't exactly been convincing – Stewart has issued nine walks and thrown 56% strikes in 14 1/3 innings this month, with only eight strikeouts – but he's getting it done, which basically reflects his minor-league body of work. (In Minnesota's system, Stewart posted a 6.4 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 but managed a 3.36 ERA.)
It's all about the heavy sinking stuff, yielding a 55.1% grounder rate that'd rank among the top MLB starters. This makes him intriguing. But Stewart's 6.3% swinging strike rate, which would rank dead last, greatly limits his ceiling. That's just too much contact for sustainable success. In any case, I think he's clearly shown enough to merit keeping around.
Robbie Grossman is another one of those players whose personal stakes are heightened here in September. Eligible for his second turn at arbitration this offseason, he's making his case not only for a bigger salary, but to stick around with the Twins at all.
His profile as a defensively limited corner outfielder with minimal power works against him, but Grossman is reminding the Twins of what else he can bring at the plate, with a .425 OBP this month and nearly twice as many walks (14) as strikeouts (8).
While questions swirl around so many of Minnesota's core players, Jorge Polanco is at least solidifying his place. He hasn't been spectacular, and the power that surfaced late last year isn't re-emerging, but Polanco continues to put in productive week after productive week. That included this one, in which he chipped in a homer, two doubles, and four RBIs. He drew four walks against four strikeouts.
There's no question Polanco will be in the lineup next year, it's just a matter of where. Given the defensive shortcomings that keep showing through, it'd make plenty of sense to slide him over to second base and seek an upgrade at shortstop over the offseason. But since returning from suspension, all 69 of Polanco's starts for the Twins have come at short.
As the end of the season mercifully approaches, the Twins are besieged with injuries, and it's hard not to feel like at least some of their misfortunate on this front is self-inflicted.
The Twins more or less acknowledged on Monday, before sending Eddie Rosario out to left field for the first time in 10 days, that his ailing quad was not 100%. He ended up re-aggravating the injury (for a second time), and sustaining what the team's calling a "mild to moderate strain." Seemed awfully unnecessary.
The next night, Paul Molitor wrote Miguel Sano's name into the lineup, two weeks after the third baseman was carted off the field with a knee injury. Sano went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, and didn't play again thereafter. On Friday, news surfaced that he was heading back to the Twin Cities to have his knee examined, as it apparently flared up in his return to action.
This wasn't exactly hard to see coming. Time and time again this year, the Twins have been bitten by running out players before they are fully healthy. And now, ONE DAY after watching it backfire terribly with Rosario, they repeat it with Sano and immediately worsen his situation. All for the sake of getting these guys on the field for utterly meaningless ballgames.
If I'm Byron Buxton, I'm fuming even more right now, because the idea that his snub was motivated by proactive health considerations now carries no weight. These Twins have shown little reluctance to put core players in harm's way, in spite of red flags that are clear as day to even a novice like me.
It's some of most dumbfounding decision-making I've seen since the new leadership stepped in. Truly disappointing.
Sano and Rosario join Buxton as well as Mitch Garver, Ervin Santana, Jason Castro, Logan Morrison and Adalberto Mejia as Twins players who will end the season shut down by injury.
That's an unbelievable infirmary list, and the linger potential for some of these issues makes them all the more disconcerting. Bad luck is primarily responsible, to be sure, but in light of recent events I can't help but question this team's aptitude when it comes to injury management – as much as they present themselves as a sophisticated outfit.
There will be plenty of compelling storylines this week as the Twins wrap up their schedule at Target Field.
First and foremost, these may very well be the final games of Joe Mauer's career. Will it be acknowledged as such, by him or others?
Fittingly, he'll first be going against Ron Gardenhire's Tigers. Gardy of course ushered Mauer into the league as Twins manager and watched him blossom into an MVP. Meanwhile, Mauer has played more games against Detroit (213) than any other team, with a signature .305/.385/.432 lifetime slash line.
Equally fitting is that Mauer will all but certainly surpass Harmon Killebrew's franchise record for times-on-base in this final homestand. He moved into a tie with Killer for the top spot at 3,072 with his second single on Sunday.
Oh, and as another touch of nostalgia, Francisco Liriano will be starting a game for the Tigers!
Stewart, slated as the primary pitcher for Monday and Sunday's finale, gets two more chances to leave a good impression. Gonsalves, lined up against Liriano on Thursday, will have one more.
DOWN ON THE FARM
All minor-league seasons are done, so nothing left to cover here. We did name our 2018 Minor League Hitter of the Year last week and I don't think anyone will be surprised by the winner.
Seven more games at Target Field. Double-header on Friday. Head on down for your last chance to see the Twins play ball in 2018. And make sure to grab your tickets to Saturday's Twins Daily Touch 'Em All Pub Crawl so you can gather and commiserate with fellow fans as we send off a forgettable season.
TUESDAY, 9/25: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Spencer Turnbull v. RHP Kohl Stewart
WEDNESDAY, 9/26: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Matthew Boyd v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
THURSDAY, 9/27: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Francisco Liriano v. LHP Stephen Gonsalves
FRIDAY, 9/28 (1): WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Lucas Giolito v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 9/28 (2): WHITE SOX @ TWINS – LHP Carlos Rodon v. RHP Chase De Jong
SATURDAY, 9/29: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Dylan Covey v. RHP Kyle Gibson
SUNDAY, 9/30: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP James Shields v. RHP Kohl Stewart
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 150 | MIN 6, DET 1: Stewart Impresses, Rosario Exits Due to Injury
- Game 151 | MIN 5, DET 3: Odorizzi Turns In Another Quality Start
- Game 152 | MIN 8, DET 2: Gonsalves Stymies Tigers
- Game 153 | OAK 7, MIN 6: Khrush Davis Walks Off Twins
- Game 154 | OAK 3, MIN 2: Willians Astudillo Collects Three More Hits
- Game 155 | MIN 5, OAK 1: Gibby’s Arm, Cave’s Bat and Adrianza’s Glove Lift Twins to Victory
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