Week in Review: Off and Running
Weekly Snapshot: Fri, 7/24 through Sun, 7/26
Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)
Run Differential Last Week: +10 (Overall: +10)
Standing: Tied for 1st Place in AL Central
Bomba Counter: 7 (On Pace for 140)
Not everything went to plan for Minnesota in the opening series. Jake Odorizzi was originally expected to start for the Twins in Chicago, and then Rich Hill was, but both pitchers ended up getting pushed back. Byron Buxton missed all three games as his sprained foot heals, though it sounds like there's optimism he'll be out there for the first homestand.
Even though they weren't quite at full strength, the Twins still looked plenty strong at Guaranteed Rate Field, taking two of three from the White Sox to kick off their quest for a second straight division title.
The Bomba Squad wasted no time getting back to business, with Max Kepler launching a home run on the first pitch of the season from Lucas Giolito. It sparked a 10-run, 11-hit barrage in Minnesota's 10-5 Opening Day victory over the Sox. Kepler homered again in his next at-bat, and has gone 0-for-12 since. Baseball.
Leading the charge in a tremendous series for the Twins was Nelson Cruz, who had himself a hell of a weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field: 7-for-13, three home runs, two doubles, 10 RBIs. If the ageless wonder can stay healthy for the full 60-game sprint, this offense's upside feels almost limitless.
While Cruz is a bona fide superstar, the offense's depth and length are what makes it truly special. We saw these strengths come into play already during the first series. Luis Arráez, who batted ninth and seventh in the two games he started, went 4-for-8, delivering a key two-run single in the opener. Jake Cave, who stepped in to make two starts with Buxton unavailable, also had a big two-run hit in the opener, and launched a first-inning grand slam on Sunday that set the tone in 14-2 a laugher.
The White Sox pitching staff has already experienced what plenty of others are going to: Facing this relentless Twins lineup is a daunting and draining task.
Sunday's 14-run explosion provided plenty of breathing room for Kenta Maeda in his Twins debut, and for his part, the right-hander made things look easy. While Cruz controlled the offense, Maeda went on cruise control, coasting through five innings of two-run ball with six strikeouts, one walk, and four hits.
He was one of several players to make their first appearances as Twins over the weekend, and for the most part, all made good first impressions. Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless frame on Friday night, combining with Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Cody Stashak for five innings of shutout ball from the bullpen.
Offseason waiver pickup Matt Wisler is the only Twins pitcher with two appearances thus far, and he's looked filthy: 2.1 IP, two hits, six strikeouts, and 13 swinging strikes on 63 pitches (20.6% whiff rate). The bullpen overall has piled up 19 strikeouts through its first 13 innings of work. And Taylor Rogers hasn't pitched yet.
When they come to Target Field to open a two-game series against the Cardinals on Tuesday, the Twins will carry a well-stocked and well-rested relief corps.
Not everyone on the Twins saw their season get off to such a smooth start, in large part because Chicago's lineup showed its prowess.
They gave José Berríos plenty of trouble on Opening Day, touching him up for five runs on seven hits over four innings. Berríos got just one strikeout and seven swinging strikes on 75 pitches. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with him physically – in fact, his velocity was noticeably up, with his fastball sitting comfortably in the mid-90s touching 97 several times, but the command just wasn't quite there.
It could be construed as a sign that Berríos might've been a little TOO amped up for this highly anticipated start. The righty sacrificed spin for heat and it didn't seem to benefit him as Chicago hitters were on a number of his pitches. He's in line to open a crucial early-season series against Cleveland on Thursday, so hopefully adjustments are made.
Count Zack Littell and Devin Smeltzer among other Twins pitchers who didn't have much fun against the Chicago lineup. Saturday's contest spun out of control under their watch.
Littell entered in the fifth inning of a one-run game, and allowed home runs to three of the seven batters he faced, with four earned runs coming across in total. In a 60-game season, Littell's implosion will make it extremely tough for him to get his ERA (currently 36.00) to a good place before the finish line. Then again, it bears noting that last year he allowed eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his second appearance for the Twins, then posted a 0.88 ERA the rest of the way.
After Cruz brought the game back within reach on his three-run homer, Smeltzer came in and promptly pushed it back out of reach. In two innings the left-hander allowed five runs on six hits, including two more homers. Smeltzer's outing wasn't quite as bad as it looks on paper – his reworked breaking ball showed some promise, and five of his six outs came on strikeouts – but he looks very much like a work in progress. In such a short season, it can be tough to rely on someone like that.
While the offense is mostly clicking out of the gates, Miguel Sanó is still searching for his first hit of the season. He was behind in Spring Training 2.0 after reporting late due to a positive COVID test, and the rust was evident on Friday and Saturday as he went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. The quality of at-bats has not been good. Sanó got the day off on Sunday but will surely be out there for the home opener.
Fellow corner infielder Josh Donaldson was mostly quiet in his first series as a Twin, going just 1-for-10 with an infield single representing the extent of his damage. But on the bright side, he drew four walks, showing the value he can bring beyond slugging, and the Twins scored 27 runs even without getting much of anything from him. Imagine when he heats up.
When will Odorizzi pitch? His first turn through the rotation is being skipped due to back soreness. He'll face live hitters within the next couple days, and it sounds like the Twins will assess his timeline based on how that goes.
The team has never signaled much concern regarding Odorizzi's status. If things go well in the BP session, he could conceivably start the first game against Cleveland on Thursday, though it's more likely he'd go sometime during the weekend.
Then again, as Cody Pirkl wrote here recently, we are wise not to downplay this reportedly "minor" issue because back injuries can be very tricky for pitchers and Odorizzi has a history with them.
The 2019 All-Star is a critical piece for this rotation. We'll be keeping a close eye on his health updates.
Two more Twins debuts are on tap in the home-opening series against St. Louis, with Homer Bailey and Hill slated to start for Minnesota. It'll be interesting to see how they fare against Paul Goldschmidt and a pretty good Cards team.
Then, the top presumptive challengers in the division come to town, with Cleveland coming for four games. It's tough to overstate the magnitude of this home series for the Twins. A sweep either way would be a seismic development in the division race.
This series will feature pennant-race-intensity baseball, played a week into the season before an empty stadium. Gonna be weird.
TUESDAY, 7/28: CARDINALS @ TWINS – RHP Homer Bailey v. RHP Carlos Martinez
WEDNESDAY, 7/29: CARDINALS @ TWINS – LHP Rich Hill v. RHP Miles Mikolas
THURSDAY, 7/30: INDIANS @ TWINS
FRIDAY, 7/31: INDIANS @ TWINS
SATURDAY, 8/1: INDIANS @ TWINS
SUNDAY, 8/2: INDIANS @ TWINS
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 1 | MIN 10, CHW 5: Kepler Blasts 2 Bombas, Twins Outlast White Sox
- Game 2 | CHW 10, MIN 3: White Sox Hit 5 Homers Off Twins Bullpen
- Game 3 | MIN 14, CHW 2: Lineup Flexes Early to Aid Maeda in Victorious Twins Debut
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