Week in Review: Powerful Ending
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/23 through Sun, 9/29
Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 101-61)
Run Differential Last Week: +16 (Overall: +185)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (7.0 GA)
Magic Number: 0
101 wins. 307 home runs, a new MLB record. The first AL Central title since 2010. It's been a magical year for the Twins and they closed it out in style, taking care of business against the dregs of the division and even scoring a lopsided win with their "hangover lineup" following Wednesday night's official clincher.
The final week of the regular season did not, unfortunately, see much tangible progress on the player health front.
In fact, the Twins suffered yet another blow when Luis Arraez went down in Minnesota's meaningless second-to-last game. The rookie infielder collided with Willian Astudillo as the two converged under a pop-up to the mound, and Arraez twisted his ankle before crumpling to the ground in a heap. He was carted off the field in obvious pain, but got relatively good news with his diagnosis: a Grade 1 ankle sprain (the least severe type). Arraez's status for the ALDS is very much in doubt, but there's still a possibility he could return, which seemed out of the question as he tearfully left the field.
Meanwhile, Max Kepler still has not swung in a game since the Cleveland doubleheader more than two weeks ago. Marwin Gonzalez also did not play all week after being scratched with oblique tightness ahead of Tuesday's game. But Rocco Baldelli expressed confidence that both will be ready to go by Friday's Game 1 tilt in New York.
Ehire Adrianza, who hasn't played since tweaking his own oblique on September 12th, seems much more questionable. The lack of recent in-game reps, plus the likelihood of being less than 100%, cast serious doubt on his viability for the first-round playoff roster.
The number of injury concerns heading into the postseason is quite troubling for a club that's already certain to be without Byron Buxton (shoulder surgery), Sam Dyson (shoulder surgery), and Michael Pineda (suspension). But alas, they now have four days to get as healthy as they can.
Jose Berrios is a goal-setter. It's one trait that has helped drive him to such impressive success in his young career. This season, he had his sights set on 200 innings, and in his final start he achieved it. By tossing six innings of two-run ball in Friday night's rain-shortened victory over Kansas City, Berrios crossed this targeted threshold, becoming the fourth Twins pitcher to do so in the past 10 years.
Berrios finishes the season with numbers that are altogether pretty similar to 2018: 14-8, 200.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.3 BB/9. Even the pattern of his performance mirrored the previous campaign: a stellar first half leading to an All-Star appearance, a sluggish drop-off in the latter part of the summer, and a rebound in late September.
The difference, of course, is that this time around he'll get an opportunity to extend his season. Berrios is expected to take the mound for Game 1 at Yankee Stadium on Friday in the biggest challenge of his career to date. In this regard, his aforementioned resurgence offers some reassurance.
After uncharacteristically completing six innings just three times in nine starts after the start of August, Berrios did so five of his last six turns, posting a solid-yet-unspectacular 4.34 ERA during that span. In his final starts, the righty saw his whiff rate and velocity both return to comfortable levels.
In the surprise twist of the season, it's looking likely that Randy Dobnak will get the ball for Game 2. This would allow an extra day of rest for the bullpen ahead of Game 3, in the event of a short outing from Dobnak, while also moving Jake Odorizzi's start away from Yankee Stadium, which can be treacherous for fly ball pitchers.
Dobnak's improbable postseason nod is well-earned, as he put up a 1.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP as a rookie and delivered his finest effort yet on Wednesday, when he fired six innings against the Tigers while allowing just one unearned run on one hit.
It might feel natural to dismiss Dobnak as a mere heartwarming story and overperformer being thrust into this situation out of necessity. To an extent, that's accurate. But his outstanding MLB debut does not carry the indicators of an unsustainable fluke. He's hammering the strike zone with heavy sinking stuff that's inducing grounders at an elite rate, while also missing more bats than Berrios or Odorizzi. In his final start against the Tigers he generated 15 whiffs on 78 pitches, which is fairly remarkable even in light of Detroit's ineptitude.
If these are Minnesota's three starters for the playoffs, set to be combined with a heavy dosage of relief work, then the Twins can be feeling a little better about their chances of keeping a potent New York lineup somewhat in check.
Of course, their fortunes in the ALDS are likely to hinge on their bats. It was an uneven week on that front, as the offense went through some perturbing quiet spells even before the rollout of backup-heavy post-clinch lineups. There were some positive signs though, like Astudillo putting together a late burst (7-for-18 with a homer and six RBIs after hitting .231 through the first three weeks of September), C.J. Cron hitting his hardest homer of the season in the final game, and Jonathan Schoop finishing on a high note (6-for-19 with a homer and three RBIs). Schoop will obviously be thrust into a far more prominent role in the playoffs if Arraez can't go.
The Twins keep trying with Kyle Gibson. They clearly want to find a way to justify a postseason roster for their long-tenured clubhouse leader, but Gibson just isn't giving them much to work with. He appeared in relief three times last week, allowing five hits and two walks over 3 1/3 innings. This amounted to only one run, and to his credit the swing-and-miss stuff has still been there -- he struck out seven and induced 17% swinging strikes in those appearances -- but with these kinds of erratic showcases against bottom-tier offenses, how can you feel any confidence? How can he?
In five outings since shifting to a relief role, Gibson has a 7.50 ERA and 2.83 WHIP, with opponents reaching base at nearly a .500 clip. I just don't see how you can credibly run him out against the Yankees in any situation. And it pains me to say that because I'd love to see him be part of this so much.
Then again, given how hittable Martin Perez has been, maybe loyalty wins out as the deciding factor. The final spot on the pitching staff could very well come down to those two. Neither has made a very inspiring case in the final weeks.
Health is going to be the key for Minnesota's lineup heading into the playoffs. It's entirely possible the Twins could trot out a lineup on Friday that is missing Kepler, Gonzalez, and Arraez -- three essential lefty-swinging catalysts with righty Luis Severino the likely opposing starter. And the probable absence of Adrianza inhibits their ability to supplement via depth. Needless to say, the Twins need their remaining healthy horses to carry the load. There's mounting urgency for Eddie Rosario to rise to the occasion.
The final week of 2019 for Rosario epitomized his season as a whole. He had some loud knocks -- a homer and a double, with five RBIs -- but that production covered up a general lack of effectiveness. In 16 plate appearances he had only one other hit and one walk, good for a .250 on-base percentage with one run scored. For the season, Rosario finishes with some nice counting numbers (32 HR, 109 RBI) but he also posted his lowest OPS in three years with a significant defensive downturn.
By WAR, Rosario was the 11th-most valuable position player on the Twins this year. But we all know he can step up and become one of their most valuable in a hurry. Next week he'll have his chance to change the lasting narrative in what's been a roundly disappointing campaign.
There's only one storyline now: October baseball. The Twins have until 10:00 am on Friday to lock in their ALDS roster, and some of their decisions might come down to the wire. Can Arraez heal fast enough to be an option? What about Adrianza? Will the internal optimism around Kepler and Gonzalez prove valid?
DOWN ON THE FARM
The Twins announced their official Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year on Sunday: Trevor Larnach and Dobnak, respectively. These choices matched our top hitter and starting pitcher selections at Twins Daily, so clearly, we agree! Cheers to these two on their tremendous accomplishments this year. It's likely one and perhaps both will play a significant role for the Twins next year.
On another note: What's up with Baseball America souring on Royce Lewis? He's performing extremely well in the Arizona Fall League; last week we featured his offensive and defensive highlights right out of the gate, and he's hitting .364 with a 1.287 OPS with three homers and 10 RBIs through six games, but in BA's newly released league-by-league top prospect rankings, Lewis is all the way down at No. 18 in the Southern League. That's solidly behind Brusdar Graterol (9), Larnach (11), Alex Kirilloff (12) and even former Twins prospect Lewin Diaz (13).
I gotta be honest: I'm not exactly sure what BA is going for with these rankings. Are they meant to be an isolated snapshot in time? Because that's the only scenario in which I could remotely understand a list that puts Lewis five spots behind Diaz. I mean – two months ago, one was traded for Sergio Romo while the other was being bandied as a centerpiece for Noah Syndergaard. Yes, Lewis had a quiet season offensively, but he also started it as a teenager and finished it in Double-A.
If the negativity was centered on Royce's glove, that might make a little more sense, but BA's Matt Eddy calls him "a strong defensive shortstop with confident hands and a terrific arm." (Notable because ESPN's Keith Law recently offered up the exact opposite take: "Lewis can’t play SS. He has to move somewhere and CF makes the best use of his skills.")
Eddy also states that Lewis "plays with flair, and he rubbed multiple observers the wrong way with confidence that borders on arrogance." This really hits me oddly because I've almost always seen the 20-year-old's character and makeup portrayed as an immense strength. If little incidents like bat flips or doing pushups at second base (which was in fact intended to chide himself) are starting to materially affect his perception, and even seeping into his coverage at reputable prospect websites like Baseball America, that's a damn shame.
In any event, it'll be very interesting to see where Lewis lands across major offseason lists, given the obvious variance of opinion around him.
The American League Division Series is on tap! Action gets underway on Friday. You can expect all kinds of previews and breakdowns here at Twins Daily, so stay tuned.
FRIDAY, 10/4: TWINS @ YANKEES
SATURDAY, 10/5: TWINS @ YANKEES
MONDAY, 10/7: YANKEES @ TWINS
TUESDAY, 10/8 (if necessary): YANKEES @ TWINS
THURSDAY, 10/10 (if necessary): TWINS @ YANKEES
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 157 | MIN 4, DET 2: Odorizzi's Gem Cuts the Twins Magic Number to 2
- Game 158 | MIN 5, DET 3: Dobnak the Wedding Ringer Deals in Detroit
- Game 159 | MIN 10, DET 4: Hangover Lineup Propels Minnesota to Win Number 99
- Game 160 | MIN 6, KC 2: Twins Cruise Past Royals to Earn 100th Win
- Game 161 | MIN 4, KC 3: Cruz Homers, Arraez Injured, Twins Top KC 4-3
- Game 162 | KC 5, MIN 4: Twins Lose Finale, Win Home Run Race
Speaking of which, the 2020 Offseason Handbook isn't too far off...
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