Week in Review: Powering Up
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/7 through Sun, 9/13
Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 30-18)
Run Differential Last Week: +14 (Overall: +48)
Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (1.0 GB)
Bomba Counter: 74 (Pace: 93)
After watching him limp around and battle through a bad knee for two months, the Twins finally moved Luis Arráez to the Injured List on Tuesday, retroactive to September 9th. There was no indication of a specific setback, so it seems as though they're just trying to give his legs a break as the playoffs approach. He's eligible to return next weekend.
Brent Rooker hit his first major-league home run on Tuesday, but on Saturday suffered a forearm fracture when he was hit by a pitch, ending his season. It's a really tough break (literally) for the rookie, but he can take comfort in knowing he made a great first impression, slashing .316/.381/.579 in 21 plate appearances, and will surely be a factor in next year's plans.
While they'll be without Arráez for a while, and Rooker for good, the Twins are inching closer toward being whole again. Max Kepler returned from IL on Sunday, batting leadoff and playing right field in the sweep-clinching win against Cleveland. It sounds like Mitch Garver could be activated in the coming days, and Jake Odorizzi is also on his way back after throwing an intrasquad game on Friday.
With a playoff berth all but assured, Minnesota's primary goal is to be at full strength by the time the first round gets underway. Winning the division is perhaps secondary to getting and staying healthy, but it's an important priority nonetheless, and the Twins are currently in the middle of a decisive stretch toward that end.
Here's a look at where their excellent past week has brought them, and where they're headed next.
The Bomba Squad moniker felt more apropos than it has in past weeks, as the awakening Twins offense launched 18 home runs in six games against two of the league's best pitching staffs. Seventeen of 18 runs scored in the sweep over Cleveland came on long balls.
Among the contributors to last week's power parade:
- Byron Buxton mashed three homers in his four starts, including a pair of critical two-run blasts in the Cleveland series. His aggressive swing-at-everything approach is working well as opponents continue to oblige him by serving pitches over the plate. The Twins have won 10 of the last 11 games Buxton has started, including seven straight. What a difference-maker.
- While Garver's return will be welcomed, Ryan Jeffers is more than taking care of business in his absence. Over the past week, Jeffers did a fine impression of the 2019 Silver Slugger, popping off for three home runs including a rocket shot off the league's best pitcher (Shane Bieber). In fact, he had two of the hardest-hit balls off Bieber all season, in within the span of a few innings. The kid can crush, and his defense behind the plate remains stellar. Even more so than Rooker, Jeffers has firmly entrenched himself in the 2021 picture with his tremendous showing as a big-league rookie.
- Taking a .200/.279/.281 slash line into Saturday's game, with two singles to show for his past 38 plate appearances, Marwin Gonzalez was badly in need of a slump-breaker. He found it on Saturday with a two-run homer to open the scoring, then put his team on the board with another two-run jack Sunday, later adding a sac fly. Gonzalez has as many RBIs in his past two games (5) as he did in his previous 17. Hopefully this is the start of a hot streak for him; the Twins could sure use it with Arráez out.
- Also delivering multiple home runs over the past week, some of the usual suspects: Nelson Cruz (3), Josh Donaldson (2), Miguel Sanó (2). When these guys are all doing their things and people are getting on base in front of them, this lineup is scary.
Meanwhile, the rotation has been steady and occasionally sensational. Kenta Maeda keeps looking the part as a No. 1 starter. He was magnificent on Friday, out-dueling Bieber with seven shutout innings. Maeda is now 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA and league-leading 0.74 WHIP. He's all but guaranteed that to be Minnesota's Game 1 starter in the postseason.
Jose Berríos, who figures to follow in Game 2, is 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his past four starts after notching a victory over St. Louis on Tuesday. Michael Pineda has a 20-to-4 K/BB ratio in 17 ⅔ innings over three starts since rejoining the club.
With that trio leading the rotation, and the offense in attack mode, you've gotta feel good about how the Twins are currently shaping up for October. We saw it all come together in a convincing weekend sweep against Cleveland, a team Minnesota could very well face in the playoffs.
Nearly every time he's taken the mound as as big-leaguer, things have gone swimmingly for Randy Dobnak. That's how you arrive at a 2.80 ERA through 68 MLB innings. Of late, however, the right-hander has encountered his first bouts of adversity.
Three starts ago he was knocked around by the Tigers, who piled up six earned runs on 12 hits in 4 ⅓ innings. In his latest turn, facing the Cardinals in St. Louis on Tuesday, he coughed up an early lead and took the L, yielding five earned runs in 2 ⅔ frames. This time around, his root problem was very different – not so much being hittable (he only allowed two), but completely erratic. In the third inning he loaded the bases on a single, hit-by-pitch and walk, then allowed runs in on another HBP and walk, followed by a fielder's choice and RBI single.
It was an uncharacteristic unraveling from the typically poised Dobnak, who wasn't crushed in the outing by any means. Given that he was pitching on three days' rest, I'm inclined not to weigh it too heavily, but seeing the two worst outings of his career within 11 days of one another isn't great.
The fact that Dobnak's one inning of struggle was really the only noticeable low point in the entire week says a lot of about what kind of roll the Twins are on right now.
Aside from trying to stay healthy and take the division, charting out the pitching staff's postseason hierarchy will be the key directive for Rocco Baldelli and his staff in these final two weeks.
While the top three starters are well established as we covered earlier, it's unclear who might get the nod as a fourth starter if one is needed. Dobnak didn't help his case last time but he'll get another shot in a big spot against the White Sox on Tuesday. A strong performance against the league's top offense, on the road, would make quite a statement. Presumably, the plan is for Odorizzi to take the ball opposite Lucas Giolito on Wednesday as he makes a late push for a significant role in October. And two days later it'll be Rich Hill going up against the formidable Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs. Facing frontline starters on playoff teams will be a fitting test for these hurlers, as they make their bids to do just that in a few weeks.
The bullpen pecking order, too, must be sorted. Just as in the rotation, the top guys are essentially locked in, but the next tier is fluid. Will Jorge Alcala earn high-leverage looks? What about Matt Wisler and Caleb Thielbar? They've looked amazing, albeit in small samples. Can Cody Stashak prove he's sharp enough to be a factor, or will his time spent sidelined cost him a postseason roster spot?
Many questions remain to be answered, and the urgency in figuring them out may be increased if the status of Trevor May – who was lifted from Sunday's game due to back cramps – is going to be in question for the playoffs.
The fate of the 2020 regular-season Minnesota Twins could be decided in Chicago this week. First up, it's four games against the White Sox, who carry a one-game division lead into the series. Then the Twins head to the North Side for three games against another first-place team at Wrigley. After that, only five games remain.
The Sox are in the driver's seat entirely because of their success against the dregs of the division – they're 18-2 against the Royals and Tigers, 12-14 against all other opponents – so this is their chance to prove it for real and put clamps down on the Central. Minnesota has won both of the first two head-to-head matchups, and if they can do it again here, they'll come out leading the division with 10 days to go.
It's all on the line in Chi-town. Should be fun.
MONDAY, 9/14: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Dylan Cease
TUESDAY, 9/15: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Dane Dunning
WEDNESDAY, 9/16: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – TBD v. RHP Lucas Giolito
THURSDAY, 9/17: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kenta Maeda v. TBD
FRIDAY, 9/18: TWINS @ CUBS – LHP Rich Hill v. RHP Kyle Hendricks
SATURDAY, 9/19: TWINS @ CUBS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Alec Mills
SUNDAY, 9/20: TWINS @ CUBS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Yu Darvish
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
Game 43 | MIN 6, DET 2: Pineda Pitches 7 Innings, Twins Take 4 of 5
Game 44 | MIN 7, STL 3
Game 45 | STL 6, MIN 4
Game 46 | MIN 3, CLE 1: Buxton, Jeffers Sting Bieber; Maeda Sails Through 7
Game 47 | MIN 8, CLE 4: Return of the Bomba Squad
Game 48 | MIN 7, CLE 5: Twins Complete Sweep, Shift Focus to White Sox
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