Week in Review: Riding the Roller Coaster
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/17 through Sun, 8/23
Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 19-10)
Run Differential Last Week: +5 (Overall: +40)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (1.5 GA)
Bomba Counter: 42 (Pace: 90)
It was not a great week healthwise for the Twins. Rich Hill returned from his hiatus on Wednesday but looked sluggish, allowing four earned runs on four hits and two walks in just 2⅔ innings. Homer Bailey was moved to the 45-day Injured List, confirming that his return is nowhere near. Jake Odorizzi took a line drive off the ribs in Friday's loss, and later in the same game Zack Littell exited with elbow soreness. Both landed on IL, replaced by relievers Sean Poppen and Danny Coulombe. Late in Sunday's game, Tyler Clippard took a line drive off his pitching arm, and while initial imaging came back negative, Rocco Baldelli said of Clippard after the game, "I can’t imagine he’s going to be throwing a baseball anytime in the very near future." So it'd be no surprise to see another reinforcement called in.
Given the offense's continued struggles to find a rhythm, losses in the lineup loom even larger than the litany of injuries plaguing the pitching staff. Luis Arráez started just two games as he continues to battle knee soreness, but the team has bigger concerns. After Wednesday's game, Byron Buxton and Mitch Garver both landed on the Injured List, subtracting two right-handed bats from a unit that has been oddly ineffective against southpaws.
There are silver linings with these two key cogs going on the shelf. Buxton has reportedly been bothered for some time by his surgically repaired shoulder, not to mention the foot he sprained during Summer Camp. And while there's been no indication that Garver was hampered by the intercostal muscles that left him wincing after a swing in Wednesday's game ... it would make a lot of sense, given his inexplicably extreme lack of production.
A spell of rest may well do them both some good. And their departures create opportunities for deserving players in Ryan Jeffers and LaMonte Wade Jr., who shuttled over from the alternate site in St. Paul. Jeffers was put quickly to work, appearing in all four games since his call-up and starting three of them. Wade Jr. got his first start of the season on Sunday and went 2-for-4 with a double.
The week started with ageless wonder Nelson Cruz once again leaving us in awe, notching his second two-homer game of the season in 4-1 victory over Kansas City. It was merely an appetizer.
The following night, Kenta Maeda was pure magic. Taking his dominant start with the Twins to new levels, Maeda carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Milwaukee before giving up a weakly-hit single to Eric Sogard and exiting with a career-high 115 pitches. Along the way, Maeda set a franchise record by striking out eight consecutive hitters. He finished with 12 strikeouts and 21 whiffs in eight-plus innings.
In this absolute gem, Maeda posted a Game Score of 86, which stands as the highest by a Twins starter since Jose Berríos put up the same number on Opening Day of 2018, with a three-hit shutout against the Orioles.
Ranking seventh among major-league starters in fWAR, Maeda has embodied the ace label thus far by any definition. But speaking of Berríos, it was nice to see the rotation's presumed frontman finally look the part on Thursday, breaking off six shutout innings with nine strikeouts and only one hit allowed against Milwaukee.
This big step forward for Berríos, combined with the continued excellence of Maeda and consistent quality from Randy Dobnak, makes the rotation's setbacks a bit easier to stomach.
With all that being said, the most encouraging development over the past week from my view is Miguel Sanó's explosion at the plate. Last time in this space we pointed to his improving plate discipline as a hugely positive sign, even if the production wasn't quite showing up yet. "As he starts making more contact, Sanó is going to do immense damage."
Since then, Sanó has done DAMAGE. (Literally.)
Starting all seven games over the past week, the first baseman went 12-for-26 (.462) with eight doubles, five RBIs, and an atom bomb in KC that might've actually left a dent in the wall of Kauffman Stadium's Hall of Fame Museum:
At 115.8 MPH, it was the hardest hit ball of Sanó's career, the second-hardest hit home run by a Twins player in the Statcast era (c. 2015), and the highest exit velocity posted by a Twins hitter this year. Sanó dominates that list:
He's crushing the meatballs and finally starting to make things happen with those offerings that aren't straight in his wheelhouse. It is almost as noteworthy to me that Sanó reached out and made solid contact on two pitches away and outside the zone in his first two ABs Sunday – resulting in a double and single – as his obliterating a mistake from Brady Singer on Saturday.
To provide a sense of closure and cosmic balance, Cruz ended the week as he began it: homering off the Royals. This one, an eighth-inning solo shot off a 100-MPH fastball from Trevor Rosenthal, delivered crucial insurance in an eventual 5-4 victory.
The lineup as a whole is definitely starting to come on – they scored seven runs as many times last week (twice) as in the previous three weeks – but it's still been pretty choppy sailing for the bats.
Ehire Adrianza, pushed into semi-regular duty with the all the attrition, hasn't risen to the occasion. He went 2-for-14 last week and is at .186/.271/.209 on the season. Newcomer Ildemaro Vargas has quickly established himself as a more intriguing option for the same role, so one wonders how secure Adrianza's roster spot will be as injured players begin returning the fold.
Max Kepler went just 4-for-22 (.182) although he did draw six walks to keep the OBP pumping. He hasn't been bad by any means, but his power has conspicuously diminished; since homering his first two at-bats of the season, Kepler has a .379 slugging percentage. He's also 2-for-27 (.074) with a .272 OPS against lefties, so he's been a major contributor to the team-wide deficiency on this front.
Seeing a big uptick in playing time with Buxton on the shelf, Jake Cave isn't bringing a lot of juice. He delivered an empty 5-for-18 with five singles last week, and is hitting .150/.227/.175 with one RBI in 44 PAs since a good opening weekend in Chicago. It's hard to see Cave finding much success with his utter lack of discipline at the plate – he struck out six times with no walks last week, and has a 20-to-2 ratio on the season. In this regard, Wade Jr. offers a big upgrade, so I'll be curious to see whether the balance of playing time shifts in the days ahead.
Like the offense, the pitching staff experienced some rough patches to go along with the shining moments. Taylor Rogers swiftly sucked the energy out of Maeda's gem on Tuesday, coughing up three runs (one charged to Maeda) while blowing the save and forcing extra innings.
Since opening his season with four scoreless appearances, Rogers has allowed six earned runs on 13 hits in 6⅓ innings, blowing two of five save chances and flirting with disaster in Sunday's successful conversion. As I wrote a few days ago, the left-hander had developed a reputation as one of the most reliable high-leverage relievers in baseball, but actually has a negative Win Probability Added since last year's All-Star break. This begs the question: Where should he sit in the current bullpen pecking order? Almost certainly not at the top.
On the other end of the bullpen leverage spectrum, exploitable soft spots have begun to surface. Lewis Thorpe punched his ticket off the roster on Wednesday with a brutal outing: 4 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 2 HR. He has looked rough basically from the jump this season. So has Littell, who inflated his ERA to 9.95 while allowing another home run on Thursday before landing on IL with elbow inflammation.
With a key reliever still sidelined in Cody Stashak, and alternate-siters like Poppen and Coulombe now occupying spots, the bullpen will be pressed to keep getting the job done as the grind of a 21-games-in-20-days stretch marches on. Ten straight days of games still remain in the gauntlet, with six coming against Minnesota's top challengers in the AL Central.
The trade deadline is now just a week away, coming up on Monday the 31st. The Hot Stove started to heat up over the weekend with Philadelphia pulling the trigger on a deal to acquire Red Sox closer Brandon Workman. Will the Twins be active in these next eight days as they set themselves up for the stretch run and postseason?
It seems unlikely that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will give up any big-ticket prospects for a rented difference-maker in this abbreviated season. A playoff berth is all but assured, and it's clear that the Twins' best hope for a high-impact infusion is simply getting their own banged-up players back at full capacity.
With that said, it wouldn't surprise me to see a lower-level or move or two as the team looks to navigate the final month at diminished strength. The move to acquire Vargas has already paid dividends, with the utility infielder playing a fairly significant role since coming from Arizona. Another pickup like that might make sense, depending on how things unfold over the next week.
Of course, on the day of the trade deadline, Michael Pineda is eligible to return from his suspension, which will factor into the rotation's needs.
The Twins will open this coming week with a monumental series against the Indians, representing the only visit to Cleveland this season. It's a key opportunity for Terry Francona's club, trailing Minnesota by just a game and a half in the standings. Shane Bieber looms in Game 2.
From there, the Twins will head to Detroit to FINALLY see the division's weakest team. After facing them zero times in the first 32 games, Minnesota will get Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers 10 times in the final 28, accounting for roughly one-third of their remaining schedule. Theoretically this should be a very beneficial thing, but it requires capitalizing on the opportunity. The Twins will have their first chance in next weekend's four-game set.
MONDAY, 8/24: TWINS @ INDIANS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Aaron Civale
TUESDAY, 8/25: TWINS @ INDIANS – LHP Rich Hill v. RHP Shane Bieber
WEDNESDAY, 8/26: TWINS @ INDIANS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Adam Plutko
THURSDAY, 8/27: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Randy Dobnak v. LHP Matthew Boyd
FRIDAY, 8/28: TWINS @ TIGERS – TBD v. LHP Tarik Skubal
SATURDAY, 8/29: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Casey Mize
SUNDAY, 8/30: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP Rich Hill v. RHP Spencer Turnbull
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 23 | MIN 4, KCR 1: Nelson Cruz Continues to Defy Logic
- Game 24 | MIN 4, MIL 3: Kenta Maeda Carries No-No Into 9th Inning; Twins Win In Extras
- Game 25 | MIL 9, MIN 3: Hill Follows Maeda's Gem With a Clunker
- Game 26 | MIN 7, MIL 1: It's a Blessed Jose Berríos Day!
- Game 27 | KC 7, MIN 2: Royal Pain
- Game 28 | MIN 7, KC 2: Rosario, Sano Power Twins Win in KC
- Game 29 | MIN 5, KC 4 : Bullpen Steps Up Again
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