Week in Review: Rise and Shine
Weekly Snapshot: Thurs, 4/1 through Sun, 4/4
Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)
Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +7)
Standing: T-1st Place in AL Central
Last Week's Game Recaps:
- Game 1 | MIL 6, MIN 5: Twins Blow 3-Run Lead in 9th Inning
- Game 2 | MIN 2, MIL 0: Take a Bow, José Berríos
- Game 3 | MIN 8, MIL 2: Arraez Reaches 5 Times, Twins Take Series
NEWS & NOTES
An opening series victory in Milwaukee brought plenty of glowing positives, but also a familiar feeling of dread as Minnesota's two most critical players – Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton – still can't seem to stay on the field.
Donaldson made it through only one plate appearance before his balky legs acted up once again. A tight hamstring disrupted his stride while he rounded first base on a double in Thursday's opener, and Donaldson was removed before taking the field at third base.
The diagnosis is relatively encouraging, in that it wasn't calf-related and the Twins emphasized the "mild" nature of the injury ... but still. This is a gutting development right off the bat.
Buxton lasted slightly longer before being removed from a game, but not by much. He exited Sunday's contest in the third inning, although fans were able to breathe a big sigh of relief upon learning he was lifted due to non-COVID illness.
Donaldson went on the Injured List and was replaced on the roster by Brent Rooker, who made his season debut on Sunday in place of Buxton. Presumably Buck should be back within the next day or two. Still, to have both players already knocked out of games in a season where the big narrative is "What can the Twins do if they keep JD and Buck on the field for any length of time" is almost unreal.
What's most unfortunate is that both players looked so good prior to these incidents. Donaldson hit a 112 MPH rocket into the gap in his lone at-bat, and Buxton's been on an absolute tear out of the gates. Which feels like a good place to start the next section.
Before leaving Sunday's game, Buxton ripped a 98 MPH double in his first AB, tallying his third extra-base hit already. The first was a majestic moonshot on Opening Day that should've sealed a win (longest HR of Buxton's career), and the second home run on Saturday broke up a no-hitter by Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes, ultimately proving decisive in Minnesota's 2-0 victory.
After slugging .534 with 23 home runs in 126 games over the past two years, Buxton is making an emphatic early statement that his power breakthrough is entirely legitimate. His hot start, combined with the injury to Donaldson and unavailability of Nelson Cruz, quickly elevated the center fielder to No. 3 hitter, and Buck looked the part.
He wasn't the only one who looked like a natural at a new spot in the order.
Luis Arraez batted leadoff in each of the first three games, and it sure seems like he's gonna stick there. He reached base nine times in the series, including five times in Sunday's finale. He's sporting a healthy .600 on-base percentage after three games.
Although his defense at the hot corner may be somewhat questionable, Arraez is an absolute godsend in the absence of Donaldson, allowing the Twins to replace one of their most crucial players in the lineup with an amazing hitter and essential sparkplug. The team's decision to designate him essentially as a 10th man is already looking very savvy, dramatically lessening the blow of Donaldson's loss.
Beyond Buxton and Arraez, there were plenty of other offensive highlights, including Max Kepler's clutch hitting, Mitch Garver's awakening, and some encouraging signs from Miguel Sanó. But the resounding positive coming out of this series is starting pitching.
José Berríos was unbelievable on Saturday night, spinning the gem of his career with six no-hit innings and 12 strikeouts. With his fastball pumping 95-96 consistently and his breaking ball giving hitters fits, Berríos retired 18 of the 19 batters he faced, with an HBP the only blemish in his brilliant performance.
While they weren't quite as overwhelmingly impressive, Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda also deserve credit for high-caliber first turns in the rotation. The fielders behind them weren't always helpful (more on that in a moment), and Maeda especially was not at his sharpest, but both starters were effective, combining to allow just one earned run in 9 ⅓ innings with 10 strikeouts.
The path to a 100-win season for the Twins this year lies in getting consistently strong starting pitching, day in day out, and letting the rest take care of itself. So far, so good on that front.
The Twins revamped their roster during the offseason with a clear objective in mind: upgrade to a world-class defense that can uplift the pitching staff and cut down on costly miscues. So far, not so good on that front.
The series in Milwaukee featured a medley of gaffes and blunders. Andrelton Simmons dropped a force-out thrown right into his glove. Jorge Polanco muffed a routine grounder. Alex Colomé committed a mental and physical error with a wayward throw to second on Thursday. Later that inning, Kepler failed to secure a deep drive to right despite getting leather on it.
Certainly not the hallmarks of a stalwart defensive club, although it's wise not to overreact at this stage, and there were some nifty plays mixed in as well.
The disappointing glovework, and Colomé's ninth-inning meltdown in the opener, were really the only significant rough spots in this series, since the Twins outplayed Milwaukee quite thoroughly otherwise.
We've gotten past the known commodities in the Twins rotation. Maeda, Berríos and Pineda all looked good, but that's nothing new. They powered this starting staff to stellar results last year.
Now, we'll get a look at the new guys. Matt Shoemaker is set to make his Twins debut on Monday, followed by J.A. Happ on Tuesday. Shoemaker will be looking to shake off a rough spring, where he posted a 6.57 ERA and allowed four homers in 12 ⅓ innings, while Happ will be looking to go as deep as he can following a COVID-shortened ramp-up.
Expect to see some Randy Dobnak in the days ahead, and possibly some roster moves (position player out, pitcher in?) as the Twins aim to keep fresh arms stocked while escaping from NL rules.
With interleague play in the rearview (for now), the Twins will welcome Cruz back to their starting lineup on Monday in Detroit, where they kick off a three-game series against the worst team in the division. Of note: in an early-season scheduling quirk, all three games at Detroit are noon starts.
On Thursday, Target Field will welcome back fans for the first time in 18 months. It promises to be a very special occasion.
With six games on tap against two of the worst teams in the league, this should hopefully be a chance for the Twins to flex their muscles a bit.
MONDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. RHP Jose Urena
TUESDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Casey Mize
WEDNESDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. LHP Matthew Boyd
THURSDAY, 4/8: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Marco Gonzales v. RHP Jose Berrios
SATURDAY, 4/10: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Yusei Kikuchi v. RHP Michael Pineda
SUNDAY, 4/11: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Chris Flexen v. RHP Matt Shoemaker
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