Week in Review: Test Passed in Tampa
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/27 through Sun, 6/2
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 40-18)
Run Differential Last Week: -2 (Overall: +109)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (11.5 GA)
Willians Watch: 4-for-17 last week (Season AVG: .260)
Before we get started, a few roster updates:
- On Tuesday, Minnesota placed Michael Pineda on the Injured List with right knee tendinitis and called up Devin Smeltzer from Triple-A. You can read about his stunning debut in the Highlights section below. It sounds like the plan is for Smeltzer to start again on Tuesday in Cleveland, although the Twins could get by with four starters until next weekend, when Pineda's eligible to return.
- Zack Littell was optioned back to Triple-A on Sunday to make room for Mitch Garver, who surpassed all expectations with a speedy return from his ankle sprain suffered on May 14th and batted leadoff in his first game back.
- The Twins sent Luis Arraez back to the minors, making room for Nelson Cruz to return on Tuesday after a two-game rehab stint at Fort Myers.
In February, when the Twins signed Jorge Polanco to a contract extension that can keep him in Minnesota through 2025 at controlled costs, it looked like a savvy move to lock up a quality regular for the long haul. Now, he's leading the best team in baseball as an MVP candidate at age 25.
Polanco missed Thursday's game with a bout of illness (and the Twins incidentally got routed), but showed no signs of being under the weather while on the field. In five games, he went 8-for-22 with three doubles and four RBIs. It's not just the gaudy overall offensive numbers – a league-leading .338 average and the best OPS among MLB shortstops at .989 – that impress me so about Polanco. It's the smaller things he's bringing to the table, like coming through with sac flies and squeeze bunts in big spots, and showing much more sharpness defensively. He continually solidifies himself as a championship building block.
Fellow 25-year-old Byron Buxton is doing the same. His outstanding week (6-for-16 with two homers, a triple and six RBIs) was highlighted by perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday. The finale in Tampa saw Buxton at his most dynamic, impacting and disrupting in so many different ways. He hit, collecting a single and a double in four at-bats. He ran wild, moving from first-to-third on a pickoff attempt gone awry in the fifth, then scoring easily on a three-foot bunt by Polanco. And in center field, he did this:
When he racked up 18 doubles and just one home run in his first 38 games, it stood to reason that Buxton's ratio would balance out a little as more of his drives started landing over the fence. That's exactly what's happened; since May 15th, he has five homers and just two doubles in 17 games. It all adds up to a hefty .517 slugging percentage for Buck, who entered this season with a .387 career mark.
Ehire Adrianza didn't play a ton last week, collecting four hits in his nine plate appearances, but I feel his extended run of offensive production is worth calling out. It isn't as noticeable since he's not a regular, and is always relegated to the bottom of the lineup, but Adrianza has been on fire the past several weeks. Since seeing his batting average drop to .120 after a stretch of 22 hitless plate appearances in early May, the utilityman has batted .432 with a 1191 OPS in his last 16 games. Toss in the turnaround of Marwin Gonzalez, who's batting .302 since the start of May, and the Twins have turned two early laggards into assets. This helps explain why the offense has kept chugging merrily along in the absence of Garver and Cruz.
Also on cruise control is Jake Odorizzi, who rattled off six more scoreless innings on Sunday in his finest effort yet. It's now customary for the right-hander to blank his opponents – he's allowed zero runs in six of his past seven starts – but he was especially transcendent against a tough Rays offense on the road. Odorizzi piled up whiffs with a high-octane fastball, touching 95 as late as the sixth inning. In six scoreless innings, he struck out nine and induced 21 swinging strikes (nearly all with the heater). Pure dominance.
Through 12 starts, Odorizzi has eight wins and an AL-best 1.96 ERA. He's not just getting fat off easy opponents, either; he's beaten Houston (twice), the Yankees in New York, and now the Rays in Tampa. As we head into June, he is the Cy Young frontrunner.
Somehow, Odorizzi's gem on Sunday wasn't the rotation's most memorable moment from last week. That'd have to be Smeltzer's out-of-nowhere dazzling debut on Tuesday. Minnesota's move to place Pineda on the IL and insert the 23-year-old left-hander, who started catching our attention early this year, was unexpected but worked out brilliantly.
Smeltzer was masterful, pounding the zone with an incredible 77% strikes and notching seven Ks over six shutout frames. Milwaukee's lineup was totally out of sorts. I can't say for sure if there was an element of gamesmanship involved with the Twins announcing this move so abruptly, but it'd fit their M.O., and the lack of advance scouting on Smeltzer certainly did seem to show.
More flexing from a front office that managed to acquire Smeltzer from the Dodgers as a toss-in for two months of Brian Dozier last summer.
After showing remarkable consistency through his first eight starts, Martin Perez finally ran into his first dud on Thursday, when the Rays jumped all over him for six runs in a third inning he failed to escape. The left-hander has a history of shaky control, and it's reared its head of late as he's walked 10 hitters over 14 1/3 innings in his past three starts. The Rays were just not biting on his inside cutters, disarming him of what's been a hugely reliable weapon up to this point.
Perez's replacement in the game fared no better. Littell, making his second appearance for the Twins this year, was plastered for eight runs on 10 hits, putting the game completely out of reach, but to his credit he gave the team some length by throwing 4 1/3 innings. This preserved the bullpen for tighter contests that followed.
We've seen several other pitchers endure complete drubbings shortly after arriving from Triple-A (Chase De Jong, Andrew Vasquez, Austin Adams). Like those before him, Littell was sent out in short order. But I do think we'll see him again sooner rather than later, because he's got a much better chance than the others of becoming a true bullpen asset. I wonder if the Twins will start letting him develop in that capacity at Rochester.
All in all, it wasn't an encouraging week for the Minnesota bullpen. A rare lapse from Taylor Rogers cost the Twins in Monday's loss to Milwaukee, with Orlando Arcia's two-run bomb against him proving decisive. Rogers oddly gave up another long home run the following night, but bounced back with two excellent outings in Tampa.
Matt Magill struggled badly on Sunday, coughing up five runs (four earned) while recording just two outs as the Rays surged back from a large deficit. Blake Parker gave up four runs and two homers in three appearances, after allowing just two runs and one homer total in the first eight weeks. Trevor May pitched once all week but continued to have a hard time throwing strikes.
On Monday, the 2019 MLB Draft will get underway. The Twins will select 13th overall. You can learn about names that may be available to them in the first round – as well as all the other top talent in this year's class (including a player at No. 1 who "could be one of the best prospects to enter the draft in the last five years") in the excellent rankings Andrew Thares has put together here at Twins Daily:
- Twins Daily 2019 MLB Draft Top 50 Prospects: 1-10
- Twins Daily 2019 MLB Draft Top 50 Prospect: 11-20
- Twins Daily 2019 MLB Draft Top 50 Prospect: 21-30
- Twins Daily 2019 MLB Draft Top 50 Prospect: 31-40
- Twins Daily 2019 MLB Draft Top 50 Prospect: 41-50
Of course, the passing of the draft also means it's open season on Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel. Will the Twins strike on either pitcher as their rotation and bullpen show signs of wobbling?
DOWN ON THE FARM
While Minnesota's top two position-player prospects – Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff – have yet to really hit their strides offensively, the team's first-round draft pick from a year ago is heating up. It strangely took Trevor Larnach more than a month to hit his first home run, but he enjoyed a blistering May, slashing .371/.456/.619 with 10 doubles and four bombs. He ended the month with a bang, going 9-for-13 with six RBIs in his final three games, and is off to a nice start in June after launching his fifth home run of the season on Sunday.
Over the weekend, we handed out our monthly Twins Daily minor-league awards.
- Minor League Hitter of the Month: Lewin Diaz. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in 2013, Diaz oozed power potential with his big, projectable frame. But through his first five years as a pro, the on-field pop just never emerged, and he faded from prospect relevance. His monster month of May (.317/.351/.702 with 10 home runs in 26 games) puts him back squarely on the map as a potential late bloomer.
- Minor League Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Balazovic. With Brusdar Graterol sidelined by a shoulder problem, Balazovic is the arm to watch in Minnesota's system right now. After moving up from Cedar Rapids to Fort Myers at the beginning of May, he posted a 2.13 ERA and 35-to-5 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .140/.211/.163 line. He could join Graterol as another 20-year-old in the Pensacola rotation before summer's end.
The Twins and Indians haven't faced one another since the first series of the season. Things have... changed a bit since then:
The Twins roll into Progressive Field as prohibitive division favorites, riding high after an invigorating series win, and they have a chance to further crush Cleveland's dwindling hopes. The Indians are limping into this one below .500 after dropping three of four against a White Sox team the Twins thoroughly dismantled last weekend. It's early June, but Cleveland has gotta be in all-out desperation mode. They cannot afford to lose this series.
TUESDAY, 6/4: TWINS @ INDIANS – LHP Devin Smeltzer v. RHP Shane Bieber
WEDNESDAY, 6/5: TWINS @ INDIANS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Carlos Carrasco
THURSDAY, 6/6: TWINS @ INDIANS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Trevor Bauer
FRIDAY, 6/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Matthew Boyd
SATURDAY, 6/8: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. TBD
SUNDAY, 6/9: TWINS @ TIGERS – TBD v. LHP Ryan Carpenter
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 53 | MIL 5, MIN 4: Hader Closes the Door on the Twins Win Streak
- Game 54 | MIN 5, MIL 3: Smeltzer Shines in Emotional MLB Debut
- Game 55 | TB 14, MIN 3: Well … That Just Happened
- Game 56 | MIN 5, TB 3: Twins Rally, Top Rays Late
- Game 57 | MIN 6, TB 2: Marwin Carries May Success Into June, Helps Lead Twins Over Rays
- Game 58 | MIN 9, TB 7: Odorizzi Shines In Tampa Return
- birdwatcher, h2oface, Sconnie and 5 others like this