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  1. Service Time: Fixing What Is Clearly Broken

    Mather, inexplicably, shared unspoken but well-known secrets about how teams… well, his team, specifically, will keep MLB-ready players in the minors to prolong team control for an additional season.

    This isn’t new and certainly isn’t a secret. The Cubs did it to Kris Bryant. The Blue Jays did it to Vlad, Jr. The Twins, who never played service time games under Terry Ryan, did it to Byron Buxton in 2018 by not bringing him back for September, while healthy, to leave him 12 days short of achieving a “service year.” Because of that, Buxton will enter his last year of arbitration after this season, instead of becoming a free agent.

    Some might argue that manipulating service time after winning a Gold Glove and receiving MVP votes is an even worse look than doing it before a player’s major league career begins, but I digress. That is not the point of this article.

    This is an idea of how to fix the problem. It’s just an idea. It’s not designed to solve all the problems; however, it is designed to eliminate “service time manipulation.” (Ultimately, teams and agents will continue to look for loopholes to best serve the side they are on.)

    Currently, players need to be on a major league roster for 172 days to get credit for a full year. There are exceptions, for example, if you’re on the 40-man roster and start the season on an optional assignment and get recalled within the first 20 days of the season, you get credit for those service days.

    Kris Bryant was not on the 40-man, so the Cubs simply held him down until 171 days were left in the season, selected his contract and knew that, no matter what, they’d have his service for almost seven full seasons instead of six.

    One solution would be to handle free agency the same way as Super-2 status and award the top group (for arbitration it’s 17%) of players with 5+ years of service time free agency at the conclusion of the season. I wouldn’t love it and teams would likely never agree to it. Could you imagine going into a trade deadline and not knowing if your best pitcher is going to be a free agent after this season or next season?

    Another solution would be to make all players free agent-eligible after three years of arbitration, which would essentially let Super-2 players hit free agency one year sooner. It would be simple enough, but teams would still control this and could potentially hold players down longer to miss the Super-2 threshold, thus extending team control for a year. (The advantage would be that the “threshold” isn’t known until the end of the season and that free agency is still three (or four) seasons away.)

    The problem with both ideas and the current method is they are both based on service time and clubs hold all the control over that. Therein lies the rub.

    So let’s peel this back even further, to when teams first acquire player’s rights.

    Without getting into all the minutiae of how everything works from initial player acquisition to free agency, the basic timeline goes like this:

    • Players are drafted (typically as high school seniors or third-year college players) or signed internationally (at 16 years old).
    • Teams sign players to a minor-league contract that can be renewed up to six times.
    • After four or five years (depending on how old the player was when acquired), teams must protect the player on the 40-man roster or risk losing him.
    • Once a player is on the 40-man roster, he can be held in the minor leagues for three (or four) years on “optional assignments.”
    • When a player reaches three years of MLB service (or if you’re a Super-2), you enter your three (or four) arbitration years.
    • Once a player reaches six years of service, he finally becomes a free agent.
    So, in theory, you can hold a player in the minors for seven years, add him to the 40-man for three seasons and then finally see him make his debut 11 years after joining the organization, potentially making him free agent-eligible up to 17 years after being brought into the organization. (This never happens, by the way. But could.)

    More likely, though, players are added to the 40-man when they’d be Rule 5 eligible (after four or five years), bounce up and down for a year or two and then are major leagues, hitting free agency 10-13 years after being drafted or initially signed.

    For reference, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios were drafted in 2012 and will be free agent-eligible after the 2022 season. Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler were signed in 2009. While all three have signed extensions, Sano would reach free agent-eligible service time after the 2021 season, while Polanco and Kepler are likely to do it after the 2022 season. Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis, two of the fastest moving prospects, would hit free agency 10 years after becoming professionals.

    So let’s eliminate “service time” all together from free agent eligibility as it seems to all balance itself out over time anyway.

    Here’s the idea:

    If you’re signed at 19 or older, teams get 11 seasons of control.
    If you’re signed at 17 or 18, teams get 12 seasons of control.
    If you’re signed at 16, teams get 13 seasons of control.

    If you miss a significant amount of any season (“significant” can be negotiated or defined by someone independent… but I’m thinking Tommy John surgery), add one year of control.

    After your third season accumulating service time in the Major League, you’re eligible for arbitration. (If you are on the roster for one day or every day, it counts towards the three seasons.) Every season from the fourth season until free agency, you are eligible for arbitration.

    If you win League MVP or Cy Young at any point before your last two years of control, the last season of control becomes a player option at a price to be determined and accepted or declined prior to the last season of control.

    The motivation for everyone now becomes getting your best players to the show quicker. For teams, it is more seasons of your player; For players, it is more chances to make money.

    What do you think? Is it time to abolish the current rules and start over? Or do we simply adopt the rules laid out above?

    Disclaimers:

    Are the 11, 12 and 13 years of control the right lengths? I don’t know, but it’s a start. And it’s close.

    Whenever I say “arbitration,” I’m talking about a process that helps determine salaries. I think the current process is garbage, but how to fix arbitration is a story for another day.

    Does the ability to reduce control have to be tied to winning MVP or Cy Young? Absolutely not. Not specifically those awards nor only those awards. Could an independent metric like WAR be a factor? Yes! All told, this would be a great thing to negotiate in the CBA. I just don’t want it to have anything to do with the amount of days a player has spent in the major leagues.

    I used Soto and Tatis as examples and, as such, they would basically spend three extra years in the majors before free agency, which theoretically seems like a not great deal for them. Players could and would still sign big deals like Tatis did. On the flip side of that, Soto *could* go through the arbitration process six times. Could you imagine how much money he would stand to make in those final three years? He could be the highest paid player in baseball.

    • Feb 24 2021 12:05 PM
    • by Jeremy Nygaard
  2. How Long Can the Twins Keep Their Window of Opportunity Open?

    Minnesota’s Front Office Philosophy
    Thad Levine and Derek Falvey were brought together in Minnesota four winters ago. In that time, the front office has been able to rebuild an organization that had lost 92+ games in five of the previous six seasons. They have been shrewd to hang on to their top prospects with Brusdar Graterol’s trade being the lone exception and the Twins are likely happy with their return in that deal.

    Having one of baseball’s best farm systems is a key to sustainable contention. Minnesota’s current crop of regulars was moving through the farm system back in 2015-16, which saw them ranked as one of MLB’s top-five farm systems. Since the new front office took over, the Twins have moved back into the top 10 with prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, and Jhoan Duran ready to make a big-league impact. Even with those players getting close, other key pieces like Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios can reach free agency in the coming years so it becomes a roster balancing act.

    Entering the 2019 season, Thad Levine was asked about signing one of the big free agent options (Bryce Harper and Manny Machado), but he felt those moves are for teams trying to put their “foot down” and not “trying to wrench a window of opportunity open.” Last winter, the window was open, and the Twins spent big money on Josh Donaldson. Now the Twins can look to the not-so-distant past for a glimpse into their own future.

    Kansas City’s Approach
    Kansas City is a lower revenue team, and in recent memory they saw their window open and jumped at the opportunity. KC’s front office used a slash and burn approaching by trading away pieces from one of baseball’s top farm systems. The results are hard to argue with as Kansas City won back-to-back AL pennants along with taking home the 2015 World Series crown. As the old adage goes, flags fly forever, but what are the long-term costs?

    Looking back on those seasons, Kansas City wasn’t sure how long their window would be open. “You owe it to your fans and your city,” said Royals General Manager Dayton Moore. “You owe it to your ownership and all the people who’ve worked so hard to get your franchise to a certain point.” He capitalized at the right time, but things haven’t gone as smooth in recent years.

    Since their title run, Kansas City has yet to post a .500 record and things aren’t exactly looking bright for 2021. Their farm system ranks in the middle of the pack with some top tier talent, but they are still trying to rebuild after trading away pieces for their title run. Would Twins fans want the front office to follow a similar approach and go all-in for one or two seasons of success?

    Baseball’s Harshly Cyclical Nature
    Kansas City isn’t the only team to see their window close after multiple winning seasons but not all teams end up walking away with a title. Detroit won the AL Central for four consecutive seasons from 2011-14 and they made World Series runs in 2006 and 2012.

    During that time, they handed out big contracts and traded away top prospects to keep their window open. The team was trying to end a title drought that stretches back further than the Twins (1984). Recently, Detroit has struggled to be relevant again as they have posted sub-.400 winning percentages for four consecutive seasons.

    "At some point, some teams get into an all-win-now mode because they're right there," Tigers general manager Al Avila said. "It's very hard to get into the playoffs. It's very hard to get into the World Series, much more even to win it. When you feel you have that chance, you've got to go for it."

    Toronto made back-to-back ALCS runs in 2015-16 with sluggers like Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring their line-up. The Blue Jays added veterans like David Price and Troy Tulowitzki to try and get them over the hump, but they never made it to the Fall Classic. Since then, they have lost 86+ games for three straight seasons before finishing above .500 in 2020.

    Forbes baseball writer Maury Brown believes MLB expects windows to be open for roughly five years. Low revenue clubs can expect to be a little shorter and higher revenue clubs can expect to be a little longer. Multiple prospects need to hit at the same time and the organization needs to make appropriate supplemental moves, but he feels confident the league likes to tout five years as a bit of a “standard.” Minnesota’s revenue is considered in the middle to lower end of baseball, so the time might be now for the Twins to act.

    The Twins window is clearly open, but it might close faster than fans would like.

    How long do you think Minnesota’s window will stay open? Should the team go all-in? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Feb 23 2021 08:59 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  3. Projecting the Twins Opening Day Roster: Version 1.0

    Catchers (3): Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Willians Astudillo
    Garver and Jeffers might be the best catching duo in all of baseball, especially if Garver can rebound after a rough 2020 campaign. Jeffers was tremendous last season and he has the potential to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors if he continue to produce at the same level. Astudillo is coming off a tremendous winter season in the Venezuelan Winter League where he finished as the MVP runner-up. His defensive versatility gives Rocco Baldelli some flexibility on Opening Day.

    Infielders (5): Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons
    Donaldson and Simmons on the same side of the infield is quite the defensive pairing as both players have won Gold Gloves in the past. Moving Polanco to second base will help to improve his value by taking away some of the weaknesses he showed at shortstop. Sano was solid at first base in 2020 and he will only get better as he learns the nuances of his new defensive position. One of the toughest tasks for Baldelli might be finding enough at-bats for Arraez as he shifts to a utility role.

    Outfield (4): Jake Cave, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Brent Rooker
    One name noticeably missing from this list is Alex Kirilloff. Due to MLB’s arbitration rules, Minnesota will likely keep Kirilloff in the minors to start the year, so the club can pick up another year of team control. This means Cave and Rooker are the likely winners in this scenario because both should start the year on the big-league roster. The Twins can also use Arraez and Astudillo in the outfield, but that is not likely a preferable option. However, Baldelli might want to find extra at-bats for these players and the outfield can offer an open position until Kirilloff is called up.

    Designated Hitter (1): Nelson Cruz
    The Boomstick is back to anchor the middle of the Twins line-up. Father Time hasn’t caught up to him yet and the Twins are hoping the 2021 season matches his output from his first two seasons in Minnesota.

    Rotation (5): Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Randy Dobnak
    Berrios has been the Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see what direction Baldelli goes for the team’s first game. Maeda is coming off a runner-up finish for the AL Cy Young, so he could get the honor of starting Opening Day. Pineda is looking to play his first full season in Minnesota after missing time due to Tommy John surgery and suspension. J.A. Happ slides nicely into the back end of the rotation and Dobnak should round things out unless the team makes another move in the coming weeks.

    Bullpen (8): Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Alex Colome, Jorge Alcala, Hansel Robles, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashak, Ian Hamilton
    This bullpen has the potential to be one of the team’s strengths in 2021. Rogers had a rough 2020 season, but some of the peripheral numbers point to him bouncing back. Duffey might be the team’s best relief option and he is a weapon the club can utilize in a variety of roles. Colome has been an All-Star level closer for multiple seasons so it will be interesting to see what role he fills in Minnesota. Alcala can be the Twins breakout player in the bullpen, and he might be one of the team’s most valuable set-up men this season. Hamilton might be the biggest question mark with Edwar Colina, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe having a chance to beat him out.

    Who do you think makes the Opening Day roster? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Feb 08 2021 08:16 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  4. Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2021: Part 3 (6-10)

    First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 11th-through-15th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway.


    10. Trevor Larnach, OF
    2020 Ranking: 14

    Ranked as Twins Daily's No. 3 prospect coming into the season, Larnach didn't have a chance to raise his stock in 2020. He spent his summer practicing and scrimmaging in St. Paul, and never seemed to be in serious consideration for a call-up (unlike fellow top prospect Alex Kirilloff, who debuted in a playoff elimination game).

    With that said, it's not as if Larnach forgot how to play. The former first-rounder had already established himself as a polished hitter ready to make an impact. Turning 24 next month, he's a plug-and-play corner outfield bat with a solid floor and real upside, controllable through much of his prime.

    The main thing holding him back on this list is redundancy. As a corner outfielder he's stuck behind Kirilloff and Max Kepler indefinitely, and while first base is a possible destination, Larnach has yet to play the position professionally. He's the prime example of a player who'd have much more value to another team than to the Twins, making him a trade candidate.

    9: Byron Buxton, CF
    2020 Ranking: 7

    The 2020 season was much like the 2019 season for Buxton and his valuation. He showed signs of being an elite difference-maker, but was unavailable often – including at the end when the Twins needed him most. Buxton's health struggles have been so chronic and unshakable that they've defined his career more than anything else up to this point.

    Which is a real shame because when you take them out of the equation, he's one of the most valuable assets in all of baseball. Unparalleled speed, transformative defensive impact, and high-end power: all offered by a 27-year-old who will earn around $15 million in his final two years of team control.

    If he can stay on the field, Buxton could be the single most vital key to a championship for this franchise. But he continually hasn't been able to, and now the clock is ticking on his opportunity to fulfill all that potential as a Twin.

    8: Mitch Garver, C
    2020 Ranking: 6

    Garver's drop-off in 2020 was dramatic to say the least, but I'm inclined to mostly write it off. He got hurt in spring training, missed tons of time with a strained oblique, and never appeared fully comfortable at the plate. His brutal stats – .167 average, .511 OPS, and an eye-popping 46% K rate – were vastly out of line with any prior benchmarks.

    Still, the question remains whether Garver is capable of sustaining anything close to the MVP-caliber level of performance shown over 93 games in 2019. Is he a star or merely a quality rotational piece behind the plate, as he appeared in 2018? The uncertainty, combined with a price tag that's beginning to rise as he progresses into arbitration, places Garver just one peg below the meteoric riser up next on the list.

    7: Ryan Jeffers, C
    2020 Ranking: 20

    Last year, when Jeffers edged into these rankings at the No. 20 spot as a relative unknown, I wrote that "Folks in the know rave about his defensive skills, and pitch-framing especially ... Thus far Jeffers has done nothing but validate the team's belief in him. A catcher who shines both ways is among the game's most coveted assets."

    Affirming those beliefs in 2020 caused Jeffers to make a huge leap in these rankings. No longer is his impact theoretical; at age 23, his rookie contributions were crucial, coming in cold from the alternate site and filling in admirably for the injured Garver. All the strengths we'd heard about in those glowing reports – powerful bat, unusual poise behind the plate, natural instincts for pitch-framing, arm strong enough to deliver a bullet to second from his knees – were on display, under incredibly difficult circumstances.

    When I started putting these rankings together, catcher was a clear point of organizational weakness. In 2018 Jason Castro was the highest-ranked backstop at No. 17. Now, we've got two proven commodities, both under the age of 30 and controllable for several years, in the top 10. What a turnaround.

    6: Jorge Polanco, SS
    2020 Ranking: 1

    From No. 1 to outside of the top five: how did it happen?

    The main thing is that 2020 reinforced some of the concerns that shrouded Polanco even when he sat atop this list. Namely: that his second-half production in 2019 (.788 OPS) was more representative than his All-Star first half (.882); that his balky ankle – now requiring surgery for a second straight winter – was no isolated issue; and that he doesn't really have the defensive chops to play short.

    That last one is most glaring, and is reflected by the front office's apparent pursuit of a new shortstop this winter. Polanco remains a fixture-type building block with a highly favorable contract – controlled for three years at a total of $18 million, with multiple team options on the back end. But it's becoming clearer that he'll play out these remaining years as either a utility man or a blatant defensive liability at short, which is a far cry from the American League's starting SS in the 2019 All-Star Game.

    THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021


    20. Keoni Cavaco, SS

    19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B

    18. Josh Donaldson, 3B

    17. Taylor Rogers, LHP

    16. Jorge Alcala, RHP

    15. Miguel Sanó, 1B

    14. Tyler Duffey, RHP

    13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP

    12. Jhoan Duran, RHP

    11. Luis Arráez, 2B

    10. Trevor Larnach, OF

    9. Byron Buxton, CF

    8. Mitch Garver, C

    7. Ryan Jeffers, C

    6. Jorge Polanco, SS

    1-5: Coming tomorrow!


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    • Jan 06 2021 10:34 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  5. Ranking the 3 Most Important Twins Players for 2021

    3. Jose Berrios- SP
    Berrios is in an interesting place entering the 2021 season. He has worked his way through the arbitration process by betting on himself to improve instead of taking a team-friendly extension to stay in Minnesota. Now he has two years left until free agency unless the Twins are able to work out an extension this winter. This type of deal would likely need to be north of $100 million and that might not be something the team wants to consider after a season where revenues were limited.

    As far as the Twins rotation, Berrios doesn’t have to feel the pressure of being the team’s ace with Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda helping to solidify the rotation’s front half. Berrios might still have another level to reach as a starting pitcher and that can be scary to think about. Through their age-26 seasons, Berrios has better numbers than Trevor Bauer, this year’s top free agent starter. Bauer took a dramatic step forward in his age-27 season and Twins fans can hope Berrios follows a similar path.

    2. Josh Donaldson- 3B
    Donaldson was signed last winter to help Minnesota to take the next step while their window of contention is open. His first season in a Twins uniform was a disappointment as he played in less than half of the team’s games while dealing with calf injuries that have plagued his career. When he was on the field, he posted an OPS higher than his career average with a 24 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio, but Twins fans clearly wanted more from the highest paid free agent in franchise history.

    The Twins signed Donaldson, because he was coming off a tremendous season in Atlanta where he played over 155 games and posted a .900 OPS with 37 home runs and 33 doubles. Minnesota would love to get that kind of production from the former MVP, but he will be 35 this year and there’s a chance of regression as he continues to age. There is organizational depth at third base, but the Twins need Donaldson on the field and performing at his highest level for the majority of 2021.

    1. Byron Buxton- CF
    There’s no question that Buxton can alter the game on both sides of the ball, but he has been limited to fewer than 95 games in all but one big-league season. Last year, Buxton hit .254/.267/.577 with 13 home runs and three doubles across 39 games. While he posted a career high OPS, he struck out 26.7% of the time in his 135 plate appearances. The flashes of greatness have been evident, yet the Twins fans are waiting for him to put it all together for an entire season.

    Like Berrios, Buxton has only two years of team control remaining, and one has to wonder if the team would consider an extension with their center fielder. The organization’s other options in center can fill-in for Buxton on a short-term basis, but they simply can’t match everything he brings to the diamond.He might be the best five-tool player in Twins history, and he is just entering the prime of his career. If Buxton is on the field for over 120 games in 2021, he has the chance to be in the American League MVP discussion.

    What three players do you think are most important for Minnesota in 2021? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Jan 04 2021 02:52 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  6. Twins Future Position Analysis: Centerfield

    Current Center Fielder: Byron Buxton
    Since he made his debut, there have been times when Byron Buxton was the best player on the Twins roster. His elite defensive abilities, speed, and offensive talent make him the true definition of a five-tool player. Unfortunately, he has played fewer than 92 games in all but one professional season. Buxton is a second-year arbitration eligible player, so the Twins have team control over him for the next two seasons. Would the Twins be willing to extend him this winter?

    40-Man Options
    Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr. and even Max Kepler have seen time in centerfield. Cave and Wade might be a little stretched up the middle, but Kepler has shown the ability to fill-in nicely for Buxton when needed. All three fit into the team’s corner outfield projections with Kepler and Cave line-up to be the Opening Day starters if the club wants to hold off on having Alex Kirilloff make his regular season debut.

    Outside of Buxton, Gilberto Celestino might be one of the purest centerfielders in the Twins organization. He was acquired from the Astros as part of the Ryan Pressly trade and he was added to the 40-man roster after a breakout season in 2019. He has always been a strong defender, but he hit .303/.374/.464 with 38 extra-base hits over his last 98 games that season. If Buxton suffers an injury, Celestino’s defense is big-league ready and his bat might not be far behind.

    On the Farm Options
    Outside of the options mentioned above, there are other corner options in the minor leagues including some strong prospects.
    [attachment=17006:Twins Centerfield Minors.JPG]
    Kerrigan is an interesting story as he went undrafted after four-years of college and started playing independent baseball. He’s got a good power and speed, but he might be a little stretched defensively in center field. Whitefield got a brief taste of the big leagues last season as he appeared in three games, but the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the system.

    Maciel came to the Twins as part of the Eduardo Escobar trade and he split time between Low- and High-A back in 2019. He can drive the ball to all fields and he’s not overmatched in center. Keirsey was a fourth-round pick back in 2018 and he topped out at Cedar Rapids in 2019. His speed and college experience should help him play all over the outfield.

    Urbina is an intriguing prospect with lightening fast speed. He was signed as part of the 2018 international signing period out of Venezuela and he made his first professional starts in the 2019 Dominican Summer League. He has all the tools, and he is a prospect to watch in the years ahead. Garry Jr. was young for the E-Twins back in 2019, but he showed that he can hold his own. He continues to improve on both sides of the ball.

    What do you think about the future of centerfield in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

    -Corner Outfield

    -Catcher

    -Second Base

    -First Base

    -Third Base

    -Shortstop


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    • Dec 22 2020 01:28 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  7. Twins Extension Candidate: Byron Buxton

    Byron Buxton
    2020 Stats (39 games): .844 OPS, 124 OPS+, 1.9 WAR

    Current Contract (2nd-Year Arbitration Eligible, Free Agent: 2023)
    In his second year of arbitration, Buxton is likely heading for a contract close to $6 million. To put that in perspective, FanGraphs put Buxton’s value as worth almost $10 million last season and over $21 million during the 2019 campaign. There’s no question about the value he provides to the Twins, but the biggest issue is his ability to stay on the field and be healthy.

    Pros of Extending Now
    Buxton has shown the potential to be one of the best players in baseball. There’s little question that his presence on the field helps the Twins to win, especially with his elite defensive skills. He can make pitchers better by tracking down balls in the outfield and his offensive skills can be a second thought. Minnesota has tried to work with Buxton to keep him on the field by positioning him further back on defense and working with him to jump off two feet at the wall. These small changes could keep him on the field while making bigger plays.

    Cons of Extending Now
    He hasn’t been on the field and this isn’t exactly a secret. Buxton still has the potential to be one of baseball’s best players, but his health continues to be a concern. Even in a shortened 2020 season, he was limited to less than 40 games. He likely should have been the winner of the Gold Glove, but his lack of time on the field cost him the award. He’s only played over 92 games once in his six big-league seasons and that’s something a front office can’t ignore.

    Possible Extension
    Last week, I tossed out a bold idea that the Twins should consider trading Buxton this winter. That likely isn’t going to happen because he still has two years of team control and there have been glimpses of how important he can be to the Twins roster. It’s difficult to predict what an extension would look like for a player like Buxton. He can be the team’s best player, but injuries have been part of his story at the big-league level. He can be as valuable as Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, but there’s no guarantee he will be on the field. Can the Twins pay him like an elite player even if they can’t predict how much he will be on the field?

    How much would you give Buxton in an extension? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Nov 23 2020 09:30 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  8. Is the Time Right to Trade Byron Buxton?

    Byron Buxton is coming off a strong season where he led the Twins in WAR even though he only appeared in 39 of the team’s 60 games. He combined to hit .254/.267/.577 (.844) with 13 home runs and three doubles. Granted it was a small sample size, but his OPS and his slugging percentage were both career highs. It might seem silly to trade away a player of his caliber, but this is going to be an offseason unlike any other.

    Buxton’s name has come up in trade talks before. At the 2019 trade deadline, the Twins were looking to upgrade their rotation for a potential playoff run. One of the teams Minnesota had discussions with was the New York Mets. The Twins were interested in acquiring starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, but talks stalled when the Mets insisted that Buxton be included in any trade. Minnesota wasn’t willing to deal Buxton then, so what might have changed?

    One of the reasons the Twins might be more willing to deal Buxton is his current contract situation. Minnesota only has team control of Buxton for two more seasons as he enters his second year as an arbitration eligible player. He will likely be making somewhere between $4-6 million this season and next year would be a higher in his final arbitration year. Two years of team control might be the sweet spot for trading away a player, because the team acquiring him isn’t getting an expiring contract.

    The Twins can also go in a different direction with Buxton if they wanted to try and sign him to an extension. Minnesota was able to work out extensions with some of the other young core players like Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano. Would Buxton be willing to sign a deal that bought out his remaining arbitration years while also giving the Twins more team control?

    Approaching a Buxton extension is a little trickier than the names mentioned above, because of the way his career has transpired. There’s no question that he is a dynamic player, but injuries are part of his career that can’t be ignored. He’s only played more than 92 games in one big league season. The Twins have tried some creative approaches to keeping him on the field including having him start further back defensively and trying to jump off of two feet instead of one foot when attempting catches at the wall. Other teams know his injury history too and that might make a deal tougher to find.

    Minnesota would have a big hole to fill in center field if Buxton were traded. Max Kepler can take over in center, but he has expressed concerns in the past about the wear his body goes through when playing at a more demanding defensive position. Other options on the 40-man roster include Jake Cave, Gilberto Celestino and LaMonte Wade Jr. A more intriguing choice would be promoting Royce Lewis, but he has only played a handful of games above the High-A level and he’s played limited defensive innings in center.

    Buxton’s trade value may never be higher as he enters the prime of his career and he has two years of team control. Minnesota is a better team when he is on the field, but this off-season is going to force teams to make some tough choices. Trading Buxton would be a difficult decision, but if the deal was right, it might be the time to move in a new direction.

    Do you think the time is right to trade Byron Buxton? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Nov 16 2020 01:41 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  9. Golden Opportunity: Using SDI to Evaluate the Twins Defense

    Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last decade. With StatCast tracking every batted ball, the amount of information available to fans is at an all-time high. One newer defensive metric was developed by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and it is called the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR's website, the SDI "draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts."

    First Base: Miguel Sano
    SDI Total: -1.5 SDI (12th in the AL)
    Sano’s first year as a full-time first baseman had its ups and downs. He’s athletic enough to adjust to a new position, but there were clearly moments where he was still getting acclimated to his new defensive role. Only two qualifying AL first basemen finished behind Sano (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Luke Voit) in the SDI rankings. In the years ahead, it will be intriguing to see if his defense improves as he gets more experience at first base.

    Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
    SDI Total: -0.4 SDI (8th in the AL)
    Polanco is never going to be an above average defensive shortstop and he’s played the last two seasons on an ankle that needed offseason surgery. Minnesota’s positioning of Polanco seemed to help him make more plays this season and having Josh Donaldson on the same side of the infield certainly helps. Last season, Polanco finished with a -1.9 SDI which was good for 8th among AL shortstops. Above Polanco on this year’s SDI rankings is Detroit’s Niko Goodrum, a former player in the Twins organization.

    Center Field: Byron Buxton
    SDI Total: 5.5 SDI (2nd in the AL)
    Even though Buxton was limited to 39 games this season, he still finished in the top four among all AL defenders according to SDI. Unfortunately, he fell short of his second Gold Glove as Chicago’s Luis Robert finished ahead of him by just 0.1 SDI points. Buxton didn’t accumulate enough defensive innings in 2018 or 2019 to appear on the SDI Leaderboard. Back in 2017, he won the Platinum Glove as the AL’s best fielder. There’s no question that health has impacted his career, but Buxton only having one Gold Glove at this point is disappointing.

    Right Field: Max Kepler
    SDI Total: 1.4 SDI (7th in the AL)
    Kepler finished the 2019 SDI rankings as the second-best AL right fielder (5.7 SDI) but he trailed Mookie Betts by 5 SDI points. With Betts out of the AL, this could have been an opportunity for Kepler to earn his first Gold Glove. Joey Gallo put up unbelievable numbers in a 60-game season as he more than doubled the SDI total of other right fielders. Kepler has been a borderline Gold Glove candidate in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if he can play a full season in right field and come away with the award.

    Left Field: Eddie Rosario
    SDI Total: 1.1 SDI (4th in the AL)
    Rosario isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess as he finished the 2019 campaign with the third worst SDI total among AL left fielders (-5.7 SDI). The 2020 season exemplifies how a small sample size can make a player look better or worse than their career numbers. Rosario nearly finished as the third best left fielder in the AL which is hard to believe that he should have been a Gold Glove finalist. Next season, the Twins might have a different player in left field so that could change their defensive outlook.

    Pitcher: Kenta Maeda
    SDI Total: 1.0 SDI (2nd in the AL)
    Maeda’s first year in a Twins uniform was certainly memorable, but few people may remember it for his defense on the mound. He ended up finishing tied for second in AL SDI with Zach Plesac with Griffin Canning winning the Gold Glove with the highest SDI total. Last year in the NL, Maeda finished with a 1.4 SDI which put him in the top-20 among pitchers. Jose Berrios finished tied for eighth in the AL, which should make Mitch Garver happy.

    How did you feel about the Twins defense this season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Nov 04 2020 07:29 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  10. 3 Things the World Series Teams Have That the Twins Are Missing

    LA’s Superstars
    In baseball, superstar players can’t impact the game in the same way as some of the other major sports, but it certainly helps to have top tier players performing at their best. The Dodger outfield is anchored by two former MVPs in Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw has been one of this generation’s best starting pitchers. Betts has been good throughout his career, but he has used this year’s World Series to put himself in the conversation as quite possibly the best player in baseball.

    Few teams have players in the same category as the names above, including Minnesota. The Twins signed Josh Donaldson, a former MVP winner, to help change that narrative. However, he was hurt for the majority of the 2020 season and the prime of his career might be behind him. Other players like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton were touted as future superstars and both have suffered through some ups and downs in their career. Buxton might have the best chance to be Minnesota’s superstar player, but he will need to prove it again in 2021.

    Tampa’s Bullpen
    Well this is awkward. Two key members of the Rays bullpen, Nick Anderson and John Curtiss, were both drafted by the Minnesota Twins and neither was given much of an opportunity with the big-league club. Curtiss pitched 15 innings for the Twins and posted a 7.20 ERA while Anderson never made it out of Triple-A. Bullpen usage continues to increase as starters are asked to get fewer outs. Tampa Bay is in their current position because of a heavy reliance on their relief arms and other teams can follow this trend in the years ahead.

    The Twins have some tough choices with their own bullpen during the coming offseason. Taylor Rogers can make as much as $7 million through arbitration, but he is coming off his worst big-league season. Sergio Romo has a team option for $4.75 million, but he turns 38 in March. Other players like Tyler Clippard and Trevor May are free agents in what is expected to be an offseason where all team’s cut payroll. Minnesota might be able to find someone like Matt Wisler or Caleb Thielbar, but that might be even tougher following a year where there was no minor league season.

    Both Team’s Starting Pitching Depth
    Even with bullpens getting more usage, starting pitching is still such an important part of any extended playoff run. LA’s one-two punch of Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw allow other pitchers to take on relief roles for the postseason. Add in the likes of Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May and it’s easy to see why the Dodgers were willing to part with Kenta Maeda. Tampa might not have some of the big names like LA, but many teams would love to have their top-4 pitchers (Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton).

    Minnesota is entering their second straight offseason with multiple openings in their starting rotation. Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, and Kenta Maeda are penciled into the top-3 spots, so how can the Twins find a way to complete their rotation. Trevor Bauer will be the biggest free agent starter this winter, but he is going to have multiple suitors and the Twins are unlikely to spend the money it takes to add him. Does it make sense to bring back someone like Jake Odorizzi or Rich Hill? Would those names put the Twins in the same territory as the Dodgers and the Rays?

    What do the Twins need to do to get to the same level as the Dodgers and the Rays?

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    • Oct 26 2020 12:45 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  11. Twins Face 2 Pivotal Decisions in Arbitration

    On Tuesday night's episode of Offseason Live, I talked through each of the Twins' arbitration-eligible players with Matt Braun and Matthew Trueblood. You can watch it below, or keep scrolling for a written breakdown.


    We know for sure that these seven players are eligible for arbitration:

    • Mitch Garver, C (1st year of of 3)
    • Tyler Duffey (2 of 3)
    • Matt Wisler (2 of 3)
    • Jose Berrios (2 of 3)
    • Taylor Rogers (3 of 4)
    • Byron Buxton (3 of 4)
    • Eddie Rosario (3 of 3)

    We're not sure about Caleb Thielbar. His service time puts him right on the border of Super 2 status, but that's a murky line as is, made only cloudier by this shortened season. If he is arbitration-eligible for the first time, he is in line for about $1 million, and a no-brainer to bring back.

    Here's a look at the respective situations of the other seven players (2020 salaries based on full season, 2021 salary estimates via Twins Daily's guesses and those posted at MLB Trade Rumors):

    Mitch Garver, C
    1st year of 3 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $600K

    Key Stat: Career .275/.371/.522 hitter versus left-handed pitchers.

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: Twins Daily: $2M | MLBTR: $1.9M

    The Lowdown: As he enters arbitration for the first time, Garver's price will be kept in check coming off a lost season. Despite his discouraging campaign, keeping the 2019 Silver Slugger around next year is clearly a no-brainer at this price point, barring a trade. His ability to hit southpaws (which endured through his struggles in 2020, as he stilled slashed .304/.385/.435 vs. LHP) is particularly valuable. At this point it seems likely he'll head into next season slated for a 50/50 timeshare with Ryan Jeffers at catcher.

    Tyler Duffey, RP
    2nd Year of 3 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $1.2M

    Key Stat: Ranks 4th among MLB relievers in fWAR since 2019 All-Star break.

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $2.5M | MLBTR: $2.6M

    The Lowdown: Duffey was the Twins' best reliever and one of the best relievers in the American League, so he should at least double his 2020 salary in arbitration. Still, at somewhere in the range of $2.5 to $3 million, he'll be a tremendous bargain. With free agency only two years away, this might be an opportune time for the Twins to pitch his agent on an extension.

    Matt Wisler, RP
    2nd Year of 3 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $725K

    Key Stat: 1.07 ERA and 12.4 K/9 in first year with Twins (25.1 IP)

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $1.5M | MLBTR: $1.8M

    The Lowdown: The Twins claimed Wisler off waivers last offseason, seeing promise in his slider, and were rewarded to the fullest. He threw that pitch a career-high 83% of the time in his first season as a Twin, and completely dominated with it, holding opponents to a .143/.141/.221 slash line. It was the nastiest pitch on the Twins and one of the nastiest in baseball. Due to his lack of a track record prior to 2020, Wisler will still be quite cheap – likely under $2 million. Obviously he's back, though it's worth wondering how highly the Twins are prepared to slot him in the bullpen hierarchy.

    José Berríos, SP
    Year 2 of 3 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $4.025M

    Key Stat: Since his debut on April 27th, 2016, only 11 MLB pitchers have logged more innings than Berríos.

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $7.5M | MLBTR: $7.5M

    The Lowdown: Durability has been Berríos' calling card as an MLB starter, and it shined through again in 2020 as he made a team-leading 12 starts. He took a bit of a step backward performance-wise (4.00 ERA and 1.32 WHIP were both the highest since his rookie year in 2016), but not enough to prevent him from getting a hefty raise. With free agency approaching at the end of 2022, the Twins are running out of leverage in extension talks, but they've had a hard time finding traction in those discussions during the past couple winters.

    Byron Buxton, CF
    Year 3 of 4 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $3.075M

    Key Stat: Since start of 2018, Twins are 102-52 (.662) with Buxton, and 113-117 (.491) without.

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $6M | MLBTR: $5.9M

    The Lowdown: Durability has ... not been Buxton's calling card. He's been one of the biggest difference-makers in the game when on the field over the past three years, but has missed about 60% of the team's games during that span. The 2020 season, like most others, ended with Buxton injured and unable to play. This both diminishes his earning power in arbitration, and complicates the long-term picture. Can the Twins afford to go all-in on him when he has so consistently proven unable to stay healthy? Will his injury history make him more open to the security of a contract extension?

    Taylor Rogers, RP
    Year 3 of 4 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $4.45M

    Key Stat: In 2018 & 2019, ranked 4th among MLB relievers in fWAR and 6th in WPA. In 2020, ranked 33rd and 169th (out of 173).

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $7M | MLBTR: $6.9M

    The Lowdown: For several years, Rogers was as good as it gets. He was a shutdown bullpen reliever, and essentially match-up proof, consistently coming through in the clutch to rank as one of the game's best high-leverage performers. In late 2019, that started to change, and this year the negative trend continued. His 2020 numbers weren't all that bad, on the surface – 4.05 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 6.00 K/BB ratio, just two home runs allowed – but Rogers was not a dependable back-end arm. And while there's a good chance he bounces back, the pricetag of around $7 million is quite high, especially with the Twins (probably) scaling back payroll and looking for cost savings.

    Eddie Rosario, LF
    Year 3 of 3 in Arbitration
    2020 Salary: $7.75M

    Key Stat: Ranks 98th out of 128 qualified MLB players in fWAR since start of 2019.

    Arbitration Salary Estimates: TD: $10M | MLBTR: $12.9M

    The Lowdown: We were a little more conservative on Rosario's salary estimate than MLBTR, who foresees him making nearly $13 million in his final year of arbitration. At either number, it's going to be tough to justify keeping Rosario around. While he's been a reliable source of home runs and RBIs, he rates as a roughly average player overall, with poor defense and declining speed offsetting much of the (checkered) value he offers at the plate. Given the presence of multiple cheap replacement options – including Alex Kirilloff, who successfully debuted in the playoffs – it's tough to imagine the Twins keeping Rosario around ... unless they can non-tender him and reach agreement on a lower number.

    Would you keep Rosario and/or Rogers around at the heightened price tags? Where do you stand with the other arbitration-eligible players and contract extension candidates? Weigh in below.

    ~~~


    You can tune into the next Offseason Live broadcast via Twins Daily's Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube page. It'll be an interactive show where viewers help steer the conversation via comments and questions. You'll also be able to watch the replay tomorrow here on the site, or via audio by subscribing to our podcast.

    In the meantime, check out previous episodes of Offseason Live and see what's upcoming:

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    • Oct 20 2020 09:01 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  12. More Concerning Injury History: Byron Buxton or Josh Donaldson?

    Josh Donaldson’s Recent Injury History
    2017: Right-calf strain (38 games missed)
    2018: Right shoulder inflammation, left-calf strain (110 games missed)
    2020: Right-calf strain (32 games missed)

    Minnesota was well aware of Josh Donald’s calf issues when they signed him this off-season. He was coming off a healthy season in Atlanta and the Twins felt their training staff could continue to keep him healthy in the years ahead. That didn’t happen as he missed over half of the regular season and he was forced to sit out both the team’s playoff games.

    Now the Twins have three more guaranteed years left with Donaldson and a team option for a fourth year, which includes a large $8 million buyout. This year was certainly strange with players not being able to go through their normal ramp-up to a season with a shortened Summer Camp leading into the year. Would Donaldson have fared better if the season had been longer and the Twins medical staff could work with him on a more regular basis?

    Donaldson will turn 35 before the start of next season and age is always a question when it comes to recovering from injuries. Big expectations surrounded the team’s signing of Donaldson and there are plenty of question marks at the end of his first year.

    Byron Buxton’s Recent Injury History
    2017: Groin strain, migraines (22 games missed)
    2018: Migraines, fractures toe, strained wrist (134 games missed)
    2019: Wrist contusion, concussion, left shoulder dislocation, labrum surgery (75 games missed)
    2020: Concussion symptoms, left shoulder injury, sprained left-foot (21 games missed)

    There’s no question Byron Buxton can be one of the most exciting players in baseball when he is healthy and on the field. Unfortunately, Twins fans have only seen Buxton play over 95 games once in his big-league career. Minnesota took a proactive approach with Buxton this year by trying to alter some of his in-game behavior, but a high and tight fastball resulted in a head contusion and concussion symptoms.

    One way the Twins tried to alter Buxton’s behavior this year was to have him play deeper in centerfield. This allows him to start closer to the wall so he can minimize the risks involved with colliding with the wall. Another change has been the coaching staff working with him to try and jump off two feet instead of one foot. This was supposed to give him more control of his body in the air, but there were times this season where Buxton struggled to do this in the heat of the moment.

    Even with his injury history, Buxton is one of the most valuable Twins as evident by him ending 2020 with the team’s highest WAR total according to Baseball Reference. There were multiple defensive plays this season where Buxton made a concerted effort to avoid crashing into the wall or diving for the ball. One pitch altered the end of his season, but Twins fans have seen that with another centerfielder in team history.

    Donaldson and Buxton now have a full off-season to get ready for what will hopefully be a more regular 2021 campaign. Moving forward, fans are going to continue to have questions every time either one of these players is out of the line-up. If the current Twins core wants to find postseason success, Donaldson and Buxton need to be on the field and playing at something close to peak performance.

    Whose injury history are you more worried about? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Oct 05 2020 06:18 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  13. Astros-Twins ALDS Preview: Which Lineup Has the Edge?

    Catcher
    Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers vs. Martin Maldonado and Dustin Garneau
    Catching depth will be critical in a three-game series with no off-days. Houston’s Martin Maldonado will likely start two of the three games and he compiled a .727 OPS this year with a 98 OPS+. It’s going to be interesting to see how Rocco Baldelli uses his catching duo. Mitch Garver has struggled throughout the season to replicate his breakout 2020 campaign. Ryan Jeffers might be better than advertised on both sides of the ball and he ended the regular season with a .791 OPS and a 118 OPS+. If he starts two of the three games, the Twins have the advantage.
    Advantage: Twins

    First Base
    Miguel Sano vs. Yuli Gurriel
    Twins fans are aware of Sano’s up and downs throughout the 2020 season. He is a very streaky hitter and he has been for his entire career. Over the team’s final 11 games, Sano hit .095/.116/.238 with 22 strikeouts in 42 at-bats. Back in 2019, Gurriel posted an .884 OPS on his way to hitting 31 home runs and 40 doubles. He’s 36-years old this season and he posted a career worst .658 OPS and a 76 OPS+. Twins fans will have to hope Sano can find one of his hot streaks as the postseason begins.
    Advantage: Twins

    Second Base
    Luis Arraez vs. Jose Altuve
    It’s no secret that Luis Arraez is playing through a knee injury, but he came back from the IL this weekend with a flurry by collecting three doubles in one game. Even with some early season struggles, he ended the year with a .321 batting average and a .765 OPS. In the wake of the Astros cheating scandal, Jose Altuve struggled this season for the first time in his career. In 48 games, he hit .219/.286/.344 with a 71 OPS+. His career track record is so much better even with the cheating allegations. Will he be able to turn it on for October?
    Advantage: Astros

    Third Base
    Josh Donaldson or Marwin Gonzalez vs. Alex Bregman
    Josh Donaldson left a game against the Reds on Friday with a calf injury and he hasn’t been back on the field yet. He was limited to 28 games this season because of this reoccurring injury but he was still able to post an .842 OPS and a 131 OPS+. Alex Bregman has been in the MVP conversation in each of the last two seasons, but he lost over 200 points from his OPS this year compared to 2019. Donaldson will likely be a game-time decision and the back-up option is Marwin Gonzalez. Maybe Gonzalez can have something to prove to his old team, but Donaldson’s injury gives the edge to Houston.
    Advantage: Astros

    Shortstop
    Jorge Polanco vs. Carlos Correa
    After making the All-Star team last season, Jorge Polanco struggled at the plate in 2020. His OPS dipped from .841 to .658 and his OPS+ also dropped by nearly 40 points. Correa posted a career worst .709 OPS which was a drop of over 200 points. He still got on base 32.6% of the time, but he was lacking in the power department. Like many other Houston hitters, fans have to wonder how much he was benefiting from their in-game video systems. Looking at the numbers, this is a close match-up and Houston gets the slight edge.
    Advantage: Astros

    Left Field
    Eddie Rosario vs. Kyle Tucker
    Eddie Rosario did about what fans expect from him every season. He’s posted an OPS around .800 for three consecutive years and he gets on base roughly 31% of the time. His 19 walks in 57 games nearly matched his 22 walks from 137 games last year, but it remains to be seen if that patience will carry over into the postseason. Twins fans may not know about Kyle Tucker, but he might have been a savior for the Astros offense in 2020. As a 23-year old, he compiled an .837 OPS and a 123 OPS+ while leading the AL with six triples. Twins fans can hope he has some October growing pains, but Houston still has the advantage.
    Advantage: Astros

    Center Field
    Byron Buxton or Jake Cave vs. George Springer
    Much like with Donaldson, there are questions surrounding Byron Buxton’s health heading into October. He was hit in the head with a fastball over the weekend and he was suffering from mild concussion like symptoms. If Buxton remains out, Jake Cave is the next man up and he has a tough time comparing to Houston’s center fielder. George Springer posted an OPS of nearly .900 and an OPS+ of 140 while watching other key Astros hitters take a step back at the plate. If Buxton is healthy, this is a much tougher match-up.
    Advantage: Astros

    Right Field
    Max Kepler vs. Josh Reddick
    Max Kepler wasn’t able to reproduce his 2019 numbers, but his 2020 slash line of .228/.321/.439 is very close to his career averages. Also, he was able to post an OPS+ of over 100 for the second consecutive season. Reddick is in his 12th big league season and age might be catching up to him. After posting a career high .847 OPS back in 2017, his OPS has dropped in recent years and he finished 2020 with a .693 OPS. Even with Kepler’s struggles this season, he gets the edge over Reddick.
    Advantage: Twins

    Designated Hitter
    Nelson Cruz vs. Michael Brantley
    Twins fans saw what Nelson Cruz meant to this team as he carried much of the offensive load during the early part of the season. Even though he turned 40 before the season’s first game, his 169 OPS+ was a point higher than his first season in a Twins uniform. Michael Brantley did what the Astros asked of him as he posted an OPS+ of over 120 for the third straight season. His 15 doubles were the most on the team, but Cruz is clearly the better hitter this season.
    Advantage: Twins

    Minnesota’s key injuries to Donaldson and Buxton can certainly make this lineup battle a little closer. Even with their offensive struggles this season, Houston gets the slight edge heading into the series.

    How worried are you about the Astros lineup? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Sep 28 2020 06:22 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  14. Week in Review: Stealing the Central

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/21 through Sun, 9/27

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-2 (Overall: 36-24)

    Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: +55)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central

    Bomba Counter: 91


    Three weeks ago in this column, when I was recapping a week in which Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson both returned from the Injured List and immediately made big impacts, I wrote: "It's crystal-clear that nothing is more important to the Twins' chances of a deep postseason run than keeping Donaldson and Buxton healthy and effective."

    Things were shaping up well on this front heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Then, suddenly, they weren't.

    On Friday night, Donaldson exited following his first at-bat, which ended with him gingerly stepping out of the batter's box after hitting a pop-up to right field. Later in the game, Buxton took a wayward fastball to the helmet, ending his night.

    Donaldson was diagnosed with a right calf cramp. Buxton was said to be experiencing mild concussion symptoms. Neither played on Saturday or Sunday, and their statuses for the first round of the postseason are up in the air.



    The good news is that neither injury seems too serious on the surface, and Rocco Baldelli has expressed optimism that both players could be available on Tuesday. The bad news is ... well, where to begin? Baldelli has had a tendency to downplay injury severity all year (and why wouldn't he in this case?). The specific nature of each injury is concerning due to each player's history (Donaldson with his calves, Buxton with concussions). And most of all, it's just an extremely short window – these incidents occurred four days before an intense playoff gauntlet with no off days.

    All we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, there were plenty of other developments worth tracking in the final week of the regular season, so let's break them down, and then look ahead to the coming playoff tilt against the Astros.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    Minnesota's chances of repeating as division champs looked bleak when they left the south side of Chicago 10 days ago, having dropped three of four and cost themselves a tiebreaker against the White Sox. At that time, the odds were heavily tilted against the Twins, and even a week ago, as I mapped out scenarios for the final seven days, Chicago was in the driver's seat.

    Ultimately, the Sox played poorly enough that Minnesota had to merely take care of business. The Twins did just that, finishing 3-2 at home against the Tigers and Reds while Chicago went 1-6.

    [attachment=15565:playoffscenario.png]


    As a result, the Twins won the American League Central despite dropping the final series against Cincinnati. This marks Minnesota's first time capturing back-to-back division titles since exactly one decade ago, when they did it in 2009 and 2010. Those two teams had a collective winning percentage of .557; the 2019/20 Twins have a collective winning percentage of .617.

    Now, they'll host two or three games of the AL Wild Card Series at Target Field, where the Twins went 24-6 in the regular season. The visiting Houston Astros, meanwhile, went 9-23 away from MInute Maid, and finished two games below .500 overall. It would've been hard to hand-pick a better outcome for Minnesota, in theory, but now they need to go out and slay their postseason demons under these relatively favorable circumstances.

    They'll have a decisive pitching advantage in Game 1, which wouldn't have been the case under any other match-up scenario. Zack Greinke is good, but Kenta Maeda's been much better, and on Wednesday, Minnesota's No. 1 starter made his final regular-season start in preparation.

    While the results weren't great by his own high standards – in six innings, he allowed three runs, matching his highest total of the season – Maeda still looked plenty good while picking up the win and improving to 6-1. He struck out nine and walked none, inducing a season-high 22 swinging strikes.

    In his final two starts of the season, Maeda struck out 17 men with zero walks and nine hits allowed over 11 innings. He's locked in and ready to go, and has earned plenty of confidence. Maeda is unlikely to shrink in the moment because, as our Cody Christie wrote last week, he's no stranger to October.

    Just as Maeda is critical to the rotation's postseason success, Taylor Rogers is a vital bullpen crux. His struggles throughout the season have been a primary source of anxiety for fans, already thinking ahead (and backward) to late-game lapses in the playoffs. Nerves flared up again on Tuesday when Rogers came in to pitch the 10th inning of a tie game and allowed Detroit to pull ahead, singling in the auto-runner from second. It wasn't a terrible outing on its own merit, but another spot where the previously infallible closer failed to deliver.

    Seeking to feed his relief fireman some confidence, Baldelli threw Rogers back into the heat on Saturday, bringing him into the seventh inning of a three-run game with two on, and one out. Once again, Rogers got nipped, yielding an RBI single (on an 0-2 count) and then hitting Aristides Aquino with a pitch (on a 1-2 count) to load the bases. From there, the lefty buckled down, retiring four straight batters with a strikeout and three grounders.

    It was a much-needed glimmer of positivity for Rogers, who threw 75% strikes in his two appearances last week after an oddly erratic showing on the previous road trip. He's restoring some faith, although in terms of leverage Baldelli should pretty clearly have him pegged behind Tyler Duffey, who finished out Saturday's victory in dominant fashion (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K).

    On offense, although the losses of Donaldson and Buxton were the banner stories for the weekend, one major gain cannot be overlooked: Luis Arráez is back and looking as good as ever. He went off in his return on Saturday night, going 4-for-4 with three doubles, and followed with two more hits on Sunday.

    The second baseman was in vintage form, slashing the ball with lightning-quick wrists and driving liners in all direction, raising his final batting average to .321. Most critically, he was running hard, with no apparent limitations stemming from his knee or ankle ailments.



    Getting Arráez's bat back is huge with a couple of Minnesota's other key left-handed hitters starting to find their strokes in timely fashion. Max Kepler snapped out of his prolonged slump last Sunday, and kept it rolling by going 6-for-20 with a homer, two doubles, and a walk-off single in the final week. Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario went 6-for-19 with a homer and a double, striking out just twice in 22 plate appearances.

    With the Astros figuring to throw at least two right-handed starters in the Wild Card round, and featuring a RH-heavy bullpen, it's good to see Minnesota's lefty sticks finishing in a good place.

    LOWLIGHTS


    While Maeda was plenty sharp in his final tune-up, the two other projected first-round starters were less so. Michael Pineda saw his control go amiss on Saturday night, when he issued a season-high three walks while laboring through four innings against Cincinnati. He later (hilariously) addressed the uncharacteristic hiccup by referring to himself in the third-person: "I had a little bit of frustration with me because it’s not Big Mike, you know. Big Mike loves to attack the zone."



    The previous night, José Berríos saw his hot streak (4-0 with a 2.14 ERA in six starts) come to an end as he coughed up four runs in five innings. Facing the Reds, he surrendered multiple home runs for the first time all year.

    Neither Pineda nor Berríos looked all that bad necessarily, but it isn't ideal to see two of their greatest strengths – throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park, respectively – fall through at this stage. The margin for error next time out will likely be razor-thin.

    On that note, the pitching staff would benefit from a bit of breathing room, but this will depend on an inconsistent lineup finding itself in a hurry. While lefty swingers like Arráez, Kepler and Rosario are carrying the load right now, it's difficult to envision the Twins exerting their offensive force against Houston without key bats from the right side stepping up. On this front, we haven't been seeing many encouraging signs.

    Donaldson and Buxton are total question marks. Nelson Cruz, who was a trendy MVP candidate for much of the season, saw his performance tail off in a major way down the stretch, as he hit just .171 with one home run and two RBIs in his final 10 games, while missing time in the middle due to a knee issue. In three starts over the past week, Cruz went 1-for-10 with five strikeouts. Given the injury implications and his age, this can't be treated as a passing slump and dismissed as such.

    With that said, Cruz's skid has nothing on that of Miguel Sanó, who was a major drag on the lineup throughout September after carrying it at times in August. Sanó finished 2-for-16 with zero extra-base hits last week, rarely putting together decent at-bats. In September, he slashed .148/.178/.383 with 39 strikeouts and three walks in 84 plate appearances. Hideous.

    Mitch Garver had three hits in 11 plate appearances, including a monster home run and a crushed double, but he also struck out seven times. He hasn't drawn a walk since returning from IL and finishes with a .167/.247/.264 line on the season coming off his Silver Slugger campaign. That Ryan Jeffers starts Game 1 is basically a given at this point – the question is whether Garver will get any starts.

    Minnesota has a top-notch pitching corps, and there are a few promising trends on offense, but seeing all these pivotal hitters in such bad ways heading into the postseason is alarming to say the least.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    It's time for playoff baseball! Plenty of narratives will be at play as the Astros travel to Target Field for a first-ever postseason meeting between these two clubs.

    Houston is returning to the national stage for the first time since becoming universally villainized by the revelation of their cheating scandal last winter. It's safe to say they'll have plenty more than just Twins fans cheering for their defeat.

    Meanwhile, the Twins are haunted by the specter of 16 consecutive postseason losses. They'll be hoping to vanquish it against the defending AL champs, in an unprecedented best-of-three Wild Card round, aiming to move on and face the winner of A's/White Sox in the bubble.

    Strangeness aside, it's about to get real.



    LOOKING AHEAD


    We know who the Twins are planning to throw in all three games. For Houston, it's less clear. The absence of Justin Verlander, who underwent Tommy John surgery, looms large and leaves a void after the Game 1 starter Greinke.

    It sounds like Lance McCullers Jr. would likely take the hill for a Game 3 if needed. As for Game 2? Right-hander Jose Urquidy, who started Friday, is a possibility. But given the Twins' struggles against lefties this year, it wouldn't surprise me to see Dusty Baker and the Astros opt for southpaw Framber Valdez, who last started Tuesday in Seattle.

    Suffice to say that no matter which direction Houston goes, it'll be Minnesota with the on-paper advantage in every pitching match-up.

    TUESDAY, 9/29: AL Wild Card, Game 1 vs. Houston – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Zack Greinke
    WEDNESDAY, 9/30: AL Wild Card, Game 2 vs. Houston – RHP José Berríos v. TBD
    THURSDAY, 10/1: AL Wild Card Game 3 (if necessary) vs. Houston – RHP Michael Pineda v. TBD

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    • Sep 27 2020 08:31 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  15. Records the Twins Can Set This Weekend

    Best Home Winning Percentage
    Minnesota enters the weekend with the highest home winning percentage in baseball history. The Twins enter play on Friday with a 23-5 record at home, which calculates out to a .821 home winning percentage. In 1932, the Yankees went 60-15 at home and finished with an .805 winning percentage. In a quirky season, the Twins have also played an extra game at Target Field and that gets them closer to this record. To beat the Yankees record, the Twins need to win two out of their final three games against the Reds who are also fighting for a playoff spot.

    Bomba Squad Part Deuce?
    A year after setting the all-time home run record, the Twins are quietly close to leading the American League in home runs for the second consecutive season. It’s down to a three-team race with the White Sox currently leading the Twins and the Yankees by one home run. The Bomba Squad likely wants to beat Chicago and New York in the playoffs than beat them out for the home run title, but who says the team can’t have both. Hit a bunch of homers against the Reds pitching staff and let the rest take care of itself.

    Lots of Sano Records in the Forecast
    Miguel Sano has been his usual self this year with some incredible hot streaks and some incredible low streaks. He’s on pace to lead the American League in strikeouts, but The Athletic’s Jayson Stark points out some dubious company Sano can enter this weekend. Sano can become just the third strikeout champ to have twice as many Ks as hits joining Rob Deer (1991) and Mark Reynolds (2010).

    That isn’t the only feat facing Sano this weekend. He enters the weekend with 11 singles and 12 home runs so far in 2020. Plenty of hitters have done this before, but no strikeout leader has finished a season with more home runs than singles. Sano has struggled in recent games, so some home runs before the playoffs might get him back on track.

    If Sano collects another homer, he can tie Jacque Jones for 13th on the Twins all-time home run list. He’s also climbing the Twins leaderboard for most home runs through a player’s age-27 season. Sano (131 HR) is two home runs behind Justin Morneau (133 HR) for fourth on that list. Out of the other players on the list, only Harmon Killebrew played fewer games than Sano.

    When Sano makes contact, it is usually with authority and he is on pace to lead the AL in average exit velocity this season. Currently, he sits at a 95.4 mph average exit velocity which is second best in baseball behind Fernando Tatis Jr. Other AL challengers include Matt Chapman (93.6), Mike Trout (93.6) and Teoscar Hernandez (93.4), but there may not be enough games left for the anyone to catch him.

    Walk-Off Winners
    With Minnesota’s walk-off win earlier in the week, the team has already had as many walk-off wins as in all of 2019. Last season, Twins walk-off wins were more allusive because the team scored 939 runs on their way to the all-time home run title. This season Minnesota’s +57 run differential is the second highest in the AL (trailing Chicago by 11 runs). Cruz, Polanco, Buxton and Kepler have all ended a game in dramatic fashion. Can the team add one more walk-off against Cincinnati?

    Watch Me WHIP
    Kenta Maeda won’t be pitching this weekend, but at the season’s conclusion he will enter some elite company when it comes to his WHIP total this year. Only two pitchers in baseball history, Clayton Kershaw and Pedro Martinez, have posted a WHIP lower than Maeda’s 0.75 WHIP this season. Martinez did it in 2000 on his way to his third Cy Young in four seasons, while Kershaw did it in 2016 when he was limited to under 150 innings.

    What will you be watching for this weekend? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Sep 25 2020 08:15 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  16. Week in Review: Bumps in the Road

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/14 through Sun, 9/20

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-4 (Overall: 33-22)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +58)

    Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (2.0 GB)

    Bomba Counter: 84 (Pace: 92)


    It's been a hell of a year for Jake Odorizzi, and the hits just keep on coming. Last Wednesday he took the hill against the White Sox and was looking quite sharp through 3 ⅔ innings before being forced out of the game by a bloody wound on his middle finger, which evidently split open on one particular pitch. After the game, back to the Injured List he went, and it's unclear whether he can get right in time for a potential postseason role.

    On the additions side of the ledger, the Twins restored their catching depth with both Mitch Garver and Alex Avila being activated. This meant goodbye for Willians Astudillo.

    The past week's roster moves included a couple of real surprises: Randy Dobnak was optioned to the alternate site following another rough outing on Tuesday – a major fall for someone who was, not long ago, Minnesota's steadiest starter and a Rookie of the Year candidate. On the same day, Zack Littell was outrighted from the 40-man roster, and he passed through waivers unclaimed. It's a similarly drastic downfall given that Littell was such a key bullpen figure last year, and pitched twice in the ALDS.

    As of yet, Littell's roster spot hasn't been used and remains open. Perhaps the Twins will use it to active Homer Bailey from IL for a start in the final week? We'll map out what's to come in these last seven days of the regular season shortly, but first: a look back at the previous seven.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    The Twins are showing some warts here as the season winds down, especially in the lineup and bullpen. But when he's healthy and on his game, Byron Buxton can offset a whole lot of shortcomings. He's one of the biggest difference-makers in the game and we saw it over the past week. At times Buxton was the only source of energy and output for an enduringly ineffective offense.

    He started six of seven games, and collected at least one hit in each, launching four homers with a double and six RBIs. As usual, he was exquisite defensively. With the top part of the lineup stalling out, Rocco Baldelli did something over the weekend that he's never done before as manager: moved Buxton there. The speedy center fielder batted leadoff on Friday, and second on Saturday before getting Sunday off.



    While Buxton can hopefully be a spark for the offense, it looks increasingly like the pitching staff will need to pave the way for October success. Fortunately, the rotation mostly looking up to the task. Last week, each of the presumed starters for a best-of-three first round made strong impressions in the final action they'll see against playoff-caliber competition before then.

    José Berríos wasn't necessarily dominant on Monday, but he held an an elite White Sox offense to one run in five innings. He worked through trouble, kept the ball in the yard, and – importantly – threw strikes, with only one walk allowed. It was just the third time in his 10 starts he hasn't issued multiple free passes. He did it again in his second start of the week, shutting out the Cubs over six innings while yielding just one walk and four hits. His ERA is down to 3.72, which is almost identical to where he finished 2019 (3.68).



    Kenta Maeda was stellar on Thursday against the White Sox outside of a pair of solo homers. Those were his only runs allowed over five frames, while he struck out eight and walked none. Michael Pineda added five innings of one-run ball against the Cubs on Saturday night, improving to 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA.

    These three instill a fair amount of confidence in the rotation's outlook for the first round. Should the Twins move beyond that match-up and on to the best-of-5 ALDS, they'll arrive at a fourth starter decision, which feels a lot more clear after the past week's events.

    Odorizzi could be available again by that point, since he'll have had multiple weeks to heal, but he won't have a chance to get back on the mound and build up. Dobnak seems all but out of the discussion at this point. Meanwhile, Rich Hill made his biggest statement of the season on Friday night, holding the Cubs to one run over seven innings in a fantastic duel with Kyle Hendricks. After giving up two walks and a single against the first three batters he faced, Hill allowed just one hit the rest of the way.

    There are certainly areas of concern with the aging southpaw. He has routinely struggled to find his curveball command in the early going and his 6.7% whiff rate would rank as second-lowest in baseball if he qualified. Having said that, he's got a 17-to-4 K/BB ratio in 17 September innings and has entrenched himself as the clear choice for a Game 4 ALDS start if it comes to that.

    LOWLIGHTS


    Even if their starting pitchers can come through, can the Twins really hope to outslug a potent Yankees lineup when so many key bats are flatlining? While Buxton excelled, almost ever other hitter sputtered:
    • Max Kepler had three hits all week, and was slashing .122/.163/.146 in his past 12 games, up until Sunday night's slump-breaking 3-for-5 performance, which included a homer and a double. It's good to see his bat come to life, but he continues to commit stunning miscues on defense (including Sunday when he uncorked an ill-advised throw to third base, allowing a runner to move up). Even after coming around to finish the week, Kepler still sports a .736 OPS on the season, down 120 points from last year.
    • Jorge Polanco, another 2019 breakout star and fixture atop the lineup, has produced even less than Kepler this season. His impressive strides on defense have been completely overshadowed by a total lack of punch at the plate. He went 4-for-21 with one double last week, bringing his season's line to .264/.313/.363. When he appeared in the All-Star Game last year, Polanco had a .312 average and .514 slugging percentage with 41 extra-base hits in 85 games. Since then, he's batting .269 and slugging .412 with 39 extra-base hits in 119 games.
    • It was a very all-or-nothing week from Miguel Sanó, marred by too much of the latter. He hit a pair of home runs, but otherwise went 0-for-21 with 13 strikeouts and zero walks. The slugger will always be prone to slumps and Ks, but the Twins need him showing some level of patience and getting on base via the BB when he's not in crush mode. That quality of his game has slipped; after drawing 15 walks and posting a .394 OBP in August, he's worked just two in September and is getting aboard at a dreadful .179 clip.
    • Garver is back, but it still doesn't look like he's *BACK* – at least not to 2019 form or anything close to it. While it is too early to be drawing any solid conclusions, the reigning Silver Slugger doesn't look much different from the diminished version who batted .154 with a .474 OPS before landing on IL. He did drive in two runs with a ground ball double on Saturday night, but that represents his only hit in nine at-bats since being activated, and he's struck out six times.
    • Even Nelson Cruz has seen his performance drop off here in the late stretch of the season. Last week he went 3-for-18 with a double, and didn't drive in a single run. In fact, Cruz has driven in just seven runs in 24 games over the past month, all of them on solo homers. It speaks largely to the lack of production from those ahead of him in the lineup (namely: Kepler and Polanco) but Cruz is also not taking over and impacting games as he once did – this past road trip serving as a stark example.
    Then you have Josh Donaldson, who was reasonably productive, launching a pair of home runs and drawing six walks in seven games. But it was the contest he took himself out of that served as my lowest lowlight of the week.

    After taking issue with a strike call by home plate umpire Dan Bellino in the sixth inning of Thursday's series finale against the White Sox, Donaldson exchanged words, and then went back to work in the box. On the following pitch, he launched a solo shot to left field, putting the Twins ahead 3-2. Then, as he came across home plate, the third baseman dragged his foot to kick dirt over it, and went back again afterward for good measure.



    He was of course ejected, removing himself from a one-run game with critical implications. Donaldson was replaced by Ehire Adrianza, and the Twins were outscored 2-0 the rest of the way in a loss that probably cost them a shot at the AL Central title.

    The Twins made a historic investment in Donaldson as a free agent during the offseason, believing him to be a transformative veteran presence capable of tilting the odds in their favor for division titles and, ideally, postseason success. Fans spent half of his first season waiting for the former MVP to get on the field and materialize that impact.

    Now he's finally here, and was playing in the biggest game of the season before removing himself from the action with several innings left, all so he could show up an umpire. He later followed by doubling down on his decision to the media, claiming he "nailed it" with his performative display. Quite disappointing to see.



    Look, Donaldson has a point about the umpires and accountability. Umps have been egregiously bad this year on whole, and Bellino was clearly being an ass. At the same time, Donaldon's actions accomplished nothing, other than costing the Twins one of their best players in a pivotal point of the season. As an emotional reaction in the moment, I can get past it, but seeing him defiantly defend it is irksome, and sends a troubling message about priorities.

    He'll have an opportunity to redeem himself when the games matter most, starting after next week. It'd be nice if he and the offense can build up some late-game margins for a bullpen that looks more and more worrisome at the back end.

    Taylor Rogers saw his challenges keep compounding last week. On Monday he entered in the eighth inning of a tie game and coughed up two earned runs on two hits and two walks, recording just one out. He took the loss, his fourth of the season. On Thursday, Sergio Romo entered in the seventh with two on, two outs, and the Twins leading 3-2. He promptly gave up consecutive hits as the White Sox pulled even, and then ahead. On Sunday night Romo loaded the bases in the ninth before squeaking out unscathed.

    Over the past calendar month, Rogers and Romo rank second- and third-to-last on the Twins pitching staff in Win Probability Added. (Dobnak is last, and now off the roster.) Not exactly ideal for the two top candidates to handle a save situation in the playoffs.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    While trying to ensure they're healthy and clicking as much as possible heading into the playoffs, the Twins will also be jockeying for position in the seeding system. I went through the scenarios on a Twitter thread Sunday but here's the rub:

    The Twins still have an outside shot at winning the AL Central, but it's gonna be tough. They play five games at home while the White Sox, two games up in the standings, have seven remaining contests (4 @ CLE, 3 vs. CHC). Since Minnesota and Chicago split their season series 5-5, the tiebreaker moves to intra-division record, where the Sox have an edge thanks to their 18-2 record against KC/DET.

    That means the Twins need a better record to take the division. So...
    • If the White Sox go 4-3 or better, they win it.
    • If the White Sox go 3-4, the Twins need to go 5-0.
    • If the White Sox go 2-5, the Twins need to go 4-1 or better.
    • If the White Sox go 1-6, the Twins need to go 3-2 or better.
    • If the White Sox go 0-7, the Twins need to go 2-3 or better.

    The Sox haven't fared all that well against playoff-caliber teams (last week's series against the Twins notwithstanding) so it's not inconceivable they could post a losing record against the Indians and Cubs, thus opening the window a crack for Minnesota.

    In all likelihood, though, the division is Chicago's. If the Twins finish second, they'll probably find themselves facing off against the Yankees in round one, with home field advantage left to be decided. Let's map out those scenarios.

    The Yankees are 31-22 and have seven games remaining (4 @ TOR, 3 vs. MIA). While it could change with a poor showing at Toronto (er, Buffalo), the Yanks will probably have the intra-division record tiebreaker over the Twins, so Minnesota needs to finish with a better record to bring the series to Target Field. This means...
    • If the Yankees go 7-0, they get home field.
    • If the Yankees go 6-1, the Twins need to go 5-0.
    • If the Yankees go 5-2, the Twins need to go 4-1 or better.
    • If the Yankees go 4-3, the Twins need to go 3-2 or better.
    • If the Yankees go 3-4, the Twins need to go 2-3 or better.
    • If the Yankees go 2-5, the Twins need to go 1-4 or better.
    • If the Yankees go 1-6 or 0-7, the Twins get home field.

    A few numbers to keep in mind with regards to this race: The Twins have been baseball's best home team this year (21-5), followed by the Yankees (21-7). Both teams have been significantly worse on the road (12-17 and 10-15, respectively).

    Since 2015, the Twins are 2-17 at Yankee Stadium.

    LOOKING AHEAD


    The probables below are based on what I currently see listed in ESPN's schedule, though we won't see it play out as such. There's no chance Berríos pitches on the last day of the regular season, given that the Twins will want to have him ready to go two or three days later for Game 1 or Game 2. My best guess is that they swap him with Hill, so Berríos goes Friday on regular rest (putting him in line to start Game 2 the following Wednesday) and Hill gets a few extra days between starts.

    TUESDAY, 9/22: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Tarik Skubal v. TBD
    WEDNESDAY, 9/23: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Casey Mize v. RHP Kenta Maeda
    FRIDAY, 9/25: REDS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Bauer v. LHP Rich Hill
    SATURDAY, 9/26: REDS @ TWINS – RHP Luis Castillo v. RHP Michael Pineda
    SUNDAY, 9/27: REDS @ TWINS – TBD v. RHP Jose Berrios

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    • Sep 20 2020 09:33 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  17. 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.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    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.

    LOWLIGHTS


    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.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    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.

    LOOKING AHEAD


    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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    • Sep 13 2020 07:41 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  18. Twins 6, Tigers 2: Pineda Pitches 7 Innings, Twins Take 4 of 5

    Box Score
    Pineda: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
    Home Runs: Jeffers (1), Buxton (6)
    Top 3 WPA: Pineda .226, Jeffers .156, Rosario .150
    Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs):
    [attachment=15245:Winchart.png]

    The story of the game today was the Twins getting yet another impressive performance on the mound from Michael Pineda. After impressing in his first start back from his suspension, Pineda was even better today, going seven strong innings, allowing just two runs on just three hits and two walks, while striking out eight. Of his seven innings pitched, four of them were 1-2-3 innings. This was a great time for a Twins starter to go deep into the game, as the bullpen got worked pretty hard in yesterday’s game, and they will need to be fresh for tomorrow’s doubleheader in St. Louis.

    Ryan Jeffers got the scoring started in the third with a one out blast to straight away center field. For Jeffers, it was a statement home run coming off the bat a scorching 111.3 MPH. It was not only Jeffers first career MLB home run, but also his first career MLB extra base hit. It will likely be the first of many from a catch the possess power rarely seen from the catching position.



    The Twins were not done score after that, however, as LaMonte Wade got a one out rally started with a bloop double in the very next at-bat. Josh Donaldson and Brent Rooker followed that up with a walk and an opposite field single to load the bases for Eddie Rosario. After a Tigers pitching change, Rosario proceeded to come through with this bases clearing double.



    For the second consecutive day, Eddie Rosario made a stupid base running mistake that likely cost the Twins runs early in the game. This over aggressiveness has been a trend with Rosario throughout his career, but unlike in his early years, the excuse of Rosario still being inexperienced is gone. By this point, you would expect a veteran leader on your team to play smarter baseball than that.

    The Twins were able to play small ball to scratch across another run in the fifth. Jake Cave got the inning going with a one-out bunt single to beat the shift. Cave was then able to advance to second on an Ehire Adrianza groundout. This gave Ryan Jeffers another chance to come up big in this game, and he did just that, as he hit a groundball single just under the glove of a diving Jonathan Schoop into the outfield, bringing Cave around to score the Twins fifth run of the ballgame.

    Cody Stashak made his return from the injured list, after being out since August 11th with a lower back injury. It wasn’t the cleanest of outings from Stashak, as he allowed a rare walk, but in the end he got the job done, and maintained the Twins 5-2 lead.

    It was a strong day at the plate for Byron Buxton. In the sixth, he hit a hard groundball back up the middle that deflected off the glove of Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris past the infield shift, and trickled into the outfield. About as soon as you thought that was a good luck single, Buxton was standing on second, as he was hustling out of the box, and used his world class speed to turn his good fortune into what will look like a flyball in the gap in the box score. Buxton didn’t need any good fortune in his next at-bat, as he blasted this no-doubter into the second deck.



    Even though it was no longer a save situation, Taylor Rogers still came in in the ninth, as he was already warmed up. It was undoubtably the most impressive outing for Rogers on the season, as he struck out the side to close out the Twins 6-2 victory. Hopefully, this is the outing that Rogers needed to get things going back in the right direct as we head into the final weeks of the regular season.

    Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet
    [attachment=15246:Bullpen.png]

    Postgame Pint
    John, Nick and Seth discussed the game with Twins Daily's live virtual audience.



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    • Sep 08 2020 08:21 AM
    • by Andrew Thares
  19. Week in Review: Bucking a Bad Trend

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/31 through Sun, 9/6

    ***

    Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 25-17)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +34)

    Standing: 3rd Place in AL Central (1.5 GB)

    Bomba Counter: 56 (Pace: 80)


    It wouldn't be a week in the 2020 season if there weren't some significant injury news to report. This time around it was Max Kepler going down, placed on the Injured List with a left adductor strain. It marks the first time in his career Kepler has landed on the DL/IL. Keeping in mind what happened late last year, when the right fielder was hampered by a shoulder injury in September and rendered almost totally ineffective in the playoffs, it would make sense if the Twins take a very cautious approach and keep him sidelined for most of the month.



    Joining Kepler on IL was Alex Avila, who is dealing with lower back soreness (perhaps helping explain his 1-for-17 stretch at the plate leading up the move). He was replaced by Willians Astudillo, who brings some energy and hitting ability but is a major downgrade defensively.

    Luis Arráez experienced a setback with his balky knee, limping out of Wednesday's game against Chicago, but it appears relatively minor as the Twins didn't put him on the shelf and he returned to the lineup on Sunday. This is just something the second baseman will be dealing with, and the Twins will be attempting to manage, the rest of the way.

    Fortunately, the past week's negatives were counterbalanced and then some by refreshingly positive news on the health front. Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton made their highly anticipated returns and wasted no time impacting the club, helping turn around a dire cold spell. Michael Pineda debuted in triumphant fashion.

    Kepler going on IL also opened the door for Brent Rooker to get called up from St. Paul, giving the Twins a much-needed righty power bat infusion. He debuted on Friday, playing both ends of the doubleheader, and has made a fast impression with three hits and three RBIs in his first four games.

    Ahead, we'll discuss the contributions of returning stars, as well as some other positive developments in a big rebound week for the Twins.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    As the Twins skidded into the trade deadline last Monday, and then passed on the opportunity to bring in any help, our collective hopes were pinned on the returns of key sidelined players, who were hailed as saviors for a spiraling squad.

    They ... pretty much lived up to the billing.

    Buxton came blazing back onto the scene Tuesday, robbing a home run and driving in the winning run as Minnesota snapped its six-game losing streak with a 3-2 win.





    There really is a different energy and vibe to this team when Buxton is on the field, which helps explain why the dramatic difference in the Minnesota's record when he plays (79-33) and when he doesn't (47-45) dating back to the start of last year. His abilities to impact games defensively and punish the ball are obvious difference-makers, but what really strikes me is the speed element he brings this a team, which otherwise has very little (the Twins rank last in the majors in steals and attempts).

    Since returning, Buxton has already reached on two grounders that would've been fairly standard outs for almost any other hitter, and the second of those was a biggie.





    He puts pressure on the defense. He turns routine infield choppers into base hits. These are the kinds of things that can be game-changers for a slumbering offense as much as a monster home run.

    That said, we'll also take the monster home run. Donaldson delivered one of those in his second game back – an atom smash to straightaway center field – after coming through with a two-run double in his return on Wednesday. Like Buxton, he quickly made his presence known both on offense and defense.



    Donaldson never looked quite right early in the season, seemingly hampered by the calf issue that eventually forced him into a month-long IL stint, but the version we're seeing now is bringing the rain.

    It's crystal-clear that nothing is more important to the Twins' chances of a deep postseason run than keeping Donaldson and Buxton healthy and effective.

    They'll need some help, though, and the past week brought plenty of promising signs on that front. Big Mike made a big impression in his return to the fold Tuesday, allowing two runs over six innings while racking up a whopping 16 whiffs on 81 pitches. Pineda was efficient and in control throughout, picking up right where he left off in 2019 and looking very much like a playoff starter.

    The same can be said, thankfully, for José Berríos, who seems to be distancing himself from some early-season struggles. The righty was masterful in Wednesday's win over the White Sox, tossing six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts. His last three starts have all come against relatively strong opponents (Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago) and Berríos has allowed only four earned runs in 17 ⅔ innings. Opponents are hitting .175 against him with one home run during that span. Toss in another shutdown performance from Randy Dobnak (five scoreless innings on Friday) plus the continued excellence of Kenta Maeda (eight strikeouts in a quality start Saturday), and the Twins are looking pretty strong on the rotation front.

    The bullpen is mostly holding up too (Sunday notwithstanding), thanks in large part to some unlikely heroes. Caleb Thielbar and Matt Wisler each had a pair of key appearances as they continue to prove themselves as critical low-key additions to the Twins bullpen.

    Thielbar picked up the win in Minnesota's slump-snapping victory against Chicago on Tuesday, with a scoreless seventh in relief of Pineda. Thielbar added two more shutout frames in the back end of Friday's doubleheader, lowering his ERA to 1.38 in 13 total innings. He has 17 strikeouts and four walks. Amazing.

    Wisler, meanwhile, has been phenomenal in the opener role – I praised him for it in last week's column – and now he's shown he can close too. He picked up the save with a scoreless ninth on Tuesday, and he too tossed two clean innings Friday. Wisler has a 0.96 ERA and 24-to-11 K/BB ratio in 18 ⅔ innings on the season. Opponents are hitting .125 against him and his all-powerful slider.

    Not enough can be said about what incredible offseason pickups these were by the front office, costing essentially nothing and delivering enormous returns.

    LOWLIGHTS


    Wisler and Thielbar continuing to excel has been all the more vital as other bullpen fixtures falter. The unit hit its low point of the season on Sunday when Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo and Devin Smeltzer combined to cough up eight earned runs on 11 hits in four innings against an unspectacular Detroit offense.

    May has given up home runs in three of his last four appearances and his ERA has ballooned to 5.74. Taylor Rogers had another rough outing on Monday, although the three runs scored against him were all unearned due to Kepler's outfield drop. Opponents are hitting .391 against Rogers in his past 10 appearances.

    Regression is surely a factor for this bullpen, which was performing at an absurdly high level early on, but it doesn't help that relievers are constantly working in stressful, high-leverage situations thanks to an offense that continues to so rarely create separation.

    Coming in, the Twins were viewed as one of the league's best offensive teams not only because of their depth in the lineup, but also their depth beyond the lineup. Ehire Adrianza was coming off a career-best season with the bat, while Marwin Gonzalez is here largely because of the offensive ability he brings along with his defensive versatility.

    Neither one is doing anything at the plate, and it's a huge problem for this team.

    Adrianza was hitless in his past 12 plate appearances before doubling high off the right field wall in his first at-bat Sunday. His two hits in that game were his only ones of the week. For the season, he is batting .190, and is 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

    Gonzalez went 2-for-17 on the week, dropping his overall line to a miserable .218 /.301/.306. He inexplicably batted cleanup on Tuesday, despite being one of the weakest bats on the roster. Gonzalez hasn't collected an extra-base hit in two weeks while playing almost everyday.

    The Twins have little choice but to play both regularly right now, with Kepler injured, Arráez aching, and both Buxton and Donaldson being eased in. The inability of either Adrianza or Gonzalez to make anything happen at the plate is greatly suppressing the lineup and hurting the team.

    [attachment=15230:gleemanWPAtweet.png]


    TRENDING STORYLINE


    The Twins called up Ryan Jeffers, and now Rooker. Is anyone else from the alternate site going to be joining the action here in the final month? If any other players are expected to possibly play a role in the postseason picture, the Twins will basically need to make that decision within the next week; in order to be eligible for the playoffs, players must be on the active roster by Tuesday, September 15th.

    Will we see additional young talents factor for the Twins in the remaining weeks? It's worth noting that pitching prospects Jordan Balazovic and Matt Canterino were added to the 60-man player pool last week, though it seems highly unlikely either would jump straight to the majors at this juncture. A bat seems more plausible, especially given the struggles of Minnesota's depth players, and the ongoing injury concerns in the outfield.

    LOOKING AHEAD


    It's going to be a weird week. On Monday, the Twins wrap up their four-day, five-game home series against Detroit. Then, they travel to St. Louis for two games in one day on Tuesday. This is followed by two consecutive days off, and then a massive home series against Cleveland over the weekend.

    MONDAY, 9/7: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Michael Fulmer v. RHP Michael Pineda
    TUESDAY, 9/8 (1): TWINS @ CARDINALS – Jose Berrios v. TBD
    TUESDAY, 9/8 (2): TWINS @ CARDINALS – TBD v. TBD
    FRIDAY, 9/11: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Shane Bieber v. RHP Randy Dobnak
    SATURDAY, 9/12: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Zach Plesac v. RHP Kenta Maeda
    SUNDAY, 9/13: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Triston McKenzie v. RHP Rich Hill

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

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    • Sep 06 2020 07:34 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  20. Twins 3, White Sox 2: Pineda, Buxton Shine in Return to Roster

    Box Score
    Pineda: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
    Home Runs: None
    Win Probability Chart (via Baseball Savant):
    [attachment=15131:WinChart.png]

    Michael Pineda’s first start back from his seemingly never-ending suspension got off to a rocky beginning. After allowing a couple singles, Pineda gave up a two-out double to Eloy Jimenez, and before you know it the White Sox has a quick 2-0 lead. After that Pineda settled in nicely, as he faced the minimum over the next three innings. He got himself into a two-out jam in the fifth, as he loaded the bases after retiring the first two batters of the inning. Fortunately, Pineda was able to get the hottest hitter on the planet in Jose Abreu to hit a squibber to Miguel Sano at first to end the inning. Edwin Encarnacion got ahold of one to leadoff the sixth, but Byron Buxton was there to save the day with this incredible (for all human beings not named Byron Buxton) catch.



    In total, Pineda had a strong return to the mound for the Twins. He went six strong innings, allowing just the two runs that he gave up in the first. He gave up six hits and a walk, while striking out four. While Pineda reportedly was ramped up to throw more pitches, Rocco Baldelli pulled him after just 81 pitches, though that was probably situational more than anything else.

    The Twins' bats were silent through the early innings of the game. They got a two out rally together in the third, but failed to cash in on two-out hits from Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz. It took until the fifth for the Twins to finally break through, thanks in part to a drop from Jose Abreu at first, which if it had been caught would have likely been an inning ending double-play.

    Rocco Baldelli pulled all the right strings in the sixth to help the Twins tie the game back up at two. After a Byron Buxton pop out to leadoff the inning, Baldelli had Jake Cave pinch-hit for Ildemaro Vargas, and Cave promptly rewarded that decision with a one-out triple. Baldelli went back into the well for the next at-bat, having Luis Arraez pinch-hit for Ryan Jeffers in the nine hole. On the first pitch of the at-bat Arraez drilled a ground ball down the first base line, past Jose Abreu, and into the outfield for a game-tying double.

    Caleb Thielbar had another impressive relief appearance in the seventh inning for the Twins. After giving up a couple runs in the third inning of his return to the majors, Thielbar has had eight consecutive scoreless outings, including tonight. Thielbar has been dominate in those outings, striking out 12 while allowing just four hits and one walk across 8 and 1/3 innings.

    After scoring single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, the Twins added another in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead. Nelson Cruz doubled to start the inning, which was Cruz’s third hit of the game and fourth time reaching base safely. Then, after a pitching change, Marwin Gonzalez drew a gritty walk to give the Twins first and second with nobody out. After Eddie Rosario and Ehire Adrianza both failed to advance the runners, it was Byron Buxton who came up clutch, in his return to the lineup, with a two-out single.



    Sergio Romo had another 1-2-3 inning tonight, showing that he has put his blow-up outing in Cleveland in the rearview mirror. Romo had a minor injury scare in the inning, that was reminiscent of the leg issues he was going through at the end of last season. In the end, Romo appeared to be fine, as he stayed in the game and finished off the inning.

    After much of the bullpen got used up in last night’s ballgame, it was Matt Wisler who was called upon to close the game out in the ninth. Much like he has been all season, Wisler was very impressive. Firs, he needed some help from his defense, as Ehire Andrianza made a diving play to take away a double from Eloy Jimenez, that was completed by a great pick from Miguel Sano at first. Then Wisler struck out both Luis Robert and Nomar Mazara with his trusty slider to finally put an end to the Twins
    six-game losing streak.

    Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet
    [attachment=15132:Bullpen.png]

    Postgame Pint
    Immediately following the game, Nick Nelson, John Bonnes and David Youngs are joined by Twins Daily's virtual live audience to discuss the return of Michael Pineda and Byron Buxton and a Twins win.



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    • Sep 02 2020 06:50 AM
    • by Andrew Thares
  21. Bigger Disappointment: Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano?

    Player development certainly isn’t a linear path and it can take years for a player to put it all together at the big-league level. Buxton and Sano have both shown flashes of their full potential, but injuries and inconsistencies might be holding them back.

    Miguel Sano
    Pros: Sano was signed back in 2009 after an MLB investigation into his actual age. MLB couldn’t verify his true age, but that didn’t stop the Twins from making him an offer. He quickly jumped into Twins prospect rankings and he was a consensus top-100 prospect throughout his minor league career. Across eight minor league seasons, he posted a .374 OBP and a .557 SLG while hitting 20 or more home runs in three straight seasons. He looked ready to be the power hitter the Twins signed as a teenager.

    Back in the first half of 2017, Sano burst onto the scene on the way to being selected to his first All-Star Game. He hit .276/.368/.538 (.906) with 21 home runs and 12 doubles before the All-Star break. Last season, there were even more positive signs from Sano. He hit over 30 home runs for the first time and posted a career high .923 OPS. Bombas were flying and Sano was happy to be part of the squad.

    Cons: Sano hasn’t played more than 114 games since 2016 and his career high is 116 games which means he has never had over 500 plate appearances in a season. His strikeout totals have been rough as his 162-game average throughout his career is 249 strikeouts. This season, he has struck out in over 50% of his at-bats. Strikeouts have certainly been on the rise, but Sano has been on another level. Since the start of 2019, Sano has the highest strike out percentage by 4% among batters with a minimum of 500 PA.

    There have been negative things off-the-field that might have impacted Sano’s career as well. Minnesota signed him to be a middle of the order bat with the potential to be a superstar. Now, he might be relegated to being a good player on some strong Twins teams.

    Byron Buxton
    Pros: Buxton is the dream player for any scout or organization. He oozes talent when he is on the field and clicking on every level. His defense is other worldly, his speed is unmatched, and his has shown glimpses of what could be his true offensive potential. The 2017 campaign showed Buxton at what might have been his highest level. By season’s end, he’d win the AL’s Platinum Glove for his defensive performance and he hit .300/.347/546 in the second half to power the Twins to the second Wild Card spot.

    During the 2019 season, he might have been the team’s MVP in the season’s first half. He posted a .314 OBP and a .502 SLG while being near the top of the AL in doubles. The 2020 season has already seen some impressive numbers for Buxton as he has five home runs and the AL’s highest Defensive WAR. He has all five tools and it’s hard to ignore when everything is clicking.

    Cons: Injuries have been the overriding concerns so far in Buxton’s career. He’s only managed to play more than 92 games in one season over the last six years. He’s tried to play through some injuries in the past and this negatively impacted his performance on the field. His outfield aerobatics are certainly thrilling when he makes a catch that other players wouldn’t even attempt but slamming into the wall and being out for multiple weeks doesn’t help the team win games. Minnesota has worked to make changes with Buxton and some of the results might be transpiring on the field this year.

    Fans might have wanted him to develop into the next Mike Trout, but that is unrealistic for any player. Buxton can still impact the game on nearly every level if he is healthy and on the field.

    Who have you been more disappointed in so far in the career? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Aug 18 2020 06:49 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  22. Week in Review: 4-2

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/10 through Sun, 8/16

    ***

    Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 14-8)

    Run Differential Last Week: +12 (Overall: +35)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (1.0 GA)

    Bomba Counter: 35 (Pace: 95)


    Following a week of tough injury news, the Twins had smoother sailing over the past week. Cody Stashak went on the Injured List due to lower back inflammation, but his departure was offset by the return of Zack Littell, who tossed a scoreless inning in his return to action on Saturday.

    Meanwhile, Rich Hill had a successful throwing session at the St. Paul site on Friday, and there's optimism he'll be able to step back into the rotation in the coming week. Homer Bailey's timeline is less concrete, but he's at least back to playing catch. As for Josh Donaldson ... no return in sight.

    Last week's Trending Storyline in this column pertained to the search for added infield depth, with Donaldon's absence looking to be an extended one. We floated names of some prospects at the alternate training site, but the problem with that route was always going to be bringing in a completely green rookie who's never faced MLB pitching, and hasn't even been able to play competitive games in the minors this season.

    So the Twins took a different route. They traded cash considerations to Arizona for Ildemaro Vargas, a versatile defender with considerable big-league experience who has – importantly – been facing MLB pitching already this year (albeit with a .340 OPS in 21 plate appearances).

    Righty reliever Cory Gearrin was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Vargas, who made his debut as a pinch-runner and third baseman on Sunday.

    A winning week preserves Minnesota's spot atop the AL Central standings (though Cleveland is nipping at their heels), and their plus-35 run differential is tied with the Yankees for tops in the American League. Here's a look back at bright spots and areas of concern from the past week.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    As several key hitters stumbled out of the gates, the reassuring mantra went like this: It's early, pitchers are always ahead of hitters in spring training, and no one got a full ramp-up to this abbreviated season. That line of thinking has been supported by the noticeable drop-off in offensive output across the board in the early weeks.

    Now, with one-third of the season in the books, it looks like two of Minnesota's most critical lineup fixtures are catching up.

    Byron Buxton had begun to simmer the previous week, when he homered in three straight games, and his hot bat carried forward as he notched a pair of three-hit games in Milwaukee, including a two-homer outburst on Wednesday. Even with an 0-for-9 showing against Kansas City over the weekend, Buxton sports a .790 OPS, and is slugging .703 in his past 10 games.

    After perpetually getting under the ball in the early going, Buxton is connecting now with much more authority and regularity. Even his outs over the past week tended to be well-struck deep drives tracked down by outfielders (karma?). It would be nice to see a little more discipline – he still has only one walk in 59 plate appearances – but aggressiveness is paying off for Buxton, and the raw power is emerging.



    Then, we have Miguel Sanó. In contrast to Buxton, it is the improving plate approach that stands out here more than the production. Sanó had only three hits in the last week (including one absolute mammoth home run at Miller Park, see below) but the massive strides in plate discipline are enormously encouraging.



    In his 47 plate appearances prior to last Monday, Sanó had drawn one non-intentional walk, compared to 23 strikeouts. In six games since, he's drawn six non-intentional walks compared to eight strikeouts in 18 plate appearances. That's just a night-and-day difference and one that bodes extremely well, even if the first baseman is still having a helluva time making consistent contact.

    He continues to strike out in nearly half his plate appearances, but here's the caveat worth zeroing in on: When Sanó makes contact, he's barreling up at a higher percentage than any other player in baseball. He ranks fourth in average exit velocity.

    [attachment=14641:sanostatcast816.png]


    I feel confident in saying his career-high 18.9% whiff rate is going to come down. The fact that he's suddenly drawing tons of walks indicates he's laying off more bad pitches, which is a key step in that direction. As he starts making more contact, Sanó is going to do immense damage.

    That'll be appreciated by a pitching staff that continues to carry the load without a ton of support. Randy Dobnak keeps on making do; the team is averaging just 4 R/G when he starts, and yet he has managed to pick up wins in four straight. He rattled off two more victories last week, allowing three runs over 10 1/3 innings.

    Opponents are batting .178 against Minnesota's unlikely ace through five starts, and his 1.46 ERA ranks as the fifth-best in baseball. He's gotta be viewed as the clear front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year at this point, and a leading candidate for the Cy Young alongside the likes of Lance Lynn (3-0, 1.11) and Shane Bieber (4-0, 1.30). What a story.

    He and the rest of the Twins' stand-out staff, which allowed just three runs per game on average over the past week, are getting plenty of help from a defense that's been stunningly effective so far. Buxton has been fantastic as usual in center field, and made a number of nice plays over the past week, but he wasn't alone. Check out this sampling of stellar efforts from Eddie Rosario, Marwin González, and the double-play duo of Jorge Polanco and Luis Arráez:







    LOWLIGHTS


    The weakest link in this steady rotation is ... not exactly the one we expected.

    Last year, through five starts, José Berríos was 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA, and holding opponents to a .666 OPS. This year has been quite a different tale. Another rough outing against the the Royals on Saturday (4 IP, 4 ER) dropped Berríos to 1-3 record with a 5.92 ERA through his first five starts of 2020. Opponents are rocking an .854 OPS.

    In a nightcap loss against Kansas City, the right-hander's issues were all too familiar. His velocity and pitch movement were certainly there, indicating no physical limitations, but his command wavered as he seemed to alternate between missing the zone entirely and leaving hittable pitchers out over the plate.

    His previously infallible ability to limit hard contact has gone amiss here in 2020:

    [attachment=14644:berriosstatcastcomps.png]


    Berríos' margin for error has unfortunately been pretty thin. The Twins have dropped three of his last four starts, scoring two or fewer runs in each of the losses. It'll be hard to feel great about this team's postseason outlook if Berríos can't start to turn things around, but then, it'll be hard to feel confident in their chances with anyone on the mound if the offense can't find some consistent juice.

    The 12-run explosion against Milwaukee on Wednesday was nice to see, but this remains a feast-or-famine unit, which scored four or fewer in all five other games, and has pushed across more than six in a contest only twice since the opening series.

    The absence of Donaldson hurts, but the bigger problem is that this lineup rarely seems to have multiple players locked in simultaneously, or for a sustained period. Buxton couldn't buy a hit over the weekend after his big series in Milwaukee. Sanó, despite his positive signs, still hasn't become a difference-maker for the offense yet. Max Kepler was 1-for-16 on the week before his crucial two-run homer on Sunday. Mitch Garver has driven in one run since Opening Day.

    We keep waiting for this vaunted offense to awaken and start punishing opponents in accordance with their statement from the opening weekend, but it's still not happening.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    The Twins don't have another scheduled day off until September 3rd – more than two weeks from now. Factor in Saturday's double-header, and that's a stretch of 20 games in 19 days. It'll be interesting to see how Rocco Baldelli handled his regulars during this gauntlet, which includes potentially key series against Cleveland and Chicago. More rest? Less? Reinforcements called in to aid the cause? (Willians Astudillo?)

    Even more so, I'm curious to see how the pitching staff is managed. It'd be unsurprising to see the "revolving door" strategy from last year implemented for the last spot or two in the bullpen, with relievers being swapped out for a fresh arm immediately after taxing appearances. Which players from the alternate training site could we see enter the fold? Sean Poppen, who was 29th man for Saturday's double-header, is a good bet. Could we see debuts from exciting prospects like Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers, or even Edwar Colina (who'd need to be added to the 40-man roster)? It sure seems plausible.

    LOOKING AHEAD


    The slate for this coming week looks very familiar, as the Twins run out a string of 17 straight games against the Brewers and Royals. First, Minnesota wraps its four-game home series against Kansas City, then welcomes Milwaukee to Target Field before heading back to Kauffman for the last time.

    If you're tired of seeing this pesky Royals club, which has gone 4-2 against the Twins through six contests, the good news is that we'll be finished with them after this week.

    Keep an eye on that "TBD" for the Twins on Wednesday, when Hill could very well jump back into the rotation.

    MONDAY, 8/17: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Kris Bubic v. RHP Matt Wisler
    TUESDAY, 8/18: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Corbin Burnes v. RHP Kenta Maeda
    WEDNESDAY, 8/19: BREWERS @ TWINS – LHP Brett Anderson v. TBD
    THURSDAY, 8/20: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Brandon Woodruff v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
    FRIDAY, 8/21: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. LHP Danny Duffy
    SATURDAY, 8/22: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Brady Singer
    SUNDAY, 8/23: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. LHP Kris Bubic

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    Game 17 | MIN 4, MIL 2: The Randy and Rosie Show
    Game 18 | MIL 6, MIN 4: Another Loss for Rogers, Additional Missed Opportunities for Offense
    Game 19 | MIN 12, MIL 2: Byron Buxton Blasts 2 More Home Runs in Blowout of Brewers
    Game 20 | MIN 4, KCR 2
    Game 21 | KCR 4, MIN 2
    Game 22 | MIN 4, KCR 2: Pitching, Defense and Overall Execution Shine in Twins Victory

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
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    • Aug 16 2020 08:27 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  23. Twins Ponder Further Efforts to Protect Byron Buxton

    In The Athletic on Thursday, pro bono Yangtze Restaurant Public Relations Manager Aaron Gleeman wrote about the new approaches the Twins are taking to protect Byron Buxton from himself. Twins Daily dug deeper to see how the team plans to keep their star-crossed center fielder healthy.

    • Remove outfield walls in Target Field. While this might seem controversial, team officials say putting down some painter’s tape where the wall would otherwise be might pass muster. “Can’t run into a wall if there’s no wall,” said a front office source with knowledge of the situation. “Dick Bremer’s brother-in-law is a contractor and he’s volunteered to come in to tape it all up, and we can just put down a bunch of comfortable pillows behind the tape for Byron to land in softly and safe from harm.”
    • Make his uniform out of his sliding glove. Buxton’s oven mitt-sized glove helps prevent hand injuries during the speedster’s head-first slides. “What we’re thinking is, make the jersey, the pants, the stirrups, everything out of that material,” said a source close to the coaching staff. “We built a prototype and had Jake Cave try it on. Unfortunately, it’s very bulky. He was bullied by some local teens who chased him down as he attempted to waddle away and they gave him swirlies and at least one purple nurple. So we’re still a ways off.” Cave is listed as day-to-day (America’s bullying crisis) on the team’s injury report.
    • Russian vaccines. When Vladimir Putin announced that his country had developed an effective COVID-19 vaccine, many were skeptical. The Twins were not. “There’s a chance it might be BS, but what if it works,” asked a clubhouse source. “Let’s just say we’re better safe than sorry with Byron.” Another source revealed that the Pohlad family acquired a vaccine sample in exchange for Bill Pohlad filming his next three musician biopics in Russia. “We gave a test injection to Caleb Thielbar and it’s…well, do you know if he glowed in the dark the first time he was on the team?” Thielbar is listed as day-to-day (early onset Dr. Manhattan-ism) on the team’s injury report, while shooting on the life story of Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne begins in Volgograd in mid-2021.
    The team says it will continue looking to innovate as the season continues. “I know there’s a whiteboard in Thad Levine’s office that just says ‘PARACHUTES’ with a few question marks after it,” said the front office source. “Everything’s on the table.”

    Image license here.

    • Aug 14 2020 07:34 AM
    • by RandBalls Stu