Here's a rundown of everything that's happened so far and a look ahead to what's next.
Weekly Snapshot: Thursday, 3/29 through Sunday, 4/8
Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 4-3)
Run Differential Last Week: +8 (Overall: +8)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (1.0 GA)Just to lay some groundwork, this is the first installment of a new series that will be running all season here at Twins Daily. Each Monday morning you'll find a new "Week in Review" column, covering the best and worst of the past seven days (in this case the past 11), as well as a key storyline worth tracking, and a rundown of the most noteworthy developments in the minor leagues. Additionally, we'll take a look ahead at what's on tap for the coming week.
The idea here is to present sort of a micro/macro-hybrid analysis throughout the season, by zooming in on takeaways from each ~1/24th chunk of the schedule and tying them to the bigger picture that is the 2018 campaign.
If there's anything else you'd like to see in this weekly space, please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!
"Bombs and Bullpen" was the title of Tom Froemming's recap from the home opener on Thursday, and it pretty well summarizes up the first week-plus of Twins games – mostly in good ways.
A young lineup vaunted for its balance and pop has displayed both in spades. Picking up where they left off in 2017, the Twins have impressively tallied 12 home runs through seven games, and rank 7th among MLB teams in OPS. Minnesota has received production throughout the order. Some hitters have looked better than others, but no one has been totally discouraging. Among the standout performers:
- Brian Dozier is off to a rousing start, with four homers through his first seven games. The second baseman has been a notoriously slow starter, leading us all to wonder what would happen if he put it together from start to finish here in his walk year. So far, so good.
- After missing the final stretch of 2017, Miguel Sano has quickly made his presence felt back in the lineup. Despite striking out in nearly half his plate appearances, he's rocking a team-leading 1.147 OPS with four homers and eight RBI.
- Dozier and Sano are the biggest home run threats in an offense full with them, but amidst all the deep drives, it is the disciplined approaches and scrappy ABs that have stood out most. Max Kepler has struck out only once in 27 plate appearances, with five walks. He's looked much more comfortable against left-handed pitching, which was his pivotal priority this season. Joe Mauer continues to resemble his old self at the plate; he has a .462 OBP and 2-to-4 K/BB ratio thus far. Thrust into starting duty, Eduardo Escobar has come charging out of the gates with a 1.131 OPS, and his nine-pitch battle that resulted in an RBI single during a rally on Saturday stands out as one of the club's best at-bats through a week-plus.
The rotation started off brilliantly, with 21 consecutive shutout innings (driven by some serious batted ball luck). Twins starters have since looked more human, but still good enough to inspire confidence. And the bullpen was looking stellar up until its first meltdown on Saturday.
Paul Molitor has leaned heavily on his newly acquired free agent right-handers Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed who've combined for seven appearances already. Rodney's been effective, outside of the walk-off homer surrendered to Adam Jones on Opening Day. Reed has certainly been living up this bullpen ace billing, with just one hit allowed through his first 5 1/3 innings of work.
Taylor Rogers has turned in three scoreless appearances. Ryan Pressly and Gabriel Moya look like the kinds of reliable arms you love to have available for middle-inning roles. In total, Twins relievers have struck out 27 in 24 2/3 innings, upping the intimidation factor after ranking 29th in K rate last year.
The depth and quality of both the lineup and pitching staff have mostly been substantiated early on.
I say "mostly" because neither group has been without its warts.
Not everyone has looked great at the plate. Jason Castro (.461 OPS) and Byron Buxton (.407 OPS) have been among the laggards, but their defensive impacts help make up for it. Logan Morrison is batting .053, but hasn't looked lost or hopeless at the plate.
You can't expect everyone to be clicking simultaneously out of the gates. I don't see serious cause for concern with any hitters. There are, however, some noteworthy early issues in the bullpen.
Trevor Hildenberger didn't look quite right all spring and that's carried over to the regular season. He has struck out only one of the 17 batters he's faced, and the command has been plainly amiss. He left to two hangers out over the plate on Saturday and they were hammered for a three-run double and two-run homer, turning a surmountable deficit into a blowout.
Three of the runs that came across on Hildenberger's watch were charged to Zach Duke, who had loaded the bases. Duke has had a rough go of it as well, although his 16.88 ERA overstates things. He still seems to be finding his control, but shows some truly nasty stuff and has struck out 41% of the batters he's faced so it's not all bad.
Duke's safe for now. Hildenberger might be on shakier ground, given that he's got options while the Twins have Alan Busenitz and Tyler Duffey ready in Triple-A. Molitor can ill afford to have any untrusted commodities in the bullpen, given that he's already working around a Rule 5 albatross.
Which brings us to this week's...
Through seven games, it has become crystal clear that Molitor isn't ready to use Tyler Kinley in remotely competitive situations. The manager had chances to deploy Kinley with three- or four-run leads, but ultimately used him only once, with the Twins trailing by seven.
During his one inning of work, Kinley showed both why the team would strain to keep him on the roster, and why Molitor has been reluctant to use him in any kind of leverage spot. The fastball and slider were legit, causing looks of bewilderment on the faces of batters. But they were also erratic; in his lone appearance, Kinley issued a walk, and allowed a run to score on a very wild pitch.
It's been easy enough for Molitor to work around Kinley's presence up to this point, thanks to all open days and the four-man rotation. But soon enough, the Twins will need to make a decision.
The fifth-starter ultimatum was pushed back by Sunday's freezeout, but Minnesota now faces a slate of games on seven straight days at Target Field. Further cancellations are of course very possible, but if all games are played the Twins will need another starter on Friday night against the White Sox.
Soon enough, a reliever is gonna need to go in order to make room for Phil Hughes or whoever gets that nod. Kinley's the only one who makes sense, right? The Twins just can't realistically hope to hide him all year as they have so far. But then again, they've become quite invested in the big righty at this point. (Can't help but notice that JT Chargois and Luke Bard, both lost so the Twins could protect Kinley, have been pitching well for the Dodgers and Angels so far.)
DOWN ON THE FARM
Action in the minors has been limited at the opening of the season due to weather. But here are a few noteworthy tidbits.
- Nick Gordon, who might've been unpleasantly surprised to find himself assigned to Chattanooga after spending the entire 2017 season there, made a statement right off the bat with a four-hit night in the Double-A opener. He played shortstop.
- Zack Littell, who also has a pretty good case for deserving to be one level higher, struck out seven over 4 1/3 innings of two-run ball in the Lookouts opener.
- Count Stephen Gonsalves in the same category as the two above; he entered the season with a 2.17 ERA in 28 starts at Double-A. He turned in a very clean first start on Saturday, tossing 5 1/3 hitless innings with three strikeouts and three walks. The lefty has now allowed 110 hits in 167 innings at Chattanooga. What is he still doing there?
- Tyler Jay relieved Gonsalves in that game and recorded five outs (two on strikeouts) with one hit allowed.
Cold weather and snow in the forecast could throw this week's plan into turmoil, but here's how things are currently slated to lay out:
MONDAY, 4/9: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Justin Verlander v. RHP Lance Lynn
TUESDAY, 4/10: ASTROS @ TWINS – LHP Dallas Keuchel v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
WEDNESDAY, 4/11: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Lance McCullers v. RHP Kyle Gibson
THURSDAY, 4/12: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Lucas Giolito v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 4/13: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Reynaldo Lopez v. Undecided
SATURDAY, 4/14: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Miguel Gonzalez v. RHP Lance Lynn
SUNDAY, 4/15: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Carson Fulmer v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 1 | BAL 3, MIN 2: Opening D'Oh
- Game 2 | MIN 6, BAL 2: Good Gibby Rides Again!
- Game 3 | MIN 7, BAL 0: Berri0s
- Game 4 | PIT 5, MIN 4: Lynn Surrenders Grand Slam in Twins Debut
- Game 5 | MIN 7, PIT 3: Rosario Sparks Comeback, Inspires Some Head-Scratching
- Game 6 | MIN 4, SEA 2: Bombs and Bullpen
- Game 7 | SEA 11, MIN 4: That Escalated Quickly
- Dozier, Mauer Approaching Milestones by Cody Christie
- Jason Castro and a Cup of Coffee by Jamie Cameron
- Proven Leadership Will Set Tone for 2018 Red Wings by Ted Schwerzler
- Talented Lookouts Eye Repeat in Southern League by Seth Stohs
- Blackmon's Deal with Rockies Sets Precedent for Dozier by Nick Nelson
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