They won three, made a statement against the defending champs, and saw one of their all-time greats check off a noteworthy milestone.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/9 through Sun, 4/15
Record Last Week: 3-1 (Overall: 7-4)
Run Differential Last Week: +6 (Overall: +14)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (0.5 GA)
Joe Mauer's AVG Last Week: .500 (Season: .412)As a housekeeping note, over the course of the season I will be regularly rotating in and out different tracking stats for the weekly snapshot above. This week I've added Joe Mauer's batting average, which currently leads the majors. He has collected hits in each of his first 11 games and went 6-for-12 with six walks over the past week, reaching base at a .667 clip.
It's only natural that we lead with The Natural himself. Mauer's final hit of the week was the 2,000th of his career. It looked an awful lot like his first one, 14 years earlier:
The signature seeing-eye single also drove in two runs, essentially sealing up Thursday's win against the White Sox. Mauer has been a tremendously effective weapon toward the top of Minnesota's lineup, which produced 17 runs in three games after getting shut out by Houston on Monday.
To celebrate Mauer's milestone achievement, we had a number of articles dedicated to him here on the site:
- I wrote exactly 2,000 words in tribute to the Minnesota-made star, musing about his aptitude for the game, his inexplicable detractors, and his five biggest hits ever
- Ted Schwerzler put together a retrospective on Mauer's career, and drew parallels with Kirby Puckett, who also saw his path altered by health issues
- Matthew Lenz took a quick look at Mauer's future, laying out three options the veteran will face at season's end
While it's easy to focus on Mauer, he wasn't the only bright spot for the Twins during the past week by any means. A day earlier, Max Kepler had delivered the first Target Field walk-off of 2018, burying the Astros with his second home run of the game:
Kepler has looked roundly excellent at the plate in this young season, and already has as many homers as he did last year through mid-May. His presence in the lower half of the order helps equip it with lethal depth, giving Minnesota the ability to churn out relentless rallies, like the eight-run onslaught in the fourth that culminated with Kepler's first bomb.
And not to be forgotten: Jose Berrios, ladies and gents. On Thursday, for the second time in three starts, the right-hander spun an absolute gem, firing seven scoreless frames with 11 strikeouts. Once again, the 23-year-old showed the kind of masterful control conducive to peak performance, throwing 73 of 99 pitches for strikes and issuing zero walks.
As I said this spring while in Fort Myers, where his progress was clearly on display: "If Berrios is staying in the zone and hitting his spots, he's going to be a force. I have zero doubt." Through 20 2/3 innings, he has allowed only one free pass while throwing 68% strikes. He has a 2.18 ERA and opponents are hitting .164/.187/.233 against him. Whew.
Berrios evolving into a true ace is the kind of development that would turn the Twins from scrappy wild-card contenders to a bona fide championship threat. He sure as hell looks the part right now.
Another big component of that World Series recipe is Miguel Sano clicking at the heart of the lineup. This week, what we saw from the big man was a bunch more whiffing and wasted opportunity.
With Brian Dozier raking and Mauer getting on base more than half the time, Sano has stepped up with in plenty of ducks on the pond, but repeatedly failed to cash in this past week. He went 2-for-13 with eight strikeouts, amazingly stranding 20 baserunners in three games.
Sano has looked tentative at the plate, constantly check-swinging and showing a visible lack of confidence in his pitch recognition. He's batting .143 with men in scoring position, which isn't what you like to see from a guy in his position.
On Thursday, Sano did at least flash a glimpse of his immense power, connecting with an outside pitch and driving it high off Target Field's right-field wall for a double. It was a reminder that when the third baseman makes contact, he's pretty much always going to smash it; Sano's average exit velocity ranks fifth in baseball.
But contact has been tough to come by over the first couple weeks. Sano's 48.9% K-rate leads baseball by a wide margin.
On Friday the Twins optioned outfielder Ryan LaMarre to Triple-A. The reason for the move wasn't totally clear, but per this report from the Star Tribune's Phil Miller, it sounds like the team wanted to add another arm due to concerns over Addison Reed's lingering illness. Sure enough, the Twins recalled Alan Busenitz on Sunday, so they'll have another big arm available for a bit.
As Parker notes, the right-hander's combination of premier velocity and spin makes him an intriguing specimen:
However, Busenitz doesn't appear destined to stick around long. The Twins can bring back LaMarre as a 26th player for their two upcoming games in Puerto Rico due to a lengthy travel stipulation, but will have to send him back down afterward, as they can't officially recall him until 10 days after the option. So they'll likely need to shuffle out Busenitz, their ninth reliever, in favor of another outfielder at that point – maybe Zack Granite or Jake Cave.
Eventually the Twins will need to call up another starter. Evidence strongly suggests that Adalberto Mejia, rather than Phil Hughes, was in line to get the call on Friday night. Instead, Mejia worked on Saturday in relief of Aaron Slegers, tossing two innings.
When he's been on the hill, Mejia has looked good, allowing only one run on two hits over four frames with five strikeouts, but circumstances have prevented him from getting into any kind of workload rhythm. We're halfway through April and he still hasn't recorded more than six outs in an appearance.
WIth off days sandwiching the Puerto Rico series this week, Minnesota can again push off its fifth starter decision. The Twins won't have a need until the second game of next week's series in New York. Mejia could be the guy if he gets a full start in this week and stretches out a bit. Hughes, who tossed five scoreless innings at Single-A in Fort Myers on Saturday, should probably be viewed as the favorite. But don't count out Fernando Romero, who was scheduled to start Sunday in Rochester's rainout.
DOWN ON THE FARM
It's not often you see a healthy 23-year-old former No. 4 overall pick, with a 3.10 ERA in the minors and plenty of experience in Double-A, go unprotected and undrafted in the Rule 5. But it speaks to where Kohl Stewart's stock stood as of this past offseason. He's got a lot of work to do in order to earn his way back into Minnesota's plans, but took a great first step in his 2018 debut for Chattanooga on Monday, striking out nine with zero walks over five innings of one-run ball. He was cruising along again in his second start Sunday, carrying a perfect game into the fifth, but gave up a three-run homer in the sixth.
Returning to the field after losing all of 2017 to Tommy John surgery, Twins Daily No. 5 prospect Alex Kirilloff started a bit slow in Cedar Rapids, going 1-for-12 in his first three games, but busted out big-time last week with multiple hits in three games, including a two-homer outburst on Wednesday. It's safe to say one of the best bats in the Twins system is back on track.
At Chattanooga, No. 4 prospect Stephen Gonsalves continues to make his case for an overdue Triple-A promotion, and for being in the Twins' fifth starter mix. He logged four more scoreless innings on Thursday and hasn't allowed a run in two starts.
No. 1 prospect Royce Lewis launched his first Single-A home run on Thursday in Peoria, yanking one out to left off 22-year-old Cardinals prospect Jake Walsh with two runners aboard. The big bop sparked a comeback for the Kernels, who were down 4-0 at the time and wound up winning 9-5.
The Twins will happily leave behind this miserable endless winter in favor of much warmer environs, traveling to San Juan for a two-game set against Cleveland. Minnesota is billed as the home team, meaning they'll get last ups. Then it's back to the mainland for a manageable three-game road matchup against a Rays team that's been among baseball's worst.
TUESDAY, 4/17: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Carlos Carrasco v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
WEDNESDAY, 4/18: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Bauer v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 4/20: TWINS @ RAYS – RHP Lance Lynn v. RHP Chris Archer
SATURDAY, 4/21: TWINS @ RAYS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Blake Snell
SUNDAY, 4/22: TWINS @ RAYS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Jake Faria
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 8 | HOU 2, MIN 0: Failure to Launch
- Game 9 | MIN 4, HOU 1: Odorizzi, Twins Battle Their Way to Victory
- Game 10 | MIN 9, HOU 8: Max to the Rescue!
- Game 11 | MIN 4, CWS 0: Mauer Reaches 2,000 Hits, Leads Twins to Victory
- As Cody Christie notes, this week's short series in Puerto Rico comes with added importance, and not just because of the Twins' ties to the territory. The island is still hurting after last year's hurricane devastation.
- Matt Johnson's latest Twins Almanac entry peers into the past week in Twins history, reminding us of Cal Ripken's 3,000th hit at the Dome, the first grand slam ever for the franchise, and Jason Kubel's cycle-cinching grandy (obviously not the same one).
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