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Article: Week in Review: Opening Salvos

jose berrios jake odorizzi nelson cruz byron buxton kyle gibson
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 31 March 2019 - 06:32 PM

Our inclination to inflate the importance of Opening Day is only natural. After a long winter, that date becomes the singular focus of baseball fans everywhere.

Opening Day roster, Opening Day lineup, Opening Day outcome. The perceived significance of each is overblown. We all know it. But still, impressions from Minnesota's impressive performance during the season's first weekend, and especially Opening Day, are hard to shake.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 3/25 through Sun, 3/31

***

Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)

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

Standing: Tied for 1st Place in AL Central

HIGHLIGHTS

The powered-up Twins pitching staff is already on display, setting a new franchise record with 39 strikeouts through their first three games.

On Thursday and Saturday, Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi became the second starting duo in history to open a season with back-to-back double-digit strikeout totals. The feat was only previously accomplished by Arizona's Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001 – arguably the greatest SP tandem in major-league history. No biggie.

On Sunday, Michael Pineda and Martin Perez piggybacked for 11 strikeouts over 7 2/3 combined innings, continuing the run of rotation dominance against a diminished Cleveland lineup (sans Francisco Lindor).

You can knock the quality of the opposition, but I would respond with two points:

1) There's nothing misleading about the results this group achieved. Everyone looked fantastic. Berrios unleashed a barrage of filthy breaking balls and mixed in an upgraded changeup. Odorizzi was changing speeds and eye levels expertly. Pineda pounded the zone with heavy stuff. Perez constantly worked inside with the same 95-97 MPH heat he was flashing in spring training. There was no smoke-and-mirrors behind this magic.

And, 2) The Indians aren't THAT beat-up. They're missing their best hitter in Lindor, yes, but fellow absentee Jason Kipnis hasn't been a factor in recent years. I mean, the fact that Tyler Naquin and Jake Bauers were Cleveland's #3 hitters in this series is really quite stunning. The qualitative difference between these two offenses was starkly apparent.

One of the most interesting aspects of this Twins team coming into the season, from my view, was the legitimately high-powered starting corps, which has come along so far since five years ago. In total, the four starters combined for 47 swinging strikes on 310 pitches, a remarkable 15.1% whiff rate. For context, only three qualified MLB starters induced swinging strikes at a higher percentage in 2018: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Carlos Carrasco (who the Twins knocked around in Sunday's series finale).

Meanwhile, the bullpen was effective for the most part. Rocco Baldelli rotated through all six of his relievers and got scoreless appearances from five of them, with Taylor Rogers going twice and looking particularly crisp.

So, early returns on new pitching coach Wes Johnson and his staff are resoundingly positive.

The offense was mostly quiet in the opening series, facing the unenviable assignments of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer in the season's first two games. Both enter this campaign as Cy Young frontrunners, and each looked the part in helping hold Minnesota's potent lineup to three runs on six hits through 18 innings.

But Nelson Cruz made an impact in all three games as the Twins' new #3 hitter. He set up Marwin Gonzalez' game-winning hit on Thursday with a leadoff single in the seventh against Kluber. He drove in Minnesota's lone run on Saturday with some impressive bat-handling against Bauer. And he keyed the offense's breakout on Sunday by going 3-for-5 with the club's first home run of the year.

The other most noteworthy performer was Byron Buxton. Fears of a post-spring drought quickly disappeared as he went 4-for-10 with three doubles and only two strikeouts in his first series. Last year, his third double came on May 12th. In 2017, he didn't get his fourth hit until almost two weeks into the season.

It's certainly a modest benchmark but this is easily the best start of Buxton's career. Seeing him fired up and pumping his fists at second on Sunday after delivering a key two-run double – with two outs, on an 0-2 count – was the most invigorating sight for me on a weekend that offered plenty to choose from in that regard.

LOWLIGHTS

There wasn't a whole lot to dislike in these first three games. The Twins won two of them in fairly convincing fashion, and fell short by one run in the other. The final inning of that loss provides the only real fodder for grievances.

Blake Parker was the only Twins pitcher to struggle in the entire series, and it wasn't because he got hit hard. The Arkansas native simply could not find any semblance of control in the chilly weather on Saturday. Carlos Santana singled, then moved from first to third on a pair of wild pitches. Parker walked Hanley Ramirez and fell behind Greg Allen 2-0 before allowing a sacrifice fly to deep center.

The outing was uglier to watch than it looks on paper: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB. All things considered, if that's your most disastrous pitching performance in a series you can feel pretty good.

And the Twins were well positioned to get that run back in the bottom half. Buxton led off against Cleveland closer Brad Hand with a wind-aided "double" to the shallow outfield. Baldelli then curiously elected not to use a pinch-hitter for Max Kepler, despite Hand's record of pure dominance against lefty swingers.



Kepler struck out, and the rally went on to fall short. Presumably, Baldelli is just trying to show confidence in his core guys, but turning to a contact machine like Willians Astudillo in that spot – speedy runner on second, no outs, deepest bench the Twins will have all year – seemed like such an obvious call that it was surprising not to see it from the ostensibly analytical thinker. Will loyalty outweigh logic in the future? Something to watch.

In general, Kepler is off to a slow start, as is fellow corner outfielder Eddie Rosario (combined 1-for-22), but there's no reason to worry about either.

TRENDING STORYLINE

There's only one active Twins pitcher we haven't seen yet. It's kind of crazy that the rotation showed such incredible swing-and-miss proficiency in the opening series without its reigning whiff leader.

Kyle Gibson spent his spring trying to regain strength and weight following a nasty winter bout with E. coli. He admitted after his last exhibition start – an ugly clunker against the Red Sox – that he still wasn't quite back to where he ideally wanted to be. So it's not surprising to see the Twins giving him as much time as they possibly can; Gibson's first start will come after Berrios takes his second turn on Tuesday in Kansas City.

How will he look? Gibson's success last year was fueled by career-high velocity, so any sapped voltage might have a material impact. But if he's mostly back to form, this rotation has a chance to start generating some real enthusiasm in short order.

DOWN ON THE FARM

Minor-league games haven't started yet, and in fact official rosters for the affiliates haven't even been announced yet. But that will all come this week, with Minor League Opening Day on Thursday.

Make sure you stay tuned into Twins Daily for unparalleled coverage of the team's system and prospects. I'll be recapping the most noteworthy developments in this space each Sunday night, but the day-to-day minor-league coverage on this site is beyond robust and comprehensive. Thanks in advance to all of the people who work hard to make it possible: Seth, Cody, Tom, Steve, Ted, Matt... can't wait to read all of your reports this summer.

LOOKING AHEAD

Following a successful home kickoff, the Twins embark on a seven-game road trip with four off days sprinkled in. Baldelli will have a deep bench and rested bullpen as he tours through two National League parks, starting with Philadelphia next weekend.

TUESDAY, 4/2: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Brad Keller
WEDNESDAY, 4/3: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Homer Bailey
FRIDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Nick Pivetta
SATURDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Jake Arrieta
SUNDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Zach Eflin

Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps


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#2 ScooterDance

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Posted 31 March 2019 - 07:22 PM

From ESPN

Astudillo was 2 for 2, raising his career batting average to .368 in 100 plate appearances. That's the highest average in major league history among players with at least 100 plate appearances, just ahead of Ty Cobb (.366).
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#3 TheLeviathan

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Posted 31 March 2019 - 10:07 PM

From ESPN
Astudillo was 2 for 2, raising his career batting average to .368 in 100 plate appearances. That's the highest average in major league history among players with at least 100 plate appearances, just ahead of Ty Cobb (.366).


These numbers are fun enough for another thread!
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#4 carlito_b

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Posted 31 March 2019 - 11:15 PM

Wonder how long until Buxton and Kepler flip flop in the batting order
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#5 Tommygun921

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 05:15 AM

Another low light for me was replacing May with Mejia in game 2. Seemed rather odd.

#6 MMMordabito

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 05:46 AM

Nice, the Twins will miss Nola. Philly is off to a hot start, so I'm thinking breaks like that will be welcome.
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#7 killertwinfan

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 05:56 AM

Say what you want, but I don't believe the #of K's is remotely sustainable.Cleveland came out of spring training with a team slash of .265/.336/.453 which was middle of the pack.However, a number of their active roster batted below that slash (5) and 8 of them K'd at a high rate.I don't make the point to contradict the writer as much as to point out that Cleveland is very thin and will need a healthy line up and have a very strong pitching staff to to take the Central.I live in Ohio and Indians fans are far more nervous about the Indians today than they were last week!

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#8 TKGuy

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 06:10 AM

For a franchise who are notorious slow starters, hope reigns eternal. Really really like Cruz in this lineup
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#9 IndianaTwin

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 07:28 AM

Small sample size, but I think the Twins rotation is closer to Cleveland's (particularly if Cleveland has an injury) than Cleveland's offense is to the Twins. I like our chances. 

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#10 railmarshalljon

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 07:49 AM

Maybe I'm alone, but I personally have faith in this bullpen. I think it's got a good mix of arms that aren't all dependent on being flame throwers and most seem capable of going multiple innings. It would look a whole lot better with Romero in it but it's pretty understandable after the wretched spring he had.

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You can't change the past, but you can still ruin your future.


#11 Aerodeliria

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 08:28 AM

Perfect synopsis of the weekend. My only beef was the same (i.e., not bringing on La Tortuga to pinch hit for Kepler in the 9th).
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#12 Vanimal46

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 08:29 AM

It's a long season, and any week finishing over .500 should make us feel good. The starting staff did their jobs very well.

It's a fair question to ask why Baldelli didn't utilize his larger than normal bench in the 7th and 9th inning during the 2nd game. That's the only quibble I have so far in the season.
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#13 ashbury

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 08:53 AM

Wonder how long until Buxton and Kepler flip flop in the batting order

Max better be ready to run hard, if he has Byron behind him on the basepath. :)

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. -- Arthur Conan Doyle


#14 Shaitan

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 09:07 AM

How are Twins pitchers comparing to the league average in K/9? I feel like Ks are so rampant in today's game that these stats are almost meaningless.


#15 Aichiman

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 09:13 AM

I listened to Baldelli talk about the game.And then I listened to Franconia.There's no doubt who I'd rather play for.Maybe the new guys know what they're doing, but listening to these egghead quant guys talk is downright nauseating.I miss the plain speak of guys like Gardy, and Franconia and Earl Weaver.At least they were funny.I haven't laughed since listening to Gardy talk about "Loose Canon #1 and Loose Canon #2.I guess winning is better than laughing.We'll see what the new guys can do.

 


#16 ashbury

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 09:26 AM

I listened to Baldelli talk about the game. ... but listening to these egghead quant guys talk is downright nauseating.

Yeah, Rocco ought to grab a ball and bat sometime, and go out on the field to try out his theories. It's not so easy out there, compared to just sitting in the recliner chair in the dugout and pushing some buttons.

 

 

/ edit - April Fool?

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It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. -- Arthur Conan Doyle


#17 JLease

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 10:47 AM

I think the health and performance of the back of the rotation is going to be key. If we get through the season without having to use 9-10 starters (main rotation inning eaters?) and getting enough quality from positions 3-5 in that group we could win a lot of series.

 

Nice to see the offense break out in game 3! 


#18 yarnivek1972

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 10:56 AM

I don’t mind not pinch hitting for Kepler against Hand.

But down one run in the 9th with a speedster on second with no one out is an automatic bunt situation. The only way it isn’t is if your batter is Mike Trout because he would get IBB anyway. If the opponent is pitching to your hitter, your hitter needs to bunt. If Kepler isn’t good at bunting, pinch hit someone who is. Adrianza is probably the best of the bench players. Castro didn’t start that game. He’s probably a good bunter. Berrios maybe or maybe some other pitcher with bunting experience. Not sure who that would be on this staff.


Bottom line: Buxton needs to be on third base when that PA is over.

Edited by yarnivek1972, 01 April 2019 - 10:58 AM.

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#19 raindog

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 11:22 AM

 

I listened to Baldelli talk about the game.And then I listened to Franconia.There's no doubt who I'd rather play for.Maybe the new guys know what they're doing, but listening to these egghead quant guys talk is downright nauseating.I miss the plain speak of guys like Gardy, and Franconia and Earl Weaver.At least they were funny.I haven't laughed since listening to Gardy talk about "Loose Canon #1 and Loose Canon #2.I guess winning is better than laughing.We'll see what the new guys can do.

Franconia

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#20 jkcarew

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Posted 01 April 2019 - 11:59 AM

 

Say what you want, but I don't believe the #of K's is remotely sustainable.

Someone had the nerve to say that the staff wouldn't finish the season leading the league in strikeouts and demolish the all-time single-season record?

 

Ban them! :)

 

 

 

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