All in all, it was another very encouraging and homer-happy week for the Twins, who find themselves with the second-best record in the American League, one month into the season.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/22 through Sun, 4/28
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 16-9)
Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +27)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (2.0 GA)
Willians Watch: 5-for-21 last week (Season AVG: .295)We'll start with a rare bit of bad news: WILLIANS IS HURT! Our boy was enjoying a lovely week, with three hits in five at-bats, before pulling up with a strained hamstring in Saturday's game. Ths incident landed Astudillo on the injured list, so he'll be gone through the next week at least. Needless to say, we will strive keep you acutely aware of any developments on this vital front. The Twins should be okay without Astudillo for a while, but his absence will be felt in all of our hearts.
Nelson Cruz is doing exactly what the Twins hired him to do: leading a ferocious offensive charge. After a quiet series in Houston, he launched two homers on Friday night at Target Field and added two more hits on Saturday, pushing his season's hitting line to .297/.402/.568 through week's end. Surrounding Cruz in the lineup with Jorge Polanco (7-for-26 with two homers last week) and Eddie Rosario (4-for-23 with two homers), Minnesota boasts a lethal 2-3-4 sequence with each hitter hanging around a 1.000 OPS.
Toss in the occasional explosiveness of guys like Max Kepler and C.J. Cron, who combined for six home runs and eight RBIs against Baltimore, and you've got the most powerful lineup in baseball. Watching this group has been a real treat, and while the dynamic has undoubtedly been played up by an inordinate number of games against the punching-bag Orioles, this unit's prowess doesn't seem artificial in any way. Minnesota leads baseball in slugging by a fairly wide margin. There are no breaks in this relentless lineup for opposing pitchers. Just as you think you're escaping the torment, here's Jason Castro launching an upper-deck bomb, or Byron Buxton teeing off on the first pitch.
We're seeing the fulfillment of this offense's incredible power-hitting potential, a phenomenon I've dubbed (in hashtag form): #SotaPop. Feel free to wear it out.
On the pitching side, Martin Perez has shown well since moving into his customary role as a starter. The lefty allowed one run over six frames on Friday, his third six-inning effort in three tries after joining the rotation. Over those 18 IP, Perez has allowed 19 hits, six earned runs (3.00 ERA) and – most notably – only three walks. He issued nine free passes in three relief appearances prior.
If Perez can throw the ball in the zone, he's going to be successful. The same seems to be true for Kyle Gibson, who reined in his command once again during a fantastic outing against Baltimore on Sunday, firing 70 of 105 pitches for strikes in seven innings of one-run ball. He's gotten himself right on track with back-to-back sterling efforts against the O's, notching 12 strikeouts with zero walks over 13 innings in a pair of victories.
Meanwhile, it was more of the same from Jose Berrios, who tallied his third straight win on Saturday with his fifth quality start in six turns. Consistency was his goal this year, and so far the right-hander has made it a reality. Through six starts he is 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He entered play on Sunday ranked ninth among all MLB pitchers in WAR, per FanGraphs.
When Marwin Gonzalez homered in his fourth at-bat on Saturday, it was his first hit of the week, ending an 0-for-18 slump that has mostly been reflective of his season at large. Outside of that eighth-inning bomb against the Orioles, and a two-run knock on Sunday, the newly signed free agent's production has been scant ever since his big two-run double on Opening Day.
Gonzalez has a history of starting slow, but this is new territory. Last year at this time he was already in the process of heating up and shaking off his cold start, which wasn't nearly as cold by comparison. His current .520 OPS is more than 200 points off his career mark.
There's a lengthy track record here, and Gonzalez's K/BB rates aren't drastically out of line, so it's too soon to panic. He hasn't looked great, but he's also plagued by an almost impossibly low .192 BABIP. I'm still fairly confident that as the weather heats up and his luck evens out, he'll come around. And it says an awful lot that a player as accomplished as Marwin is really the only hole in the Twins lineup at present.
Neither Michael Pineda nor Kohl Stewart fared all that well in Houston, but it's tough to hold against them considering the setting and circumstances. In Stewart's case, the unexceptional effort was almost commendable – he came straight up from Triple-A to face arguably the toughest lineup in the majors, in a bandbox, and lasted through six innings (albeit with five runs allowed). It wasn't pretty but he kept the Twins in the game, outlasting both Pineda and Jake Odorizzi from the previous nights.
All in all, there's not much to quibble with among individual performers over the past week. In what is becoming a theme, the Twins did what they needed to, and so did most of their players.
With Gonzalez scuffling, attention grows around Miguel Sano's return. The Twins had originally projected a May ETA, and in line with that forecast, the slugger is slated to start his rehab assignment on Tuesday.
He'll start out in Class-A Fort Myers before moving up to Triple-A Rochester once the Twins feel he's ready. Presumably the Twins will take it slow with the third baseman, who is far removed from being an impactful contributor at the big-league level. We know that capability resides within him, and if Sano can show any semblance of the player he was before things turned south, it goes without saying how scary his addition will be for a lineup that's already out-slugging the league.
He has a 20-day rehab window, which the Twins figure to fully utilize. The soonest we're likely to see him in Minnesota is in three weeks or so.
DOWN ON THE FARM
During spring training, Lewis Thorpe was one pitcher being propped up by Twins officials as a potential difference-maker this summer. The hype was warranted, given his stellar numbers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but he came out of the gates flat in Rochester, yielding 15 earned runs on 17 hits in in 8 2/3 innings over his first two starts.
Whether he made adjustments or simply shook off the rust, Thorpe has been a radically different animal in his last two turns. Following an eight-inning, one run, 12-K masterpiece last Tuesday, he has notched 24 strikeouts with one walk and seven hits allowed in 13 2/3 innings. That includes an incredible 38 swinging strikes on 189 pitches (20%).
Thorpe still has a 7.25 ERA overall, owing to his horrendous start, but if he can maintain the form he's been showing of late, he could become a factor for the Twins quickly.
Not every top Twins prospect is rallying after a slow start, however – including THE top Twins prospect. At what point should we start worrying about Royce Lewis' season-opening slump as it continues to linger? After going 5-for-31 with no extra-base hits and no walks in Fort Myers last week, the shortstop's overall slash line now sits at .195/.297/.241. He has been a total non-factor offensively, and even on the basepaths his success has diminished, with five converted steal attempts in nine tries.
On the bright side, Lewis has committed only one error through 19 games at short, and reports on that front have generally been positive. It seems fair to say his defense is more of a focus than his hitting at this point, so we'll take it. As a reminder, he doesn't turn 20 until June. There's nothing especially worrisome about struggles at High-A in that context, but it certainly throws some cold water on the idea of Lewis rocketing to the big leagues in short order following his outstanding 2018.
It's very possible this is the toughest week the Twins will face all season long. First they'll be welcoming the elite Astros to Target Field for a four-game series, and then it's off to New York for a three-gamer against the dastardly Yanks. If Minnesota can come away from this seven-game gauntlet with three wins, they should be feeling pretty good. Anything more would be a coup.
MONDAY, 4/29: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Justin Verlander v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
TUESDAY, 4/30: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Gerrit Cole v. RHP Michael Pineda
WEDNESDAY, 5/1: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Collin McHugh v. LHP Martin Perez
THURSDAY, 5/2: ASTROS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Peacock v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 5/3: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP James Paxton
SATURDAY, 5/4: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. LHP J.A. Happ
SUNDAY, 5/5: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Domingo German
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 20 | MIN 9, HOU 5: Bats Thrive, Pitching Survives
- Game 21 | HOU 10, MIN 4: Springer and Bregman and Altuve... Oh My!
- Game 22 | HOU 7, MIN 1: Foregone Conclusion
- Game 23 | MIN 6, BAL 1: Sticking to the Formula
- Game 24 | MIN 9, BAL 2: Quality from Berrios, Quantity from the Bats
- Game 25 | MIN 4, BAL 1: Kepler Sets Tone, Gibby Brings It Home
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