If what we saw in 2016 was a Total System Failure, then what we're seeing now is All Systems Go. Read on for our recap of a busy, boisterous and beautiful week for the #SotaPop boys.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/13 through Sun, 5/19
Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 30-16)
Run Differential Last Week: +23 (Overall: +74)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (4.5 GA)
Willians Watch: 3-for-18 last week (Season AVG: .278)Quite a few roster moves to recap from the past week, so here's a rundown:
- The Twins wanted to keep Tyler Duffey around as an extra reliever, so at the beginning of the week they optioned Jake Cave and recalled him.
- Mitch Garver made a game-saving play on Tuesday night, blocking the plate beautifully to prevent Shohei Ohtani from scoring with the tying run, but the collision at home took a toll. Luckily, it sounds like Garver and the Twins dodged a bullet – his scary-looking leg injury was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain instead of something more serious – but he was placed on IL and will miss a few weeks at least.
- Called up to take his place was Miguel Sano, who made his season debut on Thursday night in Seattle and started all four games against the Mariners.
- Meanwhile, Trevor Hildenberger finally ran out of chances. After allowing multiple runs for the sixth time in eight appearances on Wednesday, nearly costing the Twins a game they should have comfortably won, he was demoted to Rochester. Taking his place is right-hander Austin Adams, a minor-league signing from the winter who'd posted a 28-to-6 K/BB ratio in Triple-A while flinging mid-90s heat.
- To make room on the 40-man roster, Minnesota designated Addison Reed for assignment. While rehabbing in the minors, Reed had continued to look terrible, so the Twins had little choice but to pull the plug on their free agent bust and eat his remaining salary. It's a real shame because the team could really use Reed at some semblance of his full capacity right now.
- With Nelson Cruz's wrist healing more slowly than expected, the Twins elected to place him on IL and called up infielder Luis Arraez.
I don't even know where to start. I truly don't. The Twins have played great baseball all season but they took it to another level against the Mariners, with a comprehensive clobbering that featured contributions from just about everyone. No Garver? No Cruz? No problem. Minnesota still blew up for 40 runs on 11 homers over four games at T-Mobile Field, in one of the most astounding offensive series I've ever seen from a Twins team.
C.J. Cron was among those leading the way. After a quiet series against the Angels at Target Field (1-for-10), he went wild in Seattle, where he was 8-for-18 with three home runs and six RBIs in four games. Not long ago, Cron was one of the few laggards in this lineup, entering May with an OPS barely north of .700, but he's raised that mark by 150 points with a prodigious power outburst this month.
Also aiding in the bash-fest was Byron Buxton, who went 7-for-26 on the week with three bombs, including a grand slam on Saturday night. The #9 hitter drove in 11 runs over the course of seven games. His presence at the bottom of Minnesota's order is one major element in its intimidation factor.
There's just nowhere for opposing pitchers to find cover from the onslaught. Marwin Gonzalez was a reliable soft spot early on, but he's completely turned it around in May, where he's slashing .355/.429/.500. Last week, Gonzalez went 8-for-23 (.348) while playing four different positions. Jason Castro launched two more homers and has now gone deep in five of his eight May starts. Jonathan Schoop sent two over the fence on Saturday night and is rocking an .823 OPS overall. Eddie Rosario has slowed down his feverish HR pace a bit, but is back in rake-mode nonetheless, going 10-for-26 over the past week.
And now, the Twins have Sano again. He tallied a pair of doubles in his season debut on Thursday, then picked up his first home run on Saturday night. It's far too soon to say the slugger is "back" – he struck out eight times with one walk against the M's, and had a few very ugly ABs – but with almost everyone else on the offense clicking, the Twins can afford to be patient.
It was, quietly, a less stellar week for the rotation, with a few starters beginning slipping up a bit. Most notable among that group is Jose Berrios, who coughed up five runs on 12 hits against the Angels on Monday, and then couldn't get through five frames in Minnesota's blowout over the M's on Saturday. I'm not too worried yet; he's still throwing strikes and was rattling off qualities starts before this rough patch.
Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson were unspectacular, though far from terrible. Overall, Twins starters posted a 5.05 ERA over the course of the week, and, well, a couple things:
1. It says a lot about the relative quality of this group that we can view their week as a noticeable negative. Last year Twins starters had a 4.50 ERA for the season.
2. Minnesota still went 5-2 even with the lack of standout work from starters. This team was built to win games on the strength of its offense and that's just what they did.
Pretty much the only position player not to join the hitting parade was Willians Astudillo. He went 3-for-18 in five games, extending a slump that's seen him bat .222 in 67 PA since his huge first three games of the season. This visual shared by Ted does a good job illustrating the core problem plaguing La Tortuga at the plate – he's playing right into the hands of opposing pitchers:
I love his aggressiveness as a general trait, but Astudillo has gotta start finding some better pitches to hit. He's too often going after offerings that are nearly impossible to drive, and as a result his hard-hit percentage is (by far) the lowest among Twins hitters at 22.9%.
It's pretty easy to hide bullpen question marks when you're launching six home runs and taking 10-run leads after a few innings, but that won't keep happening forever. Right now, the Twins' relief corps is crowded with minor-league journeymen. Ryne Harper, Mike Morin, Matt Magill and the newly promoted Adams all came to Minnesota on non-guaranteed contracts.
To their credit, these guys have all pitched pretty well – especially Harper, who continues to confound MLB hitters with his slow, bending curveballs. Duffey is another guy who looked like an also-ran at the outset of the season but is making his case as an asset. With a pumped-up fastball in the mid-90s, he's been nasty at times, though the long ball proneness remains troubling.
As well as these relievers are throwing, the bullpen still has the feel of a ticking time bomb. The absence of Hildenberger, who was an essential fireman in April, will be felt, and sadly it doesn't look likely he'll be back soon. In his first appearance at Triple-A on Friday, he coughed up four runs in one inning, so there are clearly some serious issues to work through. Fernando Romero is pitching in Rochester alongside Hildenberger, and hasn't been very sharp in his three appearances since heading back down.
The indefinite absence of those two, along with the release of Reed, removes three key pieces from Minnesota's planned late-inning mix. It's just really hard to imagine the Twins can get by filling that void with unestablished minor-league vets all summer long, even if it's been working out to this point. The question is whether they'll be proactive in addressing the issue, or wait until leaks start to spring.
DOWN ON THE FARM
You've gotta feel for Nick Gordon. This is a huge year for him as he seeks to rebound from a brutal 2018 campaign that tanked his stock. He missed the first month due to a stomach issue, then came back at the start of May and raked over eight games, batting .353 with an .889 OPS, but last week he found himself back on IL with a left adductor strain. Hopefully he can make it back soon and continue his redemption tour.
Meanwhile, it was an interesting week for Minnesota's #1 prospect. On Thursday, Royce Lewis lined a drive off the top of the wall in a game against Bradenton, and chided himself by pulling into second base with a few push-ups. The Marauders were not too pleased. They threw at him in his next AB, and multiple ejections followed:
A few things stand out to be me in this footage. I'm very impressed by how the umpire handled it, standing tough as Bradenton's manager berated him with an embarrassing temper tantrum. I'm also impressed by how Lewis composed himself, standing quietly in the batter's box throughout the ordeal, waiting for his next pitch. Impressed, but not surprised. Lewis is one of the highest-character guys you'll come across on a ball field, which is why it's so bizarre to me that anyone would perceive his playful antics as anything malicious.
Anyway, Royce came out the next night and belted his first home run of the season in his first AB:
The 19-year-old shortstop is still slashing just .236/.311/.342 overall, but he's picking it up after a slow start.
His teammate Jordan Balazovic, has no such slow start to shake off. The right-hander was masterful in four starts at Cedar Rapids before moving up to Fort Myers, where he has been annihilating the competition. In two starts last week (Monday and Sunday) he struck out 20 batters over 10 innings, pushing his K/BB ratio to 30-to-4 in 17 innings with the Miracle.
In our preseason Twins prospect rankings, I noted that "Balazovic was an honorable mention for us, failing to make our Top 20 cut, but I'm wondering if that'll look silly a year from now." Turns out it only took about six weeks. From my view, he's currently the organization's second-best pitching prospect behind Brusdar Graterol, who has a 1.93 ERA through nine starts at Double-A.
The Twins are 5-2 in their current run against AL West opponents, and they'll look to finish strong with another three-gamer against the Angels, this time in Anaheim. (More late night baseball for ya!) After a well-deserved day off on Thursday, Minnesota returns home to face the White Sox for the first time this year. The pitching matchups for that series look quite tantalizing on paper.
MONDAY, 5/20: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. TBD
TUESDAY, 5/21: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Trevor Cahill
WEDNESDAY, 5/22: TWINS @ ANGELS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Matt Harvey
FRIDAY, 5/24: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Reynaldo Lopez v. RHP Jose Berrios
SATURDAY, 5/25: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – LHP Manny Banuelos v. RHP Kyle Gibson
SUNDAY, 5/26: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Dylan Covey v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 40 | LAA 5, MIN 4: More Missed Opportunities
- Game 41 | MIN 4, LAA 3: Throw Down
- Game 42 | MIN 8, LAA 7: Twins Squeak Out Victory
- Game 43 | MIN 11, SEA 6: Total System Failure (for the Other Guys)
- Game 44 | MIN 7, SEA 1: Venezuelan Night in Seattle
- Game 45 | MIN 18, SEA 4: Sharks Eat Mariners
- Game 46 | SEA 7, MIN 4:Sweepless in Seattle
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