But it still wasn't a losing stretch, and offered plenty of positives amid glimmers of legitimate concern.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/3 through Sun, 6/9
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 43-21)
Run Differential Last Week: +3 (Overall: +112)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (10.5 GA)
Willians Watch: So Long, Old Friend :-(We must begin this week's roster rundown on a somber note:
- Willians Astudillo has been optioned to Triple-A. This isn't necessarily sad from a competitive standpoint – Astudillo's been the weakest hitter on the team for some time now, and his demotion is well justified with an empty .190 average since the start of May – but if you're like me, you enjoy watching the guy play, interact with teammates, and generally go about his business on the field. He probably won't be gone for too long, as he's already raking down in Rochester (he's 6-for-8 through two games).
- Called up to replace Astudillo on the roster was right-handed reliever Ryan Eades, who made his major-league debut on Saturday and threw very well in two scoreless frames.
- The Twins also optioned Devin Smeltzer, who impressed during his two starts, and activated Michael Pineda to start Friday night's game in Detroit.
In the wake of a scorching late-May hot streak, Max Kepler went cold as the calendar flipped, coming up hitless in five games. Then, with the Twins facing a sweep on Thursday in Cleveland, he exploded for three home runs, carrying Minnesota to a 5-4 victory while finishing 4-for-4 with a walk. It'll go down as one of the best offensive performances by a big-leaguer this season.
This seems to be the M.O. for Minnesota's lineup: sleeping giants who don't stay asleep for long. Mitch Garver was mostly quiet in his first few games off the Injured List, and had a really tough series in Cleveland with seven strikeouts in 10 plate appearances, but he came alive in Detroit, going 4-for-9 with a homer and four RBIs in two games. Nelson Cruz, another recent reentry from IL, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his return on Tuesday, then homered in each of his next four games. Eddie Rosario was 2-for-16 on the week before going 3-for-6 with a mammoth homer on Sunday.
This is all to say we probably shouldn't make much of mini-slumps from the likes of Jonathan Schoop (1-for-15 last week and batting .125 in June). He has the luxury of taking a little nap while the rest of the offense powers on, and will almost surely be awakening soon.
One guy who doesn't seem to have much let-up in him is Byron Buxton. Every week, and every night, he manages to make a special impact. His past five games brought more of the same: production (6-for-17 with two homers and a double), spectacular defense made to look ordinary, and baserunning prowess that almost defies belief:
The Twins currently have two players drawing credible buzz as MVP contenders – Rosario and Jorge Polanco – but I have a strong feeling that by year's end, Buxton will be at the head of the pack. He's only starting to find his next gear. Buxton's success has become so normalized, you probably didn't even notice that the former whiff-machine has struck out only four times in 28 June PAs. His 23% K-rate for the season is down nearly 10 points from his 32% MLB mark prior, and almost exactly at league average.
In the rotation, Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios have been as good as any 1-2 tandem in the game. On Sunday, Odorizzi was magnificent as usual, spinning six innings of one-run ball. He struck out eight while picking up his ninth consecutive victory and lowering his ERA (slightly) to 1.92. Berrios delivered his own strong outing three days earlier, holding the Indians to two runs over six frames.
The Twins are 11-2 with Berrios on the mound and have won 10 straight games started by Odorizzi.
On the same day we learned that coveted free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel was signing with the Chicago Cubs, Blake Parker blew up in Cleveland, coughing up three runs to turn a lead into a deficit in one of Minnesota's most crushing losses of the year. The timing was no doubt painful. Though I personally believe the Twins were wise to stick to their guns on Kimbrel, this bullpen needs help.
This is not a new sentiment, but it's becoming clearer than ever as Parker's surprisingly spotless start gives way to hardcore regression. Wednesday marked the third time in his past four appearances allowing multiple runs, and then on Friday he navigated an anxiety-inducing save that saw him walk two batters and bring the tying run to the plate. There's no trusting the guy right now.
In fact, the bullpen at large has suddenly become rather untrustworthy. Matt Magill has seen his own charmed run of unexpected excellence fly off the rails, almost exactly in unison with Parker. Joining the team late after a season-opening IL stint, Magill was convincingly dominant through 14 appearances, posting a 1.35 ERA and 18-to-5 K/BB ratio in 13.1 IP while unleashing upper-90s fastballs and upper-80s sliders. The coaching staff's belief in the former minor-league journeyman was being richly rewarded. But in his past three outings, the bottom has fallen out. In 1 2/3 innings, he has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 10 hits and three walks. In the space of a week, his ERA spiked from 1.35 to 6.60, and just like that, he might be on the brink of a DFA.
The problem is that there aren't a ton of options on hand to replace him. We'll chat more about that below in the Trending Storyline section.
Trust is also diminishing in starter Martin Perez, whose magic has gone completely amiss. Wednesday's outing wasn't as disastrous as the previous dud, and poor defense played a role, but Perez was not good in Cleveland, allowing five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings. The lefty posted season-lows in strikeouts (1) and swinging strikes (4). He has issued multiple walks in seven straight starts and has a 7-to-8 K/BB ratio in his past three.
The bullpen is a mess. It's starting to unravel at the seams with Parker and Magill melting down. Mike Morin and Tyler Duffey may have similar reckonings awaiting. Trevor May is, for whatever reason, seeing very sporadic usage (he's appeared three times in the past 14 days). Taylor Rogers has pretty much been a one-man band and this tweet from AG sorta sums that up:
The Twins leaned on Rogers for a 34-pitch, two-inning save on Thursday, and that's the type of thing they obviously need to avoid. So, the club needs some relief help. And as we've covered, Kimbrel is off the table. What to do?
The trade market will become a central focus in the coming weeks, and I do believe there are going to be ample opportunities out there. Unlike with Kimbrel, here the Twins have real leverage: a system filled with intriguing prospects, and a bevy of non-contending teams looking to reload their farms.
There's no need to wait until the July 31st deadline to make a move. But here's the thing: Minnesota does have the luxury of a double-digit lead in the standings. Granted, they'll want to win as many games as they can to best position themselves for October, but they aren't fending off anyone in the division. Four of their remaining six series this month are against the Mariners, Royals and White Sox. There's no REAL urgency.
As they take a measured approach to the trade market, the Twins can test a few things out internally and work to optimize its existing pieces. The latest to audition is Eades, and he looked promising in his first action (although, to be fair, so did Austin Adams and Zack Littell).
Speaking of Littell: After this demotion last week, I opined that he has "a much better chance than the [other Triple-A call-ups who've gotten shelled] of becoming a true bullpen asset. I wonder if the Twins will start letting him develop in that capacity at Rochester."
Sure enough, his three appearances since heading down have all been in relief, and he's looked damn good, allowing just one hit (a solo homer) in 5 2/3 innings with one walk and eight strikeouts.
It wouldn't stun me if Eades or Littell eventually settles in as a worthy middle relief option. I like that the Twins are experimenting. But it's unfortunate their other internal options are still flailing. Trevor Hildenberger has an 8.44 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in Rochester. Fernando Romero has been woefully underwhelming as well (opponents hitting .310/.388/.500 in 15 innings since he was optioned). Jorge Alcala, the hard-throwing 23-year-old acquired in last year's Ryan Pressly trade, has been wholly unimpressive at Double-A where he sports a 5.25 ERA.
If the Twins want to find a difference-maker for their pen from within, it's probably going to take some creativity. Maybe trying out Smeltzer in a relief role? Or how about fellow Triple-A southpaw Lewis Thorpe, who's tacked up a 25-to-3 K/BB ratio in his last four starts, while averaging fewer than five innings per turn? Looks perfectly suited for a shot at relieving.
DOWN ON THE FARM
The 2019 MLB Draft took place last week, and saw the Twins add a batch of new young talent heavy on college bats. Their three first-day selections:
- No. 13 Overall: Keoni Cavaco, INF – Fast-rising prep star out of California who was barely on anyone's radar six months ago. Premium athlete with a high-upside bat who's played shortstop but is likely to end up at third base. Ted posted a Q&A with the Cavaco if you'd like to learn more about him.
- No. 39 Overall: Matt Wallner, OF – Collegiate slugger out of Southern Mississippi. Wallner will be especially easy for locals to root for because he's a Forest Lake native who was named Minnesota's Mr. Baseball in 2016.
- No. 54 Overall: Matt Canterino, RHP – The 6-foot-3 righty posted gaudy strikeout numbers at Rice University, unleashing an overpowering fastball/curve combo. His delivery and lack of a changeup suggest some reliever risk, but he's poised to rise quickly.
Elsewhere in the Twins' system last week:
Jhoan Duran turned in his third straight gem for Fort Myers, holding Jupiter to one run over seven innings. Acquired from Arizona in the Eduardo Escobar trade last summer, Duran pitched extremely well after coming over, and drew considerable buzz in camp this spring. His first seven starts at High-A weren't stellar but over his past three the numbers are astounding: 20 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 26 K.
The 21-year-old right-hander is starring for the Miracle alongside fellow righty Jordan Balazovic, our Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May who continues to dazzle here in June. In his latest turn on Thursday, he fanned seven over 5 2/3 frames of one-run ball, lowering his ERA to 2.03 in six starts with Fort Myers. Despite Brusdar Graterol's continuing absence (no word on his ailing right shoulder), the Twins have some good things cookin' with arms in the minors.
On the hitting side, we covered Trevor Larnach last week and he keeps mashing (10-for-27 last week), but one other guy we need to be paying attention to is Brent Rooker. The 24-year-old shook off his own slow start at Triple-A and has been on a tear since returning from the IL at the beginning of June, batting .433 with 11 RBIs through nine games. Perhaps most importantly, he has an 11-to-8 K/BB ratio during that span, after striking out 43 times with only six walks through his first 97 plate appearances.
Rooker has a rep as a smart hitter who handles adversity and makes adjustments. We're seeing that once again, and now he has nowhere else to graduate to but the majors.
Smooth sailing ahead. The Twins have gone a combined 5-1 against Seattle and Kansas City on the road, and now they'll welcome both last-place clubs to Target Field for three games apiece. It'd be disappointing (though hardly panic-inducing) to see Minnesota win fewer than four this next week.
TUESDAY, 6/11: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Mike Leake v. LHP Martin Perez
WEDNESDAY, 6/12: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Tommy Milone v. RHP Jose Berrios
THURSDAY, 6/13: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Marco Gonzales v. RHP Michael Pineda
FRIDAY, 6/14: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Kyle Gibson
SATURDAY, 6/15: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Glenn Sparkman v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SUNDAY, 6/16: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jakob Junis v. LHP Martin Perez
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 59 | CLE 5, MIN 2: Twins Can’t Figure Out Bieber, Lindor Lifts Cleveland
- Game 60 | CLE 9, MIN 7: Bullpen Crumbles on Night Kimbrel Signs With Cubs
- Game 61 | MIN 5, CLE 4: Max Power Against Bauer
- Game 62 | MIN 6, DET 3: Offense, Bullpen Come Through Late as Twins Take Opener
- Game 63 | DET 9, MIN 3: Third Out Eludes Gibson, Eades Debuts
- Game 64 | MIN 12, DET 2: No Motown Blues for the Minnesota Twins
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