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Article: Week in Review: Holding Steady

mitch garver max kepler byron buxton martin perez ryan eades
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 05:35 PM

Every Sunday night, I publish these Week in Review columns. Each of the first 10 editions reported a winning record from the previous seven days, chronicling this club's incredible consistency. Today, that streak finally comes to an end, as the Twins went 3-3 last week on the road.

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.
HIGHLIGHTS

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.

LOWLIGHTS

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.

TRENDING STORYLINE

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.
You can learn about the full breadth of Minnesota's latest draft class in Andrew's in-depth recap.

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.

LOOKING AHEAD

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

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#2 jkcarew

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 06:06 PM

6-4 road trip against these three opponents is what we could have expected from a legitimately good team.
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#3 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 06:06 PM

whelp... 3-3 is not a losing record either... which is why I was quite happy that we stomped them today... Hopefully the old trend resumes next Sunday.

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#4 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 06:17 PM

by the way, I've expressed my concern about Pineda and his ability to adjust to the pen..

 

I'll say this. Perez has one pheneomanl pitch. I'm not quite sure on his other stuff, but 2 or 3 pitch guys can be lights out in the pen... if he cannot figure out his woes in the rotation right now... I'll simply say that I have far more confidence in him being a lights out guy in the pen than I do Pineda (who has been an acceptable 5th starter)...

 

So if they go out and get another starter, my preference (for now at least) is to give Perez a chance in the pen and see if he can become another Rogers.

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#5 Blake

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 06:41 PM

Trade for a starter, move Pineda to the bullpen.


#6 dbminn

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 07:21 PM

Nice analysis of potential RP help from the farm. I was surprised how hard Littell threw in his relief outings with the Twins. He has a chance once he gets used to airing it out. I like the Thorpe idea too. 

 

Balazovic and Duran are a good story. The rest of the Ft Myers rotation is interesting as well. I became a fan of Colina at the end of last year. Cut down his walks. He gave up three today but he's been good since his awful first start. Add in Cole Sands and you have an interesting - and young - front four.


#7 Don Walcott

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 08:26 PM

MadBum is stepping up his game . . . .

 

I'm happy with 3-3 at this point. And I'm actually happy that the bullpen fairy tale has come to an end at this point in the season. As Nick pointed out, there's plenty of time to figure this out, and no real pressure on us. I have confidence in this FO to make 1 or 2 moves that will make a big difference in September and October.

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#8 USAFChief

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 08:30 PM

What about Eades looked good?

Middling stuff, 4 baserunners in 2 innings. Lucky to get an out from a runner thrown out at home.

He's no different than the other marginal talent in the pen.
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Cutting my carbs...with a pizza slicer.


#9 TheLeviathan

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 08:58 PM

I said the other day that I thought trading season was going to start soon.From the sounds of the Yankees scouting Stroman and MadBum....that may well be the case.

 

If we want arms, the time to be shopping is now.

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#10 Big John

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 09:05 PM

So any thoughts about Smeltzer to the pen? Lefty without overpowering stuff and that funky delivery, feels like that may be his long term destiny...

#11 Otwins

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 09:06 PM

I think they will try several internal options.Why not Randy Dobnak? I think I would leave Smeltzer as a starter.We will need a starter again at some point and he looks much better than Kohl Stewart to me.I would try Stewart in the pen

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#12 Aerodeliria

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 11:54 PM

Many thanks for the weekly wrap. I look forward to them.

 

Dobnak, Hackimer and a second try for Smeltzer. I'd go for any of those moves. This would be a very good time to see what we have. If are blowing someone out or are getting blown out, we can test the waters.

 

I really want to see what Hackimer has to offer at the highest level. He has mowed down everyone at every level. He's good for about two innings with a 92-93 mph fastball from down under. If not for one bad inning this year, his ERA would be 0.00 at AA (which BTW followed his one and only three inning stint).

 

PS-We didn't get Keuchel or Kimbrel, but there is a bright side. There is the real possibility that either of those two won't find their form for quite a spell because of a lack of real competition. Lance Lynn was bad or inconsistent until mid-June last yearand then he relapsed after a few good games. This was almost certainly because of a lack of actual game play in spring training.

 

It might be easier for the FO to swallow a trade deal because the deal can be made on a player-to-player plane rather than simply being able to outbid other teams. It would be nice if such a pitcher happened to be in mid-season form.


#13 BattleYourTailOff

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 01:48 AM

I’m not looking forward to the excuses if we decide trades are too costly and our internal options come from the minors only to get steamrolled by elite hitting in the playoffs. I’m not going to take schadenfreude joy in Kuechel or Kimbrel not performing well either if the Twins get Gardenhired in the playoffs again. Improve your team with the BPA. Unproven prospects and minor leaguers < proven ML ready relief. Maybe the window is open for a while, maybe not, but you have to capitalize on a season like this or you have no business running a sports franchise.

Edited by BattleYourTailOff, 10 June 2019 - 01:50 AM.

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#14 JW24

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 07:56 AM

If the Twins could add another starting pitcher, I would like to see them move Perez to the bullpen with the intention of Perez and Pineda splitting a game (Pineda for 5 innings, Perez for 4 or whatever is needed). Pineda has been a nice surprise and seems to be effective for 15 outs or so. I haven't looked into it, but I feel like a majority his earned runs come after the 5th inning. Perez has struggled, and his pitch count gets elevated early in games. Bringing him in after Pineda might allow for him to cut his fastball loose a little bit more, and would give the Twins a righty/lefty combo, for whatever that is worth.

 

The other reason I would like to see the Twins go this route is it would give the bullpen a day off once every 5 games, while not taxing Perez or Pineda too significantly. An injury to Berrios/Gibby/Odo would mean these guys would be asked to get more outs/Perez would slot back into the rotation.

 

Time to get creative with the pitching staff if we don't make a move soon to bolster either the rotation or the pen.

 

 

Edit: From baseball reference - Pineda ERA by inning

1 - 2.25 (12 innings)

2 - 3.75 (12 IP)

3 - 6.00 (12 IP)

4 - 7.71 (11.2 IP)

5 - 7.20 (10 IP)

6 - 6.75 (5.1 IP)

7 - 0.00 (1 IP)

 


#15 MMMordabito

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 08:32 AM

.732 is the lowest OPS on the active team and one of only 3 sub-.800 OPS .... That's impressive! 

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#16 Doomtints

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 09:01 AM

The 2001 Twins played .500 ball for a LONG time after an identical start. The 2001 Twins also dominated every team in the Central apart from Cleveland.

 

Not saying I expect this team to finish the same, just tempering the enthusiasm a bit. Anything can happen.

 

This team probably won't trade away a hitting asset at the trade deadline right as another player gets injured, as in 2001.

Twins Manifesto: Build for .500, hope for more.


#17 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 09:12 AM

 

The 2001 Twins played .500 ball for a LONG time after an identical start. The 2001 Twins also dominated every team in the Central apart from Cleveland.

I don't really buy into the 2001 comps. They were similar at a glance, but the 2001 squad had more glaring weaknesses and their competition was much better (Cleveland was never more than 5 GB).

 

That team went from a peak of 24 games over .500 to ending the season just 8 games over .500.

 

Even when that team was rolling (the first half of the season), their run differential was only +63. They only have two months (April and May) where they outscored their opponents.

 

The 2019 squad has a run differential of +112 in fewer games.

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#18 Doomtints

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 09:23 AM

The 2001 squad collapsed over the bizarre trade and Guzman going down with an injury. They felt like a "team" and they wouldn't be able to get it done without everyone in place. I think the team aspect is very similar to this team.

 

Guzman's finger dislocation shocked all of them, and Mientkiewicz, who perhaps has always been a bit dramatic, said they just didn't think they could win without Guzman on the field (which they didn't).

Twins Manifesto: Build for .500, hope for more.


#19 JLease

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 09:26 AM

I'm not losing any sleep over going 3-3 in a full-on road trip week. It would have been great to 4-2, but expecting it on the road all the time is a little too much. We've still got a spectacular road record this season.

 

We can definitely use some pitching upgrades; the bullpen is the bigger need area, despite the backsliding of Perez but i wouldn't say no to getting someone to improve the top end of the rotation. For me, that's the thing on upgrades for the Twins pitching: it has to move the needle on the top end, marginal improvement on the bottom edges of the staff aren't impactful enough for a team that's so clearly in postseason competition, even if it might squeeze out 1-2 more wins over the next 3 months.

 

It's hard not to keep talking about the Twins being on a pace to shatter the team record for HRs, but we're also on pace to top the team record for doubles, set back in 2002. (record 348, current pace 354) The biggest thing that's going to stop this team from knocking off that record is the fact that we hit so many HRs! (btw, the 2002 Twins squad? hit 167 HRs for the year. the 2019 team might clear that by the all-star break!)

 

We'll probably need Buxton to stretch some more singles into doubles to make it work. whee! (I love watching OFs when Byron hits a routine single and gets out of the batter's box quickly. There's this "aw, hell!" factor as they realize they can't jog in on the ball and flip it back into the infield that's freakin' delightful.)

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#20 Doomtints

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 09:35 AM

 

Rogers has a 2.25 ERA and 37/6 K/BB in 28 innings, with MLB's ninth-highest leverage role. All other Twins relievers have a 5.12 ERA.

 

Wow.

It's good to look at splits.

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Twins Manifesto: Build for .500, hope for more.




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