The midseason breather comes at a good time for the Twins, but their biggest challenges are yet to come.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/1 through Sun, 7/7
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 56-33)
Run Differential Last Week: +3 (Overall: +116)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (5.5 GA)
Willians Watch: Out IndefinitelyHere's a rundown of roster moves from the past week to get you caught up:
- Lewis Thorpe was optioned to Triple-A on Monday following his exceptional start the previous day. Meanwhile, the Twins outrighted infielder Ronald Torreyes from the 40-man roster to make room for Adalberto Mejia's return from the 60-day Injured List.
- Andrew Vasquez was also outrighted from the 60-man three days later, but as of now it's unclear why. His spot remains vacant.
- Jake Odorizzi went on the IL after his Tuesday start in Oakland, having developed a blister on his right middle finger, and Zack Littell was recalled to replace him. Odorrizi's injury made room for Jose Berrios on the American League All-Star roster, his second consecutive nod.
- The Twins placed Blake Parker on paternity list Friday and called up Kohl Stewart, who tossed 1 1/3 spotless innings of relief that night and was sent back down on Sunday, replaced by Devin Smeltzer.
- LaMonte Wade Jr. had another very short stay with the Twins himself, called up to fill C.J. Cron's spot (right thumb inflammation) and then injuring his own thumb in the outfield on Saturday. Wade was replaced by Jake Cave, whose stay will also likely be very short, with Eddie Rosario due to return after the break.
In a surprising twist, the Twins have completely flip-flopped their strengths over the past few weeks. While the offense and rotation have taken steps backward, the bullpen has emerged as a considerable positive. This development hasn't gained a ton of notice because of the team's generally pedestrian results of late – the value of a strong bullpen is negated to a degree when those other units aren't clicking – but Twins relievers deserve praise. Their impressive showings bode well for when the rest of the team hopefully gets back on track.
Taylor Rogers, of course, continues to lead the way. He delivered his finest outing of the season on Saturday, striking out five in a spotless seven-out save, but the dominance was business-as-usual for Minnesota's bullpen ace. On the season Rogers now has a 1.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 51-to-7 K/BB ratio over 39 2/3 innings. He ranks fourth among all MLB relievers in Win Probability Added at 2.56 (trade target Will Smith of the Giants leads at 3.20).
While he's been good all year long, Rogers has really kicked things up a notch in recent weeks. Since the start of June, he has a 1.23 ERA and is holding opponents to a .104/.140/.188 slash line. Although he won't be on the American League's roster for the All-Star Game on Tuesday, he easily could be and arguably should be. Rogers is one of the best in the game and continues to erase any shreds of doubt.
Our guy Tom put together this awesome visual recapping his phenomenal outing against Texas:
Several of Rogers' cohorts in the bullpen have been quietly putting together nice runs of their own, albeit not quite on the same level.
Ryne Harper went through a rough patch in June but allowed only one run in three appearances to start July, and heads into the break on a high note after striking out four in 1 2/3 perfect innings Sunday. He holds a 2.92 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
Trevor May chipped in three scoreless frames with six strikeouts last week, and owns a 1.88 ERA over his past 15 appearances. Much has been made of May's control struggles this year, which is fair (he has issued seven walks in 14 innings even during the aforementioned stretch of excellence), but we might not be talking enough about how well he's limiting damage otherwise. On the season, opponents are hitting .204 with a .602 OPS against him, and he's allowed only two home runs. His soft contact % is highest among all Twins relievers with 15+ IP.
Conversely, proneness to homers remains the biggest flaw in Tyler Duffey's game, and bit him hard on Saturday when he gave up a two-run blast to Willie Calhoun, briefly bringing Texas within one run. But he too has generally been an underrated contributor in the pen. Prior to that outing Duffey had a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings dating back to the start of June. Overall, opponents are batting .239 with a .288 OBP against him, and his 35-to-6 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings is outstanding. He's not going to be a reliable setup man but he's a damn solid middle reliever.
The same can be said for Matt Magill. He was in a bad way a month ago, but has gotten himself back on track admirably. Magill did struggle in Oakland last week, walking two and giving up a homer on Tuesday, but he's got a 2.25 ERA and .171 BAA in his past nine appearances.
Littell, who's been shuttling back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, continues to make a very good impression during his opportunities with the Twins. Last week he made three scoreless appearances, and in fact he hasn't allowed a run in any of his seven MLB appearances outside of the eight-run clunker against Tampa in May that continues to plague his ERA.
Smeltzer, who technically appeared as a reliever on Sunday when following opener Kyle Gibson in the second, delivered another very fine effort, tossing 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts. In contrast with Mejia, who later gave up the game-losing homer amidst another ugly and erratic relief outing, Smeltzer's making a pretty strong case to stick around in that second lefty role.
On offense, the best story right now without question is Miguel Sano, whose complete turnaround at the plate has been nothing short of astounding. Last week he picked up eight knocks – including two doubles, a triple, and a homer – but the most impressive aspect of his game continues to be the dramatically improved plate discipline. Sano struck out seven times in 25 plate appearances while drawing three walks. Dating back to the start of the White Sox series at the end of June, he's got an 8-to-5 K/BB ratio in eight games with one multi-strikeout performances (coming in Sunday's extra-inning contest). In the four series prior, he had eight multi-strikeout games and a 52% K-rate.
With Mitch Garver also on top of his game (6-for-15 with a homer and double in three starts last week) and Jonathan Schoop finding himself again after a poor month of June (8-for-21 with two doubles and a MONSTER bomb), the Twins are boasting some real potency from the right side at the moment. Meanwhile, Luis Arraez continues to provide plenty of juice from the left. He went 10-for-28 and found himself in the starting lineup for every game.
The Twins offense, so hot over the first 10 weeks, has gone into a serious cooldown period over the past three. It was nice to see them seemingly break out of it with powerful showings on Friday and Saturday against Texas, but they went right back into their slumber on Sunday, scoring just once in 11 innings against a smattering of Rangers relievers.
In the five series preceding this last one, Minnesota slashed just .252/.306/.408 over 16 games and averaged only 4.3 runs – a number that's worse than it seems when you consider there were two 18-inning games and another 12-inning affair mixed in. The Twins ranked 24th among MLB teams in both OPS and wOBA during that span.
Friday's offensive outburst, one of the biggest all season was very refreshing. Still, a number of hitters will carry slumps (and/or injuries) into the midseason hiatus. Cron's recent struggles was most conspicuous; he was 2-for-13 last week, and hitting .156/.191/.200 in his past 10 games, before going on the IL with right thumb inflammation on Saturday. Twins coaches said they noticed the ailment affecting his swing, so it might have something to do with the downturn.
Leadoff man Max Kepler went 6-for-29 last week, and his decreased output has been kinda setting the tone for Minnesota's suppressed offense. Since the start of the Boston series in mid-June, he's batting just .212 with a .271 OBP over 18 games. Of course, in the 10 games prior to that sample, he was slugging 1.000, so we know what's lurking within him. Hopefully a few days off can get Kepler back into his zone at the plate.
Another player who was key in driving the lineup's success over the first half, Jorge Polanco, has also been noticeably quieter of late. He's still finding plenty of ways to contribute – hitting two home runs last week and making a CRAZY tag on a stolen base Sunday – but he hasn't been piling up the hits like he was earlier and has fallen back several spots in the AL batting race.
Polanco's last three-hit game came nearly a month ago, on June 11th, and since then his average has dropped from .341 to .312. Aside from his two jacks last week, he managed only four singles in 27 plate appearances, with no runs scored or RBIs. Hopefully his starting nod in Tuesday's All-Star Game will reinvigorate Polanco and get him rolling again, because he's a crucial cog.
Speaking of the All-Star Game, we already knew Odorizzi probably wasn't going to pitch – he was due to pitch on Sunday, which would've made him unavailable – but now it's official because he was placed on the Injured List after his latest start, which ended in a grand slam that might've had something to do with the blister he was pitching through.
It'd be nice if we could attribute the totality of Odorizzi's recent struggles – he has a 7.85 ERA with six home runs allowed in his past four turns – to the finger issue, but more likely we're seeing some simple regression to the mean. The right-hander's minuscule home run rate was never going to be sustainable with the number of fly balls he allows, and the increased comfort level of opposing hitters suggests scouting reports have caught up to him a bit.
Odorizzi figures to return as soon as his 10-day IL requirement is satisfied, meaning he'll ultimately miss just one start. Here's hoping the midsummer respite does him some good.
Cleveland is poised to make its stand. Staring up from 11 games out of first place as recently as June 15th, they've taken advantage of Minnesota's lapses to gain 5 1/2 games in the standings. Next, they'll host the Twins for a three-game series coming out of the break, and they follow with easy assignments against Detroit, Kansas City (twice), and Toronto leading up the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, the Twins face a much tougher slate over the same span. After leaving Cleveland, they'll get a string of nine games versus the Mets, Athletics and Yankees before things ease up again. Can they maintain a solid buffer in the AL Central over the latter half of July, or will the Indians thrust themselves right back into the thick of this race?
With the deadline bearing down, this is an absolutely critical period.
DOWN ON THE FARM
His true offensive upside was in question after a brutal introduction to Triple-A last year, but Nick Gordon is reaffirming his top prospect status in the 2019 follow-up for Rochester. He collected at least one hit in all seven of his games last week, finishing 12-for-29 (.413) with five doubles, a triple, and eight RBIs. Overall, the 23-year-old is sporting a .792 OPS with 21 doubles and 12 steals on 15 attempts through 49 games.
Interestingly, Gordon has been splitting time evenly between second and shortstop recently after playing predominantly at short in the early going. He's getting close to big-league ready, but it's hard to see how he'll figure into the club's plans with Arraez emerging to stake a strong claim on Minnesota's future at second base.
Aside from Gordon's standout play, and a few other strong performances in the minors, the biggest news for the Twins system last week was a high-profile addition: outfielder Emmanuel Rodriguez, a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic inked to a $2.5 million contract on Tuesday. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com opines that the lefty swinger, who ranks eighth in the website's ranking of international prospects, could be "the next Eddie Rosario."
On Tuesday, Polanco will start for the AL at shortstop in the All-Star Game and Berrios will probably make an appearance. The rest of the Twins will enjoy their four-day respite before heading to Cleveland for a critical series. Buckle up for a thrilling second half.
TUESDAY 7/8 THROUGH THURSDAY 7/11: All-Star Break
FRIDAY, 7/12: TWINS @ INDIANS
SATURDAY, 7/13: TWINS @ INDIANS
SUNDAY, 7/14: TWINS @ INDIANS
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 84 | OAK 8, MIN 6: Former Twins Have A Grand Night for Oakland
- Game 85 | MIN 4, OAK 3: Twins Refuse to Lose Three in a Row
- Game 86 | OAK 7, MIN 2: Twins Drop Independence Day Rubber Match in Oakland
- Game 87 | MIN 15, TEX 6: Offense Erupts and Perez Faces Former Team
- Game 89 | MIN 7, TEX 4: Pineda, Rogers Lead Twins Over Rangers
- Game 90 | TEX 4, MIN 1: Quiet Bats Can’t Back Up Great Pitching
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