Brace yourselves, and let's take a look back at the season's toughest week, which saw Cleveland draw within three (and very nearly two) games of the division lead with the trade deadline bearing down.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/15 through Sun, 7/21
Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 60-38)
Run Differential Last Week: -10 (Overall: +111)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA)
Willians Watch: Out IndefinitelyThere's been an exodus in the Twins bullpen. Adalberto Mejia, designated for assignment a week ago, was claimed on Saturday by the Angels. Mike Morin, designated a few days later, was traded to Philadelphia on the same day for cash considerations. And Matt Magill, the most recent cut after getting bombed by the Mets on Wednesday, found himself dealt to Seattle for cash on Sunday. That's the bottom three pieces of Minnesota's shaky bullpen, all cleared out in a matter of days. So, they're halfway to getting better.
But meanwhile, everyone's wondering: When are they going to add some upgrades to replace these departed relievers? So far the only reinforcement called in to fill the void is Kohl Stewart, who has pitched one inning since being recalled on Thursday. The Twins curiously have four spots sitting open on their 40-man roster.
With the trade deadline less than 10 days away, Minnesota is all but assured to make at least one deal, but in the meantime they are grinding out games and leaning hard on a stretched, shorthanded relief corps. On Sunday this meant leaving Trevor May on the hill for a grueling 49-pitch outing, and also sending Zack Littell (a full-time starter prior to this year) out to pitch for a third straight day.
With an even more daunting offense coming to town, and no off days on the schedule in the coming week, the Twins are desperately in need of bullpen help. They announced on Sunday they've optioned Littell (who has a 1.50 ERA in 12 appearances since the start of June), and will have another arm coming up on Monday. Who will it be? Cody Allen is a possibility, though he's looked quite poor in Triple-A (5 BB and 3 K in 4 IP). Cody Stashak, who has a 1.61 ERA and 31-to-4 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings at Rochester, would be the better option on merit. Either addition would require a 40-man move, but that's no problem.
[UPDATE: Sounds like it'll be Stashak (per our own Jeremy Nygaard), pushing Minnesota's 40-man roster to 37.]
Of course, neither of those two will do much to solve the team's need for credible late-inning support. And so the trade market will (rightfully) be an ongoing focal point of discussion in the days ahead. Urgency continues to build...
The reemergence of Miguel Sano continues to be tremendously invigorating. He had a tough go in the Mets series, striking out five times in eight trips while collecting just one single, but rebounded in a big way over the weekend. Even with his 0-for-5 on Sunday, Sano reached eight times in 17 plate appearances against Oakland. Even more impressive to me than his mammoth third-deck homer, which put the Twins ahead (briefly) on Saturday, was the fact that he drew five walks with only three strikeouts in the four games. He is absolutely locked in at the plate, and the contrast from one month ago – when he was mired in a staggeringly hideous slump – is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Since breaking out with a two-homer game in Chicago on June 28th, Sano is hitting .316/.426/.684 with five bombs, four doubles, and 11 walks in 18 games. During that span, he's struck out at just a 28% rate. The big third baseman has quietly reverted to All-Star form; unfortunately, it happens to be occurring at a time where most of the offense has fallen into a collective funk.
Not everyone though. Despite his prodigious pop, Sano still isn't the most dangerous right-handed power bat on the Twins. That'd be Mitch Garver, who added three more home runs last week to go along with a pair of singles and three walks. Garver has now surpassed his rookie homer total by 10, in half the number of games. He continues to show incredible plate discipline combined with an ability to crush drives to all fields. Just an amazing transformation, and that's not even mentioning his enormous defensive advancements.
It was a lefty slugger who provided the biggest highlight of the week. With the Twins trailing on Thursday night, Eddie Rosario came off the bench to deliver perhaps his most dramatic hit in a career that's featured plenty:
His clutch three-run blast in the seventh put Minnesota ahead for good and snapped a three-game losing streak. Sadly, those moments of capitalization have been far and few between for this once-potent lineup, which has had to scratch and claw for everything lately.
The Twins offense, clicking pretty much nonstop over the first 10 weeks of the season, has fallen into a prolonged stretch of mediocrity. From the start of the year through June 15th, they were baseball's best offense by any measure, leading MLB in runs, homers, OPS, wOBA, wRC+, and WAR.
Since June 16th, here are their rankings in those categories (entering Sunday)
They've still been hitting the ball out of the yard at a decent clip, but in all other regards, the Twins have regressed hard into below-average territory offensively. Saturday's loss to Oakland perfectly encapsulates the frustrating trend plaguing this lineup: Three solo home runs, surrounded by inning after inning of lifeless out-making. When they would manage to mount a fledgling rally, it was always squandered – including the bottom of the ninth, where they loaded the bases with one out and came up empty.
This freefalling regression starts at the top. Max Kepler was 4-for-19 on the week, and slashing .227/.257/.392 in the past month, before breaking out on Sunday with a 3-for-6 effort that included a double, a three-run homer, and a walk-off single. Jorge Polanco, who opened the scoring Sunday with an RBI double and added two walks, was 3-for-17 on the week and 13-for-59 (.220) in July coming into the game.
These two hitters were the primary catalysts in Minnesota's offense for much of the first half, but of late, they've become much easier assignments for opposing pitchers. That's reflected by their K/BB ratios – Kepler has drawn three walks with 21 strikeouts over his past 25 games, while Polanco is at 10 BBs and 29 Ks since the start of June. Both players posted K/BB ratios that were close to even in the first two months.
Other hitters continue to show pop, but are embodying the all-or-nothing (and more often the latter) nature of this offense right now. C.J. Cron chipped in a homer and two doubles last week, but otherwise went 1-for-16 with no walks. The RBI and run scored on his solo blast were the lone ones he tallied in five games. Nelson Cruz hit two solo homers, but finished with only those two RBIs in a week where he went 5-for-23 (.217).
Yeah, the bullpen had a rough run, and is taking plenty of flack for it. But what we saw with May, Littell, Ryne Harper, and even Taylor Rogers blowing leads in eventual losses was a collection of pitchers who've been generally reliable, showing they're human against an extremely good and hot offense. It happens. That's not the problem. The problem is that the staff is undermanned (as we discussed earlier) and they are constantly pitching with razor-thin margins because the offense has been unable to build leads and breathing room.
Relievers have also been asked to pitch more, with starters failing to last deep into games. Jose Berrios, who completed six-plus innings in all but one of his 17 starts through the end of June, has failed to do so in any of his three July outings. Jake Odorizzi hasn't gotten through six in any of his past five turns. Michael Pineda has pitched past the sixth only twice all year.
The Twins need to add arms, and I'm certain they will. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that even the addition of multiple high-caliber relievers is going to cure what's ailing this team, because it runs much deeper than a volatile bullpen – one which has, all things considered, actually performed reasonably well.
In order to get back on track and rebuild some buffer in the AL Central, the Twins need their lineup to get rolling again, above all. Fortunately, there are numerous reasons to believe this will happen. Strong showings from Polanco and (especially) Kepler on Sunday were promising, as is the schedule, which eases up considerably following the impending Yankees series.
But much will also hinge on the development we'll discuss next.
This team needs Byron Buxton back ASAP. The difference in their record with (48-23) and without (12-15) him in the lineup makes that abundantly clear. Not only is his defensive impact a regular game-changer, but Buxton also has the potential to get hot offensively and alter the dynamic for this lineup.
At the same time, the Twins know all too well about the troublesome nature of concussions, especially when they begin to add up. (Buxton was knocked unconscious in a scary outfield collision in 2014, and has had plenty of scary run-ins with the wall and ground since.) This front office is conservative by nature when it comes to managing injuries, and in this case that approach is warranted more than ever.
But... they need him back. When will he return? It could be as soon as Monday – which would be big, with a crucial series against the Yankees set to get underway – and seems to be trending that way, as he was able to participate in all baseball activities before Sunday's game. But all will depend on how he feels Monday morning. Any signs of trouble will surely prompt the Twins to back off. I wouldn't be surprised if he's in center field for Game 1 against New York, nor would I be surprised if he isn't activated in the coming week at all.
DOWN ON THE FARM
What Jaylin Davis is doing at Rochester cannot be ignored.
In past years, Davis has never really been on the Twins prospect radar, at least beyond its fringes. A 24th-round draft pick out of college in 2015, he has risen steadily through the system – advancing about one level per season – while posting solid yet unspectacular numbers as mostly a right fielder.
He opened the 2019 campaign at Pensacola, where he got off to an unusually strong start, slashing .274/.382/.458 with 10 home runs in 58 games. This earned him his first promotion to Triple-A, and since arriving in the International League, Davis has experienced a power surge of epic proportions.
After launching three more home runs last week for the Red Wings, Davis is now up to 13 in just 33 games. That equates to a .729 slugging percentage to go along with his .331 average since moving up. The 25-year-old has already gone deep 23 times in 91 games this year between the top two levels of the minors; to put this in context, he homered 11 times in 120 games last year, and 15 times in 125 games the year before that.
What to make of this? It's hard to say for sure. We might just be seeing a torrid and temporary hot streak, fueled partially by the hitter-friendly nature of Triple-A (which now uses MLB baseballs). But it's definitely a promising development, and one that puts Davis squarely on the radar as a potential late-bloomer.
Just what the Twins need at a time where they've got fans bordering on panic mode: a date with their eternal tormenters. The Yankees are coming in red-hot, having won six of their last eight games and 23 of their last 30 to build a hulking 10-game lead in the AL East.
These are two teams moving in very different directions. Can Minnesota shift the momentum while also vanquishing ghosts of the past? It's gonna be an interesting series. Unfortunately it coincides with Cleveland heading to Toronto for a three-game set against the 38-63 Blue Jays, before traveling to Kansas City to take on the 37-64 Royals.
On the bright side, things ease up considerably at that point for the Twins, who get 10 games against the White Sox, Marlins and Royals starting next weekend. Let's just hope they still own sole possession of first place when that favorable stretch gets underway.
MONDAY, 7/22: YANKEES @ TWINS – LHP CC Sabathia v. LHP Martin Perez
TUESDAY, 7/23: YANKEES @ TWINS – RHP Domingo German v. RHP Kyle Gibson
WEDNESDAY, 7/24: YANKEES @ TWINS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
THURSDAY, 7/25: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Lucas Giolito
FRIDAY, 7/26: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Dylan Cease
SATURDAY, 7/27: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Ivan Nova
SUNDAY, 7/28: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Dylan Covey
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 93 | NYM 3, MIN 2: Tough Luck Loss for the Twins
- Game 94 | NYM 14, MIN 4: Mets Blow Out Twins, Complete Another Target Field Sweep
- Game 95 | MIN 6, OAK 3: Rosario Ignites Late-Inning Comeback
- Game 96 | OAK 5, MIN 3: Twins Have No Answer To A’s pitching
- Game 97 | OAK 5, MIN 4: Twins Offense and Bullpen Can’t Do Enough to Secure the Win
- Game 98 | MIN 7, OAK 6: Max Kepler Delivers Dramatic Walk-Off Win
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