Catch up on a busy and action-packed week for your Twins, whose lead in the AL Central has narrowed to two games.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/22 through Sun, 7/28
Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 64-41)
Run Differential Last Week: +14 (Overall: +125)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (2.0 GA)
Willians Watch: Out IndefinitelyWe'll start with the leading headline: Minnesota made a move to address its battered bullpen on Saturday, acquiring 36-year-old right-hander Sergio Romo from the Marlins, along with minor-league pitcher Chris Vallimont and a player to be named later, in exchange for Double-A first baseman Lewin Diaz.
There's no knocking this deal. Diaz has enjoyed a breakout year, regaining his wayward prospect status, but he'll be Rule 5 eligible in the offseason if not added to the 40-man roster, and it's nearly impossible to see him fitting into Minnesota's near-term plans. Meanwhile, he fills a big need in Miami's system and now has a much clearer path to the majors, so good for him.
Romo is not a dominant arm, nor the kind of late-inning difference-maker who will significantly ease Taylor Rogers' burden, but he's a quality reliever and seasoned addition to a unit that was increasingly lacking for MLB experience. He doesn't throw hard, with a fastball that averages just 86.5 MPH, but has always been effective despite his soft-tossing profile, thanks in part to a quality slider he leans on heavily. He'll be a very helpful piece in a bullpen that needs all the help it can get.
Romo essentially serves as the veteran righty replacement for Blake Parker, who was the latest (and most surprising) to be designated for assignment following his brutal outing against New York on Tuesday. While warranted, the move is somewhat startling because Parker was, 1) Minnesota's only major bullpen acquisition during the offseason, and 2) getting solid results for the most part despite troublesome underlying indicators. It's good to see the front office overlooking those caveats and making a decisive move on a clearly declining player.
A quick rundown of other transactions last week:
- On the same day they DFA'ed Parker, the Twins optioned Kohl Stewart back to Triple-A. Replacing them in the bullpen were Devin Smeltzer (who had an outstanding outing against the Yankees on Wednesday before he being sent back down himself in exchange for the fresher arm of Sean Poppen) and veteran journeyman Carlos Torres. Torres, who never ended up making an appearance for the Twins, was designated over the weekend to make room for Romo.
- Jake Cave was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday, with Byron Buxton ready to return from his stint on the Injured List. Buxton was in center field for all four games against the White Sox.
- Back at the beginning of the week (feels like a century ago, doesn't it?), Lewis Thorpe and Cody Stashak joined the bullpen, with Zack Littell heading down and C.J. Cron landing back on IL due to a nagging thumb issue. Stashak and Thorpe combined to allow two runs over 7 2/3 innings, providing the pen with a much-needed boost.
The offense reawakened, marching past the 200-homer mark with a barrage of blasts against New York and Chicago. The latest long-ball frenzy was fueled by the likes of:
- Nelson Cruz, who homered an astounding eight times on the week – including three in Thursday's series opener versus the White Sox. In seven games, he drove in 13 runs in. When he missed most of May with a wrist injury, it seemed as though Cruz would have a tough time reaching his customary total of ~40 home runs, but he's gotten himself right back on track by going deep 19 times in 43 games since returning on June 4th. C.
- Miguel Sano continues to show sensational power and added four more bombs to the ledger last week. His second one against the Yankees on Tuesday – a go-ahead two-run blast after Minnesota had given up a lead – would've been one of the season's top highlights if not for Rogers blowing the save soon after. Sano has homered 18 times in just 56 games, and sports a .579 slugging percentage – highest on the team after Cruz and this next guy.
- There's no slowing down for Mitch Garver. He went deep twice in Minnesota's lone victory over New York, pushing his homer total to seven in July and 19 on the season. He's tied for second among MLB catchers, despite playing in far fewer games than anyone nearby him on the leaderboard.
With 205 home runs in the books through week's end, the 2019 Twins are already fourth in franchise history and closing in fast on the record of 225, set back in 1963. At their current pace of 1.9 HR/G, they'll surpass that mark within two weeks, and then they can set their sights on the major-league record of 266, set by last year's Yankees. The Twins could very plausibly eclipse that figure by the end of August. Bonkers.
The Twins' pitching staff did not fare so well against the Yankees. As the offense kept piling up runs to keep the games tight, Minnesota's arms could not manage to suppress a relentless Yankees lineup. To an extent this is excusable – New York does have one of the league's best offenses – but the nature of these struggles and the continuation of some frustrating trends made the lapses a bit tough to take.
Martin Perez was aided by a triple play in the first inning of the week, and the Twins offense supported him with seven runs through four frames, but he still couldn't record a single out in the fifth, setting the stage for a straining series on the bullpen. While recording 12 outs, Perez allowed seven hits (three homers) and four walks. Ugly. He did bounce back with a decent start on Saturday, allowing three runs over six innings against the Sox.
Kyle Gibson was relatively effective the following day, yielding five runs over five innings. It was a serviceable start but not the kind that's going to build confidence in him facing a top lineup in October (Gibson had nearly identical results in his first start against the Yankees this year, back in early May). He fared much better in his second outing of the week, holding the White Sox to one run over six frames, but no one's really doubting his ability to handle a lower-tier offense like that.
The big dud of the entire week was Jake Odorizzi's complete unraveling on Wednesday. The Twins were leaning hard on their All-Star to give them some innings after New York wore out the relief corps on Monday and Tuesday, but – in what's becoming a recurring theme – he failed to answer the call. Odorizzi was only able to get through four innings, marking the sixth straight turn in which he failed to complete six. In three of those starts he hasn't even pitched into the fifth.
Despite logging only four innings, Odorizzi still managed to give up nine earned runs, digging a hole the Twins offense couldn't escape. His total meltdown stood in stark contrast to Smeltzer, who came on in relief and promptly shut the Yanks down for five innings. Odorizzi's ERA, which stood at 1.92 on June 15th, is now up to 3.84.
An interesting question presents itself: If the Twins are able to make a big splash and acquire a frontline starter to bolster their rotation, who is the odd man out?
There are no obvious answers, but if we're being honest, Odorizzi is probably the most logical choice for a bullpen assignment. That sounds a little crazy for a guy who was at the All-Star Game earlier this month, but he's been struggling for about six weeks and the lack of length is a real issue. Something tells me this decision wouldn't go over well with Odorizzi, who was brilliant in the first half and is an impending free agent. But that's where we are.
Speaking of odd men out, could Jonathan Schoop be heading in that direction? He was one of the few laggards in a strong week for the offense, going just 4-for-20 with a homer, three singles, zero walks and six strikeouts in his five starts. Per his MO, Schoop's highlight of the week – a two-run homer on Sunday with the Twins leading 7-0 – came in what amounts to garbage time. Since the start of June, he has a .274 on-base percentage with 40 strikeouts and only three unintentional walks in 146 plate appearances. The quality of at-bats is consistently poor; he's always seemingly hoping to run into a mistake. Even though his OPS is ninth-best among MLB second-basemen, Schoop's Win Probability Added ranks 10th-worst out of all qualified big-leaguers.
He hasn't been terrible by any means, but his play has been generally uninspiring and that puts him in a tough position. Arraez, Sano, and Marwin Gonzalez are all clearly higher lineup priorities than Schoop. One can argue that even Ehire Adrianza is ahead in the pecking order, especially given his greater likelihood to be a factor for the Twins beyond this year. So, when Cron comes back, if everyone's healthy... how do they really justify keeping Schoop around?
The trade deadline is nearly upon is. The action is sure to heat up over the next few days ahead of the cutoff, which falls on Wednesday at 3:00 PM. Minnesota has been connected to a variety of big-name targets, from Noah Syndergaard (YAY!) to Lance Lynn (NAY!) and beyond.
I'm confident the Twins will add at least one more impactful reliever, and less confident about a starter. But we've never seen this front office as a bona fide front-running contender, so there's not much precedent to go off. The long-awaited winning window is clearly upon us, so a major move would certainly be warranted.
Stay tuned to Twins Daily over the next days as we cover every substantive rumor and rumbling in real-time leading up to the deadline. Prospect hounds will be sweating over the organization's top talents, whose names are gonna keep bouncing around in speculative discussions. It seems just about anyone could be on the table, though I highly doubt the guy we'll be talking about next is going anywhere.
DOWN ON THE FARM
On the surface, Royce Lewis has had a bit of a disappointing season. Through Saturday, he was batting just .238 with a .665 OPS at Fort Myers. He homered twice for the Miracle last week, but otherwise went just 1-for-19 with zero walks. Despite the scant production, Lewis featured in the Futures Games during All-Star Week, and clearly the Twins aren't too deterred by his performance, because they announced on Sunday he joined the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in Double-A.
It's a bold move, to be sure. Lewis just turned 20 on June 5th. Only one younger player has taken an at-bat in the Southern League this year (Luis Vazquez, a 19-year-old defensive specialist in the Cubs system). While he's had some very nice flashes, Lewis certainly wasn't exhibiting mastery of the Florida State League. But given his maturity, makeup and talent, I don't somehow don't think he'll be overwhelmed or intimidated by the challenge.
A challenge it will be. The average pitcher in his new league is about four years older than he is. Just two years after joining the professional ranks, he'll be facing some of the best arms in the minors, while also working to refine his raw-but-promising skills at shortstop.
In his Pensacola debut on Sunday, Lewis batted leadoff ahead of Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, finishing 2-for-5 with a double.
Two weeks ago in this space I wrote that Cleveland was facing a critical juncture. The Twins had just extended their lead to 7.5 games with a series victory coming out of the break, but were embarking on a far more challenging road ahead.
Well, the Indians have since done their part, taking full advantage. They've gone 11-3 against the lowly Tigers, Royals and Blue Jays, shaving 5 1/2 games off their deficit to draw within striking distance. Now, the dynamic flips.
Cleveland's schedule is about to get MUCH tougher – their next 20 games all come against teams above .500, with a four-gamer at Target Field mixed in. The Twins have a much easier remaining slate, and so now it's their turn to take advantage if they want to reassert themselves in the Central. They'll want to start this week by demonstrating their superiority against two utterly terrible teams.
TUESDAY, 7/30: TWINS @ MARLINS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Zac Gallen
WEDNESDAY, 7/31: TWINS @ MARLINS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Sandy Alcantara
THURSDAY, 8/1: TWINS @ MARLINS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Jordan Yamamoto
FRIDAY, 8/2: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Glenn Sparkman v. LHP Martin Perez
SATURDAY, 8/3: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Danny Duffy v. RHP Kyle Gibson
SUNDAY, 8/4: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 99 | MIN 8, NYY 6: Twins Turn Triple Play, Mitch Garver Homers Twice in Win Over Yankees
- Game 100 | NYY 14, MIN 12: Twins Fall Short to Yankees in Game of the Year
- Game 101 | NYY 10, MIN 7: Twins Drop Series in Another Slugfest With Yankees
- Game 102 | MIN 10, CWS 3: Bomba Squad Cruz to Win
- Game 103 | MIN 6, CWS 2: Pineda Fuels Twins Easy Win In Chicago
- Game 104 | CWS 5, MIN 1: Nova Nixes Twins Chances
- Game 105 | MIN 11, CWS 1: Bats Bounce Back Behind Gibson’s Strong Outing
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