It was a hectic week full of big events. But somehow it all paled in comparison to the theatrics of Nelson Cruz, who carried his incredible homer-hitting clinic from July into August, powering the Twins to a 5-1 week as they maintained their three-game lead over the hard-charging Indians.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/29 through Sun, 8/4
Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 69-42)
Run Differential Last Week: +16 (Overall: +141)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA)
Willians Watch: Out IndefinitelyAs the trade deadline counted down to zero on Wednesday afternoon, Twins fans were momentarily led to believe their team had come up empty in its pursuit of upgrades. Minutes after the 3:00PM, however, we got word that they did indeed make another impact addition to the bullpen:
Sam Dyson arrived in the clubhouse midway through Thursday's game in Miami, and was called upon to close out a 4-1 victory in the ninth. It... did not go well. In fact it went about as poorly as one could possibly imagine. And sadly things hardly improved in his second Twins appearance. By the time he landed on the injured list with biceps tendinitis on Sunday, Dyson had allowed six runs on six hits and two walks while recording just two outs for Minnesota.
Obviously it's a terrible first impression, and not the best look for the front office to be acquiring a guy who was apparently damaged goods. But if you're looking for a silver lining, at least his arm injury – the severity of which is being downplayed by the Twins – may help explain the stark deviation from a strong and consistent track record. Dyson has thrown 38 pitches as a Twin and induced only one swinging strike. This issue actually appears to date back a ways; in his last four appearances with the Giants, he got only one swing-and-miss on 42 pitches after inducing 18 in his first eight July outings (15% rate).
The timing here is awful, for multiple reasons, but hopefully a little rest will help Dyson return to his usual form, which is excellent.
He has posted an ERA+ of 142 or better in four the past five seasons, and was at 170 this year with the Giants. Dating back to 2014, he has a 3.19 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with just 26 homers allowed in 364 innings. He has experience as a closer and has pitched (well) in the postseason. Importantly, the Twins didn't give up a whole lot to acquire him. Jaylin Davis, who was spotlighted in our "Down on the Farm" report here two weeks ago thanks to his unbelievable power surge at Triple-A, was the headliner, along with lower-tier prospects Prelander Berroa and Kai-Wei Teng.
As was the case with Lewin Diaz, traded days earlier to the Marlins for Sergio Romo, it was bittersweet to see Davis leave. Like Diaz, the 25-year-old outfielder was enjoying a breakout season in the minors, but he was hopelessly crowded out of the big-league picture. In San Francisco, he'll have a much clearer path, and could very well be up in the majors before year's end.
Adding Dyson and Romo, following the recent subtractions of Blake Parker, Matt Magill, Mike Morin and Adalberto Mejia, equates to a significant upgrade for this wobbly unit. It wasn't the blockbuster shakeup many fans were hoping for – as reflected by a rather inordinate amount of rancor on social media and local radio airwaves – but it was in fact one of the boldest retoolings made by a contender last week. Outside of the Astros, who clearly won the deadline with their bombshell addition of Zack Greinke, few teams made emphatic moves – with both the Yankees and Red Sox among those who conspicuously froze up despite having clear, potentially crippling weaknesses.
In my mind, Twins fans should be feeling good about the club's actions. Maybe not great, but the front office did what it needed to do. And with the former August waiver trade period eliminated, these contending rosters are pretty much locked in, so now it's crunch time.
Personally, I feel pretty good about the squad Rocco Baldelli is bringing to battle, especially after the way they played over the past week. But in the coming days, they're going to be shorthanded, having placed several important contributors on the shelf:
- Dyson, as mentioned, was placed on the IL with right biceps tendinitis. Devin Smeltzer was called up to take his spot, and made a start on Sunday, looking very good as usual. Zack Littell was also recalled over the weekend. It doesn't sound like the team expects Dyson to miss much more than his requisite 10 days.
- Lewis Thorpe and Sean Poppen were optioned to the minors amidst the roster juggling.
- The biggest gut-punch of the week (and maybe the season) was the placement of Byron Buxton on IL with what's being portrayed as a fairly long-term injury. He partially dislocated his shoulder in a Thursday collision with the outfield wall, and is likely to miss most or all of August. On the bright side, Jake Cave will get an extended opportunity to substantiate his monster production at Triple-A, where he was slashing .352/.393/.592 in 48 games. But there's no replacing what Buxton brings to the field. That much has become painfully obvious.
- C.J. Cron was activated from the IL and homered in his first game back on Saturday.
When the deadline came and went on Wednesday, there was no Greinke for the Twins. No Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard, either. What most of us suspected all along is now set in stone: Jose Berrios is going to have to shoulder the load as this team's No. 1 starter down the stretch and – if they get there – its Game 1 starter in the playoffs. He has mostly locked up the part this year, and certainly did in his latest start on Tuesday night.
Granted, it was against a miserable Marlins lineup, but Berrios was electric, striking out 11 while cruising through seven shutout innings on just 81 pitches. He walked none and allowed only two singles, tying the Opening Day gem against Cleveland for his top Game Score posted this year (84).
Berrios hasn't missed a start, and has pitched at least into the seventh in more than half (14 of 22). He ranks 10th among all MLB starters in innings pitched. The guy's an absolute workhorse.
The question, going forward, is how things will shake out behind him. The rest of Minnesota's rotation has been generally healthy and effective (all five Twins starters rank among the AL's top 25 in WAR, which is pretty amazing), but they haven't followed the leader's model of stability.
Michael Pineda, on the upswing with a 3.12 ERA since the start of June, is probably the most credible choice as No. 2 starter right now. He reasserted his case on Thursday, holding Miami to one run over six innings after producing seven innings of one-run ball in Chicago the week before. Pineda has issued one or zero walks in 15 of his 20 starts this year, and more than three only once. As a result of this and the coaching staff's careful workload management, the big righty has exceeded 100 pitches only once all year, boding well for his enduring value down the stretch.
On that note, the Twins placed Pineda on the IL Sunday, citing a triceps strain, but one wonders if Minnesota isn't just trying to get him a break. That seemed to be the case when they shut him down for a couple weeks at the end of May, and Pineda came back much stronger in that instance. As was the case then, he might only miss one start this time around.
Efficiency hasn't been such a strength for Jake Odorizzi, who got back on track with his 12th win on Monday but failed to complete six innings for a seventh consecutive start. His continuing lack of length is an underrated factor in the bullpen's stress test over the past month. But this was nonetheless an encouraging outing for the righty, who managed to keep the ball in the yard after surrendering 10 homers in his previous seven turns.
Kyle Gibson also took care of business, holding Kansas City to three runs (two earned) over 6 2/3 innings on Saturday. He struck out six and induced 17 swinging strikes – his highest total since June 8th in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Smeltzer continues to make his case for a solidified role with the big-league club. He was absolutely brilliant on Sunday, blanking the Royals over six two-hit innings and lowering his ERA as an MLB pitcher to 2.28.
Solid pitching last week was matched by quality work from the Twins lineup, with the ageless Cruz taking control. He turned 39 just over a month ago, on July 1st, and has since launched 14 home runs in 26 games. On Saturday, the DH delivered his second three-homer game in 10 days, and his second straight five-RBI effort. The previous night, he'd gone deep while adding a pair of doubles. Incredibly, Cruz drove in 10 runs in a week that saw him start only three games, having sat out the Miami series.
In his past 15 contests Cruz is slugging 1.154 with a dozen home runs and 24 RBIs. It's a remarkable streak even before you factor in his age, which makes it unprecedented.
By adding four more tallies to the ledger last week, Cruz not only extends his run of 30-HR seasons to six (fourth-highest among active players) but sets a new record for home runs by a Twins DH. What a slam-dunk signing.
Other offensive standouts for the week included Max Kepler (7-for-21 with two homers, three doubles and six walks), Eddie Rosario (8-for-20 with six RBIs), and Buxton (4-for-12 with a homer, two doubles and a steal in three games before getting hurt).
Last time the Twins went through a difficult patch in their schedule, they were without Buxton, and his absence was felt during a tumultuous skid against the Mets, Athletics, and Yankees. Now, they're facing down a very similar scenario. Minnesota will again be missing Buxton for what could very well be a season-defining gauntlet against the Braves, Indians, Brewers and Rangers.
The Twins really need Cave to show something here. As mentioned earlier, he was torching Triple-A pitching, and he had an impressive rookie showing at the plate as a rookie. But this year he's been unable to find it with the Twins, slashing .198/.320/.302 in 37 games after going 1-for-3 in his return on Sunday.
If Cave can't get rolling, the Twins do have the luxury of Marwin Gonzalez as an option in right field, but he too has quietly fallen into a lull at the plate. Last week he was just 2-for-16, dropping his OPS to its lowest point (.716) since early June.
Beyond Dyson's catastrophic debut, the pitching lowlight of last week came from Martin Perez, who was the only rotation member to drop a dud against the lowly Miami and KC offenses. On Friday night, he coughed up three homers and five runs in five innings against the Royals. Keeping the ball in the yard has generally been a strength this year for the groundballer Perez, even when he's scuffled, but of late that's ceased to be the case: In his past four turns, the lefty has surrendered eight homers – one more than in his first 15 starts combined.
The downward turn for Perez, who owns a 5.53 ERA in 10 starts dating back to the beginning of June, in combination with another phenomenal performance from Smeltzer two days later is understandably generating some fan sentiment for a swap. I don't think we're quite there yet, especially with Pineda temporarily sidelined, but it's something to keep an eye on.
And one way another, the Twins need to keep Smeltzer around. This kid continues to look like he belongs in the majors.
What's going on with Trevor May? The Twins were going to need him for high-leverage innings in the second half and (hopefully) postseason, regardless of who they acquired at the trade deadline. With their biggest pickup on the shelf for upcoming showdowns against dangerous offenses, that's all the more true.
But for now, Baldelli appears to be giving his hard-throwing righty a mental or physical break. Last week, May threw just one pitch, retiring Hunter Dozier on a fly ball to end the seventh inning on Saturday. The previous week, he threw only five pitches, completing a quick inning against the White Sox with Minnesota down 4-1.
Since his brutal stretch of three outings in mid-July where he allowed seven very costly runs over 3 2/3 innings, May has pitched only twice in 14 days, throwing six pitches total, with neither appearance coming at a crucial juncture.
The Twins will need him to get back on the horse this week, no doubt. May will be well rested. Can he get back into the zone he was in for several weeks before the meltdown? The club's fortunes could greatly hinge on it.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Some excellent news on the prospect front: Brusdar Graterol is back. The organization's most promising young arm missed more than two months with a shoulder impingement, but returned to the mound last week with a pair of scoreless appearances in the Gulf Coast League. To say he was dominant against these overwhelmed rookie-level hitters would be an understatement.
With his customary triple-digit heat back on display, Graterol should work back up to Double-A quickly, at which point he becomes an intriguing late-season bullpen candidate for Minnesota. The 20-year-old has the makings of a difference-maker, and his lengthy time on the shelf this summer has kept his innings in check, which could make the idea of him pitching into October more palatable.
In order to have him eligible for the playoffs, the Twins would need to call up Graterol before September 1st.
The Twins have 25 games remaining against teams with records above .500. Thirteen of them come in the next two weeks. This is easily the most difficult remaining stretch of their schedule, and Cleveland will surely be looking to take advantage. The Twins will hope to fend off a very good Braves team at home before welcoming the Indians for a HUGE four-game series.
The Twins will be playing at home, and have both of their All-Star starters going twice. They have an opportunity to press the foot down on Cleveland's throat. Can they capitalize?
MONDAY, 8/5: BRAVES @ TWINS – RHP Mike Soroka v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
TUESDAY, 8/6: BRAVES @ TWINS – LHP Max Fried v. RHP Jose Berrios
WEDNESDAY, 8/7: BRAVES @ TWINS – RHP Kevin Gausman v. LHP Martin Perez
THURSDAY, 8/8: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Adam Plutko v. RHP Kyle Gibson
FRIDAY, 8/9: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Shane Bieber v. LHP Devin Smeltzer
SATURDAY, 8/10: INDIANS @ TWINS – TBD v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
SUNDAY, 8/11: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Zach Plesac v. RHP Jose Berrios
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 106 | MIN 2, MIA 1: Pitchers Stifle Marlins Bats, Twins Come Out on Top
- Game 107 | MIN 7, MIA 4: Berrios Throws Gem as Bombas Fly
- Game 108 | MIA 5, MIN 4: Dyson Implodes In Twins Debut
- Game 109 | MIN 11, KC 9: Cruz Powers Twins to Another Close Win Over the Royals
- Game 110 | MIN 11, KC 3: Delayed Start Didn’t Cool Off the Minnesota Offense
- Game 111 | MIN 3, KC 0: Twins Cap Off The Sweep - Smeltzer Style
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