Rather than back down in these tough circumstances, the Twins stepped up in a big way to essentially put the AL Central on ice with two weeks left to go.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/9 through Sun, 9/15
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 91-58)
Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: +167)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (5.5 GA)
Magic Number: 9
Willians Watch: 3-for-17 with three singlesIt's all hands on deck. When the Twins got news over the weekend that Sam Dyson is likely done for the year, they called up Jorge Alcala to join Brusdar Graterol as inexperienced but high-upside young fireballers in the bullpen. Marcus Diplan was DFA'ed to make room for Alcala.
Other roster moves from the past week:
- Byron Buxton was placed on the 60-day IL, officially ending his season. He underwent shoulder labrum surgery, with a 5-6 month recovery timeline that will push right up against 2020 spring training.
- Ronald Torreyes was added to the 40-man roster in Buxton's stead, and joined the team to replace Ehire Adrianza, who suffered an oblique injury on Thursday that likely ends his season.
- Kyle Gibson was activated from IL after missing one start, and took the mound on both Thursday and Sunday. You'll find a rundown of his appearances in the Lowlights section below.
Miguel Sano delivered the decisive blow of the season on Saturday night, launching a tie-breaking grand slam that caused all of Cleveland to (either literally or figuratively) mimic the reaction of Indians reliever Nick Goody:
Sano added another home run on Sunday – No. 29 on the ledger despite starting his season on May 16th. The slugger appears to be fully past the back soreness that sidelined him early in the week, which is very good news.
Plenty of other offensive mainstays came through for the Twins in this pivotal week:
- Jorge Polanco, who had a two-run homer wiped away on Friday night, followed up with another one against Mike Clevinger in the Saturday matinee, a blast which proved decisive in a 2-0 win. For the week, Polanco was 7-for-19 with two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs.
- Mitch Garver launched his 30th home run on Tuesday night, and the two-run jack was key to a late-rallying victory. He finished 3-for-10 with just one strikeout in his three starts for the week.
- There's been no real fade from Luis Arraez, who just keeps churning out hits in bunches. Last week he was 9-for-23 with three doubles, pushing his August batting average to .400. Overall, his .344 average leads the major leagues among players with 300+ plate appearances.
- Eddie Rosario shook off a lengthy slump (.156 average and .418 OPS through the first 11 games of August) and saw his bat come alive over the weekend as he launched three homers in the final two games of the Cleveland series. Getting Eddie hot again as the regular season gives way to the playoffs would be an enormous game-changer, so let's hope he can keep it up.
As nice as the offensive highlights were, none of them matched the Jose Berrios performance on Tuesday night in terms of magnitude. Desperately needing a strong showing to get back on track, Berrios came through with just that, firing seven scoreless innings against a good offense.
In his best start since the end of July, Berrios pounded the zone with efficiency, issuing only one walk with two hits allowed on minimal hard contact. As a negative, the righty didn't quite seem to have his most dominant stuff, getting only four strikeouts while tying a season-low with four swinging strikes. But obviously he'll take those results as something to build upon.
As I noted last week, Berrios shook off a late-season slump and finished strong in his final four starts of 2018. Was Tuesday the start of a repeat down the stretch here in 2019? We'll learn more when he takes the mound on Monday night against the White Sox.
Rising above all the aforementioned highlights last week was the Twins bullpen, which put forth an exquisite effort in Saturday's doubleheader, as nine pitchers combined to hold Cleveland to five total runs. If you count Devin Smeltzer (3 IP, 0 ER in the day game) and Lewis Thorpe (3.1 IP, 5 ER in the nightcap) as starters, the relief corps combined for 11 2/3 shutout innings against Cleveland on Saturday, with 14 strikeouts and zero walks. Flat-out amazing work.
For the week, the bullpen allowed only 10 earned runs over 24 2/3 frames (3.65 ERA) with nearly all the damage coming in what amounts to garbage time (nine of the ER came against low-rung relievers in losses on Thursday and Sunday). Among the standouts were Taylor Rogers (five strikeouts in 2 2/3 scoreless innings), Brusdar Graterol (four strikeouts in three perfect frames), Trevor May (2 IP, 0 R), Tyler Duffey (2.1 IP, 0 ER), and Zack Littell (3 IP, 0 R).
The top pieces in this pen are all clicking at the right time. Even with Dyson unavailable, the Twins may well have a bullpen depth advantage over anyone they face in the playoffs, which would prove vital given the shortcomings in the rotation.
Tuesday night gem's from Berrios was a lone bright spot for the rotation. Jake Odorizzi allowed two runs in two innings on Friday night before having the game (and his stats) washed out. Martin Perez looked terrible against Washington on Wednesday, coughing up five runs over five innings in a loss. And Gibson... ohhh, Gibby.
The Twins are doing whatever tinkering they can to coax their ailing right-hander into some level of effectiveness. They skipped one of his starts before having him take the hill Thursday, hoping extra rest might prove beneficial. Then they called on him out of the bullpen on Sunday, perhaps auditioning him for an altered postseason role. Neither experiment paid any dividends.
Gibson looked as bad as ever in his start against Washington, yielding eight runs and four walks over 4 2/3 innings. Execution was incredibly inconsistent for the righty, who misfired constantly and gave up two home runs for – surprisingly – the first time in three months.
Interestingly, the Twins tried bringing Gibson back in relief on Sunday, with just two days rest, and he looked much the same, allowing two hits and a walk while needing 31 pitches to get three outs. Shortly after coming in, the righty gave up a no-doubt two-run blast against Roberto Perez that turned a manageable one-run deficit into an intimidating three runs.
This is all very distressing. With Michael Pineda out, it's awfully tough to envision a scenario where Gibson isn't counted on for the playoffs in some fairly significant way. While the capability to shut down a good lineup does reside within him, he's offering no glimmers of optimism that he's physically up to realizing it at this time.
With the magic number down to single digits, focus turns to securing the division officially and gearing up for the ALDS along the way. Expect ample rest for banged-up offensive regulars as the Twins try to nurse their lineup back to health. Fielding a relatively full-strength group will be critical to matching the firepower of a Houston or New York.
The pitching staff is more of a fluid situation. Here there are actually assessments and evaluations to be made. Presumably Berrios is your Game 1 starter and Odorizzi lines up for Game 2, but then what? Gibson and Perez are pitching with much on the line (not the least of which being their impending free agencies). Unfortunately, the Twins will have no further opportunities to see these hurlers compete against high-quality lineups, so it's gonna be tough to draw any strong conclusions from what happens in the final two weeks.
Meanwhile, the bullpen hierarchy must become solidified for October. Rocco Baldelli is fortunate to have a lot of good options to work with right now. Who will be left out when the team needs to shave down?
DOWN ON THE FARM
With all the minor-league seasons having reached an end, Twins Daily handed out its 2019 awards last week. You can read about the winners below:
- Minor League Short-Season Pitcher of the Year Cody Laweryson, RHP
- Minor League Short-Season Hitter of the Year: Matt Wallner, OF
- Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year: Randy Dobnak, RHP
- Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year: Anthony Vizcaya, RHP
- Minor League Hitter of the Year: Trevor Larnach, OF
It's a downhill ride from here on out. Coming off the triumph in Cleveland, Minnesota returns to Target Field for seven games against the White Sox and Royals. Now, I will say: Chicago showed last time around they can't be taken for granted, especially with Lucas Giolito taking the hill on Tuesday. But the Twins should absolutely be able to chip away at that magic number total in the next seven days.
Cleveland opens with three contests at home against a Detroit team they've gone 15-1 against, then they welcome an eliminated Philadelphia team, so the Twins can't count on getting much help.
MONDAY, 9/16: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Reynaldo Lopez v. RHP Jose Berrios
TUESDAY, 9/17: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Lucas Giolito v. LHP Martin Perez
WEDNESDAY, 9/18: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Dylan Covey v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
THURSDAY: 9/19: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Mike Montgomery v. TBD
FRIDAY, 9/20: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jakob Junis v. LHP Devin Smeltzer
SATURDAY, 9/21: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Glenn Sparkman v. RHP Jose Berrios
SUNDAY, 9/22: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jorge Lopez v. LHP Martin Perez
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 144 | MIN 5, WAS 0: Berrios Bounces Back in Twins Win
- Game 145 | WAS 6, MIN 2: Depleted Twins Fail to Match Up With Strasburg and Nationals
- Game 146 | WAS 12, MIN 6: Twins Drop Series to Nationals, Cleveland 3.5 Back
- Game 147 | MIN 2, CLE 0: Bullpen, Polanco Move the Needle in Win
- Game 148 | MIN 9, CLE 5: Sano Grand Slam Overcomes Rocky Start for Win
- Game 149 | CLE 7, MIN 5: Bad Defense Costs Twins in Series Finale
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