Let's sort it all out as the trade deadline bears down and a key series against first-place Chicago looms.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/24 through Sun, 8/30
Record Last Week: 1-5 (Overall: 20-15)
Run Differential Last Week: -13 (Overall: +27)
Standing: 3rd Place in AL Central (1.5 GB)
Bomba Counter: 47 (Pace: 81)This 2020 season has been shortened and repeatedly shaken by events taking place outside of the baseball world. Last week became another example, with the Twins joining several other major-league teams in choosing to postpone a game in protest of the nation's enduring social injustice issues. I think our Friday post from RandBalls Stu succinctly and powerfully summarized the significance and palpable takeaway behind a statement such as this.
It certainly wasn't the motivator, but taking Thursday night off in Detroit had the benefit of giving Minnesota's roster some rest in the middle of this grueling stretch of the schedule, and Friday's doubleheader rainout extended the break. Any extra bit of time off helps as the beleaguered Twins try to get healthy and move back toward full strength.
In this case it sure seemed to help Max Kepler, who raised alarms when he exited Wednesday's game after fouling a ball of his foot. Not only was he back in the lineup for both games on Saturday, but he even started the first one in center.
Unfortunately, while the respite may have been good for Kepler's health, it didn't seem to help the team at large as they put forth an utterly lackluster showing in Detroit, suffering an embarrassing sweep as their offense fell further into the pits of despair.
The injury carousel kept spinning as Eddie Rosario was forced out of Saturday's nightcap, with his left ankle starting to bark. This is troubling as it's the same ankle that hampered him last season and – by his own admission – sapped his performance, especially on the defensive side. Rosario did come back to make a late pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday, which is somewhat relieving.
In a bit of potentially positive news, there seems to be some optimism that Josh Donaldson is nearing a return, with Rocco Baldelli hinting that the third baseman could be activated during the team's upcoming homestand. To say the lineup could use his presence would be putting it very mildly.
Let's run back the past week's developments, which weren't ALL bad.
HIGHLIGHTSAfter starring in the previous week, Kenta Maeda got this past one off to a (short-lived) good start with five innings of one-run ball against the Indians, paving way for Minnesota's lone victory in Cleveland. The bullpen backed him up nicely in a 3-2 victory, with Caleb Thielbar, Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers combining to allow one run over four innings.
On Tuesday, Rich Hill backed up Maeda's strong start in the series opener, allowing one run over five innings himself. Hill looked rough in the first frame, missing his spots and giving up a bunch of hard contact, but then settled in to cruise through the next four, handing a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. It was a hugely encouraging rebound for the veteran following his rocky return from IL six days earlier.
Outside of Maeda and Hill, the Twins' best starter over the past week was ... Matt Wisler? He served as opener once again in the back half of Saturday's doubleheader, and as usual he got the job done. It wasn't as clean as some of this past performances – he gave up three walks and a hit over 1 ⅔ innings – but Wisler once again kept the opponent off the board to set a bullpen game in the right direction.
The offseason waiver pickup has been nothing short of sensational through the first half of his first season with the Twins. Through 16 ⅔ innings he has a 1.15 ERA and 19-to-10 K/BB ratio with just eight hits allowed. He has recorded more than three outs in every appearance since his first. In a bullpen that's had some ups and downs, and been asked to cover a whole lot of innings, Wisler's value can hardly be overstated.
Minnesota's plan of fully ramping up his slider usage has paid off brilliantly. He's throwing the pitch 80% of the time and it's holding opponents to a .133 average and .200 slugging percentage, with a 37.8% whiff rate. In terms of both limiting contact, and limiting the loudness of that contact, he's elite.
If only Cruz was getting any kind of support from those around him.
LOWLIGHTSIt's getting tougher and tougher to be patient with this lineup, which failed to score more than three runs in any of the past week's six games. Coming up fairly quiet against Cleveland and its world-class pitching staff is one thing, but the following flat effort over the weekend against Detroit was flat-out flabbergasting.
The Twins' first game of the series, coming off two days rest with a heavily favorable pitching match-up, was perhaps their most vexing loss of the entire season thus far.
Tigers started Matthew Boyd entered the game with an 0-4 record, 8.48 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. Opponents had slashed .317/.380/.610 with eight homers against the embattled left-hander. Seemingly a perfect opportunity for the Bomba Squad to get right. Instead, they simply helped Boyd get right as he mowed through their lineup three times, holding Minnesota to one earned run over six innings with six strikeouts, no walks, and four hits allowed.
It was Boyd's best start this year and the worst performance yet from the Twins, who were dominated on both ends in an 8-2 laugher, getting outhit 16-to-4 over seven innings.
The offense's continued inability to get going is growing into a bigger problem as the pitching staff starts to show some warts. Randy Dobnak's career-worst outing against Detroit sealed their fate in Saturday's series-opening blowout loss. In the nightcap, Tyler Duffey's first real hiccup of the season proved crippling as a two-run homer from Miguel Cabrera buried the Twins 4-2. On Sunday, Maeda had the gall to allow three runs over six innings, and that was of course enough to get tagged with a loss.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Jorge Alcala's spectacular rookie season hit a pothole when he coughed up three runs in the sixth inning, turning a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 loss. The following night it was Romo who turned into a pumpkin, yielding three runs to Cleveland in the eighth to shatter a tie.
It's too soon to be gravely concerned about the Twins bullpen, but seeing regression catch up there while the underperforming offense fails to balance out in the opposite direction is taking a toll.
Among the culprits:
- The Twins are getting nothing from the catcher position, which was such a huge strength in 2019. The past week saw Alex Avila go 1-for-9 with six strikeouts. Ryan Jeffers is still looking for his first walk or extra-base hit as a big-leaguer.
- Pressed into everyday duty, Marwin Gonzalez is not delivering. He went 3-for-19 with three singles and eight strikeouts in six games, always while batting near the heart of the order.
- Rosario was 3-for-17, with a double representing his only XBH. After notching six home runs in his first 17 games, he's gone deep once in 17 games since.
- Luis Arráez finished 4-for-18 with one double, zero walks, one run scored, and one RBI. It's the same story here as with many others: no patience or power to support an empty (and altogether underwhelming) batting average.
- Jorge Polanco went 5-for-20, and sports a sub-par .702 OPS even after homering on Sunday. His inability to square the ball up and drive it with any kind of authority is almost completely negating the value of his ability to put it in play and avoid strikeouts:
Since opening the season 10-2, the Twins have gone 10-13. They are 5-8 against the Royals and Tigers. Conversely, the White Sox – who leapfrogged Minnesota in the standings over the weekend – are 11-2 against those clubs.
If you can't take advantage of the Central's soft underbelly, you're not going to win the division. Plain and simple. So far the Twins have come up woefully short in this department.
TRENDING STORYLINEDonaldson's possible return will certainly be a key narrative in the coming days, but in the immediate picture, all attention is on the trade deadline, suddenly here on Monday. Reports suggest that the Twins are showing interest in frontline starting pitching, including a couple of ace-types from the AL West: Dylan Bundy of the Angels and old "friend" Lance Lynn of the Rangers.
Interestingly, the White Sox have been tied to both those pitchers, as well as Cleveland's Mike Clevinger, who appears somewhat likely to move tomorrow. That would qualify as good news in a sense, as the Indians would be losing a key weapon for any potential postseason match-up, but of course, adding Clevinger to a Sox rotation already fronted by Lucas Giolito would make Minnesota's other chief division rival all the more dangerous.
Whether or not they make a trade for a starting pitcher, the Twins will get some rotation help in the coming week with Michael Pineda's suspension reaching an end. He's scheduled to make his season debut on Tuesday against Dallas Keuchel and the White Sox.
LOOKING AHEADThe Twins return home with their tails between their legs, but on the bright side, they are 12-3 at Target Field this year. They'll have their work cut out for them in the first half of the week.
Coming off a dominant no-hitter in his last outing, Giolito will toe the rubber in Monday's series opener as Hill tries to build upon his solid results from the past week. Pineda's return on Tuesday will be key, both for Minnesota's chances of winning the series and their outlook for the rest of the season and playoffs. If the Clevinger-to-Chicago rumors come to fruition, we could very well be looking at a second matchup between Jose Berríos and Mr. Sunshine within a week's time on Wednesday.
A four-game set against Detroit at Target Field next weekend (with the Tigers lining up as "home team" in Friday's nightcap) will offer the Twins a chance for some much-needed redemption.
MONDAY, 8/31: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Lucas Giolito v. LHP Rich Hill
TUESDAY, 9/1: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – LHP Dallas Keuchel v. RHP Michael Pineda
WEDNESDAY, 9/2: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Reynaldo Lopez v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 9/4 (G1): TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Matthew Boyd v. RHP Randy Dobnak
FRIDAY, 9/4 (G2): TIGERS @ TWINS – TBD v. LHP Tarik Skubal
SATURDAY, 9/5: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Casey Mize v. RHP Kenta Maeda
SUNDAY, 9/6: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Spencer Turnbull v. LHP Rich Hill
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 30 | MIN 3, CLE 2: Bullpen Bends, Does Not Break
- Game 31 | CLE 4, MIN 2: Cleveland Counterpunch
- Game 32 | CLE 6, MIN 3: Cleveland Gets To Romo, Takes Series
- Game 34 | DET 8, MIN 2
- Game 35 | DET 4, MIN, 2
- Game 36 | DET 3, MIN 2: This Is Not What You Want
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