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Week in Review: Powering Up

ryan jeffers byron buxton kenta maeda randy dobnak
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 13 September 2020 - 07:41 PM

The Minnesota Twins kept on rolling, and embarked successfully on the most critical stretch of their schedule. With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Twins are getting closer to full strength and cracking open the Sota Pop.

Let's recount the bombas and break down the race for first place.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/7 through Sun, 9/13

***

Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 30-18)

Run Differential Last Week: +14 (Overall: +48)

Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (1.0 GB)

Bomba Counter: 74 (Pace: 93)

After watching him limp around and battle through a bad knee for two months, the Twins finally moved Luis Arráez to the Injured List on Tuesday, retroactive to September 9th. There was no indication of a specific setback, so it seems as though they're just trying to give his legs a break as the playoffs approach. He's eligible to return next weekend.

Brent Rooker hit his first major-league home run on Tuesday, but on Saturday suffered a forearm fracture when he was hit by a pitch, ending his season. It's a really tough break (literally) for the rookie, but he can take comfort in knowing he made a great first impression, slashing .316/.381/.579 in 21 plate appearances, and will surely be a factor in next year's plans.



While they'll be without Arráez for a while, and Rooker for good, the Twins are inching closer toward being whole again. Max Kepler returned from IL on Sunday, batting leadoff and playing right field in the sweep-clinching win against Cleveland. It sounds like Mitch Garver could be activated in the coming days, and Jake Odorizzi is also on his way back after throwing an intrasquad game on Friday.

With a playoff berth all but assured, Minnesota's primary goal is to be at full strength by the time the first round gets underway. Winning the division is perhaps secondary to getting and staying healthy, but it's an important priority nonetheless, and the Twins are currently in the middle of a decisive stretch toward that end.

Here's a look at where their excellent past week has brought them, and where they're headed next.

HIGHLIGHTS

The Bomba Squad moniker felt more apropos than it has in past weeks, as the awakening Twins offense launched 18 home runs in six games against two of the league's best pitching staffs. Seventeen of 18 runs scored in the sweep over Cleveland came on long balls.

Among the contributors to last week's power parade:
  • Byron Buxton mashed three homers in his four starts, including a pair of critical two-run blasts in the Cleveland series. His aggressive swing-at-everything approach is working well as opponents continue to oblige him by serving pitches over the plate. The Twins have won 10 of the last 11 games Buxton has started, including seven straight. What a difference-maker.
  • While Garver's return will be welcomed, Ryan Jeffers is more than taking care of business in his absence. Over the past week, Jeffers did a fine impression of the 2019 Silver Slugger, popping off for three home runs including a rocket shot off the league's best pitcher (Shane Bieber). In fact, he had two of the hardest-hit balls off Bieber all season, in within the span of a few innings. The kid can crush, and his defense behind the plate remains stellar. Even more so than Rooker, Jeffers has firmly entrenched himself in the 2021 picture with his tremendous showing as a big-league rookie.
  • Taking a .200/.279/.281 slash line into Saturday's game, with two singles to show for his past 38 plate appearances, Marwin Gonzalez was badly in need of a slump-breaker. He found it on Saturday with a two-run homer to open the scoring, then put his team on the board with another two-run jack Sunday, later adding a sac fly. Gonzalez has as many RBIs in his past two games (5) as he did in his previous 17. Hopefully this is the start of a hot streak for him; the Twins could sure use it with Arráez out.
  • Also delivering multiple home runs over the past week, some of the usual suspects: Nelson Cruz (3), Josh Donaldson (2), Miguel Sanó (2). When these guys are all doing their things and people are getting on base in front of them, this lineup is scary.



Meanwhile, the rotation has been steady and occasionally sensational. Kenta Maeda keeps looking the part as a No. 1 starter. He was magnificent on Friday, out-dueling Bieber with seven shutout innings. Maeda is now 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA and league-leading 0.74 WHIP. He's all but guaranteed that to be Minnesota's Game 1 starter in the postseason.



Jose Berríos, who figures to follow in Game 2, is 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his past four starts after notching a victory over St. Louis on Tuesday. Michael Pineda has a 20-to-4 K/BB ratio in 17 ⅔ innings over three starts since rejoining the club.

With that trio leading the rotation, and the offense in attack mode, you've gotta feel good about how the Twins are currently shaping up for October. We saw it all come together in a convincing weekend sweep against Cleveland, a team Minnesota could very well face in the playoffs.

LOWLIGHTS

Nearly every time he's taken the mound as as big-leaguer, things have gone swimmingly for Randy Dobnak. That's how you arrive at a 2.80 ERA through 68 MLB innings. Of late, however, the right-hander has encountered his first bouts of adversity.

Three starts ago he was knocked around by the Tigers, who piled up six earned runs on 12 hits in 4 ⅓ innings. In his latest turn, facing the Cardinals in St. Louis on Tuesday, he coughed up an early lead and took the L, yielding five earned runs in 2 ⅔ frames. This time around, his root problem was very different – not so much being hittable (he only allowed two), but completely erratic. In the third inning he loaded the bases on a single, hit-by-pitch and walk, then allowed runs in on another HBP and walk, followed by a fielder's choice and RBI single.

It was an uncharacteristic unraveling from the typically poised Dobnak, who wasn't crushed in the outing by any means. Given that he was pitching on three days' rest, I'm inclined not to weigh it too heavily, but seeing the two worst outings of his career within 11 days of one another isn't great.

The fact that Dobnak's one inning of struggle was really the only noticeable low point in the entire week says a lot of about what kind of roll the Twins are on right now.

TRENDING STORYLINE

Aside from trying to stay healthy and take the division, charting out the pitching staff's postseason hierarchy will be the key directive for Rocco Baldelli and his staff in these final two weeks.

While the top three starters are well established as we covered earlier, it's unclear who might get the nod as a fourth starter if one is needed. Dobnak didn't help his case last time but he'll get another shot in a big spot against the White Sox on Tuesday. A strong performance against the league's top offense, on the road, would make quite a statement. Presumably, the plan is for Odorizzi to take the ball opposite Lucas Giolito on Wednesday as he makes a late push for a significant role in October. And two days later it'll be Rich Hill going up against the formidable Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs. Facing frontline starters on playoff teams will be a fitting test for these hurlers, as they make their bids to do just that in a few weeks.

The bullpen pecking order, too, must be sorted. Just as in the rotation, the top guys are essentially locked in, but the next tier is fluid. Will Jorge Alcala earn high-leverage looks? What about Matt Wisler and Caleb Thielbar? They've looked amazing, albeit in small samples. Can Cody Stashak prove he's sharp enough to be a factor, or will his time spent sidelined cost him a postseason roster spot?

Many questions remain to be answered, and the urgency in figuring them out may be increased if the status of Trevor May – who was lifted from Sunday's game due to back cramps – is going to be in question for the playoffs.

LOOKING AHEAD

The fate of the 2020 regular-season Minnesota Twins could be decided in Chicago this week. First up, it's four games against the White Sox, who carry a one-game division lead into the series. Then the Twins head to the North Side for three games against another first-place team at Wrigley. After that, only five games remain.

The Sox are in the driver's seat entirely because of their success against the dregs of the division – they're 18-2 against the Royals and Tigers, 12-14 against all other opponents – so this is their chance to prove it for real and put clamps down on the Central. Minnesota has won both of the first two head-to-head matchups, and if they can do it again here, they'll come out leading the division with 10 days to go.

It's all on the line in Chi-town. Should be fun.

MONDAY, 9/14: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Dylan Cease
TUESDAY, 9/15: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Dane Dunning
WEDNESDAY, 9/16: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – TBD v. RHP Lucas Giolito
THURSDAY, 9/17: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kenta Maeda v. TBD
FRIDAY, 9/18: TWINS @ CUBS – LHP Rich Hill v. RHP Kyle Hendricks
SATURDAY, 9/19: TWINS @ CUBS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Alec Mills
SUNDAY, 9/20: TWINS @ CUBS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Yu Darvish

Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

Game 43 | MIN 6, DET 2: Pineda Pitches 7 Innings, Twins Take 4 of 5
Game 44 | MIN 7, STL 3
Game 45 | STL 6, MIN 4
Game 46 | MIN 3, CLE 1: Buxton, Jeffers Sting Bieber; Maeda Sails Through 7
Game 47 | MIN 8, CLE 4: Return of the Bomba Squad
Game 48 | MIN 7, CLE 5: Twins Complete Sweep, Shift Focus to White Sox

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
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#2 gbg

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Posted 13 September 2020 - 08:13 PM

"The Sox are... 18-2 against the Royals and Tigers, 12-14 against all other opponents."

 

That is an amazing split. Let's hope it's even more pronounced after this week!

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#3 stringer bell

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Posted 13 September 2020 - 08:17 PM

Reminiscent of Cleveland's domination of bad teams last year, particularly Detroit. I'm not convinced Chicago is that good, but the Twins will have to beat them at their park to secure the lead.

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#4 jimbo92107

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Posted 13 September 2020 - 09:12 PM

Not a bad season so far, considering a deadly viral pandemic, an economic crash, yada yada..

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#5 howeda7

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Posted 13 September 2020 - 09:32 PM

I don't really care about winning the Division, I just want to avoid playing the Yankees. Currently we'd play the Blue Jays, but I have a bad feeling that the Yankees will pass them and move to the #5 seed. For that reason, let's win the division. 

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#6 Doctor Gast

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 06:30 AM

I predict that the Twins will take #1 seed. The Twins are starting to gel w/ their hitting as well as their pitching. As much as I`d like that NYY & Hou not make the play-offs I believe they`ll make a final push which will bogg down both TB & Oak. The Twins will continue to improve & go on a tear.

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#7 wabene

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:16 AM

If we gotta face the Yanks 3 games at target field would be pretty sweet. Kenta's era would look even better if the bullpen would have stranded a couple.

#8 rdehring

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:30 AM

Curious about your thoughts regarding the catchers, Nick.

 

Assuming that Garver and Avila are both healthy before the end of the season, who are the Twins two catchers on their playoff roster? Is it Garver and Avila? Or will it be Garver and Jeffers? 

 

I would go with the two young guys but they both are right handed hitters and will Roco go with the experience?


#9 mikelink45

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:36 AM

Don't use the WS split to judge them or you have to look at our record against KC and Detroit and wonder how a great team can let the lousy teams beat them so often.


#10 JoshDungan1

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:41 AM

 

Curious about your thoughts regarding the catchers, Nick.

 

Assuming that Garver and Avila are both healthy before the end of the season, who are the Twins two catchers on their playoff roster? Is it Garver and Avila? Or will it be Garver and Jeffers? 

 

I would go with the two young guys but they both are right handed hitters and will Roco go with the experience?

 

Depending on roster numbers I'd honestly bring all three of Jeffers, Avila and Garver, if only because Garver has shown the at least temporary ability to play a little first base which could be useful as a backup option.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. -Frost


#11 wabene

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:43 AM

Depending on roster numbers I'd honestly bring all three of Jeffers, Avila and Garver, if only because Garver has shown the at least temporary ability to play a little first base which could be useful as a backup option.

Yes and with Rooker down Jeffers righty bat will come in handy
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#12 JoshDungan1

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 07:45 AM

 

While the top three starters are well established as we covered earlier, it's unclear who might get the nod as a fourth starter if one is needed. Dobnak didn't help his case last time but he'll get another shot in a big spot against the White Sox on Tuesday. A strong performance against the league's top offense, on the road, would make quite a statement.

 

I'm more than a little curious as to how much interest the Twins might have in making Rich Hill a long-ish opener as a potential fourth starter in the playoffs. Obviously you can't necessarily trust him to go any more than five innings, but getting no less than three good innings out of him should at least be possible.

 

According to Baseball Reference, in the first three innings of a game, Hill so far this season has pitched 17 2/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs for a 3.57 ERA, walking six and striking out 13 while allowing a .246 BA and a .679 OPS.

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. -Frost


#13 MMMordabito

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 09:47 AM

I'm not sure the White Sox series is the time to do it, but I hope Wade Jr. gets a lot of opportunities down the stretch.He has a .350 OBP over his first 100 ML PAs.If the Twins don't have room with all the outfielders knocking at the door soon, I'd bet Oakland snatches him up. He'd probably have a nice career there.

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#14 TFRazor

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 09:54 AM

 

Reminiscent of Cleveland's domination of bad teams last year, particularly Detroit. I'm not convinced Chicago is that good, but the Twins will have to beat them at their park to secure the lead.

Their offense is pretty damn good and is going to give us fits for years. Pitching and bullpen still needs some work. I think we can take the series but it isn't going to be easy.

 

P.S. I already hate Luis Robert. He's gonna be there forever. I'm mentally preparing for nearly a decade of nervousness every time he comes to the plate.

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#15 DocBauer

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 10:04 AM

As long as Alcala is OK and May's back tightness is just that, with Odorizzi coming back the entire staff is 100% plus, even without Littell. The lineup is mostly intact and the offense has started to look like the one we expected. Catcher is the only real worry and Jeffers has been easing that concern. Everything is coming together at the right time. I don't think that's just a co-incidence with the way Rocco manages. Is Maeda a true ACE? Or still too early to call it? Image the team record without the Royals being involved. Just glad we won't have to play them come post season time.
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#16 stringer bell

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 10:28 AM

I see the White Sox as having the better future of the two teams competing with the Twins for the division title this year, but I don't think they are as good a team as the Twins right now. Obviously, they are in first place and four of their players have been outstanding--Anderson, Abreu, Robert and Jiménez--but I don't think their pitching is very deep, nor their bench. Cleveland has to decide what to do with Lindor (almost certainly a Mookie Betts type of trade) and they just haven't developed much of an attack. They have had tremendous luck and success developing pitchers. Former Twin Carl Willis must be some kind of magician. They bring up middle of the road prospects and they become first tier pitchers. 

 

For this season, the enduring image I'll have of Chicago unless they do something memorable from here on in, is the way they kicked the ball around at Target Field. Poor defense and poor fundamentals. I know the Twins have made their share of defensive mistakes, but nothing like what I saw out of the White Sox. To me, that is what makes them a step less formidable than Cleveland and still not as good as the Twins.

 

Of course, if Chicago wins the series with the Twins this week, they'll likely win the division. I don't think they'd sustain over a full season, but we'll never know about that. 

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#17 stringer bell

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 10:33 AM

 

I'm not sure the White Sox series is the time to do it, but I hope Wade Jr. gets a lot of opportunities down the stretch.He has a .350 OBP over his first 100 ML PAs.If the Twins don't have room with all the outfielders knocking at the door soon, I'd bet Oakland snatches him up. He'd probably have a nice career there.

Wade's skill set is not as desirable as it would be in other eras. If he had more power or was a true center fielder, I'd like him more for the Twins. They have a lot of LH batting corner outfielder types in the top of their system, so he may end up playing (and succeeding) for someone else. 

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#18 JoshDungan1

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 03:03 PM

 

They have a lot of LH batting corner outfielder types in the top of their system, so he may end up playing (and succeeding) for someone else. 

 

Definite value in having at least one of those be a little more contact- and average-favorable compared to the generally power-focused other prospects (though a guy like Kiriloff has the skills to do both).

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. -Frost


#19 DocBauer

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 05:08 PM

I'm more than a little curious as to how much interest the Twins might have in making Rich Hill a long-ish opener as a potential fourth starter in the playoffs. Obviously you can't necessarily trust him to go any more than five innings, but getting no less than three good innings out of him should at least be possible.
 
According to Baseball Reference, in the first three innings of a game, Hill so far this season has pitched 17 2/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs for a 3.57 ERA, walking six and striking out 13 while allowing a .246 BA and a .679 OPS.


Right now, there is a 3 man battle for the 4th SP option between Hill, Dobnak and Odorizzi, who should be back this week. IMO, this a sign of strength, not one of weakness. Dobnak has slipped his last couple of starts, but I'm tossing out his last one due to 3 days rest, suddenly too much movement on his stuff, a hit batter that didn't actually get hit, and a display by the young Jeffers for not getting his foot on the bag. Hill looks like he is ramping up a bit and has tons of savvy and experience. Odorizzi has the smallest chance as he has probably only 3 starts to show he is stretched out and fully good to go. Agree there is a chance one of these guys assumes more of an opener position but we have a couple weeks yet to figure it all out.
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#20 DocBauer

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Posted 14 September 2020 - 05:20 PM

Wade's skill set is not as desirable as it would be in other eras. If he had more power or was a true center fielder, I'd like him more for the Twins. They have a lot of LH batting corner outfielder types in the top of their system, so he may end up playing (and succeeding) for someone else.


I tend to agree with you. But the Wade I've been seeing this season looks comfortable at the plate and seems to just feel he belongs. I didn't feel that way last year. He's made some good plays in the field and looked very good at 1B the other day. (I confess I forgot he could play there some).

I feel Celestino remains a good year away. The team is better keeping Kepler in RF and having someone else fill in at CF, other than a game here and there, of course. Right now, Cave is that guy and he's improved his defense tremendously, IMO, but he is not the productive hitter we got the second half of 2018 or 2019. Meanwhile, Wade is taking great AB and wearing pitchers out and tossing in some hits to go along with those AB.

With Kepler and Larnach getting close, not to mention Rooker, the Twins may have to make a tough decision on Cave vs Wade in the near future.
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

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