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Week in Review: Bumps in the Road

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 20 September 2020 - 09:33 PM

The final road trip of the season was an ugly one for the Twins, as they dropped four of seven and saw their hopes for a second straight AL Central title grow dim.

However, they also officially clinched a trip to the playoffs, where Minnesota will likely face the Yankees in the first round. The remaining question – and a pertinent one in light of their noticeably worse play away from home – is: where?

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/14 through Sun, 9/20

***

Record Last Week: 3-4 (Overall: 33-22)

Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +58)

Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (2.0 GB)

Bomba Counter: 84 (Pace: 92)

It's been a hell of a year for Jake Odorizzi, and the hits just keep on coming. Last Wednesday he took the hill against the White Sox and was looking quite sharp through 3 ⅔ innings before being forced out of the game by a bloody wound on his middle finger, which evidently split open on one particular pitch. After the game, back to the Injured List he went, and it's unclear whether he can get right in time for a potential postseason role.

On the additions side of the ledger, the Twins restored their catching depth with both Mitch Garver and Alex Avila being activated. This meant goodbye for Willians Astudillo.

The past week's roster moves included a couple of real surprises: Randy Dobnak was optioned to the alternate site following another rough outing on Tuesday – a major fall for someone who was, not long ago, Minnesota's steadiest starter and a Rookie of the Year candidate. On the same day, Zack Littell was outrighted from the 40-man roster, and he passed through waivers unclaimed. It's a similarly drastic downfall given that Littell was such a key bullpen figure last year, and pitched twice in the ALDS.

As of yet, Littell's roster spot hasn't been used and remains open. Perhaps the Twins will use it to active Homer Bailey from IL for a start in the final week? We'll map out what's to come in these last seven days of the regular season shortly, but first: a look back at the previous seven.

HIGHLIGHTS

The Twins are showing some warts here as the season winds down, especially in the lineup and bullpen. But when he's healthy and on his game, Byron Buxton can offset a whole lot of shortcomings. He's one of the biggest difference-makers in the game and we saw it over the past week. At times Buxton was the only source of energy and output for an enduringly ineffective offense.

He started six of seven games, and collected at least one hit in each, launching four homers with a double and six RBIs. As usual, he was exquisite defensively. With the top part of the lineup stalling out, Rocco Baldelli did something over the weekend that he's never done before as manager: moved Buxton there. The speedy center fielder batted leadoff on Friday, and second on Saturday before getting Sunday off.



While Buxton can hopefully be a spark for the offense, it looks increasingly like the pitching staff will need to pave the way for October success. Fortunately, the rotation mostly looking up to the task. Last week, each of the presumed starters for a best-of-three first round made strong impressions in the final action they'll see against playoff-caliber competition before then.

José Berríos wasn't necessarily dominant on Monday, but he held an an elite White Sox offense to one run in five innings. He worked through trouble, kept the ball in the yard, and – importantly – threw strikes, with only one walk allowed. It was just the third time in his 10 starts he hasn't issued multiple free passes. He did it again in his second start of the week, shutting out the Cubs over six innings while yielding just one walk and four hits. His ERA is down to 3.72, which is almost identical to where he finished 2019 (3.68).



Kenta Maeda was stellar on Thursday against the White Sox outside of a pair of solo homers. Those were his only runs allowed over five frames, while he struck out eight and walked none. Michael Pineda added five innings of one-run ball against the Cubs on Saturday night, improving to 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA.

These three instill a fair amount of confidence in the rotation's outlook for the first round. Should the Twins move beyond that match-up and on to the best-of-5 ALDS, they'll arrive at a fourth starter decision, which feels a lot more clear after the past week's events.

Odorizzi could be available again by that point, since he'll have had multiple weeks to heal, but he won't have a chance to get back on the mound and build up. Dobnak seems all but out of the discussion at this point. Meanwhile, Rich Hill made his biggest statement of the season on Friday night, holding the Cubs to one run over seven innings in a fantastic duel with Kyle Hendricks. After giving up two walks and a single against the first three batters he faced, Hill allowed just one hit the rest of the way.

There are certainly areas of concern with the aging southpaw. He has routinely struggled to find his curveball command in the early going and his 6.7% whiff rate would rank as second-lowest in baseball if he qualified. Having said that, he's got a 17-to-4 K/BB ratio in 17 September innings and has entrenched himself as the clear choice for a Game 4 ALDS start if it comes to that.

LOWLIGHTS

Even if their starting pitchers can come through, can the Twins really hope to outslug a potent Yankees lineup when so many key bats are flatlining? While Buxton excelled, almost ever other hitter sputtered:
  • Max Kepler had three hits all week, and was slashing .122/.163/.146 in his past 12 games, up until Sunday night's slump-breaking 3-for-5 performance, which included a homer and a double. It's good to see his bat come to life, but he continues to commit stunning miscues on defense (including Sunday when he uncorked an ill-advised throw to third base, allowing a runner to move up). Even after coming around to finish the week, Kepler still sports a .736 OPS on the season, down 120 points from last year.
  • Jorge Polanco, another 2019 breakout star and fixture atop the lineup, has produced even less than Kepler this season. His impressive strides on defense have been completely overshadowed by a total lack of punch at the plate. He went 4-for-21 with one double last week, bringing his season's line to .264/.313/.363. When he appeared in the All-Star Game last year, Polanco had a .312 average and .514 slugging percentage with 41 extra-base hits in 85 games. Since then, he's batting .269 and slugging .412 with 39 extra-base hits in 119 games.
  • It was a very all-or-nothing week from Miguel Sanó, marred by too much of the latter. He hit a pair of home runs, but otherwise went 0-for-21 with 13 strikeouts and zero walks. The slugger will always be prone to slumps and Ks, but the Twins need him showing some level of patience and getting on base via the BB when he's not in crush mode. That quality of his game has slipped; after drawing 15 walks and posting a .394 OBP in August, he's worked just two in September and is getting aboard at a dreadful .179 clip.
  • Garver is back, but it still doesn't look like he's *BACK* – at least not to 2019 form or anything close to it. While it is too early to be drawing any solid conclusions, the reigning Silver Slugger doesn't look much different from the diminished version who batted .154 with a .474 OPS before landing on IL. He did drive in two runs with a ground ball double on Saturday night, but that represents his only hit in nine at-bats since being activated, and he's struck out six times.
  • Even Nelson Cruz has seen his performance drop off here in the late stretch of the season. Last week he went 3-for-18 with a double, and didn't drive in a single run. In fact, Cruz has driven in just seven runs in 24 games over the past month, all of them on solo homers. It speaks largely to the lack of production from those ahead of him in the lineup (namely: Kepler and Polanco) but Cruz is also not taking over and impacting games as he once did – this past road trip serving as a stark example.
Then you have Josh Donaldson, who was reasonably productive, launching a pair of home runs and drawing six walks in seven games. But it was the contest he took himself out of that served as my lowest lowlight of the week.

After taking issue with a strike call by home plate umpire Dan Bellino in the sixth inning of Thursday's series finale against the White Sox, Donaldson exchanged words, and then went back to work in the box. On the following pitch, he launched a solo shot to left field, putting the Twins ahead 3-2. Then, as he came across home plate, the third baseman dragged his foot to kick dirt over it, and went back again afterward for good measure.



He was of course ejected, removing himself from a one-run game with critical implications. Donaldson was replaced by Ehire Adrianza, and the Twins were outscored 2-0 the rest of the way in a loss that probably cost them a shot at the AL Central title.

The Twins made a historic investment in Donaldson as a free agent during the offseason, believing him to be a transformative veteran presence capable of tilting the odds in their favor for division titles and, ideally, postseason success. Fans spent half of his first season waiting for the former MVP to get on the field and materialize that impact.

Now he's finally here, and was playing in the biggest game of the season before removing himself from the action with several innings left, all so he could show up an umpire. He later followed by doubling down on his decision to the media, claiming he "nailed it" with his performative display. Quite disappointing to see.



Look, Donaldson has a point about the umpires and accountability. Umps have been egregiously bad this year on whole, and Bellino was clearly being an ass. At the same time, Donaldon's actions accomplished nothing, other than costing the Twins one of their best players in a pivotal point of the season. As an emotional reaction in the moment, I can get past it, but seeing him defiantly defend it is irksome, and sends a troubling message about priorities.

He'll have an opportunity to redeem himself when the games matter most, starting after next week. It'd be nice if he and the offense can build up some late-game margins for a bullpen that looks more and more worrisome at the back end.

Taylor Rogers saw his challenges keep compounding last week. On Monday he entered in the eighth inning of a tie game and coughed up two earned runs on two hits and two walks, recording just one out. He took the loss, his fourth of the season. On Thursday, Sergio Romo entered in the seventh with two on, two outs, and the Twins leading 3-2. He promptly gave up consecutive hits as the White Sox pulled even, and then ahead. On Sunday night Romo loaded the bases in the ninth before squeaking out unscathed.

Over the past calendar month, Rogers and Romo rank second- and third-to-last on the Twins pitching staff in Win Probability Added. (Dobnak is last, and now off the roster.) Not exactly ideal for the two top candidates to handle a save situation in the playoffs.

TRENDING STORYLINE

While trying to ensure they're healthy and clicking as much as possible heading into the playoffs, the Twins will also be jockeying for position in the seeding system. I went through the scenarios on a Twitter thread Sunday but here's the rub:

The Twins still have an outside shot at winning the AL Central, but it's gonna be tough. They play five games at home while the White Sox, two games up in the standings, have seven remaining contests (4 @ CLE, 3 vs. CHC). Since Minnesota and Chicago split their season series 5-5, the tiebreaker moves to intra-division record, where the Sox have an edge thanks to their 18-2 record against KC/DET.

That means the Twins need a better record to take the division. So...
  • If the White Sox go 4-3 or better, they win it.
  • If the White Sox go 3-4, the Twins need to go 5-0.
  • If the White Sox go 2-5, the Twins need to go 4-1 or better.
  • If the White Sox go 1-6, the Twins need to go 3-2 or better.
  • If the White Sox go 0-7, the Twins need to go 2-3 or better.

The Sox haven't fared all that well against playoff-caliber teams (last week's series against the Twins notwithstanding) so it's not inconceivable they could post a losing record against the Indians and Cubs, thus opening the window a crack for Minnesota.

In all likelihood, though, the division is Chicago's. If the Twins finish second, they'll probably find themselves facing off against the Yankees in round one, with home field advantage left to be decided. Let's map out those scenarios.

The Yankees are 31-22 and have seven games remaining (4 @ TOR, 3 vs. MIA). While it could change with a poor showing at Toronto (er, Buffalo), the Yanks will probably have the intra-division record tiebreaker over the Twins, so Minnesota needs to finish with a better record to bring the series to Target Field. This means...
  • If the Yankees go 7-0, they get home field.
  • If the Yankees go 6-1, the Twins need to go 5-0.
  • If the Yankees go 5-2, the Twins need to go 4-1 or better.
  • If the Yankees go 4-3, the Twins need to go 3-2 or better.
  • If the Yankees go 3-4, the Twins need to go 2-3 or better.
  • If the Yankees go 2-5, the Twins need to go 1-4 or better.
  • If the Yankees go 1-6 or 0-7, the Twins get home field.

A few numbers to keep in mind with regards to this race: The Twins have been baseball's best home team this year (21-5), followed by the Yankees (21-7). Both teams have been significantly worse on the road (12-17 and 10-15, respectively).

Since 2015, the Twins are 2-17 at Yankee Stadium.

LOOKING AHEAD

The probables below are based on what I currently see listed in ESPN's schedule, though we won't see it play out as such. There's no chance Berríos pitches on the last day of the regular season, given that the Twins will want to have him ready to go two or three days later for Game 1 or Game 2. My best guess is that they swap him with Hill, so Berríos goes Friday on regular rest (putting him in line to start Game 2 the following Wednesday) and Hill gets a few extra days between starts.

TUESDAY, 9/22: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Tarik Skubal v. TBD
WEDNESDAY, 9/23: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Casey Mize v. RHP Kenta Maeda
FRIDAY, 9/25: REDS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Bauer v. LHP Rich Hill
SATURDAY, 9/26: REDS @ TWINS – RHP Luis Castillo v. RHP Michael Pineda
SUNDAY, 9/27: REDS @ TWINS – TBD v. RHP Jose Berrios

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#2 Danchat

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Posted 20 September 2020 - 10:04 PM

Getting the 4th seed over the Yanks is an imperative with how they've played at home (for some reason). They need to take at least 4 out of the last 5 games here, methinks. 

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#3 Jimv

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Posted 20 September 2020 - 11:52 PM

The Twins played 7 games on the road against two teams that are leading their dividsions, and both of whom had a better record prior to the games than did the Twins.I would have been very happy to come out over .500 against that schedule, and to me, being one game worse than happy doesn't constitute ugly.

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#4 TwinsFan268

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 05:12 AM

Oh yes, today is TBD when the Twins could be using Dobnak, a perfectly good and capable starter that would probably do a better job than their bullpen.

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i make conspiracy theories against teams the twins lose to


#5 mike8791

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 05:56 AM

Nick, best summary anywhere.Highlight of my on-line Twins' news - far superior to The Athletic's summaries.

 

You have highlighted the big question going forward - who to rely on as closer and in clutch game-changing situations?Wasn't it interesting that Baldy used Rogers in the 8th and Romo in the 9th(though neither in a Save situation)?And as you noted, they both looked particularly shaky last week, maintaining this troubling trend.

 

Don't you think both Wisler(six strikeouts in 2 innings of relief) and Alcala who bailed out Rogers last Monday, keeping it a one run game, deserve trials in shutdown situations in the playoffs.? Rogers has been consistently unreliable in game changing appearances all season and Romo hasn't been much better.I wouldn't trust May with his HR or K propensity, nor does Clippard give me much comfort.Duffy has to be in the equation for late inning relief but looking back, like most of our bullpen, seems to fold when facing the Yankees in playoff situations.

 

Tough decision for Baldy and the staff.Playing manager for a moment, I would experiment with Wisler, Alcala and Duffy in save situations over the last 5 games, then decide. Doubtful if mgr. does this but it would be a bold move that could pay dividends in the playoffs.

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#6 stringer bell

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 06:10 AM

No matter who they play, it is most important to set up the rotation for the playoffs. We know Berríos won't start the last game of the season against the Reds. He could start Friday on regular rest and then pitch Wednesday, the second game of the first postseason series, on regular rest. Maeda could go on either Tuesday or Wednesday, and then start on Tuesday with an extra day or two of rest. Pineda could pitch Saturday and be ready for the third game of the first round, I don't know exactly how it will play out, but I will count of Wes and Rocco giving more rest to their postseason starters at the expense of going with them in the remaining five games.


#7 umterp23

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 06:40 AM

Best of 3, so the focus should be on who is top 2 in rotation and then figure out 3.  If we all agree Maeda and Berrios, then shift the starts this week accordingly.  Whoever is your 3, then adjust as well, wether Pineda, Hill, etc.  I like the Maeda, Berrios, Pineda rotation.  End the series in 2 games and hope other wild cards go 3 games, then you pick up an extra day of rest and can set up your 5 game rotation accordingly.  Win the week, you play at home and give the Yanks a Bomb-ass whooping

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#8 ToddlerHarmon

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 06:55 AM

I have to think the rest of the way is:

 

Tue: Maeda

Wed: Hill

 

Fri: Pineda (or Berrios, whoever you want in game 2)

Sat: Berrios (or Pineda, whoever you want in game 3)

Sun: Odorizzi, Dobnak, or Bailey (they have to audition a 5th for the playoffs)

 

Right? Unless they bring Dobnak back on Tuesday?

 


#9 KFEY93

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 07:26 AM

I view Donaldson as nothing but a highlight. This team needs fire, and someone who looks like they actually care about their at bats and know what it takes to win an actual play off series. MN nice does not win championships. 

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#10 denarded

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 08:42 AM

Since 2015, the Twins are 2-17 at Yankee Stadium

 

That fun tidbit made me shudder. Win Out. Isn't this why we've been giving guys regular rest and extend IL time.? The time is now.

Wikipedia is for suckers

#11 Herschel78

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 08:43 AM

What happened to Littell???

He was a very good pitcher last year.

Why wasn’t he claimed off waivers?
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#12 Nick Nelson

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 09:16 AM

 

I view Donaldson as nothing but a highlight. This team needs fire, and someone who looks like they actually care about their at bats and know what it takes to win an actual play off series. MN nice does not win championships. 

He proved he actually cared about his at-bats by taking himself out of the game so he couldn't make one in a critical spot? I see.

 

 

What happened to Littell???

He was a very good pitcher last year.

Why wasn’t he claimed off waivers?

It's a good question. Obviously this year has been nothing but a struggle for him, but you do think some other team would maybe take a flyer based on what he showed last year. I believe it's hard for teams to make waiver claims with many already feeling roster crunches late in the season.

 

Perhaps the Twins felt that they were especially likely to get him through at the specific time they made the move ... there's no other reason I can really see for why they'd have done it when they did, since they still have not filled that roster spot yet.


#13 Nick Nelson

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 09:21 AM

 

The Twins played 7 games on the road against two teams that are leading their dividsions, and both of whom had a better record prior to the games than did the Twins.I would have been very happy to come out over .500 against that schedule, and to me, being one game worse than happy doesn't constitute ugly.

This is fair, and some good perspective. To me, the week was really all about the White Sox series, and Thursday's game more than anything. Just some super costly (and ugly) losses.


#14 mnfireman

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 10:20 AM

I like Donaldson's fire, something the Twins have been missing for awhile. I don't know if there is any connection, but it was the same umpiring crew over the weekend as the White Sox series, very little complaining by players or fans. 

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#15 KFEY93

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 11:37 AM

 

He proved he actually cared about his at-bats by taking himself out of the game so he couldn't make one in a critical spot? I see.

 

 

It's a good question. Obviously this year has been nothing but a struggle for him, but you do think some other team would maybe take a flyer based on what he showed last year. I believe it's hard for teams to make waiver claims with many already feeling roster crunches late in the season.

 

Perhaps the Twins felt that they were especially likely to get him through at the specific time they made the move ... there's no other reason I can really see for why they'd have done it when they did, since they still have not filled that roster spot yet.

Yes. And he did, that homer was in a critical spot with this anemic offense. We didn't lose because of him. 

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#16 heresthething

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 11:41 AM

Surprise!The Yankees will do just enough to get home field advantage because they have the talent and the motivation to do it.The Twins on the other hand following Rocco's plan will rest players so they're ready for the playoffs instead of pushing like crazy to win all of the remaining games so they don't face the Yankees.And like clockwork the Twins will go into NY and won't have the horses to get it done.Berrios may have looked good pitching to the Cubs to make the ESPN analysts say he is the #1 starter but I disagree, the Yanks will eat him alive.Maeda deserves the #1 start.


#17 Greglw3

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 01:25 PM

 

Oh yes, today is TBD when the Twins could be using Dobnak, a perfectly good and capable starter that would probably do a better job than their bullpen.

No, Dobnak was really bad for 3 of his last 5 starts. I would feel very uncomfortable wit that in a very important game to repeat as AL Central Champs.

 

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#18 Trov

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 01:37 PM

Yankees playing on the road for 4 may be what keeps them in 5th.Jays are still fighting to lock down wild card.Miami is fighting neck and neck with teams as well.Yankess may win out or close to it giving them home field against us.I will assume that means 2 quick losses.I will have mild hope if we finish 4th. 


#19 Greglw3

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 01:54 PM

Hey Nick,

 

When you mentioned Cruz and Sano’s recent struggles, it made me think of how they are both engaging in egregious out of the zone chasing. Then I thought of my man Eddie who has been so much improved and just isn’t chasing like those two.

 

I’m just disappointed in Sano and Cruz chasing so much and can’t figure out why, at crunch time, they’ve been doing that. Especially when they’ve both shown how devastating they can be when disciplined.

 

Anyway, with the dearth of offense, I compiled a list of several Twins players. Who would fans most think should go, if anyone. I’m removing the names to try to remove any evaluation bias although probably most Twins fans can figure out who is who.

OBP SLG OPS OPS+

 .287 .512 .799  115
 .312 .424 .736  101
 .283 .323 .606 068
 .313 .363 .675 087
 .336 .337 .673 088
 .243 .197 .440  024
 .316 .471 .787  114


#20 Nick Nelson

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Posted 21 September 2020 - 04:50 PM

 

I’m just disappointed in Sano and Cruz chasing so much and can’t figure out why, at crunch time, they’ve been doing that. Especially when they’ve both shown how devastating they can be when disciplined.

It definitely seems to my eye like both of them have become totally powerless against a well-executed breaking ball down and away. Which really scares me because in the playoffs they'll be facing pitchers who execute that pitch very consistently. 

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