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.
HIGHLIGHTSThe 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.
LOWLIGHTSEven 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.
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 STORYLINEWhile 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 AHEADThe 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
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 49 | CHW 3, MIN 1: Twins Leave 15 Runners On Base
- Game 50 | CHW 6, MIN 2: White-Hot White Sox
- Game 51 | MIN 5, CHW 1: Bullpen Shines as Twins Beat Giolito
- Game 52 | CHW 4, MIN 3: Donaldson Ejection Steals the Show, White Sox Take Series
- Game 53 | CHC 1, MIN 0: The Professor Schools Twins
- Game 54 | MIN 8, CHC 1: Big Inning Sparks Twins Win
- Game 55 | MIN 4, CHC 0: Twins Down Darvish, Shutout Cubs
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