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Week in Review: Bang for Your Buck


The game outcomes were disappointing in a 3-3 stretch marked by late-game lapses, but the biggest story of the first full week Twins action in 2021 was Byron Buxton and his relentless dominance.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/5 through Sun, 4/11

***

Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 5-4)

Run Differential Last Week: +14 (Overall: +21)

Standing: T-2nd Place in AL Central

Last Week's Game Recaps:

NEWS & NOTES

It's been a rough go for Brent Rooker. The slugging prospect looked quite good upon arriving in the major leagues last year, but broke his arm on an HBP in just his seventh game.

 

This spring he missed out on a roster spot that many expected him to claim, with left field open, but quickly got his chance when Josh Donaldson went down in the opener. Unfortunately, Rooker just never looked right, going 1-for-11 with six strikeouts before being placed on the Injured List with a cervical strain ahead of Wednesday's game. Brandon Waddell replaced him on the roster, adding a 14th reliever.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

It is all coming together for Byron Buxton. We've seen torrid stretches from the center fielder before, but never in his career has he been so visibly confident, casual, and carefree while straight-up obliterating the competition.

 

He looks like a fully-realized Neo in The Matrix right now, seeing ones and zeros. It's magical. Last week Buxton went 10-for-19 with three home runs and three doubles, lifting his seasonal hitting line to a hysterical .481/.548/1.185 while cementing his status as bona fide cleanup hitter.

 

 

Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz continues to be an astounding offensive force as he approaches age 41. Finally joining the starting lineup with the Twins escaping NL rules, he launched two homers, including a grand slam, in his first start of the season in Detroit. He added another the following day and then went deep on Saturday at Target Field, totaling 11 hits and nine RBIs in six starts for the week.

 

Buxton and Cruz are leading the charge for a lineup that has been locked in and routinely destroying the ball. There have been plenty of promising early signs suggesting the offensive powerhouse of 2019 has returned – in the past week alone, the Twins recorded more runs in a game (15 against Detroit on Monday) and more hits in a game (16 against Seattle on Thursday) than they ever did during the 2020 season.

 

In the early going, these boys are hitting the ball HARD.

 

 

Pitching continues to be a tremendous positive overall, albeit one that hit a snag with the unraveling midway through Sunday's game. Prior to that, the unit had been nothing short of incredible. Minnesota entered Sunday leading the American League in ERA (2.20), and trailing only Boston and New York in FIP (3.19). The starting pitching especially was exemplary, with an MLB-leading 1.88 ERA.

 

Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, and Michael Pineda all contributed last week with strong showings, and Matt Shoemaker had allowed only one through 11 innings before things went south in the sixth on Sunday.

 

We'll get a couple of looks at J.A. Happ in the week ahead, but so far this rotation has been highly impressive and even better than advertised. Excellent work from Wes Johnson and all involved.

 

LOWLIGHTS

Alex Colomé is a problem.

 

The centerpiece of Minnesota's offseason bullpen overhaul has now been directly responsible for two of their four losses. While the blown three-run save in the season opener could be chalked up in part to defensive lapses and bad luck, there's no sugarcoating the meltdown that took place in the ninth inning Sunday, which cost the Twins a game and series against Seattle.

 

Colomé looked flat-out brutal. He faced five hitters, induced zero swinging strikes on 17 pitches, and gave up contact of 99.9+ MPH on three of four balls in play. That includes Kyle Seager's game-winning home run, on a pitch very similar to the back-breaking Christian Yelich drive in Milwaukee: a 90 MPH cutter in the heart of the zone that basically grooved right into the sweet spot of the bat.

 

 

It was the second consecutive day where Colomé surrendered a late-game lead. On Saturday he gave up a go-ahead single to Seager, on yet another crushable meatball right over the plate. These are frankly inexcusable pitches in key spots and he's been serving them up continually.

 

 

Of all the front office's offseason moves, the Colomé signing was the one that gave me most pause. As good as his numbers on looked on paper, it was hard not to feel apprehensive about the fact that the White Sox – who watched him achieve near-perfection as closer in 2020 – spent $50 million for his replacement while seemingly making no effort to retain him. Likewise, the rest of the league showed lukewarm interest at best in Colomé, who ended up signing for less than almost anyone expected.

 

It feels like we're quickly seeing why.

 

TRENDING STORYLINE

When will Donaldson return? From the sound of it, his activation from IL could be imminent. The Twins described his hamstring strain as "minor" from the start, and sure enough, he was running on treadmills and testing his legs just days after being placed on the shelf. On Sunday he went through a full battery of live baseball activities at the alternate site in St. Paul and reportedly came out of it feeling fine.

 

 

It sounds like there's a very real chance he'll rejoin the team this week, if not on Monday. With Miguel Sanó, Jorge Polanco, and basically everyone who sets foot in left field failing to do much offensively, the lineup could use JD's boost.

 

LOOKING AHEAD

The first full-slate week of the season is on tap, with seven games in seven days. First, the Twins will welcome the Red Sox for four at Target Field. Then it's off to Southern California for three against the Angels. It's unclear whether Shohei Ohtani, who missed his last start with a blister, might be ready to take the mound in one of those contests.

 

MONDAY, 4/12: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Martin Perez v. LHP J.A. Happ

TUESDAY, 4/13: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Nathan Eovaldi v. RHP Kenta Maeda

WEDNESDAY, 4/14: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Eduardo Rodriguez v. RHP Jose Berrios

THURSDAY, 4/15: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Garrett Richards v. RHP Michael Pineda

FRIDAY, 4/16: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. TBD

SATURDAY, 4/17: TWINS @ ANGELS – LHP J.A. Happ v. TBD

SUNDAY, 4/11: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. TBD

 

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“Alex Colome is a problem”

 

He shouldn’t be the closer. Put him on in the 6th or maybe the 7th. Robles or Rogers or Duffey should be the closers. Except no Colome tomorrow please...he needs a day or two off. What is Wes doing with Colome? All of the sudden he looks like absolute @$$.

 

I am concerned about the pen but I’m not going to freak out. In 2019, our bullpen looked like this at the beginning, and it pulled itself together. But for now, adjustments need to be made. Colome should not be the closer. Alcala or Rogers or Robles should.

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Good teams will drop series to bad teams occasionally, but boy, we should have swept the Mariners this weekend. More poor situational hitting, relievers losing their minds while defending 1 run leads, and then watching some no-name relievers completely shut down our batters late. 

 

Sano looks committed to setting the all time K% record. Sure, I know he's going to have a 2 week stretch where he hits 1.100 OPS in June, but is that going to be worth having a black hole that will take a few walks in the lineup? It's not like he provides any value as a fielder. He looks like Chris Davis after he got paid.

 

The bullpen has some question marks in it, but there is time for things to turn around. Outside of Colome doing his best Addison Reed impression and Stashak looking like his postseason form, the pen is doing alright. Robles looks like he's going to be a solid K getter and is a valid option to handle the 9th. Duffey has been one of baseball's best relievers the past 2 years. Rogers is iffy but capable of being dominant. Alcala has the potential to be a top notch reliever, but isn't there yet. This has the potential to be a good bullpen, but they will likely need to add at least one arm at the trade deadline if they want to be better than that.

 

I do hope we'll eventually see some reinforcements from the minors - Cave is begging to be replaced by Kirilloff. I'm down for a platoon of Kirilloff and Garlick. 

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Buxton and Cruz are leading the charge for a lineup that has been locked in and routinely destroying the ball

 

I think this overstates Twins' offense.  Their "offense" has consisted of Bux and Cruz, with major contributions from Arraez and Simmons.  Four other lineup regulars(Garver/Jeffers, Cavem Sano, and Polanco) have basically been non-contributors, with BA below the Mendoza line.  Our team averages look good because we have 3 games where we averaged 11 runs/game.  We have consistently failed in clutch situations - runner on 2nd, no outs, in 10th inning, no runs.  I expect JD to help, but although SSS, concerned that Garver, Sano, Cave and Polanco are continuing last year's slide.  My take is this team, like last year's and the many playoff losses, are lacking two essentials for a contender:  1.) Inability to manufacture runs;  2.) inability to come from behind/bounce back.  These weaknesses point to the manager and team leadership, as well as relying on some very streaky players who probably do not belong in the lineup on a regular basis.  With Donaldson back, start Arraez at 2B, Astudillo at 1B, Garlick in LF, and give Jeffers more of a chance to prove his worth as main catcher.

 

And speaking of Baldelli, his pen managment has proven disastrous.  Why wasn't Robles, after pitching perfect 8th, allowed to start the 9th?  How many times has Rocco pulled a reliever after one strong inning.  Let one or two of the pen establish themselves as the go to 8th/9th/10th inning pitchers.  Colome must be dropped in the hierarchy, Rogers, Robles and Alcala(and hopefully Duffy if he straightens himself out) should each be used in game save situations, including multiple innings.  I know its easy to second guess, but you need an established closer.  This is why Sox dropped Colome, signed Liam.  Twins FO selected not to go all in because they had depth.  Let's start usuing that depth and see who emerges as a stopper.  If no one, let's hope we're still in the hunt at the trade deadline and make the move to acquire someone who can.

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Two weeks isn't a large sample, but there are trends emerging. It's time to start making some adjustments on how the pen is utilized. Colome can't be used in late game situations, he's proven that. It's probably time to move in from Cave. He's trended in the wrong direction over the course of the last two seasons. Sano needs to cut down on the strikeouts. They've become ridiculous, even for him.

 

Simmons has been a pleasant surprise with the stick so far. Love seeing Buxton hitting his stride. Great to see that.

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Looks like we'll only have three hitters batting below the Mendoza Line in the lineup today instead of four like we had yesterday; Sano, Cave, Garver. Sano batting a whopping .091. Gonna have to come up with the Sano Line to define his futility. 16 strikeouts in 33 ABs. My grandmother hits better than that and she's been dead for 20 years.

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I think our pen won't hold up but our lineup and rotation will. Part of this is that the starters aren't designed to go 200 innings anymore so we're more reliant on the pen. And part of this is that the pen arms are all feast or famine type. 

 

Great to see Buxton turn into the guy we all hoped for. Now if he and Sano can both get going at the same time ...

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The thing about Buxton is his approach at the plate looks the same. He did not reinvent the wheel, so he might not regress. He is seeing the ball better and his timing is better.

 

When he was struggling before, to an outside observer it seemed like he just wasn't seeing the ball. 

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Looks like we'll only have three hitters batting below the Mendoza Line in the lineup today instead of four like we had yesterday; Sano, Cave, Garver. Sano batting a whopping .091. Gonna have to come up with the Sano Line to define his futility. 16 strikeouts in 33 ABs. My grandmother hits better than that and she's been dead for 20 years.

I guess the only thing to say is Sano is starting the year as most of us thought he would. This won't be much of a story unless he is still struggling in another 6-8 weeks. Nothing can be done about it, he isn't going anywhere.

 

My condolences on your grandma.

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We have a few good hitters at the start and very good starters. I can't understand continuously going to Colombe but think he will do better if he is used more infrequently. I never liked a closer who pitches to the bat like he does. Rogers and Robles can do the job in the right situation. Robles should have been given a second inning yesterday (IMHO). Most pitchers are ahead of most hitters and things always look great when you start fast or lousy when you start slow. Now we face a hot hitting Boston team so we'll se where it goes. Sano is a waste right now but has no trade value until he starts hitting. Polanco will straighten himself out. I'd rather play Garver more regularly than Jeffers at this early stage.

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Fascinating to see this team with stories that look like an ascending line on a graph - starters, Buxton, Cruz, Arraez, Simmons followed by that descending slide for the other batters and a deep plunge when Colome comes in.  Fielding is better, Hitting is 1/2 better and 1/2 helpless.  SP good, RP bad.  That is not the combination that leads to a championship so I hope to see some changes.

Donaldson coming back is one thing we need, an explanation for why Cave is still starting when he is hitting worse that what Kiriloff did in ST is a mystery that deserves a big explanation and a change.

Is Rooker taking over for the injury prone OF  player that hopefully Buxton has moved on from?   Is Garver proving that 2020 might not have been an outlier year. but 2019 was?  Polanco has looked great in the field - but at bat!!!!!!!!!!!!  

 

I would comment on Sano, but .091 really says it all and if not 182 slugging completes the statement. 

 

Kepler is just a replacement level player at this time.  

We need some changes to support those who are producing. 

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I see some Sano positives. Not in the stat sheet, of course.

 

Rose colored glasses: He was striking out in week 1, popping out in week 2. That means he's getting closer with his timing. And he's drawing walks, so it's just completing flailing at bad pitches.

 

Polanco has me more concerned and I wonder if any of it is the new position. Not sure what think of Jeffers. I could see him being sent down when the AAA season starts.

 

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My take is this team, like last year's and the many playoff losses, are lacking two essentials for a contender:  1.) Inability to manufacture runs;  2.) inability to come from behind/bounce back. 

 

Not necessarily with the first one. Of the 53 runs they’ve scored, only 22 of them have come via HR. The second one is spot on but not the first one. If you look at last year, many games they would only score on HRs. It’s looked a bit different thus far.

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I think what we are seeing from Buxton is unsustainable because he's just been lightening and thunder at this point. But I think we are seeing growth and development that is real and being a mild, consistent thunderstorm is probably real.

 

Sooo frustrated with Polanco and Sano at this point. But I can't dismiss Polanco being healthy and having a good ST and have to feel he's going to get going. Sano has been laying off bad pitches and "just missing" good contact. Now, he can't just "keep missing" for much longer. But I'm considering his past and not worried yet.

 

I'm actually more worried about Cave at this point. He's proven to be solid, but he just hasn't looked good at all thus far.

 

I'm pleased with the rotation, even though Happ and Maeda are still rounding in to form. Happ needs innings and I'm wondering if Maeda is just lacking a bit of "feel" with colder weather at this point.

 

I won't lose "season" faith in Colome because he's been so good for 5yrs and his game has never been about pure velocity and super high K rates. But at this point, he's looked OK a couple games and just aweful the rest. It's time he gets low leverage. You have to pitch what you have. And you have to use everyone and make moves as needed. As pointed out already, 2019 didn't start out great but the pen worked out very well after some time.

 

I like Rocco so much as a manager! And I laugh when people talk about having a "firey" manager that would make a difference. I think, maybe, a football coach with fire can help motivate to some degree. But that fire tends to burn out rather quickly. And I don't believe fire works in a day to day sport well at all. Kelly, so revered, and deservedly so, had an old school and occassional "red ass" approach, but generally preached a calm and day to day mantra because baseball IS a day to day game. But I do believe Rocco blew the game Sunday.

 

Now, we can't scream to leave SP in longer, and then complain when it backfires. But, especially this early in the season, I don't understand pulling Pineda with about 70 pitches one day and leaving Shoemaker in for as long as he did when it looked like he was running out of gas. And while the intent Sunday was for Dobnak to start a clean inning, sometimes you have to make adjustments. I just don't think Rocco handled Sunday well.

 

I hate the extra innings rule and believe it should be implemented in the 11th inning at earliest and would prefer the 12th. And you will lose a few games as the rule is in place right now as is. Really not sure a bunt for the first batter is some magical and automatic move. First of all, hunting is not automatic, especially in today's game. Second, who's up to bat?

 

Not happy with 5-4, not happy with missed opportunities, unhappy with a couple of Rocco's moves. NOT depressed or filled with anxiety after 3 series and 9 games. While all games matter I learned a long time ago how little the first month matters in the marathon that is MLB unless you just stink. Nothing truly stinks after 9 games except for some blown opportunities. Despite some flaws and missed opportunities, this team is trending in the right direction.

 

What DOES STINK, IMO, is the delayed start to the milb season because, IMO, it creates unnecessary confusion and lack of opportunity for any team to make changes for the first month plus.

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My take is this team, like last year's and the many playoff losses, are lacking two essentials for a contender:1.) Inability to manufacture runs;2.) inability to come from behind/bounce back.

 

"Not necessarily with the first one. Of the 53 runs they’ve scored, only 22 of them have come via HR"

 

Inability to manufacture runs not synonymous with HR or nothing.  "Inability to manufacture runs" statement was mainly an observation about inability to score in extra innings with runner on 2B, no outs.  This has happened 3 times.  I agree with those who hate this rule, but all teams must play with it.  Twins seem incapable/unwilling to bunt or move runner to 3rd by a grounder to the right side.  I know, SSS, but over last 2+years, this team has basically failed to play small ball.  The many holes in the L/U are one reason, as well as high SO % by guys like Sano, Garver, Kepler.  

Seems that twins need to change their strategy a bit.  Need more contact hitters, as well as greater emphasis on moving the runner by squeezes, sac. bunts, hit and run, etc.  Certainly not panicking, but this inability to manufacture runs has continued to haunt this team, particularly in the playoffs where good pitching is the rule.

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