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Week in Review: Way Down in the Hole


A jam-packed week of baseball for the Twins featured exhilarating highs, bucked trends, obnoxious drama, and the awakening of a sleeping giant.

There are positive signs, but this team is not doing enough to chip away at its immense deficit as the end of May approaches. 

And yet, for the optimist, palpable cause for hope is there for the grasping.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/17 through Sun, 5/23
***
Record Last Week: 4-4 (Overall: 17-29)
Run Differential Last Week: -4 (Overall: -24)
Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (9.5 GB)

Last Week's Game Recaps:

Game 39 | CWS 16, MIN 4: Sox Decimate Twins in Dispiriting Blowout
Game 40 | MIN 5, CWS 4: Sanó's 3 HR Spark Rare Comeback Win
Game 41 | CWS 2, MIN 1: Twins Bats Come Up Empty Against Giolito
Game 42 | LAA 7, MIN 1: Halos Bury Twins to Kick Off Makeup Doubleheader
Game 43 | MIN 6, LAA 3: Another Big Blast from Sanó Lifts Twins in Nightcap
Game 44 | MIN 10, 0: Cleveland Rocked as Dobnak Cruises
Game 45 | CLE 5, MIN 3: Twins Fall in 10th Inning Yet Again
Game 46 | MIN 8, CLE 5: Hex in Extras Snapped by Garlick's Heroics

NEWS & NOTES

The Twins played eight games last week. They won four and lost four. They snapped their winless records in both double-headers and extra innings. They were outscored by four runs over the course of a week that included a 10-0 victory, large because it also included a 16-4 loss. There is much to cover.

As always, we begin with a quick rundown of roster moves and injury updates over the past week.

Heading out:

  • Ben Rortvedt, who went 4-for-25 (.160) with 10 strikeouts and zero extra-base hits in his first turn of the majors, was optioned to Triple-A.
  • Lewis Thorpe came and went, again, giving up four runs (just one earned) in an unimpressive spot start on Thursday before being sent back to St. Paul.
  • Bailey Ober struggled in a spot start of his own on Tuesday (4 IP, 4 ER) and was returned to the Saints shortly thereafter.
  • Derek Law was outrighted from the 40-man roster after posting an 8.53 ERA through 6 ⅓ innings for the Twins. He passed through waivers and made it back to St. Paul, where he coughed up a couple runs on Saturday night
  • Michael Pineda went on the Injured List due to a minor surgical procedure. He's due to return in the coming week.
  • Reliever Shaun Anderson also was placed on IL, with a left quad strain.
  • Ahead of Sunday's game, the Twins placed Kenta Maeda on the shelf with a groin/adductor injury that has been bothering him for some time.

Coming in: 

  • Alex Kirilloff is back! The outfielder was activated for the weekend series in Cleveland after a brief rehab stint at CHS Field. And while he's apparently playing through a wrist issue that will later require surgery, he shows no real signs of being limited. 
  • Randy Dobnak joined the rotation, starting in place of a sidelined Pineda on Friday. His outstanding return is detailed in the Highlights section below.
  • Cody Stashak was recalled and made two scoreless appearances. Luke Farrell also joined the bullpen, hurling two shutout frames on Friday.
  • Taking Maeda's roster spot on Sunday was Nick Gordon, who may have a shot at some decently regular playing time during this stint with both Luis Arraez (shoulder) and Jorge Polanco (ankle) banged up. 

HIGHLIGHTS

This team shows signs of getting on track. Getting Kirilloff back in the lineup is a real difference-maker and it was felt on Friday night, when he batted cleanup in his return and the Twins scored 10 runs, as well as the next day when he came through with a clutch game-tying hit. 

Having both him and Trevor Larnach in the lineup is fun and exciting. Even if Larnach hasn't quite turned a corner production-wise like Kirilloff, he looks similarly comfortable and natural at the major-league level. You get the sense both of these guys are here to stay.

Other hitters like Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, Kyle Garlick, and Rob Refsnyder and also had good weeks and big moments. But the star of the show, without question, was Miguel Sanó. The dam finally broke, and six weeks worth of pent-up offensive production burst forth within a ridiculous eight-game span.

In 33 plate appearances dating back to last Monday, Sanó slashed .300/.364/.900 with five home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs. His slugging percentage, which was all the way down to .209 as little as 10 days ago, is now up to .442 – well above the league average. His theatrics included a three-homer game, two four-RBI games, and a blast off Shane Bieber.

Not only is he delivering big hits, he's delivering them in pivotal situations. The Twins have won five of their past 15 games and you can make a strong case that three of those victories were almost entirely because of Sanó:

  • On May 15th, they beat Oakland 5-4 after his three-run blast in the eighth turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead.
  • On May 18th, he homered three times and drove in four in a 5-4 win over Chicago.
  • In the second half of May 20th's doubleheader, Sanó's grand slam proved to be the difference in a 6-3 win.

It bears noting that in 2019, Sanó slumped in June and saw his batting average sink to .195 before he flipped the switch and played at an MVP level the rest of the way, posting a .994 OPS with 25 homers and 64 RBIs in 74 games. So, let's see where he goes from here.

On the pitching side, it was awesome to see Dobnak return to the rotation and look much more like the version that flashed back in the spring. The righty worked six scoreless innings in Cleveland on Friday, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. He was inducing grounders and weak contact, executing his pitches, and generally looking to be in control. 

With Maeda now on the shelf, back-end starters Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ looking quite shaky, and Thorpe failing to step up, the Twins vitally needed Dobnak to find his footing. Friday's start was an excellent first step. 

LOWLIGHTS

The Twins may be showing some signs of life, but still played .500 ball last week at a time where they desperately need to be making up ground. Even with a few things turning around, it feels like two steps forward are constantly being matched by two steps back, and some of their issues are so structurally fundamental they make it extremely hard to believe a sustained run of winning baseball is possible.

Saturday's game was a perfect example of how this team just can't shake its woes.

First, you've got Maeda's continued inability to make it click. The Twins have lost six of his last seven starts, and he's frequently been a prime culprit. Saturday's outing against Cleveland was the seventh straight in which he failed to complete six innings; he has one quality start in nine tries this year after going 8-for-12 in 2020.

When your fourth or fifth starter aren't getting it done, you can adapt and adjust. Guys like Dobnak step in, and keep the rotation intact. But when the reigning Cy Young runner-up – a pitcher you invested heavily to acquire, and were absolutely counting on to be one of your frontline horses – turns into a pumpkin, that's an exceedingly difficult problem to fix. We'll have to hope some time off to rest of his bothersome groin proves to be the elixir Maeda needs to rediscover his game.

But even with Maeda giving up an early 3-0 lead on Saturday, the Twins were in position to take the game and series. They rallied back to tie it, and sent the contest to extra innings. There, an all-too-familiar script played out.

In the top of the 10th, the Twins once again failed to score their lead runner from second. In the bottom half, Alex Colomé entered, and on the second pitch he threw...

I mean, look at the location of that pitch. Once again Colomé, who formed a reputation over many years as one of the most effective late-inning relievers in the game because he didn't flop in crunch time, offered up an absolute cookie in a critical spot, with the winning run in scoring position. We've seen it time and time again this year.

It's particularly disappointing in this instance because Colomé really seemed to be figuring things out. Pitching in a reduced-leverage role, he'd worked seven scoreless appearances in May, allowing only two hits (both singles) and legitimately getting back to the things he's done well – namely, placing his cutter on the edges of the zone rather than right down the middle.  

Then, he gets another chance in a key late-game spot and immediately goes back to pulling the same crap from April. This is an enormous problem because, for better or worse, Colomé is a crux in this bullpen – especially since their other top right-hander has also been a mess. In more ways than one. On that note...

In a season that's spun off the rails so early, leaving contention as an unlikely scenario for the summer, you look for other things to cheer for as a fan. You want to root for good stories. You want to connect emotionally with the squad as they grind and grow together through a tough year. You want to invest in the character of your club.

All of which made Tuesday's embarrassing antics the lowlight of the week, and maybe even the season, for me. 

To recap: On Monday the Twins got blown out by Chicago at Target Field, to the point where Willians Astudillo was called in to chuck some 45-MPH eephus balls in the ninth. With the White Sox leading 15-4, Astudillo fell behind Yermin Mercedes 3-0. The next non-competitive offering from Tortuga found its way into the zone, and then Mercedes made sure it found its way over the fence. 

The Twins announcers were displeased. Evidently some Twins players were too. The next day, in a close game, Tyler Duffey decided to exact revenge, throwing behind Mercedes with Minnesota trailing by only two runs in the seventh. Yuck. As a result, Duffey was ejected along with his manager Rocco Baldelli. Each served a short suspension later in the week.

Now, Mercedes ignoring a take sign from his coaches is one thing. That's not great, but it's an issue for the White Sox to take care of on their own accord. For the Twins to be so pissy that Chicago had the gall to keep trying, and for "respecting the game" to be sanctimoniously lectured about by anyone in a situation where Minnesota had its backup catcher on the mound throwing beer-league softball pitches in a major-league game ... it's too much. 

It's too much from a team, and a player, who need to be worrying about their own issues before getting involved in another team's, and putting people in harm's way in the process.

Chicago's shortstop Tim Anderson said later that the actions were "Definitely a sign of weakness from Duffey and the Twins.” As a Twins fan who generally despises the Sox, it absolutely crushes me that I can't argue with his conclusion one bit.

TRENDING STORYLINE

On Saturday night at CHS Field, Jhoan Duran made his first start in a minor-league game since August of 2019. He got a bit of a late start this season due to a trapezius issue, but the organization's No. 5 prospect was worth the wait. 

Lucas Seehafer was on hand to cover Duran's season debut for Twins Daily, and you can find his detailed account here. The short version is this: Duran touched 103 MPH on the gun multiple times (granted, the CHS gun seems to be a little hot, but still, the guy was pumping triple digits). He struck out six over three shutout innings. 

A month ago, I suggested that this Twins season might go one of two ways: a 2006-style turnaround or a 2016-style meltdown. A critical factor in replicating the '06 formula was getting an impact performance from a young phenom in the rotation. In that case it was Francisco Liriano, who led the team to an 11-2 record in his first 13 starts and energized the roster with his mere presence.

When you look at players in the current system capable of doing anything similar in 2021, Duran tops the list, and on Saturday we saw why. He needs to build up his pitch count but if the 23-year-old continues to show this type of dominance, and the Twins can get on any kind of run to get back to the fringe of relevance, we could see Duran enter the fray.

Let's talk a little bit about that (seemingly outlandish) latter caveat.

LOOKING AHEAD

If you were looking for a glimpse of hope, a glimmer of promise, a glint of optimism ... this is it. The Twins have escaped the meat-grinder portion of their schedule and now enter a soft patch, with 13 consecutive games against the Orioles and Royals. Baltimore is in last place and Kansas City has plummeted since opening the season 16-9.

If the Twins can REALLY make hay during this two-week stretch – say, going 11-2 or 10-3 – they would suddenly be back in the range of .500, with Byron Buxton probably close to returning (if he hasn't already). It's hard to expect that kind of success against any competition, but then, it's hard to play as poorly as Minnesota has over the past many weeks. The pendulum is due for a swing.

It all starts this week with six games at Target Field. 

MONDAY, 5/24: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP John Means v. RHP Matt Shoemaker
TUESDAY, 5/25: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Dean Kremer v. RHP Jose Berrios
WEDNESDAY, 5/26: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Jorge Lopez v. RHP Michael Pineda 
FRIDAY, 5/28: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Kris Bubic v. RHP Randy Dobnak
SATURDAY, 5/29: ROYALS @ TWINS – TBD v. LHP J.A. Happ
SUNDAY, 5/30: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Matt Shoemaker


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They may be starting to heat up. But let’s not get too excited. The same happened when they won the series against KC, and then they were back to freefalling, losing a home series to the ****ing Rangers. Now they play Baltimore. Maybe they can start winning again.

Unfortunately, even if they do end up making it to the playoffs (which would be a miracle at this point), I can’t imagine them winning any games there with how depleted the pitching staff is.

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Tonight the Twins face John Means - he of the 4-0 record, 1.49 ERA and the recent no-hitter. Twins counter with Matt Shoemaker. Yeeeeesh.

Nelson Cruz might still be out out, Polanco out, Kepler out. Lineup looks like it will almost certainly include Garlick, Refsnyder, Astudillo, Larnach, and Gordon tonight. I just can't get excited about this team, and a 4-4 week isn't going to change my mind.

Twins will need to go 11-2 or 12-1 over their next patch of games to even possibly have a chance at getting back in this thing. I just don't see that without Buxton in the lineup, and the current pitching staff (no Pineda, no Maeda, who are they going to roll out there?) is just an absolute train wreck.

 

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Nick, your weekly reviews are one of the best things about TD and this one was no exception!  This season is probably(99%) a loss, but as you said, there are glimmers of optimism.  My greatest criticism for some time(accentuated by 19 straight playoff losses) has been the lack of resiliency/heart of this team.  No team leaders.  No leadership from the manager!

But this past week has shown signs of a turnaround in that they came back twice against tough pitching(Bieber and Plesac), hung tough against Giolito, and actually pulled out a couple of games they trailed in late innings.  Yes, the team is decimated with injuries(though no worse than many others), some very slow starts by some and continued ham-handed in-game decisions by Rocky, but for the first time have shown signs of a heart.  Is this "comeback" mainly a result of Sano's surge or has it filtered down the lineup?  These next 14 games will tell the tale.  If they can't manage 9 or 10 wins, then I think that will close the book on 2021.

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Great article Nick! It’s nice to see Larnach and Kirilloff in the same outfield and Refsnyder has me encouraged as well. I think you’re right, some definite encouraging signs, including Farrell’s 2 innings, showing off a very nice curveball! Dobnak’s outing was a breath of very fresh air.

I remain  a Nick Gordon fan. I’d love to see him get a stretch of significant playing time at 2B. With Polanco’s one festering injury, the door is open. As far as Simmons goes, I don’t think he should factor into any equation blocking Gordon. He’s been disappointing defensively although better lately and he hasn't hit much. I think the healthy Polanco was sufficient at short due to very good range mitigated by too many errors. But when will we truly see a healthy Polanco again? I’ve been one of his biggest fans. I still think, if he can put this injury behind him, that he has a lot go very good baseball left. That may be a very big if, though.

Duran’s return is exciting. I’d like to see Whitefield with a role if he keeps it up. And one eye is on Miranda. All the stellar prospects are mitigating the Twins MLB play for me a bit. That last happened when Gaetti, Laudner, Bush, Hrbek, Gagne were all blossoming and making a 100 loss season actually encouraging to me.

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Thanks for another good look at the state of the Twins.  

The only point I will disagree with is Larnach being up for good.  I believe it is best for his development that when Buxton returns he goes back to St. Paul.  He will have had what, a month of big league experience and although I don't know squat about hitting he probably has lots of things he can work on in AAA.  Then after a successful stretch at St. Paul, bring him back for good.  

Doubt the Twins have it in them to have a 2006 style comeback whether Duran is the second coming of Liriano or not.  Hopefully, it will remain clear come July that the FO needs to deal several of these pieces to improve the future of this team.  And that could include the biggest trade chip they have, Berrios, if he and his agent are telling him he will not sign an extension.  Hopefully the health gods will allow Duran and Balazovic good health the rest of the summer so they can get a real chance of pitching in the 'show' in August and September so the Twins and us fans know what they can be.

Now if Buxton can return by the end of the week those of you who see games should be able to enjoy watching the Twins once again.

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1 hour ago, bighat said:

 

Nelson Cruz might still be out out, Polanco out, Kepler out. Lineup looks like it will almost certainly include Garlick, Refsnyder, Astudillo, Larnach, and Gordon tonight. I just can't get excited about this team, and a 4-4 week isn't going to change my mind.

 

 

Don't forget Buxton and hold breath on day-to-day Arraez

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1 hour ago, bighat said:

Tonight the Twins face John Means - he of the 4-0 record, 1.49 ERA and the recent no-hitter. Twins counter with Matt Shoemaker. Yeeeeesh.

Nelson Cruz might still be out out, Polanco out, Kepler out. Lineup looks like it will almost certainly include Garlick, Refsnyder, Astudillo, Larnach, and Gordon tonight. I just can't get excited about this team, and a 4-4 week isn't going to change my mind.

Twins will need to go 11-2 or 12-1 over their next patch of games to even possibly have a chance at getting back in this thing. I just don't see that without Buxton in the lineup, and the current pitching staff (no Pineda, no Maeda, who are they going to roll out there?) is just an absolute train wreck.

 

If it makes you feel better, Twins hitters are batting a combined .500 against him!

https://www.mlb.com/gameday/orioles-vs-twins/2021/05/24/633982#game_state=preview,lock_state=preview,game_tab=,game=633982

You might argue small sample size, but I remain hopeful!

(In case you can't see it by the time you look, Andrelton Simmons is the only guy on the Twins who has faced him and is 1-2)

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1 hour ago, bighat said:

... and the current pitching staff (no Pineda, no Maeda, who are they going to roll out there?) is just an absolute train wreck.

 

This week: Shoemaker-Berrios-Pineda-off day-Dobnak-Happ-Shoemaker

Next week lines up for: Berrios-Pineda-Dobnak-(Maeda is eligible to come back from what seems pretty minor.)

Starting pitcher availability hasn't really been an issue and doesn't appear to be a big deal going forward.   

 

 

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This is sports. If someone pisses you off - you hit them and then take the punishment the umpires/referees/school/league lays on you. Mercedes got off easy. Tim Andersen is saying what he said to back his team mate. 

The quote of the week [and maybe why Rocco will never be a good manager, but just a manager of situations based on stats and players performing as the stats indicate] -- Here Rocco is talking about Garlick's 3 run HR off a RH pitcher [who the stats say he can't hit....because Kepler was injured, he had to put Garlic in] -

“Sometimes when things do play out like that, to be on this end of it, it's something that we'll just take,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. 

What??? That has to be out of context. Rocco, Garlick is not a robot.....and by the way neither is Nick Gordon!! Play him already....or leave him in St. Paul.....or trade him where they will give him a shot.

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1 hour ago, IndianaTwin said:

This week: Shoemaker-Berrios-Pineda-off day-Dobnak-Happ-Shoemaker

Next week lines up for: Berrios-Pineda-Dobnak-(Maeda is eligible to come back from what seems pretty minor.)

Starting pitcher availability hasn't really been an issue and doesn't appear to be a big deal going forward.   

 

 

Not sure the commenter was concerned about the quantity of pitching, but rather quality. Pineda and Maeda are both out for a bit and Maeda hasn't been good. Happ and Shoemaker are high risk to throw clunkers. Dobby looked good the other day but he's gotta prove himself a bit.

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Found this dose of reality on another blog:

To get to 96 wins (reasonable expectation for a division win), we'd need to play .681 baseball for the rest of the season. That's a 110 win pace in a full 162-game season.

Basically, we'd need to be the best team in franchise history starting right now.

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2 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

It is indeed. Great catch! The song's also been stuck in my head since I published it last night haha

 

 

Ever heard Tom Waits's version of the Disney song Heigh Ho?

If you don't recognize the full lyrics to the song, and you hear it unannounced, it sneaks up on you.

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Nice article Nick - we all need to see the big picture each week.  I love your take on the HR off Astudillo.  When you pitch batting practice the batters should be able to do anything they want.  If they embarrass the Twins then we can turn to someone who can throw the ball at a semi-major league level.

Sano was a great story, lets hope his candle did not burn out - his recent 4 K game was a real wet blanket.  

Dobnak - thank you.  Now what.  Yes bring in Duran.  Look forward. 

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16 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

Nice article Nick - we all need to see the big picture each week.  I love your take on the HR off Astudillo.  When you pitch batting practice the batters should be able to do anything they want.  If they embarrass the Twins then we can turn to someone who can throw the ball at a semi-major league level.

Sano was a great story, lets hope his candle did not burn out - his recent 4 K game was a real wet blanket.  

Dobnak - thank you.  Now what.  Yes bring in Duran.  Look forward. 

Agreed.  When you throw tradition out by having backup catchers throwing 46 MPH softballs, you can't expect the other team to continue to respect tradition.  Even if that was some back-end bullpen guy throwing 86, I still don't have a problem with swinging 3-0, but the whole "respect your opponent and the game" thing does not hold water when Tortuga is pitching.

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4 hours ago, FritzDahmus said:

This is sports. If someone pisses you off - you hit them and then take the punishment the umpires/referees/school/league lays on you. Mercedes got off easy. Tim Andersen is saying what he said to back his team mate. 

The quote of the week [and maybe why Rocco will never be a good manager, but just a manager of situations based on stats and players performing as the stats indicate] -- Here Rocco is talking about Garlick's 3 run HR off a RH pitcher [who the stats say he can't hit....because Kepler was injured, he had to put Garlic in] -

“Sometimes when things do play out like that, to be on this end of it, it's something that we'll just take,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. 

What??? That has to be out of context. Rocco, Garlick is not a robot.....and by the way neither is Nick Gordon!! Play him already....or leave him in St. Paul.....or trade him where they will give him a shot.

I agree wholeheartedly on Gordon. Why the Twins aren’t using him more is a big mystery and source of frustration to me.

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So many straws I see - a wealth of them! Let us grasp, despite the ill favor of the gods of probability. 

Still, prospects do tilt my gimbal. If I grasp at these straws, what of the state lottery? Is it better to wallow in despair, or don the full motley, stagger 'neath the red nose and fright wig of the fool? Spend the whole stimulus on yet another long shot, or tighten the strap that girds these humble loins? 

An over-large sack of rice urges optimism. There are so many ways of cooking it.

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5 hours ago, bighat said:

Found this dose of reality on another blog:

To get to 96 wins (reasonable expectation for a division win), we'd need to play .681 baseball for the rest of the season. That's a 110 win pace in a full 162-game season.

Basically, we'd need to be the best team in franchise history starting right now.

Oh, is that all?  I thought you were going to say that it's virtually impossible! :)

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