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Week in Review: Short and Sour


The Minnesota Twins enjoyed an extended All-Star break thanks to a rain-out in Detroit on Friday, which also reduced their four-game series against the Tigers to a three-gamer. 

The Twins managed to pack a lot of ugliness into the short week, starting the second half on a sour note and planting themselves firmly in fourth place. 

Weekly Snapshot: 7/12 through Sun, 7/18

***

Record Last Week: 0-3 (Overall: 39-53)
Run Differential Last Week: -9 (Overall: -66)
Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (17.0 GB)

Last Week's Game Recaps:

Game 90 | DET 1, MIN 0: Bats Come Up Empty in Barnes Debut
Game 91 | DET 5, MIN 4: Tigers Walk Off Twins on Bloop Single
Game 92 | DET 7, MIN 0: Offense Snoozes Again in Sweep-Clinching Rout

NEWS & NOTES

I wrote last week about key question marks the Twins need to find clarity on in the second half, and Randy Dobnak is near the top of that list. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we're going to see much more of him this year.

Dobnak was moved to the 60-day Injured List coming out of the break, indicating that his return from a finger strain is nowhere near. The righty last pitched on June 19th, so he won't be back on the mound for the Twins until at least late August. Devin Smeltzer was also transitioned to the 60-day IL; it sounds like he's hit some bumps on the rehab road and is still a ways off. 

Filling their spots on the 40-man roster are Charlie Barnes and Juan Minaya. The latter addition supplements a bullpen that's now short-handed again, with Derek Law going on the shelf due to a shoulder impingement.

Barnes gives the Twins another rookie to evaluate in the starting rotation, and he had a pretty good showing in his major-league debut, which we'll discuss below.

In a welcome bit of good news, it sounds like Mitch Garver's return is imminent. He wrapped up a short rehab stint in St. Paul and is set to join the team in Chicago on Monday. Jake Cave, who also embarked on a rehab assignment with the Saints last week, is not far behind.

HIGHLIGHTS

He's not one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. He doesn't project as a front-line talent, and maybe not even a full-time MLB starter. But nonetheless Barnes is an interesting and important player for the Twins. Time and time again, we've seen the impact of rotation depth beyond the top five, and Barnes has a real chance to factor into that picture over the next few seasons.

A fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson back in 2017, Barnes has risen steadily through the organization, posting a 3.72 ERA in the minors over parts of four seasons. In his Twins debut on Friday, the lefty was as advertised, peppering the zone and keeping hitters off-balance with a quality changeup that paces his repertoire. He gave up a lead-off homer and basically shut the Tigers down after that, finishing with four hits, one walk, and one strikeout in 4 ⅔ innings.

Barnes should get plenty more opportunities this year out of necessity. Minnesota's starting depth has been largely eradicated, and may get thinner yet. We noted earlier that Dobnak and Smeltzer won't be back for a while. Lewis Thorpe also remains sidelined. Michael Pineda will likely get traded if he's healthy (and if not, more innings to cover anyway). Bailey Ober's workload will be managed vigilantly. 

The Twins need to find innings wherever they can get them. Which is why I'm sad to say that J.A. Happ probably is not going anywhere, despite his clunker on Sunday ranking among the weekend's lowlights. There was no shortage of them. 

LOWLIGHTS

The Twins not only lost all three games in Detroit, erasing whatever semblance of momentum they generated with a sweep of this same Tigers team heading into the break. They lost them all in strikingly hideous fashion.

In Game 1 it was a shutout fueled primarily by Jose Urena and Daniel Norris, both of whom have ERAs north of six. Game 2 saw Detroit win in a walk-off when a routine pop-up with an expected batting average of .000 dropped between Nick Gordon and Andrelton Simmons in shallow center field. In the finale, Minnesota was flat-out dominated by this lousy Tigers team in a 7-0 trouncing. The Twins went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and Happ coughed up all seven runs.

The pitching was customarily ineffective, but the complete lack of offense from the Twins in this series was surprising and disappointing. The Tigers have a bad, bad staff and Minnesota could do nothing to take advantage. 

Trevor Larnach's slump carried over from before the break. He saw his hitless streak extend to 17 at-bats before delivering a single on Sunday ... and then promptly getting thrown out trying to stretch it at second. Alex Kirilloff went 1-for-11. Max Kepler and Ryan Jeffers combined to produce zero hits in 18 plate appearances. Simmons is batting .158 this month after another hitless game on Sunday, and his OPS is on the verge of dropping below .600.

With very few exceptions, the lineup completely sleepwalked through this series, despite the fact that everyone other than Nelson Cruz – who participated in All-Star festivities and appeared briefly in Tuesday night's game – was running on five full days of rest. It was as listless and sloppy a performance as we've seen all year.

I long ago gave up on the idea of the Twins playing meaningful baseball in the second half, and I recognize things are sure to get worse once the sell-off is underway, but I'd still like to have a reason to tune in. The offense should be that. It's a talented group and theoretically a foundation to build upon if the Twins want to reassert themselves as contenders in short order. But what we saw over the past three days offered little to like or feel good about.

TRENDING STORYLINE

What exactly is the plan with Miguel Sanó? He sat in two of the three games in Detroit, further cementing his status as a part-time platoon player. It's not clear how this course of action benefits the Twins in any way at the moment.

Firstly, taking Sanó out of the lineup doesn't appear to make it better. The Twins were shut out in both games he was benched for over the weekend, and while I'm not saying he'd have turned the tides, he has been hitting pretty well of late. In his past 25 games, the first baseman is slashing .265/.307/.470 with a 31% K-rate that is well below his norm. In fact, his OPS over the past two months is nearly .800. Meanwhile, it is apparent that Larnach and Kirilloff (among others) could use a few more days off mixed in. 

Secondly, there is the contractual attachment to Sanó. I realize that many fans would like to be done and wash their hands of the frustrating slugger, but the reality is that they team is on the hook for another $12 million after this year ($9.25M salary in 2022 and $2.75M buyout for 2023 option).

The only way out of that commitment, or some portion of it, is trading Sanó. But keeping him on the bench regularly, as Rocco Baldelli has of late, prevents any trade market from taking shape. A classic surge in July could MAYBE raise the eyebrows of a power-needy team at the deadline. Sticking him on the bench every other day doesn't send any good signals.

Moreover, the Twins just need to do whatever they can to help Sanó rediscover his game. It might feel like ancient history with all that's happened since, but he is only separated from his stellar 2019 season – 34 home runs, 79 RBIs, and a .923 OPS in 105 games – by less than six months, in baseball terms. He's 28 years old, not 34. To simply give up on him at this point, when it also means eating $12 million in dead salary, makes no sense, unless the front office is completely and utterly convinced he's lost what he once had. The flashes we've seen from him at times this year make that hard to believe.

The coming offseason will likely define Sanó's baseball career. He's either going to put in the work, come back next year and re-establish himself, or he may very well end up finding that the best offer for him afterward is to go play ball overseas. 

You might not feel he's worth betting on. I wouldn't necessarily blame you. But the Twins don't really have much choice. 

LOOKING AHEAD

The Twins have a full, busy week of action ahead, with eight games in seven days, and they will have their work cut out for them. The week opens with a rookie (Griffin Jax) going up against a Cy Young front-runner (Lance Lynn), and ends with another rookie (Ober) going up against an MVP front-runner (Shohei Ohtani).

Given what we just saw against Detroit, it's hard to envision things going particularly well for the Twins during this stretch, but team results on the field will be a secondary storyline with the trade deadline now less than two weeks away. From that perspective, the Pineda start on Wednesday looms large.

MONDAY, 7/19 (G1): TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Griffin Jax v. RHP Lance Lynn
MONDAY, 7/19 (G2): TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP José Berríos v. TBD
TUESDAY, 7/20: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Bailey Ober v. LHP Dallas Keuchel
WEDNESDAY, 7/21: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Dylan Cease
THURSDAY, 7/22: ANGELS @ TWINS – LHP Andrew Heaney v. RHP Kenta Maeda
FRIDAY, 7/23: ANGELS @ TWINS – RHP Alex Cobb v. LHP J.A. Happ
SATURDAY, 7/24: ANGELS @ TWINS – LHP Patrick Sandoval v. RHP Jose Berrios
SUNDAY, 7/25: ANGELS @ TWINS – RHP Shohei Ohtani v. RHP Bailey Ober

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Not that I expected much coming into the second half, but it would have been nice to see some of that momentum going into the break carry over.  Quite the clunker coming out of the break.

I have no idea about what to do with Sano.  It'll be interesting to see what's going to happen when Cave gets activated.  

I agree on Happ, though I'm not happy about it.  If Rocco is going to keep pulling guys early and Ober's innings limited, it seems logical to keep an innings eater around even if he does get blasted.  Sacrificial lamb is a good role for him.

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The roster situation doesn't reflect well on Falvine, does it? What to do with Sano? Difficult to trade Happ--even if you could find a buyer--because there's literally so few options to pitch innings--even bad innings. Little of value to trade outside of a 40 year old DH, and the three players who you CAN'T trade if you hope to compete in 22.

 

It's a mess.

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Will Sano have a full time spot in ten days after Cruz is traded?  Certainly understand getting Kirilloff lots of innings at first base to see if that is where he fits best in the future.  But agree that Sano has to have reasonable playing time to have any chance of getting out of his 'funk.'

I guess the highlight of this week will be seeing how Jax and Ober do in their starts.  Decent starts would add some hope for both in 2022 and beyond.  Really seems to me that Smeltzer and Thorpe's run with the Twins may be coming to an end.  I know that Thorpe got moved to the IL, but don't remember the injury.  Was it so serious to put him out for most of the year?

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Rocco needs to get his players focused and playing defense. Seems like all they care about is offensive players and they don’t even produce. I totally disagree with mgmt playing the young players in two or more positions, How can you blame Gordon or Kirilloff with errors when you don’t give them the playing time at one position? Defense and pitching must become a priority again with the Twins.

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2 hours ago, roger said:

Will Sano have a full time spot in ten days after Cruz is traded?  Certainly understand getting Kirilloff lots of innings at first base to see if that is where he fits best in the future.  But agree that Sano has to have reasonable playing time to have any chance of getting out of his 'funk.'

I guess the highlight of this week will be seeing how Jax and Ober do in their starts.  Decent starts would add some hope for both in 2022 and beyond.  Really seems to me that Smeltzer and Thorpe's run with the Twins may be coming to an end.  I know that Thorpe got moved to the IL, but don't remember the injury.  Was it so serious to put him out for most of the year?

Seems likely.  I have been hoping Sano would break out of this slump for the last month so that there would at least be a chance he could get traded.  I never understand extending him but here were are.  What are the new waiver rules?  Can a team claim him and use him on a playoff roster?

At this point I am just hoping to see some pitching prospects can a chance.  It would sure boost my confidence in turning this team around if some of our pitching prospects showed well the rest of the year.  

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Sano had more than enough at-bats this year to get out of his slump.  There are only four players on the team who appeared in more games than Sano.  I'm guessing Sano was in the top 3 in games played until the Twins started benching him recently.

Sano needs to get the message that Kirilloff can take his spot in the lineup if he does not perform.

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33 minutes ago, Dodecahedron said:

Sano had more than enough at-bats this year to get out of his slump.  There are only four players on the team who appeared in more games than Sano.  I'm guessing Sano was in the top 3 in games played until the Twins started benching him recently.

Sano needs to get the message that Kirilloff can take his spot in the lineup if he does not perform.

I would sure hope he understood this several weeks ago.  Frankly, I would be more concerned if he is not properly motivated by pride and competition regardless of fear of being replaced.  There have been question marks regarding make-up since he was in the minor leagues.  Just not they guy that should be extended, IMO.   However, I have to admit that I was impressed at how much his approach improved in 2019 and the results that came with it.

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4 hours ago, Whitey333 said:

The feel sorry for Sano insinuation is laughable.  They have been very patient with him for years.  If he is relegated to a bench role so be it.  Payroll should not be the end all.  Just because the Twins over paid him doesn't guarantee him everyday status.

Where was it insinuated that anyone should feel sorry about Sano? All I'm talking about is team strategy and what makes the most sense moving forward. They are committed to him for a lot of money still so they should try to extract some value from it. 

1 hour ago, Dodecahedron said:

Sano had more than enough at-bats this year to get out of his slump.  There are only four players on the team who appeared in more games than Sano.  I'm guessing Sano was in the top 3 in games played until the Twins started benching him recently.

Sano needs to get the message that Kirilloff can take his spot in the lineup if he does not perform.

He ... did get out of his slump? He had a .550 OPS in mid-May and since then it's over .800. I'm not saying he's been a world-beater but he's been hitting pretty well in recent weeks, as noted in the article. In fact, his OPS is 60 points higher than Kirilloff's over the past two months. 

 

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4 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

He ... did get out of his slump? He had a .550 OPS in mid-May and since then it's over .800. I'm not saying he's been a world-beater but he's been hitting pretty well in recent weeks, as noted in the article. In fact, his OPS is 60 points higher than Kirilloff's over the past two months. 

Sano was last good in June.

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Whether you believe in Sano or not, like Sano or not really isn't relevant. What is relevant is paying him to sit on the bench and not play.

While not doing great, he's has hit reasonably well since May, as chronicled. You can't get value from him sitting on the bench and nobody is going to give much value to a guy just sitting on the bench. 

Also agree whole heartedly on watching as many young arms as we can, Winder, Duran, Ober and Balazovic being among the most important.

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2 hours ago, DocBauer said:

Whether you believe in Sano or not, like Sano or not really isn't relevant. What is relevant is paying him to sit on the bench and not play.

While not doing great, he's has hit reasonably well since May, as chronicled. You can't get value from him sitting on the bench and nobody is going to give much value to a guy just sitting on the bench. 

Also agree whole heartedly on watching as many young arms as we can, Winder, Duran, Ober and Balazovic being among the most important.

His OPS in June was .787, his OPS in May was ,737.  One has to cherry-pick and cut out half of May in order to say he had an .800 OPS for "half of May and all of June."  What we are really saying with that .800 OPS line is Sano was excellent for 2 weeks at the end of May and OK in June.  As I said elsewhere, Sano has not been good in July.

In any case, how much Sano makes is not our concern.  Nor is it Baldelli's.  

It is my personal hope that Sano is not playing because the Twins are in trade talks with someone, and they don't want him to get injured.  But even if that's not the case, Kirilloff brings consistency to the table, and the Twins are struggling with consistency this year.  Let Kirilloff play.

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3 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

Where was it insinuated that anyone should feel sorry about Sano? All I'm talking about is team strategy and what makes the most sense moving forward. They are committed to him for a lot of money still so they should try to extract some value from it. 

He ... did get out of his slump? He had a .550 OPS in mid-May and since then it's over .800. I'm not saying he's been a world-beater but he's been hitting pretty well in recent weeks, as noted in the article. In fact, his OPS is 60 points higher than Kirilloff's over the past two months. 

 

Too lazy to look it up, but hasn't Sano been used almost exclusively against LH starting pitching for the past month or so?

I take those numbers with a huge grain of salt. Sano's OPS is entirely built on slugging, as well. 

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