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Week in Review: Small Victories


The Minnesota Twins are creeping up on the 90-loss mark with one week left to go, and are all but assured of a last-place finish, but a modest four-game winning streak and a few encouraging individual showings provided glimmers of positivity as the light dims on this forgettable 2021 campaign.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/20 thru Sun, 9/26
***
Record Last Week:
4-2 (Overall: 69-87)
Run Differential Last Week: +4 (Overall: -109)
Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (19.0 GB)

Last Week's Game Recaps:

Game 151 | MIN 9, CHC 5: Twins Notch 16 Hits in Wrigley
Game 152 | MIN 5, CHC 4: Ryan Fans 11 as Kepler Powers Offense
Game 153 | MIN 7, TOR 2: Gordon Goes Off, Twins Top Jays
Game 154 | MIN 3, TOR 1: Ober and Bullpen Shut Down Toronto
Game 155 | TOR 6, MIN 1: Ray Shuts Down Twins, Snaps Win Streak
Game 156 | TOR 5, MIN 2: Bats Go Silent Once Again

NEWS & NOTES

Before he had a single chance to appear in a big-league ballgame, Drew Maggi was optioned back to Triple-A on Monday, sucking some steam out of the fun 32-year-old rookie narrative. Replacing him on the roster was Mitch Garver, fully recovered from a back strain. Garver's return also bumped Ben Rortvedt back to St. Paul, with Andrelton Simmons reactivated from the restricted list.

John Gant's stay on the Injured List was brief, as the abdominal strain he suffered was evidently quite minor. He was activated on Saturday, just after the 10-day minimum, and started against the Blue Jays that night, allowing one earned run over three innings of work.

HIGHLIGHTS

Yet another highly encouraging week for the dynamic rookie duo in the Twins rotation. It's no exaggeration to say that, with all of the starting pitching setbacks Minnesota has experienced this year, the emergences of Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober have been season-saving developments.

Ryan continues to flat-out dominate as a 25-year-old getting his first taste of MLB competition. On Wednesday against the Cubs, the right-hander struck out 11 over five innings of two-run ball, including the last seven men he faced. As usual, he relied on a fastball-heavy mix, with stellar command compensating for so-so velocity. 

The rookie now owns a 2.45 ERA, 0.59 WHIP and 25-to-3 K/BB ratio through 22 innings in his first four major-league starts. Simply incredible. Of course it bears noting that all of those starts have come against Cleveland or the Cubs, both sub par offenses. But we're talking about MLB hitters, and in both cases these teams have had the chance to see Ryan – and his ostensibly gimmicky approach – twice in a short span, while showing little improvement the second time around.

On Friday, Ober got back on track following a bit of a rocky stretch in September (6.57 ERA through his first three turns). Taking on a potent Toronto lineup, the big righty allowed just one run on four hits over 5 ⅓ innings, striking out six with no walks. While Ober won't quite eclipse 100 innings – he'd need to throw 7 ⅔ in his final start this coming week – he's going to come very close, and most importantly, he's poised to finish the year strong and healthy.

Ober and Ryan have essentially cemented roles for 2022 with their performances this year. Meanwhile, another less-expected rookie is angling to do the same with a breakout September.

I've admittedly been a bit skeptical of Nick Gordon's value going forward given his limited profile – a versatile yet unspectacular defender who can't really play short, and a hitter lacking for power or patience. The Twins face a tricky decision during the offseason because they'll be needy for 40-man spots, and Gordon's out of options next spring.

But for me, he's doing enough to earn a shot. To their credit, the Twins are giving Gordon plenty of looks down the stretch, and he's stepping up to take advantage. Last week he started all six games, appearing in each of the three outfield positions and getting a nod at shortstop on Sunday. Gordon went 8-for-25 with two home runs, six RBIs, and two steals. He enjoyed the best game of his young career on Thursday, notching three hits including a homer while driving in four as the Twins won.

I don't necessarily believe Gordon can be much of an asset with his current physical makeup, but he's still only 25 and he's gone through a lot over the past couple years. Given a relatively normal offseason ahead, it wouldn't surprise me if he showed up next spring bulked up and looking like a bit of a different player. His clutch moments are gaining him some early affinity.

A few other performances worth highlighting:

  • Following a nightmarish first full week in the big leagues, Jovani Moran reminded us why he's a relief prospect worth getting excited about. The lefty entered after a short start from Gant on Saturday and tossed two perfect innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced with nine swinging strikes on 19 pitches. His changeup was in full form. Pure dominance.
  • Max Kepler went off at Wrigley, notching six hits in 12 at-bats during the two-game series against the Cubs. He homered twice in a 5-4 victory on Wednesday. With a .214/.311/.425 slash line as the end of the season nears, Kepler has basically turned back into the exact player he was before his 2019 breakout (slashed .233/.314/.418 from 2016 through 2018), which isn't a terrible thing but is rather disappointing.
  • Garver had a strong return to action, notching three hits on Tuesday in his first game in nearly a month, then adding another three-hit game on Thursday. He doubled and walked on Sunday. While his ability to stay healthy will remain a question mark going forward, Garver has basically eliminated any concerns around his bat. 
  • If the Twins are going to field a decent bullpen in 2021, they'll likely need Tyler Duffey and Jorge Alcala to factor in as key right-handed arms. As such, it's good to see them each pitching well in the waning weeks of the season. Duffey fired three hitless innings last week and owns a 2.70 ERA in September. Alcala contributed 2 ⅓ shutout frames and has a 0.96 ERA this month. The two combined for nine strikeouts and zero walks.

LOWLIGHTS

While his fellow rookie rotation-mates continued to excel, things again didn't go so well for Griffin Jax in his two starts. He lasted only three innings against the Cubs on Tuesday, coughing up three runs on a pair of homers, and then gave up two more bombs in a loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday. Astoundingly, Jax has now surrendered 23 long balls in 77 major-league innings.

In some aspects, Jax has looked pretty good. The slider in particular shows potential, with a 37.8% whiff rate and .182 xBA. But his proneness to home runs is a crippling weakness at this point it's there is no clear path to resolving it. Jax may have a big-league future in the bullpen, but there will be no counting on him in any capacity heading into 2022, and he turns 27 in November.

Brent Rooker, unlike Gordon, is not doing much to build his case for filling a role next year. He started four of the team's six games and went 2-for-14, striking out twice after subbing in for Jake Cave on Sunday. Rooker is slashing .201/.294/.397 as a defensively limited rookie. Like Jax, he turns 27 in November. Short as his time as been, Rooker may already be reaching the end of the line in Minnesota.

TRENDING STORYLINE

As we segway into the offseason, Byron Buxton will take center stage – a critical crux point in the front office's strategy and vision for next year. Buxton has impressively played almost every day since returning from a broken hand, although his production hasn't remotely stacked up to the previous sample. (Buck is slashing .215/.282/.449 since returning from his latest IL stint, after putting up a .369/.409/.767 line in his first 27 games.)

With that said, he's coming off an excellent week – 7-for-19 with two homers and two doubles – and if Buxton can stay hot through the final slate of games it'll do much to assuage any concerns around his diminished second-half output. 

The league is watching closely. If Buxton is truly on the trade market this winter he'll likely be its biggest prize.

LOOKING AHEAD

We're almost at the finish line. Ryan was on track to start two games in the final week – including the season finale next Sunday – but his schedule was disrupted a bit by traveling on bereavement leave for a few days, and the Twins are surely intent on playing it safe with workload. They announced he'll start on Thursday in the final home game. Without knowing how the schedule will adjust around him, I'm employing some guesswork in the probables listed below, but it should be close to accurate. 

TUESDAY, 9/28: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Tyler Alexander v. RHP Michael Pineda
WEDNESDAY, 9/29: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Casey Mize v. RHP Bailey Ober
THURSDAY, 9/30: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Tarik Skubal v. RHP Joe Ryan
FRIDAY, 10/1: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP John Gant v. RHP Jon Heasley
SATURDAY, 10/2: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Griffin Jax v. LHP Kris Bubic
SUNDAY, 10/3: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Jackson Kowar

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I don't see Rooker or Jax being part of the team after Spring Training next year.  Miranda has passed Rooker as a prospect and someone needs to step up on the mound.    Jake Cave continues to prove he does not belong and yet I do not trust the brains to see that. 

I just do not know what to think about 2022

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I agree with mikelink that Cave hasn't done anything to help his case to remain on the team for next season.  I do think the Twins will give Rooker more chances to figure out major league pitching.  Cruz was 28 when he took off.  Ibanez was 29 if you remember him.  Max gives up more homers per 9 then Blylevin ever could. I am beginning to think its bullpen or bust for him.  But I suspect they will give him starting chances into next year.  The thing that is most exciting to me about Ober is his consistency and control. Almost a Radke clone this way.  That's who I think of with his results.  My concern with Ryan is secondary pitches.  He will need them.  And Cleveland is close to us in runs scored and we are 6th.  So they are more of an average offense Nick.  But I am so much more optimistic going into the offseason.  I guess part if it is because how well They put together a revamped bullpen on the fly and its been successful.  That makes our big holes going into the offseason, 1.  Extend or trade Buxton. 2. SS 3. 2 starting pitchers.  Maybe a third cause you can never have too much pitching.

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I love the line about Buxton taking "center stage".  Great pun.  :)  

As for all of the bright spots as we close out, they offer some hope but at the same time leave a lot of questions.  I really don't see a lot of proven commodities going into '22.  Lots of potential, lots of holes, and lots of questions.  Maybe lots of reclamation projects.  Or free agents.   And I can't get out of my mind the CBA looming out there, and the fact that the team has lost a ton of money the last two years.  Will the brass want to soften some of those losses?  We all seem to think there is a payroll figure out there that the team will go with, yet is it really there?  If the CBA costs a certain amount more, does that affect our number?  All of that will determine the FA signings (or lack of them).  I can see a scenario where what you see today will be the vast majority of the roster come April.  If, of course, there is an April.  Could be locked out.  Or not.  Lots of questions; very few answers.  Stay tuned, as it will be an interesting winter.  

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Not seeing the Twins play this year, I don’t have a clue how well Gordon played when in center?  Is he an adequate backup?  Could he be a solid starter if Buxton is injured or traded?  

Expect the FO will go into the offseason planning to compete in 2023 and hoping that if lots goes right, they may surprise next year.  Gordon’s role in the middle infield and center will be a key decision in that process.

will they bring in a shortstop?  Who is their #1 backup in center, Gordon or Celestino?  Lots of questions?

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10 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

I don't see Rooker or Jax being part of the team after Spring Training next year.  Miranda has passed Rooker as a prospect and someone needs to step up on the mound.    Jake Cave continues to prove he does not belong and yet I do not trust the brains to see that. 

Agreed on Rooker.

I quite confident we'll see Jax in Minnesota again, almost surely from the bullpen. His slider is good enough he'll receive more chances and he has options remaining.

I believe the chance of Cave returning is near-zero. He's now arb eligible and there's absolutely no reason to start paying him a seven figure salary.

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Where do we start? I find the offense offensive. 15 K's and 18 LOB yesterday. When will they quit swinging at balls off the plate? When will they quit swinging for the fences? When will the manager settle on a permanent lineup and play it everyday? Too much dead weight for this team to make a serious run at anything but mediocrity. Kepler, Sano, Rooker, Cave, Jeffers, Astudillo, can't hit. Donaldson is all but washed up. They have three 2nd basemen in Arraez, Polanco, and Gordon. No shortstop going into next year. Buxton and Garver who only play part-time. Polanco might get to 600 AB's this year. He's the only starter that even came close to playing full-time. Without wholesale changes the 2022 Team is destined for small victories, maybe 2 a week.

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2 hours ago, roger said:

Not seeing the Twins play this year, I don’t have a clue how well Gordon played when in center?  Is he an adequate backup?  Could he be a solid starter if Buxton is injured or traded?  

Expect the FO will go into the offseason planning to compete in 2023 and hoping that if lots goes right, they may surprise next year.  Gordon’s role in the middle infield and center will be a key decision in that process.

will they bring in a shortstop?  Who is their #1 backup in center, Gordon or Celestino?  Lots of questions?

Solid starter, no. His benefit is versatility. He's a competent defender in all three outfield spots, not on the level of Buxton, Kepler or even Celestino. 

 

Re Gordon: if the FO has to make a choice between Gordon and Astudillo as the utility guy, that's a no brainer. I have no doubt Gordon is going to work hard and improve.  

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2 hours ago, rv78 said:

Where do we start? I find the offense offensive. 15 K's and 18 LOB yesterday. When will they quit swinging at balls off the plate? When will they quit swinging for the fences? When will the manager settle on a permanent lineup and play it everyday? Too much dead weight for this team to make a serious run at anything but mediocrity. Kepler, Sano, Rooker, Cave, Jeffers, Astudillo, can't hit. Donaldson is all but washed up. They have three 2nd basemen in Arraez, Polanco, and Gordon. No shortstop going into next year. Buxton and Garver who only play part-time. Polanco might get to 600 AB's this year. He's the only starter that even came close to playing full-time. Without wholesale changes the 2022 Team is destined for small victories, maybe 2 a week.

Couldn't have said it better myself.  The one stat (I hate analytics) I look at the most for an offense is the one they used to use regularly: percentage of games scoring 3 runs or less, and percentage scoring 4 runs or more.   Well, as of yesterday, we have scored 3 runs or less in 48% of our games this season; 75 out of 156.  Rocco has made it crystal clear as to his philosophy; he believes giving up an out for a base (sacrifice) is against his analytics.  So is the hit and run.  So is bunting for base hits; apparently they aren't successful enough of the time.  Even stolen bases result in an out too much of a percentage of the time for him, so we are, what?  14th in the American League in stolen bases?  51 in 156 games.  6 sacrifice bunts (non pitcher) all year, etc. etc.   When we only take the bases hits and home runs give us, we manufacture nothing.  And nothing is what we get 48% of the time.  You are right, we have one player locked in to the lineup next year.  Every other player is either moved around too much, or might be trade bait before next April.  And the answer to your question about the line up is:  when pigs fly.......or when Rocco leaves, whichever comes first.  It is simply who he is (or who his computer is).  And Falvine likes it that way, so I am betting on the pigs.  

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It's interesting how a season can finish up. Two months ago we were talking about how the Twins needed to completely overhaul the entire pitching staff, might need 4 new starters and major reinforcements in the bullpen. Now? Neither the rotation nor the bullpen looks nearly as dire.

Ober & Ryan look like guys who can be counted on for next year. Pineda is also a guy that likes it here, is well-liked by the team and could be signed at a reasonable rate for next year. (1 year at $6M? 2 for $12M with bonuses?) Yes, you shouldn't go into a season counting on Pineda to be healthy the full year...but as a guy to pitch effectively and hold the line to keep from rushing prospects in before they're really ready? He makes a lot of sense.

The same is on the bullpen: Duffey seems to have found his form again, Alcala has been excellent in the second half of the season, Thielbar has been terrific and the peripherals back up the gaudy W-L record, and if Taylor Rogers is back...maybe that's the core of a solid bullpen that gets augmented by a couple of internal options (Moran, Stashak, Coloumbe) and only needs 1-2 FA signings (best RH power arm they can find?) instead of needed a total overhaul. The offseason overhaul maybe already happening?

I hope they can work out a deal with Buxton in the offseason. He's got star power, he wants to be here...and it's a bet worth taking. The last week or so of the season won't change my mind on this, even if he went 0-30.

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10 hours ago, Mark G said:

Couldn't have said it better myself.  The one stat (I hate analytics) I look at the most for an offense is the one they used to use regularly: percentage of games scoring 3 runs or less, and percentage scoring 4 runs or more.   Well, as of yesterday, we have scored 3 runs or less in 48% of our games this season; 75 out of 156.  Rocco has made it crystal clear as to his philosophy; he believes giving up an out for a base (sacrifice) is against his analytics.  So is the hit and run.  So is bunting for base hits; apparently they aren't successful enough of the time.  Even stolen bases result in an out too much of a percentage of the time for him, so we are, what?  14th in the American League in stolen bases?  51 in 156 games.  6 sacrifice bunts (non pitcher) all year, etc. etc.   When we only take the bases hits and home runs give us, we manufacture nothing.  And nothing is what we get 48% of the time.  You are right, we have one player locked in to the lineup next year.  Every other player is either moved around too much, or might be trade bait before next April.  And the answer to your question about the line up is:  when pigs fly.......or when Rocco leaves, whichever comes first.  It is simply who he is (or who his computer is).  And Falvine likes it that way, so I am betting on the pigs.  

Not a fan of how he manages, but I think you put too much blame on Rocco.  He probably manages the way his bosses want him to. 

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1 hour ago, yeahyabetcha said:

Not a fan of how he manages, but I think you put too much blame on Rocco.  He probably manages the way his bosses want him to. 

With certainty. Like most successful teams these days..... They just don't have the talent this year, with the injuries and trades, and lack of depth.

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1 hour ago, yeahyabetcha said:

Not a fan of how he manages, but I think you put too much blame on Rocco.  He probably manages the way his bosses want him to. 

Yea, they brought him in because he is an analytics guy, so it may very well start at the top.  

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