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Week in Review: Winning Out


With a winning week to close out the season, the Minnesota Twins were able to avoid 90 losses. They still finished last in the AL Central, leaving their path forward in doubt.

There isn't going to be any more Twins baseball for a long time, so let's take a look back at the past week and savor these final moments.

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/27 thru Sun, 10/3
***
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 73-89)
Run Differential Last Week: +4 (Overall: -105)
Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (20.0 GB)

Last Week's Game Recaps:

Game 157 | MIN 3, DET 2: Twins Edge Tigers in Pitchers' Duel
Game 158 | MIN 5, DET 2: Polanco and Pineda Propel Twins
Game 159 | DET 10, MIN 7: Buxton's 2 HR Not Enough as Ryan Struggles
Game 160 | KC 11, MIN 6: Pitching Plastered as Royals Pound Twins
Game 161 | MIN 4, KC 0: Arms Rebound, Blank Kansas City
Game 162 | MIN 7, KC 3: Twins Close Losing Year with a Win

NEWS & NOTES

It turns out that Bailey Ober's start the previous week would be the last of his rookie season. He was shut down ahead of his scheduled final turn with a right hip strain, although the move surely had more to do with workload management than real injury concern. Ober completes his first MLB campaign with a 4.19 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 96-to-19 K/BB ratio in 92 ⅓ innings spread across 20 starts. A tremendously encouraging year from the big righty, who has vaulted directly into the club's rotation plans.

HIGHLIGHTS

With an offseason ahead that may prove decisive in shaping his big-league future, Byron Buxton ended his season on a high note. Generally speaking, he hasn't been quite the same offensively since returning from his broken hand, but Buxton's final week looked more like his first month. He went 11-for-25 with three home runs, five doubles, and 11 runs scored, mixing in a couple of stolen bases for good measure. 

We're seeing something special here, folks. The question now is whether we'll have the opportunity to keep watching Buxton's magic happen in a Twins uniform. He's got one year ahead until free agency and if Minnesota can't extend him, his trade market will be too hot to ignore. 

The decision with Buxton this offseason will primarily dictate whether the Twins actually aspire to contend in 2022, and will likely determine whether a lot of fans choose to stick with the team or tune out for the time being. I've written in the past where I stand: pay the man, or regret it forever. You cannot let a talent like this get away.

Joining Buxton with strong finishes at the plate:

  • Josh Donaldson went 6-for-21 with four walks, two homers, and five RBIs. He started all six games, which is pretty much par for the course by now. It was a huge proving year durability-wise for the 35-year-old, who returned from an immediate IL stint to play in 133 of the club's final 150 games, starting 125. The production was there too. While he still carries plenty of risk at this point, JD looks like a much more dependable building block than he did one year ago.
  • The late drop-off of Luis Arraez was an under-discussed storyline in the second half for the Twins. From August 19th through September 19th, he batted just .176 in 99 plate appearances, sinking his average from .318 to .284. Given the lack of real defensive value, and the absence of power or patience in his game, Arraez's value plummets pretty quickly when he's not hitting for average, and we've never seen him slump in that department quite like he did during this late stretch. So it was nice to see him snap out of it with an excellent final week, in which Arraez notched 11 hits in 20 at-bats, lifting his final average to .294. It'll be very interesting to see what the team's plan is with him going forward.
  • Miguel Sanó went 7-for-22 with a home run, a double, and four RBIs. He rebounded from a brutal April with production the rest of the way that was basically in line with his quality career norms. He also put up the lowest overall K-rate of his career (34.3%) after leading the league in strikeouts a year ago. It was ultimately a disappointing year for Sanó but offered some promising signs, and he's vowed to focus harder than ever on his body this winter, setting a goal of losing 20-30 pounds. With Alex Kirilloff looking more like a first baseman than outfielder, Sanó is another intriguing piece in the organization's future planning. He has one more guaranteed season under team control.

On the pitching side, Michael Pineda wrapped his walk year with 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball in a win over Detroit. He returned quickly from an August oblique injury to register a 5-0 record and 1.85 ERA in five outings. That'll give the pending free agency market a boost. 

Griffin Jax finished a rough rookie season in a positive way, delivering his best performance as a big-leaguer on Saturday with five innings of shutout ball against Kansas City. He was hardly dominant, striking out three and walking two, but he allowed only one hit. Jax showed some promise after the All-Star break, but in his final eight starts he went 1-4 with a 7.82 ERA, erasing any chance of factoring into the Twins' rotation plans next year. That said, with his effective fastball-slider combo, he's definitely earned a look in the bullpen.

Speaking of which, the Twins received impressive final weeks from a trio of key relievers. Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar, and Jorge Alcala combined to allow zero earned runs over 11 frames. Tough to overstate how impactful these three are for the Twins' bullpen outlook.

At the All-Star break, it wasn't clear that any of them were going to be names to comfortably write into the 2022 plans. None pitched especially well in the first half. But since the break, they've collectively posted a 2.48 ERA and 85-to-24 K/BB ratio in 83 ⅓ innings. All three are expected to return in 2022, at a little over $5 million in total salary.

It's not an amazing bullpen foundation to build around, but if Taylor Rogers can return to form following his finger injury, it's certainly a viable starting point for a contending relief corps. 

LOWLIGHTS

He's been a beaming beacon in the Highlights section nearly every week since arriving in the majors, but in his final turn as a rookie, Joe Ryan finally hit a road bump for the first time. Facing the Tigers at Target Field on Thursday, Ryan was knocked around for six earned runs in 4 ⅔ innings, with a pair of homers by Niko Goodrum accounting for much of the damage. 

The poor finale may diminish a bit of Ryan's shine, but hardly removes the luster from a tremendous showing in September for the rookie. He finishes with a 4.05 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 0.79 WHIP, and 30-to-5 K/BB ratio in 26 ⅔ innings. Small sample and lack of experience aside, it's tough to imagine he won't be at least tentatively penciled into a rotation spot come next spring.

Will Max Kepler still be the man in right field at that time? He closed out one of the worst offensive seasons of his career with a 3-for-19 week, leaving him with a pedestrian final slash line of .211/.306/.413. Just flat-out sub-mediocre production from a right fielder. It does bear noting that Kepler supplements his value in other ways, like on the bases (10-for-10 on steals this year) and in the outfield, but with emerging corner outfield depth in the Twins system, Kepler and his favorable contract will likely be shopped on the trade market.

Andrelton Simmons put the finishing touches on an all-time dud of an offensive season, going 2-for-11 with a couple of singles. He posted a .480 OPS in the second half, managing three total extra-base hits (all doubles) in 189 plate appearances. Most Twins fans will be more than happy to be rid of the pending free agent, and while his defense was customarily good this year (albeit unspectacular), I do wonder if any team will view him as a starting-caliber player on the offseason market.

In an interesting trend, Simmons finally started losing some his playing time at shortstop to Nick Gordon toward the end of the year, much to the pleasure of fans who'd been clamoring for such a shift. Gordon first start at short didn't come until September 11th, by which time he'd been in the majors for three months and appeared in 55 games. From that point forward, however, he started eight of the team's final 21 games, including three times in the final week.

Gordon's bat went cold during this final stretch, producing just one hit in 13 at-bats, and his overall production for the season was underwhelming (.647 OPS, 0.2 fWAR), but if he's viewed as a credible option at short, that cements his value as a utility guy. The team's usage late in the season inspires optimism on that front.

TRENDING STORYLINE

There are plenty of trending storylines ahead as we turn our attention to the offseason. Once a World Series champion is crowned in about one month's time, the page will turn and Hot Stove season will officially get underway. (Theoretically, anyway ... a looming CBA expiration could throw a wrench in things.)

As they seek to rebound from a terrible season, the Twins face a number of key decisions this winter. Will Buxton be traded? What about dealing a semi-redundant yet valuable fixture such as Kepler, Arraez, or Sanó? Who will survive the 40-man roster crunch? How hard will Minnesota attack the free agent markets at pitcher and shortstop? 

There's plenty to explore as we size up a critical offseason. I'm pleased to say we'll have an exciting announcement on that topic dropping on Monday morning. Make sure you tune in for it.

On a final note: a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who has consumed, commented on, or complimented these Week in Review columns over the course of the year. It's been fun, and for me, a good way to stay plugged into a season that was often difficult to find motivation to care about. Hopefully these weekly recaps served a similar purpose for many of you.

We'll be back next year. Here's to much happier weeks to break down in 2022.

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It's nice to have a wrap up, but is it really the season wrap up or will there be another reflection? I am not sure how I feel about the season other than being disappointed. What do we build on?

 

How do we truly evaluate the end of the season. Nice that we ended on a good note but it's a lot easier to win when the pressure is off and there is no hope for the off-season. 

Players like Ryan and Ober we're fun, but does that mean that we can count on them for next year?  

So many questions. I think point about Arraez is one of many questions that are left to be answered from this season. 

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Thanks so much, Nick, for these weekly articles.

There are so many questions that will need to be answered.  Will they begin answering them today?  Their 40-man roster sits at 49, including an unheard of 9 on the 60-day IL.  Does that have to be reduced to 40 today?  If not, when?

You made one comment that I question if it is still true.  That is referring to the corner outfield depth in the system.  Does that depth really exist?  Kirilloff is going to be a great hitter, however, is better defensively at first.  Of all the others, only Larnach appears to be both adequate defensively with a better than average bat.  (Note: I didn't include Celestino, who projects as a center field replacement should they not get Buxton extended)  Yes, there may be a few young guys in rookie ball or low-A, guys like Rosario, Urbina, Rodriguez.  But they are so far away it is unclear how they will develop.

Thanks again, hopefully we don't have to suffer through another year like this for a long time.

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"What about dealing a semi-redundant yet valuable fixture such as Kepler, Arraez, or Sanó?"

Arraez is younger, more productive, less expensive, and may still have more to show in 3B defense and power. He shouldn't be in the same trade conversation, IMO.

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Once the Twins were clearly out of the running, these weekly recaps helped me keep pace on the team without having to suffer daily agony. They have been easy to follow, and the write ups have provided great insight into the big picture. Thanks so much for these, looking forward to next year!

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1 hour ago, roger said:

Thanks so much, Nick, for these weekly articles.

There are so many questions that will need to be answered.  Will they begin answering them today?  Their 40-man roster sits at 49, including an unheard of 9 on the 60-day IL.  Does that have to be reduced to 40 today?  If not, when?

You made one comment that I question if it is still true.  That is referring to the corner outfield depth in the system.  Does that depth really exist?  Kirilloff is going to be a great hitter, however, is better defensively at first.  Of all the others, only Larnach appears to be both adequate defensively with a better than average bat.  (Note: I didn't include Celestino, who projects as a center field replacement should they not get Buxton extended)  Yes, there may be a few young guys in rookie ball or low-A, guys like Rosario, Urbina, Rodriguez.  But they are so far away it is unclear how they will develop.

Thanks again, hopefully we don't have to suffer through another year like this for a long time.

Maybe Wade or Badoo or Rosario are available.

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1 hour ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

"What about dealing a semi-redundant yet valuable fixture such as Kepler, Arraez, or Sanó?"

Arraez is younger, more productive, less expensive, and may still have more to show in 3B defense and power. He shouldn't be in the same trade conversation, IMO.

Arraez is the only one of the three that would bring back a meaningful piece.  He is also somewhat redundant.  The only position he plays reasonably well is 2B and we have a great 2B and we have multiple prospects that can play 2B.  I would like to see them sign Taylor at SS.  He can move to 3B or 2B if Lewis or someone else proves to be better at SS.  Lewis / Miranda / Taylor  and Gordon would provide a really flexible group of IFers for the next several years.

Trade Arraez for pitching.  Trade Donaldson by the trade deadline next year.  Use the money for pitching.  Sign Buxton and add Martin next year.  That's a good team for the next several years and it should be even further improved with the depth of pitching prospects that are close.

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You mention the labor agreement (or lack of one). That has hardly been discussed lately. Is that because there is some sign that it might be easier to work out than had been thought. Or is everyone just ignoring it. I remember at the beginning of the season being quite confident that there would not be a normal season in 2022.

Maybe one of TD's experts could put up an article summarizing the current state of affairs and the timetable for talks. 

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2 hours ago, roger said:

Thanks so much, Nick, for these weekly articles.

There are so many questions that will need to be answered.  Will they begin answering them today?  Their 40-man roster sits at 49, including an unheard of 9 on the 60-day IL.  Does that have to be reduced to 40 today?  If not, when?

The off-season begins the day after the World Series is over, and those initial roster decisions have to be made by then.

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45 minutes ago, PDX Twin said:

You mention the labor agreement (or lack of one). That has hardly been discussed lately. Is that because there is some sign that it might be easier to work out than had been thought. Or is everyone just ignoring it. I remember at the beginning of the season being quite confident that there would not be a normal season in 2022.

Maybe one of TD's experts could put up an article summarizing the current state of affairs and the timetable for talks. 

There will be an in-depth story from Bonnes on this topic in the Offseason Handbook

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1 hour ago, Major League Ready said:

Arraez is the only one of the three that would bring back a meaningful piece.  He is also somewhat redundant.  The only position he plays reasonably well is 2B

I had the impression that his defense at 3B has been at least average this year. He's still just 24, and one of our few reliable OBP producers, so in a lineup sense, he is not redundant.

Yes, he would bring back more than Kepler and Sano. But he's the kind of guy you trade to make a playoff run, not to solidify a reload.

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Thanks for these Nick, as mentioned above, they're good snapshots of the team in a season which work/life/bad team had me watching a lot less. Color me weird, but I'm optimistic about next BEFORE any Hotstove moves have happened. I believe we will get expensive starting pitching help. I believe in our bullpen albeit a piece or 2. I'm happy with our position players if Kepler can get on track and we get a SS. Luckily our holes to fill (top of line SP, Shutdown Closer, and SS are easy to fill....Go Twins)

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1 hour ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

I had the impression that his defense at 3B has been at least average this year. He's still just 24, and one of our few reliable OBP producers, so in a lineup sense, he is not redundant.

Yes, he would bring back more than Kepler and Sano. But he's the kind of guy you trade to make a playoff run, not to solidify a reload.

You reload to make a playoff run, right?  So, I don’t understand the logic of you would trade Arraez to make a playoff run, not to reload?  It also does not make sense to hold on to him for 3B.  Donaldson is better offensively and defensively.  Our top position player prospect (Miranda) is also ready and he can play 3B.  Arraez is the least preferable option of the three at 3B.  We are a better team with Donaldson at 3B.  We are probably better with Miranda at 3B plus whatever we get for Arraez plus whatever we save on Donaldson going into pitching. Maybe not in 2022 but by 2023 I would prefer to have Miranda at 3B (and 10+M saved on Donaldson applied to pitching or a Buxton extension) over a 37 y/o Donaldson.

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