Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/3 through Sun, 5/9
Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 12-20)
Run Differential Last Week: -5 (Overall: -2)
Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (7.0 GB)
Last Week's Game Recaps:
NEWS & NOTES
There were a ton of moves in the past week, most of them brought on by unfortunate events. Before we dive into the in-game highlights and lowlights, let's run through all the turnover this roster has experienced over the past seven days.
- The week started with Randy Dobnak being optioned to Triple-A, just in time for the start of the minor-league season. Dobnak had earned the demotion on merit, with an 8.16 ERA through seven appearances, but this decision seems more aimed at getting him back on a starting regimen. So far so good: Dobnak hurled four scoreless innings with five strikeouts in his debut for the Saints. The rotation may need him soon.
- Called up to replace Dobnak on the roster was Brandon Waddell, who went on to have an unbelievably disastrous second stint with the Twins. He pitched on Monday and Tuesday, allowing six runs (5 ER) while recording three totals outs. Waddell was subsequently optioned and designated for assignment; he was claimed Sunday by the Orioles. So much for that once-promising experiment.
- Supplanting Waddell on the roster was Devin Smeltzer, recalled to function as a long reliever. He hasn't since made an appearance.
- Lewis Thorpe came up for another spot start on Wednesday, tossing five innings of three-run ball against Texas, and was sent back to St. Paul afterward.
- Cody Stashak was optioned to Triple-A after coughing up three runs against the lowly Tigers on Friday night. He was replaced by Derek Law, a minor-league signing during the offseason who impressed during spring training. (Then again, so did Waddell.) To make room on the 40-man roster for Law, the Twins designated former third-round pick Travis Blankenhorn for assignment.
The worst news of the week is that the Twins lost three absolutely critical players to injury. Luis Arraez suffered a concussion during a home plate collision on Monday and went on the 7-day Injured List. A day later, Alex Kirilloff was placed on the shelf due to an ominous wrist injury. Then Byron Buxton came up limping at first base on Thursday, and was diagnosed with Grade 2 hip strain that figures to sideline him for at least a month.
You'd be hard-pressed to select anyone the Twins could LESS afford to lose from their lineup than these three. But that's just the nature of this gut-wrenching 2021 season. Filling in the roster spots of these lost fixtures were Nick Gordon, Miguel Sanó and Trevor Larnach.
Well, let's start with Gordon. He made his major-league debut on Thursday and – setting everything else aside – it was just a really nice moment. The former first-round draft pick has gone through hell over the past few years and it probably seemed at times like this opportunity would never come.
He made the most of it, reaching base twice – a single and a walk – and stealing second both times. He became the first player in Twins history to steal multiple bases in his MLB debut.
Despite his draft position and pedigree, Gordon is not considered a top-flight prospect, but there's a bit of intrigue there. His outstanding athleticism was noticeable on Thursday, especially in contrast with a relatively slow and old surrounding cast. I'd love to see Gordon get some significant tread in the months ahead, because at this point, why not?
Other highlights were sparse during this dreary week of play, but it was nice to see some signs of life from the likes of Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler. The continuing lack of production from this trio has been core to the offense's inconsistency and unevenness dating back to 2020.
Garver seems to be coming around. After launching three home runs in the previous week, he added another on Tuesday, and more importantly his plate approach is growing much sharper. Garver drew four walks in 14 plate appearances against just three strikeouts; in his first 20 games he had three walks and 28 strikeouts. Sunday's rainout might've been a fortunate twist for the catcher, who is healing up some minor shoulder inflammation.
Polanco went through perhaps his ugliest stretch of the year in games 2 and 3 against the Rangers, striking out six times in seven at-bats, but otherwise he was very productive, tallying seven hits including three doubles, a triple and a homer. He had more extra-base hits in these six games (6) than he had in his first 24 (5), raising his slugging percentage from .286 to .373.
Kepler too snapped free from an extended power outage, hitting his first home run of the year against Texas on Thursday and then adding his second the following day. It wasn't a great week overall for Kep – he slashed .192/.250/.423 in 28 PAs – but he was making some legitimately hard contact, and even managed to take a lefty deep.
Now, I will add the important caveat that all this success came against two of the worst teams in the league. It's way too early to be getting excited about these small sparks from foundational players who've been sputtering along for months. But, it's something. And the Twins need to see a whole lot more of it.
It is extremely difficult to envision this team doing much of anything if Polanco, Kepler and Garver continue to play the way they did in the first month and throughout much of 2020.
This team is just not very good. That feels clearer than ever after a week in which they struggled to keep pace with two of the worst opponents they'll face all year.
There's simply no resilience, no fight. After mounting a modest hot streak by winning four of five, Minnesota blew the second game against Texas and let it devolve into another cascade of collapses, with a woeful 1-3 stretch all but erasing their progress.
The Twins have not come back and won a single game this year in which they've trailed by more than one run. No fight.
The past week represented a critical opportunity to get right against bad competition ahead of a grueling stretch of the schedule. The Twins failed to take advantage, letting the last-place Rangers and Tigers win four of six.
What's wrong with this team? Where to begin?
The bullpen is a total disaster and it's difficult to fathom exactly where the solutions are going to come from.
Alex Colomé has tossed four scoreless innings in May after a catastrophic month of April, but he's not at the point of being trusted in anything resembling a high-stakes situation. Waddell's meltdown led to his departure from the organization, subtracting one of the front office's key offseason gambles. Another one, Law, inspired no confidence in his first appearance on Saturday. Stashak's been brutal. Tyler Duffey, a pivotal crux in this bullpen's construction, is a shell of his former self.
I've argued that the Twins need to take action on their bullpen quickly if they want to have any hope of resurrecting their fast-fading championship aspirations. It has become rapidly evident they are undermanned, and while fringy arms like Law are worth taking a look at, this relief corps needs an infusion of a much higher caliber. And I'm not sure even a slam-dunk acquisition would make enough difference at this point.
With that said, the failures of the bullpen are magnified by a continued absence of any late-game offense, or ability to rally from deficits. Relievers have a collective 1-11 record, and while they've earned it with their performance – they're on pace to blow away the worst bullpen WPA in baseball history – a W/L that lopsided doesn't happen on its own. The lineup bears its share of blame.
Topping the list of present concerns: Miguel Sanó is fast becoming an untenable option. While Polanco, Kepler and Garver show small signs of emerging from their prolonged slumps, Sanó's performance offers no real cause for encouragement. He has a decent idea of what he's doing at the plate, and continues to draw walks at a solid clip, but Sanó simply can't hit. Last week he went 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts, and his slash line for the season has sunk to .129/.299/.226.
The one thing you could always reliably count on from Sanó in the past, even during the down times, was crushing the ball when he made contact. But this calling card has gone amiss in a sea of pop-ups and grounders. Here's where he has ranked over the past five years among MLB hitters in terms of average exit velocity:
- 2017: 96th percentile
- 2018: 95th percentile
- 2019: 100th percentile
- 2020: 100th percentile
- 2021: 17th percentile
Sanó looks about as discombobulated and as he did in 2018, when the Twins opted to send him down to Single-A for a full-on reset in Fort Myers. That's not so much an option anymore. For an ostensibly healthy 28-year-old who's been in the big leagues for six years, breakdowns of this severity are very tough to accept and painful to navigate.
Surely the Twins would love to be playing him less frequently at this point, but sadly they don't have much choice. The absences of Kirilloff and Buxton mean they need Sanó, not just from a "body on the field" standpoint, but also due to the (however faint) possibility of tapping his offensive potency. The first baseman has looked so poor at the plate this year, and down the stretch last year, that it can be easy to forget how dominant he was for a lengthy period beforehand: From the start of 2019 through the end of last August, Sanó hit .247/.346/.571 with 41 homers and 94 RBIs in 137 games.
Is that player still within him? Can it be coaxed back out? It behooves the Twins to find out, when the alternative is running out Willians Astudillo every day at first base, but in the meantime Sanó's at-bats are just killing this team. They need more from him. They need it. Add that to the list.
Urgency is building because the ultimate lowlight of the past week is one that leaves this offense in a dire state going forward. Buxton's hip injury carries a timeline of multiple weeks at least, according to Rocco Baldelli. The news might even be grimmer for Kirilloff, who plans to test his strained wrist by taking swings in the coming week. Said the manager: "If it's an unplayable situation for Alex, I think having surgery is an option."
Even if Kirilloff CAN play through the injury, it's worth asking whether he SHOULD. And if you don't have him or Buxton in this lineup you don't have much. Not with Andrelton Simmons hurtling back to Earth (.451 OPS in his past 15 games after batting .450 in the first seven) and Jake Cave continuing to be a total offensive black hole (2-for-13 with five strikeouts last week, .507 OPS on the year).
The Twins need Sanó to suddenly figure out how to hit the ball again. They need Kepler, Polanco and Garver to build upon their fledgling hints of positive momentum. They need Larnach, who went 0-for-4 in his debut but didn't look bad by any means, to catch on very quickly, despite his relative lack of minor-league experience.
They need basically all of this to happen, because the Twins must play .600+ ball from here on out to even have a shot at the playoffs.
And you know what? I could kind of see it. These are talented hitters who've been oddly out of whack for what ultimately equates to less than one full season, and they've all been misfiring simultaneously. Who's to say they couldn't all find a rhythm and start clicking in lockstep? We've seen it before, and not that long ago, in 2019. The talent is there.
What I can't see is this bullpen turning around to the drastic extent necessary for a "2019 Nationals" type surge. (An example that many people love to point to as if it's a typical precedent, rather than a once-in-a-century event.) And that's why I personally have lost faith in this team as a true contender. But they've got plenty of time left to prove me wrong.
For the first time since 2019, minor-league baseball games were played last week! The Twins' reconfigured family of affiliates are all underway, which means that nightly Minor League Reports have returned to Twins Daily.
This is exciting not just because it gives fans a diversion from the lackluster big-league product, but also because the system and pipeline will now be poised to influence the Twins far more significantly. With prospects able to actually play in games and make on-field cases for promotions, we'll have much more robust narratives and storylines to follow.
One that I'm already keeping an eye on: Matt Canterino, TD's ninth-ranked prospect who's opened a lot of eyes with his ascendant arsenal. In his season debut for the Cedar Rapids Kernels on Sunday, Canterino tossed three scoreless innings and struck out six.
With Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic sidelined to open the season, Canterino is the top active pitching prospect, and perhaps the Twins staff's best hope for a high-impact minor-league jolt this summer.
After failing to make any hay against a soft patch in the schedule, the Twins are now shifting into a gauntlet, where the stakes will be high and the competition stifling. First, they're off to Chicago for their first meeting of the year with the first-place White Sox, who've won 12 of 17 and lead the major leagues in run differential.
Afterward, the Athletics come to Target Field, looking to follow up on their trouncing of the Twins in Oakland three weeks ago. The A's have won 21 of 29 games since starting the season 0-6.
These are two red-hot, high-quality teams. The Twins will be facing them without two of their best players. I'm bracing for the worst but if they can find a way to win four of six this week it would go along way in providing some semblance of a reason to believe.
TUESDAY, 5/11: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Dylan Cease
WEDNESDAY, 5/12: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – LHP J.A. Happ v. LHP Dallas Keuchel
THURSDAY, 5/13: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Carlos Rodon
FRIDAY, 5/14: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – RHP Frankie Montas v. RHP Matt Shoemaker
SATURDAY, 5/15: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – LHP Cole Irvin v. RHP José Berríos
SUNDAY, 5/16: ATHLETICS @ TWINS – RHP Chris Bassitt v. RHP Kenta Maeda
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