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.
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.
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.
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.
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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