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  • Week in Review: Rotation Reinforced


    Nick Nelson

    One-run victories bookended a four-game losing streak, in a week where the Twins bats were mostly quiet but the rotation continued to offer promising signs – including from a pair of new additions who could significantly impact the 2022 picture. 

    Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today

    Twins Video

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/30 thru Sun, 9/5
    ***
    Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 59-77)
    Run Differential Last Week: -12 (Overall: -111)
    Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (20.0 GB)

    Last Week's Game Recaps:

    Game 131 | MIN 3, DET 2: Twins Take Makeup Game Behind Ober
    Game 132 | CHC 3, MIN 1: Offense Comes Up Short in Key Spots
    Game 133 | CHC 3, MIN 0: Ryan Bitten by 3-R HR, Lack of Run Support in Debut
    Game 134 | TB 5, MIN 3: Dobnak Digs Deep Early Hole in Return to Rotation
    Game 135 | TB 11, MIN 4: Rays Annihilate Albers, Blow Out Twins
    Game 136 | MIN 6, TB 5: Offense Snaps Slump with 13 Hits

    NEWS & NOTES

    When rosters expanded on September 1st, the Twins called up two starters from the minors – one a new face in pitching prospect Joe Ryan, who came over in the Nelson Cruz deal, and one a familiar face in Randy Dobnak, who had wrapped up a rehab stint in St. Paul. Both pitchers joined the rotation right away, and you can read about their performances below.

    To make room on the 40-man roster for the new additions, Edgar García was outrighted and Kenta Maeda – who underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday – was moved to the 60-day IL. 

    In a bit of an odd and surprising trade, the Twins dealt minor-league reliever Andrew Vasquez to the Dodgers for minor-league catcher Stevie Berman. Vasquez was called up immediately by Los Angeles, and appeared in Friday's game against the Giants.

    We've seen Vasquez in brief stints for the Twins before, in 2019 and 2018, and they did not go well. He is what he is – a lefty specialist who has been incredibly effective in that capacity in the minors but also struggles to throw strikes. People around here weren't exactly clamoring for him to promoted, and I'll admit he hasn't been on my radar lately.

    Still, for a team like the Twins that is desperate for any kind of pitching help – now and going forward – to never even take a look at a pitcher who was deemed immediately valuable by the reigning champs, vying for a ninth straight division title? I dunno. Strikes me as weird. 

    In other news, Trevor Larnach was placed on the IL at Triple-A with a hand contusion, and it sounds like Michael Pineda's return is imminent. The big righty's oblique has healed quickly and he's set to rejoin the Twins rotation this week without a rehab assignment.

    On Sunday, Luke Farrell was activated from IL, supplanting Andrew Albers, who was utterly clobbered by Tampa on Saturday night. Derek Law was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    With Maeda out of the picture, can the Twins realistically build a rotation capable of contending in 2022? I made the case for it here a few days ago, while acknowledging that such an outcome would require multiple savvy offseason moves from the front office, and for things to break right with a few returning arms that are – at best – uncertainties right now.

    The past week brought much-needed encouraging signs for a few of those arms.

    Things opened up with yet another excellent outing from Bailey Ober, who delivered six innings of two-run ball in a makeup game at Detroit on Monday. The right-hander struck out five and walked none while allowing five hits in his second big-league win. 

    One thing that I think gets lost in Ober's performance – due to the Twins carefully managing his pitch counts and workload – is that he's showing the potential to provide length once the team loosens up his restrictions a bit. In five August starts, Ober completed at least five innings each time, and got through six twice, despite never throwing more than 82 pitches.  

    If he can continue to pitch this way in 2022, Ober looks like a guy who could give you six or seven innings on a pretty regular basis.

    We haven't had quite as much time to get a read on Ryan, who made his major-league debut against the Cubs on Wednesday night, but our first glimpse was a promising one.

    After spending a few months carving Triple-A hitters to shreds, Ryan took his game to Target Field and delivered a pretty good approximation, striking out five over five frames with 14 swinging strikes on 60 pitches (23%). He allowed only three hits and one walk, but his otherwise strong outing was marred by a three-run homer. (Ober can relate on this one.) 

    As for Dobnak ... I don't think a start where the pitcher gives up five earned runs could be described as "good," but there was certainly some optimism to be drawn from his outing on Friday. 

    All of the damage came early against Dobnak, who was likely shaking off some rust after a two-month absence from the rotation. He gave up three straight hits – including back-to-back RBI singles – to open the third, and then settled in to retire 15 straight batters. The last seven all came on groundouts and in total, Dobnak induced 17 grounders over his seven innings of work. He became the first Minnesota starter to complete seven innings since José Berríos in his last Twins start, all the way back on July 24th.

    Even some of the peripheral arms on the staff had solid showings. John Gant looked about as good as we've seen him in his start against the Cubs on Tuesday, tossing five innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. He was spinning the ball around the lower regions of the zone and inducing some fairly ugly swings. Like Griffin Jax, there's evidence Gant could be a useful swingman or long reliever on the 2022 staff. 

    Also deserving of note is Ralph Garza Jr., who tossed three scoreless and hitless innings. The 27-year-old has fared out much better as a Twin than García, claimed off waivers around the same time. Garza Jr. now has a 1.46 ERA with just six hits allowed in 12 ⅓ innings since being acquired.

    LOWLIGHTS

    While the pitching staff (sans Albers) held its own, the offense provided little support. Since scoring nine runs in consecutive games in Boston a couple weeks ago, the bats have gone into hibernation, batting just .214 with 29 runs scored in their past 10 games.

    Conspicuously, the slump in production coincides closely with Byron Buxton's return, which has thus far had the opposite of its intended impact. The center fielder has been playing daily since being activated from IL, but can't find much rhythm at the plate. Last week he went 4-for-21, and overall he's 4-for-35 (.114) with 10 strikeouts and two walks since coming back.

    I don't think Buxton's struggles are super concerning – ample rust is to be expected following his prolonged absence, and he's not striking out an inordinate amount or anything – but they're definitely threatening the narrative of a breakout season. Is Buxton truly a bona fide MVP-caliber hitter, like we saw back an April and in frequent bursts over the past few years, or is he more of a great but streaky offensive player?

    The final month should offer a bit more clarity, and could heavily impact the dynamics of any offseason extension talks as Buxton heads into his walk year. Hopefully Sunday's two-hit game is a sign that the 27-year-old is ready to get rolling again.

    Other players contributing to the lineup's run-scoring scarcity:

    • Luis Arraez is finding the hits uncharacteristically difficult to come by of late. In six games (five starts) last week, Arraez went just 5-for-22, and in fact he's got only five hits in his past 10 games. I'm not sure this qualifies as anything more than regression to the mean for a player who'd previously been hitting nearly .400 since the All-Star break, but it does go to show how much the offense relies on his contributions to spark rallies.
    • Miguel Sanó probably fell into some regression of his own. After posting a 1.005 OPS in his previous 10 games, Sanó went just 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts and two walks. Coming into the week, the first baseman had struck out 3+ times in a game just once in the previous month (a notable feat for him) but he did so twice last week. Sanó got a day off on Sunday; we'll see if this is a mere hiccup or the start of another mega-slump.
    • Meanwhile, Andrelton Simmons' season has basically been one long mega-slump. While continuing to draw almost everyday starts due to a lack of compelling alternatives, Simmons was customarily awful at the plate, going 2-for-12 with zero extra-base hits, zero RBIs, and zero runs scored. He now sports a .216 slugging percentage and .468 OPS since the All-Star break. Simmons' consistently meager contact produces almost no chance for successful results, and the 32-year-old (as of Saturday) really does look cooked as a big-league hitter. Alas, the Twins appear committed to running out the string.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    All eyes are on the rotation right now. It'd be nice to see the offense pick up its pace again, but there are no deep concerns about the state of the lineup going forward. Meanwhile, everyone currently slotted into the rotation – Ober, Dobnak, Jax, Ryan, and even the returning Pineda – is making their case for a role on the 2022 staff. 

    Presently I'd say Ober is the only one who could safely be viewed as having a spot carved out, but matters could change over the final four weeks. No storyline looms larger, in my eyes. 

    LOOKING AHEAD

    A full week of match-ups against fellow AL Central also-rans lies ahead, with the Twins set to play four games in Cleveland followed by three against the Royals at Target Field. Minnesota is amidst a run of 13 straight days of games with no break.

    Who will start on Friday against the Royals, with Albers now out of the equation? That is the question. Charlie Barnes would seem to be the most likely option at present, if not a bullpen game.

    The Twins will be operating for a short while without their manager, as Rocco Baldelli departed the team on Sunday for the birth of his first child. (Congrats Rocco and Allie!!)

    Bill Evers, who announced he'll be retiring at season's end, will take over as interim skipper.

    MONDAY, 9/6: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP Bailey Ober v. LHP Sam Hentges
    TUESDAY, 9/7: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP John Gant v. RHP Triston McKenzie
    WEDNESDAY, 9/8: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP Joe Ryan v. RHP Cal Quantrill
    THURSDAY, 9/9: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Eli Morgan
    FRIDAY, 9/10: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Daniel Lynch v. TBD
    SATURDAY, 9/11: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brady Singer v. RHP Griffin Jax
    SUNDAY, 9/12: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jackson Kowar v. RHP Bailey Ober

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    Who the Twins haven't advanced Miranda, Hamilton and Moran is beyond me. Also, might as well let Strotman come up and get clobbered. Learning experience for a future Twin. You are letting Jax take his lumps.

     

    I was hoping to see Balazovic for at least one game. Less than two weeks of Wichita ball left. Will he come to Saints land to end the season.

     

    For some reason, not excited about the return of Pineda,

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    Just two thoughts:

    1.  Maybe a good thing Buxton sluggish in his return.  If he returned like he left - firing on all cylinders - he might be much harder for Twins to sign.  This way, his expectations might be tempered somewhat.  Signing Buxton is still the most important move going forward.

    2.  Regarding Simmons, wonder if Twins should sign Iglesias who was just released by Angels.  Would like to see in last month if he is a possibility for the needed fill-in on 2022 team.  Seems like Simmons has expended any goodwill and Iglesias seems to be better offensively, at least, as well as being a better fielder than any one now on the roster.

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    Thanks for a lot of good information, Nick.

    Interesting that both of the young guns do something different than most pitchers.  Ober's release point is what, nearly a foot closer to the hitter than most pitchers.  And Ryan has a lower release point than most.  A couple of promising prospects who offer a different look could be great in the rotation for the next X years.

    AS you talk about next year's pitching, two pitchers who were in the 2021 plans are long forgotten, Thorpe and Smeltzer.  Will be surprised if either makes the cut come November.  We all would love to see them get traded, but early November trades are far and few between so that ain't likely.  

    We should have expected Buxton to struggle coming back this time.  After spring training, he was on fire for all of April, then missed a month.  After a short rehab, he was hitting well for 3 games before getting hurt again.  This time he missed two months, followed by another short rehab.  Missing three months is nearly like the entire off-season, and I doubt we would expect anyone to play a couple spring training games and then step in and be 100%.  

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    8 hours ago, Rosterman said:

    For some reason, not excited about the return of Pineda,

    For good reason. He's been bad for most of the season, and now he'll be blocking starts by prospects who could actually have a role to play here in the future.

    I guess the Twins want to see if he has anything left in him that would make him worth signing to a cheap deal for 2022-23. But I don't see the point, unless he's an excellent mentor to the young starters in ways we fans can't see. 

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    We have reached a point in the season we're comments our difficult.  I am delighted the Gordon is showing some life and I would like to see some other young batters given a chance to see if they can make it at the major league level like Miranda. Over is the only starting pitcher that has consistently shined and we hope Ryan will join him and demonstrating he can have quality over a number of starts.

     

    Otherwise the pitching is not inspiring and I would certainly rather see some of the young arms come up and show their capabilities rather than watching pictures who have a very low chance of contributing in the future take the starts.

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    1 hour ago, LastOnePicked said:

    For good reason. He's been bad for most of the season, and now he'll be blocking starts by prospects who could actually have a role to play here in the future.

    I guess the Twins want to see if he has anything left in him that would make him worth signing to a cheap deal for 2022-23. But I don't see the point, unless he's an excellent mentor to the young starters in ways we fans can't see. 

    “Blocking starts by prospects” is so overstated on this website lately. And it’s simply not true.

    35 year old Andrew Albers has been taking regular spots in the rotation. You don’t think Pineda can take that spot? Not to mention, the only prospect doing well is Ober. Jax and his 6+ ERA isn’t doing anything to deserve being in the rotation. Other than there’s no one else to take the ball away from him. 

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    3 hours ago, Vanimal46 said:

    Jax and his 6+ ERA isn’t doing anything to deserve being in the rotation.

    I get your point, but you don't pitch in the rotation on a team headed to 90+ losses solely because you  "deserve" it - you get slotted into the rotation because you need to give the FO a chance to evaluate the way you respond to major league hitters and adjust. Prospects, understandably, deserve more slack.

    But sure, he can take Albers' spot for 5 starts. But so could Strotman. Or Balazovic. Or others. who might need to be a part of the future here.

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    36 minutes ago, LastOnePicked said:

    I get your point, but you don't pitch in the rotation on a team headed to 90+ losses solely because you  "deserve" it - you get slotted into the rotation because you need to give the FO a chance to evaluate the way you respond to major league hitters and adjust. Prospects, understandably, deserve more slack.

    But sure, he can take Albers' spot for 5 starts. But so could Strotman. Or Balazovic. Or others. who might need to be a part of the future here.

    100 plus losses here we come.

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    In regard to Jax, all I can think is, what might have been if the Twins had guessed right and they would have changed the obligation rules earlier as they had expected/hoped.  At this point, despite pitching at the ML level and showing SOME promise, sure seems like he's looking like a quality middle RP. 

    Tòo bad. Shoulda/coulda/woulda.

    I keep wondering about Simmons. Is he playing to help the staff at this point defensively? Are the Twins thinking about re-signing him for 2022 on a smaller deal as a fill-in and just wanting to see how he finishes/responds?

    Otherwise, I'd just say STOP. Let him go and do something crazy and let SS be played by almost anyone. Use his roster spot for Miranda. Maybe go completely nuts and bring up someone like Palacious for 3 weeks. Just saying, if you don't expect/want him back, just use the roster spot for SOMEONE.

    Still fine auditioning various arms to see who you want to keep or invite back. That's what you do at the end of a disappointing season.

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    3 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    The Twins would have to go 3-23 to finish the season to finish with 100 losses but hey, I guess it's possible.

    If the Pohlads allowed Baldelli to start putting AAA much less AA players in  to expose their failings ,   would not hit 100 losses but would get close enough to it to see empty stands which is the last thing the Pohlands want.

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    On 9/6/2021 at 10:02 AM, mike8791 said:

    Regarding Simmons, wonder if Twins should sign Iglesias who was just released by Angels.  Would like to see in last month if he is a possibility for the needed fill-in on 2022 team.  Seems like Simmons has expended any goodwill and Iglesias seems to be better offensively, at least, as well as being a better fielder than any one now on the roster.

    I read in an article about Iglesias' release that his defensive stats were way down this year. It seems like a few years ago he was regarded similarly to Simmons for great defense. If there was good reason to think this year was a fluke or statistical noise, Iglesias would be a great stop-gap to replace Simmons next year - but it seems risky if he ends up being one more middle infielder whom they don't really trust at shortstop...

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    23 hours ago, RpR said:

    100 plus losses here we come.

    Starting veterans who are maybe only marginally better than rookies just to avoid 100 losses seems like a weird strategy to me. And I'm no team PR rep, but I'm guessing the Twins can sell a few more tickets to fans who want to watch the franchise's future unfold than to watch their past failures moulder away on the mound or field.

    I do sometimes try to be fair-minded, though, and I know the team has expressed an interest in re-signing Pineda. It's not a terrible idea to try and let him make the case that he's got something left to offer for 22-23. And yesterday, Pineda rose to that challenge. Good for him.

    Falvey and Levine never call to ask me for my opinion anyway, so go figure. :)

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