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  • Week in Review: A (Familiar) Bronx Tale


    Nick Nelson

    The Minnesota Twins rattled off a fourth consecutive series victory against Cleveland, but their momentum couldn't prevent a familiar outcome at Yankee Stadium.

    A humbling beatdown in the Bronx reminded the Twins, and their fans, of just how far this team has to go.

    Image courtesy of Ken Blaze, USA Today

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/16 thru Sun, 8/22
    ***
    Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 54-70)
    Run Differential Last Week: -16 (Overall: -90)
    Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (18.0 GB)

    Last Week's Game Recaps:

    Game 119 | MIN 5, CLE 4: Polanco Ends Sloppy Contest in Extras
    Game 120 | CLE 3, MIN 1: Bats Stymied by Cleveland Pitching
    Game 121 | MIN 8, CLE 7: Another Jorge Polanco Walk-Off
    Game 122 | NYY 7, MIN 5: Twins Drop Bullpen Game
    Game 123 | NYY 10, MIN 2: Barnes Clobbered in Blowout
    Game 124 | NYY 7, MIN 1: Another Day in the Bronx

    NEWS & NOTES

    There was a ton of roster churn over the past week, as well as some key rehab developments, so let's run through all of the news in bullet form, starting from last Monday:

    • As I hinted they might in last week's edition, the Twins sent slumping Trevor Larnach back to Triple-A to try and fix his broken swing. Nick Gordon was recalled to replace him and has seen plenty of action since the recall, appearing in all six games and starting in four of them. He's primarily been in center field.
    • As expected, Lewis Thorpe was called up to start Wednesday's game against Cleveland. It did not go well and Thorpe's latest stint with the Twins did not last long; he went on the IL with a shoulder impingement following the game. 
    • With the Twins in desperate need of arms, Andrew Albers and Kyle Barraclough were recalled from St. Paul on Thursday. To make room for them on the 40-man roster, Beau Burrows and Nick Vincent were outrighted to Triple-A. 
    • Amidst all the roster juggling, Edgar Garcia was optioned to Triple-A for exactly one day before returning on Friday, taking over the vacated spot of Miguel Sanó, who went on paternity leave.
    • Randy Dobnak started a rehab assignment in Ft. Myers on Saturday night, tossing three perfect innings with five strikeouts. Dobnak hadn't pitched in a game for more than two months, so it's good to see him on the road back. I consider his status one of the most crucial questions for the team to find clarity on in the second half.
    • In the week's happiest news, Byron Buxton had begun his own rehab stint in Triple-A the prior night. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout but drove in a run on a sac fly. Buxton took a day off on Saturday, then homered in his first at-bat on Sunday. Presuming all goes smoothly over the next few days, it's reasonable to look at Friday – when the Twins return to Target Field and open a series against Milwaukee – as a reasonable target for Buck's return.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    The two most critical rookies in the Twins rotation – Bailey Ober and Griffin Jax – carried their success from the previous week forward. They started against Chicago on Monday and Tuesday night, and each allowed two earned runs over six innings in his respective outing. Neither was spectacular or dominant, but they got it done against a very good team, and that's what we need to see right now.

    Since the trade deadline, Jax has a 2.82 ERA over 22 ⅓ innings in four starts, and opponents are slashing just .207/.267/.402 against him. In that same span, Ober has a 2.66 ERA over 20 ⅓ innings in four starts, with a 20-to-3 K/BB ratio. The Twins are 6-2 in those eight games.

    Offensively, Jorge Polanco stayed hot, prompting those of us who doubted him to eat our words. He amazingly walked off Cleveland twice in a three-game series, and finished the week 10-for-28 (.357) with eight RBIs. Sanó also had a very nice week, launching a pair of homers (including an absolutely mythical opposite-field blast) and contributing significantly to the series-clinching win against Cleveland on Wednesday.

    But if we're being honest, the biggest positives of the week happened on the farm. Joe Ryan made his St. Paul Saints debut on Friday and was simply electric, striking out the first six batters he faced on the way to four innings of one-hit, one-run ball (the hit was a solo homer) with nine Ks. 

    Ryan struggled a bit out of the gates for the Durham Bulls this year, posting a 7.11 ERA in his first three starts. Since then, he has a 2.61 ERA in 10 turns, with a 66-to-6 K/BB ratio in 48 ⅓ innings. Opponents are slashing .150/.191/.293 against him in this time. 

    It's not exactly clear WHY the headliner of the Nelson Cruz trade is so dominant – Ryan's fastball-heavy arsenal isn't visibly overwhelming, with his deceptive heater being labeled in some corners an "invisiball" –  but it's clearly working at Triple-A. Will it play in the majors? I suspect we might get our first look in the near future.

    For what it's worth, Ryan threw 124 innings during his first pro season in 2019 (racking up 183 strikeouts). He's thrown 61 this year, not including the Olympic workload, so the Twins aren't in danger of pushing him too hard.

    Ryan has a chance to emerge as the top pitching prospect in the organization. But he'll need to overcome Jordan Balazovic, who retains his stake on that claim despite checkered results this season. His past five turns have been perfectly emblematic:

    • 7/30: @ Northwest Arkansas – 3.1 IP 6 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 HR
    • 8/5: vs Midland – 4.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR
    • 8/10: @ Tulsa –  6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
    • 8/15: @ Tulsa – 1.2 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
    • 8/21: @ Springfield – 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 6 K, 0 HR

    Look: were there some major command struggles mixed in there? Yes. The August 15th outing would not be considered good by anyone, even if he allowed zero "earned" runs (six unearned were charged to him). But at the end of the day, Balazovic has a 3.42 ERA and is averaging well over a strikeout per inning in his first turn at Double-A, coming off the lost season. He's still only 22.

    While young pitchers are generating reason for optimism, no prospect is matching the hype-building prowess of one Jose Miranda. He keeps adding to one of the greatest seasons in Twins minor-league history, piling on impressive performances for the Saints following a late-June promotion to Triple-A. On Saturday he went 4-for-5 as St. Paul's leadoff hitter, launching his 25th homer of the season.

    It's easy to be dismayed by what you're seeing from the major-league club. (And we're doing to delve into that next, I'm afraid.) But there truly are some energizing things happening in the system and we shouldn't lose sight of that.

    LOWLIGHTS

    Positive vibes for the Twins pitching staff wore off in a hurry as soon as they got to New York. Getting clobbered in three straight by the Yankees before a hurricane canceled Sunday's game served as a cold splash of water in the face. 

    The Twins might have previously enjoyed a solid run against good competition but ... they ain't a good team.

    It all started with the semi-unavoidable decision to roll with a bullpen game against New York in the series opener. John Gant held his own for a couple innings before the floodgates opened in the third and fourth, leaving the team in a 6-0 hole.

    The next day, Charlie Barnes toed the rubber for a start at Yankee Stadium and it went about as one would expect. Barnes coughed up seven earned runs over five innings in a 10-2 laugher. His ERA now sits at 6.56. 

    Should he really be in the majors right now? Probably not. But, the Twins' options are thin. And they're even thinner after what played out on Saturday.

    Kenta Maeda appeared to be building upon his strong run – four scoreless innings to start the game lowered his post-May ERA to 2.74 – and this was fueling some valid enthusiasm

    Things went downhill from there, to say the least.  

    Maeda loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, gave up a run on a wild pitch, walked Aaron Judge, exited the game, and was later diagnosed with right forearm tightness, adding to a season where the previously durable hurler has been plagued by uncharacteristic physical issues. Rocco Baldelli gave a post-game quote indicating this setback will be more long-term than short-term, leaving him with more innings to fill.

    With all of their pitching headaches, you'd like to think the lineup is where the Twins could find comfort in stability. But not so much. The offense scored a whopping three runs over 18 innings during the Friday and Saturday affairs at Yankee Stadium, after squeaking out one-run victories in four of the previous five days.

    That meager production wasn't going to cut it in NYC, and chief among the under-performers was leadoff man Max Kepler. For whatever reason, he continues to bat atop the order almost daily in Baldelli's lineups, even though his average has sunk to .204 and his on-base percentage to .300.

    I realize I'm walking on somewhat precarious ground here, having apologized days ago for prematurely judging Baldelli on his enduring faith in Polanco, but ... it's a lot harder to see the lingering upside in Kepler at this point. There is no apparent injury holding him back. He's just an utterly mediocre hitter, plagued by a stagnating swing that produces way more pop-ups than line drives.

    To be clear, I would LOVE if he proved me wrong on this, as Polanco did. I'd almost begin to see myself as some sort of trash-talking soothsayer. 

    But what are we identifying in Kepler's profile that reinforces him as a building-block caliber player, or a guy who should be lined up for the most at-bats on the team? The past week saw his typical strong plate approach (5 BB, 4 K) accompanied by his typical lackluster hitting results: 2-for-19 (.105) with three runs scored and two RBIs in five starts. 

    Kepler now has a .204/.300/.423 hitting line this year, as a (mainly) right fielder in his ostensible prime at age 28. When you take away the context of his past excellence, there doesn't seem to be a particularly valid case for him as a starter going forward, let alone a leadoff hitter. 

    Then again, I said the same type things about Polanco once upon a time. So I dunno. I'd like to hear what you all think about Kepler in the comments.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    Certain players on the fringe of the Twins' roster have an opportunity to make cases for their future functionality in these final weeks. Will they take advantage? 

    Willians Astudillo did not help his argument much last week. He went 1-for-7 in two starts, and is 2-for-22 (.091) this month. We might be reaching the end of the line for La Tortuga.

    Rob Refsnyder is a player who I find interesting as a possible 2022 bench piece, but he's definitely been regressing, with a 1-for-15 week dropping his OPS from .852 to .739. 

    Brent Rooker? Well, who knows. He barely played in New York after drawing near-daily looks as Rocco's #2 hitter for almost a month. Has a lack of progression caused the team to sour?

    The divvying of playing time in these final weeks will be fascinating from this perspective.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    There are a lot of unknowns in the Twins rotation at this point. It sounds like Maeda will miss significant time and possibly the rest of the season. He would be the final piece to drop from a dissolved season-opening rotation that included Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker

    At this point, Jax and Ober are basically their steadiest and most dependable starting pitchers, which is saying a whole lot. It'll be interesting to see how they fill the gaps around them. Could Ryan get a look imminently? 

    TUESDAY, 8/24: TWINS @ RED SOX – RHP Bailey Ober v. RHP Tanner Houck
    WEDNESDAY, 8/25: TWINS @ RED SOX – TBD v. RHP Nick Pivetta
    THURSDAY, 8/26: TWINS @ RED SOX – LHP Charlie Barnes v. LHP Chris Sale
    FRIDAY, 8/27: BREWERS @ TWINS – LHP Eric Lauer v. TBD
    SATURDAY, 8/28: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Adrian Houser v. RHP Griffin Jax
    SUNDAY, 8/29: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Corbin Burnes v. RHP Bailey Ober

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    Those starting pitching matchups look like an 0-6 week. 

    You are pulling the plug too soon on Kepler. In 2021, he has 1.1 WAR, OPS+ of 101. The wOBA and wRC+ look below average, I will give you that. I'm not walking on a guy with 16 HRs so far in 2021 during the worst season of his career and a .215 BABIP. The Twins have him signed for 2-3 more seasons dirt cheap. I can get behind moving Kepler down in the order and putting Arraez leadoff.

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    With the plethora of problems confronting this team, I can't say Kepler is at the top of the list, but in no way shape or form should he be hitting in the lead off slot the rest of the year.  Saying that, the future of Kepler beyond next season is highly questionable. My "eye test" of Kepler shows a VERY inconsistent hitter who's 2019 season looks like a complete aberration.

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    Since others are defending Kepler, I will defend you.  Kepler is not a leadoff hitter.  He is not a good hitter.  

    I put a like to the article because it is well done, not because I like what it says.  We are just all desperate for something positive and Gant, Garza, Garcia are not the answers anymore than Vincent and Burrows.  We need to see some young live arms with potential.  

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    Kepler has been ok to awful almost every year at the show except for 2019?  He's had plenty of at bats to see what he is.  I too was bumming on Polanco, but I chalked it up to his injury and figured he just was not going to recover.  He did and like you Nick I was wrong.  I do not see the same thing with Max.

     

    Sunday was my favorite day against the Yankees in like 13 years.

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    Kepler’s a fine defensive player. He just isn’t a good hitter and never has been other than 2019. Yes, his OPS+ is 101 but he’s a corner OF, not a SS, CF, or a C. He is s supposed to be over 100 and should be over 110 to play every day at a corner OF spot. Kepler is a 3rd/4th OF that should be in a platoon playing 3-4 days a week and being a late inning defensive replacement when he doesn’t start.

    Kepler isn’t a bad player, he’s just a disappointment. We were all hoping he could be a core player going forward on a good team. He’s not. He’s a good defensive OF who should be playing 60% of the time on a good team hitting 7th or 8th and we should be looking for a better player to replace him. He’s not a guy we can build around. 

     

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    Agree with you Nick.  Kepler can no longer be viewed as a key piece on a rebuilding team.  We've seen enough.  If the FO had any vision(a big if!), he would be packaged in a trade for a young starter on a rebuilding team.  Miami is an obvious choice - deep in pitching, woeful in offense.  Kepler, maybe Arraez, and top 20 minor league prospect for one of their starters.  Nice thing about such a trade is that it would open up an OF or 2B  position for  Martin and  Miranda next year.

    Let's face facts.  Twins are not going to contend next year(unless ownership opens up the checkbook).   Time to give our best prospects time to be contributors in 2023.

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    Stealing Seth’s thunder talking about the minors on this article! We did gather more info last week that will help for next year. Thorpe is broken and should be off the 40 man this winter. Garcia is not good… He is another waiver wire flop to add to the list this year. Jax and Ober have made really nice strides! Hope they finish the last month well so they have the inside track to the back of the rotation next year. If Maeda hits the IL then I guess the next logical move is calling up Strotman. 

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    There is something really amiss concerning the Minn. Twins; Baltimore has lost 18 straight  but their last win was over the Yankee; I check MSN sporting news because it is easy, the Twins are rarely mentioned, teams with worse records are mentioned more often and not just because they are in last place.

    I personally think the inability of the Twins to beat the Yankees has sport writers , any where looking at them as not being worth mention.

    Twins should trade Baldelli for A.J. Hinch, he has take a team that was a laughting stock 5 months ago into a team that may catch the Indians for second place.

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    57 minutes ago, RpR said:

    Twins should trade Baldelli for A.J. Hinch, he has take a team that was a laughting stock 5 months ago into a team that may catch the Indians for second place.

    Right. That's what we need. Mr "circle of awareness", Cheatin' A.J. Hinch. Good plan.

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    He was involved with an item that has been taking place as long as signs existed; he just was the one the powers that be decided to use as an example.

    I am not perfect and I do not look down on others who also are not perfect, at that under any circumstances he would still be better than Baldelli.

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    Kepler is a great athlete, but he needs somebody to get across to him that its a big field out there. He is trying to pull everything, so much he's pulling off the ball too much. If he could work on going with the pitch, his avg. would go up, and pitchers would change how they pitch to him, giving him more pitches he could pull.

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