Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/14 through Sun, 6/20
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 30-41)
Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: -51)
Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (12.5 GB)
Last Week's Game Recaps:
Game 66 | SEA 4, MIN 3: M's Edge Twins in Maeda's Return to the Mound
Game 67 | SEA 10, MIN 0: Yikes
Game 68 | MIN 7, SEA 2: Twins Salvage a Win in Seattle Behind Ober
Game 69 | MIN 7, TEX 5: Arraez Sparks Extra-Inning Victory
Game 70 | MIN 3, TEX 2: Relievers Lock Down Tight Lead
Game 71 | MIN 4, TEX 2: Bullpen Backs Maeda, Twins Sweep Texas
NEWS & NOTES
Let's get started with a quick rundown of roster moves over the past seven days:
- Luis Arraez (activated from IL)
- Kenta Maeda (activated from IL)
- Max Kepler (activated from IL)
- Byron Buxton (activated from IL)
- Caleb Thielbar (activated from IL)
- Shaun Anderson (claimed off waivers by Texas)
- Willians Astudillo (optioned to AAA)
- Gilberto Celestino (optioned to AAA)
- Griffin Jax (optioned to AAA)
- Rob Refsnyder (placed on IL)
There are a few noteworthy things here, mostly related to the Buxton activation. It took much longer than expected, as Buxton failed to convince the team he was fully ready for most of the week, and consequentially stayed on IL until Saturday. When he was activated, Astudillo was the choice to be sent down, which is somewhat surprising, and reflects well on Nick Gordon. Under different circumstances, Gordon would've been the logical choice for a demotion, but he has played well and his newfound utility in center field makes him a fairly key depth piece as Buxton's health remains fairly uncertain.
The other big headline in terms of roster moves was the Twins losing Anderson on waivers. Yet another offseason relief project that officially flopped. Cody Pirkl had a very good post on the topic, explaining how this once-promising but failed move perfectly encapsulates the front office's winter as as a whole.
Fortunately, many signs of optimism are coming from good places: young players who have the potential to play significant roles next year and beyond.
Bailey Ober was simply fantastic in his fourth big-league outing, spinning four scoreless innings against the Mariners in Seattle. He struck out six, allowed one hit, and faced the minimum while building upon a tremendously impressive start to his big-league career.
Ryan Jeffers continues to thrive in Mitch Garver's absence; he went 4-for-15 with a homer and four RBIs. Since returning to the Twins at the start of June, Jeffers has been a slugging machine with seven extra-base hits (four home runs) and 11 RBIs in 13 games. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach combined to produce 11 hits including two homers and five RBIs. These young bats are cementing their MLB readiness and boosting the future outlook of the lineup.
His play might not have the same type of long-term implications, but Nelson Cruz has gotten back to dominating offensively and that bodes well in its own way. He was the driving force in the lineup last week, finishing 9-for-21 with two home runs and six RBIs. Cruz might have a somewhat limited market at the trade deadline, due to the finite field of teams capable of using a DH, but the more he can make himself look like a clear difference-maker, the better for the Twins. Cruz did exit Sunday's game with neck tightness, but let's hope it's minor.
The bullpen, to its credit, enjoyed some fine performances, and uncharacteristically managed to hold down down some leads. Taylor Rogers led the way, tossing three scoreless frames across three appearances with four strikeouts and no walks. He's quietly having a stellar season, with a 2.73 ERA and 41-to-5 K/BB ratio in 29 ⅔ innings. Caleb Thielbar picked up a couple of victories in relief, allowing one run over three innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Hansel Robles allowed one run in four innings, notching a win and a save. Tyler Duffey allowed just one unearned run in his three appearances, and has a 1.54 ERA over the past calendar month.
All of the above performances were nice to see, helping Minnesota cobble together four straight victories for just the second time all year, but more than anything, it was refreshing to get some key players off the Injured List and back in the lineup.
Buxton legged out a single in his return on Saturday, and then launched a two-run homer in his first at-bat on Sunday. Kepler played all weekend and looked healthy, although he's got just one hit in 13 plate appearances since being activated. Arraez collected hits in each of his five starts, including a clutch 10th-inning triple on Saturday that pushed the Twins ahead.
The younger players are carrying much of the load while highly-paid veterans – with the exception of Cruz – are proving to be less useful. J.A. Happ was awful once again on Wednesday, coughing up six runs (five earned) over four innings to set the stage for a 10-0 laugher. Opponents are slashing .371/.414/.692 against the lefty in his past seven turns, so basically he's making everyone look like the April version of Buxton.
Miguel Sanó went 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts and no walks; he has a ghastly 25-to-1 K/BB ratio in June. Andrelton Simmons went 3-for-13 as his balky ankle started barking again. Josh Donaldson went 1-for-10 in Seattle before leaving a game with calf tightness, which of course throws the rest of his season into doubt. It was only a matter of time. Still no word as of yet on an IL move for him.
Theoretically, any of these players could be tradable assets for the Twins, offering the opportunity to recoup some prospects as they rebuild on the fly, or at least some salary relief. (Happ, Sanó, Simmons and Donaldson are earning a combined $50 million this year, with Sanó and JD owed another $50 million or so moving forward,) But their poor play and recurring injuries are putting a damper on that notion. Unlike Cruz, none of these vets are playing up to their standards or doing much to build any demand in the eyes of contenders. And now Cruz's health is in question. Aye aye aye.
The trade deadline is suddenly only a little over a month away. At this point the micro-trends of players who might be involved begin to matter a lot.
In some cases, there's not a lot that can happen to change the core narrative. Even if Donaldson gets back on the field soon, it's not going to erase the glaring realities of his total lack of dependability, which were resurfaced by another calf scare. Even if Sanó gets rolling on another signature hot streak, it isn't going to make suitors blind to his overwhelming slumps in the past two seasons. I'm not sure Happ has enough time to position himself as anything more than a back-of-rotation salary dump.
But other things DO matter. If Cruz's neck issue proves to be significant, that could cost the Twins one of their most clear-cut trade chips. Then again, if he comes back and keeps crushing, he may become all the more irresistible as that final puzzle piece for an AL contender. Meanwhile, if Simmons can build upon his three-hit game on Sunday and hit well for the next month, that may raise his stock substantially. His defense has been very good, but the idea of giving up a quality player for the shortstop may hinge on the belief he can contribute in some way offensively.
And then of course there is Buxton and José Berríos. What if Buck keeps tearing things up for the next few weeks and a starry-eyed club makes a crazy offer for 1.5 years of his services? Or, say, a couple of big-name starters on good teams get injured, and desperation drives the market for Berríos?
Lots of threads to follow as we head toward July. There is also, I guess, the possibility that Minnesota launches off from this four-game winning streak, goes on a tear during the upcoming division-heavy portion of the schedule, and vaults to some semblance of relevance by the All-Star break to deter an all-out sell-off. But that scenario seems outrageously optimistic for this cursed 2021 season.
The state of Ohio will be represented at Target Field in the coming week, with both Cincinnati and Cleveland paying visits. The Reds have been playing good ball of late and could present a challenging match-up, especially with their top two starters toeing the rubber in this short series. Shane Bieber is on IL with a shoulder strain, so Minnesota will not have to face him in the four-gamer against second-place Cleveland.
Following the two-gamer against Cincy, the Twins play 25 straight games against AL Central opponents, including 14 against Cleveland and the White Sox.
MONDAY, 6/21: REDS @ TWINS – RHP Tyler Mahle v. LHP J.A. Happ
TUESDAY, 6/22: REDS @ TWINS – LHP Wade Miley v. RHP Bailey Ober
THURSDAY, 6/24: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP J.C. Mejia v. RHP Jose Berrios
FRIDAY, 6/25: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Cal Quantrill v. RHP Randy Dobnak
SATURDAY, 6/26: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – LHP Sam Hentges v. RHP Kenta Maeda
SUNDAY, 6/27: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Aaron Civale v. LHP J.A. Happ