Starting Pitcher: Sonny Gray, 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 K (82 pitches, 46 strikes, 56.1%)
Home Runs: Byron Buxton (10), Jorge Polanco (4), Gary Sánchez (2), Royce Lewis (1)
Top 3 WPA: Gary Sánchez (.178), Royce Lewis (.155), Byron Buxton (.123)
Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs)
Gray is off to a good start, but can't go to distance
The big story of tonight’s game was whether or not the Twins would get a decent start from their starting pitcher. The last time a Twins starter threw more than four innings in a game was exactly a week ago when Josh Winder delivered six innings with no earned runs against the A’s. Would Sonny Gray be up for the task?
But that wasn’t the only question mark regarding the Twins coming into this game. Minnesota’s offense, full of ups and downs this season, produced a grand total of three runs during the three games against Houston, being shut out in two of those games. Would they be able to turn things around?
Despite facing Aaron Civale, who has a career 3.31 ERA against Minnesota, the offense managed to be productive from the get-go. Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco hit a couple of solo shots in the bottom of first, giving the Twins an early two-run lead. Things could’ve been even better, as Max Kepler and Gary Sánchez got back-to-back hits and moved into scoring position, but Minnesota couldn’t add on.
Gray pitched around a leadoff walk in the first, then pitched an easy, 12-pitch second, with two punch outs. However, he oddly had a troublesome third, loading the bases before recording an out, including a couple of walks. Fortunately, he was able to keep the damage to a minimum, with Cleveland scoring only the one run on a force out. Gray struck out a couple more batters in that inning. Civale settle down and started to dominate the Twins lineup. After the Sánchez double in the first, Minnesota’s batters went 0-for-11 and failed to provide Gray with some run support.
After a scoreless fourth with a couple more strikeouts, Gray became the first Twin starter to pitch into the fifth in the past seven days. But he wouldn’t go to distance. He gave up a leadoff home run to Austin Hedges and shortly after that, a walk and a single, which was enough for Rocco Baldelli to pull him from the game. Griffin Jax came into the game and induced an inning-ending double play on two pitches, to end the threat.
The offense gets back on track, turns the game into a blowout
Another short start, a cold offense, and a tied ball game. All the ingredients that might have led Twins fans to brace themselves for the worst. Little did they know that they were in for a treat: the Twins lineup put together a nine-run fifth inning on seven pitches and put this game out of reach.
First, Civale loaded the bases by giving up a leadoff single to Ryan Jeffers, a double to Royce Lewis, and a walk to Buxton. Minnesota scored two of those runners on a Luis Arráez groundout and a Max Kepler single to left. Polanco had drawn a walk in between and, with two men on, Civale’s night was done.
With Kepler and Polanco on, and Bryan Shaw pitching, Sánchez definitely put the slump behind him by smashing a three-run home run to deep center, making it 7-2 Twins. But they were surely not done. The bases were once again loaded for the Twins, as Shaw gave up back-to-back singles, to Gio Urshela and Nick Gordon, and a walk to Jeffers. Still chasing his first big league home run, Lewis destroyed a cutter in the heart of the plate for a huge grand slam, making it 11-2 Minnesota.
It was impressive to see how much the Twins improved with men in scoring position in this game, compared to the Houston series. They finished the game hitting 3-for-7 with RISP.
Jax has his toughest outing so far, Smith bails him out
When he was brought into this game, Jax hadn’t given up any runs in his previous six outings and was posting a stellar 1.35 ERA through eight appearances. After inducing an inning-ending double play to get out of an inherited jam, he simply wasn’t sharp in the following two innings.
Franmil Reyes singled off him in the sixth, shortly before Oscar Mercado hit a two-out, two-run bomb to bring the Guardians within seven. In the seventh, things were even worse, as he struggled badly with his command, allowing Cleveland to score a couple more runs on a single by José Ramírez and a triple by Amed Rosario, making it 11-6.
Jax gave up back-to-back walks to load the bases with two outs, causing Baldelli to remove him from the game. Joe Smith took over and struck out Mercado on four pitches, ending the threat. Smith has now stranded 11 inherited runners so far this season – every single one he’s inherited in the year.
In the bottom of the eighth, Buxton drew a leadoff walk and the Twins managed to manufacture a run, with Kepler pushing Buxton across with a sac-fly. Emilio Pagán had a flashy six-run lead when he took the mound in the ninth, but he gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Andrés Giménez, before he struck out Mercado to avoid a Cleveland rally.
Tomorrow at 6:10 pm CDT both teams are back on the field for game 2. Cleveland will have Shane Bieber (4.13 ERA) start for them, whereas the Twins will call up Devin Smeltzer to make his season debut.
Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet