Starting Pitcher: Pablo Lopez, 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 7 K (92 pitches, 68 strikes, 73.9%)
Home Runs: Max Kepler (3), Jorge Polanco (2), Jose Miranda (3)
Top 3 WPA: Michael A. Taylor (.178), Max Kepler (.121), Jorge Polanco (.118)
Bottom 3 WPA: Christian Vasquez (-.115), Pablo Lopez (-.104), Carlos Correa (-.103)
Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs)
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Much to the enjoyment of those attending the Happy Hour festivities early on Friday afternoon, the game ventured into a 90-minute rain delay. As with any delay, one worries about the starting pitchers, and both began the game by giving up an extra base hit to the lead-off man which led to the first runs of the game. Bobby Witt Jr. took a Pablo Lopez changeup to right field for a double, and later scored on a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the first inning, the first pitch went the deepest, as Max Kepler took an 89-mph Jordan Lyles fastball out to the flagpoles for his 15th career lead-off homerun to tie the game 1-1.
Lopez Settles Down...Lyles Does Not
Lopez worked through the Royals line-up in the top of the second inning while only allowing a shift-beating single to where Carlos Correa usually roams. Lyles started the second inning by walking Trevor Larnach, serving up a 108.1 mph double to Jose Miranda, and walking Joey Gallo to load the bases with nobody out.
After Christian Vasquez flied out weakly to the first baseman, Michael A. Taylor laid off a wayward sweeper to walk in a run. Kepler came up again with first-pitch grand slam on his mind, but settled for a fly out to medium left-field to plate Miranda to put the Twins ahead 3-1. Correa followed with a harmless flyball to end the threat.
Running the Bases. No Really, MLB Players Running Bases!
Lopez continued to cruise until there were two outs in the top of the fourth inning. Edward Olivares shot a short-hop grounder that Jorge Polanco failed to get in front of, and hustled his way to second before Kepler could get the ball back in. A questionable late strike call got Nick Pratto in a quick hole, but Pratto slapped a single to right and Olivares again hustled his way around the bases, barely beating Kepler's throw home to close the gap at 3-2.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Twins slugged and ran their way into one of the most exciting sequences in the season thus far. Gallo feasted on the first pitch and drove the ball off of the limestone facing in right, and blazed in Gallo fashion around the bases for a triple. While the Royals were still in shock, Taylor and the Twins put some backyard baseball into play, with a safety squeeze and a little bit of extra sauce...
Taylor kept on running, and the only Twin allowed to steal took third base too. After Correa again popped up with a runner in scoring position, Polanco decided to dent a chair in the Great Clips seats for his 100th bomba.
Let's Talk About Throwing Strikes
Coming off of his worst start so far as a Twin versus the Washington Nationals, Lopez continued the Twins pattern of pumping the strike zone. Obviously, when your team spots you a large lead that becomes an easier task, but in key moments early in the game his consistent control of the strike zone garnered him a generous strike zone. The Royals couldn't focus in on one area, and had to cover 2-3 inches all around the zone. Keep an eye on Twins starters in the rest of the series to see if they can continue this positive trend. They came into today with an MLB leading 4.00 SO/BB rate, and finished the game in the same place.
Let's Talk About Throwing the Right Kind of Strikes - Part 2
The top of the sixth inning presented a case study in what can go wrong when all you do is pump the wrong kind of strikes. Having just been given another insurance run on a Miranda homer to left, Lopez struggled with his off-speed location. He hung a curveball to Perez, who promptly deposited it into the bullpen. Two batters later, another hanging curve was escorted to left field for a triple by Olivares, who then scored on another shift-beating single to where a shortstop should be.
Lopez continued into the seventh inning with the Twins holding an 8-4 advantage, but he immediately lost the strike zone, walking Hunter Dozier on five pitches. The curveball bit Lopez again in the next at-bat, as Michael Massey crushed another one-hopper off of Polanco's glove, resulting in runners at the corners with nobody out.
Griffin Jax was called in to stop the bleeding, facing Witt Jr. in a tough spot. Jax forced a fielder's choice groundout and struck out Vinnie Pasquantino to get the first two outs of the seventh. Witt Jr. stole his sixth base of the season and advanced to third on a wild pitch, with the aforementioned Perez up to bat. The timeless Perez watched four straight sweepers before slapping the fifth sweeper into left to close the gap to 8-6. Lopez surrendered a season-high six runs, and is trending the wrong direction since signing his extension last week. Can the weather be held accountable for the recent issues, or do we have something to be worried about?
Caleb Theilbar continued the excitement for the Twins bullpen in the eighth inning. The end result was zero runs, but Royals manager Matt Quatraro got to enjoy an early shower after pointing out to the home plate umpire what everyone watching the game already knew. With two on and nursing only a two-run lead, the Twins took the gift and didn't look back.
Shutting the Door Slowly and Painfully
TwinsDaily readers pondered why Jhoan Duran was called into Thursday's game to close out a 7-1 affair. Jorge Lopez responded today with the answer: "I used to do this at an All-Star level too." After retiring Witt Jr. and Pasquantino rather easily, Lopez faced a lengthy day after Perez fouled a liner straight back off of Jerry Layne's facemask. Layne was able to stay in the game, but Perez rocketed the next pitch up the middle to bring up M.J. Melendez to the plate as the tying run. Melendez laced a single to right, Lopez plunked the red-hot Olivares in the back to load the bases, and TwinsDaily readers pulled out their favorite commenting device in preparation to rip apart the Twins coaching staff in a way only that a group of fans who started their Friday fun-day early and often is capable of doing.
With Layne's post-concussion strike zone no longer offering the corners to Twins pitchers, Lopez found himself down 3-0 to Nick Pratto. The next pitch could have been a walk and a run, but the corner was caught (Thank you Mr. Layne!) and two pitches later Lopez and the Twins were celebrating another strike out and an 8-6 victory!
The Twins try to avoid the rain again Saturday afternoon. RHP Brad Keller (2-2, 3.96 ERA) will be taking the mound for Kansas City, while the Twins send the man, the myth, the legend RHP Bailey Ober (1-0, 1.59) out for his second start of the season on the Minneapolis side of the creek. Tomorrow’s first pitch is scheduled for 1:10 pm CDT.
Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet