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  • Week in Review: Hope Sinks


    Nick Nelson

    Coming into last week, the Minnesota Twins still had a glimmer of remaining hope to turn things around and mount a run in the AL Central. They kept the spark alive with a sweep of the Royals at home. 

    But by losing the first three games in Cleveland over the weekend, blatantly overmatched in their short-handed state, the Twins snuffed out any long-shot scenarios and sealed their fate. 

    The division they led for so much of the season has slipped away.

    Image courtesy of David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Twins Video

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/12 through Sun, 9/18
    ***
    Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 73-73)
    Run Differential Last Week: +6 (Overall: +18)
    Standing: 3rd Place in AL Central (6.0 GB)

    Last Week's Game Results:

    Game 140 | MIN 6, KC 3: Twins Lose No-No in Ninth, Win Easily
    Game 141 | MIN 4, KC 0: Gray Leads Shutout with Seven Scoreless
    Game 142 | MIN 3, KC 2: Bullpen Locks Down Slim Lead for Sweep
    Game 143 | CLE 4, MIN 3: Twins Can't Hold Onto 3-Run Lead
    Game 144 | CLE 5, MIN 1: Wallner Homers in Debut, Twins Lose
    Game 145 | CLE 6, MIN 5: 15-Inning Marathon Yields Same Result
    Game 146 | MIN 3, CLE 0: Twins Salvage Win Behind Ryan's Brilliance

    NEWS & NOTES

    As this lost season winds down, the Twins continue to fittingly be besieged by a never-ending onslaught of injuries. Max Kepler became the latest to join the infirmary pack this past week, with his wrist issue forcing him onto an injured list that already includes fellow planned lineup staples Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff, Ryan Jeffers and Trevor Larnach.

    Polanco, who's been sidelined for weeks by a knee injury, tried to give it a go in a rehab start at St. Paul on Friday night but couldn't make it all the way through, exiting after five innings. He's probably done for the season. Jeffers and Larnach had more encouraging starts to their rehab assignments, and both have a chance to make it back for the final slate of games, for whatever that's worth.

    As a silver lining to Kepler going down, the IL move did create an opportunity for Matt Wallner, who homered in his major-league debut on Saturday. In this total wreck of a season, it's nice at least to see local boys like Wallner and Louie Varland get these chances – well earned with monster years in the minors.

    Another young player set to get his first chance: Ronny Henriquez, who was promoted on Sunday despite posting a 5.66 ERA at St. Paul. Not quite as well earned, but they just need bodies on the staff at this point, basically.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    The Twins have this going for them: they can still flat-out dominate the Royals. They ran up their winning streak against Kansas City to seven with another sweep at home, suppressing any hint of offensive threat from the woeful Royals lineup.

    On Monday, Joe Ryan pitched seven innings of no-hit ball before being lifted at 106 pitches. Reliever Jovani Moran nearly completed the feat, but the Royals were finally able to get on the board in the ninth. Sonny Gray looked somehow even more dominant the following night, tossing seven shutout innings of his own.

    Thursday saw the bullpen step up with a huge string of clutch performances, as five different relievers contributed one shutout inning apiece to maintain a slim one-run lead. Relievers weren't able to hold up quite as well on Friday, following an excellent return to action from Bailey Ober (5 IP, 0 R), but we'll get to that later. 

    After flirting with a no-no in his first start of the week, Ryan turned in one of the finest performances of his career in the second, hurling 7 ⅔ shutout innings against Cleveland. He allowed just three hits and two walks in the highly efficient outing, lowering his ERA to 3.61 in the process. While Ryan has shown his warts this year (namely, a problematic proneness to home runs), he's undoubtedly been one of the team's most successful starters, and is on his way to finishing strong.

    LOWLIGHTS

    Plenty of frustration has been aired far and wide about the Twins and their management of the pitching staff. Personally, I don't have a problem with the general philosophy, given their personnel. But it's the complete rigidity of Minnesota's strict adherence to the playbook that gets to me. There's no room for reacting to circumstances, or pushing the boundaries when it's absolutely necessary.

    Take Friday night for example. The Twins had every reason to set aside their cautionary nature and push Ober a bit in his return to action. He looked great. He was at only 70 pitches through five innings. Most importantly, the bullpen had been run ragged in protecting a tight lead for five innings the previous day, and a double-header was on deck the next.

    Didn't matter. Ober came out after five innings, as is custom. Rocco Baldelli ran through arguably his four best relievers, all pitching on back-to-backs, and lost anyway. It left essentially no relief ammo for the rest of the weekend, culminating with Dereck Rodriguez pitching four frames in extra innings as the team's season hung by a thread and gave way.

    Alas, while it's easy to get caught up in the early hooks and shortcomings on the mound, there's no doubt where the blame primarily lies for this team's downfall: an offense woefully unequipped to compete. 

    This team was always built around the strength of its lineup, which has turned into a debilitating weakness here in the late stages of the season.

    Since the start of August the bullpen has largely been stabilized and the pitching has been fine overall (6th among AL teams in pitching WAR, 8th in ERA). Meanwhile, the offense has fizzled out during this span, ranking 11th in wOBA and 10th in runs scored. 

    The last time the Twins notched double-digit runs in a contest was August 30th against Boston; since then they have averaged 3.4 runs per game, scoring more than four times in just four of 18. With production like that, a 6-12 record is about what you expect. No amount of savvy pitching management or bullpen string-pulling can overcome such a dearth of run scoring.

    Saturday night epitomized the team's inability to muster anything with the bats. In a grinding 15-inning affair, the Twins could not will themselves to victory despite receiving opportunity after opportunity. They managed only seven hits in 15 innings and went 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position before finally succumbing to their eighth consecutive loss against Cleveland. Astonishing ineptitude.

    Then again, it's pretty easy to see how we've gotten to this point. You look at their lineup on any given day and it's now filled with minor-leaguers, third-stringers, retreads. Jake Cave batting fifth. Jermaine Palacios drawing daily starts. Billy Hamilton receiving major league at-bats, in an ostensible pennant race.

    Even (especially?) with all the attrition, it'd be nice to see anyone stepping up other Carlos Correa, whose September surge continued with another excellent week (10-for-28, two homers, two doubles). The most conspicuous under-performer in the lineup at this point might be Luis Arraez, himself battling through a hamstring issue. He went 3-for-14 against Cleveland and is slashing .284/.316/.397 since appearing in the All-Star Game in July. 

    Since the break, Arraez has been worth 0.4 fWAR (tying him with Cave) and he has the worst Win Probability of all position players other than Kyle Garlick, Kepler, and Palacios. Given that I ranked Arraez a month ago as the single most important player to the team's chances in the stretch run, his drop-off – while several others near the top of that list have gone down with injuries – tells the story of this team's downfall in a nutshell.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    Following their flop in Cleveland, the Twins find themselves with about a 1% chance of making the postseason – and that's based merely on historical odds, not accounting for the fact that almost their entire team is injured while their rivals (especially the Guardians) are enjoying much better health.

    It's over. So what now? What are the focuses for these final three weeks? Aside from playing out the string, the Twins' motivation has been reduced to:

    • Trying to finish with a record above .500.
    • Play spoiler against the White Sox, who now trail Cleveland by 3 ½ games.
    • Have a few injured players get back on the field and finish the season on relatively positive notes.
    • Get a look at some young players to set them up for bigger impacts in 2023.

    Personally, only the latter two are all that meaningful to me. And in the case of injured players, I think they're probably better off just shutting down the likes of Buxton, Polanco, and Larnach with hopes of getting them as healthy as possible for next spring. 

    With that said, I hope we'll get to see Wallner, Varland, Henriquez, and maybe even Simeon Woods Richardson take the spotlight here in this final stretch. For me, it'll be the only real draw.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Good news for the Twins in their quest to finish above .500, I guess: they've got three more games ahead against Kansas City, who they've defeated in 12 of 16 matchups. Then they'll host the Angels, with a Shohei Ohtani start on the slate for Friday night to kick off the final homestand of the season.

    MONDAY, 9/19: TWINS @ GUARDIANS – RHP Sonny Gray v. RHP Cal Quantrill
    TUESDAY, 9/20: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Dylan Bundy v. RHP Zack Greinke
    WEDNESDAY, 9/21: TWINS @ ROYALS – TBD v. LHP Daniel Lynch
    THURSDAY, 9/22: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Josh Winder v. RHP Jonathan Heasley
    FRIDAY, 9/23: ANGELS @ TWINS – RHP Shohei Ohtani v. RHP Joe Ryan
    SATURDAY, 9/24: ANGELS @ TWINS – LHP Reid Detmers v. RHP Sonny Gray
    SUNDAY, 9/25: ANGELS @ TWINS – LHP Jose Suarez v. RHP Dylan Bundy

     

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    Having Arraez fade so hard down the stretch again is tough. He looked great to start last year, but faded late in the summer in 2021, too. .296/.365/.381 wRC+ 109 in the first half .292/.348/.371 wRC+ 100 in the second half, .271/.314/.333 wRC+ 80 in Sept/Oct.
     

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    The slide may have started on June 1, but the error on a routine ground ball last night brought my ridiculous hopes to a halt. I have enjoyed and appreciated the articles. Twins Daily writers are crazy hopeful and supportive of the Twins.

    I hope Wallner among others gets plenty of at bats. Cave deserves to play as well. Varland, Winder, Ober and perhaps a few others should get innings. Buxton, Polanco, Kepler, Larnach, and Jeffers as well as those pitchers currently on the IL need to heal entirely, meaning these players should not return and risk further injury. If the team is going to win the remainder of their games it will need to be those on the current roster who accomplish the task.

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    17 hours ago, Aerodeliria said:

    2-10 against the Guardians in 1 or 2-run games. We can blame it on injuries but you can't field a groundball with a clipboard.

    Actually you can angle the clipboard to direct the ball to your throwing hand for super quick transitions. More double plays my friend. 

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    Just finish strong!!! Hoping for a winning record-Chicago sweeping Cleveland making last 3 with white sox for division title it’s a long shot but it could happen. Think 2023 with healthy team will be the year. Twins were competitive through mid September playing meaningful games with depleted roster as they did much better then I thought. I’ll still watch the twins this season and beyond. 

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    As with any season there are some bright spots to consider. Ryan looks like he will become a main piece to the rotation for many years to come. Duran likewise in the bullpen, (although I'd love to see him get a chance to be a starter again). Due to the injuries 2 more players got to prove themselves as legit roster pieces, MIranda and Gordon. Now is the time to see who else can join them. 

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    Will second rv78's comments above.  Ryan is proving to be a quality front of the rotation starter.  Ober sure appears to be another quality starter who will fit nicely into the third or fourth spot in a rotation.  Add Gray, Mahle and Maeda and that's five.  Toss in Winder and Varland as either long relief or pitching in reserve at St. Paul and you have a fine starting staff.  Granted, there isn't an ACE, but really most teams don't have that ACE.

    Lots of decisions will need to be made elsewhere.  Where to get one more top late reliever would sure top my list.  Believe in Moran and hopefully, Alcala can come back strong.  But they still need one more late inning guy.

    Isn't much needed in the field that won't be fixed by good health.  Should Wallner continue hitting like his first weekend, will have a huge question what to do at the corner outfield spots.  Would be fearful to trade Kepler as the rule change just MIGHT lead to him becoming that special player many of us have hoped for.  But what do you do with Kepler, Larnach, Kirilloff and Wallner on the same team?  Maybe a good problem to have.  So that leaves catcher, where there is lots of work to get better.

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    2 hours ago, roger said:

    Isn't much needed in the field that won't be fixed by good health

    You must be joking. We have legitimate questions at almost every position. CF-Buxton has a 4 War , but Celestino is at 0. Buxton had slightly more PA, so call it a 2. LF is a huge question mark because we really don’t have anyone reliable above average to play there. RF is slightly above average only because of Kepler’s defense. Huge falloff after him. Kepler’s offensive WAR has declined every year since 2019, and there’s really no reason to believe that won’t continue. Keep Kepler or Billy Hamilton?  3B is slightly above average with Urshela. SS is ok with Correa, but Palacios is not MLB ready. 2B is a crap shoot with an aging Polanco. 1B isn’t well patrolled by Miranda or Arraez, but it is what it is. Catcher is below league average with no help or reason to believe it will improve in-house. Ironically, the pitching staff is the strength of this club going forward. I think Miranda and Duran should be locked up with Dobnakesque contracts. That is how small market teams keep players. Low-risk high-reward contracts that are entered into before players really establish themselves. There needs to be answers as to why virtually everyone was hurt this year. There also needs to be a re-evaluation of how they are using metrics and how rigidly they are employed. The FO is not going to go out and sign a legitimate #1 and 2. They may go out and sign a few depth SP aka Bundy and Archer. It might even be them. They were signed to be 4 and 5 guys. They’ve actually done that at a reasonable level. Another legitimate RP will probably be signed. The big questions are on offense. 

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    34 minutes ago, Reptevia said:

     

    You must be joking. We have legitimate questions at almost every position. CF-Buxton has a 4 War , but Celestino is at 0. Buxton had slightly more PA, so call it a 2. LF is a huge question mark because we really don’t have anyone reliable above average to play there. RF is slightly above average only because of Kepler’s defense. Huge falloff after him. Kepler’s offensive WAR has declined every year since 2019, and there’s really no reason to believe that won’t continue. Keep Kepler or Billy Hamilton?  3B is slightly above average with Urshela. SS is ok with Correa, but Palacios is not MLB ready. 2B is a crap shoot with an aging Polanco. 1B isn’t well patrolled by Miranda or Arraez, but it is what it is. Catcher is below league average with no help or reason to believe it will improve in-house. Ironically, the pitching staff is the strength of this club going forward. I think Miranda and Duran should be locked up with Dobnakesque contracts. That is how small market teams keep players. Low-risk high-reward contracts that are entered into before players really establish themselves. There needs to be answers as to why virtually everyone was hurt this year. There also needs to be a re-evaluation of how they are using metrics and how rigidly they are employed. The FO is not going to go out and sign a legitimate #1 and 2. They may go out and sign a few depth SP aka Bundy and Archer. It might even be them. They were signed to be 4 and 5 guys. They’ve actually done that at a reasonable level. Another legitimate RP will probably be signed. The big questions are on offense. 

    Nope, wasn't joking and stand by my statement.  Also disagree with most of what you state.  If you will read what I said and you quoted, "good health."

    Not going to get into the specifics as I really don't want to write a lengthy text, but given good health I believe the only position really needing work is catcher...as I said previously.

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    I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with. For the most part, what I stated above is based on stats and performance. It’s not an opinion. Would left field be better if patrolled by Larnach or Kiriloff who have proved nothing at the MLB level?  Possibly. I just take issue how many on here take prospects with extremely small sample sizes and place way outsized expectations on how they would perform. I’m just trying to look at it pragmatically. Larnach, Kiriloff and Lewis are not locks for the all-star team. All three may never contribute much at all. It is unknown at this early part of their careers. No, Buxton is not the best player in baseball. Far from it. With him and the backups we’ve run out there, CF has produced about 2 WAR. Not bad, but far from the best.  “Not going to get into the specifics as I really don't want to write a lengthy text, but given good health I believe the only position really needing work is catcher...as I said previously.”

     I, and the stats, simply disagree with this statement. Unless the goal is a losing record. 

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    Twins problems, hmm, unless Baldelli has decided the season is over and it makes no difference who he puts on the field, in tonight game, Sept.21, he is putting Palacios at second and Gordon in left field.

    Palacios is NOT a good Second baseman and Gordon is not a good out fielder; Gordon is pretty competent, (except when the ghost of Willie Mays Hays over comes him) at second base and at his worst still better than Palacios.

    Cave is a good Left Fielder, and better bat than Palacios; the teams Baldelli fields at time make no sense or he is so addicted to analytics, he ignores reality,

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    3 hours ago, RpR said:

    Cave is a good Left Fielder, and better bat than Palacios; the teams Baldelli fields at time make no sense or he is so addicted to analytics, he ignores reality,

    If benching Cave against a left handed starter is analytics, then they've been doing analytics in baseball for more than a century now.

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    12 minutes ago, ashbury said:

    If benching Cave against a left handed starter is analytics, then they've been doing analytics in baseball for more than a century now.

    What analytics say Palacios' bat is better in the lineup than Cave, not even considering his glove over Gordon's at second.

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