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.
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.
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.
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.
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