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  • Week in Review: Capitalizing on Cushy Competition


    Nick Nelson

    The Minnesota Twins extended their lead in the AL Central with a dominant week against sub-par competition as they continue to enjoy the softest section of their 2022 schedule. 

    Their early success hasn't made the Twins immune from criticism and controversy, but it's all contributed to an extremely entertaining and compelling first quarter of the season.

    Image courtesy of Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Twins Video

    Last Week's Game Results:

    Game 36 | MIN 3, OAK 1: Lewis, Sanchez Lead Twins
    Game 37 | OAK 5: MIN 2: Royce Rolls but Winder Wilts in Loss
    Game 38 | MIN 14, OAK 4: Bats Bust Out in Series Clincher
    Game 39 | MIN 6, KC 4: Smeltzer Solid, Miranda Clutch
    Game 40 | MIN 9, KC 2: Late-Inning Rally Fuels Blowout Win
    Game 41 | MIN 7, KC 6: Twins Score 7 Unanswered in Massive Comeback

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/16 through Sun, 5/22
    ***
    Record Last Week: 5-1 (Overall: 25-16)
    Run Differential Last Week: +19 (Overall: +31)
    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (4.5 GA)

    NEWS & NOTES

    Oh man, what a week. This first-place Twins are taking heat on multiple fronts, which I guess we can take as a positive. People care! My quick takes on both of the big talkers from last week:

    • Royce Lewis demoted to make room for Carlos Correa. It stinks, I get it. Lewis is an electric young player who was coming off an outstanding game Tuesday night, so the timing could've hardly been worse. But the Twins called him up to fill in for Correa at shortstop, and they stuck with their plan. They want Lewis to play everyday and gain familiarity at some other positions in a lower-stakes environment. That's exactly what's happening – Lewis has already made starts at third base and left field in addition shortstop since going down. He'll be back soon enough. 
    • Chris Paddack undergoes Tommy John. The surgery was expected but became official on Wednesday. It's obviously a very unfortunate development, especially given the success Taylor Rogers is having in San Diego. The trade still has a chance to work out in Minnesota's favor – Emilio Pagán has been solid, and Paddack is under team control for the next two years. But without question, the Twins ended up downgrading their talent significantly in a contention year. We'll see how much it ends up hurting them.

    Kyle Garlick was activated from IL at the start of the week and Trevor Larnach at the end, backfilling some key outfield depth for the Twins. The rest of the week's moves mostly involved juggling the pitching staff. Here's a quick recap:

    IN: Dylan Bundy (activated from IL), Trevor Megill (added to 40-man and called up), Bailey Ober (activated from IL).

    OUT: Jharrel Cotton (DFA'ed, outrighted to St. Paul), Devin Smeltzer (optioned to St. Paul), Josh Winder (placed on IL with shoulder impingement), Cody Stashak (also placed on IL with shoulder impingement).

    Finally, Chris Vallimont was designated for assignment to create 40-man space (we'll learn soon if he gets claimed) and Danny Coulombe started a rehab stint at Wichita.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    It'll be awhile before the Twins have another opportunity to prove themselves against high-caliber competition, but one signature of good baseball teams is that they consistently take care of business against weaker opponents. Minnesota has been doing exactly that here in May, and it continued in a 5-1 week capped by a spectacular late-game comeback in Kansas City. Down 6-0 entering the eighth, the Twins scored seven unanswered in the last two innings to steal a victory and seal a sweep.

    Despite losing Paddack, the rotation kept up its surprisingly steady work, with effective returns to action for Bundy (3 IP, 0 ER on Tuesday) and Ober (5 IP, 1 ER on Sunday). Joe Ryan lowered his ERA to 2.38 on Saturday, tossing 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball. He's allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his eight starts, and has a 5-2 record to show for it.

    On offense, the Twins were very happy to get back Garlick, who drove in two runs in Friday 6-4 victory and launched a crucial homer (against a righty!) in Sunday's comeback. Gilberto Celestino continues to enjoy a major breakthrough, and owns a seven-game hitting streak after going 7-for-16 last week. He's batting .422 in the month of May. 

    Gary Sánchez has come on in a hurry after starting slow. He went 7-for-24 last week with four doubles, two home runs, and eight RBIs while starting all six games. This is the Sánchez who had gone missing in New York, and you hope the slugging rejuvenation is here to stay. 

    The Twins are surely happy enough to no longer have to deal with Josh Donaldson and his antics, but Sánchez is proving to be a very valuable asset on his own, delivering the power Minnesota was originally hoping to get from Mitch Garver (who's slugging .370 in Texas). While many of us questioned it at the time, that series of moves is looking extra sweet right now.

    Perhaps no Twins hitter is more fun to watch at this moment than Luis Arraez. He is absolutely on top of his game and providing a constant spark to the lineup in his unlikely new role as primary first baseman. 

    Arraez struck out once all week and reached base in well over half of his 26 plate appearances, tallying nine hits and six walks. Since returning from a bout with COVID earlier in the month, Arraez is batting .382 with a 2-to-9 K/BB ratio and .545 on-base percentage in 10 games. 

    LOWLIGHTS

    A pair of relief implosions were the biggest blemishes in a mostly outstanding week for Rocco Baldelli and the Twins.

    On Tuesday night, Winder was arguably hung out to dry in Oakland – pushed to throw 78 pitches in an extended relief outing behind Bundy. Winder managed to battle his way through three innings despite clearly not having his best command, but it all fell apart when he was sent back out for the seventh. The righty coughed up five earned runs in the inning, and finished the day with nine hits allowed and just one K.

    While I didn't love the decision to stick with the rookie so long, I sort of understood it, given that the Twins were a bit worn in the bullpen and they wanted to keep Winder stretched out as a starter. Still, it was clearly a questionable call, and it looks worse in hindsight, not just because of the results but because Winder went on the shelf days later with shoulder issues. He dealt with a similar injury late last year, so that's definitely worrisome, but hopefully the Twins are just getting out front of it.

    Yennier Canó impressed during a couple of outings in Oakland, allowing one run over three innings and notching his first big-league victory. But the bottom fell out on him in Kansas City with a disastrous appearance that saw him charged with five earned runs on four hits and two walks while recording just one out. 

    He had no command and was offering up a ton of non-competitive pitches. Canó will be in danger of losing his bullpen spot quickly with Coulombe on the comeback trail and MLB clubs compelled to cut down to 13 pitchers in a week.

    Amidst all the roster juggling that took place last week, it was rather surprising to see José Miranda come out unscathed. He actually enjoyed one of his biggest moments as a big-leaguer on Saturday night, launching a key two-run double in the eighth inning of a close win, but overall he's been woefully unproductive. 

    Miranda's slash line sits at .117/.159/.217 after a 2-for-16 week that saw him continue to flail away at everything while generating a ton of poor contact. If we accept that the Twins are trying to do right by Lewis' development in sending him to Triple-A to get defensive reps and gain comfort in a less pressurized setting, it's difficult to see the consistency in logic when they're leaving Miranda out there to get bullied by MLB pitchers.

    At the same time, one can also see the roster realities at play. The Twins are short on corner-infield depth, with Miguel Sanó and Alex Kirilloff out of the picture indefinitely. Arraez had never played first base before a few weeks ago and now he's their sole option with any real experience there besides Miranda. Sánchez has taken some practice reps at first but he's already playing everyday in his current role. Gio Urshela could probably slide over but then your depth at third base is sapped.

    With all that being said, the Twins can't continue to run Miranda out there much longer as he struggles to stay afloat, so they're gonna need to figure something out.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    The answer to the above dilemma could be solved by one (or both) of two players currently in Triple-A with the Saints. 

    Kirilloff is trying to rediscover his swing and offensive ability as he fights his way through lingering wrist pain in the wake of last year's surgery. He offered some reason for encouragement on Wednesday when he went 4-for-6 with a home run and double – his first two extra-base hits of the season – but the rest of the week saw him tap five singles in 16 at-bats, and he struck out three times on Sunday.

    It looks as though it's going to be awhile for Kirilloff. That may not be the case for Lewis, who is getting a crash course in defensive versatility as the Twins prepare to recall him to play alongside Correa in a utility role. Lewis has continued to rake since going down, batting .375 with a double and home run in four games. 

    He has amazingly seen no in-game action defensively yet at his new positions, but at least he's getting a feel for the hot corner and outfield. One wonders how just much the Twins want to see him get acclimated before they're comfortable bringing him back.

    They have the luxury of a continuing soft patch in the schedule, which might give them leeway in making the sacrifices required to keep Lewis' bat in the minors. I wonder if the goal is to have him dialed and ready to step in for good around the start of June, when the competition starts getting a whole lot tougher and they'll want to bring everything they've got.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Tough competition won't be a factor in the coming week, as the Twins return home for seven games against the Tigers and Royals, against whom they are a combined 7-2 this season. 

    They would need to go at least 7-3 in the next 10 games – all against Detroit and Kansas City – in order to complete a 20-win May, which the Twins previously accomplished in 2019 and 2015.

    MONDAY, 5/23: TIGERS @TWINS – RHP Elvin Rodriguez v. RHP Chris Archer
    TUESDAY, 5/24: TIGERS @TWINS – RHP Beau Brieske v. RHP Sonny Gray
    WEDNESDAY, 5/25: TIGERS @TWINS – TBD v. RHP Dylan Bundy
    THURSDAY, 5/26: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Daniel Lynch v. RHP Joe Ryan
    FRIDAY, 5/27: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Bailey Ober
    SATURDAY, 5/28: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brady Singer v. RHP Chris Archer
    SUNDAY, 5/29: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Zack Greinke v. RHP Sonny Gray

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      "I sort of understood it, given that the Twins were a bit worn in the bullpen".....I am SO pumped that this team has managed to put itself in first place.  Just let me vent about a couple things.  At some point, Baldelli and their analytics-driven approach will need to let starters throw more than 75-80 pitches or they're literally going to kill their bullpen.   And, I get the need to keep Buxton healthy, but this two games played and then being completely unavailable on the third is just baffling to me.  He's a 27-year old freak of an athlete.  I think we can do better than that and still keep him healthy.

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    Nice write up, Nick!

    I think a lot of us fans expect (hope ) that the team shifts Urshela to first base, perhaps in a righty-lefty platoon with Arraez, and calls up Lewis to play third most days, filling in for Correa as needed.

    Gio moves back to third when Royce spells Carlos at shortstop; Luis plays first in that scenario, and could DH when Urshela plays first. Gotta keep that pure hitter in the lineup somehow!

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    1 hour ago, HerbieFan said:

      And, I get the need to keep Buxton healthy, but this two games played and then being completely unavailable on the third is just baffling to me.  He's a 27-year old freak of an athlete.  I think we can do better than that and still keep him healthy.

    Well, something must be up with Buxton. Over his last 10 games he's 4 for 34, and his batting average has plummeted from .290 to .228, and how OPS is down almost 200 points. Something isn't right.

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    4 minutes ago, Monkeypaws said:

    Well, something must be up with Buxton. Over his last 10 games he's 4 for 34, and his batting average has plummeted from .290 to .228, and how OPS is down almost 200 points. Something isn't right.

    My opinion: nothing to worry about. I think it's a combination of factors:

    • Pitchers aren't giving him much to hit (which he's adapting to – 8 walks in the past 10 games after drawing 2 in his first 17 games)
    • Really bad luck. He has a .042 BABIP over this span, which is just ridiculous. The quality of contact is down a little but he's not striking out a ton or falling apart mechanically or anything. I think it's just a lil slump to offset this absurdly hot start. 
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    Buxton's slump is pretty major actually. Hopefully he will be snapping out of it soon. While 'worry' when the team has picked him up with a lot of wins, is not critical, he is our go-to guy and we need his bat. This is his worse stretch in a long time.  At least he is getting on base. Today's win was pretty awesome. Its rare to make that kind of comeback.

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    With so many players contributing, it's been easy to overlook Max Kepler, who's been a very steady force and worthy of recognition. This past week Max has gone 6-for-16 (.375) with 5 walks, 5 runs, and 3 RBI. His season average is up to .260 and he's looking more and more like the Max Kepler we all know and love. His re-emergence as a solid hitter in the middle of this lineup is key, and he's been virtually injury-free and is one of just a couple guys out there playing every day.

     

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    53 minutes ago, bighat said:

    With so many players contributing, it's been easy to overlook Max Kepler, who's been a very steady force and worthy of recognition. This past week Max has gone 6-for-16 (.375) with 5 walks, 5 runs, and 3 RBI. His season average is up to .260 and he's looking more and more like the Max Kepler we all know and love. His re-emergence as a solid hitter in the middle of this lineup is key, and he's been virtually injury-free and is one of just a couple guys out there playing every day.

     

    Twins need Kepler to hit for sure.  Yesterday, before the 8th inning, Kepler had ruined the two best chances the Twins had of scoring, dribbling the ball down the 3b line twice.  Redemption came sweet.

    If you think back, this is the 3rd Division team the Twins have pantsed in the 8th inning.  First Chicago on the Anderson/Abreu snowball fight, then Detroit on the casual flip into LF by their catcher as two Twins stood on 3b, and now the KC collapse with a 6-run lead.

    Rather be lucky than good.  So far, Twins have been lucky against the ones they need to beat.

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    10 hours ago, Monkeypaws said:

    Well, something must be up with Buxton. Over his last 10 games he's 4 for 34, and his batting average has plummeted from .290 to .228, and how OPS is down almost 200 points. Something isn't right.

    I know! Maybe he's not getting enough playing time! We might need to send him down to St. Paul so he can get regular AB's with Lewis!

    Chill! That's sarcasm for those who haven't had their morning coffee yet, or have just spilled their morning joe down their jammie front.

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    15 hours ago, HerbieFan said:

    At some point, Baldelli and their analytics-driven approach will need to let starters throw more than 75-80 pitches or they're literally going to kill their bullpen. 

    Friend, you need to watch some baseball played by other teams as well. No one is regularly letting their starters throw that many pitches so far this year. The average number of innings for starting pitchers this year is less than 5. You can have problems with that, but it's not a Rocco thing, it's an everyone thing. Hell, last year the Twins were one of the leaders in terms of innings pitched by starters across all of MLB. This is the dumbest complaint people keep trotting out, because it's just plainly not true about the Twins. They are average to above-average in how long their starters go.

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    This time last year - the season was over and depressing any way you looked at it.  Abysmal performance and little confidence in any discernable direction contributed to what was a hopeless low of lows. (IMHO)  

    Fast-Forward to 2022:  Beyond the inherent excitement that comes with simply being if first place as summer starts, this edition of the Twins is a wildly interesting (and entertaining) intersection of prime-level superstars, new acquisitions, core players and exciting prospects all contributing to what feels like a team with a compelling trajectory.

    If all those storylines aren't enough - it now appears that the White Sox are ready to join the race and a dogfight for the division crown...sign me up!

     

    Last - FWIW, hot rookies typically enjoy a shelf-life of surprising production before the league adjusts.  Perhaps 'hiding' Lewis in AAA for a bit longer extends the tail end of any honeymoon period to a point in the season where his extra juice will be even more important.  We'll find out soon enough (yet another reason this season is among the most engaging I can remember).   

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    28 minutes ago, JDubs said:

    Friend, you need to watch some baseball played by other teams as well. No one is regularly letting their starters throw that many pitches so far this year. The average number of innings for starting pitchers this year is less than 5. You can have problems with that, but it's not a Rocco thing, it's an everyone thing. Hell, last year the Twins were one of the leaders in terms of innings pitched by starters across all of MLB. This is the dumbest complaint people keep trotting out, because it's just plainly not true about the Twins. They are average to above-average in how long their starters go.

    Teams that are leaders do not copy other teams.  Extending starters is not a new idea and it is not a bad idea. 

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    What will happen to Vallimont - his stats this year are terrible.  It was a good time to drop him from the 40, but weak teams could still see that he might have some real upside - its not like Rule V.  

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    32 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

    What will happen to Vallimont - his stats this year are terrible.  It was a good time to drop him from the 40, but weak teams could still see that he might have some real upside - its not like Rule V.  

    I don't know if he's really worth worrying about... maybe he moves to the bullpen and turns things around, but he's more valuable off the 40 man roster than on it.

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    40 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

    What will happen to Vallimont - his stats this year are terrible.  It was a good time to drop him from the 40, but weak teams could still see that he might have some real upside - its not like Rule V.  

    Add Drew Strotman to the list here. Absolutely horrible. 

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    Quote

    They have the luxury of a continuing soft patch in the schedule, which might give them leeway in making the sacrifices required to keep Lewis' bat in the minors. I wonder if the goal is to have him dialed and ready to step in for good around the start of June, when the competition starts getting a whole lot tougher and they'll want to bring everything they've got.

    Hopefully not until after the Saints series in Des Moines, I already have tickets bought for two games that week!

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    3 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    Teams that are leaders do not copy other teams.  Extending starters is not a new idea and it is not a bad idea. 

    They already do that! That's the point! They're in the upper-half of innings pitched by starters! It's not currently 1975!

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    6 hours ago, Hheimer said:

    This is my favorite article every week. Just because I'm unable to listen to every game. It gives a good  breakdown the past week on whose hot and low and what we should complain about or excited for. 

    That is exactly the idea behind this column, so it's great to hear! Thanks for saying so.

    As someone who follows the team ultra-closely and watches almost every game, I also find writing it each week gives me a level of perspective over the course of a long season. 6-7 game samples aren't all that meaningful, but much more so than 1-game samples. 

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    Are the Twins, right now, one of the best 2 or 3 teams in all of MLB? No. Are they in the top 4-6 with room to continue to improve? Yep. You never apologize for winning, even if it's against lesser teams. It means you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. The Astro series was disappointing as hell, but doesn't define the Twins now, or in the future. 

    I like what I've seen and feel there is room for improvement for what's on hand. 

    The Lewis situation is so debatable, and we all have. To do so is pointless at this point. If he had begun this season hitting in the .270's with decent production at AAA and done something similar with the Twins, the yells would have been less. But he is a Golden Child. And I would have pursued the "Gordon/Arraez" method of ML learning and kept him. He's special. But after 1 great month at AAA and 11 great games at the ML level, after 2yrs of non game play, the FO made their decision. He's not exactly done. He'll be back, and probably to stay, and probably soon. 

    Despite some great moves, the Paddack one, and his loss, hurts for 2022. Sorry, but you don't win them all. I'm not convinced that Pagan won't actually get better and be an important part of 2022. There is a real chance Paddack is part of the 2nd half of 2023 and 2024. And who knows, maybe an extension will be in order. Time will tell. But despite my ambalivent nature to the trade, I understand the scope of the move and it's potential.

    There is so much good going on, I hesitate to focus on the bad.

    A healthy Winder could be major for the 2nd half. Archer FINALLY gaining strength/consistency could be huge. And even if Pagan's recent adjustment on his new splitter makes him important and ready to rock, he and Duran could still use ONE MORE ARM if this team remains in contention come July.

    Unless you can pull of a trade, possibly short term, maybe long term and more expensive, I'm still not sure you get better than Ryan, Gray and Ober for your 1st 3. And I KNOW I'll get heat for this, but if Gray is Gray, and if Ryan and Ober JUST do what they've done in 2021 and 2022 thus far, and even if they don't improve, you've still got a nice 3 to front the rotation. And then an improving Winder and Archer and hopefully a solid Bundy, who can you trade for that will make a major difference? I mean, without giving up too much. If Archer gains endurance and confidence again in his stuff, he could supplant Ober as the #3. I've read the idea of a cheap deal for someone like Evoldi as an option, despite a rough start to his 2022. That MIGHT be a massive move if he gets right and doesn't cost too much. But I have to say again, if Archer "gets right" the next 30 days, and we can add at least ONE good BP arm in July, I'm not so sure the pitching isn't going to be solid for the last half.

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    Good Teams average 6 wins every 10 games. 6*16=96 (160 games)

    Average Teams average 5 wins every 10 games. 5*16=80

    Bad Teams average 4 wins every 10 games. 4*16=64

    Every 10 games there is variance from these averages for all teams regardless if they are a good, average or bad team. There will be 10 games stretches where bad teams will win 7 games or more and there will be 10 game stretches where good teams will lose 7 games or more. 

    The Ranges above are very consistent year over year.  

    I mention all of this to point out that there is no such thing as cushy competition. Bad teams will beat you but I'm reading a lot of posts taking the Royals and Tigers for granted while talking about this stretch of games being time to make hay. 

    If anybody has the ability to predict when these stretches will happen. Stop following baseball and invest in the stock market instead. 😀

     

    10 game intervals were chosen by me for example purposes and simple math

     

     

     

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