Last Week's Game Results:
Game 56 | NYY 10, MIN 4: Duffey Clobbered, Yankees Roll
Game 57 | MIN 8, NYY 1: Twins Offense Blows Up in Rout
Game 58 | NYY 10, MIN 7: Pitchers Waste 5-Homer Night
Game 59 | MIN 9, TB 4: Buxton and Twins Ambush Rays
Game 60 | MIN 6, TB 5: Arraez Grand Slam Keys Victory
Game 61 | TB 6, MIN 0: Lineups Cools Off, Can't Seal Sweep
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/6 through Sun, 6/12
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 35-27)
Run Differential Last Week: -2 (Overall: +25)
Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA)
NEWS & NOTES
Let's get the unbelievably bad news out of the way first. A second MRI on Royce Lewis' knee, with his swelling reduced, revealed a partially torn ACL. This means he'll once again need to undergo reconstructive surgery on the same ligament they just repaired last year. He's expected to be sidelined for another 12 months.
It's an excruciatingly crushing blow for one of the most likable players in the organization and one of the most talented prospects in the game. Somehow Lewis managed to maintain an optimistic and unflappable front in the face of this unthinkable setback to his career.
Not only does the Lewis news eliminate a key potential difference-maker from the rest of this season's picture, but it also throws a big wrench into the team's future plans. With Carlos Correa expected to opt-out after this year, Lewis was lined up to take over as shortstop. Now, he could be out into June of 2022 and at that point he'll be coming back from two straight major knee surgeries. We'll cross that bride when we get there, I guess.
In happier news, the Twins did get Correa back from COVID IL. He had an excellent week, launching two homers and a double among eight hits in four games. It sounds like he's still dealing with some fatigue, but showing zero signs. Correa's successful return meant Jermaine Palacios headed back to Triple-A after making a great impression with his glove.
Chi Chi Gonzalez was added to the 40-man roster with Lewis going on the 60-day IL. He started Saturday and was okay. At week's end Gonzalez was DFA'ed to make room for reliever call-up Tyler Thornburg, who made a solid debut on Sunday. Cole Sands was recalled for starts against both New York and Tampa, struggling against both. He's likely to be optioned on Monday.
Juan Minaya was swapped off the 40-man roster in favor of Jharel Cotton, who's earned a bigger shot. Kyle Garlick landed on the IL with a hamstring injury, though it sounds like he won't be out long.
The Twins offense proved last week beyond a shadow of a doubt that it belongs in the conversation as one of the best in baseball. Day in and day out, they showed up and flat-out raked, despite facing some genuinely excellent pitching all week long.
Going against three straight All Star-caliber starters for the Yankees, and then taking on a Rays staff full of quality arms, the bats never went quiet – at least until the final game of the homestand. All told, even with Sunday's shutout, the Twins piled up 34 runs on 61 hits and 12 homers in six games, including back-to-back-to-back bombs off Gerrit Cole and a walloping of the league's ERA leader (at the time), Nestor Cortes. The Twins currently find themselves third in the AL in runs scored and second in OPS. No one can say their bats are getting fat off weak competition.
While Correa's physical return made a big impact, it was Byron Buxton's spiritual return that led the way in this offensive barrage. Buck simply hadn't been himself for the better part of a month, leading some schmo to suggest that an IL stint could be in order to help him heal up. But soon after, he flipped the switch and turned right back into the guy who terrorized pitchers in April.
Buxton showed signs of awakening last weekend in Toronto, when he homered and doubled in Saturday's win. Then, he went 1-for-7 with five strikeouts in his next two games and you wondered if he was sinking right back into the funk. No sir. Buxton proceeded to collect six hits in 13 at-bats over the next three games, five of them home runs.
Buxton is now hilariously on pace to hit roughly 45 home runs in 115 games this season.
Luis Arraez continues to be one of the most consistent and effective offensive forces in baseball, and he's even begun sprinkling in some power. His long ball against Cole opened the triple-whammy on Thursday, and Arraez delivered a game-breaking grand slam against Tampa on Saturday.
After wrapping an 8-for-22 week, Arraez is leading the world in batting average and on-base percentage – neither by a slim margin. Although his lack of defensive impact takes a major toll on his overall value from an analytical standpoint, I do think that if he keeps this up (especially the bursts of power), the narrative around Arraez could propel him into the MVP conversation, and it wouldn't be totally unwarranted.
Other big performances in a statement week for the Twins offense:
- Jorge Polanco opened up with a four-hit performance against New York and finished 9-for-21 with a homer and pair of doubles. After an extended cold spell that dragged his OPS down into the mid-600s, Polanco seems to be back in the groove.
- José Miranda continues to come into his own at the plate. (In the field and bases, not so much.) He had three hits and three RBIs in Wednesday's lopsided win over the Yankees, and added another double as the #3 hitter on Saturday. (Though he got thrown out trying to stretch it to three. Like I said.)
- Trevor Larnach managed only four hits in 19 at-bats, but he did absolutely CLOBBER a home run off Cole:
As good as the hitting was for the Twins last week, the pitching was almost equally bad. That's gonna happen to some extent when you're throwing the likes of Sands and Gonzalez at very good offenses, but it wasn't just the temporary plugs contributing to these woes.
Tyler Duffey bombed again on Tuesday night, turning a close deficit into a blowout by surrendering a back-breaking home run to Anthony Rizzo. He gave up another homer and double in garbage time on Sunday.
Dylan Bundy – whose fastball velocity has now incredibly slipped below that of soft-tossing lefty Devin Smeltzer – coughed up four runs in four innings on Thursday, wasting a big early cushion before the bullpen combined to allow six runs in a painful loss that slipped away. This included an uncharacteristic implosion from Jhoan Duran, who was charged with two runs on four hits while recording only one out.
Jovani Moran's control issues reared their head in the same outing, as he issued three walks in 1 ⅔ innings and threw just half of his 36 pitches for strikes. Joe Smith continued hurdling back to Earth with three runs allowed on four hits in his two innings. He's allowed at least one run in five of his past eight appearances after allowing zero in his first 16. Minaya punched his ticket off the 40-man roster with a laborious and ugly outing against New York.
While both the starters and relievers have grown rather unreliable, it's easy to see a path to improvement in the rotation with its best two starters, Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan, both slated to return in the coming week. The bullpen, however, is a much more worrisome animal. Impact reinforcements are not close and the Twins have already burned through a whole bunch of their internal options.
Jorge Alcalá had his rehab stint put on pause last week due to renewed elbow stiffness. Cody Stashak is out of the year due to labrum surgery. Matt Canterino – the highest-upside arm in the system currently – went on IL with a forearm issue that's been dubbed "minor." (We'll see. Canterino was limited to 23 innings last year by elbow problems.)
The trade deadline is still a month and a half away, but you wonder if the front office may be compelled to spring into action early on this increasingly urgent need.
The Twins aren't exactly in dire need of offensive help at the moment, but it's still getting harder and harder to justify leaving Alex Kirilloff and his scorching hot bat in the minors. The 24-year-old has done everything he can at St. Paul to prove that his wrist is no longer impeding him. Saturday was just the latest example – Kirilloff launched a pair of home runs to boost his slash line at Triple-A to .350/.453/.607, including .405/.488/1.000 in the month of June.
Power was the last remaining piece that we've been waiting on for Kirilloff, who's consistently displayed a strong plate approach ever since being sent down. His 1.000 slugging percentage this month is a pretty good indicator that we can check off that final box.
At a glance it might seem tricky to find a fit for Kirilloff in a mostly-healthy Twins lineup, but in reality it won't be that hard. As great as Arraez has been offensively, his defense at first leaves much to be desired and this was evident on a few occasions last week. Plugging in Kirilloff at first and moving Arraez to DH as a regular setup against righties will improve the Twins defense – a recurring sore spot amid the pitching struggles last year – and make their lineup even more imposing.
The question is how to make room for Kirilloff on the active roster. No one in the current picture looks like a clear candidate to go, unless the Twins decide to cut down to 13 pitchers (something they'll be forced to do in a week anyway). Keep in mind the team will also need to find a spot for Garlick soon.
Nick Gordon came out of Saturday's game with a hamstring injury, and placing him on the IL might have helped alleviate the logjam, but he entered Sunday's game as a sub, negating that possibility.
The schedule relents in the week to come, as the Twins hit the road to take on a pair of fourth-place teams. With Gray and Ryan expected to return in the "TBD" spots, Minnesota is poised for successful stretch if the bats can stay hot.
Of note: The Twins are lined up to face three straight left-handers starting on Wednesday. Garlick is eligible to come off the injured list on Tuesday.
MONDAY, 6/13: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Chris Archer v. RHP Chris Flexen
TUESDAY, 6/14: TWINS @ MARINERS – TBD v. RHP Logan Gilbert
WEDNESDAY, 6/15: TWINS @ MARINERS – TBD v. LHP Marco Gonzales
FRIDAY, 6/17: TWINS @ DIAMONDBACKS – RHP Dylan Bundy v. LHP Madison Bumgarner
SATURDAY, 6/18: TWINS @ DIAMONDBACKS – LHP Devin Smeltzer v. LHP Kyle Nelson
SUNDAY, 6/19: TWINS @ DIAMONDBACKS – RHP Chris Archer v. RHP Merrill Kelly