Last Week's Game Results:
Game 63 | MIN 3, SEA 2: Buxton's Early Bomb Proves Decisive
Game 64 | SEA 5, MIN 0: Ryan Rocked in Return, Bats Blanked
Game 65 | MIN 5, SEA 0: Offense Surges Late to Clinch Series
Game 66 | AZ 7, MIN 2: Twins Drop Series Opener to Diamondbacks
Game 67 | MIN 11, AZ 1: Dylan Bundy Shines, Offense Explodes as Twins Win
Game 68 | AZ 7, MIN 1: Punished by Long Ball, Drop Rubber Game
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/13 through Sun, 6/19
Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 38-30)
Run Differential Last Week: Even (Overall: +25)
Standing: First Place in AL Central (1 GA)
NEWS & NOTES
For the first time this season the Twins headed west for a week in Seattle and Phoenix against two sub-par teams. Sitting in fourth and dead last in their respective divisions, the past week provided an opportunity to create some distance between the Twins and streaking Guardians. At the end of the day, that didn't happen. The Twins squeaked out a series win against the Mariners but fell in a disappointing series to the Diamondbacks that included two blowout losses.
For the first time in his career, Jorge Polanco was placed on the Injured List for lower back tightness on Thursday. Off to an adequate start, Polanco was slashing .245/.340/.729 with ten doubles and 33 RBI prior to the announcement. Placed on the 10-day IL, Jorge's presence as a core member of the middle part of the lineup was noticed.
On the flipside, the Polanco move opened the door for Alex Kirilloff to make his way back to Target Field, a move that many in the Twins community were calling for.
You can't blame the people. After a lackluster first stint with the Twins this year, Kirilloff tore the cover off the ball at Triple-A St. Paul over the past month and made as solid a case as there is that he belongs at Target Field.
Perhaps the most notable news of the week came from the return of starting pitchers Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray. Arguably the top two pitchers in the rotation, Ryan and Gray's return adds depth to a pitching rotation with a tank that was close to empty. Returning from the extended Covid List, Ryan made his first start since May 21 on Tuesday night against the Mariners while Gray returned on Wednesday night following a stint on the 15-day IL with a pectoral strain.
Given the return of Ryan and Gray, the Twins DFA'd RHP Chi Chi González this past Sunday. González was scooped up by the Milwaukee Brewers just two days later. Signed to a minor league contract prior to the start of the season, González made two starts for the Twins, giving up six runs on 12 hits in seven combined innings.
Despite the .500 result on the week, there was a flurry of excellent endeavors for the Minnesota Twins this past week. Coming off an extended stint on the IL is never easy, especially for a starting pitcher. Sonny Gray kicked that norm to the curb on Wednesday night with arguably his best start of the year in a shutout win over the Mariners. Through five scoreless innings, Gray allowed just three hits and no runs while striking out three in one hell of a comeback campaign. Anticipated by many to be the club's ace upon his signing, Gray's numbers are trending in the right direction. Gray has given up just three runs in his last four starts and opposing hitters batted a meager .182 against Gray in May (versus .208) in June.
Obviously, it's a small sample size, but the numbers are looking great and Gray's experience will continue to prove valuable for a rotation this continues to be fluid. Ace or not, Sonny Gray will be a valuable asset for the Twins as the season grows deep.
Speaking of consistency, Luis Arraez has continued his monstrous hitting campaign and currently sits at a lead-leading .361 batting average. Arraez holds a healthy lead over Paul Goldschmidt (.344 AVG) and has sat atop the leader board for over a week.
Batting .386 in the month of June, Arraez hit safely in five of six games this week, including three multi-hit games. It's no secret that Arraez deserves to be an MLB All-Star, yet his greatest strength is certainly his versatility at the plate. Well-known as a contact hitter, Arraez has shown his potential for power throughout the season while maintaining his incredible consistency for putting the ball in play. Here's Rocco speaking about his stellar hitting approach.
Perhaps the finest pitching outing of the week took place on Saturday night when Dylan Bundy mowed down the Diamondbacks through eight full innings. Coming off of a rough start against the Yankees, Bundy allowed just one run on no hits and struck out seven in his clear-cut best start of the year. Unlike Arraez, Bundy has lacked consistency this year but Saturday's masterpiece against the Diamondbacks was a true display of how high Bundy's ceiling can be. Hopefully, it instills confidence in the veteran and leads to more quality starts when it matters most.
Carlos Correa has continued to trend in the directions that Twins fans hoped he would. Traditionally a slow starter, Correa is now statistically playing the best June baseball of his career and is batting .341 so far this month. Corea's season-long average of .293 ranks second amongst everyday starters (only behind Arraez) and is sure to climb even higher. Correa did go hitless in two of three games against the Diamondbacks but did knock in an RBI in the middle game along with hitting safely in each game in Seattle.
And on top of those, Alex Kirilloff's return to Major League play on Saturday night was excellent. With the game still competitive, Kirilloff crushed a third-inning two-out RBI two-run double to open up the flood gates for the rest of the crew.
A club that should win a majority of games (and certainly series) against bottom-feeder teams, this week's 50-50 split came as a result of dry bats, and rocky pitching...sometimes at the same time.
Sunday's loss to Arizona was a prime example. Through four innings, Chris Archer allowed two runs (both homers) on three total hits while striking out three; not a great outing, but certainly not a game-ruiner. While not his finest rodeo, Griffin Jax kept the game within reach, allowing just one run (on another homer) in the fifth inning. The floodgates unfortunately opened in the sixth, with Caleb Thielbar allowing four runs on three hits (one homer) and a walk in just 2/3 of an inning. The blunder was uncharacteristic for Thielbar, who had previously allowed just one run in the month of June. Thielbar touted an impressive 2.08 ERA through 13 innings in May and will hopefully get past this road bump.
Yet through the misfires on the bump, the Twins' offense wasn't able to get much going minus a Luis Arraez run in the first. The Twins managed just five hits in the series finale against the D-Backs, a large contrast from 14 the night before and 10 on Friday. Just a few days earlier, the team tallied just four hits in their series-opening loss to the Mariners on Tuesday. The highs and lows of this team's hitting will eventually land somewhere on a plateau alongside the mountain.
Ryan Jeffers looks to be escaping from his hitting slump and young talent Jose Miranda seems to have found a groove. There aren't necessarily sole names at fault for the occasional offensive lapses, the problem seems to just be a team-wide consistency gap in occasional 'should-win games.'
After finally hitting his stride, LHP Devin Smeltzer suffered his first poor outing of the season in the series opener against Arizona. Smeltzer allowed seven runs on nine hits through 4 1/3 against the Diamondbacks, the most runs and hits he's given up through seven starts this year. The crafty lefty gave up two homers in his outing and has given up seven in June after giving up none through three starts in May. That's certainly not a good trend, but Smeltzer has proven he can limit damage and keep opposing hitters' numbers low. While there is surely uncertainty given his fairly young track record, hopefully, Friday's shelling was just a rare bad day at the office.
And finally, Joe Ryan's highly anticipated return to the bump on Tuesday night in Seattle didn't exactly go as planned. After three stellar innings, Ryan left just a few pitches up which led to the Mariners scoring two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. All in all the outing was horrific, it just wasn't "Joe-Cool-esque." Not shockingly, Ryan's velocity was down quite a bit from prior to landing on the Covid list.
Ryan's bland start shouldn't provide a huge concern for worry, as the star rookie has proven his consistency throughout the course of the season. This week's start against Cleveland should prove as a true test for the club's ace.
The Twins did not meet or exceed their own expectations this past week. While there were certainly moments of brilliance the club lacked consistency against two very sweep-able ball clubs. Contending teams find ways to take care of business against clubs that they're clearly better than and the Twins simply played down to the level Mariners and Diamondbacks too many times.
Are the Twins still contenders? Absolutely. It would be foolish to foster deep concern following a .500 week at this point in the season, especially with key players returning to health. Yet the Twins do need to find consistency both at the plate and from the bump...and they need it to coincide.
Losing Jorge Polanco is certainly a blow, but unlikely heroes like Jose Miranda are beginning to get hot, and veterans Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez have shown the ability to be major contributors. The 'A-B-C' crew of Arraez, Buxton, and Correa continue to anchor this offense and all signs are pointing toward them all trending in the right direction.
Despite a trio of over-par starts, the Twins bullpen is in a decent place with Gray and Ryan back on the mound. Given Dylan Bundy's electric start in Arizona along with 'not-normal' outings from Smeltzer and Archer, the Twins truly control their destiny for the near future.
The reality of that begins on Tuesday. With red-hot Cleveland (8-2 in last ten games) coming to town, Minnesota will have the chance to beat a solid team that they're still probably better than. Following Sunday's loss, the Guardians are just one game behind the Twins for first place in the AL Central and are one of the most surprising stories of the year (along with the Twins). Joe Ryan will have a chance to redeem himself on the bump and all signs are pointing towards an electric series at Target Field.
With some toasty weather and first place in the division on the line, Target Field will be the place to be this week as Cleveland comes to town. Following that the Twins will have a chance to sweep the struggling Rockies over the weekend.
TUESDAY, 6/21: GUARDIANS @ TWINS - RHP Joe Ryan v. TBD
WEDNESDAY, 6/22: GUARDIANS @ TWINS- RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Triston McKenzie
THURSDAY, 6/23: GUARDIANS @ TWINS- LHP Devin Smeltzer vs. RHP Zac Plesac
FRIDAY, 6/24: ROCKIES @ TWINS- TBD v. TBD
SATURDAY, 6/25: ROCKIES @ TWINS TBD v. TBD
SUNDAY, 6/26: ROCKIES @ TWINS TBD v. TBD