Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/6 thru Sun, 9/12
Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 63-80)
Run Differential Last Week: +9 (Overall: -102)
Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (19.0 GB)
Last Week's Game Recaps:
Game 137 | MIN 5, CLE 2: Ober and Pineda Piggyback, Polanco Rakes
Game 138 | MIN 3, CLE 0: Gant Combines with 4 Relievers in Shutout
Game 139 | MIN 3, CLE 0: Ryan Flirts with Perfection, Dominates Cleveland
Game 140 | CLE 4, MIN 1: Quantrill Keeps Twins Bats Quiet
Game 141 | KC 6, MIN 4: Offense Goes Silent After Explosive First Inning
Game 142 | MIN 9, KC 2: Twins Drill 5 Homers, Coast to Easy Win
Game 143 | KC 5, MIN 3: Royals Rally Late, Take Series
NEWS & NOTES
If you had to put your finger on just what's gone wrong with the Twins' pitching staff this year, one culprit would be ... well, fingers.
Taylor Rogers has officially been shut down for the season with a middle finger sprain that he suffered in late July. While he'll have a full offseason to heal, the nature of this injury for a slider-reliant pitcher turns the team's top reliever (and one of their top trade candidates) into a major question mark. It's hard to fully trust he'll be the same guy when he returns.
The same is more or less true for Randy Dobnak, who went back on the IL ahead of his planned Wednesday start with renewed soreness in his own middle finger, which previously sidelined him for more than two months. Dobnak, unlike Rogers, was struggling pretty consistently before getting hurt so there's even less assurance with him going forward.
With Dobnak going down again, Andrew Albers was recalled to start on short notice. He did okay, all things considered, but was returned to St. Paul a couple days later when the Twins promoted (at long last) relief pitcher Jovani Moran.
The lefty Moran has been a dominant force this year in the minors, piling up whiffs and strikeouts with help from a standout changeup that makes him even highly effective against righties. Moran made his debut on Monday and looked good, notching a pair of strikeouts over 1 ⅓ innings, though his control started to slip a bit in the latter part of the 37-pitch outing.
Joe Ryan stole the show with a dazzling performance at Cleveland in his second major-league start, carrying a perfect game through six and ultimately allowing just one hit over seven shutout innings. His Game Score of 79 was the second-best for a Twins starter all season, trailing only José Berríos' spectacular first start of the year in Milwaukee.
The young right-hander showed pretty much everything you'd want to see in his gem. He worked efficiently, needing only 85 pitches to get through seven frames while throwing 71% strikes. He notched only four strikeouts in this one, but induced plenty of weak contact. And while his fastball was good as advertised, Ryan continued to demonstrate he's no one-trick pony, mixing in some very nice low sliders as well.
Ryan was the star in another strong week for the rotation, which got another member back via the return of Michael Pineda. Needing to build up after skipping a rehab stint, Big Mike appeared in relief of Bailey Ober on Monday, tossing three scoreless innings. He followed up with five innings of one-run ball against Kansas City on Saturday night.
This isn't the dominant version of Pineda we've seen in the past, but he's still plenty effective and the velocity appears to have rebounded. His fastball averaged 91.6 MPH on Saturday, which is his highest mark since early June. Personally, I believe that Pineda makes a lot of sense to bring back on a low-cost deal for the back of the rotation, although not everyone agrees.
Ober, for his part, kept chugging along with a couple more strong performances – albeit in two of his shorter outings in a while. On Monday against Detroit, the big righty tossed four innings of two-run ball, striking out four with no walks. In his following start on Sunday, he was charged with three runs over 4 ⅓ innings, but had his stuff working with six strikeouts and 16 swings-and-misses on 75 pitches (21% SwSt). Ober hasn't issued multiple walks in a start since before the All-Star break, and owns a tremendous 48-to-6 K/BB ratio over 50 innings in his past 10 starts.
Toss in a very fine outing on Tuesday from John Gant, who struck out seven over five scoreless, and it was an altogether outstanding week for this mish-mashed collection of starting pitchers.
Alas, it's not just the rotation holding things down for the pitching staff as this campaign winds down. The bullpen, to its credit, has really come around. Despite lacking its best player in Rogers, the relief corps has quietly been among the best in baseball since the end of July.
The past week saw Minnesota's bullpen deliver a 1.56 ERA, with Alex Colomé, Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar, and Luke Farrell chipping in three scoreless innings apiece. Jorge Alcala, Ralph Garza Jr., and of course Moran had solid showings as well.
Offensively, Jorge Polanco remains the life of the party. He opened his week with a four-hit game in Cleveland that included three doubles and a homer, then launched two bombs against the Royals on Saturday night. The second baseman is putting on a power-hitting clinic here in September, where he's slugging .795 with six doubles and five homers. Perhaps most impressively, he's driving the ball like this without sacrificing much contact. True to form, Polanco has struck out only seven times in 45 plate appearances this month. He's locked in, to put it mildly.
Byron Buxton isn't quite on Polanco's level right now, but he does show signs of getting back on track offensively. Buck launched three homers last week, including this mammoth blast to straightaway center on Friday night:
He didn't do a ton otherwise, and his swing still feels pretty all-or-nothing at this point, but it's a good start as the center fielder looks to finish strong in another frustrating, incomplete season.
Role players vying for opportunities on the 2022 team aren't doing much to help their cases.
Brent Rooker came through with a big two-run double on Sunday, but went just 4-for-18 overall with six strikeouts and no walks. Rob Refsnyder – who drew two starts as the No. 3 hitter and one in the two-hole, for reasons unknown – managed three singles in 15 at-bats. Since returning from the IL in early August, he's slashing .208/.313/.236 with two extra-base hits (both doubles) and two RBIs in 83 plate appearances. Jake Cave made one start all week and was 1-for-6 at the plate. In fact, he's started only twice in the team's past 17 games. He's pretty clearly being phased out and his departure this offseason feels like a mere formality.
Honestly, there's nothing too compelling happening at the moment. Will the Twins avoid 90 losses? (They'd need to go 10-9 or better in the final 19 games.) Can they steer clear of a last-place finish? (They're currently two games behind the fourth-place Royals). How high of a draft pick will they net in 2022? (As Aaron Gleeman notes, they could realistically get as high as No. 7.)
Personally I'll be more interested in following some of the noteworthy individual storylines in these last three weeks. I want to see if Buxton can show hints of the player he was back in April. I want to see how Ryan and Ober close out their first impressions in the majors. I want to see how Moran's stuff plays against big-league hitters. The games might not matter much anymore, but there are other implications to this remaining stretch nonetheless.
For a second consecutive week, the Twins must take a disruptive detour in the middle of their homestand, heading to New York on Monday for an afternoon makeup game against the Yankees. Should be a ton of fun! Right?!
From there, they quickly turn around and head back home for a double-header against Cleveland on Tuesday. Three games in 35 hours should provide some challenges for Rocco Baldelli in managing a thin pitching staff, but at least there's an off day coming up on Thursday. It's unclear at this point who will take Dobnak's vacant turn with Albers sent back to the minors. Charlie Barnes is a decent bet.
MONDAY, 9/13: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP John Gant v. TBD
TUESDAY, 9/14: CLEVELAND @ TWINS (G1) – RHP Aaron Civale v. RHP Joe Ryan
TUESDAY, 9/14: CLEVELAND @ TWINS (G2) – RHP Triston McKenzie v. TBD
WEDNESDAY, 9/15: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Cal Quantrill v. RHP Griffin Jax
FRIDAY, 9/17: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Hyun Jin Ryu
SATURDAY, 9/18: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – RHP Bailey Ober v. LHP Steven Matz
SUNDAY, 9/19: TWINS @ BLUE JAYS – RHP John Gant v. RHP Alek Manoah
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