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  1. The Twins must be creative this winter to fill some of the club’s different needs. Minnesota needs a playoff-caliber starter to replace Sonny Gray in the rotation and a replacement for Michael A. Taylor in center field. Adding a right-handed bench bat and upgrading the bullpen would be nice, but those may be luxuries the team can’t afford while cutting payroll. It’s a tough spot for the front office, but they have previously shown the ability to be creative. Many trade rumors this winter have swirled around the club, including shopping veteran players with higher contracts, like Kyle Farmer, Christian Vazquez, and Jorge Polanco. Unfortunately, trade value for those player types will bring back a minimal return. Instead, the front office can look to trade some of their young, established MLB players to capitalize on their value. It will likely take a combination of moves to free up payroll and add impact players at positions of need. Here is a look at three young players the Twins might consider including in trades this winter. Each player’s surplus trade value is from Baseball Trade Values. Edouard Julien, 2B Surplus Trade Value: $35.3 million Julien has been an intriguing prospect over the last two seasons, and fans saw the value he provides at the plate. In 109 games, he hit .263/.381/.459 (.839) with 16 doubles and 16 home runs. His defense made strides at second base, but he’s still considered a below-average defender. Minnesota traded Luis Arraez last winter, when it was clear the club wasn’t confident in his ability to play second base. Julien might be in a similar position, and he has more years of team control than Arraez did last winter. If Polanco was traded, the assumption was that Julien would take over the second base duties. If Julien was also dealt, the Twins have other young options who might be ready to step into the role, including Austin Martin and Brooks Lee. Matt Wallner, OF Surplus Trade Value: $23.3 million Like Julien, Wallner is supposed to be the heir apparent at a position occupied by a current veteran. If the Twins trade Kepler, Wallner can slide over to right field and be part of the team’s line-up for most of the next decade. In 2023, Wallner hit .249/.370/.507(.877) with 11 doubles and 14 home runs across 76 games. The Twins can also look to include Wallner in a trade because his value might never be higher. Wallner’s offensive profile will come with many strikeouts and inconsistent contact. Other corner outfield options include Trevor Larnach, Nick Gordon, and Austin Martin. Wallner has been a great story as a Minnesota native, but the timing might be suitable for the Twins to maximize his value on the trade market. Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF Surplus Trade Value: $19.7 million The Twins might consider other top prospects untouchable, like Lee and Walker Jenkins. Rodriguez is the team’s other consensus top-100 prospect, which can make other teams value his potential upside. Rodriguez was added to the team’s 40-man roster this winter and is projected to spend next season at Double-A. It's interesting to consider that Baseball Trade Values believes Rodriguez has much lower value than the other more established players, but that might be reflection of his extreme high-risk/high-reward profile. There are no indications that the Twins want to part with Rodriguez, but the organization will likely need to trade multiple prospects to acquire a frontline starting pitcher. Minnesota’s winning window is open right now, which might force the front office to be aggressive. Minnesota obviously has other highly valued players at or close to the big league, but some of those options might be untouchable in the eyes of the Twins. Will the front office consider trading any of the players mentioned above? Do you agree with the trade values? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  2. Jorge Polanco has cemented himself as a piece of the Twins' core. First, an All-Star caliber shortstop, then more recently, the everyday starting second baseman. Could Jorge Polanco make another change in position to address a roster need and remain in Minnesota? Edouard Julien is a core piece of the Twins lineup for years to come. Although his defense at second base remains suspect, he seemed to improve as the year went on, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Twins completely trusted him to cover the position to begin 2024. Brooks Lee also looms in Triple-A, with second base among the positions he could fill when he’s ready to debut. With Polanco still in the mix, his contract makes him a candidate to be shipped out due to the redundancy of his position. Switching him to first base could completely change the situation. Polanco isn’t the typical first base player archetype, but the Twins are no strangers to filling the position with nontraditional players. Luis Arraez played there in 2022 plenty, and even Alex Kirilloff is far from the prototypical slugging corner bat. The fact is that Polanco is a switch-hitter capable of putting up an offensive line that’s 15-20% better than league average. That should play just about anywhere. For as much of a question as Julien’s defense is, Polanco has been far from a Gold Glove second baseman since he transitioned from shortstop. 2023 was his best season by Defensive Runs Saved with a +1 mark. His range continues to decline, as noted by his -7 Outs Above Average measured by Statcast. Despite Polanco's solid defensive rep, going from him to Julien at second base might not be the drop-off someone would suspect. It’s hard to say Polanco would be a net positive defensively at first base, but with range being his main limiting factor, it could be worth a shot. It’s also possible that moving to a position where he doesn’t have to cover as much ground could help him stay on the field more. His hamstring issues in 2023 resulted from running out of the batters' box, but it’s fair to say that playing first base could take some pressure off his ankle, which has been an issue for years now. Should Polanco be a trustworthy first baseman, the Twins will have solved multiple problems. He can be the right-handed platoon with Kirilloff (if he's healthy) while still moving around DH and other infield positions. If Kirilloff’s injury woes persist, Polanco’s ability to switch hit would make him an everyday option if needed. The Twins could keep a franchise player on the roster and not have to go out looking for additional help at first base. Even at $10.5m in 2024 and $12m in 2025, Polanco’s contract with first base in his repertoire would be worth it. First base seems to be a priority this winter, and Jorge Polanco’s salary looks extraneous. Rather than dumping Polanco for what would likely be a disappointing return, the Twins should get creative and see if he can make yet another defensive transition. Do you agree?
  3. The Twins could always draft or sign and then develop position players. Consider the names drafted and signed under the regimes of Mike Radcliff and Terry Ryan. It’s a Who’s Who of Twins hitters. Hunter. Mientkiewicz. Jones. Cuddyer. Morneau. Mauer. Kubel. Span. Buxton. Sano. Kepler. Polanco. And with many of the same people in the scouting department, we are again seeing emerging, talented position players. Many have debuted in recent years to varying success (and opportunity). Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien, and Matt Wallner were keys to the Twins second-half success. Meanwhile, players like Ryan Jeffers, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Jose Miranda, and Nick Gordon have helped the Twins win over the past couple of seasons. While there are finally more pitchers in the Twins system to be excited about, there continue to be solid-hitting prospects around the diamond. Let’s take a look at some of the depth around the field that can be found in the Twins organization: Catchers The Twins have two catchers on the big-league roster, Ryan Jeffers and Christian Vazquez. Jeffers will not be eligible for free agency for three more years. Vazquez has two years remaining on his three-year deal. Jair Camargo was added to the Twins 40-man roster since the end of the World Series. The burly backstop showed his powerful arm and his power with the bat for the St. Paul Saints in 2023. He will likely return to the Saints to start the 2024 season and be the guy called up if there is a need. Chris Williams, who is not on the 40-man roster, has become one of Twins most prominent power prospects the past two years with the Saints. He can catch, but he’s got enough bat to be a DH or get time at first base if needed. Patrick Winkel was the primary catcher with the Double-A Wind Surge. He is arguably the best defensive backstop prospect, but he can also hit with extra-base power. Noah Cardenas spent the entire season at Cedar Rapids. He can hit and get on base at a strong clip while playing well behind the plate. Andrew Cossetti may have as much power potential and offensive prowess as any of these catching prospects. He split his first professional season between Ft. Myers and the High-A Kernels. He ended the season representing the Twins in the Arizona Fall League.
  4. In 2023, the conversation for the Twins in the playoffs finally changed. There were media outlets in September suggesting it would be good for the five seed to “tank” in order to face three-seeded Minnesota in the Wild Card round since “bulletin board material” didn’t apply to such a cursed franchise. But no longer can the Twins’ chances be reduced to a hand wave and a chuckle – they won as many games as they lost, including nearly handing the Astros a loss in the ALDS for the first time since the Obama administration. Now the conversation has to be (as with all playoff teams) what the Twins need in order to go further in 2024. They didn’t hit much against the Astros (or the Blue Jays for that matter), with a number of their hitters failing to eclipse the .600 mark in OPS for the two rounds. However, we did see evidence of a few guys who could terrify future playoff opponents by virtue of what they did in October 2023. Edouard Julien: He drew five walks in the six games, with three extra base hits and zero errors/misplays on defense. His OPS for the playoffs was a stout 1.043. He did make two baserunning errors, one ghastly (game one of the ALDS), and one a product of bad luck (game four). Julien showed that his blend of power and patience will play in the postseason. His home run and double in game four gave the Twins some life, and his pinch-hit, bases loaded, two-out single in game two sealed a win. He is a playoff caliber leadoff hitter. Royce Lewis: He posted an OPS over 1.100 in the playoffs, with four home runs that put him on the precipice of setting the Twins’ all-time playoff record. After six games. He appeared to press at times, swinging at some spiked breaking balls in crucial moments, but he’s also played in only 76 career games to this point, including the playoffs. Seeing more pitchers and how they attack him should make him even more of a threat next October. Carlos Correa: He also eclipsed a 1.000 OPS, and threw in some of the savviest shortstop play I have ever seen with his pickoff of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and deke of Jose Abreu. His performance sealed his reputation as a known quantity in the playoffs, regardless of how his regular season goes. In 2020, he posted an OPS lower than what he posted in 2023 sans any plantar fasciitis issues. In the playoffs he hit for a 1.209 OPS and six home runs in twelve games that year. That isn’t to say he is automatic in the playoffs, but he will be ready. Jorge Polanco: This one is borderline. Polanco’s .653 2023 playoff OPS doesn’t stand out, except when you compare it to the rest of the Twins’ lineup. He drew four walks and popped a key three-run home run in game one of the ALDS that drew a collective gulp from everyone in the stadium that day. Polanco has proven he can hit in the playoffs. He was one of the few players to show up for the 2019 ALDS, hitting a first inning homer in game one, then tying the game with a single in the fifth. His defense is another matter. He went about 1-4 in fielding chances against Toronto and the specter of his missed flip in 2020 still haunts me to this day. Outside of those hitters and Kyle Farmer, the rest of the position player group didn’t inspire much confidence. Playoff pitching just doesn’t compare to the regular season. It rewards superstars (Yordan Alvarez) and guys who play within themselves (Martin Maldonado). It can be hard to identify who will play the Jason Kubel (1-29 career in the postseason) role in a given playoff series, and the Twins had a few this year. Chief among those was Ryan Jeffers. Outside of two hits in game one of the ALDS, Jeffers contributed nothing offensively. Two walks and a lot of strikeouts. He hit some balls hard, but he also made you wonder if keeping the playoff-tested Christian Vazquez on the bench for every game was the right move. Watching Vazquez’s at-bats down the stretch compared to Jeffers’ catcher-leading OPS made it a justifiable decision, but giving Vazquez a start or two may have butterfly-effected an extra scoring opportunity. We’ll never know. Matt Wallner went hitless in twelve plate appearances for the playoffs, although he did contribute three walks and a key hit-by-pitch. His inability to make contact against jumpy fastballs was exposed, and he’ll have to work and adjust in order to avoid a reputation as a mistake crusher who wilts against good pitching. Max Kepler was victimized by two terrible strike three calls against Houston, and he did collect a hit in his first five games of the playoffs. But even at his best, Kepler isn’t a cleanup hitter for a serious playoff lineup. He struck out 14 times in the six games and was worth -1.6% cWPA (championship win probability added) against the Astros. As a seven hole hitter, his skill set would play a lot better. Alex Kirilloff was playing through a torn labrum in his lead hitting shoulder, and performed as such. He is a little jumpy at the plate, even when healthy (taking strikes, then swinging at balls). But his elite plate coverage and all-fields power could be a major asset on future playoff teams. Now, having only three hitters clicking at the same time can certainly play in the playoffs. The 2019 Nationals provided proof of that concept with Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick and Anthony Rendon delivering a World Series championship that year. But ideally, you would want more lineup depth than that. Wallner has shown an ability to make adjustments, Jeffers has shown an ability to hit good pitching, Byron Buxton is always a wild card, and Kirilloff has shown the skill set to succeed in October. But if the front office doesn’t add another big bat this offseason, that may be a decision they could come to regret, especially given that the pitching will be hard-pressed to match this year's production. What do you think? Is the projected 2024 lineup good enough to take the next step as is, or does it need another piece? Sound off in the comments.
  5. Alex Kirilloff is slated for labrum repair surgery in his right shoulder, and the Twins won't know a timeline until after the procedure takes place next week. Considering the nature of this type of significant surgery, there is a decent chance that his recovery will carry over into the 2024 season. At the very least, the Twins need to be thinking very seriously about what the short-term (and perhaps long-term) picture looks like at first base in AK's absence. Here are a few paths they could take this offseason to ensure the position is in good hands for next year. Re-sign Donovan Solano Perhaps the simplest answer. Signed for $2 million at the start of spring training, Solano proved to be a key fixture for the Twins. He led the team in starts at first base (64), and was a solid contributor with his .369 OBP and 110 OPS+. If the Twins wanted to run it back, they could probably do so on another inexpensive one-year deal. But, even if you're envisioning the solution at first base is somewhat of a stopgap, don't you want to aim higher? Solano turns 36 this offseason, has no power, and was not terribly impressive defensively. By almost any value-based metric he was a below-average player. He also left a bad taste in all our mouths by striking out three times in the elimination game against Houston. Donnie Barrels, your service is appreciated, but I think it's best for both sides to move on. Sign a different free agent first baseman Of course, there are plenty of other fish in the sea of free agency. But trust me when I say that this year's first base class is not very appealing. There's not really a star-caliber player in the bunch, unless you are targeting someone like Cody Bellinger or Jeimer Candelario as a first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is a slugger who'd look good in the middle of the Twins lineup, but he missed all of 2023 with a torn ACL suffered in the spring. Otherwise the pool consists of a bunch of older fading players who can hardly be trusted to be offer much more than Solano. Trade for a first baseman Trades are the more interesting avenue for outside additions, if you're looking for a real difference-maker at first base. Two names stand out as potential targets: Pete Alonso and Paul Goldschmidt. Alonso is an elite power hitter who fits with the offensive profile that Minnesota remains committed to. He's entering his last year ahead of arbitration and the woebegone Mets could seek to cash in rather than lose him for nothing. (Not to mention clear salary in pursuit of Shohei Ohtani.) Goldschmidt is coming off a relative down year, and entering his final season under contract at age 36. He's the kind of experienced veteran icon (and recent MVP) who would add another layer of respected leadership in the clubhouse. But he has a no-trade clause, and may prefer to stay in St. Louis even if their contention outlook is uncertain. An exciting big splash like Alonso or Goldschmidt would emphatically address first base for next year while keeping options open long-term. But either player would cost a ton to acquire. Is it worth it when you can turn to the following option? Solve for the problem internally Jose Miranda. Remember that guy? Okay, his own shoulder isn't looking like much of a sure thing either, but he remains a very relevant name on Minnesota's first base depth chart. And there are other players on hand who could aptly fill in at first base, at least on an interim basis. Edouard Julien got a couple of starts at first late in the 2023 season, and while the team seemed resistant to using him there much, they might feel differently if they can bring him along in spring training and let him own the position. This would of course open up second for Jorge Polanco, so it makes sense. Maybe Miranda or minor-league slugger Yunior Severino, who hit 35 home runs at AA/AAA this year, could plug in as a platoon bat alongside Julien. Another option: turn the keys over to Brooks Lee, who hasn't played first base yet as a pro but could almost certainly handle the assignment. This would open the door for Minnesota's top prospect to step in alongside the young nucleus. If the Twins (understandably) want Lee to get a little more seasoning in Triple-A, where he admittedly hasn't dominated yet, they can keep this idea in their back pocket. But the 22-year-old should be viewed as another depth piece in the first base equation. With all of these internal options being on the table, and with Kirilloff still being part of the plan at some point, I find it hard to believe the Twins will allocate major resources to a blockbuster addition at first base. If an opportunity materializes for someone like Alonso or Goldschmidt, the front office should definitely see it through. But they've got enough ready-made depth on hand that they should not feel overly pressured to add here, from my view. What do you think? What would be your plan at first base this offseason?
  6. Production-wise, 2023 was a successful season for Alex Kirilloff. The former top prospect bounced back from years of wrist issues that kept him off the field. His overall offense was 20% above the league-average hitter. While the wrist finally held up, a shoulder issue emerged, first sending him to the IL midseason, and then knocking him out of the ALDS. Unfortunately at this point, the Twins need to be careful with how much they expect to get out of the former first-round pick. 2023 was surely a major step forward for Kirilloff’s health, appearing in 108 games, his most since 2018. While this can be considered a positive, the fact that his season ended in injury yet again is difficult to ignore. He’ll spend his offseason rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder, and his readiness for day one of the 2024 season isn’t guaranteed. We all love Kirilloff after having watched him ascend through the organization across so many years, but relying on him being durable and effective in 2024 is too much of a risk. First base is one of the easiest positions to find help. Offense is the number one factor, with gold glove-caliber defense rarely being a priority. In addition to there often being many available options that are pure first basemen, it’s also a position that former outfielders and other position players will transition to relatively often. Regardless of how the Twins see Kirilloff, first base will certainly be a spot to add to with Joey Gallo and Donovan Solano departing. The question becomes whether they add platoon/depth pieces, or if they pursue top-tier contributors. They could look to add someone like Garrett Cooper or CJ Cron on cheap deals to platoon. The risk of course is the possibility that Kirilloff continues to miss time and these players find themselves in a much bigger role than intended. Perhaps someone like Edouard Julien is trusted at first base more in 2024, making this route more viable. The Twins could also look to make an addition that immediately becomes a key offensive piece. If they were to sign someone like Rhys Hoskins to a deal, the Twins would be making a legitimate full-time addition to the lineup. Hoskins has a career .846 OPS and would add a hulking right-handed bat to a lineup that has needed more thump against left-handed pitchers for years. It may make Kirilloff’s path to everyday playing time a bit more narrow, but he was often platooned even when he was healthy and productive. The Twins can also utilize the DH spot to make it work. The Twins have found themselves in a familiar situation. First base may not be quite at the level of center field, where they have to plan for the backup potentially becoming a full time player, but there are significant question marks for Alex Kirilloff headed into 2024. As a team looking to compete for a second consecutive division title, and a young core that could carry them into October as they develop, the Twins can’t afford to downplay the uncertainty at a position that’s so easy to insulate. Should the Twins be wary of trusting Alex Kirilloff too much headed into 2024? Should they be looking to make a modest addition to first base, or a major splash to make sure the position is completely covered? Let us know below!
  7. The Twins had a good offense in 2023, finishing seventh in all of baseball by OPS and 10th in runs scored. As fans surely remember, they accomplished this by following up a .709 OPS in the first half with a .809 OPS in the second half. Despite this marked improvement and solid overall numbers, consistency always seemed to be lacking to some degree, and this really showed up in the postseason. How might they improve this over the offseason? Cut The Strikeouts The Twins set the all-time record for strikeouts in the regular season with 1654. Based on their final offensive numbers for the season, it’s easy to say this wasn’t a major problem, but it was clearly this team’s biggest issue. Far too often did the lineup fall into a rut of hitter after hitter failing to put the ball in play. Based on their strong second half, the hope was that they could overcome this record-setting flaw, but their playoff performance showed that this is a tall task. True to their offensive identity, the Twins struck out 28 times in their final two postseason games in front of the home crowd, an untenable 52% strikeout rate. It was an offensive formula Twins fans watched plenty often in 2023, and it leaves so little margin for error that fixing it should be priority number one this offseason. There were rumblings of the scouting approach or overall team philosophy being a problem in the first half that could certainly be tweaked. The front office could also do a better job of the personnel they’re targeting in avoiding the Joey Gallo types this winter. By all accounts, the Twins expected to be top 10 in the league in strikeouts from day one in 2023. They don’t need to model their team after the Cleveland Guardians, but perhaps they should challenge themselves to not have such low expectations in the strikeout category in 2024. Development of Youth The Twins were undoubtedly saved by the next offensive core that emerged in 2023. There’s no doubt the offense remains stagnant without the emergence of Edouard Julien, Royce Lewis, Matt Wallner, etc. While prospect development isn’t linear, the Twins have several young players who have flashed their star power and ability to adjust. Royce Lewis showed strides in plate discipline down the stretch that he’ll hope to build off of, and perhaps a normal offseason and being another year out from ACL surgery keep him healthier for the grind of a full season. Edouard Julien emerged as a postseason star, and his plate discipline and power should only continue to improve as he prepares for a full-time role in 2024. Matt Wallner fell into a deep pit of strikeouts in early September and was able to adjust back in less than a week. It’s hard to deny that the Twins best hitters were rookies in 2023. If they stay at the same level the Twins will be formidable in 2024. It’s easy to see a scenario where they improve and bring the offense to a whole new level. New Faces As always, the departure of several players will bring new additions from the trade and free-agent market. It’s become nearly impossible to predict what this front office has in store, but additions to the outfield and infield are certainly in the cards. Effectively rounding out the roster around the emerging rookies that weren’t yet factors last offseason will be key. The Twins may see another emergence of youth in 2024 as well. Several young players are on the doorstep of the MLB and will surely make their debuts next season. From the power profile of Yunior Severino, to Austin Martin’s on-base and speed combo , to Brooks Lee’s well-rounded profile making him a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, the Twins have no shortage of candidates to come up and help the team next season. While the Twins are sure to add to the pitching staff in some fashion, it’s hard to deny that building a more consistent offense should be priority number one in 2024. What the team accomplished with record-breaking strikeout numbers is impressive, and it’s interesting to consider how much more effective the offense can be with a bit more balance. Hopefully, in 2024, Twins Territory will find out.
  8. Everything didn't go perfectly for the Twins during the 2023 season, but there were some positive signs by the season's end. The team's playoff losing streak is over, and the fanbase doesn't need to focus on losses that happened in the past. Instead, the team will turn its focus to 2024 and beyond. So, are the Twins any closer to winning a World Series title compared to one year ago? Rocco Baldelli was clear in his post-game comments that he believes the Twins are ready to take the next step. "The team is hungry in a way that I don't think we probably even were before. You get a taste of something like this, you show this to people, what this looks like and what it is. We're not that far from playing in the World Series." Rookie Trio One reason for optimism with the Twins is the young core of players that established themselves during their rookie season. Minnesota became the first club since 1930 to have three rookies with an .830 or better OPS. Royce Lewis showed why he was considered one of baseball's top prospects by hitting .309/.372/.548 (.921) with 15 home runs and seven doubles in 58 games. His offensive output continued into October, where he became the first Twins batter since Kirby Puckett to have four home runs in the same postseason. Lewis wasn't the only rookie to leave his mark on the Twins. Matt Wallner also showcased multiple strengths during the 2023 season after being named the team's Minor League Player of the Year in 2022. In 76 games, Wallner hit .249/.370/.507 (.877) with 11 doubles, one triple, and 14 home runs. He also demonstrated a tremendous outfield arm, which can limit runners advancing on the base paths. Edouard Julien completed the Twins rookie trio and hit .263/.381/.459 (.839) in 109 games. He combined for 16 doubles, one triple, and 16 home runs with a 130 OPS+. Julien's defense at second base has improved significantly during the season, improving his projected value for future years. While these players impacted the 2023 season, other prospects are even more highly touted than this trio. Prospects on the Way Brooks Lee was named the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year after reaching Triple-A in his first full professional season. He hit .275/.347/.461 (.808) with 39 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs between Double- and Triple-A. His OPS dropped by over 100 points after his promotion, but he was over four years younger than the average age of the competition in the International League. He will be considered a top-25 global prospect entering next season. Lee isn't the only prospect to get excited about in the Twins' system. Emmanuel Rodriguez played the entire 2023 season at High-A, where he was over two years younger than the average age of the competition. He posted a .940 OPS or higher in four-of-six months during the season. His biggest moments came in the deciding game of the Midwest League Championship Series when he hit a grand slam that put the Kernels in front. He won't rank as highly as Lee on national lists, but he has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect. AL Central and Playoff Picture The AL Central also provides an opportunity for the Twins to make the playoffs regularly in the coming years. Both Chicago and Kansas City finished with over 100 losses, and neither has a clear winning window in the immediate future. Cleveland was the team the Twins competed with for most of the season, but they fell apart down the stretch and finished ten games below the .500 mark. Detroit showed some positive signs in the second half to finish at 78-84, including some young players moving in the right direction. However, the Twins should be the AL Central favorites entering next season. MLB's playoff structure allows for upsets, and the best regular-season teams can struggle in October. Minnesota finished with a worse record than Toronto, who plays in a tougher division, but the Twins managed to sweep the Blue Jays out of the playoffs. Arizona was the last team into the NL playoffs, and they have swept their way into the NLCS. Anything can happen in the postseason, so the Twins must put themselves in a position for the playoffs and hope they can find some magic. Baseball is a funny game that can be hard to predict. Baldelli is right to look at this club and believe in the future. A World Series run isn't out of the question, but many things need to go right for that to happen. Baseball is a funny game that can be hard to predict. Do you believe the Twins are closer to a World Series title? What must they add to the roster to make that dream a reality? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  9. In the wake of a season-ending 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros, it’s important to note how wildly successful this year was for the Minnesota Twins. Ending a decades-long playoff drought, running away with a bad division in the second half, the rise of young stars like Royce Lewis and Ed Julien. But. As noted by a friend of mine, the season ends badly for every playoff team except one. Minnesota is not that one. So before the hurt and frustration wear off and the anticipation for building on the successes in 2024 begins, let’s vent one last time. Here are the things I'm still angry about on Friday. The offense. My god, fellas. I know we’re all (correctly) furious at the next group on this list, but even Rob Deer thinks you strike out too much. Hit the ball! Make them play defense! Please! The umpires. As a Minnesotan, you have two divine rights: To say where you were and what you were doing during the Halloween Blizzard of 1991; and Hold a seething, unfathomable rage against professional sports referees. Would it surprise you to learn that Wednesday’s home plate umpire blew the biggest call of the game in Houston’s favor? Of course not! You just saw another Minnesota team get worked over by the refs in deference to their sport’s defending champions last Sunday. ‘Twas ever thus. And the second you notice it, much less complain about it, some smug [redacted] will say the mistakes balance out and good teams overcome it. My response, honed by years of careful observation and hard-won experience, is this: No they don’t and [redacted] you, [redacted]. Byron Buxton’s body. Anyone who watched him try to run this year, and his admitted mental struggles with the DH role, knew a Kirk Gibson moment was wildly unlikely. The soft pop-up on Wednesday was, sadly, the appropriate end to his nightmare of a year. One of the most gifted athletes you’ll ever see in your life, constantly betrayed by his own body. The six biggest what-ifs of 2023 are as follows: Healthy Byron Buxton. Healthy Carlos Correa. Healthy Royce Lewis. What would the Twins have done without Michael A. Taylor? What would Game 5 in Houston have been like? (I honestly think the Twins win, that's how in the tank I am for Pablo.) Cutting the cord on Joey Gallo in June instead of September. Regression. As Sonny Gray or anyone who crammed for an accounting final will tell you: Math is cruel. Regular prices at Target Field. The family values sections, where you could get relatively cheap popcorn and Budweiser, didn’t exist for the playoffs. How are people on a budget supposed to be super loud and verbally abuse the opposition without cheap beer and salty snacks? Speaking of which… Arguing about how loud/not loud Target Field crowds are. If you thought Target Field crowds were plenty loud prior to 2023, the raucous, ear-splitting noise that literally assisted the biggest play of Game 2 versus Toronto should make you reassess. Admit you’re wrong! Apologize to Dan Hayes! He's a sweet, gentle boy! Bullpen games. I’m actually OK with Rocco’s quick hook of Joe Ryan and the plan in general. But I’m not OK with the pace of play when you’re hauling in new pitchers every inning. This is more of an aesthetic complaint than a strategic one. The pitch clock is the best pace-of-play innovation in baseball since they stopped putting amphetamines in the coffee. And with that, I would like to thank the 2023 Twins for being good enough that it was challenging to make fun of them every Friday. They were fun!
  10. Maybe you're the crying type. Maybe you're the angry type. Maybe you're the type to bury it and not admit it hurts. But it does. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't care about your Minnesota Twins. Whatever emotions you want to engage with, engage with them. Whatever complaints you have about the end of the season—whether it's with the manager, the hitters, the pitchers, the front office, the umpires, or TC Bear (he knows what he did)—let them be heard. The end comes at least one game too early for 29 teams, and it came for your Minnesota Twins. I won't tell you how to mourn this season or how long it should affect you. Pardon my French, Edouard Julien, but it sucks. When you're ready to start looking forward to next year, we'll be here for that. You'll have plenty of opportunity to read about next year's potential. Free agent targets, projections, trade candidates, philosophic waxing, and everything in between will fill the front page. Hope springs eternal. There's so much to be excited about next year. Nearly all of the pieces of the 2023 team are already penciled in for 2024. The top-flight rotation and bullpen may see minimal turnover. It's easy to dream on the promising starts to the careers of rookies Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien, and Matt Wallner. Carlos Correa's foot will hopefully be healed and ready for Opening Day. An offseason will help Byron Buxton. Top prospects like Brooks Lee and Austin Martin are ready to join the mix. But that's not today. No one will blame you for looking ahead to next year. There's a lot of reason to believe that the 2024 team can be better than this year's team as young players take the next steps and season-long injuries can heal. However, we need to appreciate what we just watched. Coming into the year, very few analysts, experts, or pundits picked Minnesota to win the Central. There was more steam behind them securing the third seed in the worst division in baseball than there was that they would get a playoff berth. Yet here they stand. The Twins had a pitching staff that competed for the best in the game, besting any Minnesota squad from the past three decades, at minimum. Two pitchers—Sonny Gray and Pablo López—will likely rank in the top eight in Cy Young voting in the American League. We got to watch that. A trio of rookies—Lewis, Julien, and Wallner—injected so much energy into this organization. Although our instincts tell us they will only improve, it's not guaranteed. Frankly, this could be the best season that any of them ever have. They may play at this level for most of their careers. We don't know what the future holds for them. We do know how they made us feel this year, though. What happens next year, or in the years down the road, doesn't change the fun that it was for this team. After back-to-back-to-back division championships between 2002 and 2004, expectations were great. Surely 2005 would be the year they take the next step and get back into a deep playoff run. We know how that ended. An incredible core of young and controllable talent led the 2016 Cubs to the Promised Land for the first time in 108 years. Surely a young team like that could contend for the World Series for a decade. It's been seven years, they've won one playoff game since, and the core is completely disbanded. This isn't an attempt to put a damper on your dreams. It's a call to appreciate what you watched this season. Sure. This team struck out way more than anyone would like. We all pulled our hair out watching called strike threes on middle-middle fastballs. The offense was positively anemic for half the year, and once they got themselves figured out, the stellar pitching's wheels began to wobble. Inexplicable injuries seemed to pile up, and no timetables were ever clear. The two most highly-paid players were dragged down by season-long, nagging injuries. But this team won the division. But fans got to watch meaningful October baseball. But those in attendance got to revitalize and call up the ghosts of the crowd that used to inhabit the Hubert. H. Humphrey Metrodome. But this was the team that broke the streak. No longer will it be brought up on national broadcasts that the Twins had lost their previous 18 playoff games. No one will talk about 2004 again. This was the team that made it happen. From breaking the longest playoff losing streak in North American professional sports history to the individual moments of joy watching the Max Kepler resurgence or a Jorge Polanco professional plate appearance. This team provided joy. Appreciate it before turning the page to next year. Appreciate the energy of Kyle Farmer, the emergence of Ryan Jeffers, the chaos of Willi Castro, the random bombs from Michael A. Taylor and Joey Gallo, and the barrels into the gap of Donovan Solano. Appreciate an entire bullpen throwing gas, Jhoan Durán and Caleb Thielbar's elite curveballs, Brock Stewart's comeback story, Emilio Pagán's redemption arc, the Dallas Keuchel experience, the late-season moves to the pen of Louie Varland and Chris Paddack, and one of (if not the) best starting rotations in Twins history: Gray, López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Kenta Maeda, Varland, Tyler Mahle, Keuchel, and José De León. Appreciate how this season made you feel, and the fun you had along the way, before looking into who should get a qualifying offer. Thank you, everyone, for this season—especially those of you who work at 1 Twins Way.
  11. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Joe Ryan, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K (26 pitches, 18 strikes, 69.2%) Home Runs: Royce Lewis (4), Edouard Julien (1) Bottom 3 WPA: Jorge Polanco (-.240), Caleb Thielbar (-.202), Max Kepler (-.117) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Teams exchange solo shots, Ryan gets pulled early The Twins were doomed on Tuesday afternoon after a poor first inning that saw Sonny Gray give up four runs, and Minnesota was unable to bounce back. This time, though, things looked completely different in the early going as Joe Ryan breezed through the top of the first on only ten pitches. Most fans and pundits wanted the Twins not to throw a pitch to Yordan Álvarez in this series anymore, but Ryan had no trouble getting him to fly out to end the inning. The offense was also in business early. Édouard Julien led off the home first with a long double to center. It was of no use, though, as Jorge Polanco hit a very soft liner directly at Jeremy Peña, who was able to tag out Julien quickly for a double play. Despite such a deflating play, the Twins didn’t come out empty-handed. In the following at-bat, Royce Lewis took José Urquidy deep for a line-drive home run to left to make it 1-0 Twins. That was Lewis’ fourth home run this postseason, and he’s now tied with Kirby Puckett for most home runs in a single postseason in franchise history (1991). At four home runs, Lewis is also tied with Greg Gagne for second-most homers all-time in franchise postseason history, behind only Puckett, with five. Ryan looked sharp again in the top of the second, recording two quick outs on only seven pitches. He got a first-pitch strike against Michael Brantley next, but on the very next pitch, Brantley tied the game with a solo home run to deep center. Chas McCormick singled next, but Ryan took care of Peña to end the inning. That’s when things took an unexpected turn. In a surprising move, Rocco Baldelli pulled Ryan from the game after two innings and only 26 pitches. Houston takes the lead with another home run Brock Stewart came in relief of Ryan in the third and took care of business with a 1-2-3 inning on 12 pitches. With the offense going 0-for-7 with a walk after the Lewis home run, the Twins brought lefty Caleb Thielbar in the fourth to face the southpaw trio within the heart of the Astros lineup. He managed to limit Álvarez to a single and struck out Kyle Tucker next. But when righty José Abreu stepped up to the plate, he clobbered an opposite-field two-run shot for his third home run in two days, making it 3-1 Astros. Chris Paddack took over to get the final out of the fourth, and he went on to toss a flawless 1-2-3 fifth with ease, with a pair of punch outs. While Urquidy continued to make Twins hitters look silly by retiring seven in a row, Paddack looked just as brilliant in the sixth with another 1-2-3 effort, this time against hitters three to five. That included a strikeout against Álvarez. Fans might allow themselves to feel very excited about Paddack’s presence in the Twins rotation next year. Twins get one back, get Urquidy out of the game Urquidy made it eight consecutive batters retired when he got Michael A. Taylor to ground out to open the sixth. But his night was about to be over. Julien got his second hit of the night, a solo home run to left, snapping a collective 0-for-14 for the Twins offense since the first inning and cutting Houston’s lead to only one run. Jorge Polanco flied out next, but not before fighting for seven pitches and hitting a bullet (100.7 mph) to deep center. Dusty Baker brought in Hector Neris to try to get the inning’s final out, but Lewis worked a six-pitch walk to keep the Twins rally going. Max Kepler came to the plate representing the go-ahead run, and he got ahead of Neris in the count, 2-0. But the Astros reliever settled down and, with a big help from home plate umpire Jansen Visconti, got Kepler to “strike out”, ending the inning. It’s all about the bullpens, and the Astros hold on Griffin Jax came in to pitch the seventh, and he retired the side, making it ten consecutive Houston batters retired in a row. Had the offense been able to make some noise in the home half, the Twins could get some momentum going. But Neris did a tremendous job tossing a 1-2-3 inning. Then, Jhoan Durán was brought in for the eighth, and he also kept the Twins’ chances alive with a scoreless frame, making it 13 consecutive Astros retired. Target Field got loud in the bottom of the eighth when Byron Buxton walked up to the on-deck circle. Donovan Solano struck out to open the inning, and Buxton had the chance to tie the game next. His at-bat, however, was short-lived. He took the first two pitches for an even count but swung on the third one to pop out to shallow right. Julien struck out next to end the inning, making it seven consecutive Twins batters retired. With the Twins season on the line, Durán needed to put up another zero in the top of the ninth. He handed Álvarez his second strikeout of the night on three pitches, then got Tucker to ground out, taking it to the bag himself. After an Abreu single, Brantley jumped on the first pitch for an easy lineout to center. It was up to Polanco, Lewis, and Kepler against former Twin Ryan Pressly to save Minnesota’s season in the bottom of the ninth. Each of them worked full counts against Pressly, but he didn’t crack, and all three ended up being struck out. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet SAT SUN MON TUE WED TOT Maeda 43 0 0 25 0 68 Paddack 19 0 0 0 29 48 Ober 0 0 0 38 0 38 Thielbar 18 0 0 0 17 35 Stewart 0 22 0 0 12 34 Durán 0 7 0 0 23 30 Pagán 14 0 0 14 0 28 Jax 0 0 0 9 18 27 Varland 0 0 0 0 0 0
  12. Rocco Baldelli’s club should’ve felt a good deal of comfort going into Game 3. The Houston Astros were starting righty Cristian Javier, and despite him being incredible during the 2022 World Series run, he had been nothing close to that this season. Rather than piling on behind Sonny Gray, the offense was nowhere to be seen. Even before Javier continued to throw up zero after zero, it was Alex Kirilloff making one of the worst plays of his young career. Having debuted against the Astros during the 2020 postseason when Josh Donaldson couldn’t go for the Twins, it felt like this might be a spot where he got things going. Instead, starting at first base, he recorded an error that led to four first inning runs. With Yordan Alvarez stepping into the batter’s box, Kirilloff missed a routine double-play ball that had just a .070 expected batting average. Houston’s slugger pushed Jose Altuve to third base on the play, and Kyle Tucker drove in the first run during the very next at bat. Gray then served up a meatball to former White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, and before the Twins even stepped up to the plate, they were down 4-0. Kirilloff’s gaffe was the epitome of any number of miscues Minnesota fans have grown far too accustomed to seeing. Like a Gary Anderson or Blair Walsh missed kick, this one was entirely on the player failing to execute. Phil Cuzzi wasn’t there to incorrectly impact Joe Mauer, and neither D.J. Reyburn or Brian Knight were behind the dish to screw things up. Kirilloff just came up empty, in one of the biggest games of his career. Unfortunately for the Twins young first baseman, the defensive issue wasn’t the only one. He’s been non-existent at the plate all series as well. After posting a .793 OPS this season, good for a 117 OPS+, he has gone 0-for-9 with four strikeouts in five starts this postseason. He’s not a traditional slugger, but as a guy who has game power that can run into a pitch, he’s been nothing close to valuable at the plate. Minnesota would likely be struggling if their primary first baseman wasn’t producing, but it isn’t just Kirilloff, and that makes things worse. Matt Wallner, playing in the postseason in front of his hometown fans, has been in the same boat. Despite slumping during part of the second half, it seemed the Forest Lake native had figured things out. He had continued to take walks, and then found a way to drive the baseball again. Although he is still trotting 90-feet to first base, the rest of his production has been completely non-existent. Going 0-for-8, Wallner has also struck out in five of those at bats. Not only is he showing an inability to drive the baseball and do damage, but he has looked overmatched at the plate. Maybe the moment has become too big for some of Minnesota’s youth. That is something that could be said for the first at bat from Royce Lewis during Game 3. After chasing three pitches out of the zone, he squandered an opportunity to add, and it was an expansion of the zone we haven’t seen from a guy who has consistently done damage. Lewis missed during the latest game, but has come through the rest of the postseason. Edouard Julien is in a similar boat, and we’ll see how Joe Ryan can show up soon. Either way, youth propping up a roster has benefits until familiarity comes into play. Maybe Baldelli needs to turn starts over to Donovan Solano and Willi Castro on Wednesday, but the reality is that it’s unfortunate Minnesota hasn’t gotten more from Kirilloff and Wallner. Maybe their moment is yet to come, and that could be necessary if they want to advance. No matter what, even if it’s a lot to ask, the team needs more from a pair that is still wet behind the ears. Houston isn’t going to be beat by the Twins getting nothing from corner spots, and the combination of starters against right-handed pitching have now begged the question as to whether they are up to the task.
  13. Box Score: Starting Pitcher: Pablo Lopez - 7 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K (105 Pitches, 69 Strikes, 66%) Home Runs: Kyle Farmer (1) Top WPA: Lopez (.261), Carlos Correa (.192), Kyle Farmer (.118) Win Probability Chart (Via Fangraphs): The Twins came into Sunday evening's matchup with the defending World Series Champion Astros looking to end the next steak: a nine-game road playoff losing skid dating back to 2004 at Yankee Stadium. The right man for the job was on the mound in streak-breaker Pablo Lopez. The Twins' resurgent offensive attack against left-handed pitching was locked and loaded, with Carlos Correa feasting on lefties in his post-season career (.937 OPS career) Kyle Farmer (1.240 OPS against lefties over the past 20 games) in particular licking their chops with Framber Valdez on the mound for the Astros Cashing In Early...and Often! The crowd at Minute Maid Park was looking to get rocking yet again Sunday night, but due to an MLB decision the roof was open and there would be no resonating echoes this evening. If that didn't dampen the crowd's excitement, the Twins offense soon did. Valdez was all over the zone to start the top of the first inning, and Donovan Solano and Royce Lewis couldn't make solid contact. Luckily Jorge Polanco let Valdez's wildness garner him a walk, and Carlos Correa sat on a curveball to give the Twins their first lead of the series at 1-0. In Game 1, Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez controlled the game offensively. Tonight, Pablo Lopez took the early lead and endured a first inning that featured a lead-off bunt single by Jose Altuve and a "I thought it was gone!" fly out to right field by Yordan Alvarez. After one inning it was still 1-0 Twins. In the top of the second inning, Willi Castro ripped a single up the middle under the legs of Valdez. With the speedy Castro at first, Valdez should have paid more attention to the batter in the box, Kyle Farmer. Farmer took a first pitch sinker that didn't sink, and launched it up where fielders don't exist for a 2-run shot! 3-0 Twins! Things Settle Down, and Quiet Down Both starting pitchers won their battles in the third and fourth innings. Brilliant defense from Jeremy Pena snuffed out a potential Polanco hit, and a slick double play by Farmer and the Twins helped to keep the respective offenses at bay in the third. The Astros drew a walk and got a two-out single from Michael Brantley in the fourth to get runners at the corners and Chas McCormick up as the tying run. After getting squeezed on the strike zone throughout the inning. Lopez decided that a swinging strike three would be indisputable. Time to Blow This Game Wide Open The top of the fifth inning started with Valdez pitching to Michael A. Taylor. After he blooped his way to first base, Solano went opposite field for another single. Polanco dropped a bunt to advance the ducks on the pond, and Royce Lewis walked to load the bases with one out. Correa came to the plate with a chance to exorcise a season's worth of bases-loaded demons. And he delivered! That two-run single chased Valdez from the game, and the Astros brought in right-hander Phil Maton. On Maton's first pitch, Ryan Jeffers attempted a safety squeeze bunt. The curveball caused Jeffers to pull the bunt, Lewis was caught off third base in no man's land, and Twins Territory freaked out with every twist and turn that he took as he attempted to elude the pickle of his own making. Lewis got tagged out at home, appeared to stave off more injury to insult, and the Twins failed to score again as Farmer missed that same curveball for a swinging strike out on a full count with the bases loaded. Hopefully cashing in a few runs, but not all of the runs, wouldn't come back to bite the Twins. The Astros Have a Good Shortstop Too, but it's Pablo Day The reason the Astros allowed Correa to walk into free agency last season has a name and it's World Series MVP Jeremy Pena. Pena led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a rocket off of the top of the wall in left-center for a double. Lopez found great joy in the fact that Martin Maldonado was up next, and he retired him without allowing Pena to advance. Altuve popped up weakly to Polanco at second, and Alex Bregman swung and missed to send a pumped Pablo and the Twins into the late innings. In fact, Lopez took his shutout through seven full innings, silencing the most potent offense since the All-Star break and setting up the Twins for victory. Lewis Flies, Correa Rakes, and the Twins Add Runs No lead feels safe in Houston, and the Twins didn't let off the gas or the pinch-hitting pressure in the late innings. Correa continued to clobber the ball, driving another shot off of the wall to move Lewis to third with a double in the top of the seventh inning. After Jeffers took one for the team, Castro struck out looking at what he and most of the Twins dugout considered to be a ball. With two outs, Edouard Julien pinch hit for Farmer, and the rookie delivered with a single to right which plated Lewis, but got Correa caught out at home on a laser throw from Kyle Tucker. 6-0 Twins. Time to Bring this Series Home The Twins players and coaching staff stated over and over how much the Target Field environment helped lead them to victory in the Wild Card round. Heading home tied 1-1 in the ALDS was the goal, and it was up to Brock Stewart to take care of business in the eighth. Unfortunately for Stewart, Alvarez is a beast, and he delivered a two-run opposite-field home run to tighten the score to 6-2. This forced Rocco Baldelli's hand in the ninth, and he put in Jhoan Duran to leave no doubt that the Twins would leave Houston victorious. 1, 2, 3, ballgame. Twins Win! They head back to Target Field with a chance to win the series at home, and *Twins Territory plans to do their best to make it so. What's Next Game 3 pits Twins RHP Sonny Gray (1-0, 0.00 ERA) against Astros RHP Cristian Javier (0-0, 0.00; 10-5, 4.56 ERA in regular season). First pitch is scheduled for 3:07pm CDT for the next greatest sporting event in Twins history. Postgame: Bullpen Usage Chart: WED THU FRI SAT SUN TOT Maeda 0 0 0 43 0 43 Stewart 13 0 0 0 22 35 Thielbar 4 0 0 18 0 22 Durán 13 0 0 0 7 20 Paddack 0 0 0 19 0 19 Varland 17 0 0 0 0 17 Jax 15 0 0 0 0 15 Pagán 0 0 0 14 0 14 Funderburk 0 0 0 0 0 0
  14. After facing two right-handed starters against the Toronto Blue Jays, Rocco Baldelli was able to go with his ideal lineup in the wild card round. Rookies Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner were routinely deployed, and youngster Alex Kirilloff was kept in the lineup. Facing a left-handed starter, those three have all been held out of the starting lineup, and in the American League Division Series it clicked in the best way possible. The Houston Astros employ only one left-handed pitcher on the roster they brought into the postseason. Despite lefty Bennett Sousa pitching in the bullpen late for them, starter Framber Valdez was the only southpaw that Dusty Baker was going to bring with to the tournament. After facing Justin Verlander in Game 1, that meant the Twins would have their opportunity to right the ship in Game 2. Going with righties where the lefties can pinch hit, Minnesota knew where they'd turn. Baldelli saw Verlander shut his lineup down against Bailey Ober. The Astros got big hits from Yordan Alvarez, and the Twins found themselves up against a wall. Although Jorge Polanco and Royce Lewis worked to bring Minnesota back, it was too little too late. Going up against a southpaw wasn’t ideal in Game 2 considering the struggles they have presented this year, but the manager stood firm in his process. With the three aforementioned lefties all starting on the bench, Donovan Solano, Kyle Farmer, and Willi Castro were all in the starting lineup. Solano worked as the leadoff batter playing first base. Castro started in left field, and Farmer worked at the hot corner moving Polanco back to second base. Although Solano couldn’t get one during his first two at bats, Farmer stepped in with Castro on and blasted a dinger into the Crawford Boxes. Valdez has been an incredible performer in the postseason, but he struggled in the second half this year and was ripe for the picking. Handing the Twins a heavy dose of curveballs early, he left a bender in a bad spot to Farmer before being taken deep. Going curveball heavy against Minnesota wasn’t a shocking strategy, but it seemed clear that the Twins were keyed in on the pitch. Forget the fact that the Astros came into Game 2 with a lead, and that Minnesota was still on the road. Baldelli has stayed consistent with process throughout the entirety of the season, and it was that steadfast belief that paid off in a big way. Farmer’s big fly was the first hit of his postseason career, and it’s arguable that he’ll never hit a more impactful one. Multiple times during the course of this season, it has seemed Farmer represents a talent worthy of so much more than his impact in the box score. As a glue guy in the clubhouse, a veteran, and a leader, he has consistently provided more than expectations may present of him, and the youth around him is getting a master class in team unity because of it. Added as fringe players to the 26-man roster, both Castro and Solano had less than straightforward paths to playing time when leaving spring training in Fort Myers. Thanks to the production they have shown throughout the season, Baldelli’s lineup has been given flexibility that may have otherwise been unexpected. The production from Minnesota’s youth this year has been noteworthy, and the rookie class alone has been nothing short of incredible. That said, seeing positive performance from fringe guys, and putting those players in advantageous positions has helped to reduce pressure from the lineup as a whole. Baldelli used his bench with Kirilloff coming in late for Solano, and Julien pinch hitting for Farmer. The latter came through with a bases-loaded single that drove in a run and gave Minnesota breathing room. Despite the lefties beginning the game on the pine, they remained focused on the task, and the Canadian leadoff guy came through just like his manager drew it up. Minnesota has employed the platoon advantage all year long, and it paid off in the spot they needed it most. With Houston having no lefties to throw the rest of the series, Baldelli can choose whatever spots he wants for his hitters.
  15. On May 22, 2023, the San Francisco Giants did damage to Twins fans’ psyches. In the second inning of the game, Sean Manaea entered from the bullpen. Before then-promising rookie Edouard Julien had a chance to register a single plate appearance, he was lifted for Donovan Solano. Likewise, in the third inning, young, exciting first baseman Alex Kirilloff was lifted for platoon bat Kyle Garlick. By the end of the third inning, two fan-favorite hitters were removed with one plate appearance combined. Understandably, fans were upset. Baldelli’s penchant for pinch-hitting had gone too far. The Twins had to spend the rest of the game with platoon bats hitting, and Julien and Kirilloff were no longer available. We asked the question here. Would the Twins use the same aggressiveness? The Twins were one of the top-performing teams in the league using pinch hitters, and they were especially effective in the second half. But could Baldelli get played like a fiddle by a savvy manager? What if the other team brought in a lefty early? Would he again fall for it and burn his bench in the second inning? We’ve already gotten some indication as to how he’ll handle it. In the first game of the Wild Card round, Blue Jays manager John Schneider called lefty Tim Mayza in from the bullpen in the fifth inning, a man on first, and Max Kepler—a lefty—up to bat. Baldelli left Kepler, who has hit lefties well this year, in the game, and he hit a single. Baldelli opened the bench with runners on first and second and a lefty in Kirilloff batting, calling on pinch-hitting extraordinaire Donovan Solano. It was a big-ish spot in a 3-0 game, as a signature Solano barrel into the gap could score another run or two, and Kirilloff has struggled against lefties in his career. Solano flew out to right and remained in the game. Willi Castro came in for Matt Wallner as a defensive replacement after Wallner’s plate appearance in the seventh inning. Kyle Farmer also hit for Julien in the seventh inning, with Genesis Cabrera, a lefty, in for Toronto. Farmer was expected to enter the game for Julien late anyway to tighten up the infield defense, and the lefty coming in just made it a more obvious spot. Even the staunchest critics of Baldelli’s antics would allow these moves. But what if the Blue Jays pulled a Manaea on them? Let’s revisit that day and add some context. Everyone knew the Giants were planning to use an opener, John Brebbia, that day in May, but there was uncertainty as to who would follow him. Manaea, a career-long starter, was a suspect, as he had a disastrous start to his season and had come into three games to that point from the bullpen already. However, in full view of everyone, Manaea threw a bullpen at Target Field that afternoon. As such, the Twins had assumed he would not be an option in that night’s game, as pitchers don’t usually throw bullpen sessions before pitching multiple innings. The lineup was constructed based on the assumption that Manaea wouldn’t be an option. They were caught with their pants down. It didn’t help that the Twins were already down four runs in the second inning. All of these factors provide some justification for what transpired that day—but it still was a miscue. So, what if something similar happened in the playoffs? An astute manager might pull one over on Baldelli again and, hypothetically, bring in lefty starter Yusei Kikuchi in relief of righty starter Jose Berrios in the fourth inning of a tie ball game. Just such a thing happened. With one on and no one out, Kikuchi was brought in at the same spot in the order that Mayza was the day prior. Once again, Kepler remained in the game. Once again, he reached on a single against a lefty. Once again, with two on, Donovan Solano entered the game for Kirilloff. He walked, setting up a Carlos Correa single to drive in the first run of the game. After that, Wallner was lifted for Castro—a move that didn’t happen until the seventh inning the day prior—due to defense and not hitting. However, the team was in a position that necessitated a ball be put in play and another run score. Wallner has not hit lefties well and strikes out a lot. Castro did his job, though it resulted in a double-play. Still, the score was now 2-0 Minnesota. “Sure, the situation is a nice cover, Gregg! Baldelli would have pulled them in the fourth anyway!” you yell at your screen. I counter. In the fifth inning, the third prime candidate for being platooned came up to bat against Kikuchi. Julien was allowed to hit, and Farmer stayed on the bench. The difference? Probably that there was no one on base and one out when Julien had his turn. Farmer would later pinch-run for Julien in the seventh, after Julien had another crack at a righty—with a man on base. Maybe two games isn’t enough time to detect a pattern, but it looks like Baldelli has a strategy in mind. He won’t take the superior hitters out of the lineup early unless he has reason to believe it’s a critical moment—men on base in a tight game. You don’t know if you’ll get another chance, so gamble now, but don’t pull one of your best hitters just because you can. With Houston coming up, it’s doubtful we’ll see too many of these scenarios. They have one lefty starter—Framber Valdez—and a couple of lefty relievers who seem unlikely to make the ALDS roster. Once Valdez leaves his start, the lefties will come in to finish the game. If one of the lower-level lefty relievers does make the roster, I’m sure Baldelli and fans will have no issue with Donovan Solano hitting against him. There’s reason for even skeptical fans to believe that the bench will be handled competently, even if opposing managers dig into their bag of tricks.
  16. The Twins offense was revitalized in the second half of the season, improving from 24th in runs and 21st in wOBA before the All-Star break to fifth and third thereafter. It's no secret that a group of left-handed hitters led the charge in this turnaround. The additions of rookies Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner, along with the return of Alex Kirilloff and the awakening of veteran cleanup hitter Max Kepler, played primary roles in Minnesota's rise from ineffectual to elite over the course of the season. Of course, the flip side to having several left-handed batters powering your lineup is that you become susceptible to lefty pitching. We certainly saw that this year with the Twins, who finished fifth in wRC+ against RHP and 15th against LHP. Opposing managers often sought to exploit this weakness, turning to left-handed relievers early in games and trying to force Rocco Baldelli's hand into removing some of his best bats from the lineup for late-game scenarios. We saw this play out as recently as Game 2 of the ALWC, although swapping out Jose Berrios for Yusei Kikuchi in the fourth didn't work out so well for John Schneider and the Jays. Alas, the Astros will be unable to even attempt such a strategy, because they have not one single left-handed reliever in their ALDS bullpen. Julien, Wallner, Kirilloff and Kepler will be at no risk of being pulled out of a game based purely on match-up reasons. And while the presence of stellar southpaw starter Framber Valdez looms large, Houston's all-RHP bullpen will be ripe for pinch-hitting opportunities from the likes of Julien and Wallner. Now, it bears noting that Houston's righty relievers tend to be quite effective against left-handers, but still, I'll take these 2023 platoon splits against a right-handed hurler any day: Edouard Julien: .274/.401/.497 Matt Wallner: .281/.409/.561 Alex Kirilloff: .300/.373/.485 Max Kepler: .263/.335 /.497 The Twins got to this point, in large part, on the shoulders of their outstanding core of left-handed bats. Now those bats will have every chance to push Minnesota to the next stage. The offensive support will likely be needed against a Houston lineup full of premier hitters who are imposing in any match-up.
  17. 2023 was a challenging year to select just one Twins Daily Rookie of the Year Award recipient, but before we announce the winner, let's give the runner-ups their flowers. Many years, the Twins (and most other organizations) may not have five rookies on the roster all season. Even if they do, the odds of all of them finding success is not high. Three rookies especially are often credited with providing a spark and extended quality play. Two other pitchers have come up as rookies and contributed in whatever role they have been given. Fifth Place: LHP Kody Funderburk In fifth place is Twins relief pitcher Kody Funderburk. Beginning the season with the Double-A Wichita Wind Surge, Funderburk skyrocketed through the upper levels of the Twins organization and made his Twins debut on September 4 against the Cleveland Guardians. Funderburk sprung onto the scene and quickly became a dependable reliever for the Twins in the middle of a division title pennant race. Congratulations to Funderburk on a successful first month in the big leagues. He was also Twins Daily's choice for Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year. Fourth Place: RHP Louie Varland In fourth place is rookie pitcher and Minnesota native Louie Varland. Beginning the season as a rotation fill-in for the injured Tyler Mahle, Varland quickly became one of the Twins' best and most reliable young starting pitchers alongside Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan. Unfortunately, Varland developed a problem giving up too many home runs and was demoted to Triple-A St. Paul in late June. Varland provided quality starts at the beginning of the season before developing into a lights-out reliever in September. Varland will be a key fixture for the Twins bullpen in their upcoming Wild Card series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Congratulations on a promising 2023 season, Louie. Third Place: OF Matt Wallner Twins corner outfielder and fellow Minnesota native Matt Wallner comes in third place. After getting recalled from Triple-A St. Paul with the Twins for the third time this season in mid-July, Wallner became an everyday corner outfielder who could mix his immense power with a strong eye at the plate, leading to a high on-base percentage. Wallner had an encouraging 2023 season and looks to be in the Twins' corner outfield plans for the foreseeable future. Second Place: 2B/DH Edouard Julien In second place is the pride of Québec City, Edouard Julien. Admittedly, I voted for Julien to win Twins Daily Rookie of the Year, but Twins Daily participates in a democracy, so the majority wins. Although the player I voted to win didn't, this is nonetheless a fair and healthy process. Thank you, John, Seth, Nick, Brock, and Parker. Okay, sorry, back to baseball. Julien had an incredible inaugural season and was arguably the Twins' best hitter for much of the season. Julien was one of the rookies that signified the Twins' turn-around in offensive production post-All-Star break and deserves as much credit as anyone for essentially saving the Twins' season. Congratulations to Julien on an incredible rookie season, and although he didn't win the Twins Daily Rookie of the Year Award, he came incredibly close. It was as close a vote as we have had in the decade of handing out these awards. First Place: 3B Royce Lewis Varland, Wallner, and Julien put together impressive rookie seasons, but the Twins Daily Rookie of the Year Award winner is Royce Lewis. In his first extended run as a Major League Baseball player, Lewis has met every expectation of being the first overall pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft. Let's see how Lewis got there. Lewis's Return From His Twice Torn ACL Lewis's start of the 2023 season began on May 29, when Lewis returned to the Twins lineup against the Astros in Houston. Returning exactly a year after tearing his ACL for the second time in as many seasons, Lewis instantly lit a spark under the Twins, hitting a three-run home run in just his second at-bat back from the 60-day IL. Lewis followed the home run with a game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning. Lewis's heroics propelled the Twins to a 7-5 win and signified the beginning of great things to come. Lewis followed his May return by hitting .322/.351/.444 (.795) with 29 hits, two doubles, three home runs, and a 122 wRC+ over 94 plate appearances from May 30 through through July 1. Unfortunately, Lewis was placed on the 10-day IL on July 1 with a grade-2 oblique strain and stayed there for 36 days before returning on August 15. Lewis's Second Return and the Dawning of "Mr. Grand Slam" Returning from an extended absence on August 15, Lewis immediately jumped back into the Twins lineup as their everyday third baseman, and the grand slam barrage began. Grand Slam #1: Arrival On August 27, the Twins were trailing the Texas Rangers 5-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning when Lewis stepped up to face reliever Chris Stratton with the bases loaded and one out. After falling behind 0-1, Lewis saw a hanging breaking ball deep to straight away center field, trimming the Twins deficit to 5-4. Lewis's home run was the spark for a Twins comeback, and the Twins beat the Rangers 7-6 in 13 innings. Grand Slam #2: Sacrifice Fly? NOPE The next day, Lewis stepped up to the plate in the 2nd inning with the bases loaded against the Guardians. Rookie pitcher was Xzavion Curry on the mound, and the Twins were down 4-2. Lewis again fell behind 0-1, and just like the day before, he drove a breaking ball over the wall in left center field, propelling the Twins to a 6-4 lead. Lewis's grand slam ignited a Twins comeback, and they were able to defeat the Guardians 10-to-6 and increase their division lead to seven games. Grand Slam #3: The Day Twins Territory Stood Still Lewis's third grand slam came on September 4. If you don't recall, one of the most stressful days in recent Twins history occurred just four days earlier, The Guardians, who were just two games back of the Twins, claimed Lucas Giolito, Matt Moore, and Reynaldo López off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. The first time the Twins could do something about it came the next Monday when they began a three-game series in Cleveland. Giolito made his Guardians debut in Game 1 of the series. The Twins began the scoring with a Jorge Polanco leadoff home run in the top of the first inning. With two outs in the second frame, Polanco walked with the bases loaded to give them a 2-0 lead. That brought Lewis to the plate. On a 2-0 count, Lewis got a middle-middle fastball and crushed it deep into the left field bleachers to give the Twins a 6-0 lead. The Twins went on to win 20-6. CATHARSIS! Grand Slam #4: The Fourth Kind Last but not least, Lewis's final grand slam of the 2023 season came on September 15 against another divisional foe, the Chicago White Sox. On a 3-1 fastball from Jesse Scholtens, Lewis destroyed his fourth grand slam. It gave the Twins an early 4-0 lead and propelled the team to a 10-2 win in Chicago. After hitting his fourth grand slam of the 2023 season and fifth of his career, Lewis, as Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic noted, found himself tied for the eighth-most grand slams in Minnesota Twins history. Although his 2023 regular season came to an unfortunate end on September 19 when he strained his hamstring during an at-bat against the Cincinnati Reds, Lewis's grand slam propensity is an incredibly improbable and impressive feat. 2023 was the first season that Lewis, a traditional shortstop, began playing third base on an every-game basis in his professional career. Although he initially struggled some, he quickly began refining his craft. He became a respectable defensive third baseman. Lewis ended the 2023 season hitting .309/.372/.548 (.920) with seven doubles, 15 home runs, 8.4% BB%, 23% K%, .240 ISO, and 155 wRC+ over 239 plate appearances. Lewis had an incredible 2023 season, even if his time was still limited. Watching him in his first extended run in the big leagues was enjoyable. Congratulations to Royce Lewis for winning the Twins Daily 2023 Rookie of the Year award. How would you have voted for the Twins Top Rookie? Lewis or Julien, and how close should Wallner be to the top of the list? Comment below. Final Voting Points Tally Royce Lewis: 64 Edouard Julien: 62 Matt Wallner: 36 Louie Varland: 16 Kody Funderburk: 1
  18. Box Score: Bulk Pitcher: Chris Paddack 3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K (39 Pitches, 27 Strikes, 69.2%) Home Runs: Trevor Larnach (8), Max Kepler (24), Matt Wallner (14), Edouard Julien (16) Top 3 WPA: Larnach (.183), Paddack (.122) Wallner (.119) Win Probability Chart (Via Fangraphs): Tonight was a battle of the bullpens, featuring two teams going in completely different directions, and both with nothing to play for. In fact, Kyle Farmer and Jorge Polanco operated as co-managers for Minnesota. Much of the playoff roster implications had been either decided or will be decided based on health in the coming days. The Twins opener was Emilio Pagan, who worked a 1-2-3 inning 20 hours after closing out the opening game of the series. Matt Koch opened for the Rockies, and worked around a leadoff single to Edouard Julien before setting down the next three hitters. The first consequential outing was Chris Paddack's, starting in the second inning. "The Sheriff" looked sharp with his command; a highlight being a dotted right on-right changeup to Elehuris Montero for strike three as part of a 1-2-3 second inning to begin his night. Although his velocity topped out at 96 MPH, he used his offspeed pitches effectively. The Twins offense got to work when Colorado brought in bulk pitcher Karl Kauffmann, a right-handed rookie with the same walk and strikeout percentage (10.4%). Matt Wallner scorched a double the opposite way to score Donovan Solano, and Christian Vazquez brought in Wallner with a single up the middle against a drawn-in infield. The third inning was even better. After an Alex Kirilloff double, Solano was hit by a pitch and Wallner walked, loading the bases for Trevor Larnach. Larnach worked the count and then launched a 3-2 breaking ball into the right field stands for yet another Twins grand slam (remember when theTwins struggled with the bases loaded?), making the score 6-0. Somewhat surprisingly, Paddack was allowed to pitch three full innings, and unlike his return outing earlier this week, he remained effective throughout his appearance. When he was first brought over in the Taylor Rogers trade, Paddack was talked up similarly to Pablo Lopez- he had the fastball-changeup combo down but was working on making his breaking ball an effective third pitch. 16 months later, and with a surgically repaired elbow, Paddack's curveball was used frequently, and effectively, despite the thin air of Denver taking some of the bite out of it. He struck out four and walked none. A Julien double and a wild pitch added some insurance in the sixth inning. Max Kepler likely cemented his second career .800 OPS season later in the inning with a three-run home run to turn the game into a laugher. Not to be outdone, Wallner roped a 22 degree 2-iron 432 feet (111 MPH) in the seventh. And finally, Julien crushed a two-run homer later in the same inning 452 feet (105 MPH) to make it 14-0. The bullpen struggled after that, with Caleb Thielbar and (mainly) Dallas Keuchel allowing a lot of hard contact along with six meaningless late-inning runs. The good: Paddack made his best case for being included on the playoff roster. His fastball hasn't played up to the level of Louie Varland's, sitting 94-94 MPH, but he showed good command, used all three of his pitches and didn't give the Rockies anything to hit. Wallner continues to smoke the ball and take good at-bats, with a ringing double, walk and the aforementioned howitzer home run. Larnach's recent production is probably too little, too late. But it is nice to see him driving the ball after his struggles in both the majors and Triple-A. The bad: Kirilloff has said his shoulder injury is something he still manages. He has received a couple off days recently and was removed in the seventh in tonight's game. His removal was not necessarily related to the shoulder, and he did lace a double over the left fielder's head (103 MPH) in the third. Him feeling comfortable swinging could be a big x-factor in any extended postseason run. Caleb Thielbar gave up two long home runs, and that has been a minor issue for him. He has now given up seven home runs in just over 30 innings this year. What’s Next: Bailey Ober (8-6, 3.53 ERA) will start the final regular season game for the Twins opposing Chase Anderson (1-6, 5.42 ERA). Anderson has had some success in the big leagues, but is very homer prone. Ober will be trying to make his final case to start game one of a potential ALDS matchup. Playoff Implications: The Blue Jays lost, Houston won, Texas won and Seattle was eliminated. This means Toronto or Houston could be in play for the Twins to face at Target Field on Tuesday. The Blue Jays probably wouldn't mind dropping to the six seed, as they likely prefer to face the Twins over the 98-win Rays. Houston can win their division if they win and Texas loses, so they have incentive to use their ace Framber Valdez (UPDATE: Christian Javier will start for Houston on Sunday, leaving Valdez to start a potential game one). The Astros win the tiebreaker over Texas, but lose the tiebreaker to Toronto. Postgame Interviews: Bullpen Usage Chart: TUE WED THU FRI SAT TOT Keuchel 0 28 0 0 78 106 Paddack 40 0 0 0 39 79 Maeda 0 0 62 0 0 62 Jax 17 8 0 0 19 44 Pagán 0 18 0 9 15 42 Stewart 16 0 0 25 0 41 Thielbar 0 18 0 3 9 30 Funderburk 0 0 0 28 0 28 Durán 0 14 0 0 11 25 Varland 0 0 19 0 0 19
  19. When the Minnesota Twins decided to send Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins it was not because they thought that Rocco Baldelli’s lineup couldn’t use him. The Twins second baseman was a fan-favorite, and he was coming off winning an American League batting title. Despite looking like the second coming of Rod Carew, questions about defense and health tipped the scales just enough for the front office to dangle him out there. A deal between the Marlins and Twins came together over quite some time, and the sides talked about different constructions of a fit for a while. With the Twins offense seemingly in a good place, the front office decided that Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, and Kenta Maeda needed some help in the starting rotation. Pablo Lopez was viewed as a talent that had projectable upside, and the organization doubled-down by signing him to a four-year extension that kicks in during the 2024 season. So far it’s hard to say that the sides didn’t get exactly what they were looking for. Miami is watching Arraez trend towards another batting title while having been named an All-Star for the second consecutive season, and the Twins are seeing Lopez pitch like something of a Cy Young candidate. Rather than view the deal just through the lens of a Minnesota trade though, I wanted to get a Marlins perspective. Ely Sussman of Fish on First covers Miami closely, and had plenty of thoughts to share about the new Marlins infielder. Twins Daily: Having watched Arraez for a full season, what are your thoughts on him as a player and how do they compare to what you believed you were getting? Ely Sussman: I was optimistic about Arraez continuing to be more or less the same player he had been with the Twins, and he has instead elevated his game a notch. I was concerned about his durability given his history of knee issues, but he's been available for the Marlins practically every day. Although his defensive metrics at second base have been a mixed bag, I have observed something close to league-average performance from him there. Arraez has shown good hands and a knack for making accurate, off-balance throws when necessary. Last but not least, he is very well-liked by his Marlins teammates and proactive about sharing advice with them. He has helped change the clubhouse chemistry for the better, which was sorely needed after losing 93 games the season before. TD: Moving Jazz Chisholm to centerfield was part of the Arraez acquisition. How has the Marlins defense benefitted or been hurt by the new construction? ES: Outside of a few April bloopers, Chisholm's transition to center field has been a success. He's been enough of an upgrade over Miami's 2022 centerfield options to mostly offset the drop-off in defense from Chisholm to Arraez at second base. However, the addition of Arraez also stranded free agent signing Jean Segura at third base, where he had limited experience. That went horribly and may have contributed to his struggles at the plate. Segura was among the worst everyday players in the majors before the Marlins dumped him at the trade deadline. Overall, the Marlins have been in the middle of the pack defensively, which is slightly worse than 2022, but that step back is due to other personnel changes rather than Arraez. TD: Arraez brought a few years of team control with him to Miami whereas the Twins immediately extended Pablo Lopez. Do you see a longer term deal getting done with the Marlins? ES: When Arraez was hitting .400-something throughout much of the first half, there was concern that he had played himself out of the Marlins' price range! The silver lining of his second-half regression is he now seems more realistically extendable for them. It is tricky to find relevant comps for Arraez given his old-school batted ball profile, but I estimate that the average annual value of an extension would be less than Pablo's $18.4 million. Perhaps a DJ LeMahieu-like deal (6/$90M) would get it done. There is a good chance of Arraez being signed long term, especially if Jorge Soler departs via free agency and vacates the designated hitter spot. TD: Year one has included a second straight All-Star appearance and Arraez is trending toward another batting title. Has the production been better than expected? ES: His production has exceeded expectations, yes. Even with MLB's restriction of the infield shift, it's astounding to see somebody hitting in the mid-.300s and consistently coming through in late-game situations, too. There are still things to nitpick about Arraez like his occasional over-aggressiveness, his inability to steal bases, and the frequency with which he grounds into double plays. But he is very valuable just as he is. TD: Missing Lopez in the rotation, has the presence of a missing starter been felt? Has Arraez's production in the lineup made that worth it? ES: López has been sorely missed. Sandy Alcantara's fall from Cy Young winner to ordinary innings eater has been well-documented. Also, the Marlins entered the season with both Johnny Cueto and Trevor Rogers in their starting rotation. Not only did they both suffer injuries in April, but then suffered additional, unrelated injuries while pitching in minor league rehab games. Cueto didn't return until the All-Star break and Rogers still hasn't made it back. The Marlins were relatively thin on upper-minors rotation depth and that was exposed by those unlucky breaks. I would still say that Arraez has made up for the absence of López. Miami's bullpen has thrived in clutch situations to cover up for some of the rotation's limitations. TD: Simply, would you do the deal again, why or why not? ES: It's a fascinating "what if" because it depends on whether I am tethered to Bruce Sherman's modest budget. The main reason that the Marlins shopped López is because of how his future salary would impact their flexibility to address other roster needs, rooted in ownership's lack of willingness to spend. This club understandably prioritizes veteran hitters over veteran pitchers because they've had much more success developing cheap pitching internally. An aspect of the trade that I strongly disliked was the inclusion of prospects Jose Salas and Byron Chourio. Salas was one of the few Marlins hitting prospects who had a path toward becoming a big league regular, but it turns out that his 2023 campaign was a nightmare, making that ceiling seem less attainable. If I'm stuck living in a universe where the Marlins operate with a small-market mentality, I would do the deal again. If I have the freedom to imagine the Marlins spending as much as the Twins do on payroll, then I would have kept and extended López and upgraded the lineup by shopping younger arms instead. It’s interesting to see what the other side thinks, because even with Lopez’s performance, there are plenty of Twins fans that still miss Arraez. Even with the emergence of Edouard Julien, the Twins lack a true average hitter and Arraez had the ability to set the table on a nightly basis. What is your takeaway from this deal? Would you still make the trade? How have you felt about Pablo in year one?
  20. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Pablo López, 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K (77 pitches, 53 strikes, 68.8%) Home Runs: Edouard Julien (15), Ryan Jeffers (13) Top 3 WPA: Trevor Larnach (.263), Ryan Jeffers (.228), Dallas Keuchel (.104) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) With less than a week until the start of the postseason, Twins fans got a final look at Minnesota’s potential Wild Card game-one starter in Pablo López, even if it wasn’t for long. López didn’t look so sharp to start the game, giving up a leadoff walk and a single, but responded by retiring six consecutive, five of them by strikeout. The offense was also in business very early, with Édouard Julien jumping on Oakland’s very first pitch of the game for his 15th home run of the season. Then, in the bottom of the second, Minnesota’s secret weapon, Willi Castro, was once again a difference-maker. He got hit by a pitch, stole second (his 33rd stolen base of the year), then scored on a Kyle Farmer double that diving right-fielder Seth Brown failed to glove, making it 2-0 Twins. López had a rather shaky third inning, starting with a leadoff double to Lawrence Butler. Despite retiring the following two batters on eight pitches, Pablo gave up an RBI single to Brown, who swung on the first pitch of the at-bat to drive in Butler. Old friend Brent Rooker kept the inning alive with a ground ball "single" to short. But after a challenge by the Twins, the call was overturned, and the inning was over. It was expected that López’s start wasn’t going to be a long one. After delivering a 1-2-3 fourth, Pablo came back for the fifth with his pitch count nearing 70 pitches. After a groundout to open the frame, he lost Butler to a double and Ryan Noda to a single, prompting Rocco Baldelli to call on the bullpen. Caleb Thielbar took over, and the A’s were able to push three runs across and take the lead on an Aledmys Díaz double and a Rooker single – both with two outs. Despite the short start, López did throw six strikeouts, which got him to a total of 234 on the season, the most by a Twins pitcher since Johan Santana threw 235 in 2007. According to Do-Hyoung Park, those 234 strikeouts are tied with Dean Chance (1968) for the most by any Twins pitcher not named Johan Santana or Bert Blyleven. Making the second big-league start of his career, rookie Joey Estes was never in big trouble while he was on the mound. But despite his low pitch count, he was pulled from the game in the sixth after giving up a one-out single to Max Kepler. Reliever Kyle Muller took over, and it didn’t take long for the Twins to take advantage of the pitching change. Jordan Luplow struck out for the second out of the inning, but before Muller could get out of it, Ryan Jeffers made him pay by crushing a game-tying two-run shot to left. Emilio Pagán didn’t have trouble pitching through the sixth. He did give up a two-out triple, but he compensated that with three punch outs. Then, things got interesting. Baldelli made the unusual call to bring Jhoan Durán into the game to pitch the seventh. He did great, striking out the side for a 1-2-3 inning on 14 pitches. But this decision sure raises a lot of questions about how might Durán be used in the postseason. This has been the first time this season Durán has entered a game before the eighth inning, and the first time in his career since September 11, 2022. The offense wasted a two-men-on and no-outs situation in the eighth, after Christian Vázquez and Julien hit back-to-back singles to open the inning, but got stranded. However, after Dallas Keuchel delivered a scoreless eighth on only nine pitches (seven strikes), the bats didn’t miss their opportunity in the bottom of the inning. Kepler hit a leadoff single, and with Andrew Stevenson as a pinch-runner, Trevor Larnach hit a long double to right that outfielder Esteury Ruiz had a really hard time playing, allowing Stevenson to score from first and give the Twins the lead. Larnach moved to third on a wild pitch, then he scored on a Jeffers sacrifice fly to make it 6-4 Minnesota. Keuchel remained in the game for the ninth. He got the first batter to ground out quickly, but then surrendered a single and hit a batter. He was given the opportunity to get the second out, and he did so by striking out Noda. It wasn’t a smooth at-bat, as he got ahead on the count 0-2, but allowed Noda to get back in it with a full count. Griffin Jax came in to try to get the final out, and after a hard-fought eight-pitch at-bat, he struck out Zack Gelof looking to end it. Postgame interview What’s Next? In their final home game of the regular season, Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.80 ERA) and the Twins take on the A’s to close out the series tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 pm CDT, and Oakland will bring Luis Medina (3-10, 5.64 ERA) to the mound. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet SAT SUN MON TUE WED TOT Paddack 0 0 0 40 0 40 Pagán 10 0 0 0 18 28 Keuchel 0 0 0 0 28 28 Funderburk 0 27 0 0 0 27 Jax 0 0 0 17 8 25 Thielbar 0 0 0 0 18 18 Stewart 0 0 0 16 0 16 Varland 0 15 0 0 0 15 Durán 0 0 0 0 14 14
  21. A week from today marks the end of the regular season, so that makes this the last Twins Fantasy Fix of the year. It’s been a fun ride, and to wrap things up, I want to give out a few awards. Before the season began, I made my pick in four different areas: offensive and pitching MVPs, sleeper and super sleeper. Here’s who I picked back then, and who I’m picking now to end the year. Offensive MVP preseason pick: Byron Buxton Offensive MVP: Max Kepler Crazy as it sounds, Kepler has been the team’s most consistent offensive player for the past several months. That is partly due to injury-plagued, down seasons by both Buxton and Carlos Correa. However, Kepler still deserves some flowers for reaching 22 home runs, which is the second-highest total of his career. His .792 OPS is also his best since the 2019 Bomba Squad season. It’s not been an elite campaign by Kepler, but with the Twins lacking consistent offensive production, I think he deserves the MVP. Pitching MVP preseason pick: Jhoan Duran Pitching MVP: Pablo Lopez Duran has been good for fantasy purposes, but I’ll give this to Lopez in a close race with Sonny Gray. Lopez is slightly ahead of Gray in ESPN’s player rater thanks to his strikeout potential. His career-high 228 strikeouts are currently good for third in the majors. While Gray has been the steadier performer, fantasy players like upside, and Lopez provides that due to the missed bats. Sleeper preseason pick: Max Kepler Sleeper: Royce Lewis I’d have felt good going Kepler here, but I gave him the offensive MVP nod, so I’ll go with Lewis. I’m calling him a sleeper because he was somewhat off the radar (in redraft leagues, at least) to begin the year due to being out with injury. However, Lewis obviously hit the ground running in a big way. He still remained largely under-owned in fantasy, and now he’s out with a hamstring issue. However, to start the season as an undrafted player and then to go on the run Lewis did is quite impressive. Super sleeper preseason pick: Edouard Julien Super sleeper: Julien Again, purely from a fantasy perspective, Julien wasn’t really on the radar to begin the year outside of deeper dynasty formats. He was just getting his first taste of Triple-A and was no lock to see regular playing time with the Twins. Fast forward a few months, and he’s established himself as an everyday player with a strong .829 OPS. Julien will be a key player for the team again in 2024, and he should move up draft boards quite a bit as well. For the final time, let’s now take a look at some key injury updates, plus which Twins have their stock rising and falling from a fantasy perspective due to results from the past week as well as a prospect to keep an eye on. I’ll also take a look at the week ahead and highlight some matchups to target and avoid. Twins Injury Updates Byron Buxton Expected return: This week or 2024 Buxton remains a mystery man for the Twins. He restarted his rebab assignment in St. Paul on Thursday, so a return could be imminent, but nothing has been officially announced. It’s also possible that the Twins decide to simply shut Buxton down and let him get right for 2024. If he does return to the team in an effort to get him ready for the playoffs, his talent makes him worth keeping an eye on, as he’s shown the ability to string together big games. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that, either. Royce Lewis Expected return: Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series As it stands, the Twins are going to let Lewis rest his hamstring and hope he’s ready for the start of the playoffs. Thus, his strong but abbreviated fantasy season appears to be over. Knock on wood that he’s fully healthy to begin 2024, and if he is, Lewis should go much higher in fantasy drafts. Carlos Correa Expected return: This week or Game 1 Correa’s injury status appears to be less murky than Buxton or Lewis. He sustained a tear of the central cortex of the plantar fascia in his left foot, which has led to swelling and some discomfort. The shortstop simply needs to let it rest, and he should be ready for the playoffs, though the Twins may get him into a few final regular season games. His disappointing fantasy season is mostly over. Brock Stewart Expected return: Any day Chris Paddack just returned Sunday and Stewart shouldn't be too far behind, as both players have been on rehab assignments with St. Paul recently. Stewart figures to give Minnesota's bullpen a boost heading into the postseason, though he might not have a ton of fantasy appeal in most formats. Stock Rising: Louie Varland ESPN ownership: 1% The Twins recalled Varland in early September and have used him as a reliever. So far, the results have been promising. He’s allowed just two earned runs across 9 1/3 innings (five appearances) with 12 strikeouts. Varland can of course pitch multiple innings as a former starter, so he stands a decent chance of earning some wins in relief. At the very least, his 2024 outlooks becomes more interesting as a potential setup option in front of Duran. Varland won’t be widely owned in that role, though he could have appeal in deeper formats. Stock Falling: Carlos Correa ESPN ownership: 66% This is due to his injury, which could end his regular season as noted above. From a fantasy perspective, you can move on from Correa, though many fantasy managers already have due to his struggles this season. The hope is that he’s healthier in 2024, and the shortstop could come at a discount on draft day, making him a decent bounce back candidate next year. But for now, Correa’s fantasy stock is down. Prospect Spotlight: Kala’i Rosario (High-A Cedar Rapids) A late-round pick in 2020, Rosario has moved up the prospect rankings since then, and he was recently named MVP of the Midwest League. The young outfielder turned in 21 home runs and 94 RBI across 118 games, both of which led the league. Rosario is still likely a few years away and the Twins have a crowded outfield situation, but he’s worth keeping an eye on in the long term. Upcoming Week Matchup Notes 3 Games vs Oakland (Paul Blackburn, Luis Medina, Ken Waldichuk) 3 Games at Colorado (Ty Blach, Karl Kauffmann, Chase Anderson) The Twins head to Coors Field for the first and only time this season, which is always worth a look in DFS formats. All of the matchups look appealing this week actually, as Blackburn is the only scheduled starter on the slate with an ERA below 5.00. The only question is which Twins will be in the lineup any given day now that they’ve clinched, but that could unlock some bargain options. Two-Start Starting Pitchers Kenta Maeda is lined up to start Tuesday and Sunday. The Tuesday matchup against Oakland looks great, as the Athletics are the lowest scoring team in baseball. The Coors Field trip could be a little more dicey, and it’s possible that Maeda’s pitch count is limited if the Twins intend on using him as a reliever in the postseason. Twins Fantasy Hitters to Watch As noted above, the Twins should be a good DFS stack candidate this week based on matchups, but you’ll want to check on lineups each day. Expect to see plenty of Andrew Stevenson and other regular bench players. That could lead to some interesting lineup combinations and also some value in DFS, particularly during the three games at Coors Field. The two players I’m probably most focused on this week are Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer. Both should have regular roles with Lewis and Castro out, and both have had their moments when given the chance this year. I also like taking a flier on sluggers whenever they’re at Coors Field, and Matt Wallner probably fits that bill more than any other Minnesota regular at the moment. He may strike out a ton, but if anyone is going to go deep multiple times in a game, it’s probably Wallner. Who are your Minnesota fantasy MVPs this season? Let me know in the COMMENTS, plus post your thoughts on the matchups this week.
  22. The Minnesota Twins are headed to the 2023 Major League Baseball Playoffs. This phrase should excite and inspire Twins fans of all generations, but the reality is that as the playoffs approach a Twins fan who knows history can't help but feel some fear and trembling. Nobody wants to face the potential for another year of failure, losses, records in futility, and missed opportunities. For those bold enough to ask new questions, however, the 2023 Twins present an exciting team with a real shot at making a run towards the World Series. The answers that Twins fans want to give this winter depend upon the Twins finding a way to tackle three key “new” questions during this postseason run. New Question #1: What will the Twins do to adjust their lineups for success when the lights aren't on? It would be easy to focus upon the pressure of full stadiums and bright lights when we get to playoff time, but the odds are that most of the Twins early rounds of playoff games will take place in the afternoon. Due to the fact that the Twins' fan base pales in comparison on a national scale, the prime time spots will probably go to other teams. Therefore, the Twins would do well to consider how to put their best mid-day roster forward as they seek to break the playoff losing streak. The Twins played 64 day games in the 2023 campaign before last week’s action, and the day/night splits provide considerable data worth reckoning with. In the day time, Matt Wallner rakes to a 1.004 OPS, while dropping to .753 when night falls. In another case of reverse-dracula splits, Alex Kirilloff achieved a .924 OPS during the sunlit hours while shrinking to .693 in the night time hours. The hero of our hearts, Royce Lewis, also is not immune to the hours of the day. Lewis slugged his way to an impressive 1.027 OPS at night, while only scrapping .749 during the day. Max Kepler rounds out our vampire statistics by hitting .945 OPS in the evening, while melting to .565 during afternoon play. Ryan Jeffers, Jorge Polanco, Carlos Correa, and Michael A. Taylor all prefer the night when it comes to providing consistent offense. Will this keep them out of the playoff lineup during day game heavy series? No, but perhaps it should influence pinch hitting. Edouard Julien, Byron Buxton, and Joey Gallo are the only Twins batters to show consistent performance as clearly in the night as they do during the day. We can argue about whether or not Buxton’s or Gallo’s current consistency is the kind we want in the playoffs. Julien is the only Twins guaranteed to be available at the moment, and has earned the right to be penciled in regardless of scheduled first pitch time. Pitchers are not immune to the sands in the hour glass either. In fact, the results bare out even starker splits. Those who show reverse-dracula splits (performing better in the daytime) are Brent Headrick (2.25 ERA in daytime/11.70 at night), Dylan Floro (2.57 ERA in daytime/9.39 at night), and Dallas Keuchel (2.21 ERA in daytime/11.70 at night)! While all three of those hurlers might not even be on the Twins pitching staff in the playoffs, maybe they should be if the Twins see multiple daytime games in the schedule. Emilio Pagan (6.12 ERA at night, 1.41 during the day), Kenta Maeda (5.40 ERA at night, 3.38 during the day), Sonny Gray (3.47 ERA at night, 2.02 during the day), and Pablo Lopez (4.25 ERA at night, 3.20 during the day) definitely will be on the roster, and their splits bode well for the Twins in the early rounds of the playoffs. The vampires of the Twins pitching staff are Caleb Theilbar (2.40 ERA during the day/ 1.46 at night) and Brock Stewart (1.74 ERA during the day/ 0.00 at night!), but their results are awesome any way you split it, and that bodes well for breaking the playoff curse as well! New Question #2: What "earns" a Twins player the right to be in the lineup for the 2023 playoffs? Even the casual Twins fan has noted that rookies are driving the offense in 2023, but will they still be in the lineup when Game 1 of the postseason finally rolls around? Lewis, Julien, Wallner, and even Kirilloff to a certain mathematical extent fit the rookie bill. Playoffs tend to tighten up the roster, and drive the opportunities towards the veterans who have paid their dues over the course of many seasons. For every Jeremy Pena, Randy Arozarena, and Kyle Schwarber there are hundreds of mid-level journeymen and all-star level veterans that take up the majority of playoff at-bats. The last time the Twins had a shot at winning a game in the postseason, Kirilloff surprisingly got the nod and sent Eddie Rosario to the pine. Kirilloff responded with a bases loaded pop up, and Rosario responded with an NL Championship MVP and World Series ring with the Braves. The trivia answer "the first player to make his major league debut in the postseason" was a neat story at the time for Kirilloff in 2020, but its not the narrative that is playing out in 2023. The main four Twins rookies this season have combined for 1,078 plate appearances (Lewis 227, Wallner 213, Julien 354, Kirilloff 284). Add in Trevor Larnach's 188 from early in the season when he was the one carrying the offense, and the Twins find themselves with rookie bats that have experienced an unusual amount of seasoning and responsibility come playoff time. One need look no further than the weeping and gnashing of teeth that ensued when rookie Lewis had to leave the game due to injury Tuesday night in order to determine just how important the young talent has been to the Twins success both now and into any potential playoff matchup. Manager Rocco Baldelli loves to pinch hit for these rookies based on pitching splits and game situations, but their success while in the lineup will be the necessary answer to the question "How did the Twins manage to start winning again in the playoffs in 2023?" Which brings us to the most vital new question facing the Twins in the coming weeks... New Question #3: Did the Twins win the season-long game of "injured list roulette"? Buxton, Maeda, Stewart, Gordon, Taylor, Kirilloff, Lewis, Polanco, Farmer, Alcala, Paddock, Gallo, Correa... In previous years, the focus might have been about who wasn't available for the playoff run. New Twins head trainer Nick Paparesta was brought in to change the question, and thereby change the Twins playoff answers. This hire didn't lead to less injuries, but it did lead to a shift in seasonal perspective. Time after time, a player's injury was discussed with the playoff timeline in mind regardless of how the club was doing at the time. How does this impact the 2023 playoff roster? Twins fans will have to wait for a few more weeks to tell for sure. We know that Buxton will get thrown into center field at some point in the next week, but we don't know if he will be healthy enough to stay there. For now, a DH turn on Thursday night became the first step. We know Stewart is coming back to the bullpen, but we don't know if he will be able to regain his crucial role there. Chris Paddock is pitching with explosive energy, but we don't know where in the roster he will fit and if his arm will be able to hold on for a few more weeks. Is Maeda trending up or down? Will Nick Gordon find a place in the field or on the base paths? Will Lewis, Correa, Polanco, and Kirilloff's respective bodies hold up to the challenge of extra weeks of baseball around the infield? Can Jorge Alcala find the strike zone when he returns, and will Joey Gallo keep pitches from beating him in the zone? Tyler Mahle and Jose Miranda won’t be helping the Twins break the curse. That much we know. Carlos Correa found his way to the injured list after his plantar fasciitis "popped" in Cincinnati, but as his teammates continue to point out: Carlos will not miss the playoffs even if he needs a wheelchair. Royce Lewis didn't find his way onto the IL in Cincinnati, but his presence for round one of the playoffs isn't a certainty. Again, the plan in place appears to be "get healthy for postseason" even with an outside chance of the second seed in front of the team. Even amidst all of this uncertainty, one thing is clear. The Twins hope to be the healthiest on paper that they have been all season long when the first pitch of Game 1 of the 2023 playoffs is thrown. That was their plan all along, and it looks like it worked to the best that it could have given the circumstances and the fact that baseball is 162 games of constant sprints, stops, throws and lunges. What do you think the answers will be as the Twins enter the 2023 playoffs? What questions did I miss? Now its your turn Twins Territory, let us know what your answers to these three bold new questions would be. What did I overstate? Anything I missed? What questions keep you up at night, and what potential answers help you to wake up in the morning? Ready or not, the 2023 playoffs are coming to Target Field. Here's to hoping that the Twins have what it takes to be ready to answer the bell whether it be day or night, rookie or veteran, full strength or walking wounded.
  23. Box Score: Starting Pitcher: Sonny Gray 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K (81 Pitches, 57 Strikes, 70%) Home Runs: Edouard Julien (14), Jorge Polanco (13) Top 3 WPA: Gray (.378), Julien (.225), Matt Wallner & Ryan Jeffers (.038) Win Probability Chart (Via Fangraphs): The Twins entered Sunday afternoon's final matchup with the White Sox having missed a golden opportunity to shave the magic number and creep closer to Houston for the #2 seed in the AL. Redemption would rest on the golden arm of Sonny Gray, and a lineup of rookies, free agent role players, and the longest-tenured Twin. That was all that the Twins needed to win the day. Sonny Side is Looking Up for Playoffs Gray's last outing against the Rays didn't last past the fourth inning, but today showed the best of what he has to offer on the mound. Other than a lead-off double in the bottom of the sixth inning, Elvis Andrus, Gray held the White Sox out of scoring position throughout his seven innings of shut-out work. A Rookie Shall Lead Them The Twins offense failed to match Gray's success, going scoreless through the first four innings. Jeffers singled with one out in the top of the fifth off White Sox starter Dylan Cease. Kyle Farmer drew a walk. Rookie (and ceremonial Mountie) Julien did the rest, to the tune of 410 feet, 103 mph, and 27 degrees of launch angle. 3-0 Twins and that would prove to be more than enough to seal the victory. Switching Gears to the Record Books Not to be outdone by the young whippersnapper, the longest-tenured Twin Polanco greeted Luis Patino with 396 feet, 105.2 mph, and 22 degrees of his launch angle to put the Twins ahead 4-0. In so doing, Polanco took sole position as "most home runs by a switch hitter in Twins history" from Roy Smalley. I don't know what the trophy looks like for that prize, but the Twins playoff hopes rest on the hope that it won't be his last career home run. Sunday Cruisin' Gray was lights out, Griffin Jax and Emilio Pagan didn't let the White Sox hope again, and the Twins cruised to their 79th win of the year and scraped their magic number down to six. This was the kind of stress-free victory the Twins needed as they head to Cincinnati for a competitive series. The bullpen leaves in good shape, a few more lineup components should be able to return to the field, and playoff tickets go on sale without any real fear of jinxing it. What's Next: Twins RHP Joe Ryan (10-9, 4.20 ERA) takes the mound against a Reds team currently on the bubble of the NL wild card race. The Reds have yet to name a starter for any of the three-game set. First pitch is scheduled at the Great American Ball Park for 5:40pm CDT. Postgame Interviews: Bullpen Usage: WED THU FRI SAT SUN TOT Pagán 29 0 0 0 22 51 Jax 16 0 16 0 13 45 Winder 0 14 0 25 0 39 Varland 0 0 29 0 0 29 Thielbar 17 0 0 0 0 17 Funderburk 0 0 16 0 0 16 Floro 13 0 0 0 0 13 Durán 0 0 0 9 0 9
  24. On March 4th, while I was covering spring training in Florida for Twins Daily, I traveled to Port North to watch the Twins play the Braves. It was not a terribly eventful or noteworthy game, even by March exhibition standards. As a writer covering the action, there are times where you have to really strain to figure out a meaningful or worthwhile line of questioning for the postgame session. This was one of them. Watching the 7-5 Atlanta victory play out, one thing did catch my attention: No. 2 hitter Edouard Julien, who'd been the talk of camp with his outstanding offensive performance, went 0-for-3 at the plate, striking out twice against lefty starter Max Fried. As I sat in the press box, I looked up Julien's 2022 splits in the minors and was somewhat taken aback, given his resounding overall success. As effective as the 23-year-old was against right-handed pitching at Double-A, posting an utterly preposterous .332/.465/.566 slash line, he was almost equally bad against lefties, against whom he slashed .210/.373/.276 with one double, two home runs, and six RBIs in 134 plate appearances. While it's certainly not abnormal for left-handed hitters to be much worse against same-sided pitchers, that struck me as a rather extreme platoon split – especially for such a reputedly smart and adaptable hitter as Julien. After the game, I asked Rocco Baldelli what he made of the disparity, and how he felt the prospect might evolve against southpaws. I'll share his full response below, since it's kind of interesting to go back and read now: "Well, very few people come into this game – even the people who do compete well, left-on-left – very few come into the game, in the minors leagues and even at the big-league level, strong in that area," Baldelli said. "I mean, I can't think of really very many people at all. So, not surprising to see a young left-handed hitter, even a talented one, struggle a little bit with that. But, guys that make good adjustments at the plate, you give chances to make good adjustments at the plate going forward. He's one of our best young talents at the plate in this organization. So I'll give him an opportunity to do that, he's still very young in his career." Badelli continued: "As much as anything, we always want the world for every player. If he can learn how to go out and have a good competitive at-bat against left-handers, find a way to get on base, try to find a way to help us win a game ... these are things that we need from our guys when we send them out there in these left-on-left situations. I think he probably does an okay job of that, even though he probably hasn't put up anywhere near the same kind of numbers as he has against right-handed pitching. But if he can go out there and get on base against left-handed pitching? That's great too, that's a good place to start." Although Rocco answered the question at length, the main takeaway I gleaned from his response was, "Yeah, lefty hitters have a tough time against lefty pitchers. That's baseball. What are you gonna do." I filed it away and sort of forgot about it. As we've watched Julien's impressive rookie year in the majors play out though, it's becoming clear that his platoon challenges are rather glaring. The occasional walks that kept his production against left-handers afloat in Double-A have dried up against major-league pitchers who refuse to let him off the hook. In 42 plate appearances against LHP as a Twin, Julien has slashed .214/.214/.238 with one extra-base hit (a double), 13 strikeouts, and ZERO walks. That's right, not one free pass from perhaps the most patient hitter I've ever witnessed. In this context, it becomes easier to understand why Baldelli made the move he did late in Wednesday's game against the Rays, pulling Julien against a lefty reliever in favor of Christian Vazquez. It's true that Vazquez has been a terrible hitter this year and it's hard to imagine him offering an upgrade in any situation, but he did in this one. Even after Tampa manager Kevin Cash countered by bringnig in a right-hander to face Vazquez, it was still a more favorable match-up than using Julien against a southpaw, against whom the numbers tell us he would've had no chance. The thing that stands out about Julien's numbers against lefties, other than how bad they are, is how small the sample is. Only 12% of the infielder's plate appearances have come against LHP, showing how far Baldelli and the Twins have gone out of their way to shield him. (Max Kepler, for comparison, has made 20% of his PAs against lefties.) This isn't especially surprising, knowing the manager's penchant for playing to the platoon advantage: we're talking about a guy who kept the eventual batting champ, Luis Arraez, out of the Opening Day lineup at home in 2022 because they Twins were facing a lefty. One can also argue Julien's usage has been key to his tremendously successful rookie campaign. His OPS sits at .834 overall despite those left-on-left struggles, illustrating the way he's been maximized as an offensive weapon. But it's also fair to wonder if Julien will have any real path to improve this aspect of his game while receiving so few in-game chances to work on it. As Baldelli said back in spring, "Guys that make good adjustments at the plate, you give chances to make good adjustments at the plate going forward. He's one of our best young talents at the plate in this organization. So I'll give him an opportunity to do that, he's still very young in his career." So far, Julien hasn't really gotten those opportunities. The numbers spell out why. I think there's a lot of validity to the approach Minnesota is taking with him; even if have hope that Julien will eventually grow in this regard, he is clearly overmatched right now and it's tough to try and let him fight through it for a division-winning team with an eye toward the playoffs. On Wednesday afternoon, I heard a number of fans arguing, "Why not just let Julien hit there, he'll never learn if he doesn't get chances." And I get that. But one successful plate appearance against lefties, unlikely as it might have been, wasn't going to build enough confidence for the Twins to let the 24-year-old take any key postseason ABs in such spots. That simply cannot happen. It's a limiting factor in Julien's otherwise impeccable offensive game. Eventually, maybe it can improve over time. But for now, Baldelli and the Twins are wise to ensure these matchups do not take place. Hopefully by the time meaningful games swing back around in October, they'll have a better option on hand than Vázquez to step in.
  25. If you ask a Twins fan, “What does Rocco Baldelli love more than anything else?” you’ll probably hear some form of “make substitutions” as a response. Depending on the fan, that response could have any level of emotion to it. Love it or hate it, Rocco loves himself some substitutions. His strategy of trying to win right now—with less concern about what will happen later in the game—has led to the Twins pinch-hitting the third most times in the league in 2023 (and the tenth most pinch-running). He especially likes platoon swaps in-game, sometimes rolling out total line changes when the opponent brings in a left-handed reliever with as many as four pinch hitters. The rationale is straightforward. Left-handed hitters struggle against left-handed pitchers. The lefty greats are usable against same-handed pitchers, but none can do nearly the same amount of damage that they can against righties. Even an average righty hitter could be the better choice in that case. Those average righties can start against left-handed pitchers, too. After the opposing lefty leaves, a manager can bring in all of the left-handed hitters and maintain a strong lineup. Baldelli has undoubtedly bought into that idea. As early as Opening Day, the play was on. In the sixth inning, Kyle Farmer hit for Nick Gordon against lefty Amir Garrett and walked. Donovan Solano then hit for Joey Gallo and singled, driving in Trevor Larnach for the season’s first run. They finished the last four innings at second and first base, respectively. The strategy was off to a good start. After Opening Day, though: yeesh. In a June 30th mailbag, Athletic writer Aaron Gleeman reported that although the Twins had used the second-most pinch hitters in MLB to that point in the season (91 in 82 games), they ranked 26th in OPS at a paltry .496. That’s a pretty abysmal performance. For reference, Alex Kirilloff and Edouard Julien—players who have essentially been banned from hitting against lefties this season—have a .470 and .452 OPS against left-handed pitchers, respectively. They were only marginally worse than all pinch hitters to that point in the season. Against lefties specifically, Minnesota had the 28th-highest OPS from pinch hitters: .490. At that point, fans and team personnel had to question whether the lineup jumbling and complicated role structure on the team was worth the effort. Why not just let the young lefties play the whole game? Did they need to go through all this effort just to get a different version of a bad result? Fast-forward to mid-September. It’s been two and a half months since that low point. The Twins currently have a .723 OPS from their pinch hitters on the season, just a hair under the MLB average for all hitters. That’s good for eighth in the league. Somehow, after all that struggle and consternation, the Twins have cracked the top ten. From the beginning of July through September 15th, Twins pinch hitters had 80 plate appearances (third in MLB) with a .997 OPS (second in MLB) and a 170 wRC+ (best in MLB). Their pinch hitters have been on an absolute tear. That includes a .785 OPS (sixth in MLB) against lefties from their pinch hitters. Now, 80 plate appearances is little to go off. It’s a month’s worth of plate appearances for a full-time player. However, it does provide hope that the big-bench, pinch-hitting approach can work in the playoffs. 11 different players had pinch-hit since the beginning of July, and only Solano, Matt Wallner, and Christian Vazquez had an OPS below .750 during that time. Admittedly, fans can count on one hand the number of times many of the names at the top of the list have pinch-hit—two for Jorge Polanco, three for Ryan Jeffers, and so on. However, other than Donovan Solano (11 plate appearances), who has otherwise been the paragon of consistency on this team, the guys the Twins will look to as pinch hitters have performed well. Jordan Luplow (11 PA) and Kyle Farmer (10 PA) will be looked to mid-game against lefties, and they have a 1.260 and .800 OPS, respectively, as pinch hitters. Edouard Julien (11 PA) would be considered a substitution if he sits against a lefty starter, and he’s had a .909 OPS as a pinch hitter since the beginning of July. Of course, these are small samples, and dividing it amongst individual hitters isn’t an entirely meaningful analytical exercise. However, the practice of pinch-hitting has helped the team throughout the year, especially in the second half. There is reason to feel trepidation about Baldelli opening up his bench during playoff games. An early move that doesn’t work out can kneecap a team later in the game. There is a general pinch-hitter penalty for batters, as coming in cold off the bench isn’t an ideal way to prepare for a plate appearance. However, it’s been working lately. Some have suggested that players have adapted to the unorthodox style, and there’s something to be said for a learning curve. No one truly has a day off on these Twins teams. If it’s a system that a player is unfamiliar with, it might take a while to adjust. In this small sample, they have adjusted. Or it’s just noise. I won’t sit here and declare it fixed or a brilliant strategy. It’s just worth remembering that the practice hasn’t been as comically bad as it initially seemed. In the Wild Card, there might be a total of five such pinch hits. Who knows if it will actually work, but recent performance has me hopeful that it will.
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