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  1. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Dylan Bundy, 4 IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 2K (60 pitches, 41 strikes, 68.3%) Home Runs: Carlos Correa (21), Nick Gordon (7) Top 3 WPA: Carlos Correa (.155), Jhoan Duran (.153), Michael Fulmer (.115) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) In Honor of 21 Some things are bigger than the result on the field. 50 years following his passing, six Twins players donned #21 for Roberto Clemente Day on Thursday night. Puerto Rican natives Carlos Correa, Jose Miranda, Jorge López and Jovani Moran all donned #21 for the man who was arguably the father of baseball for the country. Emilio Pagán, who is of Puerto Rican descent (his father is from Puerto Rico) and Byron Buxton, who is the Twins' nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award also wore #21 on their jerseys. Early Action After the White Sox crunched the Guardians on Thursday afternoon, the Twins wasted no time to hop on top of the Royals on Thursday. Carlos Correa launched a full-count fastball over the left-field wall to put the Twins up 1-0. That homer was Correa's fifth in the last seven games. A clubhouse leader showing up when it matters? Absolutely. Nick Gordon added to the fun in the second inning. After Gilberto Celestino tallied a double (which really could have been a triple (or more) without an unfortunate trip), Nick "Flash G" Gordon launched a slider over the right-center field wall to give the Twins a 3-1 lead. Cy Bundy Twins starter Dylan Bundy was adequate through four innings, giving up two runs on four hits while striking out two and walking none. The real show was the Twins bullpen, who posted five innings of scoreless innings. Trevor Megill posted a perfect fifth inning followed by a perfect sixth from Griffin Jax. Caleb Thielbar and Michael Fulmer combined for perfect seventh and eighth innings with three strikeouts and flamethrower Jhoan Duran made things interesting, but he posted a two-strikeout ninth inning to secure the win for the Twins. Defense Wins! Perhaps the most brilliant play on the night came in the third inning. With Nicky Lopez at the plate, Jake Cave made arguably his best defensive play of his career with an extra-base stealer in front of the right field wall. Postgame Interviews What’s Next? This is when it counts. Four games down in the AL Central, the Twins head to Cleveland for a five-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 pm tomorrow night. As you can hear in the Baldelli interview above, Bailey Ober returns to the Twins and will start Game 1 in Cleveland. To make room for Ober to come off of the 60-Day IL and join the 28-man roster, RHP Jharel Cotton was again DFAd. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet
  2. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Louie Varland, 5 1/3 IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 7K (80 pitches, 55 strikes, 68.8%) Home Runs: Jose Miranda (14) Bottom 3 WPA: Trevor Megill (-.570), Griffin Jax (-.254), Gio Urshela (-.201) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Varland is sharp in his major league debut (pulled too early?) There probably isn’t a much tougher way to start your major league career than the one Louie Varland had to. Called up for the first time on Tuesday, the St. Paul native had been the most anticipated Twins prospect since… what? Byron Buxton? Some might go even a little further and say… Joe Mauer? Either way, the amount of expectation this kid had to burden was enormous. Then, you look at all the elements surrounding today’s game. The Twins have been constantly crushed by the New York Yankees for the past two decades; they have been Minnesota’s perennial foes in the postseason in that same span; they haven’t lost a single series against the Twins since 2018, and not one at home since 2014. The list goes on. This game, in particular, is even more crucial short-term, as the Twins started the day a game and a half back from the Guardians for the division first place. Not being competitive in this Bronx series could be the end of the season for the Twins. Is that pressure enough for the 24-year-old Minnesotan? Before Varland even stepped on the Yankee Stadium mound, the offense made a good effort to relieve some of the pressure and perhaps calm him down. Luis Arraez jumped on the game’s second pitch and doubled against starter Domingo German. After a Carlos Correa strikeout, José Miranda hit a laser to the deep left corner for a home run, making it 2-0 Twins early. Whether or not the run support made a difference for Varland at that point, making him less nervous, we’ll never know. But the fact is that he had a nearly perfect first time through the order to begin his big-league career, retiring the first eight batters he faced. He also struck out three of those batters, including American League MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge for his first-ever MLB strikeout. That’s a heck of a greeting card. Varland’s first hit given up was an Oswald Peraza two-out double in the third, but he responded to that with an inning-ending groundout, his third of the game. Then, the offense came through for him again with some more run support. In the top of the fourth, Germán got two quick outs, but the bottom third of Minnesota’s lineup did some two-out damage. Jake Cave, Gary Sanchez, and Gilberto Celestino hit three consecutive singles, and, with that, another run scored, making it 3-0 Twins. The Yankees responded quickly, though, with Judge getting back at Varland in the bottom of the same inning with a leadoff home run, cutting the Twins’ lead to two. Varland displayed some impressive nerves after that, retiring batters three through five of the Yankee lineup, including back-to-back strikeouts following the Judge home run. Varland pitched into the sixth, facing two batters: he lost Peraza for a leadoff single but came back to strike out Oswaldo Cabrera. Before he could face Judge (the tying run) a third time in this game, Rocco Baldelli decided to call it a game for him. Griffin Jax was brought in, and he got Judge to pop out for the second out, but before he could finish the inning, Gleyber Torres hit a two-run home run that tied the game. Baldelli’s decision to pull Varland when he did cause mixed feelings throughout Twins Twitter. Twins Daily’s writers Nick Nelson and Seth Stohs, for example, had opposing views of Baldelli’s call (here and here). Do you think Varland should’ve stayed to face Judge and Torres? Use the comment section to give your opinion. Bats quiet down, bullpen trio takes the game into extras The Twins’ offense couldn’t bother the Yankees again for the better part of the game, with the only exception coming during the eighth inning. Miranda snapped an 0-for-9 skid with a one-out single, and Nick Gordon followed him up with a single of his own, posing the first Minnesota threat since the fourth inning. Unfortunately for the Twins, both runners ended up being stranded. Fortunately for them, though, the bullpen did a fine job maintaining this a tied game for the remainder of regulation. After Jax blew the lead in the sixth, Caleb Thielbar, Jorge Lopez, and Jhoan Duran did a fantastic job preventing New York from scoring. With Duran pitching in the ninth, Sánchez made a huge play catching Tim Locastro trying to steal second with a laser throw for the second out that Jermaine Palacios somehow caught and kept the tag on as Locastro came off the base. Then, after Isiah Kiner-Falefa singled and reached third with a steal and a throwing error, Correa ended the inning with a crucial defensive move. Celestino puts the Twins ahead, but the Yankees tie it, walk it off With Celestino starting the 10th inning at second base, Arráez hit a single to shallow right, and the outfielder was waved around. However, he hesitated a bit heading from third to home and was caught by catcher Jose Trevino with plenty of time. Duran pitched a scoreless 10th, and the game headed for the 11th. After the offense went down in order in the top of the inning, the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom after an intentional walk to Judge and a walk to Torres. A beautiful 3-2-3 double play prevented the winning run from scoring and paved the way for another inning. Came the 12th inning, the Twins put some pressure on reliever Ron Marinaccio, with Cave drawing a leadoff walk. With a Sánchez strikeout, New York had a double play in order, but Celestino had other plans. He hit a sharp groundball to right, deep enough to score ghost runner Jermaine Palacios from second, snatching the lead back for the Twins. Arráez drew a walk to load the bases before the inning was done, but Correa and Miranda couldn’t take advantage. That lead didn’t last long, though. Kiner-Falefa hit a ground ball off Trevor Megill to lead off the bottom of the 12th, and former Twin Marwin Gonzalez scored from second. Trevino then hit a one-out single that sent Kiner-Falefa to third and, despite getting Peraza to fly out for the second out, Megill couldn’t retire Cabrera, who hit a grounder to short, past a diving Gordon, to bring Kiner-Falefa home and end the game. What’s Next? Game two of the doubleheader is about to start with Joe Ryan (3.88 ERA) on the mound for Minnesota and Gerrit Cole (3.28 ERA) starting for the Yankees. Currently, Minnesota still has the chance to split the series, as both teams are back on the field tomorrow for game four of the series. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet SAT SUN MON TUE WED TOT Sanchez 70 0 0 0 0 70 Duran 0 20 0 0 28 48 Megill 0 0 27 0 20 47 Fulmer 0 14 0 0 16 30 Thielbar 0 15 0 0 11 26 Pagán 0 0 22 0 0 22 Jax 0 8 0 0 12 20 López 0 0 0 0 15 15 Davis 0 0 11 0 0 11 Moran 0 0 0 0 0 0
  3. Rocco Baldelli’s club has seen debuts of multiple rookies this season, while also enjoying the play of superstar Carlos Correa. Despite dealing with plenty of injuries and adversity, bright spots have been aplenty for a club looking to re-establish itself atop the American League Central division. Here are five of the best developments for the Minnesota Twins in 2022: Griffin Jax A year ago Griffin Jax was a starter that had next to nothing going for him. He had an ERA over 6.00 and was giving up homers at an alarming rate. Converted to a full-time reliever this season, Jax has arguably been one of the most underrated arms in baseball. Baldelli went to him often in high-leverage situations, and he worked as a setup guy for the club’s best relief arms. Now striking out over 10.0 per nine innings, he’s emerged as a weapon in relief for quite some time. Nick Gordon Finally healthy, and experiencing a full season, Gordon has emerged as a true asset as a utility player. Byron Buxton played through an immense amount of pain this season and put up All-Star numbers while doing so, but when he missed time it was Gordon who stepped up. Royce Lewis’ injury gave Gordon even more run, and having filled in all over the place, Gordon has done more than his part with both the bat and the glove. Luis Arraez There was no doubt that Minnesota’s Arraez could hit. He spent a good deal of the year batting north of the .330 mark, and he was a deserving All-Star. The shocking part is that he stepped up at first base, despite never playing there before, and has held down the role for months. No Alex Kirilloff and no Miguel Sano meant Minnesota was in dire straits. Arraez has never been considered a good defender at second base, and he’s not exceptional at first, but to pick it up on the fly and keep hitting has been nothing short of amazing. Jose Miranda There’s no argument to be made that Miranda earned his demotion. He posted a .484 OPS through 19 games and it was time to head back to St. Paul. When the roster spot opened after Lewis’ injury, he turned the car around and never made it back to CHS Field. He’s been on fire since, deserves some votes for Rookie of the Year consideration, and leads Minnesota in runs batted in. He’s not a good defender and has played a decent amount as the designated hitter down the stretch, but you have to be thrilled with the continuation of what was an amazing minor league season in 2021. Jhoan Duran Enough can’t possibly be said about Jhoan Duran. He came into the season as a starting pitching prospect and was not expected to make the Opening Day roster. A dominant showing in Fort Myers forced the organization’s hand, and he looked electric in a late-inning role. With the fastest pitches not only in Twins history, but among Major League Baseball as a whole, he’s become one of the best relief arms the sport has seen. Duran has closed out games but has given Baldelli an arm to rely on in the highest leverage scenarios and has provided Minnesota with more value than they ever could have imagined.
  4. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Sonny Gray, 4 IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 2K (59 pitches, 40 strikes, 67.8%) Home Runs: none Bottom 3 WPA: Jorge Lopez (-.367), Caleb Thielbar (-.205), Gary Sanchez (-.116) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Gordon, Offense Put Chicago on the Ropes Early Nick Gordon has been living what can perhaps be considered the hottest offensive streak of his major league career – and he simply doesn’t look like he wants to slow down. Coming into tonight’s game, he had been slashing .364/.391/.682 (1.073) for his previous seven games. The White Sox decided to have a bullpen game, bringing Joe Kelly to open the game. Gordon and the Twins took advantage of that. After the four first batters faced by Kelly, Minnesota had loaded the bases with one out, bringing red-hot Gordon to the plate. The Twins’ second baseman smacked his 22nd double to the right field corner, scoring Carlos Correa and Max Kepler. That was all the Twins could get, as Kelly stranded both remaining runners with a couple of strikeouts, but it was a great start for Minnesota nonetheless. Davis Martin, who was originally scheduled to start tonight’s game for Chicago, took over in relief of Kelly in the second inning. Still, Minnesota’s offense continued to push forward but failed to add on. Luis Arraez, who singled in the first, hit a two-out double, seemingly putting the August slump behind him. Correa drew a walk after him, and suddenly, the Twins were posing a threat once again, but Kepler lined out, and the inning was over. Gray Tosses Three Solid but Struggles with Command in the Fourth Sonny Gray gave up a two-out single in the bottom of the first, but that was pretty much all the White Sox could get off him for the first three innings, as he retired seven consecutive batters after that single. Then, in the fourth inning, things abruptly changed for him. Andrew Vaughn led off the inning with a double, but it didn’t look too serious after Gray induced back-to-back ground ball outs. But Yasmani Grandal hit a bloop single off the glove of Gio Urshela to score Vaughn. That was when things spiraled out of control for Gray, who started having command issues. Grandal moved to second on a wild pitch, then A.J. Pollock and Leury Garcia reached on a walk and a single, respectively, to load the bases. Facing Josh Harrison, all Gray needed was another out to end the threat. Instead, he (barely) brushed Harrison’s forearm with a fastball, and the game was tied. Gray got the final out to limit the damage, but, despite his pitch count not having reached 60, Rocco Baldelli decided he was done. At four innings pitched, this was Gray’s shortest start since July 14, tied for his third shortest start of the season. During the seventh inning, it was reported that Gray left the game due to some right hamstring tightness. The injury must have been caused by the last play of the third inning when Gray fielded a comebacker on the infield before throwing to Arráez at first. He clearly grabbed his hamstring after the play. Bullpen does a Good Job, Gordon Comes Through Again… After Gray’s injury, the bullpen had their work cut out for them, having to throw at least five innings. Michael Fulmer gave up back-to-back two-out singles in the fifth but eventually got the final out. Then, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran combined for a couple of quick, scoreless frames. Came the eighth inning, with the game tied, the offense showed up again. After the productive first two innings, the Twins’ lineup went quietly for most of the game, going 2-for-17 after Correa’s second-inning walk. But the bats came back to life in the eighth. Facing reliever Jimmy Lambert, Kepler got an infield leadoff single but ended up at second base on a throwing error from Harrison. Jose Miranda followed that with a single of his own, moving Kepler to third. Gordon stepped up to the plate and got his third run batted in on a ground out, putting the Twins back in front. …but the Sox Tied the Game, Walk it off After four consecutive scoreless appearances and nine out of the previous ten, Caleb Thielbar came in to try and keep the one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth. After retiring Eloy Jimenez to open the inning, he couldn’t get past Grandal, who crushed a game-tying solo shot to the left field corner. Gilberto Celestino got a single in the top of the ninth, but the Twins couldn’t capitalize. Then, with Jorge López pitching in the bottom of the inning, Chicago loaded the bases on back-to-back singles and a hit batter that caused the benches to clear. Next, López seemingly hit Abreu, ending the game, but after a challenge, the call was overturned, as the ball actually hit Abreu’s bat. It was no use, though. As the Abreu at-bat continued, the former AL MVP hit into a groundout that could’ve led to an inning-ending double play, but Correa couldn’t fire the throw to first, allowing Romy Gonzalez to score the winning run. Postgame interview What’s Next? Game two of the series is scheduled for tomorrow, with the first pitch at 6:15 pm CDT. Tyler Mahle (4.17 ERA) toes the rubber for Minnesota, while Dylan Cease (2.27 ERA) gets the start for Chicago. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet MON TUE WED THU FRI TOT Moran 0 0 52 0 0 52 Jax 17 8 0 0 20 45 Thielbar 15 13 0 0 13 41 Megill 0 23 14 0 0 37 Fulmer 0 13 0 0 17 30 Duran 14 0 0 0 11 25 López 9 0 0 0 13 22 Pagán 0 21 0 0 0 21
  5. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Chris Archer, 4 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, BB, 2 K (86 pitches, 55 strikes, 64%) Home Runs: Jorge Polanco (16) Bottom 3 WPA: Chris Archer (-.351), Luis Arraez (-.128), Carlos Correa (-.089) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Things looked sweet off the bat when Jorge Polanco put the Twins in front with a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning, launching a 1-0 fastball from Luis Garcia over the right field wall. The lead didn't last for long. Chris Archer gave up five hits and four in the bottom of the first, including a three-run homer from Trey Mancini to put the Astros up 4-1. Minnesota stabbed back in the second thanks to the hitting and speed of Nick "Flash G" Gordon. Gordon crushed the first pitch of the inning to center field for a leadoff triple. On the next pitch, Gordon scored on a wild pitch to bring the Twins within two. A run scored before Garcia could even register a strike? Not too shabby! After surrendering a run in the third, The Twins brought the deficit back to two with a sac-fly from Luis Arraez that scored Gary Sanchez. Arraez's sac-fly would be the last laugh from the Twins' offense. The Twins recorded leadoff singles in both the sixth and seventh innings but failed to record any runs. Minnesota recorded only seven hits on the night and left three runners on base. Bending Arch Thursday night wasn't the cleanest day at the office for Twins starter Chris Archer. Through four innings, Archer allowed five runs on eight hits while striking out two and walking one. The outing was a stark contrast from his last start when he threw five innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the Rangers. Thursday's five runs were the most that Archer has given up since his July 27th start against the Brewers, when he gave up six runs on three hits through three innings. Archer has recorded a 3.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in the month of August. Bullpen Battles Despite the loss, the Twins' bullpen was rock solid on the evening. Jhoan Duran made his earliest appearance of the year, pitching a scoreless fifth inning. Griffin Jax followed suit with a perfect sixth inning; Jax now has six straight scoreless appearances, spanning six combined innings. Seven of Jax's 11 outings in the month of August have kept the opposition from touching home. Despite giving up two hits, trade deadline addition Jorge Lopez pitched a scoreless seventh inning, Trevor McGill gave up a two-out run in the eighth but managed to record all three outs on strikeouts. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet What's Next For the first time ever, the San Francisco Giants will head to Target Field to take on the Twins starting tomorrow night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm CST.
  6. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Tyler Mahle, 2 1/3 IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 1K (42 pitches, 29 strikes, 69.0%) Home Runs: Jose Miranda (12) Top 3 WPA: José Miranda (.177), Tyler Mahle (.115), Max Kepler (.069) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Twins jump to an early three-run lead Coincidentally, the last time the Twins swept an opponent in a three-game set was against this same Royals team. Having won eight of the previous twelve matchups against Kansas City on the year, Minnesota would guarantee at least a season series tie with a win this afternoon. In order to do that, they quickly jumped to an early lead on a couple of swings in the first two innings of the game. After Twins starter Tyler Mahle pitched around a leadoff walk to conclude the top of the first inning, the offense was off to a slow start to the bottom half. Royals’ Daniel Lynch got two outs on two pitches to begin his start, and the opening inning seemed doomed for Minnesota right away. However, Luis Arráez worked a short single against Lynch to keep the inning alive, and cleanup hitter José Miranda followed him with a two-run home run to left center. Mahle threw a scoreless 1-2-3 top of the second, and the bats responded with more run support. Gilberto Celestino lined a leadoff single to center, and the Twins cashed in on a Royals fielding blunder. When Michael Massey made a throwing error to second on a Max Kepler hit, Celestino was able to move to third and be waved in by third base coach Tommy Watkins, scoring Minnesota’s third run of the matchup. Mahle leaves the game in the third inning Other than the leadoff walk in the first, Mahle navigated through the first two innings rather uneventfully, but something seemed off with his velocity. He struck out Nate Eaton on three pitches to start the third inning, but in the middle of his next at-bat, he departed the game with an apparent injury. Later on, the clubhouse announced that he left the game due to some right shoulder fatigue. Having tossed 42 total pitches, his overall velocity averaged 86.1 MPH, with his four-seamer averaging 89.3 MPH. Compared to his season averages, his overall average was down over a full mile per hour (87,2 MPH on the year), and the four-seamer specifically was down over four miles per hour (93,4 MPH on the year). Making his first appearance since Sunday’s nightmarish outing, Emilio Pagán bounced back nicely and delivered two scoreless frames in relief of Mahle. Bullpen, outstanding defense, hold on to the win Pagán allowed a couple of hits during the fourth inning, but he was bailed out by some fantastic defense behind him. First, Nick Gordon stole a deep single from Bobby Witt Jr. with a tremendous diving catch in the corner of the left field. Then, after Salvador Pérez and Vinnie Pasquantino hit back-to-back one-out singles, Pagán induced a groundball double play against Brent Rooker, beautifully turned in by Arráez and Miranda to end the inning. Fortunately for Pagán and whoever came in to pitch after him, the offense added one more run to the Twins’ lead. After flashing the leather at the top of the fourth, Gordon also made his offensive contribution. Gary Sánchez drew a one-out walk, and a couple of at-bats later, Gordon jumped on the first pitch he saw for a double that brought Sánchez home, making it 4-0 Minnesota. Pagán departed the game in the fifth, after getting the inning’s first out, with Griffin Jax taking over. With an inherited runner, he induced an inning-ending groundball double play on his first pitch. He also breezed through the sixth, tossing a 1-2-3 inning on eleven pitches and two strikeouts. Pagán and Jax nearly completed four innings of shutout ball, making for a brilliant afternoon by the bullpen. When Jhoan Duran took over to pitch the seventh, it seemed like things were about to change. Pérez and Pasquantino, once again, hit back-to-back singles to open the inning and suddenly had the chance to make this a one-run game with a swing of the bat. Duran struck out the next batter before Celestino made yet another brilliant defensive move for the Twins defense, taking a hit away from Massey with a diving catch. Michael Fulmer was made to work hard to get through the eighth, but eventually stranded two runners to give Trevor Megill a four-run lead in the ninth. Topping at 100.5 MPH, Megill had no trouble to toss a 1-2-3 inning and secure the win. With its first three-game winning streak since June 27, Minnesota now improves to 61-55 and have the chance to climb into a virtual tie at first place of the American League Central with the Cleveland Guardians later tonight, in case of a Cleveland loss. Postgame interviews What’s Next? Minnesota has the day off tomorrow, and they begin a four-game set against the Texas Rangers on Friday, also at Target Field. Game one is scheduled for 7:10 pm CDT on Friday, and neither team has named a starter just yet. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet SAT SUN MON TUE WED TOT Pagán 9 10 0 0 35 54 Fulmer 0 20 0 7 23 50 Duran 19 0 10 0 18 47 Jax 13 0 14 0 12 39 Megill 0 26 0 0 13 39 Thielbar 13 0 8 17 0 38 López 19 0 13 0 0 32 Sands 0 0 0 19 0 19
  7. The Twins added Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer to a bullpen that has struggled for most of the 2022 campaign. Jhoan Duran has been unbelievable during his rookie campaign, and Griffin Jax has emerged as a late-inning weapon. How do these pieces fit into the new bullpen hierarchy? The Closer: Jorge López Baseball has gotten away from a traditional closer role, and the Twins have followed this trend under Rocco Baldelli. So far in 2022, seven different relievers have earned a save, with Emilio Pagan (9 saves) and Jhoan Duran (6 saves) leading the team. In his first full season as a reliever, López became an All-Star, and now he finds himself in the middle of the pennant race. It seems likely for him to get the majority of the save situations down the stretch. The Fireman: Jhoan Duran Adding López allows the Twins to use Duran in each game's most important moments. For instance, the team can use him when the middle of the line-up is scheduled to bat in the sixth inning or if the starter runs into trouble in a tight game. Duran has also shown the ability to pitch more than one inning as he has recorded more than three outs in 11 of his 38 appearances. Duran will still get some save opportunities, but now Baldelli has more flexibility regarding when to use him. The Set-Up Men: Michael Fulmer, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar Minnesota relied on Jax and Thielbar in roles they weren't expected to fill at the season's start. Thielbar has more appearances than anyone on the team, and Jax has been the team's most successful reliever outside of Duran. According to fWAR, Thielbar and Jax only trail Duran among Twins relievers. Since June 22, Thielbar has an ERA under 2.00 while holding opponents to a .539 OPS. Jax has a 53-to-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 49 innings while holding batters to a .363 SLG. Fulmer's addition allows Thielbar and Jax to be pushed down the bullpen hierarchy in roles they were expected to occupy earlier in the season. First Out of the Pen: Emilio Pagán, Trevor Megill, Jovani Moran, Cole Sands The Twins used Pagán, Megill and Tyler Duffey in Thursday's loss, where they combined to allow nine runs (eight earned). Pagán hasn't been a good reliever since 2019, and he continues to be dreadful for the Twins. Duffey saw his velocity drop for the third consecutive season and the team waived him on Friday. According to Win Probability Added, Pagán and Duffey have been worth -2.12 wins for the Twins in 2022. Megill has only allowed multiple earned runs in three of his 20 appearances, and he wasn't expected to fit a high leverage role. Moran has struggled with control at the big-league level, but his change-up can be a bullpen weapon. Sands struggled with the Twins but he has done so in a small sample size of just over 16 innings. Minnesota's bullpen significantly improves with the addition of López and Fulmer. Moving other players down the bullpen hierarchy will hopefully be able to find more success in less high leverage situations. The Twins have led the AL Central for most of the season, and the bullpen will be essential if the team wants to win their third division title in the last four years. How would you organize the new bullpen hierarchy if you were the manager? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  8. If you’ve paid even a second of attention to Twins fans lately, the dominant discussion point revolves around the bullpen’s lack of quality; the team needs extra, quality arms, and they need them now. This feeling is well-founded; it seems like every close loss involves a reliever screwing up late, costing the team a chance to escape the quagmire of mediocrity that plagues the rest of the AL Central. But is the team’s bullpen that bad in comparison to other teams? Relief pitchers are doomed to fail. The position naturally lends itself to magnified mistakes, and brutal momentum swings as a game’s final outs melt away at an accelerated pace. Each run allowed feels like the end of the world because, as far as a single baseball game is concerned, it is; the lack of remaining outs increases each outcome’s drama to a sometimes unbearable level. In that context, analyzing relievers requires us to remove emotion from the equation, instead choosing to coldly dissect the topic with numbers immune from hyperbole. Stats can’t complain. Overall, the picture isn’t pretty, but it’s not egregiously ugly; the relief core is 14th in MLB in ERA (3.74), 21st in FIP (4.10), 13th in xFIP (3.80), and 16th in WPA (0.19). No lipstick can spruce up this pig, but these numbers reflect a mediocre to below-average group, not one bordering on Greek Tragedy. The problem does not seem as dire with contextualized stats; the team needs to improve their bullpen, but so could just about every team in MLB. The Twins are well equipped to absorb fresh talent. What’s lost in bullpen arguments is the strategic aspect of utilizing relievers; broadly stating that the relievers stink helps no one; instead, we should imagine the role a reliever is filling and ask whether they can adequately fill it. For the Twins, their main issue is that pitchers who should not pitch in important innings are doing so because of a failure of top-end depth; it isn’t fully Jharel Cotton’s fault if he blows a game in the 9th inning because he shouldn’t be pitching in that scenario. As it stands, the team has one fully reliable reliever (Jhoan Duran), another solid reliever (Griffin Jax), and varying degrees of coin flips. With Duran rarely pitching in back-to-back games, when the game is close late—a situation a good team like the Twins frequently enters—Rocco Baldelli has little choice but to play baseball Russian Roulette and pray that Caleb Thielbar’s fastball looks extra rise-y today, or that Joe Smith’s corkscrewing magic appears even more incredible. It’s always a rock and a hard place choice. If one or two more quality relievers make their way to the team before the trade deadline, the bullpen can fall into place. Whatever scrap-heap reliever they picked up the other day could pitch earlier in the game rather than Thornburg-ing it up in a role he’s ill-equipped for. Usually worthwhile relievers like Tyler Duffey can simmer in a low-intensity role as another capable arm gives him a break he desperately needs; unproven pitchers like Jovani Moran can freely gain confidence by netting outs in the 6th inning, not the 9th. The Twins bullpen isn’t made of bad pitchers, just miscast ones. Duran is obviously an elite arm, but no other reliever commands as much trust, so the chain collapses when he can’t pitch, or the team needs an extended effort to reach his inning. Cotton is a Road to Nowhere when used beyond the 7th inning, but he has attempted to fill that role because no one else works in that spot; they don’t exist. If the team acquired a true, dominant arm to pair with Duran, the effect would reverberate around the entire bullpen; arms far higher on the totem pole of trust would fall back where they can succeed. David Robertson and/or Daniel Bard, a potentially revamped Tyler Duffey, and a healthy Joe Smith could establish order in the current chaos; the days of 8th inning man Tyler Thornburg would no longer exist. It’s hard to see, and sometimes it seems impossible, but there’s a good bullpen somewhere in the mess; it just needs some cleaning.
  9. The chart above lists the current options in the Twins bullpen ranked from top to bottom by their measures in three underlying statistics: strike percentage, whiff rate (the fraction of swings that are misses), and average exit velocity. Red circles are good, blue circles are not so good. There's a simple rule of thumb for reading these statistics. A pitcher ought to have strong measures in two of the three statistics to be effective. For example, Jhoan Duran can give up hard contact as shown by his team-average exit velocity. But he pounds the strike zone and hitters rarely catch up to him. That's effective. Using similar assessments, the Twins ought to carve out roles for Caleb Thielbar and Griffin Jax. Jovani Moran may prove to be a bit of a wild card. He has a team-high 38% whiff rate and limits hard contact. If he can keep the ball in the strike zone often enough to avoid costly walks, he would prove valuable. Danny Coulombe may also warrant another shot when he returns to full health. What about Emilio Pagán, Tyler Duffey, and Joe Smith? Have they simply gotten unlucky in big moments despite pitching well? Not exactly. Pagán gets hit harder than any other Twins reliever and doesn't miss bats often enough to hide that. Duffey's numbers paint him as a poor man's Pagán. Smith has a paltry 13% whiff rate, which means he rarely misses bats. That's a big problem since his exit velocities are also quite high. The Twins will surely add to their bullpen through trades. But they can also get more out of their bullpen by redefining roles, tweaking pitcher usage, and perhaps letting go of a few veterans.
  10. Three Twins pitchers stood out with their help keeping the team at the .500 mark over the course of the month. Sonny Gray dominated in his three starts for the month of June with a 1.69 ERA in those starts, but being on the IL for half of the month kept him out of the voting for pitcher of the month. Without further adieu, here are the top two honorable mentions and winner for the Twins Daily Pitcher of the Month. Honorable Mention Two: Jhoan Duran The rookie phenom Jhoan Duran has had another stellar month keeping up his case to make it to the all-star game in July. Duran made ten relief appearances for the Twins in the month of June posting a 1.42 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 1.63 FIP, and 14 strikeouts in 10 relief appearances. The one outing that kept Duran from being placed higher on this list was his first real scuffle with big-league hitting. It came in his June 9th outing against the New York Yankees where he surrendered two runs to the Evil Empire while only retiring one batter. Since that outing, Duran has not given up a run in 8 1/3 innings of work. There’s no telling if Duran will experience burnout next month or continue his dominance as the fastest pitcher in baseball, but Twins fans can take solace in the fact he has been the best reliever for the team during the first three months of the season. Honorable Mention One: Griffin Jax Leading the way for the Twins bullpen in a rocky month of June was sophomore Griffin Jax. In his 12 relief appearances throughout the month, Jax led all Twins relievers in ERA (1.38), opponent AVG (.098), WHIP (0.38), and strikeouts (18). Jax’s month of June alone has shown how far he’s come since he was a rookie starter with the team last year. Where Jax previously struggled just to get through more than three innings, he has now become the Twins most effective long reliever. The Twins bullpen has many fixes needed for the remainder of the season, but both Jax and Duran have proven themselves as the most reliable arms out of the pen. The Twins will not use them every day during the month of July, but Twins fans should be grateful for what these two provided while other members of the bullpen struggled often. Twins Pitcher of the Month: Chris Archer The resurgence of Chris Archer with the Twins has been a great surprise to many in baseball. Now with the man who has turned Archer’s career around, Wes Johnson, leaving Minnesota for Louisiana State University, it’s only fair to dub Archer as the Twins pitcher of the month for June. Archer was the anchor of the Twins rotation when Gray and Joe Ryan were on the IL for the first half of the month. June has been Archer’s greatest month of the season to date, even with his innings still limited as he compiled a total of 27 innings, in six starts for the month. In those six starts, Archer posted a 1.67 ERA, .156 AVG, 1.04 WHIP, and only gave up two home runs. Archer’s best start of the month came on June 8th against the best team in baseball, the Yankees, where he only allowed two hits and one run in five innings of work. Yes, Archer does still have a high walk rate and that was showcased in his final start of the month on June 30 against the Guardians where he walked six batters. But the high walk rate should not be reason to ignore the recognition that Archer deserves for being the stabilizing force of the Twins' starting rotation during a rocky month of pitching. What do you think? Would you vote for Archer for Twins pitcher of the month in June, or would you vote for one of the relievers?
  11. Throughout any baseball season, bullpen roles and responsibilities are going to shift. Sometimes a pitcher has a great stretch and starts pitching in more high-leverage spots. Other times, a pitcher struggles, and the team attempts to find a new role for that arm. One bad outing doesn’t necessarily shift a player lower on the list, but an accumulation of bad performances impacts the team’s bullpen pecking order. 1. Jhoan Duran (2.15 Win Probability Added) Realistically, Jhoan Duran is the lone bullpen arm that has been consistent throughout the season. His transition to the bullpen has been electric, with 46 strikeouts in 33 innings. The team is using him in the highest leverage situations, and he has responded with only four appearances where he has allowed an earned run or more. Duran has also proven he can be relied on to pitch in multiple innings as he has recorded more than three outs in nine appearances. He’s been a lifesaver for the 2022 Twins, and the team will continue to trust him in late-inning roles. 2. Griffin Jax (0.50 WPA) Griffin Jax has been a surprise late-inning contributor to the Twins. Outside of Duran, Jax might be the most trusted name in the Twins bullpen. One of his most significant changes this season has been an increase in his slider usage. Batters have posted a slugging percentage over 175 points lower when facing his slider compared to his fastball. Jax will continue to see an increase in his WPA as he is used in higher leverage situations. 3. Caleb Thielbar (0.43 WPA) There have been three outings where Thielbar has allowed three earned runs or more, but outside of those appearances, he has been terrific. In high leverage situations, opponents are hitting .143/.294/.179 (.473) with eight strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He’s the lone left-handed reliever on a first-place team, which is quite the switch from how bullpens have traditionally been built. For the Twins to succeed, Thielbar must continue to pitch well. 4. Emilio Pagan (0.03 WPA) Pagan has been used in many high-leverage situations, and the results have been mixed. In his first 25 appearances, he posted a 99 ERA+ with 2.1 HR/9. His strikeouts per nine innings have jumped from under 10.0 K/9 over the last two seasons to over 12.1 K/9 in 2022. Without other options, Pagan will continue to get high leverage opportunities, especially on nights when Duran is unavailable. 5. Tyler Thornburg (0.07 WPA) Earlier in the season, names like Tyler Duffey and Joe Smith would be included in the team’s most trusted bullpen arms. Both have struggled through different parts of the season, which has allowed players like Thornburg to take on even more critical roles. Since joining the Twins, he has yet to allow an earned run in four appearances. Nearly all of his appearances have been low leverage this season, but he has held opponents to a .254 slugging percentage without allowing a home run. How would you rank the players above? Who are your Top 5, or even Top 9? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  12. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Chris Archer , 5.0 IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 5K (78 pitches, 51 strikes, 65.4%) Home Runs: none Top 3 WPA: Chris Archer (.261), Luis Arraez (.096), Byron Buxton (.078) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) In last night’s game, the Twins offense got shut out for the 10th time this season, more than any team in the majors this year. Against Rockies’ ace Germán Márquez, they were held to only three hits the entire game, sadly wasting a very solid start from Dylan Bundy. Frustrating to say the least. But tonight, things were bound to be different and that was largely thanks to a particular centerfielder returning to the lineup. After three consecutive games away from the starting lineup, Byron Buxton returned and he made his presence in the very first pitch he saw. After Luis Arráez hit a leadoff double to left, Buxton followed that with a hustle triple to center, celebrating a ton after he dove head first into third. Apparently, Minnesota’s offense got more energy in tonight’s first two at-bats than they did in the entire game on Friday night. Still in the first, they could’ve added on when Max Kepler drew a one-out walk to put men on the corners, but Antonio Senzatela struck out the next two batters to end the threat. Minnesota’s offense was hungry, though, and they picked up where they left off in the second inning. Gary Sanchez and Nick Gordon hit back-to-back singles to open the inning, and after Gio Urshela sent his longtime teammate to third on a sac-fly, Arráez hit the Twins’ third single of the inning to easily score Sánchez. Posting a 2.00 ERA in June before this game, Chris Archer was once again solid as a rock. He shut out the Rockies offense through five, allowing only one hit and a walk. The only time he was in fact in danger was in the second inning, when he surrendered a leadoff single to C.J. Cron, followed by a walk to Ryan McMahon. But after that, he went on to retire twelve Rockies in a row. This was just the third time in the season he completed five innings (all of them this month), finishing one pitch shy of matching his season-high 79 pitches in a game. Archer has Arráez to thank, for, in his final pitch, the Twins second baseman made a fine defensive play to avoid a single by Elias Diaz. Before Archer officially departed the game, the bats provided some more run support, to try and ensure he would end up with the win. Carlos Correa hit a one-out single and was followed by a Kepler walk. After a mound visit, Senzatela gave up a long single to Kyle Garlick that scored Correa and sent Kepler to third. Alex Kirilloff stepped up to the plate and couldn’t get a hit himself, but he batted in Kepler with a sac-fly, making it 4-0 Twins. Following a complete meltdown on Wednesday’s game against the Guardians, the Twins bullpen didn’t allow any runs for the third consecutive game. Jharel Cotton took over for Archer in the sixth and he didn’t have a clean, easy outing, as he allowed back-to-back one-out walks, but managed to pitch around them to end the inning. Then Griffin Jax was fantastic in the seventh, striking out the side on 12 pitches with some nasty stuff. In that same seventh inning, the offense scored a couple more runs to put the game out of Colorado’s reach. Reliever Carlos Estevez had gotten two quick outs when Kepler drew his third walk of the night, a season-high for him. Garlick followed him with a single, then Kirilloff hit a long double to right, pushing both runners across. His three runs batted in in the night are also a season-high for him. Tyler Thornburg came into this game, making it the first time this season he’s pitched on back-to-back games. He had a 25-pitch eighth in which he was briefly in a jam when he gave up two consecutive one-out walks. He managed to get out of it and was brought back to the ninth. This time around he had a much easier time, finishing off the Rockies on ten pitches. What’s Next? The series goes for its rubber game on Sunday afternoon, with the first pitch scheduled for 1:10 pm CDT, when rookie Joe Ryan (3.00 ERA) squares off against Ryan Feltner (5.46 ERA). Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet TUE WED THU FRI SAT TOT Cotton 11 28 0 0 25 64 Smith 0 21 26 0 0 47 Jax 27 7 0 0 12 46 Duran 27 0 17 0 0 44 Thornburg 0 0 0 7 35 42 Pagán 17 24 0 0 0 41 Duffey 0 0 0 28 0 28 Thielbar 0 15 12 0 0 27
  13. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Ryan 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO (101 pitches, 70 strikes) Homeruns: Arraez (4) Bottom 3 WPA: Urshela -.273, Pagan -.269, Miranda -.233 Bottom Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) On Tuesday night, the Twins began their most important series of the season so far. Entering the opening game of athree-gamee series against Cleveland, the Guardians had trimmed Minnesota’s AL Central lead to just one game. Here’s how the Twins lined up behind Joe Ryan. In his second start back from the COVID IL, Joe Ryan struggled early. His velocity was down, and his control and command were extremely poor through his first three innings. Cleveland took the lead after Ryan surrendered two singles and a double in the top of the first inning. Meanwhile, the Twins struggled mightily early against Aaron Civale. They managed just a Carlos Correa double and an Alex Kirilloff single through three innings, with Civale striking out five. A massive Josh Naylor home run deep to right field put the Guardians up 3-0 in the top of the third in a game that seemed to be getting away from the Twins early. In the bottom of the fourth, the offense found life. Max Kepler singled and Gary Sanchez walked, before Kirilloff launched a 106 mph double to score both runners and cut the lead to 3-2. Meanwhile, Ryan began to settle in the middle innings. He allowed a walk and a single in the top of the fourth inning, before retiring seven Cleveland hitters in a row, striking out the side in the sixth inning. After a shaky start, Ryan rebounded nicely to keep the Twins in the game, giving them six innings and surpassing 100 pitches in the process. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Cleveland bullpen took over. After a quiet sixth inning, pinch-hitter Trevor Larnach drew a walk with one out in the top of the seventh. Eli Morgan took over in relief for Cleveland. Ryan Jeffers crushed a 102 mph double down the left field line. A batter later, Luis Arraez turned on a fastball inside to hit a 359 foot, three run home run to put the Twins ahead five to three. Emilio Pagan took over in the eighth inning. After a Josh Naylor single, Franmil Reyes hit a center cut offering from Pagan 419 feet to tie the game at five. The Twins, it seems, will continue the revolving door of who will get high leverage opportunities behind Jhoan Duran. No one has stepped up with consistency. Duran pitched a scoreless ninth inning despite an infield single from Steven Kwan on a groundball Gio Urshela struggled to gain control of. In the bottom of the ninth, Kyle Garlick led off with a pinch-hit, infield single. Nick Gordon pinch ran for him and was thrown out on a close play at second base, bringing him to 3 for 6 in stolen base attempts on the season. Despite a Ryan Jeffers single, the game headed to extra innings after a Luis Arraez groundout. Duran got the tenth for the Twins. With a runner on second base, he induced a quick groundout from Jose Ramirez. After intentionally walking Josh Naylor, Duran managed to get Oscar Gonzalez to ground into an inning ending double play to end the inning and give the Twins a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the tenth inning. In the bottom of the tenth, Luis Arraez started on second base, with Byron Buxton at the plate. Buxton walked, putting runners at first and second base with no outs. Carlos Correa, Max Kepler, and Gary Sanchez struck out in consecutive at bats, stranding the runner, keeping the game tied at five, and dropping the Twins at 2-10 with RISP in the game. The Guardians took the lead in the eleventh. Andres Gimenez floating a 71 mph single to center field off Griffin Jax to retake the lead. Jax worked around further trouble to retire the side, leaving the Twins trailing 6-5, with Emmanuel Clase entering the game to close in the bottom of the eleventh inning. Clase managed the inning with relative ease, despite Jose Miranda missing a walkoff homerun by five feet. Just like that, the Twins are in second place. The loss leaves the Twins and Guardians tied at the top of the AL Central. The story was a familiar one for the Twins. They had ample opportunities to score more runs, but struggled to cash runners in scoring position. Ultimately, this game came down to a battle of the bullpens. The Twins aren't going to win too many of those against serious teams. Bullpen Usage Chart THU FRI SAT SUN TUE TOT Jax 0 0 0 16 27 43 Duffey 0 9 0 25 0 34 Thornburg 0 33 0 0 0 33 Thielbar 0 0 0 31 0 31 Duran 0 0 0 0 27 27 Cotton 0 0 10 0 11 21 Pagán 0 0 0 0 17 17 Smith 0 0 0 0 0 0 Next Up On Wednesday, the Twins will continue their series against Cleveland. Sonny Gray starts for Minnesota, against Triston McKenzie of the Guardians. First pitch is 6:40 CT. Postgame Interviews
  14. Save your comments about the Twins inexorable run of postseason trauma. Everyone knows about the streak. I’m not here to talk about the streak. What I’m interested in is, are this season’s Minnesota Twins set up favorably (from a roster construction standpoint) to make a run in October? I think the answer is no. Here’s three reasons why. A Lack of High Leverage Relief Arms Watching the Yankees come back to win the final game of their series with the Twins was painfully familiar. The Yankees slowly eroded a 7-3 Twins lead, behind an incredible effort from their bullpen. While the Yankees are an extreme comparison (they have the best bullpen in baseball), they are relevant for a few reasons. One, they are the type of team you are going to have to beat to make a meaningful October run. Two, think about how October games are won. Short starts, lots of relief innings. I know I’m not the only Twins fan who wonders, after a solid four innings from Chris Archer, how Rocco Baldelli will navigate the bullpen gauntlet with the limited weapons he has at his disposal. Here are a few of the Yankees best relievers by FIP: Banuelos 1.57, Holmes 1.65, King 1.91, Peralta 2.78. Let’s go through a similar exercise for the Twins: Jhoan Duran 2.96, Caleb Thielbar 3.05, Griffin Jax 3.27, Smith 4.52. While the Twins bullpen has generally been successful, they are not set up for October success. They lack enough high-leverage arms, and overall quality depth. This must be addressed ahead of the trade deadline if the Twins are serious about winning in October. Not Enough High-Caliber Starting Pitching While watching the Twins repeatedly hit the ball hard on Tuesday against Logan Gilbert in a game where the offense put up a higher xBA (.244) than the Mariners (.241), I asked myself if the Twins have a starting pitcher better than Gilbert? You can make a case that Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan are better, ultimately, they’re a similar caliber of starter to Gilbert. Outside of Gray and Ryan, there is no one on the Twins roster I would feel confident in going into an October matchup. Simply put, if the Twins are serious about winning in the playoffs, not just making them, they need to add another starting pitcher who can compete effectively in a playoff game. A Feast or Famine Offense I’ll end with the most modest concern. After losing to the Mariners on Tuesday night, the Twins has been shut out 9 times, most in MLB. While the offense is top ten in most major offensive categories (5th in wRC+, 7th in wOBA), they also have more peaks and valleys than other offenses. After recording 72 hits in 6 games against the likes of Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman, and Nestor Cortes, they proceeded to score 3 runs in their next 27 innings, against the Rays bullpen, Chris Flexen, and Logan Gilbert. While the offense is the strength of the team, the caliber of pitching, particularly relief pitching, will make putting up crooked numbers in October difficult. Put simply, this Twins team is a jack of all-trades, and a master of none. Their offense is good, not exceptional. Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan are the only starting pitchers who have any business starting a playoff game. There are few to no trusted high leverage relief arms outside Jhoan Duran. If the Twins are to subvert the incredibly tiresome postseason narrative, the front office will have to do something they have yet to do with regards to roster construction; go all in.
  15. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Sonny Gray, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K (65 pitches, 41 strikes, 63.0%) Home Runs: none Top 3 WPA: Sonny Gray (.263), Ryan Jeffers (.224), Caleb Thielbar (.131) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) A pitcher’s duel took place early in this game, as both starting pitchers dominated the opposing offenses with brilliance. Coming off the Injured List, Sonny Gray was making his first start for the Twins since May 29, and he looked superb for the first portion of the game. Gray retired six of the first seven batters faced, and that took him only 23 pitches. Come the third inning, he encountered his first speed bump of the afternoon, giving up a leadoff double to Taylor Trammell. To make it worse, Max Kepler made a throwing error on that play, allowing the Mariners right-fielder to reach third. Despite going back to the top of the Seattle order, Gray managed to retire the side and strand the runner on third. After dealing with the threat in the third, Gray continued to dazzle Mariner hitters and tossed a couple more shutout innings. He pitched exactly twice through the order allowing only three hits and no walks, with a total of only 65 pitches. Apparently, he picked up right where he left off before his latest trip to the IL. Pitching wasn’t the problem for Minnesota, but the bats were once again having a hard time. Southpaw Marco Gonzales was fiercely dominant against the Twins lineup, allowing only two hits and a walk for his first six innings of work. Minnesota’s first hit only came in the fourth. But things changed in the seventh inning. Gonzalez retired the leadoff man for his fifth consecutive Minnesota batter put away. Then the Twins started to manufacture their first run when Gary Sánchez hit a bloop single and Luis Arraez drew a walk after him. Jose Miranda sent Sánchez to third on a hustle play, avoiding a double play at first. Gonzalez was pulled right there, and Ryan Jeffers faced reliever Paul Sewald. On the second pitch he saw, he smacked a hard single to deep center, deep enough for Sánchez to score easily and put the Twins on the board. After Gray departed the game, Griffin Jax took over to pitch the sixth, and with a killer slider, he breezed through the three batters he faced, striking out two in the process. But once he departed, the Twins bullpen pitched themselves into a jam. Joe Smith allowed the first two batters he saw to reach in the seventh, on a leadoff single to Eugenio Suárez and a five-pitch walk to Jesse Winker. Fortunately for him, Dylan Moore popped out on a bunt next for the first out. Then, Gio Urshela made a fantastic defensive play for the second out. Smith departed the game after that, and Caleb Thielbar got the final out with four pitches. Such a clutch performance by the bullpen needed to be rewarded, and the offense came through in the top of the eighth. Gilberto Celestino hit a leadoff single against reliever Penn Murfee, and he scored a couple of at-bats later on a Carlos Correa double to left, making it 2-0 Twins. Minnesota wasn’t done. After Urshela grounded out for the second out of the inning, Sánchez drew a walk. It was up to Arráez to break the game open, and he came through. Following a wild pitch, Arráez pushed both runners across with a sharp ground ball thru an infield hole on the left side, doubling the Twins lead. It was his first hit of the day, driving his batting average back up to .354. Seattle’s bullpen found trouble again in the top of the ninth, although this time, they were able to limit the damage. Jeffers drew a leadoff walk and was followed by a Kepler single. Reliever Roenis Elias got Celestino to ground out next, allowing Jeffers to score from third, making it 5-0 for Minnesota. Jharel Cotton came in to finish the game and, despite allowing two runners to reach, managed to put this one away with a strikeout and a couple of ground ball outs. What’s Next? Minnesota gets a day off tomorrow as their West Coast trip continues on Friday. The Twins pay a visit to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game set. Devin Smeltzer (2.38 ERA) duels Madison Bumgarner (3.50 ERA) in game one, with first pitch scheduled for 8:40 pm CDT. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet SAT SUN MON TUE WED TOT Cotton 26 0 18 0 16 60 Duran 16 0 13 0 13 42 Pagán 21 0 18 0 0 39 Duffey 0 33 0 0 0 33 Thielbar 19 0 8 0 4 31 Megill 16 0 0 14 0 30 Thornburg 0 26 0 0 0 26 Jax 0 0 12 0 11 23 Smith 0 0 1 0 15 16
  16. It’s hard not to notice what Byron Buxton is doing at the dish this year. Sure, he’s sitting some, but there’s no denying he’s producing at an MVP-like level when out there. Although Joe Ryan has missed time now due to Covid, he’s been Minnesota’s ace from the get-go. You don’t win in this league without supplemental talent, however, and the Twins are getting significant contributions from this trio while they largely go underappreciated. Griffin Jax You could make the argument that Jax is Minnesota’s best reliever not named Jhoan Duran. Sure, that may not be saying much for a bullpen group that has struggled so mightily, but none of that has fallen on the arm of the former starter. Now working exclusively in a relief role, Jax has added over three mph of average velocity to his fastball. He’s got a 2.76 ERA across 29 1/3 innings, and his 10.1 K/9 is a three-strikeout jump from where he was last season. Jax put in a significant amount of work to make baseball feasible. Tasked with shuttling between military commitments and the minor leagues early in his career, the former third-round pick hardly had the deck stacked in his favor. Jax has dramatically reduced the home run bugaboo he dealt with last season, and he’s allowing just 7.4 H/9. For a Twins team in desperate need of capable relief arms, he’s been as good as they come. Max Kepler Maybe somewhat helped by a deadened ball that has played into his approach, Kepler is seeing a breakthrough, unlike anything we’ve experienced save for his 2019 performance. While still playing excellent outfield defense and remaining healthy, Kepler’s 121 OPS+ is just two points shy of his career-high. Although slugging is down across the sport, Kepler has taken his OBP prowess to new heights. The .348 tally is a career-best, and he’s got a very strong 32/25 K/BB across 52 games. While Minnesota has seen injury and ineffectiveness wreak havoc on their outfield at times this season, Kepler has continued to be steady. There was some idea that he could’ve been moved this offseason, or that Alex Kirilloff could push for a shuffling in the grass, but Kepler has done well to hold serve and re-establish value. Although he won’t ever be a world-beater against lefties, it’s been great to see him own a strong .702 OPS this season versus southpaws. Carlos Correa It’s probably pretty hard to fly under the radar as the most significant free-agent signing in franchise history, but I’m here to argue that Carlos Correa has done it. While it appeared to be doomsday following a hit-by-pitch on his hand, Correa has returned and Minnesota’s lineup is better for it. The cameo by Royce Lewis was a nice one, and it’s unfortunate they won’t have him the rest of the way, but the former Astros superstar has transitioned nicely for the Twins. Probably unbeknownst to most, Correa owns a career best 143 OPS+ this season. He’s batting .303 through 39 games, and this would be the first year he’s topped .300 since 2017. Correa’s .372 OBP is near a career high and almost 20 points above the average he’s established during his big league tenure. If the ball is again tweaked as potentially expected this summer, Correa’s process is going to lead to many more than the five home run output he currently has. Who would you say has provided the most unexpected performances from Minnesota this season? Is there a name or two you’d hope for more from?
  17. Box Score SP: Devin Smeltzer 4 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K (62 pitches, 38 strikes (61.2 strike %)) Home Runs: Trevor Larnach (4), Gary Sanchez (7) Top 3 WPA: Jorge Polanco .186 , Luis Arraez .087, Nick Gordon .076 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Sunday was the Twins last day North of the Border potentially until October and the last day of an unusual roster. Thankfully for Twins fans, the team did not disappoint in the series final as the Twins collected eight runs on 16 hits and a few Blue Jays errors to give them the series win over Toronto. The Twins scored their first run on a wild play. Luis Arraez and Gary Sanchez had reached base both on singles. With Jorge Polanco at the plate, he hit a lazy fly ball to right field that was flat out dropped by Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernandez. That allowed Arraez to score. The Twins were able to score another run in the next at-bat thanks to a Gio Urshela sacrifice flyout. The Twins' weren't done in that first inning. Next, Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman faced rookie Jose Miranda. Miranda worked the count full on Gausman and landed an RBI single to center field driving in Jorge Polanco. The Blue Jays caught a break to end the inning when Gilberto Celestino singled but the Blue Jays threw out Miranda as he tried to go from first to third. Three runs in the top of the first were exactly what the Twins needed as Blue Jays centerfielder George Springer led off the bottom of the first with his 50th career lead off home run. Later in the inning, Twins starter Devin Smeltzer found himself in a jam with two runners on from two walks and Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk at the plate. Kirk hit a ground ball on an 0-1 count that ended in a diving stop by shortstop Jermaine Palacios who turned a double play. The Twins did not stop hitting as the top of the second began. The Jays outfield was shifted more to the left for Nick Gordon and that was their first mistake. Gordon pulled a Gausman changeup down the right field line and turned it into a triple to lead off the inning. Next, Palacios was able to pull an opposite field single and get his first big league run batted in to give the Twins a 4-1 lead. A few at-bats later, Polanco drove his first, (or second depending on your scorecard), run of the game on an RBI single that scored Palacios. Gausman remained in the game for the third and fourth innings but left in the fourth facing another jam with Arraez on second and Polanco on first. Reliever David Phelps came in and got his team out of the jam, ending Gausman’s day with 3 ER’s, 9 hits, and a walk in 3 ⅔ innings pitched. Smeltzer fared well for his 4 innings of work on Sunday. Many Twins fans on Twitter were displeased that Rocco Baldelli pulled Smeltzer after 4 with only 62 total pitches thrown. Smeltzer had gone 6 ⅔ innings in his last start against Detroit on May 31 on 101 pitches. Early exit aside, Smeltzer’s command was inconsistent on Sunday. Smeltzer allowed two walks in the first that led to Palacios' impressive double play, but he also allowed two home runs, first to Springer and later to Kirk in the bottom of the fourth. The Jays had two additional hits off of Smeltzer. He recorded only one strikeout all day and that was in the fourth against Santiago Espinal. The Twins bullpen was effective, but not as perfect as they were Friday, following Smeltzer’s removal from the game. Jharel Cotton pitched the fifth for the Twins and was perfect with a strikeout of Danny Jansen. Griffin Jax came in next and was again perfect with a strikeout of his own, this one against Hernandez. Before the Twins continued with another reliever, Trevor Larnach took center stage in the top of the 7th. With the score still at 5-2, Larnach gave the Twins another insurance run with his fourth home run of the year making it a 6-2 game. Then it was Joe Smith’s turn, but Matt Chapman made sure his performance wasn’t a repeat of Friday night. Chapman drilled his seventh home run of the season to center field bringing the Blue Jays back within a run with the score at 6-3. What was starting to look like a save opportunity for the Twins turned into a bigger lead for them. With two outs in the top of the eighth, Arraez collected his fourth hit of the game and reached base for the fifth time to put a runner on for Gary Sanchez. The Blue Jays switched relievers prior to Sanchez’s at-bat taking out Andrew Vasquez and putting in Jeremy Beasly. The Jays may have wanted to keep Vasquez in a little longer as Sanchez smacked his seventh home run of the season on Beasly’s very first pitch making it 8-3, Twins. For the bottom of the eighth, the Twins brought in Johan Duran who had not pitched since Thursday. After one pitch, Duran’s day was looking to be shortened as Springer lined a ball off of Duran’s leg on the first pitch. Duran recorded the out, but time was needed before Bo Bichette’s at-bat for the Twins coaching staff to make sure Duran could stay in the game. Stay in he did, as Duran struck out Bichette and got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ground out to complete the eighth for the Twins on eight pitches. For precautionary reasons, the Twins took Duran out after the eighth to be sure his bruise from Springer did not worsen. Baldelli handed the ball to Tyler Duffey to close out a five-run lead for the Twins in the ninth. Duffey, oh Duffey. The concern of Duffey coming into the game from Twins fans was well granted. After retiring only one batter, Duffey walked Kirk, gave up a single to Chapman, lining up a good at-bat for Santiago Espinal who hit a three-run home run to make it a 8-6 game. The bleeding did not stop there for Duffey. He gave up another hit, this time to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Duffey was finally able to record a second out on a fielder's choice, but the throw from Polanco to try and turn a double play was too far away from Jose Miranda at first. This allowed Jansen to advance to second, but the Twins thought pinch runner Bradley Zimmer, who was out at second, had interfered to mess up Polanco’s throw. After review, the call was upheld and Duffey was replaced by Jovani Moran to get the final out against George Springer. Springer wasted no time driving a single to right that advanced Jansen to third and brought up Bichette as the winning run at the plate for his at-bat. Thankfully for the Twins, Bichette hit a ground ball straight to Gio Urshela who threw him out to end the game and give the Twins their series victory in Toronto. What’s Next? The Twins return home, have an off day tomorrow, and play Tuesday night in a three game series against the dreaded evil (and overrated) empire that is the New York Yankees. Jameson Taillion is scheduled to start for the Yankees and the Twins have yet to announce a starter as many roster moves will be announced by the Twins prior to Tuesday night’s game which starts at 6:40 p.m. Postgame Interview Bullpen Usage Sheet
  18. Box Score SP: Chi Chi Gonzalez: 3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 K (45 pitches, 32 strikes (71.1%)) Home Runs: Kyle Garlick 2 (6), Jose Miranda 2 (4), Byron Buxton (12) Top 3 WPA: Kyle Garlick (.317), Jharel Cotton (.290), Jose Miranda (.273) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Pregame Notes Friday morning, news broke that four Twins players did not travel to Toronto because of their vaccination status. They were replaced on the roster by starting pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez, relievers Jharel Cotton and Ian Hamilton, and outfielder Mark Contreras. Game Notes Game Recap in Video. Kyle Garlick got them going in the game. Batting third, he came to the plate with a runner on base and facing a left-hander. Yusei Kikuchi and launched a two-run homer. Chi Chi Gonzalez gave up a leadoff homer to George Springer (his sixth leadoff homer this year already), and a second first-inning run that tied the game. In the second inning, Jose Miranda came up and launched a solo home run to give the Twins a 3-2 lead.. Garlick did it again. In his second at-bat, he came to the plate and hit his second homer of the game and sixth of the season. After five innings, the Twins held a 4-3 lead. Jose Miranda came to the plate with Luis Arraez (entered game with Gio Urshela getting hurt on the base paths). The young Puerto Rican infielder got a hanger and crushed it for his second home of the game, his fourth with the Twins. In the top of the 8th inning, #OldFriday Andrew Vasquez came into the game for the Blue Jays, ideally to get left-handers out. Nick Gordon (who came into left for Garlick for defensive purposes) led off and on an 0-2 slider, he took a pitch to the back side. He was balked to second and then stole third base. Another lefty, Arraez came through with a soft line drive up the middle that glanced off of Vasquez's glove for an infield single to score Gordon. In the ninth inning, Byron Buxton launched his 12th home run of a the season, a two-run shot to give the Twins the final runs. Bullpen Phenomenal With veteran Chi Chi Gonzalez starting, the team had to know that the bullpen would be used tonight. Gonzalez finished three innings before being replaced by Jovani Moran. The lefty struck out the side in the fourth inning. In the fifth inning, Moran walked the first two batters. Jharel Cotton came in and facing the middle of the order, he got the team out of the inning with allowing a run. Cotton then pitched a perfect sixth inning too. Tyler Duffey worked a scoreless seventh inning. Joe Smith pitched the eighth, and Griffin Jax closed it out in the ninth inning. Three of the four players added to the Restricted List were bullpen arms. For this group to step up was very impressive! Combined, those five pitchers worked six innings and gave up zero runs and zero hits. They walked three batters but struck out six and were terrific. A Good Reminder Unlike many sports, in baseball, the underdog always has some chance. With several players on the IL, three more on the Covid-IL, and four players unable to be with the team because they are unvaccinated, the odds of a Twins win on Friday night were not good. But again, that's baseball. They got off to a quick start. They added on. Gonzalez kept them in it for three innings, and then several unlikely bullpen arms tossed six scoreless, hitless innings against one of baseball's best offenses. Just like you hate to lose four out of five games in Detroit, games like Friday are a good reminder that anything can happen in this game. What’s Next? The Twins will take on #OldFriend Jose Berrios on Saturday in Toronto, looking to win the series. Dylan Bundy will make the start for the Twins. Game Time is 1:07 central time. Postgame Interview Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet MON TUES WEDS THURS FRI TOT Megill 34 0 20 0 RL 54 Jax 0 33 0 0 14 47 Moran 0 12 0 0 27 39 Smith 16 0 0 0 15 31 Duran 0 0 0 28 0 28 Minaya 0 26 0 0 0 26 Cotton 0 0 0 0 23 23 Duffey 0 0 0 0 20 20 Pagán 0 0 0 15 RL 15 Thielbar 0 11 0 0 RL 11
  19. The Twins bullpen has currently thrown the fourth-highest number of innings in baseball behind only the Rays (of course), Pirates and Orioles. This likely isn’t a huge surprise for fans who take issue with the Twins' starting pitching management and this regime’s avoidance of pushing their starters. There are a few reasons, however, that we find ourselves here. For starters, the shortened spring training has impacted pitcher’s workloads, particularly Sonny Gray who was barely ready to start the season on time leading to several shorter starts as well as getting eased back in after injury. Also, consider pitchers like Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy whose repertoires make them untrustworthy to navigate the order three times through. In most of these cases, the Twins are playing better safe than sorry, and it’s worked out as the rotation has been successful overall. Secondly, the Twins aren’t creating situations where they feel they can push said pitchers. Since the Astros series ended on May 12, the Twins have played 12 games and just three of them have been decided by three runs or less despite facing easy competition. As a result, the starting pitching has a quicker hook as the team tries to preserve the lead. An offshoot of this is the Twins needing to use their high leverage relievers almost daily. It’s only out of necessity that pitchers such as Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax ever get the day off. This recent trend boiled over on Wednesday against Detroit, where Caleb Thielbar had to pitch against a flurry of right-handed hitters in the 9th inning of a tied game, far from the situation you want. After narrowly escaping a bases-loaded jam, the Twins were forced to turn to Trevor Megill making his second appearance since being called up from St. Paul. He promptly allowed a two-run home run in the 10th. The Twins had simply run out of relief arms, and the loss left the bullpen even more shorthanded for the first game of the series against Kansas City on Thursday. In an ideal world, the offense would soften some of these games and allow the pitching staff some margin for error. Perhaps as the weather warms up they’ll be able to do so. Rather than hoping, however, the Twins can take matters into their own hands with an early move to solidify a bullpen that’s performed incredibly well thus far. Adding one more high leverage reliever would go a long way in easing the stress being put on the bullpen. One more high-level arm would push pitchers such as Pagán and Jax down into roles that they’re probably better suited for. It would also make managing Jhoan Duran’s workload much easier. All of this would help the Twins maintain their solid bullpen performance in the long term of course, but it would also help them win games in the short term as we saw on Wednesday. While it may be early, there are several obvious teams who aren’t going to be competing this year and who may be willing to talk trade already. The Baltimore Orioles have the 3rd lowest bullpen ERA in baseball and have several trade candidates such as Jorge López and Félix Bautista. Even a team like the Pirates are holding onto some quality relievers such as David Bednar. The Twins bullpen troubles are far from what they were in 2021, but given how good the team has looked, it may just be worth being aggressive. On one hand such an early trade could be seen as paying a premium, but they would also likely avoid the bidding war we typically see hours before the deadline. It may just be worth asking around to see if they can swing a surprisingly early deal. Jorge Alcala would have been huge for this bullpen, but after being added to the 60 day IL with little news to follow, he’s become a massive question mark. Several prospects such as Matt Canterino look like they would be dominant forces at the back end of games, but the Twins have shown no signs of moving them out of starting roles. Instead it appears most of the internal bullpen options are minor league signings in AAA. By all accounts it appears the Twins are destined to explore the bullpen trade market in July. Why not kickstart the process now?
  20. Griffin Jax had a poor 2021 season by just about any stat you prefer. He struck out just 18.1% of batters, walked them at an 8.1% clip, and gave up 23 home runs in 82 innings, a total high enough to make Bert Blyleven blush. Unsurprisingly, his ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line looked more like the price of gas these days, as it went 6.37/6.47/5.75. Outside of a surprise, 10 strikeout game against the White Sox on August 10th, outings of upside were few and far between. Jax always had a trick up his sleeve: his slider. The pitch was a bright spot in an otherwise bland repertoire, running a .275 xWOBA with characteristics favorable in Eno Sarris' pitch data collection. Ironically, his popular slide piece only recently joined his repertoire. You can read Jax himself describe the pitch to David Laurila in possibly the greatest baseball information series known to mankind. According to Jax, the pitch came as a fluke; “I was toying around in catch-play, right before I was about to go on the mound, and was like, ‘What if I just turned my curveball a little bit?’ That’s how I got the slider I have now.” Coaches immediately caught on to the pitch and encouraged him to continue using it. In its horizontal break, the pitch perfectly fits with the sweeper revolution in baseball, and it has buoyed Jax’s 2022 season so far. With his two-pitch (basically one-pitch) mix, Jax became a reliever. His velocity has bumped up two ticks to 94.7 MPH, and he has thrown his slider a Matt Wisler-like 52.7% of the time. While the fastball remains hittable, the breaker is anything but. He owns a .195 xWOBA with it, while hitters are whiffing 47.3% of the time they swing at it. That’s good. In fact, that’s good for 11th best amongst all pitchers in MLB who have faced 25 hitters in 2022. The total numbers are inspiring; an ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line of 1.35/2.43/2.83 that looks great in any era, dead ball or not. The only two criticisms are ‘it’s early’ and ‘it’s not sustainable.’ The first point is fair, but the second one may not be true in the age of breakers. Matt Wisler, Amir Garrett, Andrés Muñoz, Diego Castillo, and the Rogers twins are all quality relievers throwing sliders more often this season than Jax. And, well, just look at the pitch! Hitters may eventually key in on the pitch, but its movement combined with Jax’s command makes it a safe bet that he’ll continue to succeed in the majors. Like we talked about with Danny Coulombe, where a pitch ends up matters as much, if not more than any movement profile. Jax knows how to put his slider juuuuuuuust in the precise place to fool hitters. Yeah, that’ll work. Griffin Jax has become a revelation, finding his proper place in the bullpen where he can unleash as many sliders as humanly possible. It has only been a handful of innings, but Jax has wholly changed course from 2021; his performance is much improved, and his stuff suggests that this will be a permanent change.
  21. The Twins took advantage of the 28-man rosters by supplementing their bullpen with extra arms. Especially with a lockout-shortened Spring Training, this was crucial as it allowed for Twins starting pitchers to have a reasonable ramp-up period. Now that we are three weeks into the season and starters are beginning to reach their “Opening Day form,” I think we will see at least one bullpen pitcher be sent down to St. Paul and possibly two. With that said, let's look at the pitchers who might be on the outside looking in. Josh Winder I think this is the most obvious choice and would go as far as issuing a guarantee that he makes his way down to St. Paul. Winder is a promising 25-year-old prospect who has found success as a starter at every level, not to mention providing the Twins with some effective relief innings so far in 2022. The long-term picture for Winder is that of a mid-rotation arm, not a long reliever out of the pen, whose only “red flag” is being shut down in July last year due to a shoulder injury. While he should be the first to be sent down to St. Paul, he’s likely also the first to earn a spot start when the Twins have a need in the big league rotation. Griffin Jax Although he’s older than Winder, Jax is another one who needs to get innings, and I think it’s time to groom him as a reliever. In the last year or so, Jax has developed a slider that is now his best pitch and mixes that with a mid-90s fastball that seems to add a couple of ticks when he comes out of the pen. As noted by Nick, it’s a small sample, but the Twins have starting depth in their minors which provides them the flexibility to give Jax some run as a reliever. If the long-term plan is a reliever role, I could see him sticking in Minneapolis as he’s been one of the few non-starter bright spots in 2022. Cody Stashak He seems older than 27 because he’s pitched parts of four seasons at the Major League level. I’m conflicted with Stashak as I don’t see any upside to him taking a spot in St. Paul, but I don’t know how effective he can be in Minneapolis. He showed promise over 40 relief innings in 2019 and 2020, but the road has been rocky for Stashak since dealing with ineffective pitching and, of course, a strained bicep that cost him most of last season. So far, 2022 hasn’t been kind to Stashak, but I’d instead give him some time in Minneapolis in low leverage spots than any role across town with the Saints. If you are the Twins, who would your two roster cuts be next week?
  22. Why go with a flexible pitching staff? There are two significant reasons. The first stems from the natural volatility of relievers, something in the DNA of the position curses them with inconsistency more unusual than any other position in baseball. We see relievers rise and fall yearly, with only a handful of genuinely elite talents remaining at the top of the heap for more than a year at a time. They’re about as consistent as Ohio or Pennsylvania in an election year. That creates a significant challenge for team-building. Beyond occasionally being stuck with poor performances, the issue is the sunk-cost fallacy that comes with bringing in a free-agent reliever. The Twins know all about this. What do you do with a struggling reliever with a solid history of success? Alex Colomé was utterly dreadful in 2021, blowing saves in cartoonish fashion for three painful months before the sting of each loss numbed due to the team’s already poor record. If Colomé were some AAAA schlep, he would have been optioned before April ended, and a different arm would have had the chance to prove themselves. But Colomé didn’t have options, and the team owed him $5 million, so the Twins had to be as confident as humanly possible that Colomé was no longer worth the roster spot. The season was already a lost cause by that time, and Colomé remained on the team. Ensuring that you can quickly rid yourself of a poor-performing reliever is a wise strategy. The other main reason to have flexibility is rooted in pitching philosophy. For years, a pitcher was either a starter, an individual capable of pitching anywhere between five-to-nine innings every fifth day, or they were a reliever, an individual tasked with netting three outs on a moment's notice. The system does not make much sense if one thinks about it. There’s a significant grey area between “incapable of pitching deep into games” and “can only be relied upon for three outs.” Indeed, some of these arms could go for two or three innings, right? One could combine pitchers like Voltron to make a better, more complete staff out of pitchers with potential drawbacks. Fortunately, some more enlightened baseball philosophers have moved away from this rigid binary, and, in a move that harkens back to the pitching staffs of the 60s and 70s, labels like “starter” and “reliever” have merged into someone simply being an “out-getter.” A pitcher is no longer only good for one or five-to-nine innings; they are allowed to get as many outs as physically possible. A myriad of terms have grown into our shared baseball lexicon to describe this shift: “opener,” “piggy-backing,” uhhh, “two dogs and two cats.” While differing in their meaning, they all call back to the idea that pitchers differ in the duration of their effectiveness. The Rays are a masterclass in this style of strategy. In what feels like the millionth year in a row, the team owned a top-10 pitching staff in baseball by fWAR, struck out a small army, and barely walked anyone despite losing ace Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery. Four pitchers, Shane McClanahan, Rich Hill, Glasnow, and Shane Baz, appeared solely as a starter. The 11 other pitchers who made a start for them in 2021 also appeared out of the bullpen at some point in 2021. Let’s take a look at their strategy in action. On July 28th, Michael Wacha pitched five solid innings before being followed by Drew Rasmussen, old friend Matt Wisler, Pete Fairbanks, and Andrew Kittredge. On August 12th, Rasmussen started the game and went four innings; he was followed by Collin McHugh, old friend J.T. Chargois, Louis Head, and Ryan Sheriff. Rasmussen both started and entered the game in the sixth inning in about a two-week period, and he netted significant innings in both roles. It’s a high-wire act for sure, a bad game or two could throw the entire staff into chaos, but a deft manager can properly tip-toe the line. In practice for the Twins, we may see something like Chris Archer going four innings, Jhoan Duran following with three innings of his own, and then the usual suspects of Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers cleaning up the game, assuming all went well. This style of pitching management will be even more necessary at the beginning of the season; starters are not yet ready for their usual pitch counts, and games have not yet been shortened (but I wouldn’t put anything by Rob Manfred). Expanded rosters will help alleviate the pitching roster crunch. As it stands, five relievers—Rogers, Duffey, Joe Smith, Jharel Cotton, and Danny Coulombe—are un-optionable (without the risk of losing them on waivers). The rest of the bullpen will be ushered into the continuous testing machinery to determine which arms can stay at the major league level. Think of it like the Hunger Games, but you’re sent to St. Paul instead of dying. Guys like Griffin Jax, Josh Winder, Cody Stashak, and Jovani Moran may or may not begin the season in the majors, but the team will certainly shuffle them in at some point in 2022. It may be for the best if you don’t get too attached to the names you see in the bullpen to begin the season. How would you like to see the pitching staff work, especially in the season's first month. Leave a COMMENT and discuss below.
  23. Josh Winder gained a lot of prospect steam last season as he performed incredibly well at Double-A with a sub 2.00 ERA in 50+ innings before getting promoted to Triple-A. He may have been well on his way to his MLB debut before being shut down with shoulder issues, but he looks healthy and effective so far this spring. Winder finds himself in the conversation for a rotation spot due to what can only be described as a massive disappointment in regards to the Twins addressing their rotation this winter. They currently have four starting pitchers penciled in with Opening Day less than two weeks away. Led by Sonny Gray, the rest of the rotation consists of reclamation project Dylan Bundy and two rookies in Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, the latter of which has only five MLB starts under his belt. The fifth spot at this point is unspoken for. Candidates include Devin Smeltzer who isn't currently on the 40 man roster. Lewis Thorpe and Griffin Jax have been moved into bullpen roles but could find themselves competing due to a lack of other options. Then of course we have Josh Winder who has yet to debut. It’s fair to grab ahold of the shiny new prospect when reading that list of names. The other three, of course, have all had their opportunities and haven’t exactly flourished. It’s absolutely possible that the Twins see this decision the same way if they fail to bring in one more arm. It’s worth noting that Winder winding up in the Opening Day rotation, however, should be viewed with much more disappointment than excitement. From Minnesota to the rest of the league, rookie pitchers fail all the time (or at least most often) in their debut. It should almost be expected at this point. Some need a bit more time in the minors such as when Jose Berrios debuted with his 8+ ERA. Others just never figure it out despite being highly touted all throughout the minors such as Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero. It’s important to remember this not just to be pessimistic, but to keep expectations in check. Winder hadn’t pitched above A ball until 2021 when he posted those 54 2/3 innings in AA, and not only did he put up only 17 innings in AAA, but they weren’t all that effective. His K% fell from 31.3% to 22.4%. He allowed two home runs in those 17 innings and posted a 4.67 ERA before being shut down. Surely a small sample size, but not exactly a performance that screams “MLB ready”. The point being, if the Twins don’t add another starting pitcher to the roster and go with Winder right out of the gate, they may very well be following up an offseason failure with a decision that damages one of their top pitching prospects as well as their season. They’d likely be better off mixing and matching with arms they know everything about than a rookie pitcher who hasn’t shown he’s quite MLB ready yet. Winder would make a great Plan B for any struggling or injured arms after the season begins assuming he’s doing reasonably well in St. Paul. It’s fair to assume that he makes his debut in some way in 2022. It just shouldn’t be as the third rookie starting pitcher on an Opening Day roster that considers themselves contenders. Am I just a thief of joy, or do you agree? Leave your COMMENTS below. — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email — Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here
  24. Tyler Duffey was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Rice. Despite spending much of his college career in the bullpen, the Twins were able to boost his fastball velocity and add a changeup to his already plus breaking ball, and make him a starter. After debuting in the Twins rotation, Duffey struggled and became an afterthought before eventually resurfacing in the bullpen. The right-hander of course used a change in fastball philosophy and his wipeout curveball to become one of the most underrated relievers in all of baseball during 2019-2020. 2021 was a bit shaky but Duffey has established himself as a reliable, high leverage reliever. The Twins should use Duffey’s successful blueprint on another arm who shares several similarities. Griffin Jax has been a starter throughout the minors and filled in for an ailing rotation during his 2021 debut. The Air Force Captain was never a top prospect and rarely posted above-average performances in the minors. Upon his debut, it was clear that Jax was a two-pitch pitcher, a trait that led to significant trouble navigating lineups multiple times. What wasn’t apparent until his debut is just how good one of his two pitches was. Eno Sarris, a prominent writer at The Athletic uses a pitching model called Pitching+ which measures velocity, movement, and spin to determine a pitcher’s “Stuff+” while measuring their ability to locate into “Location+”. A 100 grading is average for both metrics. Jax, due in large part to his slider, grades ahead of Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan, and Dylan Bundy in Stuff+ at an above average 102.8. While the full pitch by pitch Pitching+ Model isn’t publicly available, Sarris has noted that Jax’s slider is one of the best pitches in baseball according to Stuff+. It’s fair to assume Jax’s fastball may hold him back with little movement and averaging under 93 mph. What he’s left with is a less than spectacular fastball to set up for a fantastic breaking ball. This approach likely doesn’t pan out well in the rotation, but could be more than enough to dominate in short stints as we’ve seen with Tyler Duffey. As fellow Twins Daily writer Cody Christie pointed out in January, Jax would slot into an opener role very well based on his success particularly in the first inning. It’s also fair to wonder however whether Jax could thrive in a short-term, high leverage role in the late innings. Similar to Duffey, Jax could add some velocity to his fastball and try to place it at the top of the zone to set up his devastating breaker. It’s become a common recipe for success for relievers across baseball. The Twins bullpen has a lot of uncertainty between Taylor Rogers’ finger, Tyler Duffey’s 2021 struggles, and the question of whether both pitchers will even be on the Twins Opening Day roster. With the front office unlikely to add significant free agents to the bullpen mix, someone like Jax who’s already shown his abilities at the MLB level could easily climb the bullpen ladder throughout 2022 and find himself settled into a significant role by season’s end. Whether it’s opening games or closing them, Jax’s slider proving to be a cheat code of a pitch is a great development. With several high profile arms coming up with stronger chances of sticking in the rotation, the Twins developing deeper prospects such as Griffin Jax into possible bullpen pieces would be a huge development. Griffin Jax is an incredible story, but he’s elevated himself from a depth piece to a possible regular for the Twins in 2022. Do you agree? — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email — Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here
  25. Tampa Bay has long been looked at for their front office prowess as they find ways to stay near the top of one of baseball's toughest divisions. Using an opener is one idea that originated in Tampa that other teams have adopted in recent years. In 2019, many teams jumped on the opener bandwagon, and there were mixed results. According to MLB.com, "An 'opener' is a pitcher -- normally a reliever -- who starts a game for purposes of matching up against the top of the opponent's line-up in the first inning, which has traditionally been the highest-scoring inning, before being relieved by a pitcher who would otherwise function as a starter. This allows for a team to counter its opponent's first three batters with the pitcher it feels has the best chance for success against them." Twins manager Rocco Baldelli joined Minnesota from the Tampa Bay organization, so there was some thought to him bringing the opener strategy with him. Baldelli has turned to bullpen games in his tenure, but the opener strategy hasn't been used very often. With the Twins short on starting pitching, there is a chance the team is more likely to use an opener next season to cover more innings. The good news for the club is the team may have a perfect candidate to slide into the opener role. Minnesota originally drafted Griffin Jax from the United States Air Force Academy back in 2016. His military commitment meant he had a unique path to the big leagues, but he debuted in 2021. Across 82 innings, he posted a 6.37 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP and a 65 to 29 strikeout to walk ratio. One of his most significant issues was he allowed 23 home runs. While those numbers don't look great, a silver lining may point to his future value with the club. There's no question that Jax struggled to adjust to the big league level, but he was excellent during his first time through the order. Last year in the first inning, he posted a 2.57 ERA with a 13 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio. Batters only hit .160/.204/.240 (.444) with one home run in the first inning. Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see how Jax may be an opener candidate, but his early inning success wasn't just limited to the first frame. Over half of Jax's innings pitched came in innings 1-3 when he would be facing a line-up for the first time. He held batters to a .184 batting average with a .266 OBP in those frames. He struck out 38 batters in 43 1/3 innings, which is nearly a full strikeout higher compared to his full-season rate. He did allow 12 home runs in innings 1-3, but seven of those homers came in the third inning when a lot of line-ups would be turning over for the first time. Limiting Jax to one time through the order might be the sweet spot to put him in a position to succeed. There are other reasons the Twins might be interested in employing an opener strategy next season. Many of the team's top prospects are pitchers, and there can be challenges transitioning to the big-league level. Some pitchers will be on pitch counts or innings limits, and others are returning from injury. Putting Jax into an opener role can help transition some of these other young pitchers into the rotation. Do you think Jax would be a good candidate to serve as an opener? Are the Twins going to use an opener more regularly next season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
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