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  1. When teams are winning, it can be hard to identify flaws. On the other hand, organizational issues can come to the top when teams are marred in a losing season. Below is a ranking of the top three things that went wrong for the 2021 Twins. 3. Injuries Byron Buxton shot out of the gates and played at an MVP level before injuries sidelined him for most of the season. Kenta Maeda looked to build off a terrific 2020 campaign before learning that he needed Tommy John surgery. Alex Kirilloff was impressive in his rookie campaign before wrist surgery ended his season. Taylor Rogers was nearly traded at the deadline before a finger injury put him on the bench. Randy Dobnak signed a big off-season contract before getting wrapped up in the worst season of his career. These are just some of the injuries that pushed the team’s depth to the limits. At one point during the year, the Twins were on the sixth option in center field. No teams plan for their sixth center field option to play an impactful role. Every team has injuries, but the Twins didn’t have the depth to cover up some of their holes this season. 2. The Bullpen Minnesota saw many key bullpen pieces leave last winter, which meant the team would need to search for replacements. Alex Colome and Hansel Robles arrived as late-inning options, but both struggled throughout parts of the season. Minnesota also brought in plenty of non-rostered arms to try and find the next Matt Wisler. None of those players significantly impacted the club, and the Twins used over 30 different relief pitchers in 2021. Looking back to Opening Day, there were issues from the start. Colome posted an 8.31 ERA in nine April appearances while opponents posted a .952 OPS. It was clear from the start that Dobnak was not cut out for his Opening Day role because the Twins didn’t find themselves in many situations where they needed a long-man. Cody Stashak suffered a back injury and hasn’t pitched since May. The list can continue with other players on the 60-day IL, but those were just some of the issues with the Opening Day bullpen. 1. Rotational depth As the old adage goes, a team can never have too much pitching. J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker came in to add depth to the starting rotation, but neither of these players worked out the way the team envisioned. Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda spent significant time on the IL, and other depth starters like Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, Dobnak, and Stashak were already injured. This forced the team to keep trotting out Happ and Shoemaker even though they were ineffective. Projections also had Minnesota’s top two pitching prospects, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic, ready to join the rotation. Neither of them has made their debut, and there is a chance Duran will need surgery on his elbow. At the deadline, the Twins added multiple pitching prospects, and other pitchers have gotten big-league starting experience in the second half. This experience helps prepare for the future, but the 2022 rotation is still in flux. How would you rank these issues from 2021? What would you add to the list? 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
  2. I have been a big proponent of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine looking at the year ahead as an opportunity to right the ship that sunk in 2021. Unfortunately, the Maeda injury is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Replacing the entirety of a rotation, needing to overhaul the bullpen, and still being uncertain of what to do with Byron Buxton, this club has its hands full. It will be a busy winter but if we want the team to tackle one thing first, then starting on the bump is an excellent place to begin. Here is how I’m currently handicapping the odds for Rocco Baldelli’s starter on Opening Day this coming season. Bailey Ober 10% Ober has made 16 starts for the Twins in what has been a lost season, but he’s fully entrenched himself as a legitimate big-league arm. The sub-4.00 ERA includes a couple of rough turns, and he’s competed to the tune of a 9.3 K/9 while owning just a 2.0 BB/9 rate. The home run has been his bugaboo, and that can be something of a focus as he continues to learn the competition. I like Ober a lot. He’s got a shot to be a top-3 arm in Minnesota’s future rotation, but I don’t think this club wants to run him out as the ace after just getting his feet wet. Joe Ryan 5% He’s here, and he’s beautiful! That’s how this works, right? Ryan was acquired from the Rays in exchange for Nelson Cruz. I’m still baffled about how Minnesota pulled that off, but either way, the Olympic hurler has been great since joining the organization. His big-league debut went fine, with not much to be drawn from a lackluster Cubs lineup. It remains to be seen how the fastball will play at the highest level, lacking velocity, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a productive member of a good rotation. Unfortunately, Ryan is someone you likely want on the back half of the unit in 2022. The Prospects 2% It would’ve been great to see someone emerge from this group in a year that didn't feature much big league positivity. Ober was an outsider who made it, but Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Matt Canterino, Blayne Enlow, and Josh Winder all spent time on the shelf. Only two of them took turns at Triple-A, and all of them remain distant from any immediate plans. You can make a case that each has seen their prospect status take a hit, and while there’s plenty of reason to believe an impact arm or two will emerge here, none of them are going to be in the equation when the season kicks off. The Suspects 3% The additional one percent afforded to this group comes from the fact that they’ve already made it. Hello to Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, Charlie Barnes, and Lewis Thorpe. This foursome has taken turns for the Twins this year, but none of them have faired particularly well, and none of them should be considered beyond starting depth. Dobnak’s future is the clearest given his contract situation. There’s a real possibility the Australian (Thorpe) may be out of the organization in a couple of months, and while both Barnes and Jax have gotten their feet wet, it’s not fair to expect a substantial leap for either. This group isn’t producing your first starter of the season. The Field 80% Take your pick as to who the Twins will sign; they’re going to need at least three starters not presently with the club. Michael Pineda is a good bet to return, but if that’s your Opening Day starter, then you can imagine how the season will go. I’m less inclined to believe a long-term deal with Marcus Stroman or Noah Syndergaard makes sense when it could be a rebuilding year. Maybe an older veteran on a one-year deal happens depending on where the price tag lands. This winter, how Minnesota spends will hinge heavily on what happens with Buxton and the expectations for the returning core. Either way, I’d bet a reasonable sum that the man Baldelli gives the ball to on Opening Day is not currently in the organization. If you’re the manager, who is it that you’re going to? Put on your GM hat and share which arm you think gets plucked and tasked with kicking off 2022. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. Minnesota had many reasons to be interested in trading for Kenta Maeda before the 2020 season. He had shown positive signs during his time in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers had an influx of starting pitching. He pitched over 125 innings in each of his first four big-league seasons, but the team tended to move him to a bullpen role as the season came to a close. Injury concerns might have been one of the reasons the Dodgers tried to limit Maeda’s innings. (At least that sounds better than trying to limit how much they had to pay him.) When he initially signed from Japan, his physical exam revealed “irregularities” in his right elbow. At the time, MLB.com said, “the strong suspicion is that he will need Tommy John reconstruction at some point.” This prognosis resulted in a very team-friendly eight-year contract which guaranteed Maeda a minimum of $25 million with a chance to be worth over $106 million. This gave the Dodgers some wiggle room if Maeda did go under the knife. He pitched over 600 innings for the Dodgers, and they went on multiple World Series runs, and his elbow wasn’t an issue. Team-controlled starting pitching is one of baseball’s most valuable assets, so Maeda was an easy target for the Twins. His team-friendly deal was a positive, and he hadn’t shown any injury concerns up to this point. Any team trading for a player gets access to their medical records, so there must not have been anything out of the ordinary regarding Maeda’s physical. Plus, the Twins saw their winning window was open, and Maeda helped make the team better. Maeda provided Minnesota with everything they wanted and more during his first season with the club. He finished runner-up for the Cy Young Award after a dominating season where he posted a 2.70 ERA and an MLB-leading 0.75 WHIP. He struck out 80 batters in 66 2/3 innings while only issuing ten walks. From the other perspective, Brusdar Graterol has pitched less than 50 innings for the Dodgers. He has posted a 3.50 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. Graterol makes hitting triple-digits look easy, but he has yet to develop into a dominant late-inning reliever. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2023, and he can’t reach free agency until 2026, so there is plenty of time for the 22-year-old to develop. Two minor league players and a draft pick were also part of this trade. Luke Raley went back to LA after initially being part of the Brian Dozier trade. He has 30 big-league games under his belt, and he has hit .169/.246/.237 with two extra-base hits. He has mashed with a .982 OPS at Triple-A this season, and 29 extra-base hits in 58 games. The Dodger also received a 2020 competitive balance round pick (66th overall), which they used to select Clayton Beeter. He has been used in an opener style role this season while posting a 2.89 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP with 13.8 K/9. Minnesota received Jair Camargo, who has hit .233/.281/.452 with 21 extra-base hits at High-A Cedar Rapids this year. Maeda’s recent injury news means there is a good chance he misses all of the 2022 season, and that might be the season Minnesota needs him the most. Also, a missed season means the next time he steps on the mound will be during his age-35 campaign. So what do you think? Which team do you think won the trade, or is it still too early to judge? 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
  4. The Twins had a tall order when it came to the 2022 pitching staff even when Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda were slotted into the first two spots. Berrios has since been traded and we’ve received word that Maeda has an ominous elbow injury and will have exploratory surgery next week which could turn into Tommy John. Kenta Maeda That brings us to the number one factor in the Twins rotation rebuild in 2022: Kenta Maeda needs to be anchoring it. The Twins can’t really affect whether Maeda is healthy and at this point it appears him being relied on in 2022 is a long shot, but not having a single veteran arm returning creates a scenario in which some might call it nearly impossible to field a reliable 1-5. Even if Maeda isn’t the bona fide ace we hoped, having him at 2 or 3 in the rotation would at least give the Twins something to work with. Without Maeda, the rotation troubles likely become too much to recover from. Build From Within There’s no doubt that the Falvey/Levine pitching pipeline is growing ever closer to MLB ready and some of it has already arrived. Bailey Ober is likely a favorite to shore up the rotation on Opening Day after he put up an ERA around 4.00 in his first 68 innings. Griffin Jax will likely finish the season in the rotation, and Randy Dobnak should be back in the rotation before year’s end. Joe Ryan may be up in short order as well. Additionally, the Twins do have Duran and Winder at the AAA level with newly-acquired Simeon Woods-Richardson, Cole Sands and Jordan Balazovic at AA. The issue with using internal options is it largely depends on youth, much of which hasn’t even pitched in the majors yet. For as talented as many of the Twins young arms might be, there’s no telling how they’ll perform in their first taste of the big leagues. Furthermore, the Twins simply won’t let any of these young arms throw enough innings to take the ball every fifth day through season’s end even if they are effective. Duran threw over 100 innings in 2019, had 2020 off, and has thrown 16 innings this season. Winder followed a similar trend and has thrown 72 innings this season. Bailey Ober, whose fans typically express their disgust with his limited innings in starts, leads this group with 84 innings in 2021. It would be simply shocking to see any of these young arms reach even 150 innings in 2022. Some innings will be filled internally, but it will likely take some of them debuting down the stretch rather than being leaned on throughout the entire season. Outside Help The Twins are going to have a heavy offseason of trying to acquire pitching on the free agent and hopefully trade market. Even coming into this year they preferred to spend $10m on a combination of Happ and Shoemaker to take up two spots rather than spending on a higher quality arm and dedicating a rotation spot to a young arm like Dobnak. Picking up two free agent starters with three already penciled in in 2021 hints that the Twins will likely pursue three to four starting pitchers this winter at the very least. There are some high level free agent arms available this offseason, but it’s hard to see the Twins pursuing any of them. Spending $15-20m on one single pitcher would limit the Twins ability to effectively fill 3-4 other rotation spots. Instead the Twins will likely have to fill their rotation with middling arms that they can try to tweak and unlock something with. Their rotation’s success will likely have everything to do with their ability to effectively identify some under the radar arms and make the necessary tweaks. So essentially the Twins are relying on a miracle when it comes to Maeda and their effectiveness in bringing in outside options when it comes to their pitching rebound. They’ll certainly be counting on some younger pitchers contributing, but they’re almost certainly going to try to make them complementary pieces. In short, the Twins are in a difficult spot no matter how you spin it. They’re likely going to be headed into 2022 with either four or five starting pitchers in the rotation that weren’t there on Opening Day 2021. That’s an incredibly steep mountain to climb for any front office trying to compete, let alone one that missed on nearly every pitching decision they made just last winter. It’s no fun being negative, but 2022 may be a year to just sit back and enjoy whatever positives shake out with this pitching staff rather than having soaring expectations. There will be a fair share of excitement along the way, but it may be wise for Twins fans to temper expectations. — 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
  5. Let's begin with a brief anatomy and biomechanics lesson. The ulnar collateral ligament — more frequently referred to as the UCL — is a robust and triangular sheet of tissue that helps support the inner elbow against valgus stress. The elbow experiences the most valgus stress during a baseball game when the arm is driven forward at high rates of speed while throwing a ball. Damage to the UCL occurs when the torque produced as the arm is thrust forward — the technical term is internal rotation — is more significant than what the structure can compensate. Injury can occur chronically as well as acutely and is generally described as a sprain. The degree of damage is graded on a scale of 1-3. Grade 1 sprains are usually minor injuries that heal within a week or two. Grade 2 sprains — also referred to as partial tears — cause instability in the joint as some 50% of the ligament fibers have been damaged; the most frequently reported symptoms are pain and swelling. The recovery timeline for grade 2 sprains generally extends into months. Grade 3 sprains — or ruptures — result in significant instability and require Tommy John surgery to address. Grade 2 sprains are where the best route of treatment is murkiest. As the UCL is technically an extension of the joint capsule — a larger sheet of tissue that envelops a joint and provides stability and nourishment — it has a relatively good blood supply, meaning it is technically capable of healing on its own without surgery. (Side note: This is why ACL injuries require surgery in most instances. Although the ACL is inside the knee, it is technically separate from the joint capsule, and, thus, has almost no blood supply.) However, the UCL does not have the same blood supply throughout its structure. A recent study found evidence to suggest that the blood supply is best nearer where it connects to the upper arm bone — proximal — and decreases as the ligament extends to the forearm — distal. This finding may suggest that grade 2 sprains of the UCL that occur proximally are more likely to heal without surgery than those that are distal (or, read another way, Tommy John surgeries that treat proximal tears are more likely to be "successful" than their distal counterparts.) (Another side note: Interestingly, a study conducted in 2020 found data to suggest the opposite, though it should be noted that the study had a small sample size and was retrospective; both factors limit the findings' strength.) Rest and anti-inflammatory medication are most often the first two steps in treating a grade 2 UCL sprains followed by physical therapy to improve range of motion and increase the strength of the surrounding muscles. While the UCL provides static stability for the inner elbow (i.e., its fibers don't contract and act as a brace), the forearm musculature provides dynamic stability (i.e., its fibers do contract and pull the inner elbow together). Having strong forearm muscles is vital for protecting the healing UCL. Another treatment often reported after an athlete is diagnosed with a UCL sprain is platelet-rich plasma (PRP). The theory behind PRP is sound. The process involves drawing blood into a test tube, spinning it around rapidly in a centrifuge to separate the blood into plasma and red blood cells, sucking the plasma into a syringe, and injecting the plasma into the injured tissue. Plasma contains a variety of cells and other substances, one of which are platelets. Platelets help form the foundation on which new tissue grows and secret substances that help aid the healing process. Again, theoretically. The results surrounding PRP injections and return to play in baseball are … inconclusive, at best. Read one study, and you may come away believing that they work exceptionally well. Read another, and you may think they're just a bunch of hocus pocus. The fact of the matter is this: Despite being relatively well studied, there is little evidence, at this point, to suggest that PRP injections are the medical savior they were once considered to be. So, back to the original question. Why should Maeda and the Twins even pursue a second opinion? Well, the short answer is "Why not?" If the injury Maeda suffered is a UCL sprain, and if he ultimately undergoes surgery, he'll miss the entirety of the 2022 season anyway. Waiting another week or two to gather more information won't prevent him from playing next year. The longer answer is that the most appropriate course of treatment may or may not be surgery, depending on various factors, including grade, location, and, frankly, a specific doctor's training and treatment philosophy. Again, if Maeda is dealing with UCL damage and if it is partial and proximal, it may have a chance to heal on its own. Also, and this bears repeating, what's the harm in trying conservative rehabilitation and waiting on surgery? Best case scenario: Maeda can pitch again in relatively short order and definitely be next season. Worst case scenario: Maeda has to undergo surgery, which, again, would keep him out of 2022 anyway. At this stage, there is minimal downside for the Twins and Maeda in gathering as much information as possible. The team isn't going to the playoffs, he's under contract next year, and he's one of the more critical pitching pieces in the Twins' system. I'll pose the question again. Why should Maeda and the Twins seek a second opinion? Because it's the right thing to do.
  6. Box Score Maeda: 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5K Home Runs: Polanco (22) Bottom 3 WPA: Donaldson -.148, Polanco -.127, Garcia -.100 Win Probability Chart (via Fangraphs) It was a pitcher’s duel early on in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon with team aces Gerrit Cole and Kenta Maeda exchanging great performances from each dugout. The New York Yankees got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning after a hit-by-pitch by Rougned Odor kicked off a rally for the Yankees, ending with a RBI single by Tyler Wade gave the New York Yankees an early 1-0 lead. The Minnesota Twins had a great chance to get on the board themselves in the top of the 5th inning when they had the bases loaded and Josh Donaldson up to the plate, but Donaldson took a called third strike to end the Twins rally and preserve Cole’s outstanding outing. Things took a turn for the worse for Maeda and the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the 5th inning, though, when Maeda lost all control of his pitches. Maeda allowed a double and a single before hitting Anthony Rizzo, throwing a wild pitch, and walking Aaron Judge on nine consecutive balls. Following the walk to Judge and a ball to the next hitter, Maeda motioned for the trainers to come out and Maeda was promptly removed from the game with what was called right forearm tightness. Responsible for all three runs on the bases after being removed from the game, Twins reliever Edgar Garcia allowed each of the runs to score on doubles from Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit to give the Yankees a five-run inning and push their lead to 6-0. On the day, Maeda pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed five earned runs on four hits, one walk and two hit batters. Across the diamond, Gerrit Cole was much more effective for the New York Yankees, limiting the Twins to just five hits across scoreless innings while striking out six. While the rest of the Twins’ offense struggled to push runs across the plate, Jorge Polanco stayed on his ridiculous hot streak at the plate, blasting a solo home run to left field in the bottom of the 8th to give the Twins their first (and only) run of the game. The Yankees sure didn’t need any insurance runs, but they got another one in the bottom of the 8th inning on a solo shot from backup shortstop, Andrew Velazquez. The Twins would wind up losing to the New York Yankees 7-1, making it three losses in a row and cementing yet another series loss to the Bronx Bombers. What’s Next? The Twins will look to avoid a 4-game sweep tomorrow afternoon when they send Griffin Jax to the mound to face off against old friend Luis Gil. Editor’s note: It has since been announced that Sunday’s game has been rained out. Bullpen Usage Chart
  7. Box Score Kenta Maeda: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K (76 pitches) Home Runs: Max Kepler (15), Luis Arraez (2), Rooker (6), Ryan Jeffers (10) Top 3 WPA: Maeda .153, Luis Arraez .108, Mitch Garver .097 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Saturday's win for the Twins was one of those games where seemingly everything went according to plan, an exceedingly rare occurrence in the lost season that is Minnesota's 2021 campaign. Kenta Maeda started on the hill and gave the Twins six shutout innings more akin to his 2020 self than what he has put on display for the majority of the season. That said, Maeda has been dominant over his last eight starts, putting up All-Star caliber numbers. Minnesota's bats were hot from the jump as Max Kepler led off the charge with his 15th home run of the season on the game's second pitch. Luis Arraez, Brent Rooker, and Ryan Jeffers would later launch no-doubters of their own to add to the team's score. In all, the Twins registered an exit velocity of at least 100 mph on 12 balls that were put in play, which went for a combined 9-for-12 with four home runs and three doubles. Every member of the Twins lineup picked up at least one hit, save for Jorge Polanco — though he did reach base on a hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning — and Willians Astudillo, who entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter. Since the trade deadline, the Twins have logged an 8-5 record against the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. While it means little in the grander scheme of the season, it's encouraging to see the Twins perform as well as they have lately against quality opponents. In some ways, this stretch puts on display what the Twins could look like in 2022 if they're able to secure quality pitching to supplement their offense during the offseason. Remembering 1991 Prior to the start of the game, the Twins held a ceremony to honor the 1991 World Series champion team. It was a moving presentation that brought back great memories for Twins fans (and probably some not so great ones for Ron Gant). Below are some videos from the ceremony courtesy Bally Sports North. Postgame Interviews Coming soon Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT TOT Barnes 68 0 0 0 0 0 68 García 32 0 0 0 27 0 59 Gant 0 11 0 0 41 0 52 Vincent 0 0 0 0 37 0 37 Colomé 0 10 14 0 0 0 24 Thielbar 0 0 20 0 0 0 20 Garza Jr. 0 0 0 0 0 16 16 Duffey 0 15 0 0 0 0 15 Minaya 0 0 15 0 0 0 15 Coulombe 0 0 0 0 0 10 10 MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  8. Box Score Kenta Maeda: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K (63-percent strikes) Homeruns: Sano (18), Polanco 2 (19, 20) Top 3 WPA: Polanco (.259), Colome (.086), Kepler (.055) Win Probability Chart (via Fangraphs) Kenta Maeda Provides Five Solid Innings At one point, it looked like Maeda was locked in and cruising to provide the Twins with some much needed innings after the bullpen was taxed on Friday night. Unfortunately, back-to-back innings of 25 plus pitches ended his day after the fifth inning in what ended up being a good not great start for the right-handed starter. Right away in the bottom of the first the Astros put a threat together with some bloop base hits and shoddy Twins defense, but Maeda struckout Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa to end the inning and limit the damage to one run. Shutting down that threat lead to the aforementioned run of Maeda retiring the next nine (tweet was wrong) Astros hitters with the help of a nice defensive play by Luis Arraez on a ball that had an xBA of .380 off the bat of Kyle Tucker. The Astros would put together threats in the fourth and fifth innings, and although he needed a total of 56 pitches to battle through, he was able to limit the damage to just one run in each inning on some unfortunate heads up..misplays…? We would have loved to see Maeda get past the fifth inning, especially considering the state of the bullpen, but his box score doesn’t give him the credit he deserves against the best offense in baseball. Out of the 23 batters faced he started 16 of them with first-pitch strikes. Moreover, he was dotting the edges of the zone with his slider which generated 12 whiffs of the 16 whiffs he forced on the day. Polanco Leads Offensive Charge with Two Home Runs The Twins Daily Hitter of the Month for July is continuing his torrid hitting streak into August as he entered today with an OPS of 901, three homeruns, and six RBI’s in 26 at-bats over six games. After Sunday’s contest, he has now hit five homeruns while getting at least one hit in all but one of seven August games. The Twins went down quietly in the first inning, but otherwise had baserunners in nearly every inning, including the 2nd when Trevor Larnach punched a two-out single to the opposite field, scoring Jake Cave. The two-runs in the fourth inning came on this absolute moonshot from Miguel Sanó, his 18th of the season, that landed on the railroad tracks. The Twins only mustered up one-run in the fifth inning thanks to a lead off homerun from Polanco, his first of the day and 19th of the year, but chased starter Lance McCuller Jr out of the game by loading the bases after a 5-pitch walk by Larnach. To nobody's surprise, Andrelton Simmons swung at two terrible pitches before lining out to left field. Polanco came back up in the sixth, this time against righty Phil Maton, but ended the at-bat with the same result from the fifth inning. In all, the Twins had five hitters with multi-hit games: Max Kepler (3), Polanco (2), Arraez (2), Sanó (2), and Larnach (2) while all of those hitters but Kepler also added a walk to their day at the plate. Of course Polanco was the player of the game, but what was more encouraging was the two singles from Larnach on inside pitches that he punched to the opposite field. The rookie is trying to recover from the month of July where he had an OPS of .518 by posting an August OPS of .900 coming into today and having really productive at-bats. Bullpen Usage Juan Minaya, who started warming in the fifth inning, came on in the sixth where he went 1-2-3 thanks to a 6-4-3 double play. Tyler Duffey came on in the seventh but was pulled mid-inning after a walk, which was erased by another 6-4-3 double play, and back-to-back doubles that lead to an Astros run. Duffey was followed by Danny Coulombe who ended the inning with a Yordan Alvarez groundout. Jorge Alcala needed 29 pitches in the eighth but ultimately was able to hold the Astros while striking out Tucker and former Twins catcher Jason Castro. Alex Colome earned the save in the 9th shutting down the Astros 1-2-3. TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN TOT Minaya 0 44 0 17 0 12 73 Gant 22 0 0 17 13 0 52 Thielbar 0 22 8 0 20 0 50 Colomé 20 0 7 17 0 18 62 Coulombe 13 0 17 14 0 7 51 Duffey 0 0 21 20 0 15 56 Alcala 0 0 14 14 0 29 57 Burrows 0 13 0 0 0 0 13
  9. The month of July featured some turnover that was long overdue with the demotion of Matt Shoemaker at the beginning of month and trading J.A. Happ at the end of the month. We saw seven different starting pitchers and seventeen pitchers get innings altogether. Here are the four I thought did the best. Do you agree? Honorable Mention #3: Bailey Ober This spot was really a toss up between a couple guys, but I went Bailey Ober because I think he faired well given the circumstances. If you had told me, or anyone, that by the end of July Bailey Ober would have 47 1/3 big league innings I would have told you something went terribly wrong. Welp...here we are. Regardless, Ober has responded well and July was no exception. Over 22 2/3 innings and five starts, Ober had a 3.97 ERA while striking out more than one batter per inning, and earning his first major league victory against the Chicago White Sox. His downfall was walks (3.18 per nine) and the long ball (1.59 per nine) which hadn’t been problems in nearly 200 minor league innings. Ober will use the rest of the 2021 season to showcase his talents for the 2022 starting rotation which currently has four open spots. Honorable Mention #2: Danny Coulombe Coulombe has quietly been one of the most reliable arms out of the bullpen in his short time with the Twins. He dominated the month of July in particular by striking out 10.64 batters per nine innings, boasting an ERA of 1.64, and ISSUING ZERO WALKS throughout the entire month. I would expect the walk rate to increase as that’s always been an issue for him, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season pans out for Coulombe. Despite being 31-years-old, he still has three years of team control remaining which could be significant if he turns into a passable or better reliever for the Minnesota Twins. Honorable Mention #1: José Berríos For the third consecutive month, ‘La Makina’ is the runner up to the Pitcher of the Month and it actually was his worst month of the season. Now, when you’re having the season that Berríos is having, saying it was his worst month is hardly a knock. In the month of July he threw 32 innings over five starts with an ERA of 3.66 and a K/9 of 8.44. If it weren’t for one really bad inning against the Chicago White Sox in the nightcap of a doubleheader, Berríos's July would have been nearly on par with the rest of his season. Of course, the month of July ended the Berríos era with the Minnesota Twins when he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. In his time with the Minnesota Twins, he was one of the most durable pitchers in all of baseball throwing 781 and ⅓ innings, striking out 779 batters, and a 4.08 ERA. Pitcher of the Month: Kenta Maeda It took three months, but we finally got a glimpse of the 2020 Kenta Maeda who finished 2nd in Cy Young voting. It’s been a rough go in 2021, but in July Maeda had an era of just 2.15 while striking out 11.05 batters per nine innings and walking 1.84 batters per nine innings. Despite his efforts, he only earned a decision in two of his five outings, winning one of them. On top of his effectiveness on the mound, he also scored the game winning run when he pinch ran in extra innings against the Detroit Tigers. Currently, Maeda is the only starter that is locked into the rotation for 2022 so regaining his 2020 form will be important to follow over the next two months of the season. How do you feel about these rankings? How would you rank them?
  10. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Maeda 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K Homeruns: Garver (11), Astudillo (5) Bottom 3 WPA: Sano -.390, Robles -.376, Polanco -.258 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) One of the Twins’ best trade chips was placed on the IL Tuesday. Taylor Rogers suffered a middle finger sprain in Monday night’s walk-off win against Detroit. Rogers was replaced in the bullpen by Beau Burrows. Rogers is apparently set for a second and possibly third opinion on his finger, which will likely significantly diminish his chances of being dealt by Friday’s deadline. The Twins lined up like this for their tilt against the Tigers. Kenta Maeda appears to have turned a corner, sporting a 3.69 ERA in his last seven starts, with 44Ks in his last 39 innings (13 swings and misses tonight). Tuesday continued this trend. Maeda was effective and efficient in 6 1/3 innings against the Tigers, allowing only four hits and striking out five in his outing. Indeed, Maeda’s turnaround has been so stark, he is reported to be generating trade interest. Either way, he looks to be back on track as a consistent piece of the Twins rotation which promises to be one of their greatest question marks heading into 2022. After Maeda induced a double play to counteract Akil Baddoo’s leadoff double in the top of the first, the Twins (unusually) took the game by the scruff of the neck in the bottom of the opening frame. Tyler Alexander gave up singles to Jorge Polanco and Brent Rooker, before walking Josh Donaldson. Mitch Garver greeted the Tigers starter with this grand slam into the bullpen. Garver has not only silenced his doubters, but he has also calmed concerns over his future with the team with his return to 2019 form. He is, arguably, the most welcome and pleasant surprise of a disastrous 2021 (along with Jorge Polanco). Detroit pulled a run back in the third inning from an Akil Baddoo solo home run, his tenth of the season. This was erased in the bottom of the fourth by Willians Astudillo’s fifth home run of the season, a laser down the left-field line. Another notable Twins offensive performance came from Brent Rooker. A night after obliterating a home run into the third deck, Rooker delivered another three hits, giving him six in his last four games. Rooker’s early returns from an everyday role in the wake of the Nelson Cruz trade have been promising. Twins fans will be anxious to see if he can continue to deliver in the remaining 60 or so games of the 2021 season. Tyler Duffey and Danny Coloumbe pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings for the Twins. Hansel Robles decided that a comfortable win wouldn’t do. Robles gave up a single, double, walk, and a grand slam to Eric Haase to tie the game at 5-5, a mirror image of last night’s bullpen capitulation. Robles left the game soon after with an injury. Two nights, two ninth-inning blown leads, two injuries to relievers likely to be traded before Friday afternoon. The Twins made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, putting two men aboard before a Jorge Polanco pop-out sent the game to extra innings. Monday night’s hero Caleb Thielbar took the top of the tenth for Minnesota. Detroit bunted Victor Reyes to third base before Thielbar struck out Baddoo looking at a beautifully painted fastball on the outside corner of the strike zone. Jorge Alcala relieved Thielbar and induced a Jonathan Scoop groundout to shortstop to end the threat. Jake Cave, who entered the game as a defensive-replacement for Brent Rooker in the late innings, batted in the bottom of the tenth with Jorge Polanco beginning the inning at second base. A first-pitch groundout moved Polanco to third. After Cisnero intentionally walked Josh Donaldson, he nailed Mitch Garver on the right wrist, loading the bases for the Twins with Max Kepler up to bat. Garver was replaced by Ryan Jeffers. Max Kepler struck out on a fastball right down broadway, leaving the Twins hopes to Miguel Sano, Sano struck out on three pitches to send the game to the eleventh. Alcala continued in he top of the eleventh. Miguel Cabrera promptly singled home a run to give the Tigers a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the eleventh, Miguel Sano inexplicably took off for third base on a ground ball hit straight to short, getting Willians Astudillo to second, but sacrificing an out unnecessarily. Two quick outs and the Tigers comeback was complete. The Twins continue to find was to lose eminently winnable games, an all too familiar theme in 2021. Bullpen Usage Chart THU FRI SAT SUN MON TUE TOT Coulombe 32 0 0 18 0 10 60 Thielbar 0 0 16 0 13 16 45 Alcala 0 0 10 24 0 11 45 Robles 0 0 0 0 13 29 42 Colomé 0 11 0 10 16 0 37 Minaya 0 20 0 0 0 0 20 Duffey 0 0 0 0 11 7 18 Burrows 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Postgame Interview Next Up The Twins send J.A. Happ to the mound on Wednesday to face Wily Peralta. First pitch is at 12:10 CT.
  11. On Tuesday night, Twins fans that stayed up late to watch a West Coast game were treated with a real clunker. Minnesota faced off against a bad Seattle team and it escalated into an embarrassing loss. J.A. Happ allowed six earned runs in four innings to an anemic Mariners offense. Happ is only one issue with a pitching staff that might be the worst in franchise history. Out of the 15 American League teams, Minnesota ranks 13th or lower in ERA, hits, R, HR, and strikeouts, but it goes even further than that. While all those numbers show how bad the Twins have been this season, there are ways to compare the current team to former seasons. ERA- and FIP- are all statistics that allow fans to compare pitchers across different eras because it adjusts for the league and the park. For each area, 100 is league average and each point above or below 100 represents a percent above or below league average. If a team has a 90 ERA- that means they were 10 percentage points better than the league average. When it comes to ERA-, there is only one Minnesota team with a worse total than the 2021 Twins. The 1995 Twins finished the year with a 56-88 record and their starting staff was composed of a 22-year-old Brad Radke, Kevin Tapani, Mike Trombley, Frankie Rodriguez, Scott Erickson, and Jose Para. As a club, they had the ranked last or second to last in the American League when it came to ERA, HR, R, W, IP, and H. Entering play on Wednesday, the 2021 Twins (119 ERA-) were only one point behind the 1995 team (120 ERA-), so they certainly can end up in the bottom spot by season’s end. FIP is used to estimate a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the defensive performance behind the player. The 2021 Twins also have the second worse FIP- in team history, but this time the 1982 squad has the worst total. That squad finished 60-102, which was last place in the AL West. Starters on the team included Bobby Castillo, Brad Havens, Albert Williams, Frank Viola, and Jack O’Connor. Like the 1995 team, they ranked at or near the bottom of the AL in ERA, HR, ER, R, and BB. What makes it even more frustrating is how good last year’s staff was in comparison to the current team. Kenta Maeda was the runner-up for the Cy Young and he wasn’t the only one to find success. All four of Minnesota’s top four starters were above league average when it comes to ERA-. Minnesota’s bullpen also had many reliable arms whereas the 2021 team’s bullpen has been a train wreck. In the not-so-distant future, it seems likely for the 2021 Twins to cut ties to some of their veteran pitching options and start seeing what the team has for younger arms. Bailey Ober and Griffin Jax have been added to the staff and other prospects will be following closely behind. Minnesota’s top two pitching prospects, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic, have both showcased dominant stuff in the upper levels of the minors this season and their big-league debuts made come sooner rather than later. Do you think this is the worst pitching staff in team history? Leave a COMMENT and join 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
  12. It's clear that something hasn’t been right for Maeda throughout this season and a trip to the IL can give him time to get his body right. One of the biggest issues has been how much batters have found success against his fastball. During the 2020 season, batters hit .086 with a .114 slugging percentage when facing Maeda's fastball. This year batters have a .357 batting average with a .786 slugging percentage, his highest total on any pitch. From his pitch location chart, it’s easy to see why Maeda is being hit harder on his fastball. He is leaving it over the heart of the plate where last year he was able to use the pitcher lower in the zone. This has resulted in him ranking in the 19th percentile or lower in hard hit %, max exit velocity, xBA, and xSLG. Maeda has such a good mix of pitches, but he needs to find more success with his fastball. That success is largely tied to his breaking pitches, especially since he only throws his fastball less than 22% of the time. After joining the Twins last year, his slider usage increased by over 7% and now this year he has increased that to a 10% jump over his final season in Los Angeles. Batters have been squaring up his slider more often as well as they have posted a .297 BA and a .527 SLG in 74 at-bats. His slider is likely been getting hit harder because of the change in movement he has gotten this year. Last year, his slider had 33.9 inches of vertical drop and 4.7 inches of horizontal movement. So far in 2021, he is getting similar horizontal movement, but his vertical drop has increased to 35.7 inches. This means the pitch is ending up out of the zone more often and it is easier for batters to lay off. Maeda can improve in multiple areas, but much of it is tied back to his pitch control and location. Last year, he seemed to have pinpoint control of all his pitches, and this made him nearly unhittable. He led all of baseball with a 0.75 WHIP during the 2020 campaign and that number has jumped to 1.48 in 2021. Improvements to these areas will allow him to pitch longer into games and he will allow fewer hits. There might not be any way for Maeda to get back to the level he pitched at in 2020. Minnesota needs Maeda to be more of a force in the rotation if they plan on getting back to a .500 record. He hasn’t been the team’s lone problem, but he needs to be part of the team’s solution. Do you think Maeda can solve his control problems? 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
  13. Randy Dobnak Using Randy Dobnak as a reliever didn’t exactly go as planned at season’s start and he was sent to St. Paul to get stretched out as soon as the Triple-A season began. In the last couple weeks, Michael Pineda and Kenta Maeda have both ended up on the injured list so Dobnak’s spot in the rotation looks to be safe. In his first start, he pitched six shutout innings with a five to two strikeout to walk ratio. What might be the most encouraging sign is his 12 groundball outs including inducing a double play. When Dobnak is at his best, he is working quickly and using his sinker to get batters to hit the ball on the ground. Minnesota’s improved defense can certainly help Dobnak especially since he is using his sinker almost 50% of the time, which is a 6% jump from 2020. J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker both have ERAs north of 5.40, so Dobnak has the opportunity to take a rotation spot and run with it. Rob Refsnyder Entering the 2020 season, Refsnyder was an afterthought that bounced around through four different organizations. He was a career .217/.205/.297 (.602) hitter with nearly twice as many strikeouts as walks. The Twins signed him to a minor league deal this winter, but injuries to Byron Buxton and Jake Cave made it necessary for Refsnyder to be added to the roster and he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity. Entering play on Monday, Refsnyder is hitting .375/.429/.542 (.970) in nine games with the Twins. Kyle Garlick has been dealing with a groin injury that may continue to hamper him and this means even more time for Refsnyder. He’s 30-years old and doesn’t exactly fit into the team’s long-term plans, but there’s hope the team can ride his hot streaks as long as possible. Maybe he can turn into the 2004 version of Lew Ford? Luke Farrell Minnesota’s bullpen has struggled through most of the season and Farrell shouldn’t be seen as a savior, but he can certainly add depth. He is being used exclusively as a reliever for the first time in his career and there have been some positive signs. With St. Paul, he pitched 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run on two hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He needs to prove he can translate those strikeout numbers to the big-league level. Guess what Wes Johnson has done with Ferrell? If you said increase his slider usage, you are correct. His slider usage has been increasing each year, but he took a big jump from 41.2% in 2020 to nearly 60% in 2021. His curveball has hardly been used at all as he almost exclusively uses his fastball and slider. His walk rate has been high throughout his big-league career so that will be something to keep an eye on moving forward. Do you think these three players can help the Twins through their recent rash of injuries? 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
  14. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/17 through Sun, 5/23 *** Record Last Week: 4-4 (Overall: 17-29) Run Differential Last Week: -4 (Overall: -24) Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (9.5 GB) Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 39 | CWS 16, MIN 4: Sox Decimate Twins in Dispiriting Blowout Game 40 | MIN 5, CWS 4: Sanó's 3 HR Spark Rare Comeback Win Game 41 | CWS 2, MIN 1: Twins Bats Come Up Empty Against Giolito Game 42 | LAA 7, MIN 1: Halos Bury Twins to Kick Off Makeup Doubleheader Game 43 | MIN 6, LAA 3: Another Big Blast from Sanó Lifts Twins in Nightcap Game 44 | MIN 10, 0: Cleveland Rocked as Dobnak Cruises Game 45 | CLE 5, MIN 3: Twins Fall in 10th Inning Yet Again Game 46 | MIN 8, CLE 5: Hex in Extras Snapped by Garlick's Heroics NEWS & NOTES The Twins played eight games last week. They won four and lost four. They snapped their winless records in both double-headers and extra innings. They were outscored by four runs over the course of a week that included a 10-0 victory, large because it also included a 16-4 loss. There is much to cover. As always, we begin with a quick rundown of roster moves and injury updates over the past week. Heading out: Ben Rortvedt, who went 4-for-25 (.160) with 10 strikeouts and zero extra-base hits in his first turn of the majors, was optioned to Triple-A. Lewis Thorpe came and went, again, giving up four runs (just one earned) in an unimpressive spot start on Thursday before being sent back to St. Paul. Bailey Ober struggled in a spot start of his own on Tuesday (4 IP, 4 ER) and was returned to the Saints shortly thereafter. Derek Law was outrighted from the 40-man roster after posting an 8.53 ERA through 6 ⅓ innings for the Twins. He passed through waivers and made it back to St. Paul, where he coughed up a couple runs on Saturday night Michael Pineda went on the Injured List due to a minor surgical procedure. He's due to return in the coming week. Reliever Shaun Anderson also was placed on IL, with a left quad strain. Ahead of Sunday's game, the Twins placed Kenta Maeda on the shelf with a groin/adductor injury that has been bothering him for some time. Coming in: Alex Kirilloff is back! The outfielder was activated for the weekend series in Cleveland after a brief rehab stint at CHS Field. And while he's apparently playing through a wrist issue that will later require surgery, he shows no real signs of being limited. Randy Dobnak joined the rotation, starting in place of a sidelined Pineda on Friday. His outstanding return is detailed in the Highlights section below. Cody Stashak was recalled and made two scoreless appearances. Luke Farrell also joined the bullpen, hurling two shutout frames on Friday. Taking Maeda's roster spot on Sunday was Nick Gordon, who may have a shot at some decently regular playing time during this stint with both Luis Arraez (shoulder) and Jorge Polanco (ankle) banged up. HIGHLIGHTS This team shows signs of getting on track. Getting Kirilloff back in the lineup is a real difference-maker and it was felt on Friday night, when he batted cleanup in his return and the Twins scored 10 runs, as well as the next day when he came through with a clutch game-tying hit. Having both him and Trevor Larnach in the lineup is fun and exciting. Even if Larnach hasn't quite turned a corner production-wise like Kirilloff, he looks similarly comfortable and natural at the major-league level. You get the sense both of these guys are here to stay. Other hitters like Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, Kyle Garlick, and Rob Refsnyder and also had good weeks and big moments. But the star of the show, without question, was Miguel Sanó. The dam finally broke, and six weeks worth of pent-up offensive production burst forth within a ridiculous eight-game span. In 33 plate appearances dating back to last Monday, Sanó slashed .300/.364/.900 with five home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs. His slugging percentage, which was all the way down to .209 as little as 10 days ago, is now up to .442 – well above the league average. His theatrics included a three-homer game, two four-RBI games, and a blast off Shane Bieber. Not only is he delivering big hits, he's delivering them in pivotal situations. The Twins have won five of their past 15 games and you can make a strong case that three of those victories were almost entirely because of Sanó: On May 15th, they beat Oakland 5-4 after his three-run blast in the eighth turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. On May 18th, he homered three times and drove in four in a 5-4 win over Chicago. In the second half of May 20th's doubleheader, Sanó's grand slam proved to be the difference in a 6-3 win. It bears noting that in 2019, Sanó slumped in June and saw his batting average sink to .195 before he flipped the switch and played at an MVP level the rest of the way, posting a .994 OPS with 25 homers and 64 RBIs in 74 games. So, let's see where he goes from here. On the pitching side, it was awesome to see Dobnak return to the rotation and look much more like the version that flashed back in the spring. The righty worked six scoreless innings in Cleveland on Friday, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. He was inducing grounders and weak contact, executing his pitches, and generally looking to be in control. With Maeda now on the shelf, back-end starters Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ looking quite shaky, and Thorpe failing to step up, the Twins vitally needed Dobnak to find his footing. Friday's start was an excellent first step. LOWLIGHTS The Twins may be showing some signs of life, but still played .500 ball last week at a time where they desperately need to be making up ground. Even with a few things turning around, it feels like two steps forward are constantly being matched by two steps back, and some of their issues are so structurally fundamental they make it extremely hard to believe a sustained run of winning baseball is possible. Saturday's game was a perfect example of how this team just can't shake its woes. First, you've got Maeda's continued inability to make it click. The Twins have lost six of his last seven starts, and he's frequently been a prime culprit. Saturday's outing against Cleveland was the seventh straight in which he failed to complete six innings; he has one quality start in nine tries this year after going 8-for-12 in 2020. When your fourth or fifth starter aren't getting it done, you can adapt and adjust. Guys like Dobnak step in, and keep the rotation intact. But when the reigning Cy Young runner-up – a pitcher you invested heavily to acquire, and were absolutely counting on to be one of your frontline horses – turns into a pumpkin, that's an exceedingly difficult problem to fix. We'll have to hope some time off to rest of his bothersome groin proves to be the elixir Maeda needs to rediscover his game. But even with Maeda giving up an early 3-0 lead on Saturday, the Twins were in position to take the game and series. They rallied back to tie it, and sent the contest to extra innings. There, an all-too-familiar script played out. In the top of the 10th, the Twins once again failed to score their lead runner from second. In the bottom half, Alex Colomé entered, and on the second pitch he threw... I mean, look at the location of that pitch. Once again Colomé, who formed a reputation over many years as one of the most effective late-inning relievers in the game because he didn't flop in crunch time, offered up an absolute cookie in a critical spot, with the winning run in scoring position. We've seen it time and time again this year. It's particularly disappointing in this instance because Colomé really seemed to be figuring things out. Pitching in a reduced-leverage role, he'd worked seven scoreless appearances in May, allowing only two hits (both singles) and legitimately getting back to the things he's done well – namely, placing his cutter on the edges of the zone rather than right down the middle. Then, he gets another chance in a key late-game spot and immediately goes back to pulling the same crap from April. This is an enormous problem because, for better or worse, Colomé is a crux in this bullpen – especially since their other top right-hander has also been a mess. In more ways than one. On that note... In a season that's spun off the rails so early, leaving contention as an unlikely scenario for the summer, you look for other things to cheer for as a fan. You want to root for good stories. You want to connect emotionally with the squad as they grind and grow together through a tough year. You want to invest in the character of your club. All of which made Tuesday's embarrassing antics the lowlight of the week, and maybe even the season, for me. To recap: On Monday the Twins got blown out by Chicago at Target Field, to the point where Willians Astudillo was called in to chuck some 45-MPH eephus balls in the ninth. With the White Sox leading 15-4, Astudillo fell behind Yermin Mercedes 3-0. The next non-competitive offering from Tortuga found its way into the zone, and then Mercedes made sure it found its way over the fence. The Twins announcers were displeased. Evidently some Twins players were too. The next day, in a close game, Tyler Duffey decided to exact revenge, throwing behind Mercedes with Minnesota trailing by only two runs in the seventh. Yuck. As a result, Duffey was ejected along with his manager Rocco Baldelli. Each served a short suspension later in the week. Now, Mercedes ignoring a take sign from his coaches is one thing. That's not great, but it's an issue for the White Sox to take care of on their own accord. For the Twins to be so pissy that Chicago had the gall to keep trying, and for "respecting the game" to be sanctimoniously lectured about by anyone in a situation where Minnesota had its backup catcher on the mound throwing beer-league softball pitches in a major-league game ... it's too much. It's too much from a team, and a player, who need to be worrying about their own issues before getting involved in another team's, and putting people in harm's way in the process. Chicago's shortstop Tim Anderson said later that the actions were "Definitely a sign of weakness from Duffey and the Twins.” As a Twins fan who generally despises the Sox, it absolutely crushes me that I can't argue with his conclusion one bit. TRENDING STORYLINE On Saturday night at CHS Field, Jhoan Duran made his first start in a minor-league game since August of 2019. He got a bit of a late start this season due to a trapezius issue, but the organization's No. 5 prospect was worth the wait. Lucas Seehafer was on hand to cover Duran's season debut for Twins Daily, and you can find his detailed account here. The short version is this: Duran touched 103 MPH on the gun multiple times (granted, the CHS gun seems to be a little hot, but still, the guy was pumping triple digits). He struck out six over three shutout innings. A month ago, I suggested that this Twins season might go one of two ways: a 2006-style turnaround or a 2016-style meltdown. A critical factor in replicating the '06 formula was getting an impact performance from a young phenom in the rotation. In that case it was Francisco Liriano, who led the team to an 11-2 record in his first 13 starts and energized the roster with his mere presence. When you look at players in the current system capable of doing anything similar in 2021, Duran tops the list, and on Saturday we saw why. He needs to build up his pitch count but if the 23-year-old continues to show this type of dominance, and the Twins can get on any kind of run to get back to the fringe of relevance, we could see Duran enter the fray. Let's talk a little bit about that (seemingly outlandish) latter caveat. LOOKING AHEAD If you were looking for a glimpse of hope, a glimmer of promise, a glint of optimism ... this is it. The Twins have escaped the meat-grinder portion of their schedule and now enter a soft patch, with 13 consecutive games against the Orioles and Royals. Baltimore is in last place and Kansas City has plummeted since opening the season 16-9. If the Twins can REALLY make hay during this two-week stretch – say, going 11-2 or 10-3 – they would suddenly be back in the range of .500, with Byron Buxton probably close to returning (if he hasn't already). It's hard to expect that kind of success against any competition, but then, it's hard to play as poorly as Minnesota has over the past many weeks. The pendulum is due for a swing. It all starts this week with six games at Target Field. MONDAY, 5/24: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP John Means v. RHP Matt Shoemaker TUESDAY, 5/25: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Dean Kremer v. RHP Jose Berrios WEDNESDAY, 5/26: ORIOLES @ TWINS – RHP Jorge Lopez v. RHP Michael Pineda FRIDAY, 5/28: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Kris Bubic v. RHP Randy Dobnak SATURDAY, 5/29: ROYALS @ TWINS – TBD v. LHP J.A. Happ SUNDAY, 5/30: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Matt Shoemaker
  15. Pythagorean Winning Percentage One aspect that shows how the Twins have been unlucky is their Pythagorean winning percentage. For those unfamiliar, Pythagorean winning percentage is an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. For example, the Twins scored 269 runs in 2020 and allowed 215 runs, which results in a Pythagorean W-L record of 36-24. That also turned out to be the club’s overall record for the year. There are flaws with Pythagorean W-L record, especially if teams score a lot of runs in their wins and lose a lot of close games. Entering play on Monday, the Twins had scored 175 runs and allowed 195 runs. Based on those totals, their projected Pythagorean W-L record is 17-21 which is a four-win improvement compared to the team’s actual record. This points to the team being a little bit unlucky. RISP Minnesota’s struggles with runners in scoring position have been well documented this year, but how much of this can be tied to bad luck in clutch situations? Only one AL team, Tampa Bay (3.81 runners/game), has left more runners in scoring position per game than the Twins (3.76 runners/game). Obviously, some injuries have impacted the line-up (see below), but it’s hard for a team to recover if runs aren’t being scored because players are being left in scoring position. What’s most disturbing is the drop Minnesota took from 2020 to 2021. Last year, the Twins ranked as the best in all of baseball by averaging 2.60 runners left on per game. The closest team to the Twins last season was Pittsburgh and they finished 20 points behind Minnesota by season’s end. There can be some expected regression, but this is a big drop for a team from one season to the next. BABIP BAbip is another statistic that can point to luck impacting batters and pitchers. For those unfamiliar, BAbip measures how frequently non-home run batted balls fall for hits. League average is around .300 in a typical year. So far in 2021, Twins hitters have posted a .287 BAbip, which ranks 16th in all of baseball. Only eight clubs have posted a BAbip above .300 for the year as offense has been down for most of the league. On the pitching side, Minnesota’s hurlers have also posted a BAbip in the middle of the pack. For the year, the Twins rank 15th with a .286 BAbip. In all of baseball, seven teams have a BAbip total above .300. Two teams in the AL Central, Kansas City (2nd) and Detroit (11th), rank higher than the Twins in pitching BAbip. Sometimes bloop hits fall in, sometimes a dribbler gets by a fielder, and other times a fielder is positioned perfectly to make a catch on a hard hit ball. All those things can impact a team’s BAbip and a little luck ties into all of it. Injuries Injuries have been up across baseball and the Twins have seen some key players missing time. Byron Buxton was playing at an MVP level before his recent hip injury put him on the shelf. Alex Kirilloff was hitting the ball with authority to all parts of the field before suffering a wrist injury from sliding into second base. Both players were playing at a high level and taking them out of the middle of the line-up has certain had an effect. Over the weekend, there was even more injury news. Max Kepler (hamstring), Kenta Maeda (groin), and Willians Astudillo (hand) all left Sunday’s game with different ailments. This is on top of Jake Cave already being on the IL and Kyle Garlick playing through a groin injury. The injuries continue to mount, and health looks like it might impact the team throughout the 2021 campaign. Having a little more luck on the team’s side might get those players back and preforming at their highest level. Do you think the Twins have been unlucky this year? 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
  16. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/26 through Sun, 5/2 *** Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 10-16) Run Differential Last Week: +12 (Overall: +3) Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (6.0 GB) Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 21 | CLE 5, MIN 3: Twins Fall to 0-5 in Extras as Colomé Takes 3rd Loss Game 22 | CLE 7, MIN 4: Maeda Can't Find Answers, Slump Drags On Game 23 | MIN 10, CLE 2: Buxton Keys Offense in Dominant Victory Game 24 | MIN 9, KC 1: Pineda Rolls as Kirilloff Breaks Out with 2 HR Game 25 | KC 11, MIN 3: Twins Blown Out as Shoemaker Implodes Game 26 | MIN 13, KC 4: Another Big Day for the Twins Bats NEWS & NOTES Last week in this space, I broke down Minnesota's immense difficulties at catcher, noting that while both Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers were looking totally lost, the struggles of the latter were more pressing given his status as a developing 23-year-old player. "The Twins may need to start thinking about how they'll proceed at the catcher position," I wrote, "if they determine Jeffers needs more time in the minors." It took only a few more days, and one more start from Jeffers – he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Cleveland on Monday – for the Twins to decide they'd seen enough. On Friday he was optioned to the alternate site, and replaced by the team's other top catching prospect, Ben Rortvedt. Optioned alongside Jeffers on Friday was Brent Rooker, who has largely struggled during his time with the Twins. Concurrently, JT Riddle and Tzu-Wei Lin were designated for assignment to open space on the 40-man roster for the returns of Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick from COVID-IL. Miguel Sanó is reportedly ready to go with the hamstring that placed him on IL, but the Twins are going to give him a few days to take swings and get his timing back. (To the extent he ever had it to begin with.) He figures to be activated midway through the upcoming week. HIGHLIGHTS How about that Byron Buxton? He wrapped up the greatest month in Twins history with another phenomenal week, highlighted by Wednesday's 5-for-5 explosion in Cleveland. In five games, Buxton went 10-for-21 with two home runs, three doubles, and two stolen bases. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1388486584605896705 Buxton is making the Twins a must-watch even when the team at large has been hard to watch. He's an incredibly dynamic player and an early MVP frontrunner. But up until very recently, he wasn't getting much help. Alex Kirilloff is among those flipping the script for a languishing lineup. Given that he was hitting the ball harder than any Twins hitter, save for Buxton and Nelson Cruz, it felt like only a matter of time until Kirilloff broke through. That happened on Friday night at Target Field, when the rookie launched a pair of home runs against Kansas City, and he added another on both Saturday and Sunday. The big series lifted his OPS from .269 to .726. https://twitter.com/BallySportsNOR/status/1388963101970771968 One thing to note is that Kirilloff has been extremely aggressive at the plate, which has always been his M.O., but you do wonder if it's going to start to catch up with him. Dating back to spring training, he has drawn only two walks in 69 plate appearances. Then again, it's working just fine for his teammate Buxton, who ranks in the 11th percentile for chase rate and BB% but continues to dominate nonetheless. https://twitter.com/NickNelsonMN/status/1388902804517920771 Comparatively speaking, Garver's ongoing struggles were quite a bit more concerning than Kirilloff's. He was 0-for-his-last 17 with 11 strikeouts when he came to the plate for a third time in Cleveland on Wednesday. The catcher proceeded to launch a mammoth home run. Then, he did it again in his next AB. Garver added a three-run blast against the Royals on Sunday, and it was what we'd call a no-doubter. https://twitter.com/Nashwalker9/status/1388931880054104064 I'm not going to feel especially confident in Garver until he starts showing some dimensionality in his offensive game – in his past eight contests, he has four hits (three monster home runs and a ground ball single), zero walks, and 12 strikeouts. This all-or-nothing dynamic is very dependent on finding a mistake to destroy, which is not necessarily a sustainable formula. That said, it's good to see him unloading on some baseballs after a lengthy skid. Garver regaining his confidence (and competence) at the plate is especially critical with Jeffers now out of the mix. LOWLIGHTS Midway through March, reigning Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda looked more impervious than ever. Having not allowed a run or hit through his first few spring outings, the right-hander expressed concern he was having "too good" of a spring and – with tongue in cheek – yearned for a bit of adversity. In April, he got more than he bargained for. Through five starts, Maeda has a 6.56 ERA, with opponents crushing him to the tune of .350/.391/.641. His past two turns, which saw him surrender 12 earned runs on 16 hits and six homers in 8 ⅔ innings, represent the worst we've seen Maeda in a Twins uniform. In fact, you won't find a worse pair of back-to-back outings in his career. Last year, Maeda gave up six or more hits in only one of his 11 starts This year, he's allowed 6+ hits in every start. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker has completely fallen apart after a strong start to his Twins career. The righty gave up just one earned run through his first 11 innings, but has since coughed up an astounding 20 earned runs over 12 innings, with two strikeouts, seven walks, and six home runs allowed. The Twins have lost four straight with him on the mound. Saturday's outing was a nightmare as Shoemaker was obliterated by the Royals for nine runs, and his day ended on a sour note when he failed to back up home plate on overthrow. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1388606757740683264 It's going to be hard to send Shoemaker and his 8.22 ERA out for another start at this point. Unfortunately the top candidate to replace him, Randy Dobnak, has an 8.16 ERA so he's not the most inspiring alternative at this time. And in a further bit of unfortunate news, it'll be a while before either of the Twins' top two pitching prospects are even ready to start making their cases for a look. https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1388890802940792832 Meanwhile, a lingering headache in the bullpen won't go away. The Twins are trying their hardest to get Alex Colomé right, but the prized offseason bullpen addition continues to look unusable at every turn. He came in for the 10th inning on Monday against Cleveland and immediately gave up a walk-off homer. The following night, Rocco Baldelli sent him right back out in a lower-leverage "get-right" spot with the Twins trailing by a run in the eighth. Colomé looked perhaps the worst he has all season, laboring through six batters while issuing three walks (one with bases loaded) and an HBP. He appeared in a lower-stakes spot on Saturday, working a scoreless ninth but giving up plenty of hard contact in a blowout loss. Colomé seems incapable of throwing the ball in the zone without hanging it in a batter's wheelhouse. He's getting hit harder than any pitcher in the big leagues. No reliever in MLB history has had a more negative impact through his first 10 appearances with a new team. Truly an epic disaster of a free agent signing, unless Colomé can find a way to reverse course dramatically. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1387219157729480707 TRENDING STORYLINE This team doesn't have the luxury of giving away games right now. The offense shows signs of turning a corner, but Baldelli can't afford to be trotting pitchers out to the mound he can't trust. Which brings us to the names mentioned above. Maeda's not going anywhere, and we'll just have to hope he can find himself in a hurry. Shoemaker, as a one-year signing who looked like a temporary plug to begin with, has a far shorter leash, especially considering how irredeemably bad he's looked. While Dobnak might not be the most appealing replacement at this time, Lewis Thorpe looked good in his spot start a few weeks ago, and we know the club was high on him in spring training. How much longer will they wait to make a move? As for Colomé, it's probably still too early to be thinking about a DFA, but there is certainly some urgency for the Twins to address their bullpen issues and he's clearly the primary culprit. This is a stickier situation than Shoemaker; replacing your closer is obviously tougher than replacing your fifth starter. While Taylor Rogers is now assuming ninth-inning duties, the Twins have key high-leverage innings to backfill. Unfortunately, their minimal margin for error makes it tough to audition uncertain commodities – such as Shaun Anderson, Brandon Waddell, or Ian Hamilton – on the fly. There simply aren't enough low-leverage innings to go around for testing these fringe arms and also accommodating Colomé. You can't count on the continuance of lopsided margins like we saw all weekend against Kansas City. We'll see where the Twins go from here. Trusting the bullpen to fix itself seems unwise. LOOKING AHEAD I can't stress this enough: it is CRUCIAL for the Twins to take advantage of the upcoming soft patch in their schedule. With a full slate in the week ahead, they'll be hosting last-place Texas for four games before traveling to Detroit for three against the lowly Tigers. After that, things get a whole lot tougher and the stakes will be raised considerably: 14 games against the White Sox (6), Cleveland (3), Oakland (3), and Los Angeles (2). We haven't seen the Sox yet but the Twins are thus far 1-6 against the other three clubs. If they can't make some inroads toward .500 in these next seven days, they'll be putting themselves in a very, very precarious position. Of note: On Tuesday, Kyle Gibson makes his return to Target Field as a Ranger. He's riding a hell of a hot streak: 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his past five starts. Gibby has allowed zero home runs all season. Can his former team solve him? MONDAY, 5/3: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Dane Dunning v. RHP Kenta Maeda TUESDAY, 5/4: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP J.A. Happ WEDNESDAY, 5/5: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Kohei Arihara v. RHP Michael Pineda THURSDAY, 5/6: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Jordan Lyles v. RHP Matt Shoemaker FRIDAY, 5/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Spencer Turnbull SATURDAY, 5/8: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Jose Urena SUNDAY, 5/9: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Casey Mize MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  17. Projected Rotation: Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker Depth: Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, Bailey Ober Prospects: Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino, Blayne Enlow, Cole Sands THE GOOD Let's start at the top. Kenta Maeda: The long-awaited ace and reigning Cy Young runner-up. Maeda's first year in a Minnesota uniform yielded the best performance we've seen from a Twins starting pitcher since Johan Santana left town. One of the great sadnesses of the shortened 2020 season was that we didn't get to see him do more of it. From his first turn to his last, Maeda was superb. He never gave up more than three runs in a game, or more hits than innings pitched in a start. His whiff rate was third-highest in the game behind Jacob deGrom and Lucas Giolito. Maeda shut down Houston with five shutout innings in the playoffs. A month prior, he came within three outs of no-hitting Milwaukee at Target Field. With an offspeed-heavy mix and impeccable command, he left opposing batters helpless. https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1295914048043786241 This was a different version of Maeda than we ever saw in Los Angeles, where he was more good than great, leading to natural questions about how repeatable the breakout is. Indeed, the righty probably won't be quite so thoroughly dominant in a full-length follow-up, but there's little reason to think he won't be a credible rotation-fronter. The question is whether José Berríos will join him in that category. He's a very good starter, and one of the most reliably durable in the game, but Berríos hasn't quite been able to take that step into the highest tier despite flirting with it frequently. Last season might look like a setback, at a glance – his 4.00 ERA and 1.32 WHIP were both highest since Berríos' rocky debut in 2016. But they're also misleading, and emblematic of 2020's small-sample haziness. He gave up five runs in four innings against Chicago on Opening Day. From that point forward, the righty posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, holding opponents to a .225 average. Same old Berríos. That's not including his postseason start against Houston, where he allowed one run on two hits in five frames. We'll see if he can find something more, and if he does, the Twins will boast one of the league's best 1-2 punches in the rotation. But they'd also be happy to get that same old Berríos again, because his baseline is a pretty damn good. And also: Minnesota has another underrated starter in the frontline discussion. Michael Pineda is finally coming into a season unhindered by injury rehab or suspension. When on the mound for Minnesota, he has consistently pitched well, and the Twins have played .677 baseball. He's 32 and playing for his next contract with free agency upcoming. As Twins GM Thad Levine put it, Pineda "has put himself in the best position he can to have a robust second chapter to his career.” https://twitter.com/NickNelsonMN/status/1361852125551157250 J.A. Happ is not a super flashy addition at age 38, but he's been basically as good as Berríos over the past handful of seasons, and he's a great asset as your fourth starter. Matt Shoemaker rounds out the rotation as a $2 million flier who probably has a 50/50 shot at lasting until the All-Star break. But as with any signing by this front office, there's upside here that's easy to see. The offseason additions might not have been too exciting, but what does excite about Minnesota's rotation picture this year is the internal depth. Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe both offer plenty of intrigue, especially with their buzz-stirring spring camps. Devin Smeltzer is a better eighth option than most other teams have. And that's before you turn to the farm. The Twins' top three pitching prospects – Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino – are verging on big-league ready. It's hard to say for sure since the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out, but had it been played, it's very possible any of those three would now be banging on the door – if not already debuted. Each is capable of a serious impact in short order, and the Twins are quietly counting on that to some degree. THE BAD One might argue the Twins have been extraordinarily lucky with the health of their starting pitchers over the past couple years. (Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey would disagree, but they're gone.) Berríos has continued to take the mound every fifth day, as usual. Maeda did the same in 2020, while transitioning from starter-reliever hybrid to relative workhorse. He experienced no issues, even after accruing a career-high 115 pitches in his no-hit bid. Pineda, so often injured before coming to Minnesota, has been perfectly healthy outside of the suspension. (Phantom DL stints not withstanding.) I'm not over here to trying to jinx anything. But it has to be acknowledged that this probably won't last forever. The rigors of being a starting pitcher in the major leagues are immense, and right now these guys are grappling with the transition back to a full-season workload, in the wake of 2020's disruption. If one of those top three starters goes down? Suddenly the Twins rotation doesn't look quite so sturdy anymore. Happ might be a nice luxury in the back half, but he's not necessarily someone you want to be depending on toward the front. Shoemaker, Dobnak, Thorpe and Smeltzer all have their own varying levels of promise and mystique, but also serious hurdles to overcome. The top prospects may well all need more seasoning, These aren't unique problems – all pitchers across the league will be facing the same readjustment challenges this year, and no team has infinite starting depth – but the Twins will need a bit of luck on their side to fulfill their potential in the rotation. They're relying heavily on some internal developments playing out well, because it's questionable whether the free agent talent incoming (Happ, Shoemaker) is better than the talent outgoing (Odorizzi, Rich Hill). Questionable might be putting it kindly. THE BOTTOM LINE This is a deep, well-rounded group with a high ceiling and a number of electrifying wild cards in play. Odorizzi is a significant loss, which should not be discounted, but the fact is, the Twins managed to post the second-best rotation ERA, FIP, and fWAR in the American League last year without him. An important thing to keep in mind is that, by retaining all prospect capital in the offseason, the Twins have positioned themselves nicely for a trade as the deadline approaches. That'll probably be a big storyline this summer, but I'm more eager to see what the system can provide internally after four years of remarkable progression under the new front office. "After four years of assembling the infrastructure and creating a culture of fearless development," wrote Dan Hayes at The Athletic recently, "the Twins front office feels as if its pitching pipeline is finally ready to churn out impressive arms at a more consistent rate." Their exhaustive work will be put to the test in what's certain to be a daunting and discombobulating year for MLB starting pitchers, with workloads thrown askew. READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES Catcher First Base Second Base Third Base Shortstop Left Field Center Field Right Field Designated Hitter
  18. Traditional Five-Man Rotation Minnesota is going with a traditional five-man pitching staff to start the 2021 season and they are expected to stick with a five-man rotation for the majority of the season. That doesn’t mean the same five pitchers will occupy the rotation as the innings start to add up. Minnesota signed Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ to add rotational depth, and this is only going to help in a season like the current one. The Twins can use multiple strategies throughout the season to keep the starting staff rested. One option is to have a player skip a start. In this situation, the team can call-up a starter from St. Paul or the team can go with a bullpen game, which has become more common in recent years. There’s also a good chance a starter will need some time on the injured list at some point, so this allows the team to utilize some of their pitching depth. Rotating Relievers After signing an extension this spring, Randy Dobnak has struggled to start the 2021 season by allowing five earned runs in three innings. Obviously, this is a very small sample size, and the Twins are confident in Dobnak finding success this season. He is the natural choice to be the team’s sixth starter if needed, but he isn’t the only reliever that will eat innings this season. Last year, only two Twins relievers threw more than 25 innings and both of those players, Matt Wisler and Tyler Clippard, are no longer with the team. Minnesota has used Alex Colomé for multiple innings this year and that might hint at some of Rocco Baldelli’s strategy this season. The team has also switched to a 14-man pitching staff with the addition of Brandon Waddell, who will help cover more innings. He can also occupy a spot that is sent back and forth between Triple-A and the big-leagues. Options Outside the 26-Man Roster Outside the names mentioned above, there is certainly other options not currently on the 26-man roster. Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer are stretched out to be starters and they can be called on to take over a starting role. Top pitching prospects like Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are also expected to make their debuts in 2021. Hopefully, they aren’t needed for extended innings, but they are waiting in the wings. Other names on the 40-man roster include Shaun Anderson, Dakota Chalmers and Bailey Ober. Each of these arms can fit into the bullpen picture at some point this season. There are also other options outside the 40-man roster including this year’s Sire of Fort Myers, Derek Law. The Twins have liked to use a steady stream of players from the minors to supplement the big-league relief core in recent years and that trend will likely continue in 2021. Other Teams’ Strategies Last week, MLB.com ran through the different strategies teams will utilize in 2021. Teams like the Angels, Mariners, and Pirates are all planning on using six-man rotations, but none of these clubs are expected to be fighting for a World Series title. Some teams, like the Dodgers, Rangers, and Tigers are going to use a piggybacking strategy where some starters are used in a traditional manner and other appearances they use multiple starters that follow one another. The Rays utilize openers and bullpen games quite often and that expects to be the case again, especially with Blake Snell and Charlie Morton no longer part of the rotation. A lot of teams will be using a revolving five-man rotation which will include skipped starts and other pitchers filling into the rotation’s fifth spot. Minnesota is penciled into another large group of 10 teams that will use a traditional five-man rotation for as long as it will last, but it’s clear the team will be open to using multiple pitching strategies this year. What strategies will the Twins use to cover 1,458 innings this year? Leave 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
  19. Nelson Cruz: 450 Home Runs It’s crazy to think what Cruz has been able to accomplish over his career, especially since he didn’t play over 100 games in a season until he was 28-years old. Over the last 12 seasons, he has averaged 33 home runs to put him at 417 homers for his career. He hasn’t hit fewer than 33 long balls in a full season since 2013, so there’s a good chance for him to cross the 450 home run mark. The real question might be if the ageless wonder can reach 500 home runs before he retires. He is going to have to be one of the best players in baseball history over the age of 40, but why would anyone doubt him now? Josh Donaldson: 250 Home Runs Donaldson has hit 24 or more home runs in every season where he has played over 100 games. If that trend continues, he can cross the 250 home run plateau as he currently has 225 homers to his credit. Steamer projections have him at 29 home runs and ZiPs projections have him at 22 home runs. Back in 2019, Donaldson hit 37 home runs on his way to being named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. Twins’ fans hope to see more of that version of Donaldson than the one that the club saw during his first year in Minnesota. Even if he misses some time this season, 25 home runs should be well within his reach. Kenta Maeda: 800 Strikeouts Considering he didn’t make his stateside debut until age-28, it’s remarkable to consider how many strikeouts Maeda has accumulated in fewer than 660 big-league innings. He enters 2021 with 721 strikeouts so totaling 800 strikeouts is well within his reach. In Japan, he accumulated over 1,200 strikeouts on the mound, so he is getting close to 2,000 strikeouts combined in Japan and the United States. Last season, he was used entirely as a starter for the first time in his career and he posted a 10.8 SO/9, which was the second-best mark of his career. Jorge Polanco: 300 RBI The hope is that Polanco’s ankles are healthy again and he can get back to his hitting ways from the 2019 season. With Eddie Rosario out of the picture, Polanco has an opportunity to hit more regularly in the middle of the line-up. He already has 245 RBI so he can crack the 250 RBI mark during the season’s first series versus Milwaukee. His career high in RBI was back in 2019 when he collected 79, but he batted second for most of that season. Hitting behind Max Kepler, Josh Donaldson, and Nelson Cruz should provide even more RBI opportunities. Which milestone do you think will fall first? 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
  20. Byron Buxton Finishes in the Top-3 for AL MVP Buxton only has two years remaining until free agency, so there is an incentive for him to stay on the field and produce at a high level. There have been glimpses of his potential at the big-league level, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together over the course of 162-games. Even if he plays 140-150 games, he should accumulate enough WAR to be in the MVP discussion. Last season, he finished eighth highest WAR among AL position players, and he played fewer than 40 games. His defense is always going to provide value, so he will need to put up offensive numbers that match. Can he hit 30+ home runs? Score 120+ runs? Steal 30 bases? It’s fun to consider the possibilities. Twins Players Win Four Gold Gloves The Twins might have the best defense in team history and this can result in a record amount of Gold Gloves. No team has ever won five Gold Gloves in one season and that might not be out of the realm of possibility. Looking around field and there are potential Gold Glove winners at nearly every position. Byron Buxon and Andrelton Simmons are two of the best defenders over the last decade. If healthy, they are both front-runners for the award at their position. Max Kepler has been one of the best defensive right fielders for years and just hasn’t been awarded the top defensive honor. On the mound, Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios are two of the best pitchers at fielding their position. Add in Jorge Polanco and his switch to a less demanding defensive position and the Twins have six-seven candidates around the diamond. Minnesota Wins the AL Central by 10 Games or More The White Sox are getting a lot of love as the season starts and they look like a team that will be a thorn in the side of the Twins for years to come. It just isn’t going to be this season. Eloy Jimenez and his recent injury showcases their lack of depth around the diamond. Chicago is also relying on some of their young players putting it all together and there is no guarantee that happens. Minnesota will take care of business against the bottom teams in the AL Central and fare better than expected against Chicago and Cleveland. This can give the Twins an opportunity to be the number one seed heading into the AL playoffs and the road to the World Series will come through Target Field. It will be up to the club make sure some winning baseball happens in October. What are your bold predictions for the Twins? 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
  21. Catchers (3): Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Willians Astudillo Garver and Jeffers might be the best catching duo in all of baseball, especially if Garver can rebound after a rough 2020 campaign. Jeffers was tremendous last season and he has the potential to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors if he continue to produce at the same level. Astudillo is coming off a tremendous winter season in the Venezuelan Winter League where he finished as the MVP runner-up. His defensive versatility gives Rocco Baldelli some flexibility on Opening Day. Infielders (5): Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons Donaldson and Simmons on the same side of the infield is quite the defensive pairing as both players have won Gold Gloves in the past. Moving Polanco to second base will help to improve his value by taking away some of the weaknesses he showed at shortstop. Sano was solid at first base in 2020 and he will only get better as he learns the nuances of his new defensive position. One of the toughest tasks for Baldelli might be finding enough at-bats for Arraez as he shifts to a utility role. Outfield (4): Jake Cave, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Brent Rooker One name noticeably missing from this list is Alex Kirilloff. Due to MLB’s arbitration rules, Minnesota will likely keep Kirilloff in the minors to start the year, so the club can pick up another year of team control. This means Cave and Rooker are the likely winners in this scenario because both should start the year on the big-league roster. The Twins can also use Arraez and Astudillo in the outfield, but that is not likely a preferable option. However, Baldelli might want to find extra at-bats for these players and the outfield can offer an open position until Kirilloff is called up. Designated Hitter (1): Nelson Cruz The Boomstick is back to anchor the middle of the Twins line-up. Father Time hasn’t caught up to him yet and the Twins are hoping the 2021 season matches his output from his first two seasons in Minnesota. Rotation (5): Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Randy Dobnak Berrios has been the Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see what direction Baldelli goes for the team’s first game. Maeda is coming off a runner-up finish for the AL Cy Young, so he could get the honor of starting Opening Day. Pineda is looking to play his first full season in Minnesota after missing time due to Tommy John surgery and suspension. J.A. Happ slides nicely into the back end of the rotation and Dobnak should round things out unless the team makes another move in the coming weeks. Bullpen (8): Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Alex Colome, Jorge Alcala, Hansel Robles, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashak, Ian Hamilton This bullpen has the potential to be one of the team’s strengths in 2021. Rogers had a rough 2020 season, but some of the peripheral numbers point to him bouncing back. Duffey might be the team’s best relief option and he is a weapon the club can utilize in a variety of roles. Colome has been an All-Star level closer for multiple seasons so it will be interesting to see what role he fills in Minnesota. Alcala can be the Twins breakout player in the bullpen, and he might be one of the team’s most valuable set-up men this season. Hamilton might be the biggest question mark with Edwar Colina, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe having a chance to beat him out. Who do you think makes the Opening Day roster? 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
  22. First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 1st-through-5th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway. Read Part 1 (16-20) Read Part 2 (11-15) Read Part 3 (6-10) 5: Royce Lewis, SS 2020 Ranking: 5 After landing atop our 2019 rankings, Lewis followed with an uneven campaign that caused him to slide to No. 5 last year. Since then, not much has changed. He spent his 2020 season at the alternate site, giving him little opportunity to counteract the narrative of a '19 season that saw him post a .661 OPS and ugly 123-to-38 K/BB ratio between two levels while his clunky swing mechanics drew heat from analysts. Although the former No. 1 overall pick's true ceiling is in question, there's little doubt he will be an impact player in the big leagues, whether as an infielder or out in center as Byron Buxton's eventual successor. He's not the premier asset he once was, but Lewis holds steady in these rankings until further notice. 4: José Berríos, RHP 2020 Ranking: 3 As I mentioned in the intro post for this series, Berríos is a model of consistency: unlike so many others, he hasn't faltered in these rankings due to performance or injury. He has stayed remarkably steady and durable as a fixture atop the Twins rotation and roster. But, he also hasn't quite taken the step forward necessary to elevate. Berríos remains a "borderline ace" – not quite meeting the standard against which he is constantly measured, but always coming close. His most recent season was technically a downturn, but one that's easily attributed to disruption for a creature of routine. His numbers in the second half (and playoffs) were excellent. The only thing bumping Berríos from his customary top-three perch – albeit ever so slightly – is the looming specter of free agency, now only two years away. The righty is poised to hit the open market following the 2022 season, at age 28. That's good news for him but bad news for the Twins if they can't find a way to extend him. Locking Berríos up is an utmost priority; by this time next year, the front office's leverage will be mostly gone. 3: Max Kepler, RF 2020 Ranking: 2 Kepler definitely took a step back following his breakout 2019 campaign, but it wasn't as alarming a drop-off as it might seem on the surface. Yes, his OPS dropped by almost 100 points, but his peripherals and underlying metrics were steady. He remains a high-quality overall piece: a strong defensive outfielder who's capable in center, and an outstanding hitter combining patience, power and speed. There were some familiar warts marring Kepler's performance in 2020, however. Once again his production was stifled by a brutally low BABIP (.236), and he fell back into a pit of utter ineptitude against left-handed pitching (.128/.208/.170). These developments cast doubt on the superstar potential Kepler seemed to scratch in the prior season, but nevertheless, he was an above-average hitter and critical cornerstone for the first-place Twins. Most importantly, he's under control for the next three years at a total of $21.75 million, with an ultra-reasonable team option for $10 million in 2024. At this point Kepler is probably Minnesota's sturdiest building block. 2: Alex Kirilloff, RF 2020 Ranking: 9 While most prospects were essentially out of sight and out of mind in 2020, Kirilloff is a bit of an exception. His work at the alternate in St. Paul garnered a noticeable and consistent buzz, even with a lack of official games being played. This culminated with the Twins making a very bold move at season's end, calling Kirilloff up to make his major-league debut in a postseason elimination game. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, Kirilloff handled the challenge in stride, showing no signs of shrinking in the moment. As a former first-round pick who's slashed .317/.365/.498 in the minors, conquered Double-A, and now made a heck of first impression in the majors, Kirilloff has made a convincing case that he's ready to step in as an above-average MLB corner outfielder right now, with very plausible All-Star potential. The Twins will probably wait until at least late May to call him up for good, buying an extra year of control in 2027, but it's clear they are lining Kirilloff up to roam the outfield for many years to come. 1: Kenta Maeda, RHP 2020 Ranking: NR The Twins took a big gamble last February, trading their No. 4 ranked asset in Brusdar Graterol to Los Angeles in efforts to bolster the rotation. When you're giving up such an immensely valuable asset, you'd better get something awfully good in return. Turns out, the front office did just fine. One of the biggest appeals in acquiring Maeda was his incredibly team-friendly contract – he's guaranteed only $3.125 million in each of the next three seasons, with the rest of his money tied into incentives. This means very little outright risk for a whole lot of upside, which we saw on full display in his first season as a Twin. In a career year, Maeda emerged as a true ace and finished as the Cy Young runner-up. It's hard to overstate just how impactful his addition to this organization is. Maeda is everything the Twins needed, and has quickly separated himself as their most prized asset. THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021 20. Keoni Cavaco, SS 19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B 18. Josh Donaldson, 3B 17. Taylor Rogers, LHP 16. Jorge Alcala, RHP 15. Miguel Sanó, 1B 14. Tyler Duffey, RHP 13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP 12. Jhoan Duran, RHP 11. Luis Arráez, 2B 10. Trevor Larnach, OF 9. Byron Buxton, CF 8. Mitch Garver, C 7. Ryan Jeffers, C 6. Jorge Polanco, SS 5. Royce Lewis, SS 4. José Berríos, RHP 3. Max Kepler, RF 2. Alex Kirilloff, RF 1. Kenta Maeda, RHPNow that we've got the full list rolled out, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Any outrageous omissions? Who's too high? Who's too low? Where would Nelson Cruz fit in (if at all) were he to sign, say, a one-year $10 million deal? As a final note, I've gotta give some props to the three commenters who tried their hand at predicting the rankings back on Monday, especially Seansy who correctly guessed 17 out of the 20 names and had SIX in the exact right placements (Maeda #1, Polanco #6, Jeffers #7, Larnach #10, Duffey #14, Sanó #15)! Super close on the most of the rest too, very nicely done. Very nice work also by Shs_2 who also got 17 names right (3 correct placements) and whosafraidofluigirussolo who had 18 of the names (2 correct placements). MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  23. 1. Healthy Arraez Heading for AL Batting Title 2021 ZiPS Projection: .313/.371/.406, 32 2B, 5 HR, 3.2 WAR No. 1 Player Comp: Cecil Travis Entering the 2020 season, Luis Arraez was coming off a tremendous rookie year and expectations were even higher for his sophomore campaign. His first 10 games were rough as he hit .212/.289/.502 without a single extra-base hit. He dealt with a knee injury throughout different parts of the season, but he seemed to put it all together over his final 22 games. During that stretch, he hit .367/.398/.481 with nine doubles and 12 runs scored. Just like the 2020 projections, ZiPS pegs Arraez to lead the American League in batting average. His 3.2 WAR is also the highest on the team among position players as he finishes just ahead of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Max Kepler. It would certainly be exciting to have a healthy Arraez fighting for a batting title, but the Twins will likely want one of the other star players to lead the team in WAR. 2. Polanco Bounces Back 2021 ZiPS Projection: .279/.333/.440, 32 2B, 17 HR, 2.8 WAR No. 1 Player Comp: Buddy Bell There has been plenty of discussion this winter about what role Polanco should serve with the 2021 Twins. Will he be the team’s everyday shortstop, or does it make sense to bring in another option and shift Polanco to a utility role? During the last two off-seasons, Polanco has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and that’s a consideration for the team when planning for the future. Last year, Polanco posted career low marks in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Looking at ZiPS for Polanco and the projections clearly have him inline for a bounce back season. His projected slugging percentage would be six points higher than his career mark and his 17 home runs would only trail his 22 longballs in 2019. Also, he has accumulated 30 doubles or more in every season he’s played at least 130 games. Defensively, there were some improvements last year, but he has finished eighth among AL shortstops in SABR’s SDI in each of the last two seasons. 3. Maeda Set for Major Regression 2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.12 ERA, 135 1/3 IP, 154 K, 45 BB, 2.2 WAR No. 1 Player Comp: John Montefusco Maeda’s first season in a Twins uniform went about as well as it could possibly go. He finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young Voting after posting a 2.70 ERA, 161 ERA+ and a MLB leading 0.75 WHIP. It was everything the Twins hoped for when they traded for him and the best news is, he is under team control for the next three seasons. His season might have been the most dominant performance by a Twins starter since Johan Santana was traded away. It seems highly unlikely for Maeda to be able to replicate his 2020 numbers during the 2021 campaign. The season will include more than 60 games and his 2020 totals were far superior to any previous season in his big-league career. ZiPS has his ERA 37 points higher than his career mark. Another oddity is that ZiPS has him scheduled to make eight appearances out of the bullpen, which would be similar to his time in Los Angeles. Maeda should outperform his ZiPS projections and Twins fans better hope he isn’t needed out of the bullpen. 4. Pineda Pitches Under 100 innings 2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.58 ERA, 92 1/3 IP, 84 K, 20 BB, 1.1 WAR No. 1 Player Comp: Dave Eiland Pineda’s time in Minnesota has been marked by one season where he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and parts of two seasons where he missed time due to a suspension. Last season, he made five starts and allowed 10 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings (3.38 ERA). Since joining the Twins he has posted a 1.16 WHIP and a 115 ERA+. The 2021 season can mark his first time pitching a full season for Minnesota, but the projections aren’t exactly kind to his performance. Injuries have been part of Pineda’s professional career and that’s why ZiPS limits his projected innings pitched. In fact, there are over 10 pitchers projected to pitch more innings than Pineda for the 2021 Twins. His career ERA is 4.02 and he has only posted one season with an ERA higher than his projected 4.58. Another intriguing note is the fact Pineda can be a free agent following the 2021 season. Will he perform better in a contract year? Or will the Twins be willing to work out an extension? 5. ZiPS Loves Randy Dobnak 2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.53 ERA, 137 IP, 91 K, 37 BB, 1.6 WAR No. 1 Player Comp: Dick Drago Dobnak’s first two seasons in Minnesota have seen some ups and downs. Back in 2019, his rookie season was unbelievable as he posted a 1.59 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP across 28 1/3 innings. This culminated in the team turning to him for a Game 2 start in the ALDS. Last year, his ERA rose to 4.05 and he had a 1.35 WHIP while seeing his strikeout per walk total be cut in half. Eventually, he was optioned to the team’s alternate training site, but he was part of the team’s Wild Card roster. In an absence of a minor league season, the minor league writers at Twins Daily held a minor league draft last summer. One of the biggest takeaways from that draft was how much ZiPS loves Randy Dobnak. His projected career WAR total was the highest in the draft and it helped Steve to walk away with the best overall team. Among pitchers, Dobnak is projected to have the team’s third highest WAR as he only trails Berrios and Maeda. What other surprises were in the Twins 2021 ZiPS projections? 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
  24. 3. Jose Berrios- SP Berrios is in an interesting place entering the 2021 season. He has worked his way through the arbitration process by betting on himself to improve instead of taking a team-friendly extension to stay in Minnesota. Now he has two years left until free agency unless the Twins are able to work out an extension this winter. This type of deal would likely need to be north of $100 million and that might not be something the team wants to consider after a season where revenues were limited. As far as the Twins rotation, Berrios doesn’t have to feel the pressure of being the team’s ace with Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda helping to solidify the rotation’s front half. Berrios might still have another level to reach as a starting pitcher and that can be scary to think about. Through their age-26 seasons, Berrios has better numbers than Trevor Bauer, this year’s top free agent starter. Bauer took a dramatic step forward in his age-27 season and Twins fans can hope Berrios follows a similar path. 2. Josh Donaldson- 3B Donaldson was signed last winter to help Minnesota to take the next step while their window of contention is open. His first season in a Twins uniform was a disappointment as he played in less than half of the team’s games while dealing with calf injuries that have plagued his career. When he was on the field, he posted an OPS higher than his career average with a 24 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio, but Twins fans clearly wanted more from the highest paid free agent in franchise history. The Twins signed Donaldson, because he was coming off a tremendous season in Atlanta where he played over 155 games and posted a .900 OPS with 37 home runs and 33 doubles. Minnesota would love to get that kind of production from the former MVP, but he will be 35 this year and there’s a chance of regression as he continues to age. There is organizational depth at third base, but the Twins need Donaldson on the field and performing at his highest level for the majority of 2021. 1. Byron Buxton- CF There’s no question that Buxton can alter the game on both sides of the ball, but he has been limited to fewer than 95 games in all but one big-league season. Last year, Buxton hit .254/.267/.577 with 13 home runs and three doubles across 39 games. While he posted a career high OPS, he struck out 26.7% of the time in his 135 plate appearances. The flashes of greatness have been evident, yet the Twins fans are waiting for him to put it all together for an entire season. Like Berrios, Buxton has only two years of team control remaining, and one has to wonder if the team would consider an extension with their center fielder. The organization’s other options in center can fill-in for Buxton on a short-term basis, but they simply can’t match everything he brings to the diamond.He might be the best five-tool player in Twins history, and he is just entering the prime of his career. If Buxton is on the field for over 120 games in 2021, he has the chance to be in the American League MVP discussion. What three players do you think are most important for Minnesota in 2021? 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
  25. Kenta Maeda 2020 Stats (11 games): 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 161 ERA+, 3.00 FIP, 1.6 WAR Current Contract (Signed thru 2023, 8 years/$25 million) Maeda is currently on an unbelievably team friendly contract. His base salary over the next three seasons is just north of $3 million. The Dodgers were able to sign him to this contract because their medical staff found “irregularities” during his physical. He can earn bonuses to increase the value of his contract including an annual roster bonus ($150,000), games started bonus (up to $6.5 million), and innings pitched bonus (up to $3.5 million). Even if he hits all these bonuses, he’s still a relative bargain for a top of the rotation starter. Pros of Extending Now One of the biggest benefits to extending now would be locking in some cost certainty moving forward while also rewarding one of baseball’s best pitchers last season. The Twins already have Maeda under team control through his age-35 season, so it’s tough to know what the team is thinking moving forward. Maeda should be paid like one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, but one must wonder if he can reproduce his 2020 numbers in a season where he appears in more than 11 games. Cons of Extending Now He will be 35-years old at the end of the contract and Minnesota will have a better idea if they want to keep him in their rotation moving forward. There’s no need to rush into an extension with Maeda, but the team might want to reward him for his impressive debut season with the Twins. Minnesota seemed to be able to get the best out of Maeda last year, but baseball’s financial future is clouded in uncertainty. No one knows what revenues will look like in the years ahead so a cost-controlled contract, like Maeda’s, is a valuable asset. Possible Extension Since he made his debut in 2016, FanGraphs estimates that Maeda has provided over $90 million in value to the Twins and the Dodgers. Last season alone, he was worth nearly $17 million even though he made fewer than 12 starts. Zack Wheeler’s free agent deal last off-season (5-years, $118 million) seems like a contract that Maeda could garner on the open market. Would the Twins be willing to alter Maeda’s current deal to give him more guaranteed money? What do you think the Twins should do with Maeda? 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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