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  1. The Twins are finishing a terrible September that saw the team go from contender to pretender in a few weeks. There are plenty of reasons for fans to be frustrated, but the season's conclusion offers time to reflect on the 2022 campaign. Here are the people most responsible for the Twins' downfall this season. Culprit 1: The Front Office The front office will take the brunt of the blame for any team that falls short of its ultimate goal. Last off-season was unique because of the lockout, and Minnesota took a unique approach to construct the roster. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine thought the pitching pipeline was ready to contribute in 2022, so the team didn't need to acquire any of the best free agent pitchers. This plan failed as the team's farm system took a step back, and the pitching pipeline has yet to arrive. It's also easy to blame the front office for some of the prominent players the team acquired during the 2022 season. Minnesota traded Taylor Rogers shortly before Opening Day for Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan. The timing of the trade was terrible, even if Rogers ended up having a poor season. Paddack was terrific for four games before needing Tommy John surgery. Pagan has been one of baseball's worst relievers for multiple seasons, and the team continued to use him in high-leverage situations. Minnesota's front office received praise following July's trade deadline because it seemed like the team was "going for it." Neither of the other AL Central teams made significant moves, and the Twins acquired Tyler Mahle, Jorge Lopez, and Michael Fulmer. Mahle has struggled with a shoulder injury since being acquired, and Lopez hasn't lived up to his All-Star performance from the first half. Mahle's acquisition might be the most frustrating as he added his name to a growing list of injured pitchers the Twins acquired via trade. In the end, the front office was wrong about the organization's young pitchers being ready to contribute. Falvey and Levine didn't address the bullpen in the offseason, which haunted the team. It cost the team multiple prospects at the trade deadline after the club had already been treading water for most of June and July. Now, the front office is facing a critical offseason as this current group's winning window is closing. Culprit 2: Rocco Baldelli Minnesota's front office gave Baldelli a vote of confidence over the weekend when they said he is part of the team's long-term plans. Fans may still blame the manager for the team's poor performance for multiple months. Obviously, he has been dealing with one of baseball's most injured rosters, but the team doesn't seem to have much fight left in them. Last season, the team was out of the race for much of the season, but the club played well in September as younger players got an opportunity. This year's team played its worst baseball in September. Sometimes it's easy to forget that preseason models projected this team to finish around .500. Pitching staff usage is one of the most significant areas where fans blame a manager. Many will point fingers at Baldelli for his bullpen usage or for pulling his starters too early. However, it is also essential to consider that the team lost its pitching coach in the middle of the season. Minnesota's bullpen was terrible, and there is only so much Baldelli can do with the players on the roster. Also, Twins starters were rarely allowed to face a line-up for the third time, a philosophy many organizations have adopted in recent years. Baldelli deserves some blame, but even baseball's best manager wouldn't have won with Minnesota this season. Culprit 3: Injuries It's easy for anyone looking at the Twins' 2022 season to blame injuries for the team's poor performance. No American League team has put more players on the IL than the Twins this season. At one point, Minnesota had nearly a full roster of players on the IL, and it was a team that could be reasonably competitive in the AL Central. The Reds are the only club with more days lost to injury than the Twins, but anyone following the team knows that number doesn't tell the whole story. Minnesota allowed many players to stay off the IL even when injuries hampered their performance. Bryon Buxton talked his way out of multiple IL stints, and there were stretches where he struggled on the field. Jorge Polanco tried to play through an injury, Tyler Mahle made two starts at less than 100%, and Max Kepler played through a broken toe. Few organizations have the depth to withstand the number of injuries the Twins suffered in 2022. Reflecting on a season that started with renewed expectations can be challenging. However, there is plenty of blame to go around as the season winds to a close. Who deserves the most blame for the Twins' failures in 2022? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  2. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over the Minnesota Twins front office six seasons ago. 2023 will be year seven. In that timeframe the club has been to the postseason three times while winning two AL Central division titles. There’s certainly some success there, but ultimately it comes with an 0-6 record in the postseason, which has accounted for one-third of the 0-18 futility during October. There’s only a partial pass for the Twins to be had in 2022. The injuries were significant. 37 pitchers have been used for the first time in franchise history. Byron Buxton played injured from the jump, and time was missed by Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco. All those things are fair to suggest that plenty has been working against Rocco Baldelli and his bosses. It’s also time to realize there’s no more room for error or excuses. It’s safe to say that the front office, and the manager, aren’t looking for a pass. Both those in the clubhouse and those employing it are looking for a way to create a sustainable winner for the future. Falvey was brought in to develop a pitching pipeline similar to that of Cleveland. Levine is a smart general manager who has made some shrewd moves. Baldelli can run a clubhouse and has orchestrated difficult decisions. For all the good each party has done, the results now have to follow. In year seven the Twins won’t, and shouldn’t be given the benefit of doubt. 2022 saw a franchise-high payroll that included the signing of superstar shortstop Carlos Correa. He fell into Minnesota’s lap and is likely gone over the offseason. It will be on the front office to appropriately name his replacement, and find ways to use that money. Plenty of the roster is penciled but almost all of it carries some level of uncertainty as to availability or expectation. There’s no more room for acquisitions like Dylan Bundy or Chris Archer. Every offseason addition has to be made under the premise of creating the best roster possible, with nothing added just to fill the fringes. Management can’t dictate any more reclamation projects to play a substantial role, and when something doesn’t work similar to Emilio Pagan this season, the plug has to be pulled. It’s more than fair to understand those running the Twins are an incredibly smart group with very good ideas. Both rooted in analytical outcomes and results based decision making, there’s probably never been a better group across the board. Ultimately though, the only thing that matters is the wins and losses, and they haven’t had enough of them. Over the winter the front office and coaching staff will need to find ways to improve internally. That will mean staffers being replaced, coaches being changed out, and developmental areas being addressed. This should be the last go-round for the collective as a whole, and there’s no excuse to forgo bringing in fresh faces to help reach the ultimate goal. There’s plenty of argument to be made that 2022 was never seen as the year to go “all in.” The trade deadline was navigated with a focus on the now, but a vision to the future as well. Fast forwarding to Opening Day 2023 and the future becomes now, with no more room for missteps. It’s time to come through on the vision, or change it entirely.
  3. After limping through the last impactful series of the season against the Cleveland Guardians over the weekend, Minnesota’s postseason hopes were all but cooked. Having led the division for a vast majority of the season, injuries mounted and ultimately ruined any potential to hang on. That’s not to say injuries were the defining factor in falling short, Minnesota contributed to that plenty on their own as well. Relatively early on in the year, it was apparent that the AL Central was going to fade behind the competition. Chicago’s ineptitude was injury-related as well, but they were also horribly managed by Tony La Russa, and consistently played bad baseball defensively. Cleveland has a great manager in Terry Francona, and as expected, their pitching kept them in it while young players got their feet wet. Minnesota’s place in all of that got shuffled early after a strong May, but it shouldn’t be lost that no one seemed to want to win this division down the stretch. Therein lies the definition of the 2022 Minnesota Twins season: A failure to capitalize. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn’t throw all of Jim Pohlad’s resources at the 2022 season to suggest it was World Series or bust. Nothing about a bullpen addition of only Joe Smith said, “We’re all in.” However, what was done should’ve been enough and at every juncture, the Twins came up short. When the trade deadline came around and there was an opportunity to improve a winning ball club, the front office added a top-level starter in Tyler Mahle. They addressed the bullpen by bringing in Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez. Then, as it had all season long, it quickly was wiped out on and off the field. Every team has injuries, but very few had as many and those as impactful as the Twins. Byron Buxton played hurt from the jump. Pitching was constantly in flux. Alex Kirilloff never got better. They won through them, for a time. When Minnesota would create their own fortunes, generating base runners and putting guys in scoring position, they consistently failed to capitalize. Baserunning was bad, defense equally so. All season long the Twins found themselves with the opportunity to control their own destiny, run away and hide with the division, and create noise. Instead, they responded with more trips to the injured list, poor situational hitting, and an overall lack of execution. If we were to reflect on the season as a whole, taking a bit of a step back from the emotions down the stretch, maybe we should've seen this coming. After all, a .500 record was largely what was projected from the get-go. For a good portion of the season, all this team amounted to a .500 ballclub. Ultimately though, after creating their own good fortune, a wilting happened and nothing was done to substantiate it. There’s certainly a handful of different ways to get where Minnesota finished, but as The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman put it, the Twins took the least enjoyable way to get there. Good teams capitalize on their opportunities, and although this one was masked as a good team for a while, they simply never capitalized on what was in front of them.
  4. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine orchestrated a near-flawless trade deadline for the Minnesota Twins. They grabbed a good starter in Tyler Mahle, and netted a bullpen piece in Michael Fulmer. Acquiring an All-Star closer in Jorge Lopez was a great get as well, but it’s hardly gone as planned. Lopez came to the Twins with a 1.68 ERA across 48 1/3 innings. He racked up 19 saves for Baltimore and virtually all of his work came in high leverage. He had a strong 10.1 K/9 and a WHIP below 1.000. If regression was going to hit, it shouldn’t have been expected to be brutal given a solid 3.00 FIP. Fast forward to where we are now and Lopez has made 15 appearances for the Twins totaling 14 1/3 innings. He owns a 4.40 ERA and an awful 11/9 K/BB. He hasn’t allowed a home run but is giving up more than ten hits per nine innings and every appearance is a tightrope act to get through. Before coming to Minnesota, Lopez was allowing just a 19.8% hard-hit rate and was getting whiffs 11.4% of the time. His fastball was being used 55% of the time and clocked in just shy of 98 mph on average. Lopez used the curveball 20% of the time and often twirled it as his out pitch. Since joining the Twins, he has continued using his fastball and the life remains the same. Instead of predominantly going to the curveball as a secondary offering, however, he’s dropped the usage and now is going with his changeup 20% of the time. The hard-hit rate is the same, but the whiff rate has dropped below 9%. It’s not at all abnormal for a pitcher to experience tweaks from a new organization, but it could be that the Twins have tinkered too much here. Although the sample size is small, and Lopez will remain in the organization for the next two seasons, swapping out secondary offerings has not produced positive results to this point. Lopez was hit around plenty as a starter, and reducing his repertoire has been integral in his advancement as a reliever. He’ll need to advocate for himself though if there’s a better belief in a specific secondary offering. When with Baltimore, it seemed the curveball paired just fine with his heat, and while it’s still there, the changeup replacing its usage may not be the best step forward. You can bet both Lopez and the Twins coaching staff will look to get him right the rest of the way, and the hope would be he finds another gear in 2023 as he returns to early-season form. That said, it may be time to reverse course on the current plan, at least through the duration of the season, to see if better results can be achieved. I don’t think Lopez has reverted to being a bad pitcher as he was in his starting days, but finding the right offerings to unlock his best self has to be a focus from here on out. Would you say that Lopez has been a disappointment in his short time with the Twins?
  5. Coming into the season, off of a long lockout, the Minnesota Twins were not seen as favorites. Even after signing a superstar in Carlos Correa, the questions about pitching remained. Yes, Sonny Gray was acquired, but Kenta Maeda was expected to be out most of the year, and a young duo in Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober were expected to carry the load. Bullpen questions remained, and only Joe Smith was brought in to answer them. After a mediocre first month, Rocco Baldelli had his guys clicking through May. Maybe the one period of relative health throughout the whole season, Minnesota’s manager orchestrated an 18-12 record. It’s been .500 or worse each month since then, and despite the initial expectations, it’s hard to suggest they weren’t raised after Derek Falvey and Thad Levine provided reinforcements at the deadline. Whether Minnesota claws back and makes the postseason or not, the manager has plenty to sort through this season. Baldelli has now managed more than 500 games for Minnesota and has accumulated a winning record. His win percentage is .533, well above Ron Gardenhire’s .484, Paul Molitor’s .471, or Tom Kelly’s .478. The Twins have won the division twice during his four-year tenure, and they should be seen as a candidate to do so again in 2023. It’s not fair to chalk 2022 up as a wash entirely because of injuries. Baldelli has consistently operated with half of his deck, but there’s been ample opportunity to provide better results. It’s probably worth wondering how things would have gone if Minnesota had seen even a slightly better outcome in terms of the guys they’ve lost to injury. It’s also not fair to suggest Baldelli has failed given the hurdles he’s had to clear. Ultimately a front office wants a manager to be their representative of process in the clubhouse. I think it’s safe to say that Baldelli is in lockstep with his bosses. It’s also more than evident that Baldelli gets along with his players, and has their respect as well. Both of those realities are integral when deciding to keep someone in the position. Unlike Molitor before him, it seems that Baldelli is able to effectively communicate with the guys on the field, and is able to get buy-in when wanting players to try new things. If the Twins were to change course, it probably would have a ripple effect throughout the clubhouse, and that sort of shakeup may not be beneficial given the youth expected to produce in 2023 and beyond. Consistency among leadership can be viewed as a positive, and Baldelli has already connected with so many that will take on larger roles in the years ahead. Should Minnesota make a move, and I think there's an opportunity for them to do so, it will come throughout the coaching staff as a whole. Maybe there's opportunity to shore up baserunning or generate a secondary voice in the clubhouse. Pete Maki has been fine in Wes Johnson’s position, but a more established pitching coach makes sense as well. At times throughout this season, it’s seemed the clubhouse needed a more vocal leader to beg for accountability or change. While that’s not Baldelli’s demeanor and isn’t really that of Correa or Byron Buxton, it could be that of a performance coach or someone tabbed with the background solely to rise to the occasion. We’ll see changes this offseason, there will be more than a few on the coaching staff, but I think it’s safe to say the front office should and will retain their manager.
  6. Nearly every baseball fan base will suffer frustration in any given season. Only one team walks away with the World Series title, and even the best clubs go through slides in a 162-game season. Minnesota still has a small window to reach the postseason, but it will take a tremendous turnaround from a very injured roster. So, what makes this season more frustrating than last year? Early-Season Success Most national projections had the Twins as the second-best team in the AL Central going into the season. Minnesota's early success masked the fact that the club was likely heading for a .500 record. Obviously, projections can be taken with a grain of salt, but the Twins' early season success changed the team's outlook. The AL Central was a mess, and it looked like the Twins had an opportunity to capitalize on one of baseball's worst divisions. During the 2021 season, the team was out of playoff contention by the end of the season's first month. While this was frustrating, it was easier for fans not to get wrapped up in the team's poor play for the remainder of the year. Trade Deadline Success and Failure As July ended, the Twins were playing poorly, but they still sat at the top of the AL Central. Even so, the front office went into the trade deadline looking to add pieces to the roster. For the first time under this regime, it felt like the front office was trying to set the Twins up for second-half success and a possible playoff run. On paper, the players acquired at the deadline looked like a success, but it has turned into a failure. Tyler Mahle is injured, and likely won't pitch again in 2022. Jorge Lopez hasn't been a dominant reliever with the Twins while being pushed out of the closer role. Ideally, both players would lead Minnesota to a division title, which adds to fans' frustration when they aren't meeting expectations. Mounting Injuries Last season, it didn't matter if there were injured players because the Twins were out of contention. Every team deals with injuries, but they have been catastrophic for the 2022 Twins. Injuries have become the theme for Minnesota as the club has put more players on the injured list than any other American League team. This has to be frustrating for the coaching staff because it feels like the team is playing without a full deck. It becomes easy to point fingers when a club isn't performing as expected, but the Twins can field a full roster of currently injured players. Not Meeting Injury Timelines Another frustration related to injuries is how frequently the club has been wrong about timelines for players to return. It has been standard practice for teams to provide an injury timeline when a player goes on the IL. Unfortunately, the club has placed numerous players on the IL, but they haven't seemed to be able to get return timelines correct for multiple seasons. Traditionally, Minnesota has been conservative with their provided injury timelines, so one would hope the players could meet those timelines. For fans, this can add to frustration levels because there is an expectation that the team will improve when players get back on the field. Ultimately, the 2022 season has been frustrating for everything involved with the Twins. Fans have every right to be frustrated as the club has squandered an opportunity for a third division title in the last four seasons. Do you think the 2022 season has been more frustrating than 2021? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  7. Let’s preface this with an adjustment of expectations. Are the Minnesota Twins legitimate World Series contenders? No, absolutely not. Unless something significant changes, this club will be lucky to win the division. However, if you’re hoping for an end to the nearly two-decade-long drought for a Postseason victory, that could set up well. Rocco Baldelli’s club has next to no healthy bodies left. Jorge Polanco was left on the active roster for nearly a week without another player being added because there was not an obvious choice. Tyler Mahle is on the injured list again and won’t be eligible to return until roughly the final two weeks of the season. Sonny Gray has been held back at times, and the return of Byron Buxton does not appear close. All of that said, fighting through one game at a time makes sense for a battered squad. Should the Twins find a way to outlast the Guardians and White Sox while they match up plenty over the final month, they can be as good as anyone during a short series. Should Gray find a clean bill of health by the end of the month, Mahle return, or Joe Ryan step up, the top three for the Twins can keep them competitive against any lineup. On the offensive side of things, it’d seem likely that Buxton could return for a short term boost. Trevor Larnach will be back, and Polanco is ideally healthy by then. A lineup of mostly Minnesota’s best bats should be a fearsome foe to virtually any opposing pitcher. Then there’s the reality that a Twins opponent likely wouldn’t be the New York Yankees. With a 12-team Postseason format, and Minnesota being the third seed in the American League, they’d face the six seed in a three-game Wild Card series. Right now the Seattle Mariners hold that spot, although it could also be the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, or Baltimore Orioles. None of those teams are bottom-feeders as you’d expect, but they should present a good opportunity to win given Minnesota would get three straight home games. It’d be great to see Minnesota make a run through the month of September, health or otherwise, to establish a stranglehold on the division. Without their depth, it just doesn’t seem like a thought based in reality. If they can hold serve and squeak out a division win while their competition also looks weak, then circumstances could turn in their favor. A team lacking health and depth will get exposed in a seven-game series, and probably in a five-game series as well. In a three-game series though, the talent this Twins team has should be enough for a win in October, and even an opportunity to advance. Threading the needle between health and positioning will be a tough task for Minnesota’s staff the next few weeks, but this should be seen as an opportunity where getting in could be just enough.
  8. TOM KELLY (MANAGER, 1986-2001): Just a great gal. Broke out of the gate quickly, lightning fast down the stretch, amazing haunches. So powerful. Always left the track in a good mood when she ran. [INFORMED THAT THIS IS NOT QUEEN ELIZABETH II, THE GREYHOUND KELLY WAGERED ON AT ST. CROIX MEADOWS, BUT RATHER THE HUMAN WOMAN] Oh. Well, that’s a shame. What country? EMILIO PAGAN (PITCHER, 2022): I was fortunate enough to meet her on a visit to Great Britain in 2018. I even threw her a baseball for a photo op. She hit it 440 feet. I tip my cap to her. ANDRELTON SIMMONS (SHORTSTOP, 2021): 96-year-old woman dies after getting the COVID vaccine? Coincidence? Yeah, right. JOE MAUER (CATCHER, 2004-2018): Wow. Pretty big deal. NICK PUNTO (INFIELDER, 2004-10): I slid headfirst into Buckingham Palace once. Guards got all bent out of shape about it and I’m like, “Hey, hustling doesn’t stop at the water’s edge, muchacho.” Anyway, that’s the only other time I had to fight extradition for wanting it more. RIP get money. JUSTIN MORNEAU (FIRST BASE, 2003-16): As a Canadian, this means one thing: I must take up arms for the crown. If (Glen) Perkins or (Dick) Bremer get in my way, so be it. GLEN PERKINS (PITCHER, 2006-2017): You know, it’s a complicated legacy. I th—wait a minute, what is (Justin} Morneau doing with…is that a musket? DICK BREMER (TWINS PLAY-BY-PLAY, 1983-PRESENT): That’s a musket. Take cover, Glen. Fortunately, I’ve been to a St. Cloud State Homecoming or two in my day. [LIGHTS MOLOTOV COCKTAIL, HEAVES FLAMING COUCH AT POLITE YET FERAL SASKATOON HORDE] BRAD RADKE (PITCHER, 1995-2006): I don’t think she was much of a fisherman, right? BYRON BUXTON (OUTFIELDER, 2015-PRESENT): England is a country where I’ve never had a devastating injury. Liz is good by me. ROCCO BALDELLI (MANAGER, 2019-PRESENT): Was following Phish around the country in 2015, just chill vibes for days. They played Alpine Valley and on night 1, the minute they kicked into “Tweezer,” who gets up on stage but the Queen herself? Just started jamming with Trey, couldn’t believe my eyes. Everyone says I was “feeling the effects” so to speak and there’s no video evidence, but I know what I saw. Her Majesty could shred. DAN GLADDEN (OUTFIELDER, 1987-1991; RADIO ANNOUNCER 2000-PRESENT): America fought a damn war for me not to care about this. I tell you what though, if the Queen came out to the farm and helped me move some earth, lay some sod, get her hands dirty, and maybe punch that egg-sucking bastard Steve Lombardozzi right in the solar plexus, I’d pay my respects. Image license here.
  9. Rocco Baldelli is nearing the end of his fourth season at the helm of the Minnesota Twins. His first year as manager couldn’t have gone much better as he helped guide the team to 101 wins and a division title. MLB named him the AL Manager of the Year, and it seemed like the team was heading in a positive direction. During his second season, the COVID pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of the game, from spring training through the playoffs. Baldelli guided the Twins to a second consecutive division title even with all the distractions in 2020. He won 60% or more of his games in each of his first two seasons, but then the wheels came off in 2021. Last season was an unmitigated disaster from the start of the season. Minnesota went 9-15 in April and ended up with one month (August) when the team had a winning record. It didn’t seem to matter what buttons he pushed during the season’s first half, but the team didn’t quit on him. Even as the team headed for a last-place finish, the club went 29-28 from the start of August until the season’s end. Young pitchers like Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober also gave hope to an improved 2022 Twins roster. Entering the 2022 season, most projection systems had the Twins pegged to finish around .500. By the end of May, those expectations had changed because Minnesota went 30-21 to start the year. Unfortunately, the Twins have been playing below .500 since that point and have little margin for error over the season’s final month. Even with altered expectations, Minnesota still has an opportunity to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under Baldelli. The way the season has played out is one of the most frustrating things for fans. Minnesota made a splash by signing Carlos Correa to a giant contract shortly after the lockout ended. Correa has provided leadership, but his on-field performance has been below his typical level, which isn’t something Baldelli can control. A manager can only be as good as the roster he is given, and the Twins roster had some evident flaws from the season’s start. Minnesota’s pitching staff had holes and injuries, and poor play only magnified those flaws. The front office tried to remedy those issues at the trade deadline, and the pitching staff has improved in recent weeks. However, the line-up has struggled to score runs, and the team is struggling to stay in playoff contention. When a team plays well, a manager will get credit for pushing all the right buttons. When a team struggles, a manager gets most of the blame. Injuries have dramatically impacted Minnesota’s lineup as this roster would look significantly different with a healthy Ryan Jeffers, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Royce Lewis. That being said, every team deals with injuries, and the best managers find ways to win games even when injuries occur, especially those managers of the high-salaried teams. Luckily, the front office won’t be forced into deciding until this winter. Minnesota has only had four different managers since Tom Kelly took the reins near the end of the 1986 season. It seems unlikely for the Twins to go in a different direction at the manager position as this front office picked Baldelli, and he guided the team to multiple division titles. The Twins may turn it on and end the year strongly, but a poor finish may have fans calling for new leadership in the dugout. Do you think Baldelli’s future with the club is in jeopardy? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  10. Leading up to the August 2nd trade deadline, it became apparent that Thad Levine and Derek Falvey needed to add pitching. They had problems in the rotation and they had problems in the bullpen. Sure, Ryan Jeffers was on the injured list and a backup catcher became necessary. You could also make the case that an additional outfielder would have made sense after losing Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, and Kyle Garlick. The reality though, is that this front office did everything and more to position Rocco Baldelli’s club towards the Postseason. We’ve seen in recent seasons where deals at the deadline have a way of spreading discouragement throughout the clubhouse. When Minnesota was both buyers and sellers a few years ago, it seemed that an initial displeasure was then followed by a desire to prove resiliency. In 2022 however, there’s no room for discouragement. Everything the front office did was met with elation by those on the field. The Twins social media channels have shown the embrace of new talent, and the excitement brought on by a belief that the team was good enough to invest in. None of that seems to have mattered on the field however. Although the pitching has turned around, thanks in large part to the additions made at the deadline, a collective of each player in the lineup continues to fail. Through three games against a very beatable Texas Rangers team, Minnesota has gone 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position. They’ve left a whopping 20 runners on base, and they’ve largely looked uninterested at the plate. There’s plenty to be said about a manager with more of an engaging style such as Baldelli. He’s a far cry from the Hall of Famer that was Paul Molitor, and recently celebrated Ron Gardenhire may represent something in between. I don’t know that Minnesota needs a drill sergeant in the dugout, but for all we’ve heard about chemistry and makeup, it’s time for the leaders to lead. Carlos Correa was signed to the largest deal for a Major League infielder by average annual value this offseason. Byron Buxton was inked to the extension firmly entrenching his status as the driver of this team. Sonny Gray has previously played for winning organizations while working through his veteran career. Necessary to see the production on field from that group, one of them has to provide the voice that turns this thing around. It’s not Minnesota’s fault for playing in baseball’s second worst division. It is their fault for failing to capitalize on that opportunity. There’s no excuse for the lifeless performances that we’ve grown accustomed to at this point in the season. A lineup that should be expected to do damage routinely looks inept, and the buy in to get the job done has to be a feeling shared across the board. To date the Twins have been held scoreless in 10% of their 117 games. With 45 to go, it’s put up or shut up time, and the only place this team will be searching for answers if left out in October is the bathroom mirror.
  11. Ron Gardenhire is fired up, really fired up to be back at Target Field this weekend. But not at the same heat index Rocco Baldelli found himself at two weeks ago against the Blue Jays. Gardenhire’s response to Baldelli’s ejection on August 7rh? “Oh my god. That was the best [ejection] ever! If I would have had his number, I would have called him. That was good stuff right there. The call was an absolute joke. My wife almost kicked me out of the house. That’s how mad I was. Rocco was awesome, I just went in there and told him.” Again, Gardy’s excitement remains at a hot level for his team hall of fame induction as he shared alongside Dan Gladden. “For me, it’s pretty fired up to get your name put up with a selective few Twins is pretty special, especially with Gladden. I think back to '91 all the time. He’s standing at third base. He’s screaming at me. I’m screaming at him. We can’t hear each other. So now to watch him go into the Twins Hall of Fame, well deserved, a big fan favorite, always has been. And I’m just happy to be here,” said Gardenhire. “See how he deflects?” responded Gladden. “I’m the manager, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” responded Gardenhire. Gardenhire’s legacy with the Twins is not completely over as his son, Toby Gardenhire, currently manages the St. Paul Saints. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had not yet spoken to Ron Gardenhire before his pre-game press conference but talked about his correspondence with Toby. “I talk to Toby a fair amount. He gives me some updates [on Ron], I think he's doing great. But it'll be fun, I think it'll be a lot of people in the house, too, that are pretty excited about cheering on the guys that are going in,” said Baldelli. Toby Gardenhire will be taking the day off from the Saints on Saturday to attend his dad’s Twins induction. Saints bench coach Tyler Smarslok will be acting manager in his place. When it comes to his speech preparation, Gardenhire is ready for what he has but has no anticipation of emotions flooding over him during the speech. “I don’t think so, I think it’s just a proud moment for me, proud for my family. My grandbabies, I have about four or five of them now. It’s been really hard to concentrate on everything but them, so I’m excited to be out there. My wife and I tried to write a script here and make it quick and not make it last a long time like (Justin) Morneau did last year.” “That won’t be broken,” Gladden interjected. During Friday night’s game, Gardenhire was the celebrity bartender at the Gray Duck deck on the main concourse, underneath the retired numbers in Twins franchise history. Gardenhire’s entry into the Twins Hall of Fame comes eight years after his last game as a manager with the Twins and two years from his retirement from the game as a whole. Gardenhire is second all-time in Twins franchise wins (1,068) for a manager behind two-time world champion Tom Kelly (1,140). Gardenhire and Gladden both worked under Kelly together for a total of five seasons and reminisced on some of their memories from that time. Saturday’s ceremony for Gardenhire’s Twins Hall of Fame induction begins approximately a half hour before the game’s first pitch at 6:10 p.m. CT. Fans can tune into Bally Sports North to catch the ceremony prior to the game.
  12. Returning home to face Kansas City, the Twins play 16 more games in August from the 15th on. Of those, 13 are at Target Field. Only three of those games, the set on the road against the Houston Astros, are against a team currently projected to be a postseason club. While Minnesota has played poorly for a handful of weeks now, that’s exactly the slate they should be looking to get right against. Although August sets up favorably from a scheduling standpoint, it’s September where Rocco Baldelli has to be considering the greatest opportunity for his team to take back the division. Assuming the Twins can hold serve in the month ahead, they’ll be within striking distance heading into the final month of the regular season. During September, Minnesota plays their chief competition a combined 17 times. Facing the Cleveland Guardians eight times, and the Chicago White Sox nine times (including a final three game series to end the season in October), it’s there that the division will be decided. You can certainly make the argument that Minnesota has done less with more all season. Sure, the lineup is lacking several key contributors at this point such as Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, and Kyle Garlick. Weeks or even months ago though, when the lineup was healthy, opportunities to expand the division lead were routinely missed. Now needing to regain their standing, they’ll have to do so on the basis of scheduling allowing them a way back in. At the end of the day, if the Minnesota Twins can’t stack wins against the bottom of the division and pile up victories against lackluster competition at home, they don’t deserve to be in the postseason. This team certainly isn’t on the same tier as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, but they also don’t need to be. The front office did everything they could at the trade deadline to swing big moves and bring in impactful help. It’s now on those within the clubhouse to hold up their end of the bargain. Making the Postseason allows a turning of the page with an opportunity to make noise. Failing to capitalize on a season set up so perfectly for them would be nothing short of a failure. Right now it seems as though the Twins are trending in the wrong direction, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue otherwise. Carlos Correa wasn’t signed to a team expected to go out with a whimper, and acquiring an ace like Tyler Mahle wasn’t done with a belief there wasn’t an opportunity to compete. Baldelli’s club has the pieces necessary to win ballgames, but they now must show it in the box score. Less with more has been a theme at times this year, and while there’s still time to get it right, the clock is ticking.
  13. Maybe this is a spoiler alert, but the answer should be “absolutely not!” The pinnacle of the sport is obviously a World Series, but to place that as the goal each season would be suggesting anything but an outcome afforded to one of thirty teams as a failure. Minnesota’s front office put a strong step forward at the trade deadline and to the club both for now and the future. In doing so, they’re still lightyears behind a Dodgers roster that has already surpassed 70 wins. Would it have been better to hang onto prospects and simply play for next year? Maybe Spencer Steer plays above his head and becomes the next Nolan Arenado. Maybe Cade Povich reaches the 200th percentile expectation and is the next Max Scherzer. None of that is likely, but it’s arguably as silly as worry about style points. It’s not the Twins fault that they play in the AL Central. Currently, the division is expected to be won by a team with somewhere around 84 victories. That’s just two above a .500 mark, and well below what the New York Yankees of the world will finish at. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Guardians continue to jockey for position alongside Minnesota, although no one has wanted to take a stranglehold on the lead. Minnesota isn’t alone in this pursuit. Both the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in similar scenarios within the NL Central. That division has three of the worst teams in baseball however, a run down even from the American League counterpart. Frustrations certainly reign for both of those clubs as well, but the focus is on making it to October. At no point in their future history will the Twins be seen as a World Series favorite. They can be a team that contends for one though, and half the battle in doing so is making the tournament. The 2021 Atlanta Braves won the World Series coming off a season in which they finished with just 88 regular season wins. They then went 11-5 in the Postseason, winning three consecutive series, and grabbing their ring. Better teams existed, but they were the one that got it done. Ultimately what happens against the Dodgers on a random weeknight holds little weight when it comes to a final resting place. You don’t need to play the game in order to be aware New York, Los Angeles, or any host of other clubs have a better roster than the Twins. The games are played though, because on any given night, a different outcome can take place. Rocco Baldelli’s club faces the Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox a combined 17 times after September 1. We still have a few weeks left in August for teams to jockey for position, but nothing is going to be decided until next month anyway. Evaluating games daily makes sense from a performance perspective. Suggesting each one is reflective of eventual outcomes when viewed through a vacuum isn’t a worthwhile practice. The Twins need to get Trevor Larnach, Kenta Maeda, Josh Winder, and Bailey Ober back. They need to continue to gel and have Tyler Mahle look like an ace with Sonny Gray following behind him. They need the lineup to work consistently with Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton leading them. Over the duration of the next few weeks, Minnesota’s goal should be to stack wins, same as any other period. The reality though, is that there are no style points to reaching the Postseason. Get there. Get it done. That’s the message sent by the front office when they added at the deadline.
  14. Although Miguel Sano spent the maximum 20 days on the injured list, he played in just 12 games. The Twins curiously had part of his rehab assignment take place during the All-Star Break which ate up time that Sano could’ve gotten in at bats. Regardless, he performed extremely well on the farm, slashing .333/.422/.795 split across a few Complex League games and Triple-A. Relegated to the back-end of Minnesota’s lineup, Sano got in just six at-bats before returning to the injured list. Drawing two starts but playing just one complete game, it’s clear Rocco Baldelli sees the slugger as little more than a revolving piece at this point. Sano was hitless in his return to action and posted four strikeouts without generating a walk. There’s no denying that the front office took as much time as they could to look at options before activating Sano. It appeared a possible DFA was on the table, and that would’ve left the Twins on the hook for the remaining $7 million or so on his deal. In a perfect world, they’d find a trade partner to offload his remaining commitment, but there’s just little reason for anyone to pay for Minnesota’s anchor of an expense. So now it remains to be seen what an eventual timeline for a return to play looks like, but it’s hard not to imagine this being the end of the road. We’re into August and the 26-man roster needs to be best positioned for a Postseason run. Gilberto Celestino was optioned to make room for Sano initially, but it’s hard to argue he’s not of more value as a fourth outfielder. Even though Alex Kirilloff is hurt and that takes away an option at first base, the Twins have developed other depth there in the form of Jose Miranda and Luis Arraez. If the timeline is short, and it probably won’t be considering the previous handling of the same injury for Sano, a decision would need to be made as to how he factors back in. Another rehab stint could happen, but that would just be delaying the inevitable. If a return can happen in something like 10 days, Sano could find himself as an option given the health of the current roster. Even then, however, that DFA from before could again rear its head. Maybe Minnesota would rather not end this era of such a highly prized prospect on a whimper, but it didn’t seem to deter them before. Across 694 games with the Twins during his eight-year career in the big leagues, Sano has blasted 162 home runs. There’s been highs and lows, but I think it’s probably safe to assume this is where it ends. Should he not play another game in a Minnesota uniform, what would register as some of your favorite memories for the Dominican product that sparked an entire documentary and put the Twins farm system on the map?
  15. For now, the Twins have yet to place Alex Kirilloff on the injured list, but Rocco Baldelli indicated he would be re-evaluated prior to Minnesota facing the Detroit Tigers, and that the pain had gotten to the point where Kirilloff could again not swing a bat. When he was demoted to Triple-A earlier this season, Kirilloff owned a paltry .172/.226/.172 slash line. It was just a 10-game sample size, but he had zero extra-base hits and a 12/1 K/BB. By any statistical measure, it was a nightmare start. Considering last season's surgery was supposed to do the trick, it’s becoming increasingly worrisome that despite a recent check-in to suggest things were physically fine, he’s unable to perform to the fullest extent. Back in April, it was reported that Kirilloff had shut down his offseason training program due to pain, but was good to go to start Spring Training in March. Prior to playing for the Saints, Kirilloff received a cortisone shot in mid-April. That’s been largely a route for pain management rather than actually fixing the issue, so it always remained curious as to when this problem could again flare up. Returning to the Twins in mid-June, Kirilloff played 13 games for Minnesota throughout the month and posted a .790 OPS. The batting average was there, but he generated just six extra-base hits including only a single home run. The month of July went even worse, unfortunately. A .254/.303/.366 slash line suggested that the ability to drive the baseball was again all but gone. Kirilloff had just four extra-base hits in 21 games last month, split between doubles and homers. There does seem to be some understanding of his limitations while Kirilloff continues to utilize the whole field when facing opposing pitchers. If his wrist doesn’t allow for consistent forearm strength against velocity, utilizing the opposite field makes a ton of sense. He hasn’t been entirely pull happy since his return, and whether by design or happenstance, that’s a plan that can work. The problem for both Kirilloff and Minnesota is that this outcome saps production and so much of the value in his game as a whole. He’s not a defensive stalwart, even at first base where he should find a home, and being a singles hitter is not who he strives to be. Kirilloff has basically never been able to flash the power potential he provides due to lacking health from the moment he’s arrived in Minnesota. Where both parties go from here remains to be seen. During the season Minnesota’s goal was certainly to have the slugger available to him. He’s also been told through additional imaging that things remain status quo. There’s no reason to cut his hand open for the sake of doing so, but any number of new opinions must be sought in order to find the root issue. Give it to Kirilloff for attempting to play through the problem and seeking a better outcome. Both sides can try to limp this thing through the Postseason in hopes of finding whatever value there is to be had, but this isn’t something that can go on forever. For now, Minnesota has virtually never seen a fully healthy Alex Kirilloff at the Major League level, and the more this cycle goes on one has to wonder if we ever will.
  16. The above graph shows OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) against each starting pitcher separated by times through the order. So for example, it shows that hitters have a 0.786 OPS when hitting against Joe Ryan for the second time in a game. The size of the points indicate fraction of pitches. Chris Archer has only pitched to 10 hitters for a third time in a game (mercifully, it seems). The pattern for most pitchers is clear: the scales tip toward the batter with each successive time through the lineup. So for Rocco Baldelli, the urge to call on the bullpen should strengthen each time opposing lineups turn over. For comparison's sake, consider the group of middle relievers comprised of Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar, Emilio Pagán, Jovani Moran, and Trevor Megill. That group has an OPS against of 0.636. So while turning to the bullpen often has not been pretty, it's still a much better option than having the likes of Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy, or Devin Smeltzer face a hitter for a 3rd time.
  17. Following a big answer from second baseman Jorge Polanco in the bottom of the 5th inning, Minnesota was trailing by just a single run. After Juan Minaya and Yennier Cano bridged the game to that point, Tyler Duffey was tasked with facing Jose Trevino, Joey Gallo, and D.J. LeMahieu in the 7th inning. To set the stage, all of Minnesota’s best relievers including Jhoan Duran, Joe Smith, and Emilio Pagan were available and rested. Tyler Duffey has arguably been the worst of the group in the bullpen this season, and issued a single and a walk before Anthony Rizzo stepped in. Despite having two outs in the inning, Duffey appeared shaky. He nibbled around Gallo, and put LeMahieu on second with a wild pitch. Then he intentionally walked Judge after getting to a three-ball count. If there was a point to second guess the move to give him the inning, this was it, but it also goes against everything Minnesota has practiced in recent seasons. Asked following the game by MLB.com’s Do-Young Park, Rocco Baldelli explained that trailing in the middle innings just simply isn’t a leverage situation by Minnesota’s standards. He said, “We play a lot of close ballgames. It feels like we’re in close ballgames most games in those spots. If we treat games where we’re down as if we’re up, then when we are up we’re not going to have the pitchers that we really want setup to throw in those games. It doesn’t always feel satisfying at times and that’s fine. But we have guys like Duran and Pagan who've thrown late in a lot of games and Joe Smith, those guys have pitched mainly in games where we’re winning and we want them to be available and ready to finish ballgames when the time comes.” Deep breath, exhale, Duffey serves up a three-run shot to Anthony Rizzo effectively ending any chance for Minnesota to mount a comeback. The opportunity to win never presented itself as the opportunity not to lose wasn’t capitalized on. There’s room for debate as to what should have happened, but the question becomes, what should the process be going forward? Minnesota plays a lot of consistently evident situations analytically. In regards to the bullpen, as Baldelli stated, their horses don’t pitch without a lead to protect. On the infield dirt, it’s routine to see the fielders play in, even early in a game, to cut down a run at the plate. Platoon advantages throughout the lineup are present often. It’s not to say this organization and team is run by a computer, but rather that data drives many decisions with the understanding that numbers normalize over time. Unfortunately for Baldelli, and we’ve seen this in previous years as well, sometimes the decision comes down to a 50/50 coin flip on which he is consistently seeing the wrong side of. With regards to this specific situation, the bullpen, there’s two competing thought processes at play for Minnesota. The Twins have next to no reliable middle relief help right now. Minaya was DFA’d following the Yankees loss, and Cano has been erratic at best. Duffey isn’t close to what he was a couple of years ago, and Caleb Thielbar hasn’t seen the results that his advanced metrics are there. Whether leading or not, Minnesota has nearly no one to turn to when looking for a bridge to the back of the pen. On the flip side, while playing close games with a lineup capable of damage, it’s worth wondering how often a hypothetical opportunity never presents itself because the gap is widened. Had one of the horses entered in the 7th inning down by a run and slammed the door, what kind of momentum is generated to recoup the single run and take a lead. Without that process ever being explored, it’s hard to suggest a definitive answer. Ultimately the Twins are strapped in relief. On a nightly basis they don’t have a bullpen that can make up for starters going just five innings or less. Winning or losing, Duran, Smith, and Pagan can’t be expected to lock down three innings something like five times per week. There has to be help brought in, both for the rotation and bullpen, but it may also be time Baldelli and Wes Johnson consider protecting the opportunity in front of them rather than just the potential one they may never see. Share your thoughts below. How would you handle pitching from behind in a close game?
  18. Baldelli had the makings of a slam-dunk hire in 2019, when he became the youngest recipient of Manager of the Year in history, leading the Twins to a historic 101-win season. He followed with another division title in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. One would think such an impressive start to his managerial career would earn the guy a bit of leeway in the eyes of fans. Turns out, not so much. While experiencing his first rocky year at the helm, Rocco was routinely derided by a large portion of the fanbase and columnist hive in 2021's last-place debacle. Never mind he was supplied by the front office with Alex Colomé as his closer and the Happ-maker combo as his rotation reinforcements. Never mind dealing with a rotten hand injury-wise. Baldelli took major heat nonetheless. It's the name of the game. As this 2022 season got off to similarly ugly start, with a 4-8 record two weeks in, fans on Twitter were calling for Rocco's head and a certain desperate-for-attention local media outlet was hilariously attempting to manufacture a manager controversy. Since that 4-8 start, Baldelli's Twins are 17-7. They're winning tight games. They're playing far cleaner, crisper ball than opponents. And they're bouncing back from adversity. Tactically, Baldelli has been pressing the right buttons and his decision have paid off time and time again. Here are three examples from Monday's 3-1 victory: 1: Chris Archer pulled after four innings. It wasn't an obvious call by any means. Archer had allowed only one run on two hits over four innings. He was at just 62 pitches when Baldelli made the decision to pull him. The Twins were in the midst of a stretch with nine games in nine days. They could've tried to squeeze another inning or two. The skipper did not want to see Archer face Oakland's lineup for a third time and that was absolutely the right call. Yennier Canó came in and mowed down the next two frames, giving hitters a very different look from the starter. Griffin Jax followed with two scoreless frames, and then Tyler Duffey closed things out in a clean ninth. Another shutout showing from the relief corps. Minnesota's bullpen, despite losing one of the best relievers in baseball on the eve of Opening Day, has been phenomenal. Elite by any measure. Elite! Who would've expected this based on the personnel we saw forming this unit? Twins relief pitchers – from Canó to Jax to Joe Smith to Jhoan Duran to Emilio Pagán and beyond – are getting it done. Rocco is putting them in spots to succeed, as has been his trademark. His bullpen ranked third in the majors in WAR in 2019, and second in 2020. Baldelli quietly has an argument as the best bullpen manager in baseball. 2: Small ball pays off in the 5th inning. I'm not a big fan of small-ball tactics generally, and based on his tendencies I think it's safe to say Baldelli feels the same. (I mean, that 2019 team was basically a giant middle-finger to small ball as a concept.) But both of us could agree that it made sense to take such an approach in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game after Royce Lewis drew a leadoff walk. Nick Gordon, the #9 hitter who entered with a paltry .596 OPS, stepped in and got the bunt call. He executed, bringing up the team's best hitter with one out and a man in scoring position. Byron Buxton? Oh, you know he executed. Even if it hadn't worked out, bunting with Gordon there is a move that simply made sense. Baldelli has shown he'll go that route when it's warranted. You wonder if the dead-ball trend might compel this calculating manager to keep adjusting in that direction. 3: Buxton was on the field. There's been a whole bunch of grumbling lately about the team's "kid-gloves treatment" of Buxton. (Much of it, you'll be shocked to learn, coming from the aforementioned desperate-for-attention outlet.) Apparently it is now controversial to take a cautious approach in a 162-game season with your vitally important superstar who also happens to be banged up, and maybe the most injury-prone player in the league. Yes, Baldelli and the Twins have opened up about their intentions to manage Buxton's workload this year in hopes of keeping him off the injured list. Their plan has been successful so far, in every way. Buxton has avoided the IL – despite a few scares that continue to affect him – and the Twins are six games above .500, leading the division, even with him playing only two-thirds of the time. Winning the division and having Buxton healthy for the playoffs should be this team's utmost aspiration. It's a combination they haven't yet been able to achieve yet. Right now, Baldelli has the Twins on track to do both. And people are still complaining. SMH. Some of us appreciate you, Rocco, and see the things you're doing to help this team exceed expectations. Many won't. But that's the name of the game.
  19. It’s understandable that a controllable starter like Chris Paddack may have been available for a lesser return given his elbow issues. Unfortunately, they reared their head just a few starts into 2022 and now it appears he’ll undergo surgery to fix the problem that was already there. Emilio Pagan was hardly a throw-in, however, and despite his 4.83 ERA last season, he’s just a few years removed from being one of baseball’s more dominant relievers. Pagan, who recently turned 31-years-old, posted a 2.31 ERA in his lone season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Acting as their closer that year, he recorded 20 saves and worked 70 innings. His 12.3 K/9 was a career-high, and the 1.7 BB/9 was near a career-low. The 3.30 FIP suggested it was all pretty solidly rooted in advanced statistics as well. Of course, he wasn’t the same pitcher the past two seasons for the Padres, and that’s likely why they were willing to upgrade the back end of their pen. For Minnesota, needing to replace Rogers, Pagan would immediately become an option should he find a way to harness his former glory. Things started ugly for the Twins' new closer as he took the loss in his second appearance, and blew a save in just his third try. Through his first six outings this year Pagan had just a 7/6 K/BB and appeared to be doing a tightrope act each time he took the mound. Since that point though, Pagan has pitched another six innings and has not allowed an earned run. His 8/4 K/BB is more manageable and the ERA is down to 1.54. While the free passes remain an issue, he’s worked around the danger thanks to a career-best 5.4 H/9. It’s not as though Pagan simply lost the ability to find the zone. He’s an established veteran with more than 200 Major League innings under his belt, and in that time he surrendered just a 2.3 BB/9. The gaudy 7.7 BB/9 comes from something else, and he was asked about it following his fifth save of the season. Having basically always been a two-pitch pitcher, and really only one when you consider the secondary offering is a version of the other, Pagan changed his repertoire this season. He’s traditionally been categorized as a fastball and slider guy, although most reporting systems call his secondary offering a cutter. This offseason he added a splitter and it’s drastically different from what he already brings to the table. During Spring Training, and still then with the Padres, San Diego manager Bob Melvin said, “He’s coming up with a new pitch. He’s throwing a split(-fingered fastball) a lot. … I think a third pitch will serve him well. Typically, a bullpen guy, especially late innings, is more of a two-pitch guy. But I think a third pitch will be good for him. Fastball, sliders are mostly hard (stuff). This is kind of a slower pitch, goes in a different direction, and gives the hitter something else to think about. He’s thrown it in a game and feels confident about it.” To this point in 2022, the splitter has been a focal point for Pagan. He’s thrown it over 17% of the time, and it’s drastically changed the cutter usage. In developing a new pitch and then utilizing it in games, it’s understandable there would be some hiccups and likely control or command issues. As he continues to find comfort with the offering, the walks should subside back down to his career norms. Rocco Baldelli has a very good thing going at the back of his pen right now. Whether going with rookie fireballer Jhoan Duran, or veteran-tested Pagan, he’s got capable arms to mix and match for any situation. The more Minnesota can lean into both of them shutting down the opposition, the better they’ll find themselves positioned to close out games in routine fashion.
  20. It became clear following a Saturday night game against the Cleveland Guardians, in which Byron Buxton should’ve been called upon to pinch-hit, that rest and caution remain paramount for the organization. Rocco Baldelli has consistently rested players with the hopes of keeping them fresh, and while the current state of Minnesota’s Injured List would suggest that as not bearing fruit, it also doesn’t appear as something the organization will move off of. Relating to Buxton specifically, he’s dealing with the same right knee soreness that immediately looked like a season-ending injury. Sliding into second base, he punched the ground in anguish and a question as to whether his knee was torn up immediately came into question. Returning to the lineup less than a week later, he’s still dealing with the after-effects, even if an MRI revealed no serious damage. It’s not as though Buxton hasn’t been productive. Quite the opposite actually, as he’s been a monster through the 23 games he has been on the field. Buxton owns a .259/.330/.706 slash line and is just one homer shy of the American League lead with 11. He’s yet to triple but does have five doubles to his credit, and a few recent walks make the 28/6 K/BB ratio more workable. Through 134 innings in the outfield, Buxton has been worth 1 Defensive Run Saved and 2 Outs Above Average. Following Sunday’s game against the Guardians, one in which Buxton was back in centerfield and Minnesota won, he said, "We've got a process, process of me staying on the field, trying to play 100 games. So however that looks, who knows? But that's what we have, a plan here, and it's what we're going to stick to." As unfortunate or disappointing as that may be, it’s clear that Buxton is in lockstep with manager Rocco Baldelli regarding that plan. After the loss to the Guardians on Saturday night, Minnesota’s manager said in regards to the decision against pinch-hitting Buxton, “"It wasn't going to be an option. Ultimately, we discussed that as a group, but ultimately I make that decision. When we make the decision before the game, we don't change what we're going to do when the game gets going." Those notes in conjunction with one another suggest the Twins are firmly set in a plan to have Buxton play right around 60% of their games this season. The good news is that even through that few contests, extrapolating his numbers gets a gaudy amount of production. You’d be looking at something like 21 doubles, 47 homers, and 7.4 fWAR. Putting up those statistics in 162 games would be generous for most. If Buxton was able to continue that pace over just 100, it would be nothing short of unfathomable. On the defensive side of things, it may be hard to find the same rhythm. Buxton has been worth just one DRS thus far and contributed only 2 OAA. Gilberto Celestino has done an amazing job filling in, so maybe it matters less, but Buxton’s Gold Glove prowess is always going to be missed. When looking at this decision by Minnesota, there are a couple of things to consider. First and foremost is that not all players can operate as a designated hitter, or without being constantly involved in the game flow. Buxton has suffered without playing the field, and missing over one-third of the games will certainly threaten any attempt to create consistency. The other problem is the assumption that disjointed time off will prevent further injury or advance healing. After all, Buxton was injured on a play where he slid into second base, and also suffered an injury running to first base following a dropped third strike. It’s not as if he’s being threatened in instances that won’t routinely present themselves. His body may simply be less durable than others, and that leaves him susceptible in all capacities. Maybe most interesting here is who the Twins have as a manager. Baldelli himself was on a path to being one of baseball's best players and constant injuries derailed his career. Buxton certainly is involved throughout this planning process, as is Baldelli, but the front office must be clued in too. The Twins training staff is probably weighing in with their expertise, and we don't completely know what the injury was given the designation simply being soreness. Maybe this is something Baldelli himself has implored Buxton to consider knowing what consistent injury and health issues can do to the overall length of a playing career. What do you think? Are the Twins actually able to prevent further injury by trying to avoid consistent games played? Does Buxton benefit from time down to heal completely? What should happen here?
  21. A year ago, the Twins were doing a little West Coast swing. While in Anaheim, several players including Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick, and Caleb Thielbar tested positive for Covid. The Twins were in the early part of a delayed season that was already going south quickly. Losing players and the stress of that situation only contributed to the Twins early-season demise in 2021. Obviously the hope this time around is that the affected players (and manager) are feeling alright and can return to the game in quick fashion, hopefully within a week. That said, we may not have heard the end of this. Players have been testing today, and with more positive tests, it is likely that they will continue to test in the coming days. We know that Covid's incubation period can be several days, so the Twins could find more positives for the next few days as well. Max Kepler has felt under the weather for a couple of days. He left Wednesday night's game early. He has taken a few Covid tests and they have been negative to this point. GM Thad Levine said other players are also feeling a little under the weather. We shall see where this takes us, but it could be a very interesting weekend for the Twins. The Twins entered play on Thursday with a 15-10 record and a 3 1/2 game lead over the White Sox and Guardians in the AL Central. Levine told reporters in Baltimore, "This is why you built out a lot of versatility and experience in your coaching staff and go get several people on our bench who have had managerial experience whether it be in the big leagues or winter leagues or in the minor league," That is equally important when considering how the Twins built their roster, with several players able to play multiple positions. Speculation is that the Twins personnel may have contracted Covid while in Tampa as several members of the Rays coaching staff are also currently out for the same reason. Bundy and Arraez were both placed on the Covid-IL. Per MLB Trade Rumors: "As per the 2022 version of the league’s COVID protocols, Arraez and Bundy will miss at least the next 10 days, though they may make an earlier return if they meet three criteria — two negative PCR tests, at least 24 hours without a fever, and approval from a team doctor and a MLB/MLBPA joint committee of two other physicians." With that in mind, the Twins will likely need to add a couple of players to their active roster on Friday. To replace Luis Arraez, the team will likely want a 40-man roster guy who could play multiple positions if needed. They will also want to add a pitcher to replace Bundy. Sonny Gray is making a start for the Saints this weekend. Josh Winder, Chris Paddack and Joe Ryan are scheduled to start for the Twins this weekend at Target Field against the A's. So the Twins could go with a long reliever or a starter. It will be interesting to see what direction the team goes with a pitcher. It would seem that Alex Kirilloff would be the hitter to return. We will continue to update this as more information becomes available.
  22. Many articles that you read here at Twins Daily or other sports or news sites may use data or reasoning to push a reader toward an opinion. Sometimes it's as black and white as right or wrong. Other times, statistics or scenarios can push a narrative. That isn't what this article is going to be. Frankly, I don't know what this article is going to be. I haven't written a Stream of Consciousness article for quite some time. While trying to organize my thoughts, I realized that there are many angles and factors to be considered. So, let's see where this takes us. Does team chemistry help with Winning, or does it take Winning to create team chemistry? I think looking at the 2022 Minnesota Twins can undoubtedly help the conversation, or it can just give more data points or concepts to consider. There is no doubt that the chemistry of this team was altered with all of the February and March transactions. Trading popular, positive team leaders like Mitch Garver and Taylor Rogers certainly affects chemistry. Trading Rogers literally on opening day and welcoming Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan to the team the next day had to be jarring. On the other side of the equation, it's possible that team chemistry improved with a bit of Addition by Subtraction. It is clear (after the fact) that trading away Josh Donaldson was a positive for team chemistry. Still, Gio Urshela's struggles in 2021, and Gary Sanchez's unfortunate negative relationship with Yankees fans, could have made both players bitter. Instead, they have been happy, excited teammates since Day 1, and the change of scenery could be a blessing in disguise. Urshela has been competing against the Twins for many years, going back to his time in Cleveland. Gary Sanchez has been friends with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco for over a dozen years. As exciting as it is that the Twins signed Carlos Correa, it sure could have gone a number o ways. He could have come in and acted entitled. He could have been a prima donna. Instead, from Day 1, he has said all the right things. He hasn't tried to take over a leadership role, but his leadership qualities showed when he told everybody that this is Byron's (Buxton) team. Despite his slow start, it's clear that he is leading in the dugout. He has been a supportive teammate. He has taken the time to help and offer ideas to teammates. And Byron Buxton? There is a legitimate question of if he is the best player in baseball or at least the most talented player. He had every right to be upset at the Twins and this front office for their manipulation of his service time. He couldn't have handled it any better than he did, starting the following year. And last year, amid rumors of broken contract talks and trade talk, Buxton made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Twins. And ultimately, that's what happened. He could have waited and become a free agent after this season. He likely could have doubled the guaranteed money he received from the Twins or another team. Instead, he took an offer that he could be happy with, his family and the Twins' front office should be thrilled with. Fans should be thrilled with the deal. But, maybe more important, Buxton made playing in Minnesota a good thing. Signing him probably helped Carlos Correa's interest in the team. In coming offseasons, could his presence factor into decisions of other free agents, like it did when Kirby Puckett roams the outfield for the Twins? And how much fun is it to see him having a blast playing with this group? It's clear that he is everything you would want in a superstar, and seeing him smiling in the dugout, and joking with teammates, is encouraging. Sonny Gray came to the Twins in a trade, a veteran with a terrific track record over his career. We have frequently heard about how Gray has encouraged (if not made it mandatory) all of the starting pitchers to be there for each other's bullpen sessions. First, they can watch what the other pitchers are working on and how they work. Second, they can pass on information and learn from each other—veterans leading the way and veterans who seem to enjoy learning. Chris Archer was great with Tampa. However, once he was traded to the Pirates, he started fighting injuries and struggling on the mound. He talked to former teammates who played in Minnesota or for Baldelli and was told it's a great place. Dylan Bundy has faced injuries throughout his decade in pro ball, and he's had some ups and some real lows. Aside from pitching well, these guys are leaders and articulate lessons well to teammates. You have heard consistently from all new players to the organization is the atmosphere facilitated by the front office, Rocco Baldelli, and his coaching staff. It is an atmosphere of professionalism and working on getting ready for every game and scenario. It's an atmosphere that will also treat them as men, with dignity and respect. Baldelli's leadership has created an environment of communication and makes sure players and their families are comfortable. These are things that I know some people will roll their eyes when they read it. I get that. No one wants to think that touchy-feely stuff affects adults. They are incredibly well-compensated adults playing a kids' game. I get it. We've all heard people say that. Regardless of our job or our role in life, we all want to be respected. We all want to work in a comfortable environment, an environment where everyone feels heard, and increased compensation is available through hard work and challenging yourself. Maybe not everyone wants those things, but like the big leagues, those people are often weeded out. So, again, let's bring it back to this season. With a short spring training and new teammates coming in over that three-week period, it had to take time to get to know each other, much less develop chemistry on the field, in the clubhouse. Again, the roster moves continued right up until Opening Day. Should we be surprised that they struggled out of the gate? Should we be impressed that they only needed 12 games (4-8 start) to turn things around? With their seven-game win streak and sweeps of the White Sox and Tigers, the Twins are now 11-8 and sit atop the AL Central at this very early stage. Players talk about the chemistry the team felt even through their early struggles. So, was it that Chemistry that allowed the Twins to start winning? Or was it the Winning (and a couple of wild wins) that made the chemistry stronger? How much does the front office affect team chemistry? Well, probably primarily by getting reports about players from people who have been their teammates or coaches, or even opponents (along with all of the statistical and analytical stuff). It seems that is part of the role of special advisors to Baseball Operations like Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins, and Justin Morneau. Part of their job description, when hired, was that they could speak to this type of information on players they played with or against or use their relationships around the game to get information on the interpersonal skills of players the Twins might consider acquiring. But that can go both ways. Was Donaldson a detriment to team chemistry? What kind of atmosphere could devolve when popular teammates are traded right before a season starts? How much does the manager, Rocco Baldelli, deserve credit for the chemistry? This is where it's at. Since he was hired, he has set the atmosphere and the expectations. He has been a players' coach, but he's led the Twins through some challenging situations, from Covid to the riots in Minneapolis, to a labor lockout. He's hired coaches, with help from the front office obviously, who are good teachers, know their technical stuff, and listen. Proof of that is that several coaches from his staff have been hired away over the years. Finally, you probably would never hear a player badmouth his manager. Still, the sense is that there is genuine respect for Baldelli, his intelligence, his playing, scouting, coaching background, and more. With replay, there aren't as many opportunities for a manager to "back his players" by getting ejected with silly arguments with umps on close plays. So again, is it chemistry that helps a team relax and perform better and win... or does a team need to experience success (usually in Wins) for chemistry to develop better? And let's be honest. It's easy right now to tout the team's chemistry. They held on early and are currently pitching well and winning games. I'm sure that they will lose their ninth game of the year at some point. The winning streak will likely come to an end. And, like most other teams, the Twins will have a couple more rough patches throughout the season. They are likely to have another 4-8 stretch or two. That's part of the beauty of baseball. It's a marathon, filled with ups and downs. I think chemistry is essential in any part of life, especially in team sports. But it isn't everything. There have been teams that hated each other, got in fights with each other (think 1970s A's, or pretty much any Billy Martin-led team), and won. There have been teams that got along great, had great relationships, and lost a lot of games. And, of course, there are close teams with great chemistry that have won and bad chemistry teams that have lost. So, does that mean that chemistry has nothing to do with winning or losing? There are many examples of teams that won that hated each other. The questions for you to consider include: 1.) What work atmosphere do you personally prefer in your life? 2.) How does that compare to your thoughts on chemistry in professional (or any) sports? 3.) What are your thoughts on the team chemistry of the Twins this year, and where that credit lies? (Front office, manager, coaches, players) 4.) And what are your thoughts on the question: Does Winning create chemistry, or does team chemistry help a team Win? Here are a few final thoughts - and if you've made it this far, thank you, or I'm sorry Ranking keys to success on a baseball team #3 - Chemistry #2 - Talent #1 - Having Byron Buxton on your team and on the field.
  23. Late in Sunday’s game, Jose Godoy came to the plate with runners on first and third while Minnesota needed a run. Carlos Correa was on the bench, and so too was Ryan Jeffers. The former was simply getting a day off, while the latter was out with a left knee contusion but said to be available. Rocco Baldelli opted to let Godoy hit rather than pinch-hit the $35 million talent in Correa or bring in a better catcher and bat in Jeffers. The recently-selected backstop bunted and popped the ball in the air. The Twins didn't score, and the opportunity passed them by. It was at that moment it became abundantly clear that Minnesota will continue to value rest. Being told he would get the day off, Correa wouldn’t be inserted without it being forced on the Twins manager. Maybe more a part of the equation was Jeffers, who would’ve needed to come into the game behind the plate. Being available to pinch-hit doesn’t mean Minnesota wanted half of their ailing duo strapping on the gear unnecessarily. Looking at Correa and his workload, he’s played in 14 of Minnesota’s first 16 games. Last season he played in 148 of 162, and in the shortened 2020 campaign, he missed just two games. Before that, however, his time on the Injured List was notable. Correa played in just 75 games for Houston in 2019 after playing in just 110 and 109 the two years prior, respectively. Managing workloads isn’t something new for Minnesota. It’s been widely reported that the Twins see more benefit in keeping players fresh each time they step on the field instead of running them down with consistent usage. Installing a nap room for veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz was a part of keeping his aging body going, and there have been plenty of instances over the past few years in which long-term availability was the primary focus. Not coincidentally, Minnesota’s starter was also dealing with a managed workload on Sunday. Chris Archer’s plan was just 60 pitches as he looks to build his body back up after injury-shortened seasons the past few years. While he lost control late in his outing before giving way to Josh Winder, it’s evident that the Twins would prefer Archer’s availability remain down the stretch. Having gone through multiple seasons in which depth is tested at inopportune times, the focus for the organization has been to keep their best players available to them. Turnover in the training staff has occurred, and investment has been made in understanding more body science-related advantages. It’s likely by design that a manager who dealt with injury so heavily throughout his career is also a strong leader when it comes to pushing the health and availability of his players. Baldelli has a way of connecting with those around him, and it’s a trait that helps him get buy-in from players when being agreeable to decisions and tweaks. April results matter just as much as those in September, but it’s certainly more challenging to get good results late if you’re scrambling to replace talent.
  24. Early in the year, there’s often the excuse that weather is a culprit for lackluster offensive performance. That’s certainly a fair suggestion, but it’s far too generalized to sum everything up with that easy of a pass. This offseason, the Twins front office added one of the best free agents in baseball, and while Carlos Correa will likely get going, he hasn’t anchored a lineup looking to produce. Scoring just 41 runs in 13 games, Minnesota is averaging just over three runs per contest. No matter how strong the starting pitching has been (they rank 8th in baseball in terms of ERA) or how bad the bullpen has been (they rank 27th in baseball in terms of ERA), the reality is that type of production leaves little room for error. Minnesota is 4-0 when scoring at least four runs this season, but having scored less than that in eight contests is why they’re being doubled up in the loss column. For Rocco Baldelli’s club, it’s not as though there’s a single culprit either. Looking up and down the lineup, no player save for Luis Arraez is producing. Byron Buxton was off to a torrid start before going down with a knee injury. Returning to the lineup, there’s still a 10/1 K/BB he’ll be looking to even out and push the on-base percentage north. It was expected that Alex Kirilloff would be a regular contributor to the lineup this season. However, his lingering wrist injury still hasn’t figured itself out, and the path of a cortisone shot is one that only provided a temporary fix last season. Minnesota’s .195 average as a team sits 27th in baseball, ahead of only the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks. They see a slight boost to 23rd when looking at on-base percentage, and despite being a team capable of doing significant damage, they rank just 24th in terms of slugging. To say things are bad right now would be putting it lightly. However, there has to be hope on the horizon, and if there is, that comes in terms of process driving results. The Twins lineup currently produces the highest hard-hit rate in baseball at 36.7%. They avoid ground balls, hitting them just 38.7% of the time, which ranks 27th in baseball. There’s room for growth in terms of the HR/FB (home run/fly ball) rate and line-drive rate. Minnesota ranks in the bottom third of the sport in both areas. Despite being seen as a homer-happy club, it’s also important to note that the Twins are doing a decent job in the batter’s box regarding plate discipline. Their chase rate ranks in the middle of the sport, and while the whiff rate is 10th, they aren’t egregiously bad on an island by themselves. In short, there should be a light at the end of this tunnel. If it’s unfair to suggest that the weather is the main culprit here, it’s probably also unfair to suggest that 12 games indicate what’s to come. The reality is this lineup has far too much talent to stay down for a considerable amount of time. They are all going through it simultaneously, but one person breaking out could undoubtedly provide a spark for the rest of the group. When the dust settles on the 2022 season, I’d bet handsomely on the pitching taking a back seat to where the lineup is in terms of production. Winning baseball games by scoring three runs or less is a daunting task. The guys in the clubhouse know that, and getting it going needs to happen soon. After feeling good about the bats up and down the order this spring, the hope is that sentiment returns soon.
  25. One of the easiest things to complain about regarding a manager is their bullpen usage. There was always going to be opportunity for that this season, given the relative uncertainty of the group, and Baldelli was always going to need time to let arms filter into their spots. Only a couple of weeks into the season, there’s no reason for any severe hand-wringing, but a couple of observations opportunities have presented themselves. Jhoan Duran is maybe the most exciting arm in Minnesota Twins pitching history. He’s certainly not going to be the best, but the velocity is unmatched and may forever be. It’s something this organization had never seen before and also a great outcome from the trade that sent Eduardo Escobar to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Early returns have suggested he can be an impact thrower at the back end of the Twins bullpen. He may even have taken over the closer role for the departed Rogers by the end of the season. But should he be a multi-inning reliever? That’s questionable, and it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Working two innings against the Red Sox, there was a notable dip in Duran’s velocity when he came back out. It’s not as though he wasn’t still throwing hard, but the consistency in which triple-digits were reached wasn’t maintained. Some arms are more impacted by a total number of pitches, while others could be deterred more by coming off the bench for a second inning. Whatever Duran’s role going forward is, the goal will be to get the best and most effective version of him. Only two lefties are available in Minnesota’s bullpen as it’s currently constructed, and Caleb Thielbar is probably the better of them. Not only is he a great story, but the 3.00 ERA and 10.6 K/9 over the past two seasons have been suggestive of a great arm. Even with that production, he’s still best suited in ideal spots, and that’s why Baldelli’s decision to go with him in the 8th inning of a one-run game against two righties against Boston was odd. Minnesota’s offense was non-existent on Easter Sunday, but trailing by just one looking to get their final at-bats, Thielbar was tasked with protecting a lead. He came in against Kike Hernandez and was also set to face Xander Bogaerts. Both of them are solid hitting right-handers, and they did predictable damage. Giving up four runs generating just a single out, Thielbar was ineffective in a suboptimal situation. That outing leaves us to question what the back-end of the bullpen will look like going forward and how Baldelli will choose spots. Tyler Duffey was given the first save opportunity and blew it, but he’s a good arm even with declined velocity. Jorge Alcala isn’t going to factor in for some time, and Emilio Pagan could step into those high-leverage shoes. Joe Smith is a tested veteran who has previously performed well on good teams, and the aforementioned Duran will always be in the mix. It seems that this front office is intent on avoiding paydays for relievers, but the pen they have constructed is a solid one. Give Baldelli some time to decide how he and Wes Johnson will run these arms out, and I think there’s an opportunity for it to be one of baseball’s better units.
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