Six months ago, we here at the WCCO.com Twins Blog brought you "8 Things To Watch" for as the 2015 Twins season rolled along.
Now that the season has come to a conclusion, it’s only fitting we go back and review what did – or didn’t – happen as the 2015 campaign progressed.
Let’s dig in!
1 – The Outfield
When 2015 began, the outfield consisted mainly of Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer and Torii Hunter, with Shane Robinson as the fourth man on the bench. By the time it was over, only Hunter and Robinson remained.
Arcia flamed out early, appearing in just 19 games for the Twins in 2015. He struggled in Spring Training, but it was hoped he’d kick things into gear once the season started. He certainly kicked things, unfortunately they were usually fly balls to left field.
On May 4, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right hip flexor strain. On May 25, he was assigned to Triple-A Rochester on a rehab assignment. On June 3, he was officially optioned to Rochester, from whence he would not return in 2015.
Part of the reason he didn’t return was due to the emergence of Eddie Rosario, who was called up when Arcia hit the DL on May 4. With most of the prospect focus centered on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, Rosario flew somewhat under the radar (unless you read our April column that told you to keep an eye on him). That lasted until the first pitch of the first at-bat of his major league career. It was a pitch he promptly deposited in the left field seats for his first big league hit and first big league home run, becoming the 29th player and first Minnesota Twins player to accomplish the feat.
Rosario went on to hit .267/.289/.459 with 13 homers, 18 doubles, a league-leading 15 triples and had 11 stolen bases in 453 at-bats in his rookie season. There’s another Twin who’ll finish higher in the Rookie of the Year voting, but still, it was a solid rookie year for Eddie.
Jordan Schafer appeared in just 27 games for the Twins before being granted his release on June 18. His release was made possible by the remarkable resurgence of Aaron Hicks. Hicks was given every opportunity to make the club out of Spring Training, but failed, earning him a ticket to Rochester.
Hicks played in 27 games for the Red Wings and found something. He ended up hitting .336/.415/.561 for Rochester with two home runs, 10 doubles, four triples and 14 RBI, earning him a call up to the big leagues on May 12.
He spent the rest of the season in the majors – minus a rehab stint – hitting .256/.323/.398 with 11 homers, 11 doubles, three triples and 13 stolen bases in 352 at bats and fixing himself as a part of the Twins outfield going forward.
Torii Hunter met – and in some respects exceeded – the expectations most folks had of him coming into the season. No, he wasn’t a defensive stalwart in right field. And he only hit .240/.293/.409 – which is pretty pedestrian – but he also added 22 homers, 22 doubles and 81 RBI in 521 at bats.
Perhaps more importantly, Torii brought leadership and a sense of unity to the clubhouse that had been lacking the last few years. Sabermatricians are scoffing as they read that, and they’re right to point out that “clubhouse presence” is something that’s impossible to measure. But Twins players have consistently credited Torii with changing the atmosphere in the clubhouse. And Tigers and Angels players have commented that they miss having him around. Too many comments for it to be mere coincidence.
Hunter was on a 1-year contract, and one of the Twins off-season priorities is determining whether to bring him back, if so for how long and at what price. With Hicks and Rosario emerging, and Buxton certainly being a part of the mix, it’s unclear how many at-bats there’ll be for a right-fielder who’ll turn 41 years old in 2016.
Speaking of Buxton… well, we’ll get to him in a little bit.
2. Will Ricky Nolasco Bounce Back?
There’s no question that starting pitching was the big question mark coming into the season. It’s been the Twins Achilles heel for the last four seasons and needed to improve in 2015 for them to compete.
It was thought that a resurgent Ricky Nolasco would have to be part of that equation if the Twins were to succeed.
As it happened, he wasn’t, and they still did.
In year two of his 4-year, $49 million deal, Nolasco got rocked in his first start but came back to earn the win in his next five straight. Unfortunately, those games belied the value of the “Pitcher Win” as he lasted no more than 5.2 innings in four of those five, meaning that in only one of the wins did he qualify for a “Quality Start.”
Nolasco lasted just one inning in his May 31 start against Toronto before leaving the game with what would turn out to be a “right ankle impingement,” which landed him on the DL for the bulk of the season. Nolasco wouldn’t return to game action until September 30, and that was out of the bullpen.
It’s entirely fair to say that the Twins haven’t gotten any kind of value out of the first two years of Nolasco’s deal. It’s equally fair to suggest that due to injuries, Nolasco hasn’t had a chance to get into any kind of groove and show what he can really do.
Whether he can do just that in 2016 will go a long ways towards determining whether his contract is salvageable, or a complete bust.
3. Ervin Santana Back in the AL
Well this one got short-circuited quickly.
On April 3 – just three days before the season was set to begin – the Twins were forced to place Santana on the Restricted List after he received an 80-game suspension from Major League Baseball for a violation of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Specifically, he failed a drug test for PED use.
Like Nolasco, a good season from Santana was thought to be a key to the Twins being an above .500 team for the first time in four years. Like Nolasco, that turned out not to be the case.
Santana made his Twins debut on July 5 and the results after that were decidedly mixed. Starting with his July 29 start, Santana lost four of his next six starts – earning no-decisions on Aug. 13 and Aug. 25 for his only non-losses. Over that six-game stretch, he averaged just 5 innings pitched per start, his opponent’s batting average was .356, he walked 15 to only 14 strikeouts and amassed an ugly 9.20 earned run average.
But from his next start on Aug. 25 on, it was clear that Santana had finally found something. Down the stretch, he was one of the Twins most reliable starters. Over his last seven starts of the season, Santana went 5-2 with a 1.62 ERA, giving up just nine earned runs over 50 IP, with 47 strikeouts to only 14 walks. His opponent’s batting average for balls in play was just .279, slightly below average, so maybe there was some luck involved. But in the bad stretch he had in July and August it was .354, so maybe things were just balancing out as well.
He didn’t have the impact the Twins had hoped for in 2015, but there’s clearly reason to hope that he’ll have that opportunity in 2016.
4. The Bullpen
We knew coming into 2016 that Glen Perkins and Casey Fien would be key cogs for Minnesota’s relief staff. But there were nothing but question marks after that.
Mike Pelfrey was slated to join the bullpen out of Spring Training, but that plan was aborted after Santana’s PED suspension.
The Twins went 1-for-2 with the “new guys.” Blaine Boyer pitched exceedingly well in the early goings – earning the nickname “Boyer the Destroyer.” But he struggled through the middle of the season, before bouncing back to “serviceable” status late in the year.
Tim Stauffer? Not so much. He appeared in just 13 games for Minnesota before being designated for assignment. He actually ended up in the Independent Leagues for a bit before landing back in MLB with the Mets.
You never know how things are going to go for a Rule-5 draftee. Rookie J.R. Graham certainly started shaky, plunking Kansas City’s Alex Rios in his first appearance, breaking a bone in Rios’ hand and sending him to the DL. But Graham settled into big league life and became a serviceable part of the Twins bullpen – even making a spot start for the club on June 6 against Milwaukee.
Graham finished 1-1 on the year, with a 4.95 ERA. He struck out 53 batters and gave up 21 walks. His WHIP was a too-high 1.49, and he gave up 10 home runs – the most among Twins relievers.
It’s tough to know what the Twins will do with him going forward. He may spend some more time in the minors, but it won’t be surprising to see him in a Twins uniform again at some point next season.
Perhaps the biggest impact on the Twins bullpen came from a converted starter, and their lone trade deadline move – acquiring Kevin Jepsen from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Trevor May began the season in the Twins rotation, starting 16 games before injuries and struggling arms forced the Twins to move him to the bullpen. The Twins have consistently said that they view Trevor’s future as a starter, but his success as a late-innings arm can’t be ignored. After moving to the bullpen, Trevor appeared in 32 games, amassing a 4-1 record with a 2.87 ERA. He struck out 37 batters while surrendering just 8 walks. And what doesn’t show up in the stat line is the number of high-leverage situations he pitched in out of the bullpen. His ability to handle those situations is what will tempt the Twins to move him back out there should there not be room for him in the rotation.
Jepsen had a rough debut in Minnesota, but settled down to become a rather reliable late-innings reliever, even filling in as the teams closer down the stretch as Glen Perkins battled back – and control – issues. There’s no telling how things would’ve gone had Jepsen not been there to help the Twins.
Perkins had an All-Star first half, earning his second-straight trip to baseball’s mid-summer classic. But his second half has become the elephant in the room. He blew his first save opportunity of the season after the break, and things went downhill from there. He had lower-back issues, resulting in a cortisone shot. That seemed to calm his back down, but it was clear that Glen never fully regained whatever mojo he had in the first half.
The Twins hope that a full off-season of rest and back exercises clear up the issue. But thankfully, they have Kevin Jepsen under control for another year… just in case.
5. How Will Danny Santana Fare at SS?
The short answer: Not well, not well at all.
We knew coming into the year that he was due to regress at the plate. His 2014 baBIP of .405 was entirely unsustainable.
What we didn’t know is that he’d regress to the point of hitting just .215/.241/.291 with 67 strikeouts to just six walks and 15 extra-base hits in 261 at bats.
Twins coaches said time and time again that it was a matter of getting Santana some confidence, and him sustaining it. But that never seemed to materialize.
Eduardo Escobar ended up shouldering the bulk of the duties at shortstop with Eduardo Nunez filling in occasionally.
Escobar held his own, but shortstop is clearly a spot where the Twins can look to upgrade going into 2016.
6. Is Joe Mauer at a Crossroads?
We asked at the beginning of the year whether Twins fans will need to accept that a .275-ish hitter with doubles-power and mediocre defense is simply what Joe Mauer has become.
His 2015 season didn’t really do anything to challenge that notion.
For the season, Mauer hit .265/.338/.380 with 10 homers, 34 doubles, 2 triples and 66 RBI. That’s nearly 60 points lower than his career batting average, OBP and SLG.
Yes, Mauer set a new team record by reaching base in 43 straight games, and his health was as good as it’s been in years, evidenced by him playing in 158 of the Twins 162 games.
But if that’s what we’re clinging to at this point – on-base percentage and simply being available on a day-in and day-out basis – it’s fair to wonder if Mauer will need to bat elsewhere in the line-up and be open to yet another position change should the Twins decide to try Miguel Sano’s hand at first base.
7. How Will Paul Molitor Manage?
As much as we wanted to believe that it was time for a change in the manager’s office, and hoped Paul could breathe some new life into a seemingly moribund clubhouse, there was really no way to answer that question coming into 2015.
Now we have 162 games worth of data to analyze.
Grantland recently published their second-annual “Manager’s Meddling Index” which attempted to analyze how aggressively – or with lack of aggression – managers managed (pitching changes, shifts, different lineups, defensive substitutions, etc.).
To put it simply, Paul Molitor was almost one full standard deviation more aggressive than the average MLB manager in 2015. Compare that to Ron Gardenhire’s final season with the Twins, in which he was over three full standard deviations LESS aggressive than the average MLB manager.
Aggressive managing isn’t in and of itself predictive of success. Of the 10 most-aggressive managers by that index, only four of them managed teams into the post-season in 2015. But if we’re going to go with the “sometimes you just need a different voice” narrative, then Molitor certainly changed things up for the Twins.
Like we discussed with Torii Hunter, it becomes near-impossible to objectively measure a manager’s impact on the mood/tenor of a clubhouse. As much credit as Torii received – deservedly so – Molitor’s name was mentioned nearly as often.
So perhaps a “different voice” was just what the baseball doctors ordered.
8 – When Do The Kids Get Here?
This was perhaps the most exciting question on everyone’s mind in April.
Byron Buxton… Miguel Sano… Alex Meyer… Names we’d been hearing for a few years. Was it time for them to finally emerge with the big league club?
The results were decidedly mixed.
The first rookie to get the call and make an impact wasn’t on that list at all. As we mentioned earlier, Eddie Rosario got the call in May and never left.
Byron Buxton was next, making his debut on June 14. Things certainly didn’t go as hoped for the Twins top prospect in 2015. He hit just .189/.231/.270 with only two extra base hits and two walks against 15 strikeouts in his first ll games before sustaining a thumb injury that sidelined him for almost two months.
His speed and defense were certainly Major League ready, but his bat plain wasn’t. Buxton finished the year hitting .211/.252/.328 with two homers, seven doubles and one triple. He stole two bases and was caught stealing twice. Most alarmingly, he struck out 44 times while walking only 6 times.
It will be interesting to see if Buxton starts 2016 with the big club, or in Triple-A Rochester to try and get his bat going before heading back to Minnesota.
As buzz-killing as Buxton’s debut was, Miguel Sano lit the Twins fan base on fire with his sheer power. Sano made his debut on July 2, and just started hitting. Over his first month in the big leagues, Sano hit .297/.424/.541 with four homers, six doubles and 14 RBI in just 74 at-bats. He also had a completely unsustainable .450 baBIP, as well as 31 strikeouts. But the pop he showed at the plate was like nothing Twins fans had seen since Jim Thome was knocking them off flag poles at Target Field.
Sano finished at .269/.385/.530 with 18 homers, 17 doubles, one triple and 52 RBI in just 278 at bats.
He also played just 11 games in the field – nine at third base, two at first. That presents the Twins with a challenge headed into 2016. Will Sano be a regular in the field? If so, who gets moved to make room? It’s a good problem to have, in a sense. But it will need to be addressed.
Alex Meyer? To say his 2015 was a disappointment is an understatement.
He struggled with consistency as a starter in Rochester and was eventually moved to the bullpen, where he found moderate success. He made his debut with Minnesota on June 26, but appeared in just two games for the Twins before being shipped back to Rochester on July 4. Not being a part of Minnesota’s September call-ups was the exclamation point on a forgettable 2015 for the right-hander.
He’s seemingly been replaced by Jose Berrios as the Twins top pitching prospect. Meyer was thought to have the higher upside when compared with Trevor May, who was brought into the organization during the same off-season as Meyer. But there’s no question that May’s brought more value to the big league club so far. That can still change, but so far, Meyer hasn’t been close to “as advertised” when the Twins dealt Denard Span for him in 2012.
Few, if any, pundits had the Twins finishing 83-79 in 2015. So the season really should be looked on as a success. Yes, it stings to get that close to a playoff berth and not get there. But the twists, turns, successes and surprises in 2015 has to leave folks salivating for the 2016 season.
Is it April yet?
Ten teams make the playoffs in baseball. Nine of those spots have been decided. But the final AL Wild Card spot is still up for grabs.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – predicted back in April that the three teams vying for the final spot would be the Astros, Twins and Angels. But the beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. And that's exactly where we find ourselves with three games to go.
Here are the current Wild Card Standings in the American League:
NYY +3 (x)
(x – The Yankees have clinched one of the two Wild Card spots, though technically, Houston could still catch them for the first spot, and therefore host the AL Wild Card Game.)
So the math could be very simple. If Houston wins out, they're in. But if they lose a game or two, things could get complex in a hurry.
If you go by opponents record, Houston also has the easiest path over their final three games. Here's how the three teams finish:
Houston at Arizona (78-81)
Minnesota vs. Kansas City (92-67)
Los Angeles at Texas (87-72)
But that evaluation isn't all that simple either. Houston is 31-47 on the road. Combine that with the loss of the DH in a National League park and maybe that makes things tough on the Astros. Although to be fair, they are 14-3 in Interleague Play this season, so maybe it doesn't.
Los Angeles has already lost the opener of their 4-game series with Texas. One more win for Texas (or an Astros loss) will clinch the AL West for Texas locking them in as the 3rd seed among division winners and will be on the road for their AL Division Series match-up regardless of whether they play Kansas City or Toronto.
The Twins hoped to have a “resting” Royals club come to town this weekend. Alas, Kansas City is in a dogfight with Toronto for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (y). So instead of the Royals trying to set up their rotation for the Division Series, they're scheduled to throw Chris Young, Yordano Ventura and Johnny Cueto at Minnesota over the weekend.
(y- Toronto and Kansas City are currently tied at 92-67, and with the AL having won the All-Star Game – don't get me started – whomever comes out on top between them would have home-field advantage not only through the AL playoffs, but also in the World Series.)
Then, of course, there are the tie-breaker scenarios.
If Houston and Minnesota tie, they'd play a Game 163 at Target Field on Monday. If Los Angeles and Minnesota tie, they'd play a Game 163 at Angel Stadium on Monday. If Houston and Los Angeles tie (z), they'd play a Game 163 at Minute Maid Park on Monday. The winner of those games would go on to play the Yankees on Tuesday in New York.
(z- Since you're likely a Twins fan, you probably don't care about this scenario, but in the interest of fairness, it's been included.)
If all three teams tie? While that's never happened in the Wild Card era, there IS a procedure in place that would determine things. Since Los Angeles has the best combined record against the other two teams, they'd have the choice of hosting two tie-breaker games, or they could play a single game on the road. And since no team in their right mind would force themselves to win two games instead of one, the likelihood is that the Twins would host the Astros on Monday, with the winner of that game hosting the Angels on Tuesday, with Tuesday's scheduled AL Wild Card Game (Yankees vs. TBD) being bumped to Wednesday.
Got all that? Take an aspirin, clear your head. It'll all sort itself out.
The bottom line for the Twins is: just keep winning. They don't control their own destiny. They'll need help from Arizona. But as long as they keep winning games, they have a shot.
For Twins fans? Well it doesn't get a whole lot more fun than this. After four consecutive 90+ loss seasons, being this close to a post-season berth is baseball-nirvana (the Buddhist state-of-mind, not the band... though the band was awesome too).
The tension, the drama, the excitement – this is why people love sports so much. Sunday could be a day of elation at Target Field, or it could be a total buzz-kill. You just don't know. Which is what makes the ride so enjoyable.
It's supposed to be near-perfect Fall weather all weekend long. So grab a light jacket (and even a blanket if you're prone to the chills), head on out to Target Field and partake in some of the best drama baseball has to offer.
Oh, and maybe have a “personal day” on standby for Monday... just in case!
The Twins just finished a crucial 10-game homestand and while you can't call it a rousing success, you can't exactly call it a complete disaster.
Minnesota entered the homestand on September 14th trailing Texas by a single game for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. They leave for their final road trip of the season trailing Houston by 1.5 games.
With 10 games remaining in the season, they're still very much in the mix. However, given how well they've played at home this season, the club was certainly hoping for better than a 4-6 record during this critical stretch.
Here are some notes and musings from the series against Detroit, Los Angeles and Cleveland...
It was only three games against the Tigers, but given the circumstances of the final contest, it felt more like five.
The series began well enough, with Tyler Duffey pitching a solid 6.1 innings as Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe & Eduardo Escobar bolstered the Twins offense en route to a 7-1 victory.
But starting with the second game against Detroit, the vibe of the homestand took a decided, jarring and at times lengthy turn.
Detroit jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead off of Phil Hughes who was trying to shake off the rust after a lengthy stay on the disabled list. The Twins battled back but could never get over the hump as Detroit went on to win 5-4.
Wednesday night's finale began with an hour-long rain delay, which of course, led to a 4:17 minute, 12-inning contest. All of which is immediately forgiven in the minds of the faithful who hung around all four hours, provided the home team wins.
But in this case, Detroit plated three runs in the top of the 12th, which the Twins weren't able to match.
1-2 clearly wasn't what the Twins had in mind given Detroit's struggles and getting to miss Justin Verlander.
It's Eddie's World...
Miguel Sano is going to finish higher in the Rookie of the Year voting, but Eddie Rosario has proven worthy of consideration. A point he reminded fans about by hitting .429/.500/1.143 in the 3-game set against Detroit.
Rosario has hit 12 home runs, 17 doubles and a league-leading 14 triples in the 114 games he's played for the Twins in his rookie campaign.
Baseball Reference has him at 2.0 WAR and Fangraphs has him at 1.9, both of which have him squarely in the top 10 among AL rookies.
All the rookie focus coming into the season was on Buxton and Sano, but Rosario has established himself as a legitimate threat to be a part of the Twins starting outfield for years to come.
Angels in the Outfield (and everywhere else)...
The Twins had a chance to hit the reset button and get the homestand back on track against the Halos. Unfortunately Mr. Trout and company had other ideas.
Game 1 wasn't quite as long as the finale with Detroit, but it still clocked in just shy of four hours. Another 12-inning nail-biter? Not exactly...
Both Tommy Milone and Hector Santiago had disaster-starts. Milone lasting just an inning and a third while Santiago couldn't even get out of the first. 15 total pitchers shared the mound over the course of nine innings – thank you September call-ups!
By the time things were said and done, Mike Trout had hit two homers (one a grand slam), driven in five runs, scored three himself, and mixed in three walks. Because why would you pitch to a guy you can't seem to get out?
Torii Hunter and Aaron Hicks tried to keep the Twins in it with the long ball, but the Angels took Game 11-8.
Game 2 became Game 2.1 when mother nature interfered on Friday and created the first double-header of the year at Target Field on Saturday.
When a club's scheduled to play two, the LAST thing they want is for either game to go extra innings. So of course the first game went 12.
The Twins and Angels were knotted up at three runs apiece until a combination of an error, a wild pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a ground-out plated the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run for Los Angeles, who went on to win 4-3.
The stand-out highlight for the Twins was a gargantuan home run hit by Miguel Sano. The two-run shot was estimated at 453 feet (statcast had it at 448). Either way it was the longest of the year for the Twins and by definition the longest of his career.
Would the Twins bounce back in the nightcap? Not so much.
Mike Pelfrey was on the mound, and started solidly, but ran out of gas in the 5th, when LA got to him for three runs which turned out to be all they needed as they cruised to a 5-2 win – which included yet another long ball from Mike Trout
Paul Molitor says he doesn't like the term “must win”, at least not in a game where you can't be eliminated from anything. But Sunday's finale with the Angels certainly had that kind of urgent feel to it, and the Twins reacted accordingly.
Tyler Duffey set the tone for Minnesota, allowing just four base-runners over the course of his seven innings, none of whom advanced beyond first base. LA didn't get a man past second until the 8th and didn't score a run until the 9th.
Meanwhile Torii Hunter, Eddie Rosario and Joe Mauer all went yard en route to an 8-1 victory.
The win snapped a 5-game losing streak and highlighted a critical difference between the 2015 Twins and Minnesota teams over the past four years. This year's club has limited the length of their losing streaks and has pretty quickly bounced back with good stretches to balance them out.
They'd need to do just that against Cleveland in order to salvage the homestand.
The aforementioned Sano homer against the Angels was his 17th of the season.
That tied him for 5th among all rookies in baseball, only Miguel achieved it in 26 fewer games than the guy he's tied with, Randal Grichuck of the St. Louis Cardinals.
17 homers also places him 8th on the Twins all-time rookie home runs list. He'll have to hit three more to tie his batting coach, Tom Brunansky for 7th.
The all-time record holder for the Twins is Jimmie Hall who hit 33 round-trippers in his rookie campaign in 1963.
Wilkommen auf der Karte...
“Welcome to the Show” was the phrase of the day as the Twins kicked off their 3-game series with Cleveland on Tuesday.
Why in German? Because OF/1B prospect Max Kepler was joining the team after helping the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts win the Southern League Championship.
Along the way, he was named Southern League MVP hitting .322 with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine homers and 71 RBI.
The 22-year-old “aus Berlin” had spent six years in the minor leagues after the Twins signed him as a free agent. He battled injuries on and off and finally seems to have his career on track.
Manager Paul Molitor said he'd certainly try to get Max some action, though he wasn't sure exactly when since the Twins are in the middle of a playoff chase and each at-bat is critical.
To date, Kepler has yet to make his Major League debut.
2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad... Unless You Really Need That 3rd Game...
The win in the series finale against LA seemed to spur the Twins on as they began their 3-game set with Cleveland.
In the first game, the Twins rode a 7-inning, 1-run performance by Ervin Santana to a 3-1 win. It was Santana's fifth straight Quality Start. Over those five games, Santana has pitched 36 innings, striking out 39 to only 9 men walked, and gone 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA. A significant turn-around for a guy who was looking like a serious bust after a rocky return from his half-season suspension for PED use.
The Twins got all the runs they'd need in the third. Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer went triple-double-double to do the damage. Minnesota's had plenty of what some pundits term “cluster-luck” - grouping the few hits you get together to score runs – this season.
The Twins knew they were in for a test in Game 2 as they face 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Kluber came into the game 2-0 vs. Minnesota in 2015 with a 1.38 ERA. In his career, he was 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA against the Twins.
Sometimes, however, it takes just one inning to blow up a narrative. That inning was the 4th for the Twins as they scored four runs on a Brian Dozier homer, a Trevor Plouffe double and an Eduardo Escobar single.
Like the night before, the Twins scored all the runs they'd get in a single inning. Also like the night before, they'd be enough – despite a 9th inning scare – to hold on for the win, this time by a score of 4-3.
Minnesota came into the finale with Cleveland with a chance to draw within a half-game of Houston for the 2nd Wild Card spot, making it an obviously-critical game.
Unfortunately, the game was all but decided by the third inning.
Kyle Gibson didn't have his good stuff, and Cleveland jumped all over him, plating three in the first and three more in the third before Paul Molitor finally (perhaps mercifully) ended his night.
Torii Hunter and Eddie Rosario tried to get the Twins back in it with homers in the 7th and 8th innings, but ultimately it wasn't enough.
Cleveland took the finale, 6-3.
Mauer Goes Streaking...
One highlight of Thursday night's otherwise dreary showing? Joe Mauer broke the Twins record for consecutive games reaching base. He was 0-for-his-first-3 at-bats on the night, but worked an 8th-inning walk off of Cleveland's Bryan Shaw to set the mark.
Mauer passed Bob Allison who reached in 42 straight games in 1961.
Over the course of his 43 games, Mauer hit .270 with 11 doubles, three homers, 19 RBI, 26 walks and a .368 on-base percentage.
While 43 games tops Minnesota's all-time list, it's actually only the 3rd-longest such streak in baseball this season. Matt Holiday of the Cardinals reached in 45 straight, while Edwin Encarnacion reached in 44 straight for the Blue Jays.
Joe needs just 42 more games to break the MLB record (84), set by Ted Williams in 1949.
The next homestand will be the final homestand of the regular season for the Twins. After heading out for three games in Detroit and four in Cleveland, the Twins will return home to face the newly-minted 2015 AL Central Champion Kansas City Royals for three games starting Friday, October 2nd.
The Twins hope those games will still find them in the hunt for a Wild Card berth, since it's likely Kansas City will be granting some rest to their regulars in order to prepare for the post-season.
Friday is a 7:10p start. Saturday's game begins at 6:10p. And the regular season finale will bow at 2:10pm on Sunday.
The first homestand of the second half is in the books and it wasn't pleasant for the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees, Pirates and Mariners all took a trip through Target Field, and by the time they'd left, the Twins had gone 3-6 to bring their post-All-Star-Break record to 5-10.
The following are some notes and musings from the nine games that were just played on the Twins home turf.
Let's dive in...
Those Damn Yankees...
The 3-game series with the Yankees started with a bang... or should I say a “boom”? Several “booms” actually.
The Twins launched a total of four homers and nine extra base hits in the opener on the way to a 10-1 trouncing of New York.
Phil Hughes back-stopped the offensive barrage with seven innings of shutout baseball for his best start of the season. And while he was glad to pitch so well, he's still getting used to pitching against his former mates.
“It's still a little weird. I know a lot of those guys over there,” Hughes said after the game, “I just faced them twice last year so, it's different. You know, we don't see these guys a lot. But I think the more important thing was that we get a win tonight because obviously we didn't have a great road trip and you know, come back here and get this first win will hopefully give us a little momentum.”
Game 2 started well also, with Aaron Hicks and Torii Hunter (more on him below) hitting homers to stake Tommy Milone to a 5-0 lead. Milone did his part, cruising through the first six innings, giving up only one hit (a monster homer from A-Rod).
But oh how fickle the game of baseball can be. Rodriguez's second homer of the game in the 7th helped the Yankees get within one, while the Twins struggled to even get a hit in the latter innings. Things seemed in good hands in the 9th with Glen Perkins trying for his 30th save, but it wasn't to be.
Perk couldn't locate his pitches and the Yankees put a 4-spot on the board to win 8-5.
“I got beat tonight because I didn't make good pitches,” Perkins said after the blown save, “and that's an easier pill for me to swallow [than his previous blown save in Oakland]. Doesn't mean I'm happy about how I did, obviously, but it's part of the game. Hopefully I get a chance tomorrow, and can go out and do a better job.”
Ominous foreshadowing? You decide...
Once again the Twins scored first in Game 3, but Kyle Gibson was dancing on the edge most of the afternoon, and the Yankees will usually make you pay when you don't have your good stuff. Gibson blew up to the tune of 6 runs – the bulk of them coming in the 6th inning – and the Bombers cruised to a 7-2 win and a 2-1 series victory.
Torii and Kirby...
The opener with the Yankees also saw Torii Hunter's 207th home run in a Twins uniform which tied him for sixth on the Twins all-time list with the legendary Kirby Puckett.
“It's special, man, this is a guy, early in my career he gave me a lot,” Hunter said after the game, “and just to be mentioned – as far as the home run column – to tie him is a special day for me. I always think about him and today I'm really thinking about him. It's emotional, but, I've been sitting up thinking, 'Ah, I hit 207 home runs, I'm tied with Kirby Puckett, somebody I really looked up to and really loved.'”
That tie didn't last long, as Hunter used a 3rd-inning bomb on Saturday night to notch homer number 208 and pass Puck for sole possession of 6th place.
Torii needs just 3 more to reach 5th and tie Bob Allison. 12 more would get him to 4th and a tie with Tony Oliva. And 13 more would put him in a third-place tie with Justin Morneau at 221.
No More Beast in the East...
The AL East has not been kind to the Twins in recent seasons, but the tide may have turned in 2015. After New York left town, the Twins had amassed a 13-6 record against AL East teams.
They're 2-1 vs. Tampa Bay, 5-2 against Boston, 2-1 against Toronto, 3-0 against Baltimore and 1-2 against the Yankees.
They'll have plenty of chances to add on to those records in August as they take road trips to each of those cities, minus Boston.
The Twins would be tested again as they looked to snap out of their post-All-Star-Break funk. The good news? The Pirates, whom the Twins had swept in a 2-game set back in May, were coming to town. The bad news? Pittsburgh had gone 39-19 since that series sweep by Minnesota.
Game 1 was a wild one as the teams traded leads through the first 7 innings. Then came a roller coaster of an 8th inning.
The Pirates loaded the bases, but with two outs the Twins were in position to wriggle off the hook. Unfortunately, youngster Gregory Polanco had other ideas. He bashed a bases-clearing double and later scored on a Neil Walker single to give the Pirates a late, 4-run lead.
Minnesota, however, has proven to be nothing, if not resilient this season. In the bottom half of the 8th, the Twins strung together 5-straight 1-out hits, including doubles from Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar to plate four runs of their own and tie the game at 7 heading into the ninth.
Remember Glen Perkins foreshadowing his desire for a chance at redemption? Well Perk entered the tie game in the 9th with a chance to keep the game tied and give his club a shot at the win in the bottom half.
It was not to be, however, as Perk hung a slider to Jung Ho Kang which the Korean promptly deposited in the seats for his sixth homer of the year, leading Pittsburgh to an 8-7 win.
After the game, Perkins was understandably upset.
“I mean I didn't locate a pitch tonight,” Perkins said, “but that doesn't have anything to do with my confidence. It doesn't have anything to do with how I feel. I mean, how many games did I throw in the first half, 40? And I think I threw well in like 38 or 39 of them. Bad games are going to happen. I've been saying that all year long. It sucks that it's right now. It sucks that they're lumped together. But [I] can't do anything other than continue to go out and try to make pitches.”
The Twins had reason for optimism on Wednesday afternoon, however. Old friend Francisco Liriano was on the mound for the Bucs, and Minnesota had roughed him up to the tune of seven runs in just two innings pitched the last time they'd faced him, back on May 19th.
Liriano came into the game having fanned the most hitters in Target Field history (258). His 14 career wins in the ballpark rank third behind Brian Duensing (20) and Phil Hughes (16).
Frankie wasn't great (10 hits, 3 runs – two earned – over 5.1IP) but he was a right sight better than Ervin Santana who went gas-can in the 6th, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) in that inning alone as the Twins fell 10-4 to get swept by the Pirates.
Mazel tov, Trevor...
After the first game of the Pittsburgh series, it was announced that the team had put third baseman Trevor Plouffe on the Paternity List and had recalled infielder Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester.
Trevor and his wife Olivia welcomed their first child, Theodore Winston James Plouffe, into the world on Wednesday.
Trevor returned to the team on Saturday for the final two games of the Seattle series.
Congratulations to the Plouffe family!
The Pirates were the final Interleague opponent for the Twins this season (minus a World Series appearance, of course). The Twins were 8-12 in IL play this season, marking the sixth straight year that they were at or below .500 against the National League.
In their history, the Twins actually have the 7th-most wins in IL play with 182. They're 182-160 against the Senior Circuit, 100-70 at home, and 82-90 on the road.
The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Friday at 3pm Central Time.
While AL Central-leading Kansas City made big moves – adding ace Johnny Cueto and jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist – the Twins made just one move to bolster their bullpen, namely acquiring right-hander Kevin Jepsen from the Tampa Bay Rays for a pair of minor league pitchers.
Jepsen appeared in 46 games for Tampa this season, with a 2.81 ERA, 20 walks, 34 strikeouts and 22 Holds, which rank 3rd in the American League.
Kevin joined the team on Saturday and said he was happy to be in Minnesota.
“It's a great city. Love coming here. Phenomenal ballpark,” Jepsen said, “Seeing the Twins this year and the whole deal, you know you have a good squad over here. So you know you're going to a good team, so that always helps. Any time another team wants you, who's in a hunt, is always a good deal.”
Manager Paul Molitor wouldn't commit to a specific role for Jepsen, other than to say he wouldn't be used before the 7th inning.
“It's just nice to add a piece that has kind of experience and that kind of ability,” Molitor said, “I told him a little bit about how the bullpen's been as of late – that there really hasn't been stapled roles for people. I've had to kind of mix and match day to day. I'm not going to have any hesitation using him and getting big outs. Tie games, leads late, he's that guy and we got him for that reason, so that's where we'll use him.”
Game 1 with the Mariners got off to a hot start as the Twins plated five runs in the first including Brian Dozier's sixth lead-off homer of 2015. The dinger gave him 13 career lead-off round-trippers, which passed Dan Gladden's 12 and moved Brian into sole possession of 3rd place all time with Minnesota (Jones 20, Knoblauch 14).
The Twins added four more runs on their way to a 9-5 victory over Seattle. The only real drama of the evening came from rookie Eddie Rosario who hit a home run, double and triple in his first three at bats. That put him just a single shy of the cycle – something he hadn't accomplished since rookie ball.
But there would be no statistical anomaly (which is all the cycle really is) that evening, as Rosario flew out to center and had a line drive snared by Seattle shortstop Brad Miller in his final at bat in the 8th.
Rosario thought for sure it was going to be his cycle-clinching base hit.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Rosario said, “I see it on there and 'I got it, I got it' but he [made] a good play. So it's okay.”
Game 2 wasn't nearly as kind to the Twins. Seattle pitcher Taijuan Walker recorded just the 12th 1-hitter in Mariners history as he went the distance against the Minnesota, allowing just one walk while striking out 11 Twins hitters.
Walker was possessed of a 5.03 ERA coming into the game, but he also had a 95+mph fastball and a 75mph curveball that he got over for strikes. Mix in a 90mph splitter and he had Twins hitters guessing – and usually guessing wrong – all night long. The only guy who got one right? Miguel Sano saw one of the 5 cutters/changeups Walker threw and deposited it in the left-field seats for Minnesota's only hit and run of the evening.
Game 3 seemed like it would be another frustrating offensive day for the Twins. Mike Montgomery held Minnesota to just 4 hits and a single run over his six innings of work. Kyle Gibson had a solid day on the mound, but Seattle touched him for a pair of runs, including another bomb by Nelson Cruz.
The Twins went into the 9th inning trailing 2-1 and facing Seattle closer Carson Smith.
Miguel Sano hit the first pitch he saw into the right field corner for a double. What followed was a morass of wild pitches and an intentional walk. Suddenly, the Twins found themselves tied, with the go-ahead run at third.
The aforementioned intentional walk was of Eddie Rosario, and it came because the Mariners thought they had a better chance of getting Kurt Suzuki out. Tough to blame them when Suzuki's hitting .234, but there's a funny thing about veterans – they don't like it when you walk a guy to get to them.
“I was excited, you know. I was pumped up,” Suzuki said, “I think anybody that plays this game wants to be in that position. I kind of had an idea they were going to do that, just because of the way Rosie [Rosario] was swinging and the match-up. And I was kind of hoping, 'Okay, this it what it's all about. This is why you play. And this is kind of like a playoff atmosphere.'”
Suzuki lined a 3-1 pitch through the hole between short and third and walked the Twins off to a 3-2 win. It was the Twins fifth walk-off win of the season and the first one to come via something other than a home run.
Game 4 featured Hisashi Iwakuma pitching for Seattle, which didn't bode well for Minnesota. Iwakuma came in with a 5-0 record, a 0.00 ERA, and 34 strikeouts to only 8 walks in 33.2 innings-pitched against the Twins.
Iwakuma pitched 8.2 outstanding innings versus the Twins, but made one mistake to Brian Dozier that the All-Star deposited in the left-field seats to tie the game at one after nine innings.
After a scoreless 10th, Kevin Jepsen made his Twins debut in the 11th and it was a rough one. He went to full counts against all three batters he faced, walking two of them. The Mariners ended up plating three runs in the inning on the way to a 4-1 win to split the 4-game set.
Sunady morning, the Twins announced that they'd placed starter Tommy Milone on the 15-day disabled list with what they're calling a “mild left elbow strain”. Replacing Milone on the 25-man roster and in the rotation will be right-hander Tyler Duffey.
Duffey has started 21 games between Double-A Chattanooga (8) and Triple-A Rochester (13). He's put together a 2.66 ERA with 30 walks and 117 strikeouts over 132 innings-pitched.
The Twins plan to start him Wednesday night in Toronto.
Minor League Player of the Week...
On Sunday, the Twins named Double-A catcher Stuart Turner as their Minor League Player of the Week. Turner was the Twins 3rd-round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Mississippi.
Turner played in five games for the Chattanooga Lookouts, hitting 8-for-17 (.471) with a pair of doubles, a homer four RBI, six runs scored and six walks. The walks helped him to a gaudy .609 on-base percentage.
It's been a rough go at the plate this year for Turner – even after that big week, he's only hitting .220/.316/.316. The Twins are hoping Stuart's offensive outburst is a sign of things to come.
The Twins are off to Toronto and Cleveland for a 7-game road trip. They next return home for a 6-game homestand starting on August 11th as Texas and Cleveland visit Target Field