Friday, July 19, 2019

Bomba. bomba, bomba

Thursday night was a rather stereotypical 2019 Twins win: Three homers, a sneaky good start, and two innings from Taylor Rogers.

Kyle Gibson went seven innings against Oakland -- six hits, no walks, seven strikeouts and 73 strikes out of 106 pitches. The three runs allowed were the least impressive part of his stat line. Sneaky good.

I made this point. or tried to, earlier this week during a segment on KMSU radio: The Twins interest in a trade for a starting pitcher should be limited to a starter capable of moving Gibson down a rung in the playoff rotation. I'm not sure that starter is going to be on the market, and if he is, at a price the Twins will be willing to pay.

The Twins don't need the kind of starter who has moved so far (Andrew Cashner and Homer Bailey). Those are back-of-the-rotation guys, and the Twins have Martin Perez and Michael Pineda. And Gibson is now 9-4, 4.02 with more strikeouts than innings pitched. That ain't shabby.

Another point I made Monday that probably bears repeating: I said the Twins were likely to see their lead, then 6.5 games, shrink a bit in July. The Twins have a rougher schedule than Cleveland the rest of this month. But that reverses in August.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Three losses in a row

The Twins now have their first three-game losing streak of 2019. It was bound to happen.

It's especially bound to happen when a team becomes as addicted to giving up unearned runs as this one has since the All-Star break.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Implications of a roster shuffle.

Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron came off the injured list on Tuesday, which is good. Byron Buxton went on the seven-day concussion list, which is neither surprising nor good. And. in a bit of a surprise, veteran reliever Mike Morin was designated for assignment.
Morin is the least significant player of those four. But his deletion -- not only from the 25-man roster but the 40-man roster -- carries some implications, should it stand.

  • It drops Minnesota's 40-man roster down to 37, giving the Twins room to add as many as three major leaguers in deadline deals over the next two weeks.
  • It drops, if only temporarily, the Twins bullpen to seven relievers.
  • It signals a roster commitment of sorts to Zach Littell.

Compare Morin and Littell's ERAs, and this decision is baffling. Morin leaves with an ERA with the Twins of 3.18; Littell's scoreless inning Tuesday night lowered his ERA for the season to 4.41.

But it's a bit more complicated than that. Morin's FIP -- fielding independent pitching, a metric that attempts to remove the effects of ballparks and fielding from a pitcher's results -- is 4.49, a pretty good match for Littell's actual ERA. Littell's FIP, 3.67 entering Tuesday, is closer to Morin's actual ERA.

Morin had 11 strikeouts and just two walks allowed in 22 innings with Minnesota; Littell now has 13 strikeouts and six walks in 16.1 innings.

And Littell had moved ahead of Morin in the bullpen pecking order. Morin had pitched just twice this month, last working on July 4 at Oakland. The A's dinged him for four runs, inflating his ERA from 1.66 to 3.18 in the process. Tuesday was Littell's sixth appearance of July, and he hasn't allowed a run since May 30.

Littell to this point has been part of the Rochester shuttle. Unlike Morin, he was optionable. Indeed, both Littell and Tyler Duffey opened the season at Triple A, got called up, got sent back, got called up again -- and now appear to have risen to a more permanent bullpen status ("permanent" being a tricky concept for relievers).

If -- when -- the Twins decide they need a fresh reliever, it's more likely that they'll get the roster spot out of the position player.

Which leads to the "should it stand" caveat of the second paragraph of this post. Jonathan Schoop left Tuesday's game in the ninth inning with an apparent injury. He was downplaying it after the game, but as I understand the DFA rules, the Twins still have the opportunity to restore Morin to the roster if Schoop (or somebody else) goes on the IL before Morin's contract is disposed of.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ballplayers as roster fluid

One aspect of Rocco Baldelli's managerial style that intrigues me has been his eagerness to move players all over the field.

Four Twins -- Ehire Adrianza, Luiz Arraez, Willians Astudillo and Marwin Gonzalez -- have started games at at least four different positions, excluding designated hitter.

Gonzalez has started 32 games at third base, 11 in left field, 11 in right field, nine at first base, two at second base and one at shortstop.

Astudillo (currently on the injured list) has 13 starts at catcher, eight at third base, four at first base, three in right field, one in left field and one at second base.

Adrianza has 11 starts at shortstop, 11 at third base, seven at second base, three at first base and two in right field.

Arraez has eight at second base, seven at third base, five in left field and two at shortstop.

The surprise here is Arraez. Adrianza, Astudillo and Gonzalez came to Minnesota from other organizations with versatility as a key component of their value. Arraez, the one home-grown player of the group, was primarily a second baseman in the minors, with little exposure to the left side of the infield and even less time in the outfield.

There are certain players Baldelli doesn't shuffle around. If Jorge Polanco's in the lineup, he's at short. If Byron Buxton is in the lineup, he's playing center. C.J. Cron, first base. Jonathan Schoop, second base. Jason Castro, catcher.

Of note: Baldelli has yet to start Mitch Garver, who has in the past played some at first base and corner outfield, other than at catcher or designated hitter.

But Baldelli treats much of the rest of the roster as fluids, flowing them around those foundation rocks. Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Jake Cave have all started games in center field. With Cron on the injured list, Baldelli started three different first basemen in the three games in Cleveland after the break -- Adrianza, Gonzalez and Miguel Sano.

When the Twins signed Gonzalez, people asked me: What position is he going to play? My response was: All of them. The same applies to the three A's -- Adrianza, Arraez and Astudillo. They all have more than 100 plate appearances despite stints on the injured list and time in the minors.

They've hit. They've fielded. And Baldelli finds them playing time.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Back at it

Time to end the blog vacation. Some comments about the past week:

* The Twins, needing a spot on the 25-man roster to restore Jake Odorizzi from the injured list, designated Adalberto Mejia for assignment.

This not only took Mejia off the active roster but off the 40-man roster as well. The Twins are down to 38, so they now have room for two newcomers in (a) prospect(s)-for-veteran(s) trade(s).

Before I took my break, I suggested that Mejia was on thin ice. That wasn't any great insight. Mejia has, in the three years since the Twins got him from the Giants in a July trade, pitched his way out of the rotation plans and now out of the bullpen, with 12 walks in 15.1 innings this year.

It's certainly possible that he'll clear waivers and remain in the Minnesota organization. I don't hold out much hope that the Twins will get anything out of him or for him.

* The Twins got what they needed, if not what they wanted, out of the Cleveland series coming out of the break, taking two of three from the Tribe and adding a game to their divisional lead.

A sweep would have been nice, and I suspect Trevor May has been kicking himself for the lousy curve he threw Carlos Santana for the go-ahead homer Sunday, but two-of-three in a series of close contests is acecptable -- and a dent in Cleveland's lingering divisional aspirations.

* Of note in that series: The Minnesota bullpen, widely considered weaker than the rotation, pitched better. The Twins deployed their top three starters in Cleveland (Kyle Gibson, Odorizzi and Jose Berrios), and none of them got into the sixth inning. The Twins bullpen combined for two runs allowed in more than 12 innings over the three games.

* To that end, manager Rocco Baldelli continued his aggressive use of Taylor Rogers. The lefty bullpen ace threw two innings on Friday for the save, then worked another inning Saturday to protect a four-run lead (no save there).

I doubt Rogers was available Sunday. He certainly did his part earlier in the weekend. Friday's two-inning save was his seventh outing of six or more outs this season. Joe Nathan had 14 such outings in his entire Twins career.

Baldelli, in this limited regard, reminds me a bit of Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, who said something like: "Don't save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain." When Baldelli sees a chance to win today's game, he'll go for it, and deal with any bullpen shortages the next day.




Thursday, July 11, 2019

RIP, Jim Bouton

I return to the blog ahead of schedule to acknowledge the profound debt my baseball fandom owes to Jim Bouton and Ball Four.

Bouton died Wednesday, age 80. Ball Four, his diary book of the 1969 season, lives on.

Bouton was a significant pitcher at the end of the 1950-60s Yankee dynasty, a max-effort power pitcher who won 18 games in in 1963 and 21 in 1964. The Yankees lost both World Series; Bouton himself lost his only Series start in '63 but won twice in '64 against the Cardinals.

But in 1965 his fortunes, and those of the Yankees, collapsed. He sustained an arm injury that essentially robbed him of his fastball. By 1969 he was hanging on a knuckleballer -- and was part of the collection of has-beens and never-weres assembled to be the expansion Seattle Pilots.

"Ball Four" was published the next year. Crafted by New York newspaper man Leonard Shecter out of Bouton's notes and tape-recorded musings, the book was a sensation -- a then-unheard of glimpse of ballplayers as flawed men crawling around on hotel roofs trying to peek into windows. Bouton's commentary on former teammate Mickey Mantle outraged almost everybody in baseball at the time, but it holds up pretty well a half-century after Mantle's 1969 retirement.

Indeed, the book itself holds up well. When I first read it in 1970, almost every name in the book was relevant to a fan. Forty-nine years later, many of the names and issues are obscure -- but many are not. Bouton and Shecter wrote in a time of turmoil in and out of the game, and Ball Four is an outstanding foundation for understanding where the game was then.

Bouton includes a great deal of commentary on the rise of the players union and its then-relatively new executive director, Marvin Miller -- this virtually on the eve of the Curt Flood case and five years before the arbitration ruling that created free agency. The use of amphetamines  -- "greenies" -- is described as routine.

And all this is in the context of a fallen star trying to regain his stature with a new pitch, an athlete with concerns outside the arena, a teammate at once uncomfortable with and participating in the unruly behavior, a parent and husband gone too much from his family. Bowie Kuhn, then the commissioner of baseball, thought this depiction of reality damaged the sport by disillusioning its fans.

For this bookish boy, it did the opposite. I can't imagine my baseball fandom without Ball Four as a foundation piece. It came at the right time for me.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

I considered late Sunday afternoon revising the Monday print column to put more emphasis on strengthening the bullpen, and to excoriate Adalberto Mejia in particular. I decided to keep the focus on the rotation in general and the notion of a Madison Bumgarner trade in particular.

But Mejia's outing, while certainly not the only reason the Twins lost Sunday, was damaging to his own future. He made the team out of spring training largely because he's out of options. But he has pitched, when not on the injured list, horribly. Sunday gave him 12 walks allowed in 15.1 innings, and that's not tolerable.

The Twins have largely been without a second left-hander in the bullpen. That's supposed to be Mejia's role. They have already dropped Gabriel Moya and Andrew Vasquez from the 40-man roster. The only other left-handed pitchers on the 40 are bullpen ace Taylor Rogers and starters Martin Perez, Lewis Thorpe, Delvin Smeltzer and Stephen Gonsalves. So if there's going to be a second lefty in the bullpen, it will be via trade.

Vasquez was outrighted during the weekend without a corresponding addition to the 40, presumably to open space for a trade for a veteran. If they need two spaces, Mejia is in jeopardy. He may be regardless.

---

Sunday's game turned, in a very real sense, on a play in which Byron Buxton was thrown out trying for third base on a fly to center. His out came before Jonathan Schoop reached the plate and ended the inning.

I was listening to the radio broadcast at that point, Tim Laudner being unlistenable as the TV analyst, and Dan Gladden declined to criticize Buxton's try for third.

I'm not so hesitant. Yes, Joey Gallo had to make a Grade A throw to get him, and yes, Joey Gallo had not played a good center field in the series. But even if there's only a 15 percent chance that Gallo makes a good-enough throw, the gain from advancing Buxton to third with two outs wasn't worth the risk.

If Buxton sticks to second, Schoop's run gives the Twins the lead. Theoretically, that would have been enough to win.

---

The Futures Game on Sunday evening featured two Twins prospects. Royce Lewis went 1-for-2 (and committed an error in the field as a substitute (Wander Franco of the Rays system was, deservedly, the starter at short for the American League team), and Jordan Balazovic threw a hitless inning.

I love the Futures Game, even shortened as it was to seven innings (eight with extras; it ended in a tie). It's a niche product, I know, but I rather prefer it to the All-Star Game itself.

---

Unless the Twins make a trade during the break, I'll probably go silent here until the season resumes.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth

On this Independence Day morning, the Twins, having won a 12-inning affair in Oakland on Wednesday night:


  • are 54-31, a .635 winning percentage, which translates to 102 wins over the course of the season
  • still have not lost three games in a row
  • lead Cleveland by seven games in the AL Central
  • have the second-best run differential in MLB and the best in the American League.


They feel like they've been in a malase since Memorial Day, and the Yankees have overtaken them for best record in the AL, but that's still a pretty solid position to be in on July 4.

---

Jake Odorizzi went on the disabled list with a blister after his awkward start on Tuesday, with Zack Littell coming back up. This also takes Odorizzi out of the All-Star Game, but he was scheduled to start Sunday anyway, so he was going to be sidelined for the big exhibition regardless. Jose Berrios was named to the roster.

So the Twins have three All-Stars. Happy now?

---




And he had two key hits Wednesday too.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

RIP Tyler Skaggs

Twenty-seven is too young to die, but 27-year-olds die anyway. One such, on Monday, was Tyler Skaggs, starting pitcher for the Angels.




That's Skaggs in the upper left of the photo, with teammate Mike Trout, and Tony Oliva and Nelson Cruz of the Twins, during a visit this spring to a children's hospital in Orange County. There was some sort of reciprocal visit arrangement this season, with Angels accompanying Twins on a similar visit in the Twin Cities, and Skaggs was part of that too.

Looking at Skaggs' stat lines was a bit surprising. There's not as much there as I expected. I had, from a distance, sort of accepted the notion that he was the best starter in the Anaheim rotation, and indeed he was, at least this year. But that's a low bar to clear. The Angels have not been known in recent years to keep starters healthy or effective, and his stat line reflects a year lost to Tommy John surgery. His career high in innings pitched was just 125.

The best that can be said for Skaggs as a pitcher was that he was developing, that he was figuring it out. He had the talent to be a quality starter, but he really had not established himself as one. And now he never will.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

Dick-n-Bert were so busy being outraged Sunday by the "snub" of various Twins for All-Star designation that they almost missed the outcome of the game in front of them.

I'm not disturbed at all. The All-Star Game, particularly in this era of constant interleague play, is about marketing and player bonuses. I can give that a big yawn with a clear conscience.

Mitch Garver isn't an All-Star because he's not even this team's primary catcher. Jason Castro has started 39 games behind the plate, Garver 31, Willians Astudillo 13. This has been, I think, beneficial to the team, but its sufficient to keep Garver off the All-Star roster.

If there's a legitimate snub to whine about, it's on the pitching staff, with neither Jose Berrios nor Taylor Rogers getting named.  But given that the Orioles, Tigers and Blue Jays had to have somebody on the roster, it's not surprising that they ran out of room.

Rocco Baldelli has handled this lineup all year with an eye to limiting fatigue. Giving pretty much everybody four days of July vacation plays into that well.

---

A nice start Sunday from Lewis Thorpe, who got the ball because Kyle Gibson pitched a little in that 18-inning game earlier in the week.

Thorpe was returned to Triple A after the game, which is not surprising. He's got a future. I'm not sure that it's with the Twins -- I can see him being the major chip in a trade for a controllable established starter -- but he's going to be in a major league rotation, probably as early as next season.

No accompanying move was immediately announced, but I expect it will be a pitcher.

It almost certainly won't be Gabriel Moya, the lefty who spent much of 2018 on the big league roster and was a frequent "opener" down the stretch. He was outrighted off the 40 man roster with a Triple A ERA in the sevens. Ouch.




Friday, June 28, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Jorge Polanco won the runoff election and is the starting shortstop for the American League in the All Star game. He becomes the first Twin elected to the starting lineup since Joe Mauer in 2013.

And good for him. I wouldn't go so far as to claim he's the best shortstop in the league -- put him on the same team as Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa, and Polanco is playing a different position -- but he's obviously having a great season, without the injuries of the other two. If you think the All-Star Game is for the guys having the best first half, he belongs.

I expect to expound on this subject for the Monday print column, but in my mind Polanco has established himself as the best homegrown shortstop in Minnesota Twins history. That's a low bar to clear, and there may be better shortstops coming through the system, but Polanco is certainly no slouch.

 ---

Rough loss on Thursday: 18 innings, the entire bullpen deployed, and probably a roster move or two ahead. 

Luis Arraez was in left field with Eddie Rosario sidelined by his ankle sprain, and I suspect that Rosario would have caught the second-inning double that brought in the first Tampa Bay run. Catch that ball, and who knows what the final outcome is.

---

Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. was indeed called up in the wake of Rosario's injury. But it wasn't Rosario who went on the injured list.

It was La Tortuga, Willians Astudillo, with a strained oblique. It's his second stint on the IL.

 ---

Some news about an #OldFriend and one of the most beloved Twins in recent years, Eduardo Escobar:

On Wednesday, Escobar went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI in the Diamondbacks’ win over the Dodgers in Phoenix. After the game he got on a private plane provided by the Dbacks team owners and flew 1,972 miles to Miami. The reason: his two sons, 11-year-old Eduardo Escobar Jr., and 8-year-old Raul Escobar had an immigration hearing in Miami yesterday morning in which each of them were granted their green cards.

One successful hearing and, presumably, a lot of family hugs later, Escobar got back on the plane and flew 2,585 miles to San Francisco. He made it back by game time, entered the game as a replacement at third base in the sixth inning and went 1-for-2, singling in a run in the ninth inning.
Escobar has 18 homers so far this year for the D'backs with a .284 batting average. It's not like the Twins are in need of his power, but he's having a good season, and he's Eduardo Escobar, and I miss rooting for him. I'm glad he's got his kids in the States.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Running low on outfielders

The Twins won again Wednesday, and they won with a makeshift outfield for much of the game.

After Eddie Rosario -- playing center with Byron Buxton on the IL and Max Kepler sidelined by a swollen elbow -- sprained his ankle on first base, they sported an outfield of Luis Arraez in left, Jake Cave in center and Willians Astudillo in right. (Late in the game Kepler came in to play center, with Arraez returning to third base, Astudillo moving to left and Cave to right.)

While in right field, Astudillo made a savvy throw behind the runner to help mute a Tampa Bay threat. Man can play some baseball.

Still, things are desperate enough that Nelson Cruz was reminding the manager that he still has his glove. I'm pretty sure that Rocco Baldelli wants to avoid that, however.

All of which led to this early morning -- it is a nooner today, after all -- tweet from a national reporter:


No word at that point on how the roster spot was being opened. My guess: Either Rosario is going on the injured list or they're dropping back to 12 pitchers. 

Baldelli downplayed Rosario's injury immediately after the game, and if the Twins really think he'll be good to go in a day or two, they would want to avoid sidelining him. But it's more likely that they will take their time and let the ankle heal rather than push him and risk a more severe second sprain. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

More like it

When the Twins defeated Tampa Bay on June 2, Minnesota was 40-19.

A bit more than three weeks later, the Twins beat Tampa Bay again. Minnesota's record is now 51-27.

When 11-8 is what passes for a slump, that's a sign of a pretty solid team. That's a .578 winning percentage. That translates into 93 wins over the course of 162 games. In a slump.

The Twins still have the AL's best record. They still have the largest divisional lead. They still have not lost more than two games in a row.

Yes, the past three weeks have been a bit of a struggle compared to the first two months. Forty-and-19 is a pretty high standard.

In my estimation, the fall-off has been more about the lineup than the pitching. The "bombas" aren't as common and there have been a few games in which the fielding has been erratic. And yes, there have been a few clunkers from the pitching staff.

But Tuesday's win was encouraging. The Twins racked up last year's Cy Young winner, Blake Snell. Kyle Gibson ate some innings. Word was that Byron Buxton's wrist is progessing, and the Twins are simply a much better team with him in the lineup.

The one downside is that Max Kepler left after getting hit by a pitch. With Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez already on the IL, this raises the possibility of a few days of an outfield of Eddie Rosario, Jake Cave and Willians Astudillo.

I love me some La Tortuga, but not as an outfield staple.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Cody Allen signing

The Twins over the weekend agreed to a minor-league deal with Cody Allen, who not that long ago was the closer for the Cleveland Indians, and a good one: Allen is the franchise's all-time saves leader.

But last year his ERA mushroomed to 4.70, and the Tribe made no real attempt to retain him in free agency. He signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Angels, and pitched so poorly there that the Halos released him a week ago.

Supposedly the Twins have some ideas to fix Allen. Off his numbers this year, there's a lot to fix. He pitched 23 innings for the Angels, with nine homers allowed and 20 walks. Twenty!

He also struck out 29 in those 23 innings. That suggests to me that he still has his accustomed velocity and movement; he "just" doesn't the command of it. Too many pitches out of the strike zone, too many in the fat part of the strike zone. And, by process of elimination, not nearly enough on the edges of the strike zone, where the outs are.

I don't expect anything from this signing, but I didn't expect anything out of Martin Perez, and he's been a pretty servicable back-of-the-rotation guy. Signing Allen to a minor league deal is different than signing him as the Angels did. If he finds his old form in Pensacola, great. If not, no damage done.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

The Twins merely split with the Royals on the road. It wasn't a losing road trip, but the Royals are not a strong club, and going 2-2 against them is mildly disappointing.

So yes, the Twins continue to be in a slump, and Cleveland has narrowed the margin to eight games. It's worth noting that

  • Minnesota still has the best record in the American League and
  • An eight-game lead before July is pretty substantial.

If this is the worst stretch of baseball the Twins have this year, they'll be fine.

---

The Monday print column is on a piece of Twins bullpen history from my teens and early 20s -- Gene Mauch and his eagerness to lay a lot of innings on a single relief pitcher.

A lot of that was Mike Marshall, who pitched for Mauch in Montreal and in Minnesota. Marshall bounced around a lot -- if he wasn't going good, teams were quick to decide life was easier without him around -- and he really only had success with two managers, Mauch and Walter Alston in Los Angeles.

There's a story about Marshall and Alston ... The Dodgers traded for Marshall, and he shows up for spring training, and Alston sits down with Marshall to discuss how to use him. Marshall was or had been a grad student at Michigan State -- his career introduced a lot of fans to the word "kineisology," the study of body movement -- and Marshall started giving Alston a lecture on pitching and why he could pitch everyday. Alston halted him.

"You're talking over my head," Alston supposedly said. "Let's leave it at this: You tell me when you can't pitch, and I'll use you any other day."

Marshall pitched 106 times and threw 208 innings. There have been a few relievers who won MVP awards. Marshall in 1974 might have been the only one who really deserved it.

But that was a different era. I'll guarantee you: Mike Marshall didn't throw a mid-90s fastball, as Taylor Rogers does.

Friday, June 21, 2019

A team slump

The Twins still have not lost more than two in a row, but there is no denying that they are in a bit of a slump right now. Lose two, win one, lose two -- that's not high-quality ball.




Yes, that's probably a factor. But Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi didn't participate in that 17-inning affair, and they both had short, bullpen-sapping starts.

Speaking of which, Sean Poppen, who picked up most of the innings Gibson didn't on Wednesday, was sent back to Rochester on Thursday. Kohl Stewart took the roster spot and had to work four innings Thursday, so he'll be gone soon too.

At least the primary relievers are rested after that Tuesday marathon. Ryne Harper threw two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday, and that's it. Poppen and Stewart handled the rest of the bullpen chores.

Meanwhile  ... Mitch Garver, who caught all 17 innings Tuesday, left Thursday's game early. The Twins announced it as a heel problem, but Garver sounded postgame like it's the ankle -- the same one that put him on the injured list a few weeks ago. I think it's reasonable to connect the dots. 


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins roster continues to churn:


  • IF-OF Marwin Gonzalez goes on the IL with a strained hamstring
  • RHP Blake Parker goes on the family emergency list
  • LHP Aldaberto Mejia goes on the 60-day injured list, which removes him from the 40-man roster.


  • C-IF-OF Willians Astudillo is recalled
  • RHP Sean Poppen has his contract selected and is brought up.


Poppen, a starter who has split 2019 between Double A Penascola and Triple A Rochester and been pretty dominating in Triple A, wound up pitching four innings Wednesday night, throwing 70 pitches. Three were scoreless; the other was ... not. He showed good stuff, but command and control were obvious issues. At least he ate innings and saved the rest of the bullpen after the Tuesday marathon,

If there was an obvious bullpen arm to call up I would expect the Twins to do so, because Poppen's not going to be available for a while.

---

It was a weird lineup Rocco Baldelli threw out there Wednesday, almost certainly because the Tuesday game was so long.

Luis Arraez played shortstop. Astudillo played second. Jake Cave was in center, with Max Kepler in right. And, of course, Mitch Garver was nowhere to be seen after catching 17 innings.

The outfield alignment prompted some pregame Twitter back-and-forth between Aaron Gleeman and me until I broke it off to get back to the job I was getting paid to do. We agree that Kepler is the superior centerfielder, and Gleeman noted that Baldelli had treated him as such in the few previous game in which one started in center and the other in right.

I think the difference is fatigue, or perhaps more accurately the prevention of fatigue. Kepler was supposed to get a day off on Tuesday, but he wound up getting four at-bats after the Gonzalez injury. Right field is easier than center.

My sense of the Wednesday lineup was that the priority was: Let's not cripple anybody. Baldelli's own playing career ran aground on unique fatigue issues, and one of his managerial themes has been conservation of energy.

---

Arraez continues to impress in his limited major league exposure. On Wednesday he went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and played a clean game at short, by which I mean no errors.

He's no shortstop, of course; he was there because Jorge Polanco played 17 innings the night before and both Ehire Adrianza and Gonzalez are on the injured list.

LaVelle Neal predicted on Twitter during that game that Arraez would be the second baseman and leadoff hitter next season. I think he's more likely to be traded in the next few weeks for pitching help. If he isn't, he might be the second baseman by August, considering how Jonathan Schoop appears to have lost his command as a hitter of the strike zone.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

What. A. Game.

From a process-trumps-results point of view,  this Tuesday night/Wednesday morning marathon re-emphasizes this reality: The Twins are toe-to-toe competitive with anybody.

The Red Sox are pretty much the same team that won 108 games and then cruised to the World Series title last season, and they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They and the Twins have now played 26 innings against each other, and the Sawx haven't established their superiority.

From a results point of view, getting the W is pretty darn good too. The Twins are more than 70  games into the season and still have not lost three in a row.

I am particularly impressed with Michael Pineda's start. One should not be surprised when Jose Berrios shuts down a lineup. Pineda is not Berrios. But he allowed just one run to a quality lineup in six innings. And then the much-derided bullpen held Boston to two runs in 11 innings, which is pretty good too.

---

Give Tony Oliva and Rod Carew credit. They made it though the whole game.




---

Mitch Garver caught all 17 innings. As displeased as I was when he got picked off third, that is worth some applause.

I don't think he's playing today.

---

Roster stuff: Byron Buxton and Ehire Adrianza went on the disabled list Tuesday. Buxton's wrist, described for three days as day-to-day after a hit-by-pitch, apparently didn't react well after a round of swings in the batting cage. Adrianza is described as having "abdominal issues."

So Jake Cave and Luis Arraez are back up. Cave played all 17 innings in center field (and went 0-6), and Arraez scored the winning run.




Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A better loss

A loss is a loss, and the Twins lost Monday, only the fifth time this season that they've lost two games in a row. They haven't lost three straight so far. I won't be surprised or dismayed if that streak ends tonight, and I won't regard it as the beginning of a collapse.

But this loss was better than Sunday's, for several reasons:


  • It came against a quality team (Boston) that is playing well
  • The Twins played cleanly afield, a welcome sight after several days of sloppiness


They just ran up against a good pitcher (Rick Porcello) having one of the better games he'll have this season.

On Sunday we saw a lot of Minnesota at-bats that ended with frustrated body language. Not so Monday. Porcello didn't make as many mistakes as the Twins are accustomed to seeing.

My view: The Twins lost on Sunday. The Red Sox won on Monday. In my eyes, there's a difference.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Notes from the weekend

The Twins didn't exactly dominate the Royals over the weekend, but they won two of three and had plenty of baserunners in the Sunday loss. It wouldn't have taken much more at the plate or in the field to flip that result.

Sunday's loss puts the Twins at 47-23 -- still, by percentage points, the best record in the American League and 10 games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Minnesota's magic number is 83.

---

Weekend roster move: Fernando Romero back down to Triple A after a poor outing on Friday, Zach Littell back up. Just another round of bullpen musical chairs.

---

The Joe Mauer tribute weekend appears to have gone well. I took note of this Twitter exchange:




My recollection from the past is that Neal has been a bit cool about Mauer's Hall of Fame chances. I suspect he's heard support for Mauer from enough BBWAA colleagues in the past few months. Mauer has long been more highly regarded outside his home market than in, something I blame on KFAN and a couple of dunderheaded metro columnists.

---

You may have noticed Martin Maldonado, the Kansas City catcher, wearing a blue tie over his chest protector Sunday. (The names he wrote on it are those of his father, brother and friends, presumably all fathers.) He wasn't the only one. Einar Diaz of Pittsburgh -- who entered his game late -- had one also. And down in Rochester, Willians Astudillo:


All the same solid light blue with an identical logo.

---

Plenty of rumors Sunday about one particular potential Twins trade target, Madison Bumgarner. 

I don't think a starting pitcher is as big a need for the Twins as is the bullpen, and I doubt that either Martin Perez or Michael Pineda are good bullpen candidates. Bumgarner is certainly a name, but his pitching the past few years hasn't matched his reputation. There is a theory that getting out of the morass the Giants are stuck in and onto a team with October ambitions will fan his competitive fires.

Bumgarner's a free agent after the season, and he's expected to be dealt. We'll see, obviously, where he lands.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Understood but still unfair

The Twins announced a roster move shortly before their win Thursday afternoon:




Ryan Eades had pitched twice for the big league club, a total of 3.2 innings with no runs allowed. He wasn't nearly as effective as a 0.00 ERA would suggest, but he had done nothing to get booted off the roster.

He got the ax because:

  • Blake Parker is struggling;
  • Taylor Rogers has been hampered by a sore back; and
  • the Twins wanted a fresh arm in the bullpen, and Eades, who faced seven hitters on Wednesday in large part because Parker couldn't record an out, was the obvious choice to go.

Eades never figured to be on the roster long term anyway. Still, he did his job, Parker didn't do his, and it's Eades who pays for Parker's struggles. Understandable, but unfair.

Fernando Romero, who replaced Eades on the roster, faced four hitters in the eighth inning Thursday with a big lead and retired none of them. Matt Magill wound up pitching two innings to mop it up. So expect another bullpen shuffle today, with Romero returning to Triple A.

If that happens, at least Romero's demotion will be justified by his recent performance.




Thursday, June 13, 2019

In pursuit of 100




The Twins committed five errors Wednesday night. Four of the runs allowed by Minnesota were unearned. So, yeah, they lost that game more than the Mariners won it.

And in terms of the standings, it doesn't matter. Cleveland lost, and the Twins still have a double-digit lead in the AL Central. 

On another level, it stings. I've already accepted that the Twins will win this divisional title. That's a given, even if the magic number is a lofty 86 -- darn low for mid June, to be sure, but indictative of how much of the season remains. 

What's of interest to me at this point is the pursuit of history. The Twins have been in Minnesota since 1961. They have exactly one season of 100 wins (1965). I have no real memory of that season. 

I have seen the Twins win two World Series, four divisional titles in the old AL West and six divsonal titles in the current AL Central. I've seen them play two Game 163 to break a tie in the standings and I've seen them win a wild-card berth. I haven't seen a 100-win team. 

I want to. And Wednesday night didn't help that cause.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Perez, May and Magill

A win is a win; the standings don't add or deduct for style. That said, the Twins are fortunate they were playing a bad team Tuesday, because it really was easy to see them losing that one.

Start with Martin Perez. In some ways, the lefty wasn't all that bad. He struck out seven in his five innings, and more than 62 percent of his pitches were strikes.

On the other hand, he walked three, threw a first pitch strike to only 11 of the 24 men he faced, served up a fat cutter to a top-notch slugger with two on, and kept handing the lead back to the Mariners.

Four runs in five innings is ... not a quality start. Perez hasn't had one of them since May 17. In his three starts since then, his ERA has ballooned from 2.89 to 3.97. (The Twins have gone 2-1 in those three starts anyway.)

Close the carping with Trevor May, who found himself on the mound in the ninth inning for the first time in more than a month. He created a jam right away, allowing singles to the first two Mariners hitters, and needed a generous umpire's strike call to get his first out -- after which it was pop up and fly ball and and game over.

May thus became the sixth Twin to record a save this season: Nine for Blake Parker, six for Taylor Rogers, and one each for Ryne Harper, Trevor Hildenberger, Mike Morin and May. The roleless bullpen rolls on.

The use of May as the closer du jour was a mild surprise. Rogers, clearly the Twins' best reliever, hadn't pitched since Thursday. Parker, frequently if erroneously called the Twins closer by the FSN broadcasters, hadn't pitched since Friday.

But manager Rocco Baldelli called on May for his first real save opportunity of the season.  Rogers, it turned out, was unavailable with a stiff back; if anybody inquired postgame why Parker was passed over, the reply wasn't tweeted out.

Baldelli did address Matt Magill -- who retired all three men he faced and got credit for the win -- during the televised portion of his postgame scrum, praising the righty's stuff.

It was Magill's first good outing in some time. In his previous three appearances he allowed 10 runs while getting just four outs and inflated his ERA from 1.35 to 6.60.  Those are the kind of results that got Hildenberger shipped back to Triple A, and they had me surmising a few days ago that Magill was pitching himself off the roster.

Not so. I don't know where Magill ranks in Baldelli's bullpen hierarchy these days, and that hierarchy probably changes for no discernible reason anyway, but he got the ball in the eighth inning of a one two-run game Tuesday. He clearly remains in Baldelli's mix.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Good-bye, Tyler Jay

The Twins in a sense closed the book Monday on a failed draft strategy by selling Tyler Jay to the Cincinnati Reds.

Jay was the Twins' first round pick in 2015, number six overall, a lefty who had been a dominant reliever for Illinois. At the time, it was thought that he could be very fast to the majors, and since the Twins were contending for a wild-card spot that year, there was some appeal to getting a bullpen reinforcement.

Didn't happen. Jay spluttered in high A out of the pen. Perhaps, had he dominated immediately in Fort Myers as he had in the Big Ten, the fast-track would have materialized. Or maybe not.

The Twins organization, then led by Terry Ryan, was conducting a multi-year experiment of sorts by drafting college relievers in an effort to add velocity to their pitching inventory. Some they kept as relievers; some they tried to turn into starters. Jay was one of the latter group. Starting didn't take. He developed arm problems and barely pitched at all in 2017. The new front office ended the Jay-as-starter approach, but returning to the bullpen didn't improve his pitching either.

The Twins really didn't get much out of the college relievers emphasis. Tyler Duffey -- another reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever -- might be establishing a place for himself in the Minnesota bullpen. Jake Reed and Sam Clay are still in the organization but haven't gotten berths on the 40-man roster yet, and I expect they're destined for minor-league free agency.

J.T. Chargois, Luke Bard and John Curtiss have become up-and-down guys in other organizations. Nick Burdi is on the Pirates injured list and may be having a career crisis. And a bunch of others -- Michael Cedarroth, Mason Melotakas, Zack Jones -- from the 2012-2014 drafts are simply out of baseball.

The Twins moved Jay along to another organization on the same day that Seth Stohs reported that a handful of players had been released out of extended spring training. They're making room in the minors for the new crop of draftees. In Jay's case, his roster spot in Double-A will go to somebody in A ball, making room for a draftee or extended spring pitcher.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

The Twins went 6-4 on their just-completed road trip. That record matched my expectation in total, although in a different shape. I figured a split with the Rays and taking two-of-three in both Cleveland and Detroit.

A 6-4 road trip is quite acceptable, even if it feels like they gave away one of the games in Cleveland and even if it feels as if a quality team should never lose to the Tigers.

Now the schedule gets a bit easier, with home series against the Mariners and Royals before an intriguing series with the Red Sox. Boston isn't playing up to last year's level -- which was a very high level indeed -- but we're a week away from that matchup.

---

Roster moves since I last posted: Devin Smeltzer was returned to Triple A Friday, with Michael Pineda coming off the injured list and allowing his customary three runs (albeit in just five innings rather than his usual six).

And the slumping Willians Astudillo was optioned out Saturday, with Ryan Eades giving the Twins an eighth bullpen arm and making his major league debut later that day. Here's what I wrote about him in 2014 after seeing him in Cedar Rapids.

What I actually remember of him on that trip came the next day, when he and other Kernels pitchers were supposed to be charting pitches behind home plate. There was a pop-up corn-on-the-cob stand on the concourse, and Eades spent a good part of the game chowing down on the roasted corn. (So did I; it was good stuff.)

I'm not thrilled with Astudillo's demotion, but I have to admit that

he hasn't hit since returning from his injured list and
Ehire Adrianza has.

Add in the reality that Adrianza is out of options, and it was a pretty easy call; if you have to go to 13 pitchers -- and I still hate conceding that -- Astudillo had to be the one cut.

---

Best wishes to David Ortiz, shot in the back Sunday in his native Dominican Republic. As I write this, he is reportedly out of surgery and his life not in jeopardy.

I don't want to call that good news, though. Nothing good about this event at all.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Reports Thursday night had Dallas Keuchel agreeing to a one-year contract with Atlanta.

I have an easier time understanding the league-wide reluctance to sign Craig Kimbrel than the reluctance to sign Keuchel, but Kimbrel got the richer multi-year deal, Neither, I'm sure, is exactly happy with the outcome.

---

A beat writer opines:




The conclusion is correct: The Twins do need more high-leverage arms. 

But if Rogers gets a couple days off after each of those 34-pitch outings, so that he's doing it twice a week -- and doing nothing else -- it's doable. The problem will be if the Twins decide they just have to use him again tonight for a couple batters. And one issue with Rogers is that he is the sole lefty in the bullpen.

---

A former bullpen ace opines:


That came after Parker's Wednesday outing, when he entered in the seventh with a two-run lead and gave up three runs on two homers.

Parker is not exactly being used in random innings, of course. He's being used in high-leverage innings in the final third of games, rather than being held back for the ninth only, a la Joe Nathan. The same is true of Rogers.

The underlying problem, as the Hayes tweet notes, is that the Twins lack sufficient high-leverage arms -- guys Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson can trust in game situations. Parker was pitching in the seventh on Wednesday because it was a high-leverage situation. It was a high leverage situation becaue Martin Perez didn't pitch effectively enough long enough, and Trevor May had to get him out of a sixth-inning jam. And Baldelli was using Parker then in hopes that he'd hold the fort in the seventh and the hitters would widen the lead and allow the less-trusted arms to finish.

The Twins had four leverage arms at the start of the season. Trevor Hildenberger is back in the minors trying to figure it out. May has fought his command all year. Baldelli is down to Parker and Rogers, and that's not enough.

---

Side note: It has been more than a week since Mike Morin last pitched (May 30). Something's odd about that.

---

One more tweet. this one from a different beat writer:


And the Twins still have not lost more than two in a row this year. It's not like this team is broken, folks.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

Craig Kimbrel and the Twins bullpen

The confluence of events could not be ignored.

During an hour-plus rain delay in the Twins game in Cleveland, word broke that Craig Kimbrel had agreed to a three-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. Soon after play resumed in Cleveland, Blake Parker surrendered three runs on two homers in the seventh inning. Cleveland took the lead and did not relinquish it.

My view on Kimbrel is unchanged from a few weeks ago. I'm glad somebody else is putting their eggs in that basket.

The Kimbrel we saw last October with the Red Sox -- ERA of 5.91 in nine postseason games -- figures to be more problem than solution. Kimbrel's 2018 started to deteriorate in mid-season, and each month got progressively worse. Alex Cora turned to rotation ace Chris Sale to put away the Dodgers in the final game of the World Series rather than Kimbrel; that move spoke loudly to Kimbrel's unreliability.

The Twins bullpen is imperfect, of course. All bullpens are works in progress, all bullpens could be stronger. Minnesota's pen, made up largely of cast-offs and no-names, has been surprisingly effective at protecting leads, but cracks are beginning to show. Parker, for example, has now given up seven runs in his last 4.1 innings.

I just don't think Kimbrel is the answer, and committing $43 million to him -- the reported guarantee from the Cubs -- probably closes other options that might be more productive. We'll see how he fares with the Cubs.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Feeling a draft (Day 2)

I read a few year ago Nate Silver's book on predictions, The Signal and the Noise. One concept I took away from it is that humans look instinctively for patterns and often "find" patterns that don't really exist.

The Twins on Day 2 of the draft Tuesday -- Rounds 3 through 10 -- drafted no high schoolers and no catchers or outfielders. It was all college infielders and pitchers.

First round pick Keoni Cavaco is the only prep player the Twins took in their first 11 picks. Competitive balance pick Matt Wallner is the only outfielder.

Pattern or coincidence? Well, in terms of organizational need, the Twins took quite a few catchers -- or players who were thought possible catchers -- last season. And they seem pretty well stocked with outfield talent already.

One pick by the Twins that got immediate notice on Tuesday: Will Holland, a shortstop out of Auburn, in the fifth round. He was seen as a possible first-rounder at the start of the 2019 season but slumped terribly at the plate, with batting average as low as .201 about a month ago. He might be a steal -- or he might be a mistake.

The consensus appears to be that this is a down year for pitchers, and particularly at the college level, but one always needs a fresh set of arms in the organization. The Twins took five college arms in the first two days, mostly in the later rounds.

Day 3 today will feature a lot more names, many of whom will not sign. The 11 drafted Monday and Tuesday -- unless somebody flunks their physical, expect them all to sign.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Feeling a draft (Day 1)

The Twins did indeed take high school infielder Keoni Cavaco with the 13th pick Monday night.

As I said in my post that morning, I don't know enough to judge any of these guys. Cavaco by general consensus was not prominent on scouting radars a year ago, and he wasn't selected for a prominent scouting showcase called the Area Code games last summer. But he started to emerge as a potential high draft pick last fall, and the Twins say they had a scout at every game he played this spring. He had, as the Baseball America term has it, "helium" -- he just kept rising up draft lists.

The plan, once he signs, is to let him play short until he plays himself off the position. A more likely position is implicitly third base.

Pluses: Very fast, legitimate power, young for his draft class (just turned 18). The Twins rave about his defensive tools.

Red flags: Because he wasn't on the showcase circuit last summer, he's had less exposure to higher-level pitching than most high schoolers getting picked in the first round. So his hit tool -- which is the most important of the five (hit, power, arm, speed, fielding) -- is the least established.

I don't think he's going to be a rapid riser, and those of us who go annually to Cedar Rapids to see the Twins low-A afflilate there are unlikely to see him there this year.

The Twins took a college outfielder and Forest Lake native, Matt Wallner of Southern Mississippi, with their competitive balance pick, No. 39 overall. The Twins drafted him three years ago with a late-round pick as a pitcher; he didn't sign. Now he's a slugging outfielder, with 22 homers this year for Brian Dozier's alma mater. The Twins system is rich in outfielders, but here's another.

A sign of the passage of time: He told the Star Tribune of growing up rooting for Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter. All those blasts from the past.

The Twins' final selection of the night, No. 54, was a college pitcher, Matt Canterino of Rice. A few years ago Rice was spitting out pitching prospects on a regular basis, but most if not all had arm issues after turning pro, and the school's baseball program got a reputation for overworking hurlers. I don't know if that's changed, but I'm instinctively wary of Rice pitchers. Canterino is said to have good velocity but not a lot of movement on the fastball.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

Taking three of four from a quality team -- and the Tampa Bay Rays are a quality team -- can give a fan base something to smile about.

Seeing a bullpen meltdown turn an easy win into a close win can give a fan base something to fret about.

The Twins do have an off day now, so going through four relievers in three innings after cutting back a pitcher shouldn't be a problem. But I'm sure Rocco Baldelli would have preferred to give Taylor Rogers another day without work.

---

Taylor Rogers has an identical twin brother, Tyler, who pitches in Triple A for the Giants and has never gotten a callup.

There are differences in these identical Twins, not least of which is that Tyler is right-handed. And there must be a reason the Giants, who have had a few bullpen problems in recent years, haven't brought Tyler up.

Still, I frequently think while watching Taylor carve up batters for an inning or two: There's another Rogers brother who's probably available.

---

The Twins optioned out Zack Littell on Sunday and reactivated Mitch Garver from the injured list (Garver caught and led off). After the game, they optioned out Luis Arraez with a coresponding move to come Tuesday, almost certainly reactivating Nelson Cruz.

How long will the Twins go with 12 pitchers rather than 13? They do have two offdays in eight days -- today and next Monday -- and the six games in between come against two of the three least potent lineups in the American League in Cleveland and Detroit. But I doubt this is a permanent condition.

---

The draft begins tonight, and the Twins pick 13th. I have seen no consensus in mock drafts on who the Twins are likely to take, but it's likely to be a hitter. Two names connected to the 13th pick with some frequency: Shea Langeliers, a catcher from Baylor who has slid a bit this spring, and Keoni Cavaco, a high school infielder who has risen sharply as the spring progressed.

I'm not qualified to have an opinion. I will note that the Twins last summer picked a bunch of potential catchers. Drafting for need in the first round is always a mistake regardless of the sport, and quality catchers are hard to come up with, so Langeliers wouldn't be a shocker, but the Twins right now seem pretty deep in catchers.

Friday, May 31, 2019

That didn't go well

On Thursday morning I posted some (more so than usual) incoherent ramblings about Zach Littell. On Thursday evening he got to pitch for the first time in almost a week.

Neither went particularly well, Some 24 hours after I composed that post, I'm still not sure what the point was. Littell's outing yielded one positive: The meaningful pieces of the Twins bullpen were undisturbed by Martin Perez's poor start. Littell got rocked for 10 hits and eight earned runs, but he got 13 outs, and the Twins needed to use just one other reliever (Mike Morin for one inning).

That is, basically, Littell's role: Eat unimportant innings and try to pitch well enough to earn some important ones. Part one he did. Part two he didn't. I won't be shocked if the ultimate outcome for him is a return to Triple A Rochester; he's certainly not going to be called on again in the Tampa Bay series.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Zack Littell and the pitching inventory

Zach Littell is currently a member of the Twins bullpen, but pretty clearly the eighth man. He pitched two innings on May 24, and has been idle since. If the Twins decide to cut back to 12 pitchers as Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver come off the injured list, Littell's job is in jeopardy.

Littell's projected major league role has dwindled since the Twins got him in July 2017 from the Yankees for Jamie Garcia. At the time he was pitching in Double A and having a superb season (he finsihed 19-1, 2.12, for three teams at two levels). While nobody was being wowed with his stuff, it was easy to be impressed by the results. A middle-to-back of the rotation future seemed quite possible.

By late last season he was being described by then-manager Paul Molitor as a candidate to be used with an opener -- good enough, by implication, to work twice through the order but not really good enough to be a traditional starter. And indeed, he was used as a bulk inning guy several times last September.

Now he's a reliever, although it's not really clear that this is a permanent move, as with Tyler Duffey and Fernando Romero. Unlike the latter two, Littell was mostly starting for the Redwings in Triple A before his call-up. Indeed, to the degree that one can deduce the Rochester starting rotation, he's been one of the cornerstones of that rotation, along with Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe has nine starts, Littell and Stewart seven apiece. Nobody else has more than four, and one of them is Devin Smeltzer, who started the season in Double A.

The Twins this year have had a pretty durable major league rotation, even if Michael Pineda is currently on the shelf. They've only had three starts go to somebody other than the five starters who came out of spring training (Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Pineda and Martin Perez) -- two by Stewart and one by Smeltzer.

I heard Thad Levine, the general manager, talking on the radio pregame show Sunday about "lines of defense" -- the reinforcments already in the organization. Smeltzer probably wasn't seriously viewed as part of that during the offseason; Stephen Gonsalves was. But Gonsalves has barely pitched this year, and Smeltzer's stock has certainly risen.

I see more reason for optimism about the starters who are or have been in Double-A Pensacola this year -- Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, Bursdar Graterol (now sidelined with a shoulder issue) -- than with the guys who've been in Triple A or the majors -- Stewart, Littell, Thorpe and Chase DeJong.

That Littell is sitting in the major league bullpen without much to do suggests to me that he's not prominent on the rotation depth chart these days.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Michael Pineda, Devin Smeltzer and the roster

Michael Pineda had on Monday what has become a standard Michael Pineda start -- six innings, three runs. He made five starts in May and allowed three earned runs in each. Three were six innings, one was five, one was seven.

Three earned runs in six innings is a minimal quality start. It's not wining him any Cy Young awards, but it's certainly acceptable from the back of the rotation. The Twins are just 5-6 in Pineda's 11 starts -- the bullpen gave up the lead he bequeathed Monday -- and his ERA remains over 5, but I wouldn't be eager to discard him.

So when the Twins put him on the injured list Tuesday morning with right knee tendinitis, I agreed with the social media theory that the Twins were taking advantage of a scheduling quirk to give Pineda a short break. (Pineda had surgery on that knee last September.) The idea going around Twitter was:


  • Devin Smeltzer gets Tuesday's start and is immediately optioned back to Triple A.
  • Nelson Cruz comes off the DL for Thursday's game in St. Petersburg against the Rays.
  • Luis Arraez is optioned out during the weekend when Mitch Garver is ready to return
  • With two off days in the offing (one of them today), the Twins don't need the fifth starter until Pineda is eligible to return.

That seemed a logical sequence of moves.

But after Smeltzer threw six highly efficient shutout innings on Tuesday, Rocco Baldelli signaled a different plan:




So no, I don't know what they have in mind. At some point soon, Cruz and Garver are coming back. Pineda doesn't figure to be out long. And the roster is jammed with productive players. It's a good probem.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

RIP, Bill Buckner

The first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972 was Wes Parker, a 32-year-old switch-hitter who won his sixth-straight Gold Glove and was a better-than-league-average hitter -- not a lot of power, but more walks than strikeouts and a decent batting average in a rough time and place for hitters.

And that was it for him. He spent 1973 doing TV for the Cincinnati Reds, 1974 playing in Japan, then pursued an acting career with, as far as I know, little success. 

Parker's retirement didn't exactly leave the Dodgers in a bind. They had options to take Parker's place -- two good ones, as it turned out.

Steve Garvey was a third baseman who couldn't throw. The Dodgers converted him to first base. Bill Buckner was an outfielder whose knees had gone bad and couldn't run without pain. The Dodgers converted him to first base too.

It wasn't quite that simple. Buckner got more than 600 plate appearances in 1973, playing mostly first but seeing time in left and right as well. That opened enough playing time for Garvey to get more than 350 plate appearances himself. 

The next year, Garvey and Buckner each got more than 600 PA, which meant Buckner was mostly playing outfield. The Dodgers won the pennant with Garvey and Buckner each hitting over .300.

The next year, Buckner's playing time and production diminished. He bounced back in 1976, still playing mostly in the outfield but suffering on those bad knees.

And then the Dodgers traded Buckner to the Cubs, and he got to play first base as a regular thing. He  blossomed. He hit an even .300 in eight seasons with the Cubs, won a batting title, led the league in doubles a couple of times, consistently drew down-ballot MVP votes. 

And then he wound up in Boston, and the moment that came to define Bill Buckner -- the grounder that went between his legs to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. 

There were a lot of things that went wrong for the Red Sox in that fateful ninth, and a lot of people who deserve more of the blame for the fiasco than Buckner -- Calvin Schiraldi, John McNamara, Rich Gedman, Bob Stanley. But it was Buckner who symbolized the collapse.

I was rooting for the Red Sox in that series, but with the passage of time I am comfortable with the outcome. The Mets of the mid- and late-80s were a historically great team, deserving of at least one World Series title. That was their one.

Bill Buckner died Monday, age 69. And yes, I remember Mookie Wilson's grounder going through his legs. But I also chose to remember the outstanding hitter. 

The Dodgers in the mid-70s made the right choice by making Garvey their first baseman; he was the better hitter and the better first baseman. But Billy Buck was pretty darn good himself.

Monday, May 27, 2019

An overthought from the weekend

The Twins have a 10-game lead on Memorial Day.

I was optimistic about this team when the season opened, but I didn't expect this.

---

This is probably overthinking the weekend, but I keep trying to find significance in an insignificant end-of-game move Saturday.

Rocco Baldelli started Jorge Polanco at designated hitter that game, with Miguel Sano at third and Ehire Adrianza at short. Late in the game, Baldelli pulled Sano for Luis Arraez, but inserted the rookie at shortstop and shifted Adrianza to third.

Adrianza's base position is shortstop. Arraez's is second base, but he had split this season in the minors almost evenly between second and third. He has very little time at shortstop. It seems to me more likely that if those two are on the left side of the infield that Arraez would be at third and Adrianza at short.

So why flip them? My overthought: If and when this team gets back to full health, Baldelli will have an overcrowded roster. At some point Nelson Cruz (wrist) and Mitch Garver (ankle) will come off the injured list, and two players on the active roster will have to come off. And unless somebody else goes on the injured list, those moves are difficult to identify.

Arraez, who has now played more in the majors than he has in Triple A, is a likely first demotion, not because he's struggled in the majors but because he's optionable and wasn't really expected to be knocking on the door at this point anyway. A second ...

Willians Astudillo is optionable, but I think the Twins want his unique skill set in the majors. Dropping to 12 pitchers is certainly a possibility -- the back end of the 'pen has been underused for more than a week -- but every time they do that they rapidly decide they need the 13th.

Which takes me to Adrianza. He's out of options, so the Twins would have to put him on waivers. If he clears, they presumably can outright him to Triple A and still have him available if they need another infielder in the majors. But what if somebody claims him? What do the Twins have as org depth at shortstop?

They have not played Marwin Gonzalez in the middle infield yet, in large part because Adrianza has been on the roster all season. DFA Adrianza, and Gonzalez would presumably become the No. 2 shortstop and second baseman behind Polanco and Jonathan Schoop. That works unless and until somebody goes on the injured list.

Behind them: Nick Gordon is on the 40-man roster and at Rochester, but he's only played a dozen games because of injury. Ronald Torreyes, who had a few good seasons on the Yankees bench and was signed as a minor-league free agent, is hitting under .150 at Rochester.

So they take a look at Arraez at short. They're not going to see that he can definitely handle the position in one or two innings, but it plants the seed in his mind that this team might need him to play shortstop down the road.

Arraez at short isn't ideal, and it may never be necessary. But that possibility, however thin, might be behind that slightly odd Saturday move.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Math so easy, I can do it in my head (well, some of it)

So the Twins have scored exactly 300 runs in exactly 50 games -- six runs per game.

OK, break out the calculator: 6 runs per game for 162 games equals 972 runs for the season.

That's not a record, not even close. The Boston Beaneaters of 1894 scored 1,220 runs. They had a team batting average of .331. Hugh Duffy, who has a plaque in the Hall of Fame, hit .440. And they finished third.

Since World War II, only two teams have scored at least 1,000 runs: The 1950 Boston Red Sox, even though Ted Williams played in just 89 games, and the 1999 Cleveland Indians, with Manny Ramirez driving in 165 runs. (I had forgotten that Doc Gooden made 22 starts for that team.)

As well as the 2019 Twins have hit, they'll have to step up the pace to match those kinds of numbers. Considering the quality of the pitching on their AL Central "rivals" these days and the fact that most of their remaining games are against those teams, it seems almost plausible.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Minnesota Lumber Company

Sixteen runs and eight homers. The Twins so badly mauled the Angels pitching staff Thursday afternoon that the MIAC is about to expel them, too.

(For those non-Minnesotans unfamiliar with that reference, check this link.)

The Twins, through 49 games -- 30% of the schedule -- have:


  • 289 runs, most in the American League
  • 98 homers, most in the AL
  • 102 doubles, most in the AL
  • a .516 slugging percentage, first in the AL
  • a .272 batting average, second in the AL
  • a .340 on-base percentage, third in the AL


I was concerned coming into the season that the Twins offseason emphasis on power over on-base percentage was going to result in a lot of solo homers and nothing else. Not so. And even if it were, eight solo homers should win most games.

They are scoring more than two runs a game more than Cleveland, their chief rival in the AL Central. We are fast approaching Memorial Day, my theoretical time to start paying attention to the standings. Well, the Twins have an eight-game lead on the Indians. If the Tribe's current losing streak continues, Minnesota might have a double-digit lead by the holiday.

Wowzers.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ex-Twins watch: Denard Span

My current Strat-o-Matic project -- don't fear, this is just a starting point -- involves the Negro League set of cards, and the other day I was contemplating the card of one Jimmie Crutchfield: left-handed hitting outfielder, fast, good defense, weak throwing arm, no power.

He's the Negro League Denard Span, I thought. And then: Where is Denard Span these days, anyway?

Apparently involuntarily retired appears to be the answer. The three-year guarantee on the free agent pact he signed with the Giants ran out last year, and the Mariners -- the third team he played for while on that contract and the fifth of his 11-year career -- bought out his option year.

There was, and is, no interest in Span's services despite a solid 2018 at the plate. That's not terribly surprising. He turned 35 in February and he pretty much convinced everybody while in San Francisco that he is no longer a quality defensive center fielder. So he's now an aging slap-hitting corner outfielder in an era in which power is preferred. The Twins have no roster spot for Jake Cave, and I'd rather have Cave than the 2019 version of Span.

Span started with an unseen role in the book Moneyball, cited by author Michael Lewis in the chapter on the 2002 draft as exactly the kind of athlete Athletics general manager and protagonist Billy Beane wanted to avoid -- a raw high school athlete with bonus expectations. The Twins took him with the 20th overall pick, one year after taking Joe Mauer with the first overall pick, and he didn't get to the majors until after Mauer had become a star.

The decision in spring training 2008 to go with Carlos Gomez as the regular center fielder that year and send Span back to the minors was one of two major decisions that cost the Twins the divisional title that year. Span outplayed Go-Go during camp, but Gomez was the big get in the Johan Santana trade, and he got the benefit of the doubt. (The other costly decision was Ron Gardenhire's decison to keep Craig Breslow in a secondary relief role as the rest of the bullpen frequently imploded, but let's not get sidetracked on that again, Eddie.) By midseason Span was in the lineup and hitting leadoff, but the gap probably cost the Twins a game or two in a season in which they ended in a Game 163.

Stardom wasn't in the cards for Span, although he did lead his league in triples twice and hits once. He never made an All-Star team, never won a Gold Glove, had a career high of 12 homers. He was a good regular outfielder and leadoff hitter, but short of greatness.

Jimmie Crutchfield's Baseball Reference page says his career ended at age 35 too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Getting outs

A few observations, and maybe some conclusions, about pitching ....

1. Michael Pineda can be really tough to watch. That was certainly the case Tuesday night when he gave up three runs in the first inning while working at a glacial pace. Given the time zone difference on a Tuesday night, I would imagine that there are a lot of the Twins fans surprised this morning to find the Twins won.

1A. Pineda's final line -- three runs allowed in six innings -- supports my Monday print column conclusion earlier this month: He may not be a Cy Young contender, but there are a lot of teams that would love to have a fifth starter like him.

2. Were either Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris doing this road trip on FSN, they would be doing conniption fits. On Monday Jake Odorizzi threw five shutout innings and was relieved without facing a batter in the sixth; he told reporters that he encouraged manager Rocco Baldelli to pull him. The Twins bullpen allowed one run in four innings and the Twins won 3-1, although Odorizzi didn't get credit for the win.

On Tuesday the Angels' Trevor Cahill threw five scoreless innings, then gave up a leadoff double to Max Kepler.  Brad Ausmus pulled him, and the Twins quickly went double-homer to tie the game off his successor.

We've all heard Blyleven and Morris say the manager would have had to fight them to pull them from a shutout. But Odorizzi and Cahill are veteran starters with well-established histories as five-and-fly gues. They aren't 200-inning machines, as Blyleven and Morris were decades ago. 

Baldelli and Ausmus handled them properly. The difference is that Baldelli's bullpen got the job done on Monday (and Tuesday); Ausmus' did not.

3. Part of the bullpen meltdown for the Angels was Luke Bard. Bard was drafted and signed by the Twins out the the same draft in which they landed Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios; he was prominent in a group of college closers the Twins drafted that year (2012), many of whom the Twins sought to make starters.

Most of them washed out, although the Twins still have Tyler Duffey. Bard spent a lot of his time in the Twins system on the shelf, and even when healthy they showed little real interest in pushing him to the majors. The Angels took him in the Rule 5 draft last year and carried him for part of the season before returning him to the Twins; then they signed him as a minor league free agent.

He was hardly great Tuesday night -- four runs, all earned, in one inning -- and was charged with the loss. The Angels' defense did him no favors, but that was only part of the problem.

I would like him to make the Twins regret not giving him a major league opportunity. I doubt he will.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

'A' is for Adrianza

The 2019 default infield for the Twins has been C.J. Cron at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second, Marwin Gonzalez at third and Jorge Polanco at short.

None of them were at those positions Monday night in Anaheim. The first three were on the bench and Polanco was the designated hitter. Monday's infield was Willians Astudillo at first, Luis Arraez at second, Miguel Sano at third and Ehrie Adrianza at short.

The initials of three of those four notwithstanding, that is not the Twins' A-team infield. And yet ... Sano hit a two-run homer, Adrianza drove in the Twins' other run, Arraez had three hits and Astudillo had another.

Sano, of course, was always supposed to be a foundation piece of this team. Arraez is only up because Mitch Garver and Nelson Cruz are on the injured list. And it very well may be that, if and when everybody is healthy, either Astudillo or Adrianza loses his roster berth.

My assumption has been that Adrianza, despite being out of options, is the more likely to be bounced. But he has certainly been playing a lot lately, and all over the field.

Which is nothing new; he has, in his time with the Twins, played everywhere but center and catcher. I don't call him a superutility player because I reserve that term for somebody who is a regular without a constant position, a la Gonzalez or Ben Zobrist. He doesn't hit well enough for that kind of role. But his versatility gives him value. especially on a roster with 13 pitchers.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Contemplating Luis Arraez

The Twins carried Nelson Cruz and his ailing wrist on the active roster for a few days but finally moved him to the injured list and called up infielder Luis Arraez.

The 22-year-old Venezuelan debuted as a mid-game substitution Saturday and got a double; he started Sunday's loss and got a single and a pair of walks.

I saw him a few years ago when he was with Cedar Rapids. Here's what I wrote about him then.

And I'm not sure there's much more to add to it. He's hit on every level (.331 career in the minors), he draws about as many walks as strikeouts, he doesn't hit many homers (six in six professional seasons), and while Dick Bremer said on one of the telecasts that his defense has improved, I'm pretty certain he lacks the arm for third or short. (I do see that he played about as often at third base for Pensacola as he did at second before he moved up to Triple A Rochester.)

The bat-to-ball skill is impressive. Everything else feels a bit light.

The future of the Twins infield is more likely to be built around Jorge Polanco, Royce Lewis and Wander Javier than around Arraez. He might become a major league regular, but I suspect it will require a trade. If he keeps on hitting, and there's no reason to doubt that, he might be a pretty decent trade chip as early as this summer.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Good-bye, Addison Reed

The Twins wrote off the rest of Addison Reed's two-year deal Thursday and designated the veteran reliever for assignment. The move opened a spot on the 40-man roster for Austin Adams, who inherited the berth on the active roster vacated by Wednesday's demotion of Trevor Hildenberger.

Reed had been on a rehab assignment at Triple A Rochester, and it was not going well. Reports said he showed good movement on his pitches, but his velocity remained well down from his accustomed levels, and he was getting hit hard.

Somebody may pick Reed up; he's only 30 and has a good resume as a late-inning reliever, with 125 career saves. But getting him back to that level is, clearly, going to take more patience than the Twins can afford. The Twins could have waited to make the move until his rehab period was up, but they needed the roster space immediately.

So Reed, who signed a two-year deal with the Twins during the 2017-18 offseason for $16.75 million, is not going to be part of the solution to Minnesota's bullpen depth issues.

That, of course, was the intent when he was signed. And Reed was effective for basically the first half of 2018. But he had a couple of disasterous outings in June, went on the disabled list in July and was obviously not the same pitcher after his return from the DL.

Reed is a cautionary tale of the risks involved in signing veteran free agent relievers. There are, without question, Twins fans who believe that Craig Kimbrel is the solution to the bullpen depth problem -- and it is a problem. But Kimbrel is not a low-cost solution. He figures to be an expense on the multiples of Reed, and the Kimbrel we saw last postseason was ... not effective.

The Twins need bullpen help. There have to be viable alternatives that don't carry the risk Kimbrel poses. Unfortunately for the Twins and for Addison Reed, he's not one of them.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A demotion that matters

Trevor Hildenberger wasn't charged with an earned run in his first 12 appearances this season. He was charged with at least two in six of his next eight, including three on Wednesday.

And shortly after that debacle, he lost his job, sent to Triple A with an ERA of 8.36.

The Twins did not immediately announce the corresponding move, although multiple reports had Austin Adams en route to join the team in Seattle, where the Twins play the Mariners tonight. The Mariners also have an Austin Adams, also a right handed reliever; the Twins version has more major league innings on his resume and a worse career ERA. No additional move to fit Adams onto the Twins 49-man roster has been announced either; that will have to come today.

Most demotions involve the fringes of the roster; this one does not. Hildenberger has been one of the four relievers Rocco Baldelli has relied on in high-leverage situations. He is not being replaced by a guy who figures to step into such a role. I have obsessed in this space for weeks about the need for a fifth dependable reliever. This is going backwards.

Hildenberger has a history of running hot and cold. Last summer, after the Twins traded closer Fernando Rodney, he was the defacto closer for a few weeks and wound up with seven saves but an ERA for the season of 5.42. He was charged with at least one run allowed in five of his final seven outings in 2018, including two meltdowns of five and four runs.

I expect Hildenberger to return, eventually. But his problems have severely thinned the Twins bullpen. There are still eight arms out there, but not nearly that many the manager wants to entrust games to.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Contemplating Mitch Garver

We might have a better idea later today of how badly damaged Mitch Garver's ankle is after Tuesday's plate collision, but the immediate diagnosis -- a high ankle sprain -- suggests a few weeks on the injured list.

At the start of the season, losing Garver for a month (or whatever it turns out to be) wouldn't have seemed as daunting as it does today. As it is, we might rather have had Byron Buxton's throw -- which only cut down the tying run -- be off line and pull Garver out of harm's way.

That's not a choice anyone gets to make. Buxton made a remarkable throw -- Statcast puts the throw at 253 feet and 98.6 miles per hour -- from a dead stop, and both Garver and baserunner Shohei Ohtani did what the rules regarding plays at the plate say they are supposed to do, and Garver got hurt anyway.

Garver, of course, has been a major part of the remarkable production the Twins have gotten from their catchers (he hit a two-run bomb on Tuesday before the injury). They still have Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo, the latter of whom just came off the injured list himself. Both figure to get more playing time while Garver is out, and presumably Astudillo will play less third base-outfield-first base.

Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz nurses a sore wrist -- Rocco Baldelli has shuffled Garver and Astudillo through the DH role the last two games -- and Miguel Sano is nearly ready to come off the injured list. I rather expect that will be the move, Garver on the IL and Sano activated.

We're already seeing Marwin Gonzalez start to move around the field some after a more than a month of being pretty much locked into third base. His multiposition versatility is a big part of his value, and we haven't seen it in action much because of Sano's absence. Garver's injury figures to reduce Astudillo's use at other positions, so even though Gonzalez isn't a catcher, Garver's injury makes it more necessary to move Gonzalez around.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Live by the shift, die by the shift

The Twins shift a lot -- some 43 percent of the time, third highest in baseball. They are generally pretty effective with it, too. Last year the Twins were tied with the Rays with 31 runs saved by the shift, as figured by Sports Info Systems, third most most in the majors.

They aren't ranked so high so far this season, however. And on Monday night they gave up three hits via the shift -- a bunt by Kole Calhoun and two groundballs pushed to the right side by Albert Pujols, one of which drove in a run.

And good on Pujols. It's probably about time he did that.

There was a story late last season about how Pujols was the most-shifted-on batter in baseball and how much he struggled against the shifts. He certainly appeared Monday to be willing to follow the ancient dictum of Wee Willie Keeler and  "hit 'em where they ain't." Neither of those against the shift hits were smashed, but as another saying goes, they look like line drives in the box score.

---

The Twins didn't stay at 12 pitchers for long. Jake Cave was optioned out Monday and Tyler Duffey -- the 26th man for Saturday's doubleheader -- was returned to the roster.

I wonder if they even had him leave town Sunday or if they knew they were going to do something to keep him around.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

Must ... resist ... the impluse to read too much into the Detroit series. Splitting with the Tigers isn't a disaster, but it wasn't what I expected either. It was a series in mid May, or perhaps a bit earlier than mid May, with a doubleheader, and Rocco Baldelli gave the reserves a good bit of run.

A few bullet points:

* The Twins got less-than-dominant starts Saturday and Sunday. This was not really a surprise from Michael Pineda and Kohl Stewart, even if the Tigers have a notably light-hitting lineup; it says a lot about how quickly Martin Perez has risen in my esteem that his outing surprised me.

*Deeper thoughts on Pineda and Stewart in the Monday print column.

* A good bit of roster shuffling this weekend connected to the makeup doubleheader Saturday. Stewart came up to start Saturday' second game; officially he was taking the place of Perez, who was on paternity leave for the birth of his son. Tyler Duffey was the 26th man for the doubleheader and pitched a strong inning to wrap up that one.

And La Tortuga is back from the injured list. The Twins cut back to 12 pitchers after Saturday and reactivated Willians Astudillo, who caught and led off Sunday. This makes him the fourth catcher to hit leadoff in Twins history -- John Roseboro, Butch Wynegar in the past and Mitch Garver and Astudillo this year.

* I had expected that, if the Twins were to cut back to 12 pitchers, that Mike Morin would be the loser, but it was Fernando Romero instead. Baldelli,  on the radio pregame show Sunday, had an intriguing reason for that: Romero isn't getting enough regular work in the major league bullpen to develop. They want him to pitch two days in a row, to finish an inning and go back out ("up-and-down"), and those opportunities aren't there with the Twins. Or they're there, but it's the Big Four being asked to do them.

* One of those Big Four, Trevor Hildenberger, is definitely in a pitching slump, surrendering a pair of runs both Saturday and Sunday. Again, must resist the urge to overreact -- but Hildenberger has shown a tendency for bad streaks in the past.

* Miguel Sano's rehab tour of the minor leagues is near its end. He's at Triple A now and hammered a couple of doubles over the weekend (and struck out a few times too.) Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz came out of Sunday's game with a sore wrist, which is to be examined today. If Cruz has to sit a while, that probably gets Sano back on the roster without bouncing either Jake Cave or Ehire Adrianza, and opens up a lineup slot as well.