Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Berrios, Marwin and the bullpen

The Twins knocked the magic number down to eight on Monday. One digit was all that was available Monday, as the Indians didn't play. One digit might be all we can expect the next few days, since the Tribe is finishing up their seasons allotment of games with the Tigers who ... are not good.

Plenty of good things to be seen Monday anyway:

* Marwin Gonzalez, sidelined for weeks by a strained oblique, returned to the lineup. He hadn't played since Aug. 27.

He was at first base Monday, but we should expect him to be wandering around the field. Dick Bremer sounded most interested in seeing him back in right field as Max Kepler rests his shoulder. Of course, C.J. Cron needs to rest his thumb.

* Jose Berrios had his second straight strong start. He had a awful August -- a Boeing ERA, 7.57 -- but now he's overwhelmed the Nationals and White Sox. The Chisox aren't a particularly good team, but they have some hitters, and certainly the Nats have an outstanding lineup.

Having La Maquina back in form is important.

* The Twins used three relievers to get five outs, which seems a bit excessive even for September and expanded rosters.

I saw a Twitter complaint about bringing Taylor Rogers in for the six and seven hitters, but I'm not concerned. Yeah, somebody else could probably have wrapped up that one; had Sergio Romo kept Eloy Jiminez in the park, he might have gotten the entire ninth inning.

But I understand, and applaud, Rocco Baldelli's urgency. They might, or might not, need Rogers tonight. But there was a game to be secured on Monday, and Baldelli went for it. As he as all season.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Grinding the magic number down

The Twins' doubleheader sweep Saturday didn't clinch anything mathematically, but it effectively took Cleveland out of contention in the division.

With the magic number in single digits, Rocco Baldelli experimented a bit with the pitching on Sunday. And while the Twins lost, it was a productive loss in that sense.

* Jose Berrios, initally slated to start Sunday, was pushed back to Monday. I assume there are two rationales behind that -- first, to give him a little more rest, and second, to set up the playoff rotation. I would think the Twins would like to have Berrios and Jake Odorizzi lined up in either order to start the first two games of their division series.

* Kyle Gibson, whose durability as a starter has been sapped by his intestinal problems, worked out of the bullpen. It didn't go perfectly -- Gibby gave up the homer that put Cleveland ahead for good -- but it wasn't all his fault. The Twins played a remarkably sloppy game in the field Sunday. I expect to see more of Gibson in relief.

* For all Dick Bremer's chatter about Fernando Romero finding a consistent release point, he was wild and ineffective. Which set up the jam that Gibson didn't escape.

Had the Twins really needed that game, probably none of that happens. As it is, the magic number to clinch the division is nine, and the Twins don't an above-.500 team the rest of the season.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Buxton and Berrios

Some Tuesday developments of note for the Twins.

The good: Jose Berrios was absolutely superb: seven innings, two hits, no runs. It was the first time in more than a month that he pitched like a top-of-the-rotation ace -- and it was against a quality lineup in the Washington Nationals.

Berrios pitching in such dominant form is a positive under any circumstances. With Michael Pineda's suspension, it takes on added importance.

The bad: Byron Buxton is out for the season, with surgery apparently performed Tuesday afternoon in California on his injured shoulder.

Buxton played just 87 games this season and garnered fewer than 300 plate appearances, but even as literally a half-time player he still compiled a 3.2 WAR (wins above replacement), fifth most on the team.  (That's the Baseball Reference version of WAR, by the way.)

He remains too talented to discard or give up on, and too injury-prone to rely on. The Twins are certainly a better team when he plays, but that's no longer possible in 2019.

The indifferent: The Twins, who broke the major league record for homers in a season on Aug. 31, were briefly passed Tuesday by the Yankees in homers. Mitch Garver's two-run shot -- which gave the Twins the lead in the game -- pulled the Twins back into a tie.

I'd rather the Twins finish with the record than not, but I am not confident they can do so. They have so much power languishing on the sidelines right now, even if Nelson Cruz got back into the lineup on Tuesday.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Notes from the weekend

In terms of the pennant race, the Twins got the bare minimum they needed. They knocked two digits off the magic number. Cleveland, denied the sweep, is still 5.5 games back.

In the big picture, it wasn't a good weekend at all. By the end of Sunday's game, the Twins were without Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Cave and Bryon Buxton with various physical issues. That's a lot of power sidelined; that's a lot of outfielders sidelined

It says a lot that the Twins felt compelled to pick up Ryan LaMarre for outfield depth. It says even more that LaMarre got to hit with two outs in the ninth with men on base. A hit would have been a great story. What he got was a strikeout.

Minnesota can certainly use today's off day.

---

The really big news came really late, after the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN, when the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski.

This appears to be a classic what-have-you-done-for-me-lately move. The 2018 Red Sox won 108 regular season games and were really never seriously challenged in the postseason. And the architect of that team -- the best Red Sox team ever -- didn't make it through the following season.

Peter Gammons on Twitter:

 

 
 

I won't pretend to know what's going on here, but the chronic changing of the guard in Fenway is probably becoming self-destructive. And it is an ironic contrast to Yankee Stadium, where Brian Cashman has become one of the longest-tenured tops-of-baseball-ops figures in the game.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The opener

I don't think the Twins had specified that Randy Dobnak would be the opener Tuesday night against the Red Sox rather than a traditional starter, but it shouldn't have been a surprise, either. The righty had pitched four innings over the previous five days.

And now he's allowed two runs -- both unearned -- over nine major league innings. Not bad for a guy who opened 2019 in High A ball.

The bullpen didn't exactly shine Tuesday in Fenway; Trevor May and Taylor Rogers each allowed homers, and a 6-0 lead dwindled to 6-5 by the final out. But they got the job done.

We'll probably see more of the opener this month, particularly while Kyle Gibson is out. The Twins have a ton of arms available in the bullpen right now. Last night Lewis Thorpe was the bulk inning guy -- he got 11 outs -- but the Twins also have Kohl Stewart and Devin Smeltzer active now. That gives Rocco Baldelli four stretched-out arms in his bullpen.

Cleveland lost to the White Sox on Tuesday, so Minnesota now leads the division by 6.5 games. I said here entering the road trip that I'd be happy with 7-3; the Twins are now 7-1 on the trip with two more to go in Boston. And the magic number to clinch the division is 18.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The ever-deepening bullpen

The word late Monday night was that Trevor Hildenberger was to be among the second wave of the Twins September call-ups, which is to wash ashore today in Boston.

There isn't a lot to like in Hildenberger's seasonal stat lines this year. The Twins shipped him out in mid-May with an ERA of 8.36, and he spent much of the summer on the injured list for Triple A Rochester. where he put up a 5.09 ERA in 13 games, 17.2 innings.

But he's been either very good or very bad over the years. He didn't allow a run through his first 11 major league appearances this year, and then everything went sour (13 earned runs in 6.1 innings). And he was quite effective at Rochester after returning from his IL stint -- four games, seven innings, one hit, one walk, no runs.

Hildenberger has seldom been so-so.  Right now, he appears to be very good. And a very good Hildenberger -- well, any bullpen has room for that pitcher.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

And quite the weekend it was for the Twins, who enter Labor Day with a 5.5 game lead on the Cleveland Indians. One more game in Detroit today, and then ... well, then the schedule turns a little difficult again -- Boston on the road, home for series against the Tribe and Washington, back on the road to Cleveland.

And then it's back to playing the bad teams of the division for the remainder of the month.

OK, the big stuff:

Kyle Gibson to the injured list: This move may not have been necessary. I am not, to be clear, questioning the illness or its severity. But the Twins put Gibson on the injured list after rosters expanded. That usually doesn't happen.

Two possible reasons for it: First, to publicly acknowledge Gibson's physical problem. The team has known of his intestional tract issues all season, but the fans have been kept in the dark. And Gibson is going into free agency after the season.

I want to call Gibson's season somewhat disappointing. His ERA is a slightly worse than his career mark and is almost a run higher than in 2018. But his underlying numbers are actually better than last season. Put in the context of his e. Coli infection at the start of the year and his current weight-sapping  ulcerative colitis, it has been a very solid season.

The other reasons for putting Gibson on the injured list when there is no obvious roster issue involved may be to create a paper trail. Followers of LaVelle E Neal III on Twitter know that the Star Tribune beat writer has been patiently explaining that the postseason roster rules permit the Twins to add players already in the organization but not on the 40 at the end of August if they are replacing a 40-man player not able to perform.

That may -- or may not -- be useful in the case of ...

Brusdar Graterol. The organization's top pitching prospect was added to the 40-man roster and to the active roster on Sunday and made his major league debut in the ninth inning, showing off his high-velocity arm.

As matters stand, Graterol isn't eligible for the postseason roster. It's possible the Twins won't want him on it after pitching him in September. But they very well might -- and there are avenues to make him eligible, even if Gibson is deemed ready to roll after a more intensive treatment for his colitis.

268. The Twins on Saturday blew past the existing record for home runs in a season, and did so with the month of September still to go.

Saturday's six-homer outburst was almost a parody of my oft-stated offseason concern that the Twins power-focused revamp of the lineup would result in a lot of solo homers. The Twins scored seven runs on six dingers -- and lost.

Seven runs ought to be enough to win. They didn't lose that game to the lowly Tigers for lack of runs. They lost it on sloppy starting and sloppy fielding, and those are different issues. On Sunday they didn't hit any homers, but still scored eight runs. And won.

The Twins entered September having scored more than 800 runs already. The team record is 877, set in 1996. They've already passed the previous team record for extra base hits in a season.

It really is an impressive offense.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Tyler Skaggs case

The news Friday about the death of Tyler Skaggs -- that the Angels pitcher died of a mix of opioid drugs and alcohol -- was saddening but not necessarily shocking.

Nor am I all that surprised by the suggestion from the Skaggs family that the evidence -- not (yet) public -- suggests that Skaggs got the drugs from a team employee.

The high-profile opioid deaths of Prince and Tom Petty followed a certain pattern -- two aging rockers whose bodies had been damaged by years of public performance. They were in pain, and they sought to mute the pain and still perform. Skaggs was a generation younger than them, but the performance imperative was no different.

We don't know if Skaggs was prescribed opioids by a team physician or if he went black-market for them. It may even have been a combination -- he may have been prescribed the painkillers briefly after a surgery, gotten hooked, and sought out a back channel for them after the official medical need for them had passed. That sequence is hardly uncommon in opioid overdoses.

I expect we'll learn more with the passage of time and further official investigation. I also expect that the commissioners office, and perhaps the players union, will take interest in what the Skaggs case reveals about the practice of baseball medicine.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Comedy Central

That's the derisive term somebody on MLB radio used Thursday to describe the AL Central. And there's no question that three of the four teams in the Twins division are bad. They expected to be bad, and at least two of the three expect to be bad in 2020 as well. (The White Sox might be the exception.)

But there are bad teams in every division. Won-loss records, after all, have to balance at exactly .500. For every game the Yankees or Astros or Twins or Indians win, somebody else has to lose.

Cleveland beat Detroit Thursday. The Tribe is now 15-1 against the Tigers. That is not a typo: Fifteen wins, one loss. Almost 19 percent of their wins have come against Ron Gardenhire's crew.

The good news for the Twins, I guess, is that Cleveland only has three more games against the Tigers. (The bad news is, Cleveland still has three games to go against the Tigers.)

The Indians are 12-7 against the Royals; no games left between Cleveland and Kansas City. And -- surprise -- they are 5-7 against the White Sox with seven games to play against Chicago.

The Twins, of course, start a four-game series in Detroit today. They enter that series with a season record of 8-4 against the Motor City Kitties. They're 9-3 against Kansas City, 11-5 against the White Sox.

All told, then, Cleveland is 32-15 against the dregs of Comedy Central. The Twins are 28-12. The Twins have a slightly better winning percentage against the three bottom-feeders while playing seven fewer games against them.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Bomba countdown

The Twins hit three more homers on Wednesday. This puts them at 258 for the season, nine short of the single-season team record. And we're not out of August yet.

Even if the 2019 Twins don't advance in the October tournament -- and they very well may not, as they appear destined to play either Houston or the Yankees, two powerhouses with superior records -- this validates their remarkable season. They're going to shatter the single-season team homer record, perhaps by Labor Day. They stand to break the record for team slugging percentage as well.

I didn't particularly care for the off-season's add-homers, discard-walks approach from the front office. But I've been acknowledging for a while, and will continue to, that it has worked.

---

Byron Buxton is not off the disabled list. Eddie Rosario is not on the disabled list. The Twins replaced Lewis Thorpe on the pitching staff Tuesday with another pitcher, Randy Dobnak, as the Rochester shuttle keeps moving for a few more days.

Come September, the Twins can just activate everybody still on the shuttle: Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, Kohl Stewart, Zach Littell, Sean Poppen, maybe Trevor Hildenberger. They can have a whole bullpen of low-leverage arms.

That will only matter indirectly. It will mean that Trevor May or Sam Dyson or Tyler Duffey won't have to pick up innings in blowouts, which in turn will mean they'll be kept fresh for the at-bats that matter.



Monday, August 26, 2019

Notes from the weekend

It was nowhere near as productive a homestand for the Twins as I expected. They split six games with two bad teams. The sun was shining and the hay was there to harvest, and they didn't take advantage.

The saving grace is that Cleveland actually lost ground to that span. And Cleveland lost their second-best position player, Jose Ramirez, to a broken hamate bone.

Now comes a 10-game, three-team road trip that begins with those same two bad teams, plus Boston. I want 7-3 from that trip.

---

Byron Buxton started what is expected to be a short rehab assignment in Cedar Rapids on Sunday. The idea seems to be that he'll play again today in CR, then report to the Twins on Tuesday in Chicago.

His reactivation may be be corresponding move to the Sunday demotion of Lewis Thorpe. Or not. Eddie Rosario is still on the active roster despite his hamstring injury, and they might opt to put Rosario on the DL retroactively and bring up another pitcher.

Buxton would certainly help the defense, although he doesn't play infield, and that's where the bulk of the fielding issues have been.

---

Those Players Weekend uniforms were awful.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Squirrelly


The "Rally Squirrel" goes five-hole on Max Kepler.
(Image from @Twins Photography twitter and Brace
Hemmelgarn.)


The squirrel that has darted around the Twins' home grounds the last two nights captured most of the attention that didn't go to Nelson Cruz's slugging Tuesday night, but let us also note the pitching prowess of Michael Pineda.

Four runs in seven innings isn't all that impressive, but six hits and zero walks are.

Both Pineda and Kyle Gibson on Monday night had crooked-number inning that involved a homer with men on base. Pineda got more run support than Gibson did, so Pineda gets a W and Gibson an L.

Gibson's ERA for the season is significantly higher than Pineda's, but the underlying numbers aren't nearly as different.

I think a lot of Twins fans are currently more comfortable going into a Pineda start than a Gibson one. I know I intuitively am. But intuition isn't necessarily accurate. I don't know who the Twins would rather start in a playoff game, Gibson or Pineda. But they have more than 30 games to go before that decision gets made.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey has been credited with the win in each of his last three appearances, including Friday and Saturday. (The Friday one was initially awarded to Sam Dyson and changed the next morning.)

"The Doof" -- that's what will be on the back of his Player's Weekend jersey -- is the rare Twins reliever who hasn't gotten a save. But he's 4-1 with seven holds, he's only blown one lead this year, he hasn't been charged with a run in almost a month, and he seems to currently be the preferred get-out-of-a-jam option in the middle innings.

Duffey has ridden a roller-coaster for his career. The Twins drafted him out of Rice University -- where he was a closer -- and made him a starter. He had 10 down-the-stretch starts in 2015 in which he was one of Paul Molitor's more reliable rotation arms.

And then it fell apart for him. In 2016 he got 26 starts and pitched to an ERA of 6.43. That did for him as a major-league starter.

In 2017 Molitor used him successfully for about two months as a multi-inning reliever with rest between outings. Then Molitor, dealing as he generally had to with a thin bullpen, tried to cut back on the rest. Duffey's ERA was 2.10 after his appearance on May 28; he finished the season at 4.94.

In 2018 he rode the Rochester shuttle and made just 19 major league appearances with an ERA of 7.20. Ugly.

He started this season that same shuttle, but once he came up a second time in May he's stuck. And his role has increased.

He has for years tried to pitch with two fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- but there wasn't much separation in velocity and he didn't get reliable movement with the  two-seamer. It appears that he's largely junked that sinker this year. And his strikeout rate has spiked to more than 11 K/9 -- a statistical trait that makes him valuable with men on base.

Duffey is not closing games, but he's closing innings.



Friday, August 16, 2019

Pineda, Smeltzer, Polanco

Michael Pineda came off the injured list and threw five innings Thursday. His first four innings were really good. His fifth was better than it looked. He was charged with three earned runs, but that's because the scoring rules say you can't assume the double play.

Jorge Polanco's throwing error, on that basis, cost the Twins bases but not an out. The reality is, if he makes an on-target throw, Pineda gets out of the fifth allowing just the lead off homer. Maybe he would have gotten the ball to at least start the sixth in that case, maybe not. He struggled to get his fourth out of the fifth and there wasn't any question that he was done after five.

That makes four errors in three games for Polanco -- two muffed catches, two errant throws. At least three of them have come on potential double plays. He really needs to clean it up.

Devin Smeltzer mopped up -- four innings, three earned runs and a save in a game in which he never had less than a six or seven run lead. The scoring rules say a pitcher who finishes a win with three or more innings holding a lead of any size gets a save. That sounds goofy, but Smeltzer at least saved the rest of the bullpen.

He becomes, incidentally, the eighth Twin credited with a save this season. I tried off the top of my head to list the eight during my midnight walk home after work and missed one. The eight: Taylor Rogers (18), Blake Parker (10), Sergio Romo (2), Ryne Harper (1), Mike Morin (1), Trevor May (1), Trevor Hildenberger (1), and Smeltzer (1).

Parker and Morin are both with the Phillies now, and Hildenberger and Smeltzer, with his immediate demotion after throwing 68 pitches, are in the minors.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

One that got away

The Twins had an opportunity to extend their lead, but didn't take advantage of it. Putting the eighth-inning problems concisely:

  • Sergio Romo is probably not the best right-hander in the pen to face a lefty with power and
  • Jorge Polanco is in a fielding slump at shortstop.
Winnable games get away sometimes. They always hurt. They particularly hurt in a pennant race.

Two interesting developments regarding minor league bullpen possibilities on Wednesday.

First, the Twins lost Ryan Eades to the Baltimore Orioles on waivers. Eades had a brief callup earlier in the season, pitching in two games. He had 3.2 scoreless innings but had six baserunners.

This is a good development for the right-hander; he's got a lot more opportunity with the Birds, who have a team ERA of 5.91 and have gone through 36 pitchers this year. (Some of them are position players, but still ...)

Selling off Eades opens a spot on the Twins 40-man roster, which would allow them to add somebody on waivers or to bring up somebody who isn't on the 40 already.

The odds are against a useful piece hitting outright waivers. The odds are even more against a useful actually reaching the Twins, who do have the fourth-best record in baseball despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So the more likely benefit from the Eades move is to create a route for a not-on-the-40 player to come to the Twins.

Which brings us to the other development: Brusdar Graterol, generally considered the Twins' top pitching prospect, made his first relief appearance since 2017 (his first season in the states), picking up the save for Double-A Pensacola and reportedly hitting 102 on the radar gun.

I'm personally skeptical of the notion that the 20-year-old will get a September role. That he pitched in relief isn't surprising despite his lack of such use. He's missed much of the season with injury, and they weren't going to have him trying to goe five innings (or more) fresh off the injured list.

But I get why outside observers might anticipate such a move. The Twins bullpen lacks power arms, and Graterol is certainly a power arm. Since he has just 12 games pitched on his 2019 stat line, the Twins don't need to shut him down to avoid overuse.



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

First place

Twins win. Indians lose. And the half-game margin reverses in Minnesota's favor.

The biggest thing -- other than the W -- about Tuesday's game for the Twins might have been Sam Dyson, who came off the injured list (with Cody Stashak optioned out) and threw a scoreless eighth inning.

Dyson was, at least in theory, the single biggest bullpen get of the trading deadline, but he hadn't done anything useful for the Twins before they IL'd him. If he's sound and effective, that's a big piece for the bullpen.

Or maybe the biggest thing was Martin Perez. The southpaw celebrated "International Left-handers Day" with his best start since early May -- six innings, one unearned run. It was his first quality start in almost a month.

I won't proclaim him back in form, however. He walked four with just three strikeouts and allowed six hits. He was in and out of trouble throughout his start. Of course, Ryne Harper, the first reliever of the seventh, never got out of trouble, so Perez got a non-decision.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Second place

The Twins didn't play Monday. Cleveland did. And for the second day in a row, Indians closer Brad Hand blew the lead in the ninth inning -- and for the second day in a row, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana homered to win the game anyway.

Sigh.

The Twins are now a half-game out of the lead in the AL Central. I still expect them to win the divisional title.

So, for what it's worth, did the guys on the ESPN broadcast, and for much the same reason: The Twins have much the easier schedule the rest of the way.

Cleveland has gone 43-19 since June 1. That's mighty good. It's worth knowing, however, that they went 20-3 in that span against Detroit and Kansas City. That makes them 23-16 against everybody else, which ain't bad either, but is a bit less daunting to contemplate. And they're running low on games against the Tigers and Royals -- six with the Tigers, three with the Royals.

The Twins, in contrast, have 10 games left against Ron Gardenhire's Tigers team and seven with K.C.

Give the Indians credit: They made the most of their games against the weakest teams in the AL Central. If the Twins can do the same, they'll be in good shape.




Monday, August 12, 2019

Ehire Adrianza, pinch runner

The Twins could have won Sunday's game in the ninth, but Ehire Adrianza isn't Byron Buxton afoot, and Cleveland executed its relay well, and Adrianza -- who was pinch-running for C.J. Cron -- was out by about 10 feet at the plate.

Even after Adrianza was nailed, the Twins still had the tying run at second with two outs. But Jonathan Schoop has had a terrible season in close games -- almost all his production has come in blowouts -- and he once again didn't come through.

But I want to discuss the Adrianza play. A few points:

1. Adrianza was pinch-running for Cron specifically to try to score from first on an extra-base hit. There was a runner (Luis Arraez) on second, so a stolen base wasn't in order, and Cleveland wouldn't be holding the runner on first, so the man on first could get a longer lead.

So it wasn't surprising that Tony Diaz sent Adrianza. This was exactly what Adrianza was in the game for. If the Twins were willing to settle for a double scoring Arraez and having the other runner stop at third, they didn't have to run for Cron.

2. Adrianza isn't truly fast. He is a middle infielder, and middle infielders are frequently fast, but Adrianza is an exception. He has nimble feet -- he's good at fielding a ball and being in position to make a throw, but that's not the same as running 270 feet in three directions.

3. I thought at the time that Adrianza took a poor route between third and home, but on the replay I saw that he indeed cut third base well and took a more direct route home. We've seen players run a wide loop around the bases, sometimes running closer to the third-base dugout than to the chalk line. That wasn't the case with Adrianza.

4. Was there a better pinch-running option than Adrianza? Rule out Jason Castro. Maybe Jake Cave is faster than Adrianza. And Cave could have played right in the 10th inning with Marwin Gonzalez shifting to first in Cron's place. But I assume the Twins know who's faster between Adrianza and Cave, and it's quite possible that even if there is a difference that it wasn't enough to make the difference betweens safe and out on that play.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A cheery post

The Free Press this morning carries an obituary containing a sentence that sounds way too much like me:

John was happiest playing Strat-O-Matic baseball while listening to his extensive music collection.

That's enough for today. I don't want to think deeply about the Twins this morning.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Jose Berrios didn't fare well Tuesday night. His first pitch was hit about as well as the last pitch on Monday night was -- both blasts hit the limestone above the batter's eye -- and things deteriorated from there.

I shall avoid dwelling on that unpleasantness and find some other things to comment on ...

* I said in Tuesday morning's post that Trevor May hit 98 at times on Monday night. He actually peaked at 100, on the pitch that got the double-play grounder that got him out of the eighth inning. I don't know that I've seen any Twins pitcher hit triple-digits.

It was rather optimal conditions for May. He had thrown exactly one pitch in game conditions in a week, so his arm was about as fresh as it could be in August. It was a warm, humid night, so no chill to contract the muscles. And it was a close game in a pennant race, so the adrenaline was flowing.

If he was going to throw 100, that was a prime opportunity for it.

* Jonathan Schoop has started once in the past six games. I'm starting to suspect that he might be a candidate to be DFA'd if the Twins need a roster spot.

He has been better this year than in 2018, but that's not saying much. And much of his production has come in blowouts. He is, I believe, a better defensive second baseman than Luis Arraez, but not enough to make up for the difference between the two at the plate.

I certainly prefer to see Arraez at the plate in the ninth inning of a tied game than Schoop.

* I've commented before on how much Rocco Baldelli shuffles players around various positions. Marwin Gonzalez, Arraez, Ehrie Adrianza and the injured Willians Astudillo have all started games at at least four different positions.

Deciding where to put them is frequently an interesting puzzle. On Monday Gonzalez, Arraez and Adrianza were all in the infield (with Jorge Polanco at shortstop). Baldelli's alignment had Adrianza at first, Arraez at second and Gonzalez at third. My inclination would have been to flip Adrianza and Gonzalez.

I do sometimes wonder how much of a connection there is between the position shuffling and the misplays and errors we've seen over the past couple of months. The Twins were changed with 77 errors in their first 112 games; the average team had 69.

Of course, there's a lot more to defense than avoiding errors, and the Twins, at least by the defensive metrics available on baseball reference, are solidly above average.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Contemplating Trevor May

The Twins won Monday night. Cleveland lost. So the lead is four games.

(Let me note here that I apparently can't read a schedule. I thought Cleveland was playing Cincinnati. It's actually Texas.)

The win was important for the Twins. Perhaps even more important was the performance of Trevor May, who hit 98 at times in blowing away Atlanta batters in his two innings of relief.

May has been a bit of a disappointment this season. I expected him to emerge as a key late-inning guy, the most likely candidate in this bullpen for the role of closer. Rocco Baldelli, as you know, hasn't gone with the contemporary closer, but May hasn't really pitched well enough to seize the glory job anyway.

Monday was actually May's second straight outing in which he was credited with the win; he got one on Friday in a one-pitch appearance. Prior to that, he had allowed at least one run in five straight appearances, blowing two leads and taking two losses. It was not a good month of July.

It's not hard, looking at his stat line for the season, to see the issue. May walked five hitters in his 25.1 major league innings last year (he spent much of 2018 rehabbing his elbow after ligament replacement surgery); that works out to 1.8 walks per nine innings. Monday's outing gives him 21 walks in 40.2 innings, 4.6 per nine innings. That's too high.

Trevor Rogers and Sergio Romo had each pitched in three of the previous four days, and Sam Dyson is on the injured list, so the Twins needed somebody to take care of the final innings. May came through. It would be a bit help to the Twins if he continues.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The good and the bad

The Twins swept the Kansas City Royals over the weekend, which is good. A team on a 100-win pace, as the Twins are, should beat a team on a 100-loss pace, as the Royals are.

But Cleveland swept the Angels as well, so the Twins didn't widen their margin over the weekend. And the Twins have the tougher matchup next with the Atlanta Braves; Cleveland plays Cincinnati.

The bad news is that since my last post the Twins have put three players on the injured list.

Byron Buxton is the most troublesome of the injuries; he's likely to miss most if not all of August. In a very real way, Buxton is the most important player on this team, and he's simply got to stop running into walls. Nothing good comes of it.

I'm less concerned about the two pitchers, Michael Pineda and Sam Dyson. Pineda had a brief stint on the IL earlier in the season. Reading between the lines, the first stint was essentially precautionary, and it sounds like this one is also. "Big Mike" is on his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, and even though he's a free agent after the season the Twins are handling him with some care.

He's been pitching well, too, with an ERA of 2.23 over his last six starts.

Dyson ... well, the eyebrows rise when a player comes in a midseason trade, has two poor outings and goes on the IL. The Twins appear to believe that the IL stint will be essentially the mimimal 10-days. Dyson is said to believe he's able to pitch, but the Twins want to give him a break and get the soreness out of his arm.

So Dyson and Pineda miss these next two series on the homestand, Atlanta and Cleveland. It's early August, but this could be a critical week.

Friday, August 2, 2019

A bad first impression

Sam Dyson arrived in Miami in the middle of Thursday's game. Rocco Baldelli decided to ask him to pitch the ninth with a three-run lead. He got nobody out, and by the time Taylor Rogers got the Twins out of the inning, the Marlins had tied it.

It's an easy second-guess, and have at it. I won't join in the piling on. I knew Dyson was getting the ball in a save situation all along. He'll be OK.

What I also know is that there's no way Rogers should pitch today; he pitched in every game of the Miami series. Fortunately, the Twins are playing Kansas City. It would be a good day to get a lot of runs and a long start.

As if there's a bad day to get those things, right?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Most of what they needed

My wish list for the Twins in the midseason trade period was a couple of bullpen arms to help Taylor Rogers in the late innings.

They got that in Sergio Romo (on July 27) and Sam Dyson (on Wednesday).

Neither is left-handed, so that box went unchecked. And the Twins were apparently fishing in starting-pitcher waters as well but came up empty there.

I'm fine with that. The 2019 Twins aren't in need of a back-of-the-rotation starter, and at most three starters good enough to push Kyle Gibson down in the playoff rotation moved -- Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman. Greinke had the Twins on his no-trade clause, and I can't imagine Cleveland trading Bauer to the team they're chasing. That leaves Stroman, and I'm not convinced he's better than Gibson.

A deal for a controllable starter would have given the front office a head start on rebuilding the 2020 rotation, but they'll have to deal with that problem in the off season.

For here and now, the Twins have a stiffer bullpen than they had coming out of the All-Star break.



This Fangraphs piece calls Dyson the best reliever moved at the deadline this year.  He's not a big name (like Craig Kimbrel), but he's also not a ego trip who wants to be used only in one-inning save situations (like Kimbrel). He and Romo are an upgrade over the departed Blake Parker as right-handed complements to Rogers.

I view the Twins bullpen as three groups:


  • The late-inning guys: Dyson, Rogers, Romo
  • The middle men: Tyler Duffey, Ryne Harper, Trevor May
  • The kids: Lewis Thorpe and Cody Stashak (I'm assuming Sean Poppen will be demoted today to make room for Dyson).
I'm good with that bullpen. I'll be even more satisfied if Thorpe emerges as a second lefty weapon.




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Bauer trade

The Twins did not make a trade Tuesday, the last full day before the trading deadline. Cleveland, now three games back of Minnesota, reportedly did -- a complex three-way deal that brought the Tribe bulk players and cost them Trevor Bauer, their most reliable starting pitcher. (Announcement expected today.)



Puig and Reyes are right-hand hitting outfielders, although calling Reyes an outfielder is apparently a bit generous; the expectation is that Reyes will be mostly a designated hitter for Cleveland. Allen  is a left-handed pitcher who has struggled in his minimal major league time to date but is seen as a potential piece of a starting rotation; it's quite possible he'll be asked to fill the vacated rotation slot. Nova and Moss are minor leaguers who are unlikely to matter this season for Cleveland, alhtough Moss is in Double A.

It's quite obvious what Cleveland did: They traded from their strength -- starting pitching -- to shore up an obvious weakness -- their outfield hasn't hit. Puig and Reyes have combined for 49 homers this season.

Puig is the bigger name, but Reyes is the bigger bat. Puig's OPS+ with Cincinnati this year is 98, meaning that he's been slightly below league average at the dish. Reyes's OPS+ is 121. A good bit of the difference is that Cincinnati is a far better place to hit than is San Diego. But Puig is a good defensive outfielder.

Cleveland deepened its lineup with this trade. The Indians also weakened their rotation. Unless and until Corey Kubler or Carlos Carrasco return to the rotation and to form, Cleveland now has Mike Clevenger and a collection of young (but talented) staters who have never made it through a full season.

Conclusion: Cleveland got more for Bauer than the Blue Jays did for Marcus Stroman. But because they traded from their major league core to get Reyes and Puig, I'm not sure they actually got better for 2019.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Loek van Mil and the mystery of super-tall pitchers

The news Monday that former Twins farmhand Loek van Mil had died awoke the usual sense of dismay when someone dies at an absurdly early age (van Mil was 34).

It also led me to ponder this connumdrum: As a general rule, the bigger the pitcher, the faster the pitches. But with the obvious exception of Randy Johnson, that advantage seems to vanish once the pitcher gets above 6-foot-8.

Van Mil is believed to the the tallest pitcher in the history of professional baseball at 7-foot-1. He never made it to the majors. He pitched in the Twins system from 2006 into 2010, when he was traded at the deadline to the Angels. From there he bounced to the Cleveland and Cincinnati organizations; he concluded his career in the States back with the Twins organization. He also pitched quite a bit in the Australian winter league and for the Dutch national team.

He was an easy guy to pick out during spring training on the Twins minor league side; he was the guy head-and-shoulders, and sometimes more, above everybody else. (Photos of him with Chris Cates, a 5-foor-3 shortstop who was frequently van Mil's teammate in the low minors, looked almost fake.)

Baseball America's coverage of van Mil generally used some variation of the thought that he needed "to pitch like a 7-footer" -- meaning he needed to rely on his fastball and use those long levers to generate greater velocity.

The thing is, other than Johnson, super-tall pitchers generally haven't been able to do that -- or if they could, to command that velocity.

Jon Rauch, 6-11, was a high velocity starting prospect with the White Sox system. An injury turned him into a reliever with diminished speed. He got 11 years in the majors, some of them with the Twins. He is probably the tallest player in major league history.

Chris Young, 6-10, was probably the most accomplished super-tall starter other than the Big Unit (also 6-10). He had four seasons of double-digit wins, and started and won a World Series game for Kansas City in 2015. He had a career-threatening arm injury in the middle of his major league career and never threw 200 innings in a season.

Mark Hendrickson was a 6-9 lefty who bounced around the majors for 10 seasons without notable success or a notable fastball. His career ERA was 5.03, although in fairness to him, it was generally with bad teams.

Eric Hillman, 6-10, ptiched in three seasons for the Mets, going 4-14 with a 4.85 ERA. He had very low walk and strikeout rates in his brief major league tenure.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that van Mil did indeed pitch like a 7-footer. It was Randy Johnson who didn't fit that mold.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Sergio Romo trade

The Twins on Saturday picked up veteran reliever Sergio Romo from the Miami Marlins in an odd prospect trade.

The Twins not only got Romo, the one established major leaguer in the deal, but a decent pitching prospect in Chris Vallimont and a player to be named later..

The cost was Lewin Diaz, a left-left first baseman who is having a big 2019 season after a poor 2018. Miami must have really wanted Diaz, who has split this season between high A Fort Myers and Double A Pensacola,  to include two throw-ins.

Perhaps this trade will be known down the road as the Lewin Diaz trade, but the reality is that Diaz is Rule 5 eligible and the Twins were likely to have trouble finding a spot on the 40-man roster for him in the offseason. Yes, incumbent first baseman C.J. Cron is a free-agent-to-be, but the Twins have plenty of first base options who rank ahead of Diaz.

As I said in the Monday print column, Romo, 36, doesn't truly check my boxes for the Twins bullpen priorities. He's not left-handed, and he's not a power arm who can trade off long saves with Taylor Rogers.

But he helps. His high-grade slider makes him particularly tough on right-handed hitters, he has a track record of performing in a variety of relief roles, and he's not likely to be scared by pitching under pressure. The man picked up three saves in the 2012 World Series, after all.

The Twins DFA'd Carlos Torres, who never got into a game for the Twins, to make room for Romo.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Sean Poppen popped back onto the Twins roster as the eighth bullpen arm and picked up the final two innings of Thursday's blowout win in Chicago.

A roster move of more significance: Byron Buxton was reactivated, with Jake Cave optioned out. Buxton started in center and hit a pair of doubles.

The Twins are now 49-23 this season when Buxton starts, 13-17 when he doesn't.

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The Twins made an exceedingly minor deal on Thursday, shipping minor league catcher Brian Navaretto to the Yankees in a cash deal.

Navaretto is a good defensive catcher with a great arm who hasn't hit at any level. (He was hitting .177 in Double A this year, which ought to get one sent back to high-A.) The Yankees needed somebody to catch in Double A after the domino effect of putting Gary Sanchez on the injured list after their series in Minnesota, and the Twins wanted to open up the slot at Double A for Ryan Jeffers, their second-round pick last year.

I've noted this repeatedly, but I'll hit it one more time: The Twins in the 2013 draft took three catchers in the first nine rounds: Stuart Turner in the third, Navaretto in the sixth and Mitch Garver in the ninth. (Turner and Garver were collegians, Navaretto taken out of high school).

The Reds took Turner in the Rule 5 draft and carried him on their roster for the full 2017 season only to outright him the following spring, which made his Rule 5 season rather pointless. He not only hasn't been back in the majors since, he's played so little in Triple A that I suspect he's had injuries.

So two of the three are out of the organization. But I think Garver has more than made up for the misses on the two higher-drafted backstops.

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Both Jeffers and Trevor Larnach, their first-rounder from 2018, are now at Penascola. They're moving up the ladder at a pretty rapid clip.

Jeffers' numbers at Fort Myers (the Twins high-A affiliate) aren't nearly as impressive as Larnach's, but he's a catcher. Presumably part of the promotion is that he's improving his play behind the dish, which was seen as a bit suspect at the time of the 2018 draft.

Larnach's promotion hints that the lefty-hitting outfielder might be used as a trade chip in a pitching trade over the next few days. I'm not automatically opposed, but of course, it depends on who the Twins get in said deal.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Good-bye, Parker

The Twins decision Wednesday to lop Blake Parker from the roster took me by surprise.

It's not that he was pitching well. He wasn't.

The Twins have jettisoned relievers with some frequency over the past week: Adalberto Mejia, Mike Morin, Matt Magill, now Parker. Parker is different because he had been a central piece of the bullpen from the get-go. When the season started, Parker was Rocco Baldelli's preferred end-game option. The other three were marginal relievers; Parker was supposed to be something more than that.

On June 1, Parker had a 1.86 ERA. His ERA today is 4.21. That's obviously going in the wrong direction, but Baldelli never really stopped trying to get important innings and outs from him.

The Twins replaced him on the roster with Carlos Torres, a 36-year-old who has bounced around. When he gets into a game for the Twins, it will be his seventh major league team in 10 seasons. He's spent much of this year, and 2018, in the minors. There's not a lot of reason, scouting the statline, to see him as an upgrade on Parker, and I would think Baldelli would be hesitant to try to use him in a key role.

There are, broadly speaking, two possibilities here:

  • The Twins don't think they can fix Parker, or can't take the time to fix him or
  • The front office panicked and overreacted to a slump.

I don't think Falvine panics readily, so I'm going with option one.

So ... the current state of the Minnesota bullpen. I'll sort it into three groups:
  • The ace. Taylor Rogers, his blown save on Tuesday notwithstanding, is the clear top dog of the relief staff -- and the only lefty.
  • Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Ryne Harper are the three right-handers Baldelli is most likely to use in high-leverage situations. 
  • The shuttle crew -- pitchers who move between the major league roster and Rochester. Some have options, some (Torres) don't. They're disposable. Right now that group includes Torres, Lewis Thorpe and Cody Stashak.
The Twins are demoting Delvin Smeltzer after his five-inning outing of Wednesday, so somebody is coming today to give the Twins eight bullpen arms. Whoever it is, will be part of the shuttle crew.

Duffey and Harper have risen from the shuttle crew to more prominent roles, but part of that has been the failure of other pitchers who had prominent roles, specifically Parker and Trevor Hildenberger, now on the injured list at Triple A.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A thrilla

You may be familiar with "The Thrilla in Manilla," the third and final -- and greatest and ugliest -- Ali-Frazier bout. It was back in 1975, but ESPN Classic apparently airs it in regular rotation.

I have no idea how either boxer survived that fight, and maybe neither would have had Frazier's corner not conceeded before the 15th round.

And that's what I harkened back to in the late innings of Tuesday night's Yankees-Twins game. There can't be much left to either bullpen after that 10-inning, five-hour brawl of a baseball game.




The postgame comments out of the Twins clubhouse were circumspect but clear: They believe they got jobbed in the eighth inning by the home plate umpire. And he probably did blow some calls. But the Twins relievers didn't exactly pound the strike zone either.

Let's note here in particular Blake Parker. He entered the game having allowed two runs in his previous 12 games, 13.1 innings -- an ERA of 1.35. He also had only two outings without at least one baserunner in that span, with 13 hits, five walks and a hit batter. The ERA was deceptive; he hasn't been pitching nearly as well as the ERA suggests.

It caught up to him Tuesday.

At least Cleveland lost too.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Small sample size theater: Harper vs Tauchman

On Monday morning I declared the bend-but-don't-break Twins bullpen cracked.

On Monday evening the Twins bullpen worked five innings and allowed one run agains the Yankees. Nope, not cracked.

I rather expect Lewis Thorpe to be rewarded for his eight outs with a return ticket to Rochester, New York. The bullpen remains hard-worked -- Rocco Baldelli went through four relievers to get those 15 outs -- and there isn't an off-day until next week.

The Twins are back up to eight arms in the 'pen. On Monday C.J. Cron returned to the injured list, his thumb still an issue. That and the optioning out of Zack Littell allowed the additions of Thorpe and Cody Stashak, who has yet to make his major league debut.

Let's talk a little about the shortest of the relief outings Tuesday. After Thorpe -- a lefty -- gave up a two-out double in the eighth, Baldelli brought in Ryne Harper -- a righty -- to face Mike Tauchman,  a lefty hitter who was 3-for-3 on the night. Two pitches later, the inning was over, and Harper was done for the day.

This move contradicts conventional platoon strategy, but Harper so far has a backwards righty -- one more effective against left-handed hitters than against right-handed hitters.

His slash line (apparently including the Tauchman at-bat) against lefties: .230/.269/.338, OPS .607. Slash line against righties: .228/.264/.380, OPS .644.

Harper hasn't yet faced 90 hitters from either side of the plate, but the numbers are closer than one would expect: RH hitters have 87 plate appearances against him, LH hitters 78. So 47% of the hitter Harper has faced are lefties, which seems pretty high but is actually in the same range as Blake Parker and a bit lower than Trevor May. So the Twins aren't, or at least haven't, treated Harper as if he's a lefty-killing specialist.

But they did last night for the Tauchman at-bat. And in his splits lie an interesting nugget:

Tauchman against righties (110 at-bats): .210/.307.430, OPS .737.

Tauchman against lefties (just 33 at-bats): .448/.515/.621, OPS 1.136

I wouldn't care to wager, over the long haul, on Tauchman contining to mash lefties. The Twins did wager for that one at-bat that they were better off with a righty. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

M-M-M sold

Three relievers. all with the last initial M, sold to other major league teams: Adalberto Mejia to the Angels. Mike Morin to the Phillies. Matt Magill to the Mariners.

Mejia was a waiver claim, Morin and Magill traded for "cash considerations." All had been DFA'd. What is really going on: the Twins decided the roster spots were more valuable than the pitchers.

Another "M," Trevor May, threw 49 pitches Sunday. He was not particularly good either -- 49 pitches, the most since he became a reliever, of which only 25 were strikes -- and he has now allowed six runs in his last 3.2 innings.

Bottom line: The Minnesota bullpen, which spent much of the first half of the seasons bending but not breaking, has cracked.

As of this morning -- with Zach Littell optioned out after Sunday's game but no corresponding move announced -- the Twins have the following relievers:


  • Taylor Rogers
  • Blake Parker
  • Trevor May (who, I guarantee, is not available today or tomorrow)
  • Tyler Duffey
  • Ryne Harper
  • Kohl Stewart
The word on Twitter late Sunday was that Cody Stashak, 25-year-old righty, was getting the call. Adding him to the 40 is clearly no issue after three DFA's. He has a string of solid strikeout rates in the minors since the Twins drafted him in 2015 (13th round) and this season has been no exception.

I'm not counting on him as a savior. 



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.