Monday, September 30, 2019

The season of the Bombas

The end of the regular season always saddens me. I love the rhythm of the daily game, the momentum of routine, the dozens of mundane moments. No one thing matters, but all of them combined do.

But there has to be a conclusion, and that conclusion arrived Sunday. The Twins wound up winning the AL Central title by eight games -- Cleveland, once eliminated from the division title, faded almost immediately from the wild card race as well. The Twins also got the single-season home-run record as well, with 307 bombas. The Yankees "only" got 306.

Both figures are, of course, insane.

The homer record overshadowed the actual outcome of Sunday's game, in which the Twins came from behind to lose. The bullpen culprits were Lewis Thorpe and Bursdar Graterol; when I suggested in the Monday print column that Kyle Gibson looks like the 13th pitcher for the postseason, it was with Thorpe and Graterol ahead of him.

My opinion on such things is meaningless to the people with the responsibility for making the decision, of course. And I'm pretty sure that nobody in the Twins dugout wanted extra innings on Sunday.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

100 wins

One hundred is just one more than 99, and the difference isn't all that great. But this is only the second time in the long history of the Senators-Twins franchise that they've hit triple digits in wins, so this is an accomplishment.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The hangover lineup

The Twins hung around the Comerica Park visitors clubhouse late Wednesday night to see if the White Sox would beat the Indians; when that happened, they held their champagne celebration.

Then they had a noon game to play Thursday. Which meant a "hangover lineup." These generally feature subs and callups and would be deemed unacceptable for a spring training exhibition.

And this one was ... spectacular. Ian Miller, 0-for-5 in his major league career, led off. Jake Cave hit cleanup. LaMonte Wade Jr. played first base, and he hadn't played the position since he was a sophomore in college.

He had to borrow a first baseman's mitt from Max Kepler, who has played the position as a pro. (I hadn't realized it until Thursday, but the Twins had played strictly right-handed throwers at first base until then: CJ Cron, Willians Astudillo, Miguel Sano, Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza.)

And they won, of course. Jonathan Schoop, who was the designated hitter, hit team homer 300 (which is just a ridiculous figure). Astudillo got four hits, including a bomba of his own. Miller got his first major league hit and major league RBI on the same swing. Devin Smeltzer staggered through five innings for the win, and four relievers -- Ryan Harper and three young power arms -- worked one inning each.

The Tigers are, of course, a ridiculously bad major league team -- they might be a bad Triple A team, frankly, So that helps. But it seems to me, without doing any sort of serious study on the question, that hangover lineups -- teams playing immediately after celebrating a title -- win more often than not. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Magic number: zero

Back in late March, during the opening weekend of the season, I made a $20 wager with a colleague in the Free Press newsroom about the Central Division title. I took the Twins, he took the field.

Time to collect.

If I understood back then the quality of this Twins team -- and the terms of that wager suggest I did -- I certainly did not understand some aspects of that. I would not have imagined then that on the day the Twins clinched that Randy Dobnak would be the winning pitcher and and Luis Arraez would hit the go-ahead home run.

I still want at least two more regular season wins from this bunch. Two more gets them to 100. Four would tie the franchise record. They can't beat the 1965 Twins and 102, but they could match it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Magic number: Two

This is playing pretty much as I suggested it should after the Twins' final series with Cleveland. The Tribe is making the Twins win to get their divisional crown, and they are doing just that, driving ever closer to the century mark.

The 1965 Twins won 102, as you probably know. The old Senators never won a hundred, but they never had the benefit of a 162-game schedule either. The pre-expansion standard of 154 games made it a lot tougher to get to triple digits in either wins or losses.

It took a .649 winning percentage in those days to get 100 wins. Today, .617. Those extra eight games make a difference.

The best winning percentages in franchise history came from two of the three Washington pennant winners. The 1933 Senators -- who lost the World Series in five games to the New York Giants -- went 99-53, a .651 winning percentage. Those two unplayed games probably kept them from 100 wins.

The 1925 Senators -- who lost the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a truly fascinating Game Seven managerial meltdown -- went 96-55, a .636 winning percentage.

Next up, the 1965 Twins, who also lost the Series in seven games (but you knew that already): 102-60, .630.

You don't get to any of the franchises' three World Series champs until No. 10 on the list, with the 1924 Senators actually tied with the 1931 Senators (92-62, .597).

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gardy not a goner

A few weeks ago I devoted a Monday print column to the proposition that we were seeing the end of Ron Gardenhire as a major league manager.

Not every decision is predictable or understandable. The word out of Detroit last week was that Gardenhire would not only return for the third year of his three-year contract, but that an extension was in the works.

I'm fine with this for two reasons. One, I like Ron Gardenhire, or at least his public persona. Two, I the longer the people above him in the Tigers organization see him as a good fit for a rebuilding team, the longer that rebuild is going to take. That's good for the Twins.


My apologies to readers who have left legitimate comments in recent weeks. In trying Monday to quickly eliminate an outbreak of spam, I inadvertently wiped out not only the spam but dozens of legit comments as well. I regret that.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Magic number: Three

My wife and I scooted up to Target Field for the home finale, where I enjoyed a bratwurst with kraut and some bombas from Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz. And where I chafed at way too many walks late in the game.

Martin Perez started for the Twins. The lefty, I noted at the start, was just 14 outs away from the 162 it takes to qualify for the ERA title. Well, he's only got seven of those outs, so he's still short of that accomplishment, and I'm really not sure what to make of his season.

The good: He's 10-7 and set a career high in strikeouts. He's stayed healthy enough to pitch (no stints on the injured list.) His strikeout-to-walk ratio and his strikeout rate are career bests.

The bad: His ERA inflated to 5.13 Sunday. He hasn't gotten an out after the sixth inning since June. He has just 10 quality starts in his 27 starts.

The Twins have a contract option on him, and I have assumed all season that unless injury strikes they will bring him back for 2020. I'm not so sure that will happen.

The Twins staked him to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, and he strove mightily to give that lead back. I'm quite sure Rocco Baldelli didn't want to yank him in the third inning, but Perez really gave him no choice. He never walked anybody, but he didn't miss any bats either.

Which led to the walkfest late. Baldelli burned through Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May just to get through the sixth inning. Then it was Cody Stashak for the seventh and Brusdar Graterol for the eighth as the Twins opened the margin.

Those five relievers got 17 outs, 11 on strikeouts, with both Duffey and Graterol fanning all three men they faced. They allowed one run, and it was unearned (yet another throwing error by Jorge Polanco.)

For that matter, the Twins bullpen struck out three more men in the ninth, but Fernando Romero and Sergio Romo walked five also. That was a really long and boring inning -- eight hitters, none of whom put a ball in play. Baseball fever 2019 -- Catch it.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Magic number: Six

The Twins won Thursday night, but the victory is shadowed considerably by Kyle Gibson's continued struggles. As matters stand -- and time to straight him out is short -- it is difficult at best to imagine him on the postseason roster.

With Michael Pineda suspended, with Gibson ineffective, with Martin Perez spluttering, the Minnesota rotation is Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and the void.

For much of 2019, the rotation was reliable. For much of 2019, it was better than the bullpen. That has reversed now. The bullpen -- with the addition of Sergio Romo and the emergence of Tyler Duffey and Zach Littell -- is better than the rotation right now.

Berrios and Odorizzi will be conventional starters in the playoffs, of course, although Odorizzi is not an innings eater. The other games will likely be bullpen-heavy, with Perez, Lewis Thorpe, Delvin Smeltzer and perhaps Randy Dobnak going once or at most twice though the batting order.

Craig Counsell, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, is given to describing his pitchers' roles as "out-getters." I have more faith right now that the unproven guys -- Smeltzer, Dobnak, Thorpe -- can get outs than in the veterans Gibson and Perez.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Magic number: Seven

There were no witnesses, and you can believe me or not, but I called the Ronald Torreyes hit-by-pitch that capped off the Twins three-run bottom of the 12th.

The sports crew had left, the press had started running, and I was just hanging around to see the end of the inning, and after the second pitch of the at-bat, I said at the newsroom TV: Go ahead and get hit.

And the next pitch hit his right forearm. Game over.

So the magic number is down to seven. Seven is also how many wins the Twins need to get to 100 for the season, and I really want to see then get that milestone. This is a charter franchise in the American League, even if it is on its second location, and in its entire history it's had one 100-win season, 1965.

I expect they'll get there. They have 11 games left, and the 10 after today's finale against the White Sox -- not a good team -- are all against the Tigers and Royals, who are even worse. Even if the Twins spend half of that span pitching the likes of Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe, even resting Max Kepler and C.J. Cron and Nelson Cruz in hopes of full health for the playoffs, they are sufficiently better than those two teams to get to 100.

So go ahead, Cleveland; you can keep winning games and drag out the inevitable. It will just make the Twins win more games.

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.