Hector Santiago vs. Travis Wood, 1:15 p.m.
Today marks the end of a surprising first half for the Twins, who have clinched a winning first half already. There have been many surprising individual performances by the Twins in the first half but maybe none so surprising as Eddie Rosario.
Rosario had a nice rookie season, especially for age 23, but his K/BB rate made him a likely candidate for regression, which did occur last season and was bad enough that the Twins decided to send him down to the minors. In mid-May, he was demoted because of a .532 OPS. He finally earned a promotion back to the majors six weeks later and his first game was Game 81 of 2016, which is a year ago tomorrow. Rosario then proceeded to have an .812 OPS the rest of the season, which was an improvement on his numbers for his rookie season.
Rosario again got off to a very slow start in 2017, then got hot for a few weeks starting in mid-April, but cooled off again so that his season OPS was sitting only at .684 prior to the June 11 game. Paul Molitor apparently had seen enough because for the first (and only) time this season, Rosario started in right field with Robbie Grossman starting in Rosario's normal left field position. The next day, Rosario was on the bench with Grossman again in left field.
Whether Molitor was signaling that he was ready to make Grossman the starting left fielder with Rosario becoming the fourth outfielder or that Molitor was just trying to send a message to Rosario, either way, it worked. On June 13, Rosario blasted 3 home runs in Seattle and has been hitting well ever since.
In Saturday's game, Rosario had a career-high 5 hits in the second game of the doubleheader to bump up Rosario's OPS on the season to .799, which is second on the Twins only to Miguel Sano, who could very well be named the starting third baseman for the AL All-Star team today (6 p.m. CDT, ESPN). With the great hitting he did in the second half last year, this means that over the last 365 days, he has batted .297/.331/.473 for an OPS of .804.
What is probably most encouraging is Rosario's improved plate discipline. He has improved his strikeout and walk rates so that he's cut his K/BB ratio by more than half from 7.74 his first two seasons to 3.64 this season.
His heroics last night were really needed as the Twins were coming off a bad loss in the first game of the doubleheader when they blew a 5-1 lead with young ace Jose Berrios on the mound and had Felix Jorge making his major league debut in the nightcap. A sweep seemed a real possibility, which would mean the Twins falling behind the Royals into third place.
Instead, the Twins can look to salvage a split of the four games with the Royals with a victory today. Hector Santiago had his previous start cut short by a rain delay, and that was his first after being on the DL and his only rehab start was less than 50 pitches, so Santiago will have a pretty short leash today. By the way, Santiago starting means that all 4 Twins starting pitchers in this series are of Caribbean descent. Santiago was born in New Jersey but played for Puerto Rico in the WBC. Berrios was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Jorge and Ervin Santana were both born in the Dominican Republic. Adalberto Mejia is also Dominican, so Kyle Gibson is the only Mainlander currently in the Twins rotation.
Santiago's mound opponent today, Travis Wood, hasn't started a game at any level since 2005 and has an ERA over 6.00. Here's hoping the offense can take advantage of him enough to take pressure off Santiago and the bullpen today. If the Twins win, it will mean a winning roadtrip and they will remain all alone in second place in the division and no more than 2 games back of Cleveland.