Around the eighth inning last night I thought I'd be writing about how the Twins have a chance to win this four-game series with Oakland today. Instead, because Taylor Rogers chose an inopportune time to have a very rare bad outing, we're hoping to salvage a split and maybe get a game back in the standings from Cleveland. Such are the vagaries of baseball. I can't say that I've been overly impressed with the Twins' overall performance since the All-Star break. They've been adequate at best. But then again, they spent the first half of the season setting very high expectations for the second half that they just haven't managed to equal yet. In some ways, I think a hard-fought race for the division title would be good for this team, a crucible in which they temper their skill and desire into hardened competitive advantage for the postseason. On the other hand, I'd be fine with the Twins going on a month-long winning streak and putting another ten games or so between their tail feathers and Cleveland's beak.
The Twins commence today's contest with Big Mike Pineda on the mound for the 19th time this year. While I wouldn't say I'm a fan yet, he is working hard to win me over and has shown considerable improvement over his last several starts. His ERA is down to 4.38 (104 ERA+) and in four of his last five outings he allowed just one earned run. A 4.18 FIP would suggest he's doing all that while not being especially lucky. In 98.2 innings pitched he's given up 99 hits, 16 walks, and 51 runs for a 1.166 WHIP. He's compiled 87 strikeouts and whiffs more than five batters for every free pass he hands out. Not shabby for a back of the rotation arm, I guess. But despite all the favorable numbers you can find for Pineda, he's still only managed a 0.7 WAR and -0.2 WAA for the season. Cornelius McGillicuddy's legacy counters Pineda today with Daniel Mengden's moustache (4.21 ERA). The Twins touched the right-hander for five runs over 5.2 innings just a few weeks ago. Hopefully they can improve on that today. Play ball!
Momentum is coming off the All-Star break, beating Cleveland in the first two games to start the second half, and having Jose Berrios lined up to start the third game. Not that it won't be a contest as Cleveland has Shane Bieber on the mound. The two are pretty well matched. Both have eight wins on the year, Berrios has the lower ERA (3.00 vs. 3.45) but Bieber has more strikeouts (141 to 104). The Twins' division lead is back up to 7.5 games with a chance to make it 8.5 with a series sweep. After today, the Twins and Indians meet just ten more times. The Indians were on a pretty good roll before the break, making up ground at a fairly alarming rate, and a Twins win today would put a nasty hitch in their giddy-up coming out of the second half gate. Play ball!
Time flies when you're having fun, and I think it's safe to say that Twins fans are having a lot of fun this year. So here we are, the last game before the midsummer classic. A cavalcade of injuries and some poor bullpen performances have slowed the team's winning ways with the hometown boys only playing .500 ball over their last ten games. Cleveland has cut the Twins' 12 game lead in the division down to just 6.5 games. That is far to close to spitting distance for comfort. The Twins need to put more space between themselves and the only real competition they have for the division title. Let's not forget that in 2006, the Twins were 11 games behind Detroit heading into the All-Star break. So the second half is going to be a race, maybe a tighter one than any of us thought a month or so ago and winning the AL Central is by no means a foregone conclusion. But it would be a boring flip side to the season if we just ran away with it. I like winning, but I like the challenge and the struggle of the competition just as much.
Kyle Gibson will man the hill to start today's game for the Twins. He'll be on a short pitch count since he had to step up and throw an inning of relief in the last marathon game, so the bullpen will get the lion's share of today's pitching work. The team called up Mejia and Smeltzer from Rochester to provide some fresh arms for today's tilt. The Twins will feature two catchers in the starting lineup with Garver behind the plate and Castro taking over DH duties for a banged up Nelson Cruz. The Rangers are also going with an opening pitcher arrangement today. Jose Leclerc will start the game and then make way for left-hander Joe Palumbo, who was called up from AAA Nashville. It's been a great first half, I'm looking forward to the second. Maximilian Kepler-Różycki is going to blast one out today, maybe in his first at bat. Mark it, Dude. Play ball!
G'day, wankers! This weekend the Twins wrapped up the first half of their season and got started on the second half, and so far it's been a fair dinkum year. It does seem odd to see the Twins so dominating when the team spent so many years without getting within a cooee of the postseason, but crikey, I could sure get used to it.
Due to a pair of marathon extra-inning games this past week that pressed today's presumed starter, Kyle Gibson, into an inning of relief work and wore down the entire bullpen, the Twins reached down to Rochester and pulled up Lewis Thorpe. A native of Melbourne, Australia, Thorpe will become the eighth Bruce to play for the Twins in the team's history. Thorpe was expected to just shore up the bullpen, but those plans changed with the heavy pitching workload of the last week. Thorpe got a nice surprise following yesterday's game. His parents decided to take a chance that he'd pitch at some point this weekend, so they went walkabout, hit the frog and toad and headed for Chicago to see their ankle biter in his major league debut. In 14 starts for the Red Wings this year, Thorpe is 3-4 with a 5.71 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. The Pale Hosers send Lucas Giolito to the bump today with the series win on the line. Giolito is having an excellent year with a very mediocre team. He's compiled a 10-2 record with a 2.87 ERA and 111 strikeouts. But he's struggled in his last two starts, allowing nine runs over the course of those outings. So grab yourself a coldie from the Esky, help yourself to a sanger, and flick on the telly, mates. Play ball!
Yesterday the Twins became the first American League team this season to win 50 games. Despite the recent rough patch the team has been going through, they've managed to maintain their status as the best team in the league and the distinction of not losing more than two games at a stretch. And it's not like we didn't all feel some regression to the mean creeping up on us. Odorizzi wasn't going to keep throwing endless shutout innings. The lineup couldn't keep scoring more than six runs with a couple of dingers every game. The bullpen has only so much smoke and so many mirrors. Guys are going to get banged up and go on the IL, sometimes when they've been riding a hot streak. That's the nature of a six month long season, ebbs and flows, high and lows, strikes and gutters. So yes, some ass-bats have been sneaking into the bat rack. Some gloves and arms have been temporarily cursed. There's been a higher than normal level of cerebral flatulence. But I think the Twins have shown remarkable resilience all year and will continue to do so, and we've seen a big enough sample now to know this is a good team with a good chance to make some postseason noise.
The Twins send Michael Pineda to the hill today to try to nail down the series win in this four-game set. He has not been horrible lately. In his last two starts he's thrown 11.2 innings and given up just two runs on seven hits. Homer Bailey will try to salvage a series split for the Royals. He's been a hot arm recently, throwing 13.2 shutout innings while giving up just seven hits in his last two outings. I feel like Polanco is due, so he's my stick to click pick today. Play ball!
Happy Fathers Day! I'm always reminded on this day of the two men drinking at the bar. One is commiserating at length on the pitfalls of fatherhood and proclaims finally that ten minutes of pleasure can lead to a lifetime of obligation and aggravation. The other man takes this in while staring into his drink, and after a long pause turns his head and says, "How do you make it last for ten minutes?"
The Twins wrap up Joe Mauer weekend at Target Field with a chance to sweep the beleaguered Kansas City Royals and extend their 25.5 game lead over the AL Central cellar dwellers. Watching the number retirement ceremony yesterday and seeing Joe with his little boy and the rest of his family confirmed for me that the Chairman made the right decision when he prioritized his health and family over another year of major league baseball and one last chance at a championship. I'm sure that given how the team is performing he sometimes wishes he'd given it another year, and frankly I do, too. I do think the reluctance the front office showed to even talk about a contract extension last year helped tip the scale toward retirement and like an inside fastball off the handle of the bat, that still stings a little. But in the end, we're left with a career's worth of memories (the no-look, behind-the-back crouching backhanded pick without missing a beat on a wild pitch that ricocheted straight off the sandstone backstop - I could watch that on an infinite loop). The great thing about baseball memories is that we feel them personally, we make them our own and the best ones we tuck away like treasures. We take them out from time to time to polish and admire, but we also share them freely and happily with our families and friends and other fans around the world, and that makes them even more special because they connect us in a way that transcends differences.
Jake Odorizzi proved himself human yesterday, gave up four runs and saw his ERA balloon to 2.24. Today's starter, Martin Perez, is also human but having a better year than I, for one, anticipated. He's 7-2 with a 3.97 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched. He's served as a good pivot between our aces Berrios and Odorizzi and the less effective end of the rotation in Gibson and Pineda. The Royals today give the ball to 26-year-old Jakob Junis. The KC right-hander is probably better than his 4-6 record and 5.35 ERA, but that will happen with Kansas City's defense and offense backing you up. The Twins start today's game with a 62.6% win probability, so I believe I'll dust my broom. Play ball!
I don't mean to harp on the bullpen. We knew going into the season it was going to be the weakest link on this team. And statistically the bullpen isn't horrible, it's just that compared to an excellent offense and outstanding starting pitching and dazzling defense, an average bullpen looks somehow below average. But chin up, mates, the front office has about seven weeks to work with, more and more teams will become sellers as the trade deadline nears, we have a sizable lead in the division, lots of games against weak divisional foes to come, and the team is relatively healthy. So, laissez les bons temps rouler.
Today the Twins send Jake Odorizzi to the mound. Simply put, he's been awesome with sugar frosting on top. His 1.96 ERA leads the American League and gives him a 228 ERA+ on the season. He's struck out 70 batters while allowing just 21 walks (3.33 K/BB), and he's given up just four home runs in more than 61 innings pitched. With a 0.964 WHIP, he's extremely stingy giving up the bases. He's one of the primary reasons that after 63 games this season, the Twins have yet to lose more than two games in a row. I think it's fair to say The Jake has more than returned on his trade investment of infielder Jermaine Palacios (.266/.322/.386/.708 MiLB career). The Tigers counter the sweet odor of success with southpaw Ryan Carpenter (1-2, 6.23 ERA). He's 28 years old, has thrown a total of 48.1 big league innings, and this year he's given up almost two and half homers for every nine innings he's pitched. So no, he's not as good as Odorizzi, but as of right now, only a very small handful of big league pitchers are. A Twins victory today means another series win and a winning ten-game road trip. Play ball!
Don't look now, but Jake Odorizzi (7-2, 2.16 ERA) is the best pitcher in the Twins starting rotation by just about any set of numbers you peruse, and one of the best in the game as of today. The ESPN Cy Young Predictor currently ranks him fourth, behind Justin Verlander, Roberto Asuno and Domingo German, and just ahead of our own Jose Berrios. That's two Twins starters with a legitimate shot at the Cy Young award. We haven't enjoyed rotation riches like this since Santana and Liriano combined to light up the league back in 2006. Odorozzi starts his 12th game of the year for the Twins today. The Rays will start lefty Ryan Yarbrough (4-1, 5.53 ERA), who struggled early in the season but rebounded after a recent minor league stint. Yarbrough's given up just two combined runs in his last two starts since being recalled from AAA Durham. Play ball!
So, it looks like the front office has recognized some relief pitching deficiencies and is making tentative moves to shore up the bullpen. The Twins offense keeps rolling like a juggernaut, the starting pitching is top notch or, in the cases of Gibby and Pineda, showing improvement with each start over the past month. This is the kind of Twins team you dream about through a frigid, dark Minnesota winter, or during the worst of a midsummer losing streak. And there just might be enough depth in the organization to weather the inevitable injuries that can leave your bench thin as an anorexic beanpole. The Twins send Jake Odorizzi (really good numbers) to the mound seeking a sweep of the South Siders and his 7th win of the season - before Memorial Day, no less. The White Sox counter with Dylan Covey, whose 5.31 ERA is seeking its first win on the year. Play ball!
A complete team. I think that's what we're starting to see in this season's edition of the Twins. An offense that fires with the regularity and effectiveness of an artillery brigade. Starting pitching that turns opposing hitters' bats into Jell-O® sticks. And now the bullpen is getting into the act, with six current relievers sporting ERAs of 2.00 or less, though several of the remaining bullpen ERAs are well above the 2.00 mark. Still, as a team the Twins have a 3.82 ERA, fifth in the American League and good for a 117 ERA+. I just know it's been worth staying up late to watch these last few nights, even Pineda showed improved command of his pitches. I do hope that the FO takes note of the room for improvement in the bullpen, though, as we give up too many meaningless runs in routs of the Mariners in this series. Two more solid arms out there would go a long way toward making a deep playoff run a distinct possibility. Of course, I'm counting on Pineda settling in at the back of the rotation with a .500 record or so and an ERA around 5.00, and Gibson to continue being aggressive in the strike zone and getting his ERA down below 4.00, so I'm a crazy man. Gibson will get his most current chance to do the first and work on the second, and lead the team to a four-game sweep of the Mariners at T-Mobile Park Not Safeco Field®, as the Twins' starting pitcher today. Countering the right-hander for the Mariners is rookie southpaw from Morioka, Japan, Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), the third left-handed starter that Seattle has trotted out in the series. A quarter of the way through the season and the Twins are one of the two best teams in the major leagues. Who'd a thunk it? Play ball!