Tag Archives: Nelson Cruz

2019 Recap: Game One Hundred Fifty-six

MINNESOTA 12, KANSAS CITY 8 IN MINNESOTA

Date:  Sunday, September 22.

Batting stars:  Eddie Rosario was 3-for-4 with three doubles, a walk, and three RBIs.  Nelson Cruz was 2-for-3 with a home run (his fortieth), two walks, and four runs.  Miguel Sano was 2-for-4 with two home runs (his thirty-second and thirty-third), a walk, and four RBIs.  Jorge Polanco was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and three runs.  Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs.

Pitching stars:  Tyler Duffey struck out the side in a perfect inning.  Trevor May pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one.  Cody Stashak struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit.  Brusdar Graterol struck out the side in a perfect inning.

Opposition stars:  Whit Merrifield was 3-for-4 with a stolen base, his nineteenth.  Nicky Lopez was 2-for-3 with two doubles, a walk, and two runs.

The game:  The Royals started the game with singles by Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, then immediately pulled off a double steal to put men on second and third with none out.  They did not score, however, as the next three batters failed to get the ball out of the infield.

The Twins responded with a big bottom of the first.  With one out, Polanco and Cruz singled and Rosario followed with an RBI double.  With two out, Gonzalez singled home a run and Sano came through with a three-run homer.  It did not kill the rally, as Jake Cave walked and LaMonte Wade and Luis Arraez singled.  It was a 6-0 Twins lead, and they then cruised to an easy victory.

Well, not quite.  Nick Dini hit a two-run homer in the second to cut the lead to 6-2.  In the third, Lopez and Jorge Soler hit back-to-back doubles, Hunter Dozier singled, a ground out scored a run, and Cheslor Cuthbert had an RBI single, cutting the margin to 6-5.  Sano homered in the bottom of the third to make it 7-5, but Lopez had an RBI double in the fourth to again cut the lead to one at 7-6.  Cruz hit a home run in the bottom of the fourth to put the difference back up to two at 8-6.

Things settled down a bit for a little while.  There was no more scoring until the sixth.  Polanco doubled, Cruz was intentionally walked, Rosario had an RBI double, and Gonzalez drove in a run with a single to make it 10-6.  They added two more in the seventh.  With two out, Polanco and Cruz walked, Rosario had another RBI double, and Jason Castro and Gonzalez walked, giving the Twins a 12-6 advantage.  The Twins remained in control of the game the rest of the way.

No, not really.  They should have.  Fernando Romero came in to pitch the ninth with a six run lead.  No one needed their bats against him, as he went strikeout, walk, walk, strikeout, walk.  With the bases loaded and two down, Rocco had seen enough and brought in Sergio Romo.  He immediately walked two men, making the score 12-8 and bringing the tying run to the plate.  Finally, however, he struck out Alex Gordon and the victory went to the Twins.

WP:  Zack Littell (6-0).  LP:  Jorge Lopez (4-9).  S:  None.

Notes:  LaMonte Wade was in center in the continuing absence of Byron Buxton.  Jake Cave was in right in the absence of Max Kepler.  Marwin Gonzalez was at first base in the continuing absence of C. J. Cron.  Mitch Garver started the game at catcher, but was removed in the fifth due to "right hip tightness".  I have no information on how serious it is.

Luis Arraez was 1-for-6 and is batting .343.  Cruz is batting .303.  His home run, as I'm sure you know, was the four hundredth of his career.

Zack Littell has an ERA of 2.83.  Tyler Duffey is at 2.26.

Remember when Miguel Sano was a total bust, and the Twins should either send him to Rochester or just DFA him?

I seem to hear from a lot of Twins fans who aren't really enjoying this run for the division title.  They keep saying, "But with our pitching, we won't do anything in the playoffs."  I actually agree with that assessment, although with the caveat that it's baseball and you never know.  But even so, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the success we're having in the regular season.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of fans have no confidence in the Twins' ability to take the next step next year.  They don't see this as a division title this year, maybe a deep playoff run the next year, then a world championship.  Their fear is that this is a one-off, and next year we'll be back to mediocrity.  I understand that.  We've never really seen a Twins team that was able to take that next step.  The division championships in the first decade of the 2000s were accompanied by post-season futility.  The two world championships were not the culmination of a steady building phase--they came from bad teams becoming good in a single bound, and then dropping back to mediocrity or worse within a couple of years.  We have no experience with a Twins team going from good to better to best.

I think there are reasons to think this Twins team could, though.  The biggest one is the number of young players who are having success this season.  Front and center, of course, is Arraez, who is batting .343 with an OPS of .851.  But look at the pitchers:

Littell, 2.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP.
Cody Stashak, 3.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP.
Randy Dobnak, 2.01 ERA, 1.39 WHIP.
Brusdar Graterol, 4.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP.

Granted, we're dealing with some small sample sizes, but these guys have all been put into games in important situations and have, for the most part, come through.  There's every reason to think they are legitimate big leaguers, and that there are more coming.

I don't remember the last time the Twins brought up this many young players and had them perform well.  Part of the reason for that is that, before this year, they would not have been given the chance.  Arraez would never have been brought up with so little AAA experience--they'd have found a veteran middle infielder to fill in.  And if injuries had forced them to bring Arraez up for a week or two, he'd have been sent back as soon as the veterans got healthy.  It would've been "Nice job, kid.  Now go back to AAA and prove you belong here."  On the pitching staff, we'd still be bumbling along with people like Matt MagillBlake Parker, and Mike Morin, because "They've been around.  They know how to pitch."  Current management should be given credit not just for their role in developing these players, but for actually giving them the chance to play.  There are never guarantees, but it gives me a lot of hope that this year is not just a one-off, but is instead building toward something even better in years to come.

Record:  The Twins are 96-60, in first place in the American League Central, four games ahead of Cleveland.  Their magic number is three.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 102-60!

2019 Recap: Game One Hundred Thirty-six

MINNESOTA 8, DETROIT 3 IN DETROIT

Date::  Sunday, September 1.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 3-for-5 with two RBIs.  Luis Arraez was 2-for-5 with a double and two runs.  Jake Cave was 2-for-5 with two RBIs.  Jorge Polanco was 2-for-5.

Pitching stars:  Michael Pineda struck out nine in six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and a walk.  Sergio Romo pitched a perfect inning and struck out one.  Brusdar Graterol pitched a scoreless inning, giving up two hits.

Opposition stars:  Brandon Dixon was 2-for-3 with a double and a walk.  Jordy Mercer was 2-for-4 with a home run, his seventh.  Victor Reyes was 2-for-4.

The game:  Neither team did much in the first inning, but that changed quickly in the second.  With one out, Miguel Sano walked, Arraez doubled, and Jake Cave delivered a two-run single.  Willians Astudillo was then hit by a pitch and Jason Castro had an RBI single to make it 3-0.  With two out, RBI singles by Polanco and Cruz built the lead to 5-0.

The Tigers got one back in the bottom of the second on doubles by Dawel Lugo and Dixon.  Neither team did much in the third and fourth, but each team scored one in the fifth.  The Twins got their run when Arraez singled, went to second on a ground out, and scored on an Astudillo single.  In the bottom of the fifth Dixon walked, went to third on a pair of wild pitches, and scored on a Reyes single, leaving the score 6-2.  Mercer homered in the seventh to cut the margin to 6-3.

The Twins put it out of reach in the eighth.  Astudillo was again hit by a pitch.  There was still a man on first with two out, but singles by PolancoCruz, and Rosario brought home two runs and put the Twins up 8-3.  The Detroit threatened in the ninth, getting one-out singles by Dixon and Mercer, but a double play ended the game.

WP:  Pineda (11-5).  LP:  Spencer Turnbull (3-14).  S:  None.

Notes:  Max Kepler was in center field in the absence of Byron Buxton.  Buxton did come in to play defense in the ninth.  Jake Cave was in right field, but moved to center when Kepler came out of the game in the seventh.  LaMonte Wade took over in right field, and Cave came out of the game when Buxton came in.  Astudillo started at first base, but was replaced by C. J. Cron in the eighth.

Arraez is batting .333.  Cruz is batting .309.  Polanco is batting .302.

Graterol made his major league debut and has an ERA of 0.00.  Time will tell, but who knows?  Maybe this game will be remembered as the game in which Graterol began his major league career.  He struck out one batter, gave up one solid hit and one infield hit, and got a man to hit into a double play.  He also threw one to the backstop in an obvious effort to show the Twins brass he belongs on this pitching staff.  I hope next year he'll be given a chance to start, but I'm fine with him being in the bullpen for the rest of this season.

The Twins scored eight runs without a bomba.  Maybe they said and I missed it, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's the most runs they've scored this season without hitting a home run in the game.  I have nothing against home runs, but it is nice to be able to put up a big number without them, too.  It seems to me that the more ways you have that you can score runs, the more likely you are to score runs.  A team that can score by playing big ball and by playing small ball should score more runs than a team that can only do one of those things, no matter how good they are at the one thing they can do.

I know wins and losses are not a good way to judge a starting pitcher.  It does, however, say something about your ball club when you have a pitcher in your rotation whose record is 3-14.

Record:  The Twins are 84-52, in first place in the American League Central, 5.5 games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 110-52!

2019 Recap: Game One Hundred Thirty-three

MINNESOTA 10, CHICAGO 5 IN CHICAGO

Date:  Thursday, August 29.

Batting stars:  C. J. Cron was 3-for-5 with a home run (his twenty-second), a double, two runs, and three RBIs.  Jonathan Schoop was 3-for-5.  Nelson Cruz was 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs.  Jorge Polanco was 2-for-4 with a walk and two runs.  Jake Cave was 2-for-5 with two home runs, his sixth and seventh.  Eddie Rosario was 2-for-5.

PItching stars:  Jose Berrios struck out eight in six innings, giving up three runs on seven hits and two walks.  Randy Dobnak pitched three innings, giving up two unearned runs on five hits.

Opposition stars:  Jose Abreu was 4-for-5 with two doubles.  Eloy Jimenez was 2-for-5.  Josh Osich struck out three in two shutout innings, giving up a hit and a walk.  Jace Fry pitched two perfect innings and struck out one.

The game:  The Twins jumped on White Sox starter Dylan Cease right away, opening the game with five consecutive singles.  Luis ArraezPolanco, CruzRosario, and Ehire Adrianza all singled, and after a double play Cron delivered a single.  The six singles produced four runs for a 4-0 Twins lead.  Singles produced runs again in the second.  Schoop singled, Polanco walked, a wild pitch moved the runners up, and Cruz had a two-run single to make it 6-0.  In the third the Twins got impatient with singles, as Cave and Cron started the inning with home runs to increase the lead to 8-0.

Meanwhile, Chicago did nothing through the first three innings.  They threatened in the fourth.  Ryan Goins singled with one out, Abreu walked, and a wild pitch moved them up to second and third.  A pair of strikeouts followed, however, and the threat ended.  The White Sox did break through in the fifth.  Jimenez singled, Matt Skole doubled, and Yolmer Sanchez had an RBI single.  With one out, a wild pitch scored a second run, cutting the margin to 8-2.  They got one more in the sixth when Abreu doubled, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Jimenez single, making the score 8-3.

It was pretty much over at that point.  The Twins loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and managed to score one on a sacrifice fly.  Cave homered leading off the seventh to make the score 10-3.  Chicago opened the seventh with singles by Sanchez and Adam Engel, but a line out and a double play terminated the inning.  They stated the eighth the same way, but a popup, a line out, and a ground out took care of things.

The White Sox did score twice in the ninth, mainly because Polanco temporarily forgot how to play defense.  He made two errors, allowing the first two batters of the inning to reach, and only a fine play by Schoop prevented him from making a third.  A run scored on that play and Abreu doubled home another run, but that was all Chicago got.

WP:  Berrios (11-7).  LP:  Cease (3-7).  S:  Dobnak (1).

Notes:  Arraez was at third base in place of Miguel Sano.  Jake Cave was in center in the continued absence of Byron Buxton.  Adrianza was again in right in the absence of Max Kepler.

Arraez is batting .335.

Dobnak's ERA remains at zero in seven major league innings.  He also got his first major league save.  He has been almost exclusively a starter in the minors, so the only other professional save he has came in 2017 at Elizabethton.  His rise is really rather remarkable.  He went to Alderson-Broddus College in Phillippi, West Virginia, the only major league player that school has produced.  He went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Twins on July 31, 2017.  He made only six starts in the minors that year, five in Elizabethton and one in Cedar Rapids.  He was with the Kernels for all of 2018 and had a fine season, going 10-5, 3.14, 1.26 WHIP.  In 2019 he made four starts in Fort Myers, where he was almost unhittable, pitched in eleven games (10 starts) in Pensacola, appeared in nine games (7 starts) in Rochester, and here he is in the big leagues.  His combined minor league stats for this season are 12-4, 2.07, 0.98 WHIP.  He's twenty-four, so while there are not guarantees there's every reason to think he'll continue to improve.  A pretty cool story.

Berrios was better, although I don't think we're ready to say he's back  yet.  He did very well for four innings, then ran into trouble in the fifth and sixth.  He also managed to throw (LeBron James voice) not one, not two, not three, but four pitches to the backstop.  He did strike out eight, and again he did pitch well for four innings, so I it's progress.  Maybe some more time with Wes Johnson will lead to some more improvement next time.  We'll see.

It's a little frustrating to have won five in a row and only gained one game in the standings.  But on the other hand, think of how the Indians must feel.  They've won four of five and lost a game in the standings.  The good thing about being in first place is that we don't have to do better than Cleveland from here on out.  All we have to do is keep pace with them, and we win.

Record:  The Twins are 82-51, in first place in the American League Central, 3.5 games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 111-51!

 

2019 Recap: Game One Hundred Thirty-one

MINNESOTA 3, CHICAGO 1 IN CHICAGO

Date:  Tuesday, August 27.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 2-for-4.  Marwin Gonzalez was 1-for-3 with a home run, his fifteenth.  Jonathan Schoop was 1-for-4 with a home run, his nineteenth.

PItching stars:  Michael Pineda struck out eight in five innings, giving up one run on four hits and a walk.  Sam Dyson pitched a perfect inning.  Tyler Duffey pitched a scoreless inning, giving up two hits.  Sergio Romo struck out the side in a perfect inning.  Taylor Rogers pitched a perfect inning and struck out one.

Opposition stars:  Lucas Giolito struck out nine in six innings, giving up two runs on four hits and three walks.  Yolmer Sanchez was 2-for-3.  Tim Anderson was 1-for-4 with a home run, his fourteenth.

The game:  The Twins put two on with one out in the first, as Jorge Polanco walked and Cruz singled, but nothing came of it.  In the second, however Gonzalez led off with a home run and Schoop hit a two-out homer, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead.  Pineda got through the first three innings without allowing a hit, but that changed when Anderson led off the fourth with a home run, cutting the margin to 2-1.  The White Sox also got a pair of two-out singles in the inning, but a ground out ended the threat.

Chicago got a threat going in the seventh, getting singles from Ryan Goins and Sanchez with one out.  Matt Skole struck out and Leury Garcia lined to third to end the inning.  The Twins got an insurance run in the eighth on singles by PolancoCruz, and Eddie Rosario.  The last eight White Sox were retired and the game belonged to the Twins.

WP:  Pineda (10-5).  LP:  Giolito (14-7).  S:  Rogers (21).

Notes:  Jake Cave was in center in the continued absence of Byron BuxtonGonzalez was in right in place of Max Kepler.  Kepler pinch-hit for Gonzalez in the eighth and went to center field, with Cave moving to right.  Rosario returned to the lineup in left field.

Duffey has an ERA of 2.80.  Rogers has an ERA of 2.47.

Pineda pitched well, but threw just five innings and eighty-nine pitches when he was removed from the game.  When that decision was made, we knew that either one of our top three relievers would pitch more than one inning or that we'd see Tyler Duffey with the game on the line.  Rocco clearly decided that was a better option than trying to push Pineda into a sixth inning, and he was proven to be right.  Duffey was a little shaky, but got the job done.

Duffey has, in fact, pitched very well lately.  He hasn't given up a run in over a month.  On July 23 his ERA was 3.82 and today it is 2.80.  That's fourteen appearances and twelve innings.  He has given up just six hits and five walks.  I still not sure how much I trust him with the game on the line, but he's been getting the job done.

This felt like a big game to win.  Time will tell if it actually is, of course.  But while the White Sox are not a good team, Giolito is a really good pitcher and he had shut the Twins down just last week.  The pitching matchups for the rest of the series seem much more favorable, although as we've said many times, it's baseball and you never know.  That means the Twins should have a good chance to sweep the series.  That would be good, because Cleveland is playing Detroit, and the Indians don't seem to be having any trouble taking care of business against the weak teams of the league.  As we approach September, the Twins need to do the same.

Record:  The Twins are 80-51, in first place in the American League Central, 3.5 games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 111-51!

2019 Recap: Game One Hundred Twenty-six

MINNESOTA 14, CHICAGO 4 IN MINNESOTA

Date:  Tuesday, August 20.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 4-for-5 with a home run (his thirty-third), three doubles, three runs, and three RBIs.  Max Kepler was 2-for-5 with a home run (his thirty-fourth), three runs, and three RBIs.  Eddie Rosario was 2-for-5 with two RBIs.  Jorge Polanco was 1-for-4 with a two-run homer (his nineteenth) and two runs.

Pitching stars:  Michael Pineda pitched seven innings, giving up four runs on six hits and no walks and striking out four.  Trevor May pitched a perfect inning and struck out one.

Opposition stars:  Tim Anderson was 2-for-4 with a home run (his thirteenth), a double, two runs, and two RBIs.  Jose Abreu was 1-for-3 with a two-run homer, his twenty-eighth.

The game:  It didn't look good early.  The Twins did nothing for the first two innings, as their first six batters were retired on just twenty-one pitches.  In the third, Yolmer Sanchez singled and scored on a two-out double by Anderson.  Abreu followed with a two-run homer and the White Sox quickly took a 3-0 lead.

Mitch Garver led off the bottom of the third with a double, but with two out he had only gotten as far as third base.  Kepler solved that problem, hitting a two-run homer to get the Twins back into the game at 3-2.  In the fourth, Cruz led off with a home run, tying the score 3-3.

The Twins took control in the fifth.  The first two batters went out, but Jake Cave singled and Kepler reached on an error.  Jorge Polanco was hit by a pitch, putting the Twins in the dreaded bases loaded situation.  But Cruz said, "Fear not" and belted a two-run double.  Rosario followed with a two-run single and the Twins led 7-3.

Anderson homered leading off the sixth, cutting the margin to 7-4, but that was as close as Chicago would come.  The Twins put it away in the eighth.  Cruz led off with a double and scored on Miguel Sano's double.  Luis Arraez singled, putting men on first and third, and later stole second, moving men to second and third with two out.  Marwin Gonzalez was intentionally walked, and again the Twins came through with the bases loaded.  This time it was pinch-hitter C. J. Cron delivering a three-run double.  He would score on Kepler's double and Polanco then hit a two-run homer.  It was 14-4, and that's where it would stay.

WP:  Pineda (9-5).  LP:  Reynaldo Lopez (7-11).  S:  None.

Kepler returned to the lineup in center field, with Jake Cave in right in the continued absence of Byron Buxton.  Gonzalez was at first base in place of Cron.  Cron remained in the game after his pinch-hit and played first, with Gonzalez moving to right field.

Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .346.  Cruz raised his average to .303, the first time he's been over .300 since May 6.

The Twins did not throw any wild pitches, and they were not charged with any errors, although there were at least two that could have been scored.  Still, I guess it's progress.  I know there's a lot more to defense than not making errors, but most of the errors have been on routine plays, and coupled with wild pitches and baserunning mistakes, it just leads to an overall sloppiness of play that I find annoying.  They've been able to hit enough to overcome it most of the time, and they did so again last night, but it still bothers me.

There was some discussion in the game log about Rocco making an unnecessary pitching change in the eighth, bringing in Sergio Romo with two out and none on with the Twins holding a three-run lead.  I would tend to agree that the change was unnecessary, but on the plus side:  a) Romo got the job done, b) he only threw three pitches, so he should be fine to pitch today, and c) there's an off day tomorrow, so he'll have at least one day where he won't pitch.  So, even if it was unnecessary, it looks like there's no harm done.

Cruz has to be having one of the best seasons a thirty-nine-year-old ever had.  I'm sure Barry Bonds has him beat, and there are probably a few others, but there can't be very many.  He is batting .303/.390/.667, for an OPS of 1.057.  He has thirty-three home runs.  And he's not wearing down as the season goes on--granted that he missed some time, but August is so far his best month of the season.  It's pretty incredible.

Record:  The Twins are 77-49, in first place in the American League Central, three games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 113-49!

2019 Recap: One Hundred Twenty-five

CHICAGO 6, MINNESOTA 4 IN MINNESOTA

Date:  Monday, August 19.

Batting stars:  Luis Arraez was 3-for-5 with a double.  Eddie Rosario was 3-for-5.  Jake Cave was 2-for-4.  Jorge Polanco was 2-for-5 with a home run (his eighteenth), a double, three runs, and two RBIs.  Nelson Cruz was 2-for-5.  Miguel Sano was 2-for-5.

Pitching stars:  None.

Opposition stars:  Ryan Goins was 3-for-4 with two runs.  Jose Abreu was 1-for-4 with a three-run homer, his twenty-seventh.  Ivan Nova pitched 5.1 innings, giving up two runs on ten hits and one walk and striking out two.

The game:  The Twins once again scored early.  Arraez and Polanco started the first inning with back-to-back doubles and Cruz followed with a single, putting the Twins up 2-0.  They missed a chance to add to the lead in the second, putting two on with two out but failing to score.  It cost them, because in the third singles by Matt Skole, Yolmer Sanchez, and Goins and a three-run homer by Abreu put the White Sox ahead 4-2.

The Twins put two on with two out in the fourth and did not score.  They had men on second and third with one out in the sixth, but the contact play cost the Twins again, as Sano was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to third.

In the seventh, Tim Anderson doubled, went to third on a ground out, and scored on a squeeze bunt to make the score 5-2.  Polanco hit a home run in the  bottom of the seventh to cut the margin to 5-3 and give the Twins some hope.  The hope was quickly dashed, however, as Chicago got the run back in the eighth.  Goins singled, Jon Jay walked, and Eloy Jimenez singled to make the score 6-3.

The Twins did threaten in the ninth.  Singles by ArraezCruz, and Rosario cut the lead to 6-4 and brought the winning run to the plate with two out.  But Sano struck out, and the game was over.

WP:  Nova (9-9).  LP:  Kyle Gibson (11-6).  S:  Alex Colome (24).

Notes:  Max Kepler was held out of the game, presumably due to lingering effects of his heat-related illness Sunday.  That means the Twins went with an outfield of Rosario-Cave-Marwin Gonzalez.  That's not a good defensive outfield.  It's hard to tell whether it made any difference--no defense can stop a three-run homer--but it certainly didn't help.

Cruz returned to the lineup as the DH.

Arraez is now batting .348.

Gibson pitched 6.2 innings, giving up five runs on six hits and one walk and striking out four.

This was not the way the start of the "soft spot in the schedule" was supposed to go.  Still, it's not realistic to expect the Twins to win every game, even against bad teams, and if the Twins win the next two to take the series, that would be an acceptable outcome.  It also seems like, as much as anything, the Twins simply had some bad luck.  They out-hit the White Sox 15-8.  They had twelve singles, two doubles, and a home run.  They also drew a walk.  And they were 3-for-9 with men in scoring position, so it's not like they weren't producing in the clutch.  Yet, they managed to score only four runs.  That's not very easy to do.  It's frustrating, but it's baseball, and it happens.  I'll go out on a limb, though, and predict that if the Twins get fifteen hits again tonight they will score more than four runs.

Record:  The Twins are 76-49, in first place in the American League Central, two games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We'll just have to settle for 113-49!

2019 Recap: Game Ninety-four

NEW YORK 14, MINNESOTA 4 IN MINNESOTA

Date:  Wednesday, July 17.

Batting stars:  Mitch Garver was 2-for-3 with a home run (his fifteenth) and a walk.  Nelson Cruz was 1-for-4 with a home run, his eighteenth.

Pitching star:  Martin Perez pitched six innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk and striking out four.

Opposition stars:  Amed Rosario was 4-for-4 with a home run (his tenth), a triple, a walk, four runs, and three RBIs.  Adeiny Hechevarria was 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs.  Dominic Smith was 2-for-3 with a home run (his ninth), two runs, and four RBIs.  Todd Frazier was 2-for-5.  Pete Alonso was 1-for-6 with a two-run homer (his thirty-first) and two runs.  Jason Vargas pitched six innings, giving up three runs on five hits and a walk and striking out four.  Jeurys Familia pitched a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and striking out one.

The game:  It was a good game until suddenly it wasn't.  The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the second when Max Kepler hit a one-out double and Miguel Sano came through with a two-out single.  The lead did not survive the next half-inning, as Rosario homered with one out in the third to tie it 1-1.  Cruz put the Twins in front 2-1 with a one-out homer of his own in the bottom of the third, but the lead again did not survive the next half-inning.  The Mets loaded the bases with none out on an error, a single, and a hit batsman.  A double play scored the tying run, although it also enabled the Twins to escape without further damage.  The Twins got the lead back in the fifth when Garver hit a one-out home run.

This time the lead lasted an inning and a half.  In the seventh, Rosario singled, Hechevarria doubled, and Smith hit a three-run homer to give New York a 5-3 advantage.  Then, in the eighth, the roof fell in, or it would have it Target Field had a roof.  The Mets had two on with two out and Hechevarria hit a fly ball to Eddie Rosario in left.  Rosario somehow did not catch it, allowing two runs to score.  The error was followed by a double, a single, and a home run, and the score was 11-3.  The Twins got one back in the bottom of the eighth, but as they are currently strapped with only a seven-man bullpen, Rocco had Ehire Adrianza pitch the ninth.  He allowed three more runs, leading to a final of 14-4.

WP:  Vargas (4-5).  LP:  Trevor May (3-3).  S:  None.

Notes:  Max Kepler was in center and Marwin Gonzalez in right in the absence of Byron Buxton.  Luis Arraez was at second base in the absence of Jonathan Schoop.

Jorge Polanco was 1-for-4 to hold his average at .307.  Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .380.

Swept.  By the Mets.  By the Mets.  A team that can barely get out of its own way.  And we got swept by them.

Yes, I know all the excuses.  These things happen in baseball, it was only a two-game series, we were using the back end of our rotation, every team goes through slumps, we've had injuries, we didn't get the breaks, blah blah blah blah blah.  The bottom line is that we still got swept by the Mets.  By the Mets.

Meanwhile, Cleveland was on the up end of a sweep.  Yes, they were only playing the Tigers.  And we were only playing the Mets.  The Mets.

Good teams take care of business and win the games they're supposed to win.  Also-rans make excuses.  The Twins have been looking an awful lot like also-rans lately.  I know, it's a long season.  But it's slipping away, and so is the Twins' lead.  I don't know what they need to do to turn things around, but they'd better figure something out, and they'd better do it soon.

Record:  The Twins are 58-36, in first place in the American League Central, four games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We'll just have to settle for 126-36!

2019 Recap: Game Ninety

MINNESOTA 5, CLEVELAND 3 IN CLEVELAND

Date:  Friday, July 12.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 1-for-4 with a home run (his seventeenth) and a walk.  Mitch Garver was 1-for-4 with a home run, his fourteenth.

Pitching stars:  Trevor May retired all four men he faced, striking out two.  Zack Littell pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one.  Ryne Harper pitched a perfect inning and struck out one.  Taylor Rogers struck out three in two shutout innings, giving up one hit.

Opposition stars:  Mike Clevenger struck out six in five innings, giving up one run on four hits and two walks.  Jose Ramirez was 2-for-4.  Carlos Santana was 1-for-4 with a home run, his twentieth.

The game:  Cruz hit a two-out home run in the first inning to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.  The Indians got a man to second base in each of the first two innings but did not break through until the fourth.  Santana homered to lead off the inning and tie the score.  Jason Kipnis walked and an error put men on first and third.  They were still on second and third with two out, but Roberto Perez singled to drive in two and give Cleveland a 3-1 lead.

It looked for a while like that might hold up.  The Twins put men on second and third with none out in the fifth, but a ground out and two strikeouts ended the inning.  They had men on first and second with one out in the sixth, but a double play ended that inning.

Then came the seventh.  An error and a walk put men on first and third with two out.  Max Kepler came up and hit a ground ball to shortstop.  He was called out at first and it looked like yet another Twins threat had come to nothing.  But the Twins challenged and a replay review determined that Kepler was safe, making the score 3-2.  Jorge Polanco then swatted a two-run double and the Twins had a 4-3 lead.  A Garver home run in the eighth made it 5-3.  The Indians did not get a man past first base after the fourth inning.

WP:  Littell (2-0).  LP:  Oliver Perez (2-2).  S:  Rogers (13).

Notes:  Marwin Gonzalez was in left, replacing Eddie Rosario.  Luis Arraez was at second base in place of Jonathan Schoop.  Ehire Adrianza was at first base, replacing C. J. Cron.

Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .386.  Polanco was 1-for-4 and is batting .311.  May has an ERA of 2.94.  Harper has an ERA of 2.84.  Rogers has an ERA of 1.73.

Just looking at the printed play-by-play, it seems like a very quick hook for Kyle Gibson.  They don't appear to have been hitting a lot of balls hard off him, and he certainly wasn't getting much help from his defense.  I'm not second-guessing the decision, because a) there are always things you can't tell from the printed play-by-play and b) it clearly worked.  The Much Maligned Twins Bullpen pitched 5.1 scoreless innings and really never even allowed Cleveland to put together a threat.

The quick hook showed that Rocco was not looking at this as just another game.  He thought it was an important game for the Twins to win, and he was going to give them every chance to win it.  It was a risk, because if the Twins hadn't come back he'd have used four or five relievers in a loss, which of course hurts you for the next game.  He had the advantage of a fully rested bullpen after the all-star break, but it was still a gamble that he won.

I think he was right to not look at it as just another game.  We said going in that by Sunday night the Twins' lead would either be 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, or 8.5 games, and that's obviously a big spread.  We can eliminate the "2.5" now, and that's a very good thing.  We'd all love to have it be one of the bigger numbers, but even if it's 4.5 it's not going to feel like things are falling apart, the way it would have had the Indians gotten a sweep.  With Odorizzi and Berrios pitching the next two games, the Twins should have a good chance to win at least one of them.  Of course, with Bauer and Bieber going, the Indians probably feel the same way.

One thing I like about Rocco is that he doesn't feel a need to make big announcements about what he's doing.  He just does it.  Rogers is clearly the closer now, even if he's not being used in the "traditional" way, but Rocco has never said he's the closer.  Littell is clearly a one-inning guy now (he's pitched one inning in each of his last six appearances), but Rocco has never said he's a one-inning guy.  He just uses him that way.  If you don't make an announcement about it, then you don't feel locked in to doing it that way.  You also don't have to explain to anyone if you do something differently from what you've announced.  Of course, you have to get players to buy in to the fact that they aren't going to know exactly what their role is every day, but Rocco seems to be able to do that, at least so far.

Record:  The Twins are 57-33, in first place in the American League Central, 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 129-33!

2019 Rewind: Game Eighty-six

OAKLAND 7, MINNESOTA 2 IN OAKLAND

Date:  Thursday, July 4.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 3-for-5 with a double.  Ehire Adrianza was 2-for-3.  Jonathan Schoop was 2-for-4.

Pitching stars:  Zack Littell pitched a scoreless inning, giving up two hits and striking out one.  Trevor May struck out three in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit.

Opposition stars:  Chris Herrmann was 4-for-4.  Robbie Grossman was 3-for-4.  Marcus Semien was 2-for-4 with two home runs (his twelfth and thirteenth) and five RBIs.  Tanner Anderson pitched 4.2 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on nine hits and two walks and striking out three.  Wei-Chung Wang pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, giving up no hits and a walk and striking out one.

The game:  A two-out rally in the first produced one run for the Twins.  Cruz and Luis Arraez singled and Miguel Sano walked to fill the bases and Adrianza reached on catcher's interference.  They missed a chance for more, though, when Schoop flied out.  They missed another chance in the third, when Cruz led off the inning with a single but was caught stealing.  The Twins got two more singles in the inning, but they went for naught.

The Athletics similarly missed a chance in the third, when they had men on first and third with one out, but they tied it in the fourth on singles by Khris Davis, Grossman, and Herrmann.  The Twins took the lead back in the fifth when Cruz doubled and Adrianza singled him home, but Oakland went in front to stay in the bottom of the fifth.  Semien homered to start the inning.  Matt Chapman walked, Matt Olson singled, and Davis walked.  A double play brought home the go-ahead (or go-behind, depending on your point of view) run.

It remained 3-2 until the eighth, when Oakland broke it open.  Grossman and Herrmann singled and Jurickson Profar was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.  Semien unloaded them with a grand slam, and the game was gone.  The Twins, who had not mounted a threat since the fifth, got a leadoff double in the ninth from Max Kepler, but he did not move past second.

WP:  Wang (1-0).  LP:  Jose Berrios (8-5).  S:  None.

Notes:  Arraez remained in left field.  Adrianza was at first base in place of C. J. Cron.

Arraez was 1-for-5 and is batting .414.  Polanco was 0-for-5 and is batting .313.

I don't know why Rocco has suddenly decided Littell is a one-inning guy.  The whole point of putting him on the roster was to have a guy who could pitch multiple innings.  His last four games, though, he's gone one inning in each, and the game before that he went two.  To his credit, he's done well in that role.  In fact, if you throw out the awful game in Tampa Bay, he has an ERA of zero and has given up six hits and three walks in eight innings.  That's pretty good.  But he's supposed to be The Bullpen Guy Who Can Fill Up Some Innings, and Rocco's not giving him the chance to do that.

This was kind of an embarrassing loss for the Twins.  Tanner Anderson is a career nothing whose major league ERA was 6.83 going in and who wasn't any good in AAA this year either.  Yet, the Twins could manage only two runs off him in 4.2 innings, and if not for catcher's interference it would've been one.  Yes, they had nine hits, but only one of them was for an extra base.  The Twins could also do nothing with Lou Trivino (ERA 4.62) and Joakim Soria (4.76).  Plus, the Twins had their best pitcher going.  This is a game they should've won easily, and instead they lost by five runs.  Yes, this is baseball and it happens, but it's been happening a lot to the Twins lately, and it's not good.

But, there's nothing to be done about now, so we head home to take on the Texas Rangers.  Maybe Martin Perez will have a good game and the Twins can put together a few wins heading into the all-star break.

Record:  The Twins are 54-32, in first place in the American League Central, six games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We'll just have to settle for 130-32!

2019 Recap: Game Seventy-nine

MINNESOTA 6, TAMPA BAY 4 IN MINNESOTA

Date:  Wednesday, June 26.

Batting stars:  Nelson Cruz was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs.  Eddie Rosario was 2-for-2.  Luis Arraez was 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs.

Pitching star:  Taylor Rogers retired all four men he faced.

Opposition stars:  Austin Meadows was 2-for-3 with a walk.  Kevin Kiermaier was 1-for-4 with a two-run homer, his ninth.  Tommy Pham was 1-for-4 with a home run, his twelfth.  Willy Adames was 1-for-4 with a home run, his ninth.

The game:  The Twins opened the scoring in the first inning.  Arraez led off with a walk.  With one out, the Twins got singles from CruzRosario, and C. J. Cron, plus a wild pitch, to take a 3-0 lead.  It didn't stay 3-0 long, as Meadows walked to start the second and Kiermaier hit a one-out two-run homer to cut the lead to 3-2.

It stayed 3-2, with neither team doing a lot on offense, until the sixth, when Pham homered with one out to tie the score 3-3.  Adames hit a one-out homer in the seventh to give the Rays their first lead at 4-3.

Then came the bottom of the seventh.  Jason Castro got an infield single and Jake Cave reached on an error, putting men on first and second with none out.  Jonathan Schoop failed to get a bunt down and struck out, but Arraez singled to load the bases.  Jorge Polanco popped up for the second out, but there's no need to fear, Nelson Cruz is here.  Cruz hit a bases-clearing double to give the Twins the lead at 6-4.  Tampa Bay could get only a one-out single in the eighth after that.

WP:  Trevor May (3-1).  LP:  Charlie Morton (8-2).  S:  Taylor Rogers (10).

Notes:  Arraez started the game at third base in place of Miguel Sano.  The starting outfield, from left to right, was Willians Astudillo-Rosario-Cave.  Then, of course, Rosario was injured running the bases in the third inning.  Sano came into the game at third base, with Arraez going to left field, Cave moving to center, and Astudillo moving to right.  In the eighth, Max Kepler came into the game in center field, with Cave going to right, Astudillo moving back to left, and Arraez going to third base, with Sano coming out of the game.

Arraez was put into the leadoff spot, and apparently the pressure did not bother him.  He is now batting .452.  Polanco was 0-for-4 and is batting .321.  Jake Odorizzi allowed three runs in 5.1 innings and has an ERA of 2.73.  Ryne Harper retired both men he faced and has an ERA of 2.23.  Rogers now has an ERA of 2.04.

Every member of the Twins starting outfield is now dealing with an injury.  Kepler came in for defense--maybe he'll be well enough to play today.  Maybe Byron Buxton can come off the disabled list.  Maybe, against all odds, Rosario's injury isn't that bad and he can play.  If not, though, they'd better have made a call to Rochester last night.  An Astudillo-Rosario-Cave outfield was shaky enough.  An Arraez-Cave-Astudillo outfield is simply untenable.  The Twins were lucky that it didn't particularly hurt them last night, but that kind of luck is not going to hold.

Schoop tried to bunt in the seventh inning with men on first and second with the Twins down a run.  I don't think a bunt is an obviously bad play there, but it is if you don't have a batter at the plate who can get the bunt down.  Bunting, for a big league ballplayer, should not be that hard of a thing to do, but you need to learn how to do it properly.  So, if you're going to ask players to bunt, you need to take the time to teach them to do it correctly and take the time to have them practice it regularly.  Is bunting worth the time it takes to learn to do it right?  That's a good question.  But either have players who can bunt well or don't do it.  Giving up an out to gain a base may be a questionable strategy, but giving up an out and not gaining anything is a strategy that has nothing going for it.

The Twins did not hit any home runs last night, a rare thing for this season but especially rare in a game that they won.  In a way, though, it's a good thing.  I have nothing against home runs, but it's good for a team to have more than one way it can win.  My theory for some time has been that the more ways you have that you can win, the more likely it is that you will win.  A team that can win in several ways has an advantage over a team that can only win one way.  It's good to know the Twins can beat a good team without hitting home runs.

Record:  The Twins are 52-27, first in the American League Central, 8.5 games ahead of Cleveland.

Projected record:  We're still on track for 135-27!