A big early inning for the second game in a row spurred the Twins to a win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park Thursday afternoon, 5-1. The win allowed the Twins to split the series, and help deal another blow to the Tigers’ playoff chances. According to Fangraphs, those odds have dropped nearly 10 percent in the last two days (37.7 percent to present-day mark of 28.4 percent).
After scoring five runs in the fourth inning but ultimately letting the Tigers off the hook in Wednesday’s game, the Twins put up a four spot in the second inning Thursday — against an old friend — and made it stick. The Twins offense spread out the production up and down the order, as they spoiled Mike Pelfrey’s return to the Tigers rotation with a strong offensive effort as part of another stop on the Hector Santiago “Effectively Wild” tour.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Santiago sent us
Nothing jumps off the stat page from Santiago’s effort — 5.2 innings, six hits, three strikeouts and two walks — but he allowed just one earned run as he wriggled out of a couple jams on the day. After 1-2-3 innings in the first and second, Santiago allowed a pair of baserunners in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. He got out of each of those jams without any further damage except in the fifth, when the second batter to reach was catcher James McCann, who hit a booming double to deep left to score Justin Upton and chase Santiago from the game. At that point, the Twins were working with a 4-1 lead, and manager Paul Molitor brought in J.T. Chargois to work for the fifth time in seven games. Brad Ausmus countered by pinch-hitting Tyler Collins for JaCoby Jones, but ultimately after walking the first batter, Chargois settled down to retire Andrew Romine — who at the time represented the tying run — on a fly out.
Santiago’s ERA as a Twin is still a gaudy 5.73 after this relatively solid performance, but there’s a definite line in the sand. As he told me on Labor Day, he scrapped the new mechanics plan the Twins had for him — as they attempted to make him more of a strike thrower — and after posting a 10.89 ERA in his first four starts with the team, his second set of four has been much, much better: 1.80 ERA, .620 OPS against and 13-13 K/BB ratio in 25 innings. There’s little doubt that the K/BB ratio is a little worrisome, but it’s still just a four-start sample. Santiago lived by the fly ball on Thursday, which isn’t a bad plan with Byron Buxton in your outfield, especially the spacious outfield in Detroit. Santiago induced 13 fly balls and just one grounder. That grounder came on the last out Santiago recorded — an Upton fielder’s choice grounder to second that, if the double play had been turned, would have rendered the Tigers scoreless on the day.
Another clean day for the bullpen
Chargois came on to work yet again, and made things a little messier before working out of the jam in the sixth for his second career hold. In September, he’s got a 3.68 ERA and 8-3 K/BB ratio in 7.1 innings — a stark difference from August. Overall, the bullpen trio — Chargois, Alex Wimmers and Brandon Kintzler — combined to throw 3.1 scoreless innings, scattering three hits with no strikeouts and one walk. Wimmers faced just six batters in his two innings, as he induced a double play off the bat of Miguel Cabrera to end the seventh and went 1-2-3 against the Martinez Bros. and Upton in the eighth.
In fact, that’s quite an impressive body of work for Wimmers, as he cut through Kinsler-Iglesias-Cabrera-V. Mart-J.D. Martinez-Upton with the only damage being an infield single from Iglesias. The numbers don’t flesh out much success for Wimmers so far — 6.10 ERA, 5.66 FIP and more walks than strikeouts in 10.1 innings — but it’s clear he’s getting more and more trust from Molitor, who has to keep finding ways to not use Ryan Pressly as much. Kintzler worked the ninth in a non-save situation, and did what he does — induced a grounder to end the game on a double play off the bat of Kinsler. So the Twins win that battle of the Kintzler-Kinsler vendetta, I guess.
Detroit’s bullpen was also very stingy
One day after bailing out Anibal Sanchez due to a short start, Pelfrey dug them into an even deeper hole as he got nowhere near his expected pitch count. Pelfrey finished with 36 pitches, but was expected to get up to around 60, as he recorded just five outs on the afternoon. Blaine Hardy, Kyle Ryan, Justin Wilson, Joe Mantiply and Mark Lowe combined to throw 7.1 innings with six strikeouts, two walks, six hits allowed and just one earned run. The earned run was charged to Mantiply, but came across on Lowe’s watch as he hung an 0-2 pitch to Buxton, who golfed it into left to score Eddie Rosario, who’d reached on an infield single to start the inning.
Dozier rides again
His second inning single to left extended his hitting streak to 19 games (and 33 of his last 35 games), drove home Eduardo Escobar and Rosario and ultimately chased Pelfrey from the game. Dozier also walked twice — once intentionally, perhaps a day late — to move his season line up to .282/.355/.582. Only 11 MLB hitters have a higher wOBA than Dozier’s .389, and only nine have a higher wRC+ than his 144. For some context, that 144 mark is tied with Cabrera and Corey Seager, and is head of guys like Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt, Robinson Cano and Mookie Betts. Only Daniel Murphy of the Nationals and Jose Altuve of the Astros are having better seasons among second basemen.
Buxton got back into the swing of things — literally
There was just one strikeout for the young Buck on Thursday afternoon, and that was interspersed with a fly out, the aforementioned single and also a triple off Ryan in the seventh inning. Buxton was stranded at third as Ausmus opted to have Dozier intentionally walked before Jorge Polanco struck out swinging. Ultimately, Buxton continues to impress this time around with the Twins. He’s up to a .224/.279/.407 batting line for the season, and has hit .347/.407/.776 since his Sept. 1 return — raising his season OPS by more than 100 points. There have been strikeouts (17 in 55 PA), but also a fair number of walks (four) and extra-base hits (10-of-17 hits). He looks like a totally different player.
All Kennys Vargas does is hit
Vargas went 2-for-4 with a double and a single while batting cleanup and playing first base, and is now up to a robust .280/.395/.570 for the season. After a quick trip back to Triple-A because he got caught up in a numbers game with the big club, Vargas has hit .364/.462/.545 since returning on Sept. 6 to pretty much pick up where he left off in August. With Joe Mauer ailing and Vargas looking like this, it makes sense to run him out there at first base every day the rest of the way.
…..also, it was rookie dress-up day. Try to get this image out of your head:
Here’s full photographic evidence of the carnage that you may have missed:
Mauer checks in
Joe jumped back into the lineup for the first time since Monday with an 0-for-4 day from the third spot in the lineup, as he DH’d, struck out once and saw his slugging percentage dip back under .400. After slugging a combined .376 over the past two seasons, Mauer’s slugging percentage had been over .400 almost exclusively since the beginning of August. Now, he’ll need a relatively strong finish to get it back up over there to stay.
Up Next – RHP Jose Berrios vs. RHP Bartolo Colon – 6:10 p.m. Friday – Citi Field
- Friday’s matchup at Citi Field pits Berrios and Colon in a matchup of the AL’s ninth-youngest player this year against the NL’s oldest. In fact, Colon was pitching in the Indians system back in 1994 when Berrios was born. Three days before Jose was born, Bartolo turned 21. Crazy.
- According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino, Molitor said he’s unlikely to use Pressly on back-to-back days the rest of the way. Pressly is tied with Dellin Betances of the Yankees and Bryan Shaw of the White Sox atop the AL reliever appearance leaderboard with 69.
- Berardino also reported that the Twins sent Miguel Sano back to the Twin Cities to get a look at his balky back. Sano told Berardino the back bugged him back when he first signed with the Twins, and that this is the same type of issue. Molitor told reporters he didn’t feel added work before games at third base contributed to the issue.
- The Twins need to finish 8-7 in the final 15 games to avoid 100 losses for the first time since 1982. The 2011 team lost 99 games.