Twins

Balanced Offense, Bullpen Help Twins Cool off Red-Hot A's in 6-4 Win

Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

To say Mitch Garver wasn’t expecting to enter the game would be an understatement.

But when Bobby Wilson sprung out of his crouch in the top of the fourth inning on a Ramon Laureano grounder to short, everyone’s eyes naturally followed the ball, as Jorge Polanco made a terrific diving stop, but his flip pulled Logan Forsythe off the second-base bag, and both runners were safe.

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Wilson sprinted towards first base to back up the throw, but turned his head slightly to see Polanco make a terrific play. As that happened, Wilson tripped over Laureano’s discarded bat and fell to the ground, and in the process sprained his ankle.

Through sheer force of will, Wilson refused to come out and force Garver to come in cold in that half inning. But when Wilson’s spot in the order came up in the bottom half of the inning, Garver stepped to the plate, fell behind 0-2, fouled off a pitch and then smoked a two-run double to left-center off A’s starter Trevor Cahill to break a 2-2 tie and give the Twins the lead.

Joe Mauer followed that with a single — tying him with Rod Carew for second place in club history on the all-time hits list — to score Garver, and that 5-2 lead ended up sticking as the Twins beat the A’s 6-4 at Target Field on Thursday night.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:

Win probability table


Source: FanGraphs

Mauer joined the history books

Mauer got ahead of Cahill 1-0, then smacked a single to center that brought home Garver to give the Twins a 5-2 lead.

That hit tied Mauer with Carew for second place in team history with 2,085 hits — trailing only Kirby Puckett (2,304). Whether or not Mauer returns next season is still a mystery, but if he opts to continue his career, he should have a good chance to pass Puckett around his 37th birthday — which would be in early 2020.

Kohl Stewart wasn’t efficient, but at times was effective

Stewart was just one out away from qualifying for his first MLB win — which we don’t care about typically, but MLB firsts are always cool — but with the tying run at the plate, manager Paul Molitor just couldn’t take his chance with the rookie already approaching 100 pitches.

“I was pulling for him,” Molitor said after the game. “We had people ready in the fifth. Even when he was going out, we got people up between (climbing) pitch count and (where Oakland was in) the lineup. He gave himself a chance there. Got behind (Matt) Olson and hit the ball in the gap. Tying run coming up, we had to make the change.”

Stewart said he felt much better on the mound this time around after lasting just 1 1/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers last time out.

“I felt in control the whole night,” he said. “The second inning kind of got away from me there. They took advantage of a few mistakes there, but I was happy that I could settle down and get myself out of those innings. Obviously, in the fifth, I wanted to go deeper, but you have to earn those innings. Too high of a pitch count, getting behind too often against some really good hitters.”

On the positive side of things, Stewart recorded 11 swinging strikes on his 98 pitches. Coming into the start, Stewart had a swinging-strike rate of just 6.5 percent, so he nearly doubled that in this outing.

Aug 23, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kohl Stewart (53) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

According to Baseball Savant, Stewart reached as high as 94.7 mph with his four-seam fastball — which he said was the better of his heaters on the night — and 94.2 mph on his sinker.

The sinker is typically Stewart’s bread-and-butter offering, but in this case, his four-seamer just did more of what he wanted it to.

“Missing bats is a good thing,” Stewart deadpanned when asked about fanning twice as many batters in this start (six) as his previous two starts combined. “It’s never a bad thing when you miss bats. I threw a lot of four-seams tonight and my four-seamers were really good. Going away to righties, we thought there were some zones we could pick and go up in the zone just based on some things we knew. So it was good and honestly, my four-seamer was better than my sinker. Nights like that, it’s going to happen.”

Stewart had seven swinging strikes on his four-seam fastball, and two each on his two-seamer and curve. True to his word, Stewart wound up nearly doubling up his four-seamer (47 pitches) in favor of his two-seamer (28).

That seems to signify a good gameplan between Stewart and his catcher.

Khris Davis did what he does — hit dingers

The first home run allowed of Stewart’s career was a mammoth, opposite-field shot from Davis — his MLB-leading 39th of the season.

The A’s have a weird mix of hitters with few standouts, but rather just a really solid group of hitters. Davis, however, is one of the few standouts, and he’s an absolute mauler. The home run was his only hit of the night as he went 1-for-5, but he’s still hitting an absurd .261/.337/.577 on the season.

Aug 23, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oakland Athletics designated hitter Khris Davis (2) rounds second base after hitting a solo home run during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

So did Kepler — and his might have been more impressive

Kepler’s 18th home run of the season was absolutely crushed into the stands in right, and it came against A’s closer Blake Treinen.

What’s more remarkable is that Treinen has been one of the AL’s best relievers this year, and had posted an ERA of 0.87 with just one homer allowed all season long coming into Thursday night’s game.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle added that it was also the first time all year that Treinen had pitched with the A’s trailing, and that Kepler’s home run represented the first runs he’d allowed since July 21.

Insanity.

The other homer allowed by Treinen? All the way back on April 6 to Angels left fielder Justin Upton.

Aug 23, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Max Kepler (26) hits a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins got to Cahill — though not right away

The first time through the order the Twins were 2-for-8 with a walk against the 30-year-old righty.

But the second time through is when things started to loosen up. With the Twins trailing 2-0 in the third inning, Mauer walked to put runners on first and second. Logan Forsythe grounded into a double play, but Eddie Rosario followed with an RBI single to right. Rosario then stole second and came home to score when Polanco singled to right.

All told, the Twins were 5-for-8 with a walk the second time through the order against Cahill, and Mauer’s historic single started the third time through. Cahill didn’t complete that trip, but the Twins were 1-for-6 before Cahill was lifted in favor of reliever Yusmeiro Petit.

“Cahill’s got a cutter that he’s using a little bit more,” Molitor said. It’s become a really good pitch to compliment the sinker and the changeup. Didn’t see a lot of knucklecurves, but a few. But he’s one of those guys if you try to pull it, you’re just going to roll the ball over for the most part.

“Rosie got out in front of — I think it was a changeup — and hooked one and Polanco stayed on one that he hit back up the middle. Joe hit one up the middle. (There were a) lot of hits up there. Forsythe earlier in the game. It just helps. That’s why they do the shifts. They try to take that away from some guys, but today we took advantage of the space up there.”

Don’t run on Rosario — just don’t

Need we say more? Watch the video:

Garver said he kind of likes to mess with runners by doing a deke to make them not certain when the ball will get there, and he executed it perfectly as Olson was instead needing to rely on Laureano — the batter on deck — to tell him when/if to slide rather than reading cues from the catcher.

Now, Garver also had to stay tall to actually catch the throw as it was high — he ends up tagging Olson on the helmet, of all things — and it appears Laureano was actually where he was supposed to be, though the slide appears to maybe have started a bit on the late side.

“That’s kind of what I do,” Garver said. “I like deking runners. I want to make sure that the guy who’s helping the runner, he has to be sure the throw is coming in and telling him to get down. So it’s just one of the things I do, and I think it gave us a chance to get that out, just because if he would’ve slid earlier, he would’ve stayed below the tag. So he slid a little late, and I was able to get the ball down enough to get him in the helmet.”

This marked Rosario’s ninth outfield assist of the year — four more than he had all last season.

After Wilson left with an injury, Garver was up to the task

Garver did a few exercises to loosen up his body to prepare for catching after Wilson’s incident, but he still didn’t have any indication he was going in until the catcher came off the field and told Molitor he couldn’t go.

Garver ended up having to go to the plate cold — and face Cahill for the first time in his career with two runners on base.

“It’s the hardest thing to do in any sport, come into a baseball game and pinch hit, cold, off the rack,” Garver said. “So when Bobby got hurt, I saw him go down, and I immediately ran down the tunnel, started getting loose, doing some of the things to get my hips loose and to get my body loose. He was able to finish out the inning, luckily, but at that point, I knew that we were going to take precaution and get him out of the game and get him checked out.”

So what’s the game plan in that situation? Garver kept it simple.

“Hit the ball,” Garver said flatly. “Yeah, really. Just hit the ball. I think I took a fastball and then I swung over a slider by like three feet. And then I fouled another fastball off. So, you know, it was a good pitch to hit. I don’t think it was executed the way he wanted it to.”

Aug 23, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins pinch hitter Mitch Garver (23) celebrates after scoring during the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen was — yet again — terrific

The bullpen has been really, really good in August — 3.02 ERA, 8.7 K/9 — and that’s with mostly a nameless, faceless bunch as far as non-die-hard fans are concerned.

But regardless of the names on the back of the shirts, they’ve been getting the job done. Alan Busenitz pitched the Twins out of another big jam, getting out of the fifth with the help of Rosario’s right arm. He pitched a clean sixth before handing the ball off to Trevor May.

May has been absolutely terrific in his return from Tommy John surgery, and ran his season ERA down to 2.53 with a perfect inning. Taylor Rogers and Matt Magill made things a little interesting by walking a pair of batters in the eighth but didn’t allow a run, and Trevor Hildenberger locked down his fourth save despite allowing a solo homer on a laser shot from A’s second baseman Jed Lowrie.

“Gosh, they’ve been doing such a good job all year,” Garver said. “When we’ve got guys like Magill and Rog and now we’ve got the addition of Trevor May coming in, I know we can trust those guys. They have great stuff. We know what we have to do to get guys out. They execute the pitches, and that’s the way we win games.”

“I think like we talked about it; it’s kind of the mystery pen,” Molitor said. “You don’t really know when you’re going to pitch. Buse was fresh, and he came in and did a nice job. He walked the first guy, but he got the next guy and gave us another inning. We had to go through some guys there to navigate and got it down to Hildy. Other than an over the top fastball that he tried to sneak by Lowrie, he got the job done.”

Notes

  • The Twins are 39-26 at home and have won 20 of their last 26 games at Target Field.
  • Wilson left the stadium on crutches and appears headed for the disabled list. Look for Willians Astudillo to replace him on the roster.
  • Forsythe has reached base in 16 of his 20 games with the Twins, and has hit .370 in the process.
  • The A’s lost a second game in a row for the first time since July 27-29.

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