After a thrilling 16-inning win to salvage a split in the Puerto Rico series, the Minnesota Twins had to feel good about themselves heading into St. Petersburg to take on the Tampa Bay Rays, who were sitting at 5-13 and just 3-7 on the season at Tropicana Field.
Those good vibes didn’t last long, as a couple walk-off losses were the Oreo Cookies around a 10-1 creme-filled drubbing in a three-game sweep.
In all, it left the Twins back to .500 at 8-8, with mounting questions about their bullpen heading into a tough four-game series in the Bronx, where the team almost never plays well.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
The bullpen didn’t come in firing on all cylinders, but definitely left as a smoldering heap
The Twins came into the series with some positivity after allowing just one run to the Indians in 16 innings in the last game down in Puerto Rico, and on the whole, had a bullpen pretty much in the middle of the pack. After the disastrous series in St. Pete, however, it’s a different story.
Intrepid reporter Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press — as well as friend of the program — broke down the numbers, and hoo boy, they are not pretty:
On the positive side, the Twins still maintained a solid K/BB ratio, and Paul Molitor’s theory — at least as mentioned on the air as the team took on the Yankees on ESPN on Monday — was that the team really just needs to start playing games consistently.
Not like playing well consistently or hitting or pitching consistently, but rather just getting to play games on a regular basis. He’s not wrong. The Twins come into Tuesday’s action with just 17 games played. By comparison, the Baltimore Orioles have played 23 and the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros have played 24. Consistency doesn’t just mean how one performs between the white lines, after all.
Miguel Sano is in some kind of a slump
When Sano woke up on April 8, his first thought must have been “What the hell is all this snow?” But after the finale against the Seattle Mariners was postponed that day, he would have seen that he was hitting an incredible .296/.406/.741 on the season.
That was certainly the high-water mark for Sano, who hit just .147/.143/.265 over the next eight games — through the end of the Rays series — with 16 strikeouts, no walks and just five hits in 34 at-bats. Sano got a mental break day on Sunday, but came in and delivered an RBI single before striking out in his final at-bat. Ultimately, the Twins need to get him going, because right now, too many of his comrades are slumping as well.
Contrarily, Max Kepler is really, really playing well
One of those players is not Kepler, however. Kepler, who is batting second against the Yankees on Tuesday, is hitting a robust .286/.375/.589 on the season, but the most promising development has been his progress against lefties.
For instance, Kepler’s move up the order on Tuesday comes against C.C. Sabathia.
It’s only 11 plate appearances, but Kepler is 3-for-10 with a walk against lefties, with all three of those hits going for extra bases. Overall, he’s .300/.364/.800 against lefties, and already halfway to his total of six extra-base hits against southpaws (137 PA) from all last season.
The Twins really missed Byron Buxton
It’s not really a surprise, but the defense isn’t the same without arguably the best defender in the game. But Joey Wendle hit a triple to center field with a catch probability of 30 percent — something Buxton likely catches in his back pocket — in the seventh inning on Saturday.
Overall, it was a rough inning:
That was where the game spiraled out of control, as the Twins went from down 2-1 to down 7-1 before the Rays tacked on three more runs the next inning on the way to a 10-1 drubbing.
Outfield defense matters, friends.
If someone told you how the walk-off losses ended ahead of time, you wouldn’t believe them
On Friday night, Denard Span rolled a grounder to first. Zach Duke came over to cover the bag, took the flip and apparently missed first. Replay came back with Span safe, and the Rays had their third win in four games after taking two of three from the Rangers as well.
Replay didn’t look conclusive to yours truly, but anytime a player goes back for a second move — a tag, or in this case, touching the bag with the foot — it’s usually a pretty good tell.
But a 35-year-old reliever with 14 years of MLB experience missing the bag seems almost incompreshensible, right?
So too might Addison Reed giving up a walk-off homer to Carlos Gomez, yet that is what happened to end Sunday’s game. Reed got through the eighth inning unscathed, but came back for the ninth and gave up a single to C.J. Cron before Gomez absolutely murdered a baseball into the left-field stands.
If that wasn’t enough, Gomez came into the game hitting just .158/.229/.276, and struck out earlier in a game on a pitch that was so far out of the strike zone, a dejected GoGo broke the bat over his knee in disgust. Reed also came into the game with an ERA of 0.90 — so yeah, this was a bit surprising.
Span terrorized Twins pitching, but so did all #OldFriends in the series
In addition to Gomez hitting the walk-off homer, former teammate Span was a collective 5-for-14 with a pair of walks atop the Rays order. He’ll be there quite a bit, since Mallex Smith — Span’s platoon partner in left — has shifted over to center in place of the injured Kevin Kiermaier. That probably bodes well for the Rays’ chance of moving him to clear salary, which seems likely as something they’d still like to do.
If that wasn’t enough, Wilson Ramos went 3-for-8 with a couple of doubles and a walk. So yeah, the #OldFriends stuck it to the Twins a bit in this series.
To be fair, the Twins faced some great starting pitching in the first two games
Chris Archer is off to a rough start, but there’s no shame in scoring just two runs against him in 6.2 innings. He might finish the year with an ERA around 4.00, but he might do it in a different uniform after returning a haul to the Rays — indicative of his perceived value around the league — and he’d also do it while fanning well over a batter per inning. He’s a stud.
Blake Snell is no schlub either, and is pitching like the post-hype sleeper some — including yours truly — thought him to be coming into the season. He held the Twins down for just one run on five hits over seven innings with six strikeouts and nary a walk, and for the year has a 2.54 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 32-10 K/BB ratio in 28.1 innings. It’s still early, but there’s a reason why this cat was the No. 12 prospect on the Baseball America list two years ago.
The Rays hung a jersey in their dugout for former Tampa Bay reliever Danny Farquhar
In a scary situation, Farquhar suffered a brain hemorrhage during the sixth inning of a game late last week, and was taken to RUSH University Medical Center where it was revealed that a ruptured aneurysm has caused a brain bleed. At that time, he was in critical but stable condition.
The Rays honored him by hanging a jersey in their dugout, and may players — including former teammate Jake Odorizzi of the Twins — wore “FARQ” on their hats in his honor.
The White Sox gave the following update on Monday, much to the delight of fans and players everywhere:
- Former Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe signed a minor-league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
- Former Twins prospect outfielder Adam Brett Walker has signed a deal with the independent Kansas City T-Bones, who play in the American Association. That’s the same league the local St. Paul Saints play in.
- Former Twins prospect outfielder Daniel Palka was recalled by the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. The team placed Avisail Garcia on the 10-day disabled list with a hamstring strain. Palka will make his major-league debut once he gets into a game for the White Sox.
- Infielder Matt Hague, who spent 2017 in the Twins system with the Rochester Red Wings, was released from the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Triple-A). Former Twins catcher/outfielder Chris Herrmann is currently on that team.