Twins

Down the Stretch They Come: Twins Sweep Tigers at Comerica

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There may not be much optimism for the rest of this season, but the Minnesota Twins still went into Detroit and swept a three-game series from the Tigers.

In the process, the Twins held the punchless Tigers to just six runs, as Minnesota got solid pitching performances across the boards from some unlikely sources with a trip to Oakland to face the playoff-bound A’s up next on the docket.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point

Much better work from Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves

Say what you will about the “win” as far as pitchers are concerned, but Stewart and Gonsalves getting theirs over the span of three days just continues to show the amazing parallels their careers have taken thus far.

Stewart and Gonsalves signed on the same day back in 2013, and the former’s MLB debut came eight days ahead of the latter last month. So why wouldn’t their first big-league wins come in the same series?

Both pitchers came in after openers worked the first inning. Stewart came in after Gabriel Moya threw a scoreless first inning on Monday, and went six innings while allowing just an unearned run with five strikeouts, three walks and three hits allowed.

Stewart had seven swinging strikes in 86 pitches — still below the typical league average of 10 percent — with three coming on his slider and two apiece on the two-seamer and curveball. Stewart’s fastball peaked in the 94-95 mph range but settled in at an average of 92-93.

Stewart also allowed seven fly balls compared to six grounders — a bit unusual for his profile (55.1 percent groundball rate). He’s still walking about as many batters as he’s striking out, but he’s kept the ball in the park and on the ground.

Gonsalves also went six innings, fanning four batters but more importantly walking just one as he gave up just one hit. That lowered his ERA to 6.75, which again shows just how tough the beginning part of his career has been.

Sep 19, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves (59) pitches in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

But walking just one batter — and throwing 54 of 78 pitches for strikes — is a huge boost for a guy who had walked multiple batters in each of his big league starts, and three or more in each of his last four. Gonsalves too leaned on grounders, inducing nine worm-burners and just five fly balls.

Add the grounders to nine swinging strikes, and it was leaps and bounds better than any outing Gonsalves had posted in his month in the big leagues. Fifty of Gonsalves’ 78 pitches were fastballs — and he touched 94 mph, believe it or not — with five of the nine swinging strikes coming on the pitch. Three came on the curve and one on the slider, but getting swings and misses on the fastball bodes well for any pitcher — especially one who isn’t much of a flamethrower.

Sep 19, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Fan is escorted off the field after he jumps a fence during the ninth inning of the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, it was against Detroit — a team that is threatening 100 losses — but it’s still the big leagues. Gonsalves will get a couple more chances to head into his first big-league offseason with some positive steam, including potentially one more outing against the Tigers depending on how things line up.

Robbie and Jorge keep raking

It’s possible you haven’t noticed, but since Grossman came off the disabled list in late August, he’s hitting an insane .341/.452/.447 — a 152 wRC+ that ranks 31st among all hitters with at least 50 plate appearances over that stretch.

So while you may be hearing the digital rumblings and grumblings about him playing every day, he really has earned it with how well he’s played lately.

Sep 19, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins left fielder Robbie Grossman (36) slides in safe at home in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Polanco’s band of success is a bit narrower, but in the month of September, he’s hitting a respectable .319/.355/.486 with three homers. He’s gotten progressively better with each month he’s played — OPS marks of .739 -> .746 -> .841 — and overall has shown the ability to stabilize the shortstop position moving forward.

Over the Tigers series, Polanco went 4-for-12 with a homer and two walks, while Grossman was 5-for-11 with three walks and a pair of doubles.

Jake Odorizzi has been really solid of late

Odorizzi brought his season ERA down to 4.35 with 6.1 innings of two-run ball with six strikeouts and a walk. Odorizzi had 10 swinging strikes on his 84 pitches, and for the fourth time in the last five starts allowed three or fewer earned runs.

Last we saw of Odorizzi, he was taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Yankees at Target Field back on Sept. 12, and he was able to prolong some of that success against a much weaker Tigers lineup.

Odorizzi’s 10 swinging strikes came on five four-seam fastballs, three sliders, one split and one curve, and he did a good job mixing and matching to keep the Tigers off-balance all game long.

The bullpen was terrific

We won’t count the primary pitcher — the one after the opener — for these purposes, but as a collective group, everyone who came in after that was terrific.

Here are the combined numbers:

  • 6.2 innings
  • 3 ER
  • 8-2 K/BB ratio
  • 5 hits allowed

The three earned runs are a bit unsightly, but that’s mostly from a two-run homer Alan Busenitz allowed on Wednesday with the game well at hand.

Willians Astudillo’s cult-hero status keeps growing

He’s getting more playing time behind the plate with Mitch Garver on the shelf with a concussion, and he’s taking the role and running with it. He also had a strong series, going 4-for-12 with four RBIs and, of course, zero strikeouts.

The more he plays, the more he seems to belong at this level, as he’s now hitting a terrific .317/.338/.508 on the season with as many home runs (three) as strikeouts and walks combined. 

How does he fit onto next year’s roster? We’re not sure — but it’s starting to seem like Thad Levine and Derek Falvey might have to find a way.

Rookie dress-up day has evolved into something amazing

Every year the team has rookies dress up in costumes that they wear on a flight to a road city, and this year they chose horse costumes that not only first-year players, but also team and PR staff had to wear as about the most inocuous form of “hazing” allowable.

But the Twins decided to turn it into a Triple Crown, with the final race coming on Sunday.

There was some controversy in the Detroit running, as Stewart reportedly won but was disqualified for running rather than galloping — as the bylaws required.

Kyle Gibson and Odorizzi appeared on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk to break it down, and hilarity ensued:

Family matters

Some things are bigger than the game, and this was one of them. The Twins brought up Toby Gardenhire — manager of the Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels — as a September call-up of sorts, and he was able to coach the series against his father Ron, the Twins’ manager from 2002-14 who now is managing the Tigers.

Some notable recent times this has happened Casey (Giants pitcher) and Pat Kelly (Reds bench coach) taking on one another as well as Luke (then-Royals pitcher) and John Farrell (then-Red Sox manager).

Fox Sports North also caught up with Ron’s wife Carol to get her read on the situation:

Notes

  • During the game, the Tigers announced that they had received Coon Rapids native Logan Shore as the player to be named later in the deal that sent righty Mike Fiers to Oakland. Shore, a 2013 graduate of Coon Rapids High School and a 2016 second-round pick of the A’s out of Florida, is coming off an up-and-down season between High-A Stockton and Double-A Oakland. The soon-to-be 24-year-old righty posted a 1.21 ERA in four starts with Stockton, but hit more turbulence at Double-A: 5.50 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 49-19 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings.
  • The win guaranteed a season series victory for the Twins over the Tigers. The Twins are 10-6 against Detroit with just three games at Target Field remaining on the season series.

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