It took two hours to get underway and until midnight to wrap up, but it was worth the wait as two All-Star caliber starters took the mound just after 9:00 p.m. — with the Minnesota Twins coming out on top, 5-1.
Blake Snell was clearly snubbed by his colleagues for selection to the Midsummer Classic next week in Washington D.C. — writer’s note: he was named to the team on Friday as a replacement — but the Twins offense paid no mind to that by knocking him around for three runs on five hits and three walks before the lefty departed after three innings and 75 pitches.
“He could (have) kept going but I think 75 pitches through three innings, that’s probably enough given the workload that he’s had here recently,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “He was fine (with the decision). He’s frustrated with himself a little bit that he wasn’t able to correct whatever he was doing.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Gibson was terrific. He completed eight innings of one-run ball while allowing five hits and fanned nine batters without walking any. He closed the first half with a 3.42 ERA, and pushed his season WAR — via Fangraphs — to 2.0.
His total for the last two years combined? Just 2.2
Gibson won’t head to Nationals Park next week, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he’s clearly in the midst of what should be the best season of his MLB career — and not by a small margin.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Win probability table
Gibson kept rolling
It’d be hard to find a gripe with how Gibson has pitched on the whole this season, but if there were any nits to pick, he hadn’t been great at home all season and was coming off a start where he’d walked four batters in seven innings.
Both of those points were negated with his performance at Target Field on Thursday night, as Gibson completed eight innings for the first time all season and walked no batters while getting 16 swinging strikes on his 113 pitches — the second time in the last month he’s thrown that many and the second-most he’s thrown this year (118).
Gibson’s slider was absolutely nasty — seven swinging strikes at a rate of 38.9 percent — but his curve was also terrific, inducing five whiffs (18.5 percent) in 27 instances. While a lot of the focus was on his slider, he actually threw it less frequently (18 times) than the curve (27).
Regardless of the method, it worked.
Give credit wherever it needs to go, but Gibson made pitches when he had to, as the Rays were a combined 1-for-12 on the night with runners in scoring position. Part of that was Fernando Rodney putting out a fire late, but Gibson had the Rays out of sorts all evening long.
Especially Daniel Robertson and C.J. Cron, who were a combined 1-for-8 on the night with seven strikeouts. Cron’s hit came late in the game — against Ryan Pressly, and not Gibson — so….yeah. Gibson held them 0-for-7 with seven strikeouts.
The Twins had a plan for Snell, and executed it well
The first four hitters to face Snell each saw at least five pitches, and by the end of the inning, the lefty had thrown a total of 30 pitches. The first two batters in the second saw a total of 14 pitches, and by the end of two frames, Snell had thrown 50 pitches.
Then in the third, Eddie Rosario flipped the script by lining the second pitch he saw to center for the first out. Brian Dozier singled to center on the sixth pitch he saw, and Robbie Grossman doubled to bring home Dozier on the fifth pitch he saw. He was chased home on a Jorge Polanco double, and as a result, the Twins had a 3-0 lead.
It was an uncharacteristically shaky outing from Snell, who allowed more runs in three innings in this game (three) than he had in his previous four starts combined (two) over 28.2 innings.
Pressly made it a little interesting in the ninth
Rookie Jake Bauers greeted him with a first-pitch single, and that was a beginning of things to come for Pressly, who recorded just one out while loading the bases with a four-run lead.
Wilson Ramos followed with a six-pitch walk before Ji-Man Choi struck out swinging, but after Cron singled to right, manager Paul Molitor signaled for Rodney, who got Joey Wendle to tap back to the mound for a force out at home and then a Matt Duffy swinging strikeout on a fading changeup in the dirt.
Two singles and a walk are certainly no cause for concern, but it is worth noting that both batted balls were fairly well-hit. Bauers’ single came off the bat at 91.7 mph, and Cron’s was even firmer at 94.1. Pressly has seen a few hiccups this season, but for the most part has been pretty solid.
There wasn’t a ton of offense to go around, but the Twins executed at the right times
The two big insurance runs the Twins scored in the seventh came on a single that Joe Mauer dumped down the left-field line that Bauers surprisingly didn’t come up with. Baseball Savant listed it as having a hit probability of just 4 percent. Speaking of All-Star snubs, Rosario followed with a home run — his 19th of the season — into the flower pots that just barely snuck out.
The hit probability on that one? A mere 29 percent.
Grossman’s RBI double was a poke down the right-field line past Cron off the bat at just 74.3 mph — hit probability of 7 percent — and Polanco’s double that followed was his first hit all season against a left-handed pitcher.
He was 0-for-15 against southpaws to that point.
And the other Twins run? Max Kepler came home on a double play ball hit by Bobby Wilson.
That’s a pretty unconventional way to score five runs.
Willians Astudillo struck out (?) (!)
That almost never happens!
No seriously, Astudillo hadn’t struck out in a game since June 11 — more than a month! — and has struck out a total of just 10 times all year in 208 plate appearances (between two levels).
By comparison, Ehire Adrianza — who strikes out right around the league-average rate — has 210 plate appearances this year, and has fanned 50 times.
Former Twins farmhand Chih-Wei Hu did a nice job in relief for the Rays
The Twins traded Hu for Kevin Jepsen back during their 2015 (attempted) run toward the division crown, and the righty has bounced back and forth between Triple-A Durham and the big leagues over the last two seasons.
Hu came into Thursday night’s game with just 12 2/3 innings of big-league action under his belt, but tossed five innings of two-run ball — the Rosario homer — with three strikeouts, no walks and just two hits allowed to give the Rays a big lift.
A short start like this can really mess up a pitching staff — though maybe the Rays are uniquely constructed to handle it better based on the Sergio Romo/Ryne Stanek/etc. starts — but Hu did a nice job not only picking up the slack, but keeping the Twins offense at bay to at least give his offense a chance at a comeback.
It didn’t pan out, but now the bullpen should be well-rested for the rest of the weekend.
- The win pushed the Twins to 7-1 on the homestand and 27-21 at Target Field this season.
- The Rays fell to 22-28 away from Tropicana Field this season.
- Dozier extended his hitting streak to seven games.
- Snell’s start was his shortest since lasting just an inning against the Yankees back on Sept. 26, 2017.
- Thursday marked the third time in Gibson’s career that he’s pitched at least eight innings without walking a batter.
- The Twins can even their record at 11-11 against AL East foes with a win on Friday night.