It really is quite strange.
No matter where the Minnesota Twins play the St. Louis Cardinals this season, they seem to have their number. That trend continued on Tuesday night, as the Twins took down the Cardinals 4-1 thanks in large part to putting up a three-spot in the seventh inning.
The Cardinals (25-18) came in just one game off the pace of first-place Milwaukee, while the Twins (18-20) were just a half-game further back of Cleveland, though clearly thanks to an inferior division to this point.
The Jose Berrios-Jack Flaherty battle was a good one, and the bats from both sides were complicit as each team scratched across just a single run through the game’s first six-and-a-half innings.
That’s when the Twins offense went to work.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Berrios was absolutely brilliant
Break it down however you want, but Berrios had the Cardinals eating out of the palm of his hands on Tuesday night.
Berrios pitched into the eighth inning for the first time since his season-opening start in Baltimore, fanning 10 batters in 7.1 innings while allowing just two hits, one walk and an earned run.
The Cardinals pushed across the game’s first run in the third inning, but that was it against Berrios. Harrison Bader singled to short center, moved to second when Kolten Wong grounded back to Berrios and scored on a Carson Kelly single back up the middle.
After that, it was smooth sailing for Berrios, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney, as the only other Cardinals batters to reach were Paul DeJong on a leadoff walk in the fifth and Wong getting hit by a pitch in the eighth — the baserunner which prompted Berrios’ removal from the game.
In all, that pitching trio retired 20 of the final 22 batters they faced, with neither of the other two leaving first base.
A lot of the chatter about Berrios’ broken curveball was merited coming into Tuesday, but he allayed those fears with a strong night (see below). Coming into Puerto Rico, Berrios had allowed an average of .095 and the same slugging percentage on the curve. In the four starts since, opponents were hitting .333 with a slugging percentage of 1.000 against the offering.
Statistically, the curveball was absolutely dazzling, inducing nine swinging strikes on the night (27.3 percent). For anyone not aware, that’s the number of swinging strikes/total pitches. Maybe this better shows his dominance: Berrios threw 15 curves that the Cardinals swung at, and they missed nine of them.
“I worked between my last start and this one on my curveball,” Berrios said. “Today the result was there. I worked a lot with my legs, and staying behind the ball.”
In all, Berrios had 16 swinging strikes — again, 10 percent is about league average — with nine on the curve, five on the four-seam fastball (11.1 percent), one on the changeup (50 percent) and one on the two-seamer (4.5 percent).
In all, it was a dominant effort from a youngster who really needed one.
These three GIFs give a pretty good example of how good Berrios’ breaking stuff looked on the night:
Jose Berrios, Filthy 82mph Curveball. ???? pic.twitter.com/2btGj0Lk2I
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 16, 2018
Jose Berrios, Ridiculous 82mph Curveball. ???? pic.twitter.com/bZFn10mfsE
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 16, 2018
Jose Berrios, Ridiculous 83mph Curveball (again). ???? pic.twitter.com/EIBXHseGN6
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 16, 2018
*extremely Sesame Street voice* “These three pitches brought to you by the letters W, T and F!”
Flaherty was as advertised for the Cardinals…
The Cardinals called up the youngster after putting Adam Wainright on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, and he showed no indication whatsoever that he was making just his seventh MLB start.
Manager Paul Molitor said before the game that while Flaherty has enough velocity, it wasn’t necessarily the primary worry as they prepared for him. Instead, the idea was that the slider was his best pitch, but overall the total package was just going to be a very polished pitcher, despite his age and experience level.
Flaherty threw 98 pitches over 5.2 innings, firing 60 strikes while getting a modest six swinging strikes. Part of that was probably because he had a very Lance Lynn-like approach, throwing 74 of his 98 pitches as either a four- or two-seam fastball. He only leaned on the slider 15 times, and got two of his six swinging strikes on it.
All told, though, he had plenty of velocity. He averaged 93.6 mph on his four-seamer — which he threw 57 times — and flashed as high as 97.2 with it. To me, that’s a pitcher who can add and subtract, and more importantly, can keep some in the tank for later in the game.
He’s going to be a very, very good one if he can stay healthy.
…unfortunately — for St. Louis, anyway — so too was the bullpen
The expectation was that the Cardinals bullpen would be fairly solid this season, and that hasn’t exactly been the case. Adding Greg Holland has not helped, and neither have injuries to Dominic Leone and Tyler Lyons.
The short answer is that the Cardinals are long on inexperience, and have to mix-and-match late in games to get to Bud Norris, who isn’t exactly an established closer.
But the trouble is that it was two of the team’s most senior relievers who had the biggest issues on Tuesday night. Brett Cecil did his job to strand Eddie Rosario at second base by getting Max Kepler to fly to right to end the sixth, but gave up a booming double to Logan Morrison to start the seventh before manager Mike Matheny called upon Luke Gregerson.
Gregerson has been a dependable middle reliever for almost a decade, but has run into some hiccups so far this season. He came in with an ERA of 6.75 — though in just eight innings and with a FIP of 3.89 — and found himself in immediate trouble as he faced off with Byron Buxton.
Buxton insisted on giving Gregerson the out to move up Morrison, but instead, Gregerson threw the ball down the right-field line. This allowed Morrison to score the go-ahead run — quite a reversal of fortune from the night before — and permitted Buxton to cruise into second.
Ehire Adrianza followed that up with a grounder to first after Buxton picked up third on a wild pitch, and in stepped backup catcher Bobby Wilson.
After failing to get down the bunt, Wilson swung away — and connected for the 17th home run of his career and his first in a Twins uniform. Target Field and the dugout erupted as Wilson thundered around the bases to give the Twins a 4-1 lead.
So between Cecil and Gregerson, just two outs were recorded but three hits and three earned runs came across.
Not great, Bob.
OK, so we still don’t love the bunt — but it worked
There’s no denying that Buxton hasn’t been swinging it well since coming off the DL — though he did hit a rocket to Bader in right in the second inning — and there’s always the chance he can beat out even a bunt that isn’t perfectly placed.
In fact, that’s something Molitor has been telling him over and over again.
But let’s assume it goes as a sacrifice. Who is Buxton setting up to drive home the go-ahead run from third base with one out?
Adrianza, who is hitting .233/.296/.288, and Wilson, who despite his heroism is hitting .133/.167/.400 in very, very limited time this season.
It worked out, there’s no question about it, but if the Twins come away empty there, fans would certainly see things a bit differently.
There’s just something about Wilson that makes him so likable — like hitting big homers
Maybe it’s because we half expect him to come up to the plate with a hard hat on instead of a batting helmet? Maybe it’s because we all have that friend with the infectious smile where their cheeks obscure their eyes a bit as they grin from ear to ear?
Whatever the reason, Wilson just comes across as very likable, even after FoxSports1’s Ken Rosenthal — another very likable fellow in the business — reminded him that he hadn’t hit a big-league homer in nearly two years:
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) May 16, 2018
Also: LoMo loves him some Bobby:
Ultimately, Wilson does a really nice job behind the plate and can run into one every now and then at the plate.
Molitor said it best, frankly:
“Maybe he’s one of those guys who only goes a stretch where he’s 2-for-15. But in that time frame, he’s gonna drive home four of five runs. He knows how to get guys in from third in that situation.”
Was Wilson glad he missed the bunt? He paused on it for a second, smiled, then answered.
“Yeah,” he said, with a grin that spanned the width of his ears. “I would have liked to get it down. We talked about it before I went up to the plate. With Buck running over at third, I just have to get it down anywhere and he’s probably going to score.”
Overall, it was a balanced effort for the Twins offensively
While Berrios and friends were busy holding a potent Cardinals offense to just two hits, the Twins cobbled together nine of their own. Kepler (0-for-4) was the only Twin without a hit — though he did make a great bone-rattling catch against the fence in right — and Eduardo Escobar (2-for-4) was the only one with more than one.
Otherwise, it was one hit apiece up and down the order. For a team that needs to band together offensively until Miguel Sano returns and a few other guys get their swings going, that’s probably the right approach.
Fernando Rodney is rolling
Don’t look now, but Rodney’s ERA is down to 3.07, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run since Gary Sanchez took him deep for a walk-off homer in the Bronx.
That’s already three weeks ago — as hard as that seems to be to imagine — and some of his rates are coming down in lockstep with his ERA. The WHIP is still a mite high at 1.43, and he has walked seven batters in 14.2 innings, but other than a two-walk performance against the Angels on Saturday, he’s hadn’t walked a batter since facing Toronto back on May 1 at home.
- Wednesday’s game is a noon start, and will pit former Cardinals righty Lance Lynn against first-year Cardinals righty Miles Mikolas. It’s a classic “revenge game” scenario, especially since Mikolas is the guy signed to replace Lynn.
- The win improved the Twins to 8-8 at Target Field this season.
- The Twins are 13-12 against the Cardinals all-time and 3-0 at Target Field.
- Brian Dozier celebrated his 31st birthday on Tuesday by reaching base twice.
- Rosario is hitting .368 in the month of May, according to the game notes.
- Adrianza (1-for-3) extended his hitting streak to a modest four games.