The Minnesota Twins are fully in “evaluate” mode with the season starting its final six or so weeks, and part of that is getting players up in the big leagues who otherwise might not have been expected to contribute if things had gone to plan.
And as we’ve seen all year with this particular Twins club, almost nothing has gone to plan.
One of those players who got the chance to strut his stuff was Kohl Stewart, the team’s 2013 first-round pick who got his first big-league call for a Sunday start at Comerica Park on the same day Jack Morris’ vaunted No. 47 was retired by the home team.
Stewart got through four innings unscathed before running into trouble in the fifth, and for all intents and purposes, it was an acceptable debut — one perhaps granting him the chance to face the Tigers at Target Field this upcoming weekend.
But it was another ho-hum series for the Twins, as they dropped the bookends while stealing a one-run win on Saturday after closer du jour Trevor Hildenberger’s recent struggles continued.
The Twins have Monday off before starting a short — just under a week — homestand with Pittsburgh and Detroit coming in for six games before a one-off with the White Sox to make up for an early-season snow-out.
How long ago does that feel like?
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Tyler Austin’s swing reminds me a lot of Josh Willingham
Austin wasted little time showing off his skill set to Twins fans, homering in his second at-bat with the team off lefty Francisco Liriano to give his team a 3-1 lead.
Austin’s most obvious skill at the big-league level to this point has been his power — 16 homers in 87 games, a pace of 30 in 162 games — and especially so against southpaws, against whom he’s slashed .290/.367/.613 in 109 plate appearances.
Even if the rest of his game never develops, Austin’s skill of hitting lefties is why guys like Danny Valencia have hung around for so long.
But it’s another former Twin whose swing I see when he connects. Sorry for the difficulty in syncing up these videos — blame MLB’s arcane media policies — but if you can get both videos up, maybe you’ll see what I see as well.
(fast forward to about 34 seconds for Austin homer)
I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy? But I see the same sort of bat whip through the zone at the point of contact.
Kyle Gibson – still solid
Gibson tossed seven strong innings on Saturday, allowing just one earned run on seven hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks to run his season ERA down to 3.49.
Gibson threw 19 first-pitch strikes to the 28 batters he faced, and got seven swinging strikes on his 111 pitches. It wasn’t the type of Gibson performance we’ve come to expect this season in a lot of ways — swinging strikes, strikeouts, etc. — but the tall righty got back to some of the things that have made him the pitcher he is by inducing 10 grounders from the 22 batters he faced that didn’t walk/strike out.
The nice thing was that Gibson was able to get back on track after allowing five earned runs last time out against the White Sox. Over his last 10 starts, Gibson has allowed three or fewer earned runs seven times, and his ERA has never strayed too far from the mark it’s at right now over that stretch.
Ervin Santana is still struggling with velocity
Santana gave up five earned runs in six innings — despite allowing just four hits — with five strikeouts and a pair of walks, but the primary damage was a pair of two-run homers coming from Niko Goodrum in the fourth inning and Jose Iglesias an inning later.
It hasn’t exactly been pretty for Santana since his return from the disabled list (6.53 ERA), and a large reason why is because his fastball velocity has been so slow to return.
In Friday’s start, Santana’s fastball averaged 88.8 mph and peaked at 90.6.
For the season, Fangraphs has Santana averaging just 88.7 mph on his heater — a full 4.0 mph off his career average (92.7).
It’s only been four starts, but that pitch is a fairly big part of Santana’s repertoire, and opposing batters are hitting .226/.316/.548 against it. That large gap in average and on-base percentage means that he’s throwing it in a lot of three-ball counts, too.
Getting deep into counts with diminished stuff is not a good sign for Santana.
Stewart’s debut went about as well as could have been expected
Stewart cruised through four innings before hitting turbulence in the fifth, and was ultimately out of the game after recording just one out in the inning.
Stewart fanned just one batter and walked one, and ultimately allowed eight hits and three earned runs — a 6.23 ERA. The ERA probably feels a bit high because he was mostly singled to death in the fifth — with a potential questionable decision by Ehire Adrianza at third base — but ultimately for a guy who has only fanned 6.4 batters per nine innings over his 570.2-inning minor-league career, getting just two swinging strikes on 74 pitches isn’t all that surprising.
He missed some bats at Chattanooga this year — 9.4 K/9 with a swinging-strike rate of 11 percent — but he’ll have to work to get that number up in the big leagues. Those numbers fell to 6.6 and 7 percent in his time with the Red Wings this year, and there’s no guarantee he still possesses the kind of stuff necessary to be anything more than a Mike Pelfrey clone at this level.
Hildenberger’s struggles are getting a bit alarming
Ask a crowd of 100 semi-intelligent Twins fans who they think the most consistent reliever on the team has been this year, and almost all of them will tell you it’s Hildenberger. Maybe there’d be a few Fernando Rodneys and Ryan Presslys mixed in, but of those still on the roster, Hildenberger almost certainly has to get the nod.
And yet, his ERA has done nothing but steadily climb since it was all the way down to 2.06 back on June 28.
Hildenberger got roughed up by the Cubs in his final appearance of June — four earned runs against just one out recorded — and since then, he’s posted a 10.70 ERA while allowing five homers in 17.2 innings and a slash line of .372/.427/.692.
Hildenberger’s July was not very good — 5.40 ERA, .818 OPS against, 14-4 K/BB ratio in 11.2 innings — but his August has blown the doors off the barn. He’s allowed earned runs — multiple — in each of his last four appearances, and in six outings in August has a 14.29 ERA with four homers allowed in just 5.2 innings.
There’s certainly something going on here. Either he’s tipping pitches or maybe he’s not 100 percent, but it doesn’t feel like the league has suddenly figured him out or anything to that effect. We’ll see how quickly the Twins can implement a fix.
Logan Morrison’s season is over
The year is done for one of the most disappointing free-agent signings in Twins history. Morrison will undergo surgery for a left hip impingement, and that brings his season with the Twins to an end with a slash line of .186/.276/.368. Morrison hit 15 home runs and 13 doubles, but was otherwise quiet in his 95-game stint with the club.
The Twins hold an $8 million option with a $1 million buyout for next year, but even if they don’t exercise it, it might make sense to bring him back as a cheap(er) option to see if he can bounce back. Hips are no joke, though.
Another Logan (Forsythe) has been a pleasant surprise
Both sides of this trade have gone onto bigger and better things, as Brian Dozier has been a godsend to the Dodgers at second base, while manager Paul Molitor has been able to move the malleable Forsythe all over the lineup while he’s hit .405/.463/.459 through 11 games so far.
Eleven games is a very small sample, but it has pushed his season line up considerably. His OPS+ for the season has gone up 17 points — almost unheard of at this time of year — and his average (32 points), on-base percentage (32 points) and slugging percentage (27 points) have all taken big leaps since his departure from Los Angeles.
He’s not a long-term chip — though he is in just his age-31 season — but it might make sense to bring him back cheaply next year as the Twins look to build a bridge to Nick Gordon. There will be a lot of decent second basemen available in the offseason — Ian Kinsler, Neil Walker, Dozier, Forsythe and a few others — so it seems likely the Twins can find a stopgap at a reasonable price.
It’s also worth noting that Forsythe is still hitting just .239/.302/.317 on the year, so it’s not like we’re going overboard with praise.
Nobody will wear No. 47 for Detroit again
It’s the summer of Black Jack, as Mr. Morris not only made the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but also had his uniform number retired by the Detroit Tigers this past Sunday.
Morris was with the Tigers from his rookie season of 1977 until he signed with the Twins prior to the 1991 season. In his 14 years with the Tigers, Morris won 198 of his 254 career games and put together a 3.73 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
Other retired numbers for the Tigers include No. 2 Charlie Gehringer, No. 5 Hank Greenberg, No. 6 Al Kaline, No. 11 Sparky Anderson, No. 16 Hal Newhouser, No. 23 Willie Horton and of course, No. 42 Jackie Robinson.
That’s quite hallowed territory for No. 47.
- The Twins led in all three games of the series.
- Here’s how the Twins offense ranks in offensive numbers for the month of August: 82 wRC+ (23rd), 6.8 percent walk rate (23rd), 24.3 percent strikeout rate (fourth), nine home runs (23rd)
- Here’s how the Twins pitching staff ranks in August: 7.0 K/9 (26th), 3.3 BB/9 (20th), 4.07 ERA (13th), 4.53 FIP (25th)