If last year was the season of heartbreak and ugly one-run losses for the Minnesota Twins, so far 2019 has been a complete 180.
That dynamic was in play in a quick two-game series in Kansas City on Monday and Tuesday, as the Twins battled from behind two win a pair of one-run games, 5-4 and 7-6.
The Royals opened the scoring in each game, and led heading into the eighth before coughing up runs to send Monday to extra innings and Tuesday to a crushing loss in the ninth.
The one constant in the series for Kansas City was Adalberto Mondesi, who went 5 for 10 with three extra-base hits — a homer, double and triple — in the two games. Otherwise, the bullpen struggled to hold up its end of the bargain after fairly strong outings from Brad Keller and Homer Bailey.
Jose Berrios was effective but uneven in Monday night’s win, completing seven innings but not picking up his first strikeout of the evening until the fifth inning. Kyle Gibson, on the other hand, looked a little rusty in his 2019 debut, and was unable to complete five innings after a tough last frame.
Here’s what I saw
Mondesi couldn’t be stopped
Mondesi’s turnaround as a player is nothing short of terrific, as the 23-year-old shortstop was an all-glove, no-hit player for the first two years of his career before something tripped in him. Through his first 72 MLB games, Mondesi hit .181/.226/.271. In the 80 games since, he’s hit .286/.313/.529. He’s also stolen 33 bases, or in other words, has become Jonathan Schoop with the bat and a 60 stolen base threat on the bases.
He’s a man possessed and he doesn’t look to be cooling down anytime soon.
Gibson’s troubles could be traced to one plate appearance
In the fifth inning of Tuesday’s game, Gibson got ahead of Billy Hamilton 1-2 with a pair of changeups and a curve. Then, he went slider, two-seam fastball and changeup to walk the speedy Hamilton — a career .245/.298/.332 hitter.
One fastball in six pitches to a guy who has been that bad in his career — and not good this year either — just seems like a foolish decision.
Worse yet, there were two outs in the inning and the Twins were up, 3-1. There was really no way throwing straight fastballs could hurt the Twins that much.
Hamilton has 21 career homers and 87 doubles in almost 700 big-league games. He’s not jumping the yard and likely isn’t going to hit the ball for extra bases. On the other hand, Hamilton has 278 career steals — about one every two or three games — and could easily turn a walk (191 in his career) into a ‘double.’
This feels like a grievous miscalculation.
Hamilton stole second with Whit Merrifield up. Oh yeah, this also turned the order over. The only part of the order that is truly worrisome with the Royals is at the top — barring Ryan O’Hearn repeating 2018 — and that’s exactly what happened.
Merrifield singled to center to score Mondesi, and two batters later scored on a three-run homer from Alex Gordon to give the Royals a 6-3 lead.
The Twins wound up winning, but this was an easily avoidable situation.
It felt like the Twins wouldn’t have won either of these games a year ago
The Twins were just 15-21 in one-run games last season, and especially bad early in the season. They were dreadful on the road (29-52), and Kansas City had their number early. They had just a .308 winning percentage in close road games last season — the equivalent of a 50-112 season — and in general just didn’t compete well in situations where they got behind.
And yet, Nelson Cruz delivered the victory with a 10th inning single to right field on Monday night, and Eddie Rosario did the same in the ninth on Tuesday after Cruz singled, Byron Buxton pinch ran for him and stole second base and then came around on Eddie’s single.
Manager Rocco Baldelli was especially impressed:
What more can be said about Astudillo? He’s been very good defensively — both behind the plate and even at third base, where he started on Tuesday — and with the bat, he still hasn’t struck out while starting the year 6 for 9 from the plate.
Got your tickets for La Tortuga Night yet?
The wall took Buxton, but Tyler Austin got retribution
Buxton ran into the center field fence attempting to make a catch in Monday night’s game on Mondesi’s inside-the-park homer, and ended up being removed from the game for precautionary reasons due to a sore back.
On Tuesday, Mr. Austin got sweet revenge, as he ran into the wall — but hung onto the ball.
Here’s a poor quality replay of it from YouTube:
And here he is discussing the play with Marney Gellner of Fox Sports North:
- Through five games, the Twins have just one stolen base. Eleven MLB players have more on their own.
- Cruz is sixth in baseball with a hard-hit rate of 61.5 percent.
- Cruz is tied with Kolten Wong for second in MLB in win probability added (+0.82).
- No player in baseball is seeing changeups more often than Rosario (25.8 percent).
- Opposing pitchers have thrown first-pitch strikes to Schoop on 85.7 percent of his plate appearances this season — fifth-most in baseball (min. 10 PA).
- Astudillo is second in MLB (min. 10 PA) in swing rate at 69.2 percent, yet still hasn’t struck out this season.