Poor Alex Cobb.
For the second time in a week, Cobb had to face a Minnesota Twins offense hellbent on destroying any potential of him having a good season. For the second time in a week, it did just that.
Through three starts, Cobb has given up a staggering nine home runs — and that included giving up four on Friday night at Target Field in a 6-1 loss to the Twins in the series opener.
Luckily for Mr. Cobb, he won’t see the Twins again this season.
Martin Perez was solid for the Twins, spinning six innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts, no walks and just six hits, while Ryne Harper, Matt Magill, Trevor May and Fernando Romero took care of the rest on the way to Minnesota picking up its 14th win of the season — and sixth in 10 games at home.
Here’s what I saw:
The turning point
Oddly enough, it wasn’t any of the five homers the Twins popped, but a mammoth plate appearance by Jorge Polanco that simply resulted in a grounder to short. Polanco saw 11 pitches from Cobb — six splitters, three four-seam fastballs and two knucklecurves — before grounding a splitter to short for the second out of the first inning.
That’s when the barrage began.
Cruz worked a 2-2 count before driving a knucklecurve out to the berm in right-center, and Rosario followed on the next pitch by driving one to the exact opposite part of the berm in left-center.
While Cruz wasn’t looking for the knucklecurve necessarily — since both homers came against the pitch — Rosario said he definitely was looking for it.
“Yes. I saw video of a couple of my at-bats against him,” Rosario said. “Every time, first pitch (was a) curveball. I missed the first time in the last game in Baltimore. But tonight I didn’t miss it.”
Rosario and Cruz both agreed, however, that Polanco’s at-bat was pivotal in the inning playing out the way it did. The Twins went back-to-back-to-back with Cruz, Rosario and Cron over the span of six pitches to get the Target Field crowd amped up early on.
“That helped a lot,” Rosario said of Polanco’s approach. “When you see that, you are going to compete. You see Polanco fighting, fighting. And Nelson too, he fought a lot and after hitting a bomb, that’s good. That’s teamwork.”
“You see a lot of pitches from the guy in front of you,” Cruz said of Polanco. “It gives you a good idea of what to expect. It’s basically what’s working for him.”
Kepler’s bat is showing signs of life
Prior to Friday night’s action, Kepler had been just 2 for his last 14 at the plate dating back to the Toronto series. Kepler got in on the long ball action in the fourth inning, pasting a Cobb pitch 439 feet into the Minneapolis night, onto the new lawn by Gate 34 to give the Twins a 5-0 lead after Rosario had scored on a Joey Rickard error an inning earlier.
Kepler went 2 for 4 on the night, and in the process lifted his season hitting line to .250/.329/.447. His homer was the hardest-hit ball of the night, with StatCast reporting an exit velocity of 112.3 mph.
Cruz had a monster game
Cruz hit homers in the first and fourth inning to push his season total to five, his season line to .308/.423/.600 and his career total to 29 multi-homer games — including two this season.
Cruz started the back-to-back-to-back homer sequence in the first inning, which was the first for the Twins since Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Kepler did so on June 26, 2016 in New York against Nathan Eovaldi.
Perez was terrific
The veteran lefty wasn’t perfect, but proved to be up to the task when the need arose. Only 11 of the 24 batters he faced saw first-pitch strikes, but in all, Perez threw 64 of his 96 pitches for strikes, and got a solid 11 swinging strikes on the night — eight on the cutter and one apiece on the changeup, four- and two-seam fastballs.
Perez touched 96 with his fastball but mostly threw cutters (47) of them to keep the young Orioles off-balance. “I threw a lot of cutters in,” Perez said. “They (didn’t) make any adjustments to that pitch. That’s why I threw a lot of cutters in and up and changeups down and away. I think everything was good tonight.”
It might have come against a team not expected to do much this season, but Perez has seen his confidence skyrocket in recent outings as he’s been able to hit each part of the strike zone with all of his pitches.
“I think right now I’m covering all the zones with all my pitches,” he said. “Now I’m pitching corner to corner and up and down. That’s the most important thing as a pitcher, you’ve got to move the ball around. You don’t have to throw a lot of strikes and you don’t have to be in the zone every time.
“That’s what happened when I was with the Rangers before. I threw a lot of strikes and gave up a lot of base hits late in the game. Right now I’m a different guy, a different pitcher. One thing that I believe — I believe in myself again and I believe my stuff. I know that I feel good and everything feels good.”
The top of the order was all Baltimore had going for it
The Orioles offense went 8 for 34 on the night, but Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar were a combined 5 for 9 with the rest of the offense going 3 for 25 (.120). Mancini’s ground-rule double off Matt Magill in the eighth inning was the team’s only extra-base hit of the night, and let to the team’s only real threat late as the O’s loaded the bases before Trevor May came in and got a groundout to end the threat.
Homers can make fans forget about “clutch” hitting
The Twins hit five homers and in general had fans buzzing all night, but the team was 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position as the two teams combined to hit just 1 for 18 in that department.
That’s not to say that any of this really matters — clutch is more of an abstract concept than anything else — but it’s just funny to see how public perception is skewed by results rather than process.
Willians Astudillo made it a memorable “La Tortuga Night” with a single late
On his special night, Astudillo didn’t start but came off the bench to pinch hit for Cron. Astudillo swung out of his shoes on the first two pitches, checked his swing on the third and ultimately drove a single into left-center to make for a happy ending to this part of the story.
“I think we follow Astudillo,” Cruz said with a laugh when asked about his team’s offensive exploits. “He’s very aggressive. We’re getting into his approach, going out there and taking hacks early, I guess. We are an aggressive team. We all have different approaches. It’s nice to not only have the guys that swing early or the guys that take at-bats and see a lot of pitches, too, like we mentioned, Polanco.”
Was it clear this Disney movie was one waiting to be written when Astudillo came up to the plate in the eighth inning?
Cruz says yes.
“It was obvious he was going to hit,” Cruz said. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is something they’ve already seen as a movie they’ve already watched.'”
Notes and Quotes
- Schoop has a hit in all four games against his former team this season.
- May has stranded all five runners he’s inherited this season.
- The Twins are 4-0 against the Orioles this season.
- Perez on throwing more changeups and just in general altering his repertoire against the Orioles: “I think baseball has changed a lot, man. Every team has a lot of information about pitchers. It doesn’t matter if you have junk or if this is your first time in the big leagues. They have the information we have, and if you have a plan when you go in to pitch, you’re going to have a good game and good results.”
- Rosario on if it helped to see a pitcher a second time in such a short span: “Yes of course, 100 percent. Tomorrow is another pitcher who threw the last time in Baltimore. Now you know what they got and what they do to you.”
- Rocco Baldelli on Jonathan Schoop defensively: “He’s got some unique abilities over there. I’ve had a chance to watch him play for a long time. First of all, he’s a big, strong guy, he’s got a tremendous arm. So, he can make throws from different angles. He doesn’t have to set his feet, really, in any particular way. He can just get rid of the ball … and it gets there very, very quickly. It’s fun. It’s a true weapon, and watching him turn a double play is pretty unique because he has his own style, too, which is pretty cool, to watch a guy do it his own way. He can turn a double play with the best of them. He gives us a chance to do things. We can play him at different spots on the field at times because of that arm he has, and we don’t mind it when he gets involved in relays. He can do a lot of things.”