The beginning of this week was supposed to bring so much hope to the Minnesota Twins.
Byron Buxton returned on Tuesday and played a pivotal role in the team’s 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Josh Donaldson returned on Wednesday, and like Buxton was a big part in another win over the White Sox.
But it was Donaldson’s second plate appearance of the game that pretty much typified how the season has gone for the Twins on the injury front. Donaldson smoked a 2-2 pitch from Reynaldo Lopez back up the box for an RBI double, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead and chasing Lopez from the game altogether.
The double scored Ryan Jeffers and Max Kepler, but when the Twins went back out for the top of the third, Marwin Gonzalez had replaced Kepler in right field. One of the broadcasters noticed Kepler coming up a little lame when rounding third base and coming home, and the replay showed it clear as day.
Kepler was placed on the injured list prior to Friday’s doubleheader, with the Twins selecting the contract of Brent Rooker. Kepler’s official diagnosis is a left adductor strain — or in other words, a strained groin.
And while it’ll be interesting to get a look at Rooker for the first time, this is just another impedance on the path to having a semi-healthy roster for the Twins.
Sure, Mitch Garver still isn’t back yet. Neither are Jake Odorizzi, Cody Stashak or Homer Bailey. But getting back Buxton and Donaldson in the same week was supposed to be — along with Michael Pineda — akin to making waves at the trade deadline.
But like most of this season has been for the Twins, it’s a step backward for each step forward injury-wise.
It wasn’t just Kepler, either. Luis Arraez left the game three innings later with left knee soreness — a hinge that’s been bothering him all season long.
As we’ve noted before, the Twins have the depth to weather a storm like this better than most teams. Gonzalez is more than capable of filling in pretty much wherever Minnesota needs him — like he will in right field against Matthew Boyd in Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader. Ehire Adrianza can hang defensively anywhere in the infield. Both of these guys have struggled with the bat, but that’s in a small sample size that may or may not mean much to this point, anyway.
And while it’s certainly good the Twins have this depth — and that it’s staked them to a 94-win pace in a full season and an almost-certain playoff bid — it’d certainly be nice to see the team somewhere near 100 percent before October hits. Minnesota has 22 games left — 20 after Friday — with each day making that less and less likely.
It sure feels like health is going to win this October, so it’ll be worth monitoring where the Twins are on that front the rest of the way.
As someone who grew up a Twins fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch briefly on the end of Bert Blyleven‘s broadcasting career with the team. He spent 25 years covering the Twins as a color commentator next to Dick Bremer, and that corresponds almost exactly with the length of how long I’ve been watching the team (since 1993).
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Bert no longer had his fastball in the booth. But how many of us would as we crept closer to the age of 70?
The writing was pretty clearly on the wall the last few years as the Twins phased Bert out more and more, but it still seemed to take him by surprise when he announced on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that the game that evening would be his final in his existing role.
The game was business as usual in a lot of ways, though Blyleven did briefly address the situation and the fans prior to the game.
It’s going to be strange to not hear Blyleven’s voice over the airwaves moving forward. I think growing up on warm summer nights with the game on just became such a galvanized part of my childhood that maybe even still I’m not entirely aware of how different it’ll be.
But from celebrating his birthday all year long, the years of him just missing the Hall of Fame only to finally make it, to betting Johan Santana a buzz cut to all of his other on-air hijinks, I think I can speak for a lot of Twins Territory when I say “Happy Trails, Bert.”
You were good to me as a media member when all I wanted to do was talk about Alexander Smit over dinner in 2010.
You were good to me as a fan when I leaned over the railing at the Metrodome and told you that you were my brother’s favorite broadcaster. “Why?” you deadpanned. I’ll never forget that.
I also think you’ll be good in your role as special assistant, and I think you’ll still be a familiar face around Fort Myers — especially at fantasy camp.
But I think I speak for everyone’s parents — and especially grandparents — when I say that Twins baseball won’t quite be the same without you.