Week in Review: Back in Business – Twins

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/18 through Sun, 7/24
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Record Last Week: 2-0 (Overall: 52-44)
Run Differential Last Week: +12 (Overall: +40)
Standings: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA)

Last Week’s Game Results:

Game 95 | MIN 8, DET 4: Twins Come Out of Break with Convincing Win
Game 96 | MIN 9, DET 1: Bats Break Out Late to Complete Short Sweep

NEWS & NOTES

Miguel Sanó‘s rehab stint concluded with a bang in St. Paul on Saturday, when the slugger went 3-for-3 with a walk and a home run to round out a 12-game stretch between rookie ball and Triple-A in which he slashed .333/.422/.795 with five home runs .

He’s ready for another shot. Are the Twins inclined to give it to him?

For all their pitching problems, the Twins have been pretty well set offensively and don’t have an obvious opening in the lineup (or even on the roster) for Sanó. If they want to accommodate his return, they can probably use him semi-regularly at first base or DH while dropping Gilberto Celestino from the bench. An IL move for Max Keplerwho came out of Sunday’s game, would also create room.

I suspect one of those things will happen when the deadline for a decision arrives on Tuesday, because the long-stagnating Twins need a spark that he’s uniquely equipped to provide. Still, it’s no guarantee we’ll see Sanó in a Twins uniform again. There’s a very realistic chance they DFA him or trade him for peanuts and move on.

Ahead of their game in Detroit on Saturday, the Twins placed Caleb Thielbar on the injured list with a hamstring strain and recalled right-hander Yennier Canó. It sounds like Thielbar got hurt in the last game before the break, and the team hoped he’d have enough time off to be ready for action, but that wasn’t the case. He’s a sneaky big loss in this bullpen because Thielbar has vastly out-pitched his underwhelming ERA.

We also learned that on Saturday Byron Buxton would miss the entire Detroit series after receiving a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in his right knee on Wednesday to aid healing. The timing is interesting, as it suggests Buxton and the Twins decided to delay this planned procedure until after his All-Star Game appearance.

That decision exposed his knee to further risk in an exhibition, while potentially costing him one or more meaningful games for the Twins, who are guarding a pretty narrow lead in the AL Central. But it also meant giving Buck an opportunity to go to Los Angeles and showcase himself as a star – boy did he.

HIGHLIGHTS

If you had to succinctly explain why Buxton and Luis Arraez were in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, it would be this: Buxton has been the king of game-changing home runs, and Arraez has been the king of finding his way on base .

They both brought these qualities out on the national stage.

Buxton earned MVP consideration by hitting the go-ahead homer following a game-tying two-run blast from the actual MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. It was a classic showing of Buxton’s incredible quick-twitch ability, as he turned on a fastball at his eyes from Tony Gonsolin and launched it for a no-doubter.

Arraez’s big moment in the All-Star Game was not as flashy as Buxton’s, but no less indicative of his strengths as a player. After very uncharacteristically striking out on three pitches in his first plate appearance, Arraez came up against the fireballing Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, who had a 0.69 ERA and held opponents to a .109 average in the first half. Helsley had struck out 57 batters in 39 innings.

Arraez fell behind 0-2 in the count. He then flicked away two fastballs, clocked at 103 and 101 MPH. On the next pitch, Helsley came with a curveball – a pitch he’d thrown 52 times this year without giving up a hit. Arraez stroked it into right field for a single. You can’t make it up.

Staying on brand, Arraez opened his second half with a three-hit game in Detroit – his 10th of the season – and he added another hit and walk on Sunday. He’s slashing .341/.413/.445.

Arraez opened the scoring in Saturday’s eight-run outburst from the offense, which served as a nice palette cleanser after the Twins were shut out by Chicago to close out the first half. Carlos Correa joined the festivities by hitting a home run and nearly adding another (Akil Badoo made a nice play at the wall.)

The runs kept pouring in on Sunday, with the bats breaking out late in a 9-1 laugher. José Miranda collected three hits to lead the way as Minnesota took advantage of poor pitching and defense from the last-place Tigers.

Having started the opener in the first half, it was only fitting for Joe Ryan to start the first game of the second half. He looked as good Saturday as he did on Opening Day, holding the Tigers to one run over 5 ⅔ innings with seven strikeouts. The righty improved to 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA – the Twins have gone 10-5 in his starts.

Equally encouraging, if not more so, was Sonny Gray‘s effort the following day. The veteran’s slump heading into the break was a major concern, but Gray was in frontline form on Sunday – albeit against a very bad team. He struck out seven and allowed two hits over six frames.

I am of the opinion that the Twins need to add one more starter at or above the level of Ryan and Gray in order to be a viable threat in the postseason. But at the very least, they’ll need those two pitching like they’re capable of. This series in Detroit was a very good sign on that front. We’ll see if they can keep it going with tougher competition ahead.

LOWLIGHTS

The Twins might have come out of the break with a couple of convincing wins, but that wasn’t gonna stop the bullpen from rearing its ugly head.

Minnesota’s massive lead on Saturday was mildly threatened in the eighth as Detroit mounted a three-run rally against Jovani Moran and Trevor McGill, who were both extremely wild. For as good as Moran – and to a lesser extent Megill – has looked at times, their frequent lapses into the no-control zone make them impossible to trust as high-leverage relievers down the stretch, or especially into the playoffs.

Even on Sunday, when the bullpen seemingly had a very good showing with one hit allowed over three scoreless innings, the process was hardly impressive. Griffin Jax, Jarel Cotton and Joe Smith combined to strike out zero of 10 batters faced while inducing just two swings and misses (both from Jax) on 39 pitches. That’s not a good formula for getting results, especially against better teams.

The glaring inadequacy of this bullpen is too stark to ignore, even on good days like the past couple.

TRENDING STORYLINE

The big focus from now until August 2nd will be the trade market. I wrote last week about the deceivingly complicated decision facing the Twins as the deadline approaches – a first-place team that needs to make additions, but may not be in the best position for an aggressive push given the extent of those needs.

We’ll likely start to see some trade activity fire up in the coming week, although the majority of big moves will shake out in the 48 hours or so leading up to the deadline next Tuesday. Will the Twins front office strike early?

LOOKING AHEAD

Minnesota’s midsummer respite extends into a light first week following the All-Star break, with two off days bookending a two-game series in Milwaukee. Good news for Buxton as he works back from the PRP injection. From there it’s off to San Diego for three games against Taylor Rogers and the Padres.

This next week will be a good test for the well-rested Twins, with five games against very strong NL opponents. I’ll be in San Diego to catch a couple of the weekend games at Petco Park, and am very excited to cross that stadium off my list!

TUESDAY, 7/26: TWINS @ BREWERS – RHP Dylan Bundy v. TBD
WEDNESDAY, 7/27: TWINS @ BREWERS – RHP Chris Archer v. RHP Corbin Burnes
FRIDAY, 7/29: TWINS @ PADRES – RHP Joe Ryan vs. LHP Blake Snell
SATURDAY, 7/30: TWINS @ PADRES – RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Joe Musgrove
SUNDAY, 7/31: TWINS @ PADRES – RHP Dylan Bundy vs. LHP Sean Manaea

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