1. The Twins are 4-5 since Byron Buxton left the lineup and landed on the Injured List.
That includes two separate 2-game “losing streaks,” and added up to losing four games in five tries against the Royals and Red Sox. Obviously, Buxton isn’t the sole difference between a club that was winning two out of every three games to a club that now has hit a relative rough patch. (A rough patch, we should note, that has them 13-10 since that series against the Rays at the end of May; that’s a 91-win pace.) Also of note, the Twins are the only American League team that has won 50 games this season; and the Twins, as proud owners of a +105 run differential, are the only A.L. team to outscore opponents by more than 100 runs.
So, we’re spoiled in the Land of 10,000 Rakes. The team has been so good that any little blip – like losing four of five, or splitting a 4-gamer in Kansas City – has our nervous system on alert. I think we just miss the cortisol. Because in the big picture, there’s nothing terrible to worry about. The Twins look like they’re absolutely going to the postseason. They look like they have a great lineup once they get there. And they look like they’re run by a team of genius architects who will know best when it’s time to fortify mid-run in time for the Fall sprint.
There was some optimism that Buxton could return from his wrist injury as soon as Tuesday, after the Twins’ scheduled off day.
You notice a difference when Buxton isn’t playing. It forces some shuffling in the outfield. The No. 9 spot in the order isn’t a guaranteed fear-inducer every night. The lineup, in general, loses that peerless weapon, to say nothing of the Gold Glove defense now gone from centerfield. Buxton makes a big impact on games and series. And he’s not the only one missing. The Twins are playing without do-everything winner Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and Mitch Garver.
If you take the best team in baseball and subtract four good players – including three that I consider vitally important – then you’re going to run into a stretch in which you only win games at a 91-win pace.
And it’s how we should inform our following and coverage of this team on a nightly basis.
Track 1 is simple. We’ve done it before. Track 1 is the momentary circumstances and outcomes of a team throughout the summer. What is happening right now? How are the Twins doing in Kansas City in the middle of June? How did Jake Odorizzi pitch in his 15th start of the year? What’s happening right now matters, and it’s the stuff we use to fill most of our conversations with friends and family members when the subject of Twins baseball comes up.
Track 2 is more ambitious. Track 2 is something we’ve only flirted with in Minnesota during the past decade. Track 2 is October. How does this 25-man roster shape up for winning a 5-game series against an outstanding team? How many relievers do you trust to preserve a 1-run lead in the 8th inning in Houston in the second week of October?
Separating these tracks and giving each its own proper attention helps to answer a lot of questions. Such as, Is Michael Pineda really good enough? I get that question a lot. What do you mean is he good enough? Do you mean, ‘Is he good enough to pitch a great Twins team into October?’ Or do you mean, ‘Is he good enough to counter Gerrit Cole with a season’s worth of investment on the line?’
Track 2 is where we get hung up right now. If you think about a baseball season in these terms, it really helps to inform the level of panic or confidence that you should be feeling at any moment. World Series Attitude is caring enough about how a weekend series went that you’re on notice if you don’t sweep the Royals over the weekend. (The Twins split.) But World Series Attitude also is being able to quickly move past splitting a short-handed series on the road with a huge division lead because you know the games start to count more after the leaves have changed color. Summarized into a pragmatic question: What can you learn or improve upon from the weekend series that will serve to give you a better chance to win postseason baseball games?
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That’s a quote from a recent notebook from Mark Feinsand on MLB.com.
And it makes sense, given the Twins were hot in pursuit of then-free agent Craig Kimbrel, before he agreed to a multiyear deal to pitch with the Cubs.
It feels like audition time right now in the Twins bullpen. Taylor Rogers looks human sometimes, although in my opinion he’s the best of the bullpen bunch for the Twins. After that, we’ve seen more responsibility given to guys like Trevor May, Mike Morin, Ryne Harper and Tyler Duffey in recent weeks.
Here are the two quotes from Feinsand’s notebook that I wanted to pass along:
“They need a reliever or two if they want to compete with the Astros and Yankees,” the executive said. “If they can get the right guys, they have a legitimate shot to play deep into October.”
“I don’t think big buyers; I think they’ll continue to be pragmatic,” an AL general manager said. “I do expect them to make acquisitions, but not with the same aggressiveness that Houston or New York will show.”
There are 14 A.L. general managers not named Thad Levine, and that doesn’t read like a Thad Levine quote. Whoever said it, it’s enough to get your attention as a Twins fan. At the same time, if they were going to sit back and just hope for the best, would they have made a real push at Craig Kimbrel? Would they be on the phone with teams looking to unload a late-inning reliever? Would they be poised to make a trade – early or late – that raises the water level of the whole pitching staff?
These are all things that the Twins have done or are doing, and so while I don’t know what the Astros or Yankees will do from this point forward, I do know the Twins aren’t just content to revel in the glory of winning a lot of games in May and June.
The reliever names that Feinsand listed as “expected to be available” are Shane Green (Tigers), Will Smith and Tony Watson (Giants), Ken Giles (Blue Jays), Alex Colomé (White Sox), and “possibly” Kirby Yates (Padres). At a minimum, I’m told the Twins have interest in Giles and Smith, although I can’t imagine that’s the full extent of their wish list.
The club signed Allen to a minor league contract. Allen lurked at the back end of the Indians’ bullpen for years, and he was on the team that went to the World Series a few years back. He signed with the Angels this winter as a closer-for-hire on a 1-year, $8.5 million contract. The Twins reportedly had been interested in his services, but ultimately their only major bullpen move was to grab Blake Parker from the Angels when he was non-tendered.
Allen, 30, went to Southern California and struggled mightily. By the time he was DFA’d on June 15, he had a 6.26 ERA and had served up 9 home runs in just 23 innings.
A couple of things could be going on here, and I’ll address the Twins’ aspect in a moment. First I want to point out that when we clamor for a closer and teams take a more measured approach, it’s possible that maybe we on the outside don’t always know what we’re talking about. I mean, we all would have applauded the move if the Twins brought him in over the winter, right? How’d that work out for the Angels?
Last season Allen opened his final year in Cleveland with a fastball at 94-95 mph. This year he’s been more 91-93 mph. He lost his 9th inning role with the Angels, and spent time on the injury list with a back injury. His ERA was way up last year, and more telling to me was the fact that his swing-strike rate was down. This year, it’s gotten even worse. That ERA is up a lot more (6.26) and his swings-and-misses have really fallen off, to the point where Allen is now below league average in that category (9.6%). And his walk rate has dramatically spike this year to 17.2%, but that’s what happens when you’re in high leverage spots and you’re no longer able to throw it by hitters. Bases on balls and Bombas.
Can the Twins identify and “fix” what’s ailing Allen? I have no idea. I wouldn’t put it past them. I just don’t know. The point here is not to expect an all-world reliever. This is a minor league deal, after all.
The Twins really seem to love this kind of move under Derek Falvey, The Economist.
Has your stock fallen? Do you have ability? Can the Twins positively impact your performance and/or career? Can we pay the fallen-stock price and potentially get something more? Is there a relatively pain-free out for Minnesota if it doesn’t work out?
If you get the right answer to all these questions, the Twins might be interested in your services.
Example: How much would Jonathan Schoop make in free agency if he hadn’t gotten hurt last year? Can the Twins offer to pay him less than that? A lot less? And can they reasonably expect him to return to form? Can Minnesota limit the downside if it doesn’t work?
That’s the way I see this Allen signing. The Derek Falvey-Cleveland connection certainly plays into it. I don’t know that it was necessary to get a deal like this one done. The Twins really love their low-risk, higher-upside bets. And a big reason why they’re so successful this season is because they’ve hit on a lot of their smart bets.
I’ll pick on A.L. contenders here for a minute.
Here’s the Team Bullpen ERA leaderboard in June (A.L. rank):
3.18 Indians (1st)
3.72 Rangers (2nd)
4.12 Rays (4th)
4.46 Twins (5th)
4.91 A’s (7th)
4.97 Yankees (8th)
5.24 Angels (11th)
5.73 Astros (14th)
Here’s the Team Bullpen wOBA leaderboard in June (A.L. rank):
.304 Rays (1st)
.305 Indians (2nd)
.310 Red Sox (3rd)
.317 A’s (4th)
.318 Rangers (5th)
.343 Twins (9th)
.344 Yankees (10th)
.346 Astros (11th)
.351 Angels (12th)