twins

Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Mr. 400, Nelson Cruz; Lights-out reliever Tyler Duffey

Mitch Garver called him Superman. Miguel Sanó called him one of the best people that he’s known in his life. Nelson Cruz’s impact on his teammates seems pretty clear. And his impact on the field is crystal.

Cruz hit career home run No. 400 on Sunday, and got a well-earned curtain call at Target Field.

It was also No. 40 this season for Cruz, which is incredible considering he just turned 39 years old. He was considered a late-bloomer when he first came on the scene as an all-star in Texas 10 years ago, and over that decade he’s been one of the most feared power hitters in the game.

“Very special,” Cruz said, shortly after collecting the milestone. “It’s good to put that behind me so I don’t get that question anymore. It’s definitely a good one. It’s nice to do it in front of the fans. I think they deserve it. They’ve been such a big influence for us as a team. They come up every day with that energy. Even when we’re behind, they give us that energy to step up and do good things.”

Cruz stashed the bat and the ball, and he’s donating the helmet to the Twins, who will probably put it proudly on display at Target Field somewhere. Most players and coaches gave the shirt off their back to fans Sunday after the final home game of the regular season – all except for Cruz, as a swap was orchestrated to save the game-worn Cruz jersey.

Cruz was there when Sammy Sosa hit home run No. 600. He was there a few times when Rangers star Michael Young collected 200 hits in a season. He appreciates baseball history. And now, he is that guy.

“Now that you mention it, it seems weird,” Cruz said with a laugh. “It was nice. You stay focused on what you can control. I just go out there and play my game, you know?”

Only 56 players in MLB history have more. It’s hard to say what will happen the rest of the way, but for the moment it seems like a slam dunk that he’d play next year and still have gas in the tank. With that in mind, next up on the home run list are Duke Snider (407), Mark Teixeira (409) and Alfonso Soriano (412).

Cruz had 23 home runs when he started the 2009 season. He hit 33 that year, and made his first all-star team. Since that day, he’s been the most prolific home run hitter in the Major Leagues. His 378 home runs lead the Majors, ahead of guys like Edwin Encarnacion (348), Albert Pujols (337), Giancarlo Stanton (307), Miguel Cabrera (300) and Jose Bautista (298). In 2013, he was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. He accepted the responsibility, and since serving that suspension he’s been vocal about wanting to return and prove that he’s more than that – he’s rehabbed his image around the game with diligence, patience and consistency off the field.

So when the Twins got him in December on a one-year deal with an option attached to it, they were added one of the most feared sluggers of his generation. As it turns out, he’s also very well respected as a clubhouse guy, making him the absolute perfect match for the Twins in 2019.

The other finalists for his services last winter were the Rays and Astros. Can you imagine what might have happened if he ended up in Houston instead of in Minnesota? And as my colleague Judd Zulgad points out, this has to rate as one of the best free agent pickups in Twins memory.

Now, Cruz has 400 home runs next to his name.

Additional listening: Nelson Cruz appreciation hour on the SKOR North Twins Show. 

Credit: Twinsbaseball.com and MLB

2. Did you know the Twins picked up a lights-out reliever at the trade deadline? His name is Tyler Duffey.

After trading prospects to land Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo, the Twins’ bullpen has been a source or strength for the club.

Romo has helped as a steadying veteran presence, and he was one of the underrated relievers from around the game before the move. For Dyson, ditto as an underrated reliever by national standards, although his impact has been much less in his time with Minnesota. He’s currently on the shelf with a shoulder injury that casts serious doubt on availability in October.

Duffey, meanwhile, has been a revelation.

The right-handed relief ace pitched another scoreless inning in which he struck out the side on Sunday. His post-trade-deadline stats are in elite territory, and he’s looking like a major weapon for a Twins pitching plan in October. In 20 1/3 innings since the deadline passed, Duffey has a 0.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts, 5 walks and an eye-popping 46% strikeout rate. (Josh Hader leads the Majors with a 48.5% strikeout rate, and in second place over the full season is Kirby Yates at 41.8%.)

“He’s turned himself into one of the best relievers in baseball,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The second half of the year, how many guys can you really say have been better than him in all of the game?”

The performance of the Twins’ bullpen is a thread that’s woven throughout the 5 thoughts columns I’ve written this year. Imperfect, true. But at just about every turn, we’ve pointed out that the group is better than it gets credit for. That seems especially true right now.

Since the trade deadline, the Twins bullpen ranks third in the American League with a 3.93 ERA, behind only the Rays and Astros. (And not having the same horses in the starting rotation as Houston, the bullpen in Minnesota has covered 25 more innings over that span of 7 weeks or so.)

I’d be curious to see the numbers among contending clubs after removing relief numbers in white-flag innings.

3. If you promise to not compare them head-to-head, I’ll share with you Craig Kimbrel’s numbers.

Since he signed in Chicago, the Cubs’ midseason acquisition (and generational closer) is 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. He’s dealt with injury, kept his walk rate very high, and seen his strikeouts drop into the mortal territory of 31.3%.

Nelson Cruz joins Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in this class of ageless sluggers

4. The Twins have spent 168 days in first place this year.

And with a week to go in their season, that number will be 175 by the time it’s all said and done. That’s especially good by recent Twins standards. But even when compared with a great year like 2010 – the first in Target Field – this Twins team is on the verge of doing something special.

With thanks to Baseball Reference and the Twins’ communications staff, here’s the total number of days spent in first place each season for the Twins:

2009: 7
2010: 144 (34 total games not in first place)
2011: 0
2012: 0
2013: 5
2014: 0
2015: 12
2016: 0
2017: 50
2018: 17
2019: 168*

*So far.

5. After winning Sunday, the Twins are just one game shy of clinching a winning month of September.

That would mean that all six months on the baseball calendar were winning months in Minnesota. They’re 13-7 so far this month, and there are 27 games in total, so a 14th win would clinch it. Of course, they’re looking to clinch something a little more important, but it’s a nice feather in the cap for a club that is looking like one of the best in baseball across a full season. With all the ups and downs the season has held, the Twins have a solid chance to win 100 games, and that’s a mark of a good team.

If you liked the column, find me on…

Instagram: @dwetmore
Facebook: facebook.com/derekwetmoremlb
Twitter: @derekwetmore

And check out my Twins newsletter (sign up below)





twins