Minnesota Twins Ups and Downs After Week 3

Apr 19, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins outfielder Miguel Sano (22) misses a fly ball in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 19, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins outfielder Miguel Sano (22) misses a fly ball in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

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Just as the Twins offense seemed to find traction after a couple weeks of swinging at air, Washington National pitchers struck out a Twins record-tying 18 hitters in a 9 inning game Saturday. Starter Tanner Roark, a ground ball pitcher who averages 6 K/IP, caught the Twins looking. Twins batters watched 40% of the 78 strikes thrown by Roark.

If the game plan was to make Roark throw pitches to force him from the game early, it didn’t work. In fact, Roark threw a career-high 121 pitches in 7 innings, striking out a career-best 15 batters. Twins mustered just two hits, a single by Joe Mauer and a double by Max Kepler. Saturday’s game ends the week at 3-4, and the Twins now sit 7 games behind the Royals at 5-13. Last year, they stayed within 7 games of Kansas City until July 22nd.

This week was full of promise, as Minnesota won their 4th straight on Monday, before allowing 4 unearned runs on Tuesday to snap the streak. Miguel Sano’s misplay on an easy line drive led to three unearned runs in the fifth. And after Minnesota rallied with two homers in the 8th to tie the game, Byron Buxton misplayed a ball in center that led to the winning run. Winning streak over.

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UP: Prior to Saturday’s game, Minnesota’s offense showed signs of life, particularly with extra base hits, fueled by Byung-ho Park’s 3 home runs in 4 games outburst. Miguel Sano has also joined in the homer parade this week, and the Twins now rank middle of the pack (15th) with their 16 home runs this season. They homered twice in four straight games this past week, their longest multi-homer game streak since 2013.

DOWN: Just as the Twins seemed to find themselves a winning batting lineup, they were forced to abandon the DH while on the road in inter-league play. Manager Paul Molitor so far has benched Park in such games, leading to a void in power, except for the three innings versus the Brewers’ bullpen in Thursday’s finale.

UP: Ricky Nolasco. In Thursday’s 8-1 win, Nolasco picked up his first win of the season, and dropped his ERA to a starting rotation low 2.66. The Minnesota Twins have won two of his three starts, the only loss in the final game against the Royals when Nolasco pitched 7 strong innings and left with a 3-1 lead, before the bullpen blew the lead in the 9th (Glen Perkins’ last game), and lost it in the 10th.

Fans grumbled when last year’s hero, Tyler Duffey, was sent down in favor of keeping Nolasco in the rotation. But Ricky has rewarded the Twins front office and coaches with a promising start to 2016. He and Ervin Santana are the only two starters with ERA’s below 3.90 and Ricky looks to not be the odd man out if/when the Twins decide to promote phenom Jose Berrios. Berrios is making a case to be promoted sooner than later (3 GS, 2-0, 1.06 ERA, 20 K, 8 BB).

DOWN: Injuries. After Perkins, Danny Santana and Trevor Plouffe all found their way to the DL, now starter Ervin Santana needs to skip Sunday’s start with a stiff back. Tyler Duffey has been recalled for what is hoped to be a spot start, and the extra rest will hopefully allow Santana to make his next scheduled start. Duffey has yet to win at Rochester, averaging just 5 innings per start.

Tyler’s ERA (1.72) is low, but he’s allowed 15 hits in 15 innings, while also walking 7 batters. He’s battled his way out of trouble so far, and hopefully he can do the same for 5, 6 innings to keep Minnesota close against the Nationals. To make room on the roster, the Twins sent Jorge Polanco back down to AAA, leaving themselves short on infielders if a starter goes down tomorrow.

UNCERTAIN: The Minnesota Twins waived minor league catcher John Hicks (claimed by Detroit), leaving John Ryan Murphy and Mauer as only two catchers on 40 man roster. Twins now have an opening, with questions as to Berrios or late pickup David Murphy claiming the final roster spot. Murphy, however, is only 4 for 29 and doesn’t seem to be ready for the majors despite a May 1st opt-out clause.

After Sunday’s spot start, look for Twins to return Duffey to minors and activate Danny Santana from the DL. GM Terry Ryan looks to make changes as the team has fallen far short of expectations. Berrios will not be in the minors for much longer. Buxton may need to return to cut down on strikeouts as Max Kepler looks more major league ready at this point. A tumultuous week ahead, for sure.

QUESTIONABLE: Molitor made a puzzling managerial move in Saturday’s game. He played as many lefties as he could, even though they are batting .163 on the season against Roark, versus .333 against righties. Twins mustered two hits (by lefties Mauer & Kepler), but also struck out 15 times against Roark. Tough call on whether that was good or bad intuition.

Next: Jorge Polanco Sent Down

SAD, BUT TRUE, STAT OF THE YEAR: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Twins’ 7 game road losing streak (snapped by Thursday’s 8-1 win over Milwaukee), was the longest to start a season since the Twins moved to Minnesota. It broke the often-mentioned-in-2016-team, the 1904 Washington Senators, who lost 6 in a row, on their way to an 0-13 start in a 38-113 season. Hopefully, this is the last time these two teams are compared to one another.