Series Review: #19 Minnesota Twins
The similarities between the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins were so many that this was effectively a mirror match for four games up in the Great White North. Both teams entered the season with dynamic young cores that had post-season expectations after falling slightly short in 2015. Shaky starting pitching has been further exposed by bullpens that couldn’t hold a lead if it were wrapped in stickem. Bad base running and silly defensive mistakes have been the whip cream on the shitdae. While the pitching has been abysmal the hitting for both clubs has been mostly sound throughout the year. We got a lot of that last point in this series.
The Rays were slight favorites in each game, but those numbers get flipped when accounting for actual production. Part of this is being driven up by the first game where the Twins did everything right pairing good hitting with enough pitching. The Rays were lucky to pull off the victory in the second game before mashing like crazy in the final two. The team has seen enough things go against them that the puck luck in the second and fourth game were nice to see, but it does throw a little water on what feels like a raging inferno for the moment.
While Longo and Lomo were the most impressive contributors providing plenty of power when pitchers chose to give them anything at all they were not alone. Hank Conger continues to rise from the dead and Steve Pearce looked refreshed after a few days off. The extra base hits carried the day, but they might not have happened without several big at bats that turned into walks for guys like Casali, Mahtook and recent call up Nick Franklin. This team cannot live and die solely with the homer so it’s nice to see that intimidation factor leading to pitchers being more leery to approach the zone.
On the pitching side Jake Odorizzi was the team’s best starter despite essentially pitching at an average level. Smyly and Moore continued to pitch poorly and Matt Andriese finally had a below average start. None of these guys were able to pitch deep into the game so it was imperative that the bullpen pick up the slack. They mostly did that. They rode the hell out of Erasmo Ramirez and Alex Colome, but it was Enny Romero that had maybe the most important segment. He entered the third game in the middle innings when Erasmo was unavailable and Colome could have used a day off. He got all six batters he faced and showed why I think he is a linchpin for this pen’s performance.
For all their faults the Twins can really hit. Buxton appears to have made the adjustments necessary to go on a Rougned Odor-esque trajectory the rest of the season. Eduardo Nuñez continued to stay hot and Korean import Byung-Ho Park is a really tough out as a guy that knows his zones and has the power to punish pitchers that come into them. One of the real standouts for me was Robbie Grossman. yeah, he hit pretty well, but that’s not really his game. Where he really contributes is with the glove where he shows a very good ability to track balls down and has the arm to keep runners honest. The Rays worked very hard on limiting Joe Mauer‘s success, which involved some walks and singles, but little else.
The best starter for the Twins was Nolasco who continues to re-invent himself around starts that knock him back to square one. He pitched deep into the second game, but ended up the tough luck loser, of sorts. The Rays struggled with both Santana and Duffey the first time through the order, but punished them mightily on subsequent trips to the dish, and the Twins pen showed why the team has such an awful record despite a lot to like.
These two teams might end up fighting it out for a draft pick later this year, but the Rays took an important series to stave off those thoughts for another week or more. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak as they head down to Arizona to face a similar team that has ok starting pitching, a less good bullpen, but boy can they hit. The Rays have shown that their power plays anywhere so it should be a lot of fun watching them mash at Coors Light.