2021 is not going according to plan for the Minnesota Twins. Thought to be one of the two contenders, along with the Chicago White Sox, for the American League Central crown when the season began, the Twins instead find themselves in a tie for last place at this writing, 13 games under .500 and 15 back of division-leading Chicago.
What explains this breakdown? It's not that the team is incapable; they have shown some chops from time to time, including a dramatic comeback win against the Yankees last weekend. "We're going to have to prove to everyone, including ourselves," said manager Rocco Baldelli, "that we're capable of sustaining the good play that we show at times." The key part of that sentence, of course, is "at times"; since sweeping the Orioles May 24-26, the twin-cities faithful have seen their team drop 10 of 16 and fall another 5½ games in the standings.
Injuries have been part of the problem, and some relief may be imminent on that front. Star center fielder Byron Buxton has been on the shelf since May 7th with a strained hip, but has played three games across the river with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints on a rehab assignment and is making the trip to Seattle with the rest of the Twins, suggesting he may be activated sometime during this series. Same goes for Luis Arraez, who was sent to the injured list with a shoulder ailment on May 24th; the infielder/outfielder had been one of Minnesota's better on-base guys, slashing .277/.358/.333 in 162 trips to the plate. Outfielders Max Kepler, Jake Cave, and Kyle Garlick; catcher Mitch Garver; and relievers Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashek, Shaun Anderson, and Devin Smeltzer are also on the IL, and this series will see the first game back for starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who had been on the IL with a groin strain.
The Minnesota lineup has been adequate, but that's a disappointment for Twins fans who expected greatness this year. Of the bigger names, ex-Mariner Nelson Cruz has done his part, putting up yet another solid batting line at age 40; third baseman Josh Donaldson has held his own with a good combination of power and patience (10 HRs, 29 BBs); and first baseman Miguel Sanó has been up to his old tricks of swinging hard at most offerings, connecting for longballs (13 HRs) and whiffing for strikeouts (75, a 38% K rate). Rookie Nick Gordon, who has been filling in recently for Buxton, has been a bright spot for the Twins, batting .344 and stealing 5 bases in 11 games.
Maeda will face off against his Seattle counterpart, Marco Gonzales, as this series begins. Great things were expected of the two staff aces after their respective excellent performances in 2020, but both have struggled with injury and regression. At 5.27, Maeda's ERA is two and a half runs higher than it was in 2020, and his WHIP is double last year's league-best 0.750. Much of that damage came in one game, though, an April start against the A's in Oakland that saw Maeda surrender seven runs on eight hits in just three innings. Former Mariner J.A. Happ will start the second game in the three-game set; in 11 previous starts, the veteran lefty did well in his first five and poorly in his last six, allowing 30 runs and racking up a WHIP of nearly 2.000 in that span. Wednesday's finale has rookie Bailey Ober slated to start for Minnesota; the 25-year-old right-hander was promoted from Triple-A after just four starts (16 innings) there and has done OK, winning two of his three big-league starts. Chris Flexen and Justus Sheffield are scheduled to go for the M's against Happ and Ober.
|vs. AL West||5-14|
Who’s Hot & Not
Last ten games
.341/.364/.683, 4 HR, 9 RBI
.333/.439/.697, 3 HR, 6 RBI
.278/.381/.722, 5 HR, 6 RBI
.133/.161/.233, 2 GDP
.222/.222/.556, 10 Ks
Last 3 series vs. Seattle
|4/11/21||SEA 8, MIN 6|
|4/10/21||SEA 4, MIN 3|
|4/8/21||MIN 10, SEA 2|
|6/13/19||MIN 10, SEA 5|
|6/12/19||SEA 9, MIN 6|
|6/11/19||MIN 6, SEA 5|
|5/19/19||SEA 7, MIN 4|
|5/18/19||MIN 18, SEA 4|
|5/17/19||MIN 7, SEA 1|
|5/16/19||MIN 11, SEA 6|
Rocco Baldelli: The onetime Tampa Bay Devil Rays standout had an abbreviated playing career thanks to a series of injuries and illness that was eventually sourced to mitochondrial channelopathy exacerbated by a childhood bout with Lyme disease; a treatment of medications and dietary proscriptions helped some, but he still had to retire as a player at age 29. Since then he's worked for the Rays as a special assistant, roving instructor, first-base coach, and finally as Major League Field Coordinator. The Twins hired him after letting former manager Paul Molitor go following the 2018 season. Like Alex Cora with the Red Sox and Aaron Boone with the Yankees, Baldelli assumed the reins of a big-league club without any previous managerial experience. That hasn't been a problem, clearly, as he won the Manager of the Year award in his first season and the Twins are 163-124 under his stewardship as this series begins. Oh, and he's not even 40 yet. Fans roasted him for pulling José Barrios in the midst of a no-hitter early in the season, but Baldelli always takes the long view and wanted his pitcher ready for his next game and the rest of the year. "Rocco understands the bigger picture as well as anyone I've seen in the game," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations. "He recognizes the importance of rest over the long term. Getting a guy a day off here, while it may slightly reduce your chances of winning today, could impact days 2, 3, and 4. … And it's pretty impressive to see him think through it."
Nelson Cruz: At age 40, you might think Nellie would be showing signs of reduced ability. You'd be wrong, though. A fan-favorite in his four years with the M's (2015-2018), Cruz has been even better as a Twin. Cruz has hit .384/.387/.607 thus far with Minnesota and isn't slowing down. The 16-year Major League veteran has 430 career homers and still has an outside shot at reaching the 500-HR milestone despite his advanced years. How does he do it? Well, in addition to a strict workout routine, he sleeps a lot. 10 hours most nights, plus the Twins set up a dedicated "nap room" for Cruz at Target Field for daily "power naps." Said Derek Falvey, Minnesota's president of baseball operations, Cruz “really does take exceptional care of himself, whether it’s the food he eats or the work he puts in in the weight room, how he keeps his mobility and flexibility, and then the naps. I know [his naps are treated as] a joke, but it’s very real in terms of how he recharges his body and how he makes sure he keeps himself in a good place.” And at 40—41 on July 1st—recharging is no laughing matter. “You need to recover,” Cruz said. “Especially when you play baseball, you play every day. You need to rest. You need to get your recovery. That’s one of the most important things I do is make sure I recover every day.”
|Minnesota Twins||(1961 - present)|
|World Champions:||1924, 1987, 1991|
|League Champions:||1925, 1933, 1965|
|Division Titles:||1969, 1970|
Luis Arraez: Holds Minnesota’s best batting average in a single month when he hit .571 in September 2020, breaking the mark set by Sal Butera in August 1980 (.524).
Ian Hamilton: In 2019, this Twins farmhand paired up with teammate Ryan Burr to recreate the infamous 1804 duel between their namesakes, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, in full period costume.
Andrelton Simmons: A native of Curacau, Simmons speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, and is “conversational” in French.