The Minnesota Twins tread water in a volatile week that had the team saying goodbye to several familiar faces.
The Minnesota Twins finished the week at 3-3, but the final record doesn’t even begin to tell the story. How about the team’s run differential, which stood at +13 entering Saturday’s contest, only to finish Sunday at -8?
They faced a team from Boston that had hit only 18 home runs on the season, yet hit half that many in three games at Target Field against Twins pitching – including four off Ervin Santana! Minnesota lost the final two games of the week by a combined 21 runs, yet they still had a chance to win Sunday’s finale.
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After surviving an early shelling, the Twins pulled within 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning and a runner on third base with one out. To the plate strode Joe Mauer, he the hero just a day and a half earlier. He of the game-winning, walk-off home run (his first ever) to set off a crazy celebration Friday night.
Red Sox manager John Farrell countered with closer Craig Kimbrel to try to gain a five-out save. On a 3-2 pitch, Mauer watched what appeared to be an outside curve instead be called strike three on him for the second out.
It appeared for a moment that Mauer may actually get tossed, though breaking down the video afterwards proved that he never used anything other than G-to-PG adjectives. Typical Mauer. Except that moment required the emotional Mauer we just saw that Friday night, yelling and pumping his fist Puckett-like as he circled the bases.
For a week that had the Twins win as much as they lost, they suffered their first major roster turnover since last season, with more on the way in the coming week, including quite possibly the return of on Jose Berrios.
UP: Mauer. He injected life into the team with his walk-off, and his rare display of emotion as he rounded the bases and jumped into the waiting arms of his teammates. Being one of the few veterans on a young team, it was important to express that emotion and have some “fun with the guys” for a change.
He also swung at a pitch that he normally eschews – a pitch up and away – but given the moment, it was a huge departure of structure and character. The Twins had played a near-perfect game up to the ninth inning, with Phil Hughes pitching them to a 3-1 lead.
After two relievers did their jobs, Brandon Kintzler came on to notch his eighth save. Or so everyone hoped. But after struggling two nights before in a non-save situation, Kintzler gave up three singles for the second straight appearance as Boston tied the game and gave Kintzler his first blown save of the season.
For Joe to step up with two outs and realize that the team needed something different from him this time up was possibly a turning point in this season.
If he can do this more often, step out of his comfort zone and expand his strike zone to become more of a run producer, the Twins will be a much deeper team for it.
Maybe him getting rung up on Sunday just two days later helped solidify that reasoning. C’mon, Joe. Go for it.
DOWN: Michael Tonkin and Danny Santana. Most fans were hoping that with the new front office regime that neither of these two would make the final 25-man roster. But with injuries to Ehire Adrianza and Trevor May, their experience and the fact that both were on the 40-man roster helped them see another Opening Day.
But both players have failed to capitalize on the extra chance each was given. For Santana, the truth is, he wasn’t given much of a chance, just 25 at-bats in parts of 25 games. He didn’t fare well in the limited role, batting just .200 – but he did go out in style.
In his last game as a Twin, he hit a home run to right field 441 feet. In typical Santana fashion, he followed that with a bunt single in the seventh inning, his last official hit as a Twin. He was designated for assignment and later traded to the Atlanta Braves for reliever Kevin Chapman.
With a 40-man roster opening, they added reliever Drew Rucinski and promoted him to the big league roster to take Tonkin’s place. With Adrianza now healthy, the Twins also brought up the slick-fielding infielder to be a late-inning defensive replacement.
Unlike Santana, Tonkin was given every chance. Used in late-inning, high-leverage situations and also in mop-up duty. In both, he failed to produce.
It’s not that he doesn’t have explosive stuff on the mound; his 10.64 K/9 was leading the team at the time he was designated for assignment. In fact, it was above 10 each of the last two seasons.
But when he wasn’t striking out batters, he was walking them and allowing home runs. After 13 home runs last season as a reliever, he had already allowed four this season. Another damning stat was he was involved in only one win all year, this past Tuesday’s 9-1 win over Oakland.
Minnesota was working on a 9-0 whitewashing until Tonkin took the mound. His first pitch ended up 421 feet to center field. But Minnesota did win. They ended up 1-8 (after Saturday’s game) with Tonkin pitching on the mound this season, 14-5 in games that he didn’t appear. Ouch.
STRANGE BUT TRUE STAT OF THE WEEK: Presented with his third walk-off chance this season already, Joe Mauer finally came through in a big way on Friday night. While it was his first home run, it wasn’t his first walk-off RBI.
But for a career .307 hitter, Mauer is only batting .176 in such situations with three walk-off RBI. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the home run was Mauer’s first extra base hit in 68 such situations prior to Friday.