Minnesota Twins Travel to West Coast to Take on the Angels: Series Preview

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins hope to right ship against Trout-less Los Angeles Angels squad.

First, the bad luck. The Minnesota Twins were one out away from nailing down a comeback win against the Tampa Bay Rays last Sunday, only to watch them tie it up and play a 15-inning game they eventually lost.

In the process, they burned up their bullpen, which led to an implosion in Monday’s 16-8 debacle versus the Houston Astros – a game in which they led 8-2 going into the eighth inning. Two more blowouts by the bullpen leaves the Twins staring at a four-game losing streak, instead of going 2-2 over the last four days.

By the numbers, oh it’s awful. Historically awful. In three games, the Twins’ bullpen basically pitched one complete game: 9 IP / 28 R / 26 ER / 29 H / 3 K / 10 BB. They let a team trailing by six runs entering the eighth inning to win by more than six runs for the first time in the history of baseball.

More from Minnesota Twins

They burned up a bullpen, and the transaction wire in the process. This, after Ervin Santana pitched seven strong innings to help take some of the pressure off of them in Monday’s series’ opener.

Since Sunday, the Twins have recalled Drew Rucinski, DFA’d Adam Wilk, recalled Adalberto Mejia, sent down Rucinski, recalled Buddy Boshers, placed Justin Haley on DL, promoted Jason Wheeler from AAA to Twins, optioned Kennys Vargas to AAA, optioned Ryan Pressly to AAA, DFA’d Wheeler, purchased contract of AAA pitcher Alex Wimmers, and recalled AA pitcher Randy Rosario.

This, in just three days. This is what happens when a team is suddenly in a division race with a bullpen that resembles one assembled for a team coming off a 103-loss season.

Barring a trade, the Twins are stuck looking for one of their prospects to catch lightning in a bottle, and quickly. To be fair, Wheeler had never relieved before, and was doing well as a starter. I would have preferred them to give him a look at replacing the disappointing Kyle Gibson, yet he’s still in line to get the start tomorrow night.

As it, recalling Rosario and sending down Pressly is a big move for the front office. Pressly was considered to be in the mix for the closer’s role before getting knocked around April and May to the tune of 21 hits and 19 runs in the 18 innings he has pitched this year.

Rosario gets the nod over two other potential arms for AA Chattanooga, John Curtiss and Mason Melotakis. While Curtiss has been the closer and has yet to allow a run yet this year, Rosario has pitched more than one inning in each of his appearances for the Lookouts.

His below one ERA, and nearly 12 K/9 IP rate and being equally good versus lefties and righties gives him the edge over Melotakis. Both Rosario and Melotakis are lefties, but Rosario’s numbers are not as skewed as Melotakis’ are against either side of the batter’s box.

If Boshers or any of the other relievers are deemed expendable over the next week or so, expect to see either Curtiss or Melotakis get the call (if not both) before another pitcher from AAA Rochester.

Thursday Night Game

Adalberto Mejia (1-1, 4.64 ERA) vs Alex Meyer (2-2, 5.79 ERA)

9:07 PM (CDT) Angel Stadium

TV: Fox Sports North

Friday Night Game

Kyle Gibson (1-4, 7.85 ERA) vs J.C. Ramirez (5-3, 3.38 ERA)

9:07 PM (CDT) Angel Stadium

TV: Fox Sports North

Saturday Night Game

Ervin Santana (7-2, 1.75 ERA) vs Matt Shoemaker (4-3, 4.26 ERA)

9:07 PM (CDT) Angel Stadium

TV: Fox Sports North

Sunday Day Game

Jose Berrios (3-1, 2.70 ERA) vs Ricky Nolasco (2-5, 5.07 ERA)

2:37 PM (CDT) Angel Stadium

TV: Fox Sports North

Angels: Against L.A., it’s been the Mike Trout Show ever since he debuted in the big leagues in 2011. He’s average 158 games played since 2013, but will miss significant time this season due to a ligament tear in his left thumb.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins /

Minnesota Twins

When reports first came out on a UCL tear for Trout, I first assumed Tommy John surgery. But it was torn high on the wrist, not on the forearm or elbow area. And since it’s on his glove hand, versus his throwing arm, he’s expected to only miss 4-6 weeks.

For a team 11 games behind the Astros in the A.L. West, dreams of overtaking Houston are now gone. Even being 1.5 games back in the Wild Card race seems like a daunting task for the Angels to keep pace while Trout is out.

He leads the A.L. in Wins Above Replacement (like every year), first in OPS,is third in batting average and in home runs. Yeah, he will be missed.

Batting: Again, most of these numbers are with Trout. The Angels will be a completely different hitting team with him on the shelf. It’s the one bit of lucky good news for the Twins over the past ten days.

Los Angeles is batting .236 as a team, a full 100 points lower than their team leader, Trout. They rank 20th in home runs, 21st in extra base hits. They rank in the middle (15th) as far as strikeouts, and do draw a fair amount of walks (192- good for 7th best).

Twins rank fifth with 205, paced by Miguel Sano‘s 31, good for a tie for second in MLB. The Angels’ walk-master, Trout, leads baseball with 36 bases on balls drawn. That helps him to a 33 point edge over Aaron Judge for the lead in on-base percentage (.461).

Batter to Watch: While Trout seems to lead the Angels in every hitting category, he does trail one player in RBI, the amazing Albert Pujols. Of course, getting to hit behind a player that is on base nearly half the time does help with the scoring opportunities.

And Pujols has started to make opposing teams pay. After batting just .231 in May with only three home runs, Pujols has warmed up with the turning of the calendar. He batted .281 for May, with five jacks. The season total of eight home runs leaves him one shy of home run number 600.

Pitching: Even with their .500 record, the Angels have been pitching well this season. Their 4.07 team ERA ranks 11th in baseball, a little more than a half run worse than the team they are chasing, the Houston Astros.

They don’t have any starter with more than five wins, no pitcher among the league leaders in any category. But they have more quality starts than the Twins (23 vs 21) and their bullpen ERA is 3.84 against the Twins’ MLB-worst 5.33.

They do have a collection of guys that do their jobs, get strikeouts (8.6 K/9 rate as team), and keep innings short by not allowing a lot of base-runners (team WHIP is 1.23, good for 4th-best).

Bud Norris has 10 saves on the season, Jose Alvarez has 10 holds so far. Blake Parker has appeared in 26 games so far, and has struck out 38 batters (versus seven walks) in only 24 innings.

Pitcher to Watch: J.C. Ramirez. Their “ace” – at least their number one starter – in their starting rotation, Ramirez is 5-3 on the season and leads their starters in ERA, walk and strikeout averages, and innings per start.

He trails in compiling stats, since he’s made only nine starts versus the others’ eleven. That’s because not much was expected of Ramirez this season. He began the year like he has every year in the majors – in the bullpen.

After bouncing around from Philadelphia to Seattle to Arizona, and then to the Reds and Angels in just three big league seasons – Ramirez’s stellar numbers were considered a fluke in 2016 after coming over from Cincinnati.

But whatever adjustments Ramirez made have worked, allowing two earned runs or less in six of his nine starts – including no runs in seven-inning outings against the Oakland A’s in April and versus the Miami Marlins last Saturday.

Minnesota: Despite the four game losing streak, the Twins are still three games above .500 at 26-23 and light years ahead of last year’s pace.

What’s troubling, of course, is a bullpen that started out the year so well, with defined roles and situations that the majority excelled at. And now, just a few weeks later, is in shambles, led by veteran pitchers who suddenly are failing at getting their secondary pitches over for strikes.

What the Twins front office wants to avoid, is a continual erosion of confidence and the upbeat atmosphere that surrounded the players for much of April and May. To watch victories getting snatched by the jaws of defeat, and close games spiraling into blowouts can lead to a malaise that can linger.

With good crowds on hand for the holiday series against the Astros, you would hate for a bad mood to fester on the field and carry over into the fan base. Especially after the horrific 2016 season.

Good news is that Sano will return to the lineup tonight after missing games due to illness. This after snapping a nine at-bat string of strikeouts. He will bat cleanup tonight and play third base. Joe Mauer also returns to the lineup at first base.

Next: Managerial, Bullpen Decisions Haunt Twins in Historic Collapse

Notes: Alex Wimmers returns to the Twins, and will be in uniform in time for tonight’s game. However, Randy Rosario had his plane diverted due to storms, and then missed his connecting flight because of it. Barring a last-minute private plane rental, Rosario will miss the first game of the series.