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Astros 3, Twins 1: Season ends early again

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Minnesota’s offensive woes continue as Twins are eliminated

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins
It’s not all your fault, Cody. It’s just part of being a member of the Minnesota Twins.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Another year. A new staff ace. A new opponent. Opening the playoffs at home.

But it all ended in the same, all-too-familiar way: a punchless offensive attack and major in-game blunders.

The day got off to an ominous start when the lineup was released without Byron Buxton’s name. It got weirder when the Twins acknowledged that there was an injury but wouldn’t disclose what it was. Alex Kirilloff received his first major-league ... well, everything: appearance, start, at-bat while Max Kepler slid over to center field.

Jose Berrios threw the ball extremely well, not allowing a baserunner for the first three innings. The Twins once again threatened but could not capitalize in the first inning, getting walks from Max Kepler and Miguel Sano while Eddie Rosario reached on an error, but Kirilloff lined out to center in his first big-league at-bat to end the threat.

The Astros first baserunners came on back-to-back walks with two outs in the fourth. Kyle Tucker rolled a grounder past the shift on the left side of the infield, and the Astros had a run on one extremely weak hit.

Kirilloff tallied the Twins’ first hit and his first hit in the majors with a line drive into right field in the bottom of the frame. It came with two outs, however, and Jorge Polanco tapped out to end the inning.

Berrios gave up a leadoff single in the fifth inning but got the next three hitters. After five innings of one-run, two-hit ball, Berrios left the game with just 75 pitches thrown.

Marwin Gonzalez led off the sixth with a single, followed by a Ryan Jeffers strikeout, caught looking on a close pitch. After a pitching change, Luis Arraez walked and Kepler was caught looking for the second out. Because of the three-batters-faced rule, lefty Brooks Raley had to stay in and face Nelson Cruz.

ESPN’s Eduardo Perez advocated for walking Cruz, putting the go-ahead run on second and loading the bases, but Raley pitched to him. On the second pitch, Cruz lined a double over Kyle Tucker’s head in left field. In similar fashion to his double to right in Game 1, the ball bounced off the wall and back over Tucker’s head, rolling towards the infield. Arraez, trying to score from first, took far too wide of a turn at home plate and despite an off-line relay throw from the Astros, was tagged out easily at home plate by Martin Maldonado.

That was the beginning of the end for the Twins. After a 1-2-3 inning from Cody Stashak, Eddie Rosario was demonstrably called back to the box on a 3-1 pitch that was high, with home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez pointing him back into the box. Instead of a walk, Rosario eventually struck out. He turned and said something to Gonzalez and was immediately ejected, despite George Springer’s far louder, more aggressive, and ongoing protesting earlier in the game.

The Twins went down in order, and Carlos Correa crushed a go-ahead solo homer off of Stashak in the top of the seventh. The bottom of the inning started with a Polanco walk, but Marwin Gonzalez, Jeffers, and Arraez went down in order.

Trevor May pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. Nelson Cruz walked and was pinch-ran for by a sunglasses-clad Buxton. After Rosario’s replacement, Jake Cave, struck out on a 3-2 pitch, Buxton was picked off of first base with Miguel Sano at the plate as the go-ahead run.

The Astros scored an insurance run in the top of the ninth after May walked the leadoff batter and Taylor Rogers walked a batter and gave up two singles. Tyler Duffey got out of the inning, and the score was 3-1 headed to the last of the ninth.

But the Twins were fresh out of fight, with strikeouts from Miguel Sano bookending a line-out to third from Kirilloff, who was the best player on the field for the Twins, this side of Berrios.

Notes

  • In addition to a hit and a pair of hard-hit outs, Kirilloff made a nice sliding catch in the right-center field gap. It’s a ball that Buxton would usually get to, but Kirilloff showed nice range.
  • In news related to the Rosario ejection and Kirilloff performance: We just saw the changing of the guard. Kirilloff will very likely be the Twins’ 2021 Opening Day leftfielder.
  • If that was Rosario’s last appearance in a Twins uni ... what a sad way to see it come to an end.
  • While the fielding miscues weren’t as numerous, the Twins’ sudden loss of control on the mound and baserunning gaffes — not to mention the anemic offense in general — were like a bad repeat of Game 1.
  • The Twins scored two runs in 18 innings of postseason ball. At home. Methinks that James Rowson is missed — and his Miami Marlins are still playing playoff baseball to boot.
  • There’s no easy way to say this, but Rocco Baldelli had a bad series. From pinch-hitting for Jeffers and getting too cute by using all four (4!) catchers in a nine inning game on Tuesday to the weird Buxton stuff today (we don’t have all the information on this, but early returns aren’t great) and taking Berrios out with only 75 pitches thrown ... Rocco’s going to kick himself watching this one back.
  • To be clear: I think Baldelli’s a great manager. He just had a couple of bad games, just like players do. Nothing he can’t correct and learn from.

Studs

  • Jose Berrios: 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K
  • Alex Kirilloff: 1-for-4, sliding catch, first major-league hit (yes, he left the bases loaded, but give him a break)
  • Nelson Cruz: 1-for-3, 2B, BB, only RBI again

Duds

  • Eddie Rosario: 0-for-3, K, ejected
  • Ryan Jeffers: 0-for-3, 2 K
  • Taylor Rogers: 0 IP, 3 batters faced, 2 H, BB

Closing Thoughts

In case you hadn’t heard, the Twins pitching was awesome and the hitting was miserable over the course of these two losses.

The 2019 season was the Bomba Squad, devoid of pitching by the postseason. The 2020 season was a banged up team with a solid and not-spectacular offense and largely dominant pitching. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see both sides of the equation come together in 2021.

Hope springs eternal, right?