With the division secured and the Twins almost assuredly locked into the third seed in the AL, Minnesota has two goals the rest of the regular season: stay healthy and figure out who can fill roles in the playoffs. So let’s take a look at this game with those goals in mind.
First up was Joe Ryan. Currently the frontrunner to start a potential third game in the playoffs, Ryan was solid against the Angels today, but not flawless. He finished throwing 6 innings on 91 pitches, giving up 7 hits and 3 runs while striking out 10 batters. Importantly he didn't give up any home runs or walks. He’s looked significantly better since his IL stint but still hasn’t fully recovered his first half form, leaving a few too many pitches middle-middle against a weak Angels offense.
The Twins also have a few bullpen spots up for grabs, with Duran, Jax, Pagán, Thielbar, Varland, and Maeda all locked in. Varland was first out of the ‘pen today and continued his excellent run as a reliever. He pitched a single inning, giving up one hit while striking out two, showcasing the improved stuff that has played up in shorter stints. As a lifelong starter, the big test for Varland will be seeing if can pitch in games closer together on a relief schedule.
Assuming they bring 11 pitchers for a three-game series, that leaves two spots that players are auditioning for, likely between Paddack, Funderburk, Floro, Stewart (mostly depending on health), and Alcala. (I’m also assuming that Ober will be added to start if they advance, and praying to every known god that Dallas Keuchel is not a part of any postseason plan)
With the Twins scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh, Dylan Floro got his next audition, giving up a couple hits and no runs in his inning of work. With the Twins getting healthier on the pitching side, I would be fairly surprised to see Floro make the postseason roster at this point.
Kody Funderburk was brought in to close out the victory, and he was not at his best. He gave up a hit, a walk, and hit a batter, but did ultimately escape the inning unscathed. More than others, Funderburk’s chances of making the playoff roster will hinge more on the Twins’ eventual opponent and if they need a second lefty out of the bullpen, behind Thielbar.
Chris Paddack was scheduled to make his first appearance in the majors since his Tommy John’s surgery last year, but the rain delay after the sixth inning ruined his chance. After about an hour-long delay, the Twins didn’t want to warm him back up, which makes sense coming off of his injury. Paddack will surely get a couple more chances over the next week to earn his spot and should have a good chance with the improved stuff he displayed on his rehab assignment.
On the offensive side, the main goal is to stay healthy, especially after injuries to Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa. Matt Wallner took a pitch directly off of the top of his foot and Jorge Polanco had a funny swing, but both players were able to stay in the game. Beyond that, everybody stayed un-hit and un-tweaked.
Still, in a 9-run game, there were some fun highlights. Jorge Polanco hit his 14th home run of the year to tie the game up in the third inning, continuing to hit well down the stretch. Ryan Jeffers had an amazing game as well, absolutely crushing a triple to dead center and a home run to seal the game in the 7th. Max Kepler continued his second half resurgence as well, hitting a big fly of his own.
The other main takeaway from this game was Jorge Polanco’s defensive work at third. If Lewis can’t play, the Twins will need Polanco at third to get their best bats in the lineup. He looked decent enough but had a tough play in the third inning on a hot ground ball. He was able to snag the grounder but made a low throw to Julien at second base in an attempt to turn a double play. They got the one out, but a run eventually came around to score due to the lack of execution. Those are the little things the Twins will be looking at as they evaluate their best lineups for the playoffs.
Joe Ryan: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 10 K
Max Kepler: 2-5, HR, 2 RBI
Ryan Jeffers: 2-4, HR, 3B, 3 RBI
No duds, just dubs. Twins win!
- Byron Buxton started at DH today for the Saints, going 0-4 with a strikeout. Though he did hit two balls over 95 MPH, so that’s encouraging.
- It was the final game of the Saints season, so any further in-game work for Buxton will come with the big league squad. The Twins have not announced any plans for Buck yet.
- After the game, it was announced that the starters for the next series vs Oakland will be Ober, Lopez, and Gray, and specifically mentioned that Kenta Maeda would be available in relief.
- As it currently stands, the Twins are slated to play the Astros in the Wild Card round, and it’s looking like they will face whoever finishes second in the AL West. The Blue Jays have a 2 game lead on the second WC spot, and the Rangers now have a 2.5 game lead on the West after sweeping the Mariners and the Astros (embarrassingly) getting swept by the Royals. The 3 game set between Seattle and Houston that begins tomorrow could end up deciding the Twins’ playoff opponent.