Twin Daily: Kenta Maeda is everything the Twins needed

The ace the Twins have been searching for.
Author:
Publish date:
Kenta Maeda

This story first appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

The ace: It is a mythological creature described in ancient texts – a supernatural being, impervious to the most skilled batsmen and impregnable in the biggest moments. Rarely found in nature, the ace is fancied by every starry-eyed baseball fan near and far, revered as the ultimate key to championship glory.

In reality, aces are ephemeral and unpredictable. For now, the Twins have found theirs, and that's a victory worth savoring.

Madison Bumgarner used to be an ace. In fact, he is the exact type of specimen that fuels the term's modern mythology. His World Series performances are nothing short of legendary. They loom large in the minds of fans, and even front offices. The echoes of Bumgarner's long-removed ethos were enough to draw free-agent interest from the Twins and many other teams last winter, but the left-hander was steadfast in his desire to go to Arizona, so he did. (At an ostensible bargain, no less.)

Thus far with the D-backs, he's gone 0-4 with a 8.52 ERA in seven starts, already besieged by back issues. Imagine if the Twins had simply signed him for $100 million and called it a day.

Thankfully, they "missed" on Bumgarner and pivoted to Plan C, or D, or whatever it may have been. Any way you slice it, trading for Kenta Maeda has worked out better than any aspirational fan could have dreamed.

Frequently prodded throughout the offseason by fans and media for procrastinating on their promised addition of "impact pitching," the front office ultimately landed one of the best pitchers in baseball, and a proven World Series performer to boot.

Maeda's mastery

A first impression is only that, but the start to Maeda's career with the Twins won't soon be forgotten.

Within his first nine starts as a Twin, the right-hander has:

  • Taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning
  • Set a franchise record with eight consecutive strikeouts
  • Led the team to a 7-2 record while on the mound, posting a 2.43 ERA and an MLB-leading 0.74 WHIP
  • Gone 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA against the Indians and White Sox
  • Posted the eighth-highest bWAR (1.6) and ninth-highest fWAR (1.3) of any pitcher in baseball
  • Posted the fourth-highest whiff rate of any pitcher in baseball (15.7%), trailing only Jacob deGrom, Lucas Giolito and Shane Bieber

He pounds the zone with oft-untouchable stuff, and he rises to the occasion. That showed through again last Friday when Maeda took the mound and fired seven shutout innings against Cleveland, another dominant effort against a top contender in the division. In big moments, Maeda steps up. It's the pedigree of a guy who owns a 3.31 ERA in 32 ⅔ postseason innings.

Classy Kenta

The delightful impact of Maeda's arrival doesn't end with his performance on the field. He's also proving to be a person worth cheering for. How can you not love the earnest goodness of Maeda's story, shared in a YouTube video and translated on the Minnesota Sports Fan blog, about the fallout from his near-no-hitter-turned-near-loss after Taylor Rogers came in and promptly blew the save?

As Kenta explains, Rogers felt bad enough about costing his new teammate a well-earned W (and even tagging Maeda with an earned run) that he left an apology letter at the starter's locker.

"I told him not to worry about it," Maeda explains. "It’s not like my pitching line gets erased or anything and we won the game anyway. But Rogers just felt so bad that he initially offered to buy me some alcohol. Some of my translators and trainers told him that I don’t drink, though. So some of my staff just casually said maybe if we go out to drink you can pay the bill or something."

Maeda continues: "But he insisted that it has to be something that benefits Kenta directly. So one of my trainers told him about this really high-quality Japanese rice from a store I like, and he purchased that for me as a gift. So along with this letter, he presented me with this ticket to trade-in for the rice. I can’t read the letter myself so I had it translated. Basically, it says 'I am so sorry for ruining your phenomenal pitching performance yesterday.' This really made me happy. I don’t think there are that many pitchers out there who care this much to go out of there way to do this."

It's a great (but unsurprising) story about Rogers, who is a respected and beloved leader in the clubhouse. This connective moment between an organizational stalwart and the rotation's newly acquired phenom really warms my heart, transcending language barriers and cultural divides.

It serves to reinforce what we're seeing on the field. He might be a big-market fish in a land of 10,000 small ponds, but Maeda is fitting right in, and he's just what this team needed.

On Thursday afternoon in Chicago, he'll face the White Sox with the division more or less on the line. If the Twins can win behind him and split the series, they'll be one game behind in the Central with 10 days to go, and Minnesota will hold the tiebreaker.

It'll be the biggest spot of Maeda's Twins career. At least up until he starts Game 1 of the playoffs in a couple weeks. He's under contract for three more seasons, so I'm sure there will be plenty more to come.

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

Next Up

Marijuana, cannabis

Minnesota legal marijuana bill headed for House vote for first time ever

The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday.

Douglas Schroeder

Appeal to find 59-year-old man missing from Edina

Douglas Schroeder was last seen on Thursday.

Ambulance Hennepin Healthcare

Woman found fatally shot in downtown parking ramp

It happened on 9th Street South between LaSalle and Hennepin.

duluth police department

Woman critical after Duluth stabbing, man suffers broken leg

Police have released sparse details about the incident.

Screen Shot 2021-05-08 at 10.01.38 PM

Police: Man, 20, killed his older sister in Chanhassen

Police found the 25-year-old woman dead from gunshot wounds.

Kirill Kaprizov

Kaprizov's playmaking, Rask's OT winner on display against Ducks

The Wild superstar had a pair of assists in a 4-3 victory.

Tyler Duffey

Twins offense, bullpen continue to struggle against Tigers

The Tigers scored five runs in the seventh inning in a 7-3 defeat.

ambulance

Early Saturday crash leaves 2 kids, 1 adult dead in Maple Grove

The crash happened just before 7 a.m. Saturday.

State Patrol

State Patrol reports 2 fatal crashes on Friday in Minnesota

The first incident happened in Austin Township, and the second happened in Birch Lake Township.

motorcycle

Deaths on Minnesota roads in 2021 at highest level in more than a decade

There have been a total of eight motorcyclist fatalities on Minnesota roads this year.

Related

Kenta Maeda

Twins Daily: Kenta Maeda's timing couldn't be better

Parker Hageman digs into what makes Maeda so tough to hit.

Kenta Maeda

How Kenta Maeda could be very good for the Twins

The Twins snuck into a blockbuster deal and upgraded their "win-now" rotation.

Kenta Maeda

Who has the edge in Game 1: Kenta Maeda or Zack Greinke?

Maeda has a ton of playoff experience, but most of it as a reliever.

Kenta Maeda

Twins' Kenta Maeda asked for a trade out of Los Angeles

The newest Twins starter would like to push for 200 career wins.

Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda will start opening day for Twins

Maeda will take the mound against Milwaukee on Apr. 1.

Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda's unhittable stretch sets Twins franchise record

The right-hander struck out eight straight Brewers on Tuesday night.

Luis Arraez

Twins Daily: Twins week in review: Smoother sailing

What's going on with Jose Berrios. This might provide some answers.