My friends, the time has come to pull the plug on a veteran starter in our rotation. This is a decision I must make unilaterally out of pure exasperation, but if you're willing, I will enlist your help in selecting a replacement.
The latest update on our interactive 2020 Twins season, now reaching the end of April, lies ahead.
To get caught up on what we're doing here, you can check out the introductory post in the series for an explanation of the premise and setup. But the quick version is this: We're playing a progressive simulated Twins season on MLB The Show 20 on PS4, and y'all are helping guide the ship. In each installment I'll update you on what's happened since the last, and put at least one key decision up for vote.
Date In Game: 4/29/20
Team Record: 17-13
Leading OPS: Josh Donaldson (1.003 in 123 AB)
Leading ERA (SP): Jake Odorizzi (2.95 in 35.2 IP)
Leading ERA (RP): Zack Littell (0.00 in 11.0 IP)
Gm 21 vs DET: L 9-4 (Berrios 1.1 IP, 5 ER, L)
Gm 22 vs DET: L 4-3 (Donaldson 3-for-5, HR)
Gm 23 vs SEA: W 6-5 (Maeda 7 IP, 2 ER, W)
Gm 24 vs SEA: W 6-1 (Arraez 3-for-4, 2 R)
Gm 25 vs SEA: L 7-6 (Garver 2 HR, 5 RBI)
Gm 26 vs SEA: W 6-0 (Berrios CG SO)
Gm 27 vs BOS: L 2-0 (Odorizzi 7.1 IP, 1 ER, L)
Gm 28 vs BOS: W 8-1 (Donaldson 3-for-4, HR, 3 RBI)
Gm 29 vs BOS: W 9-5 (Cruz GS)
Gm 30 vs LAD: W 5-3 (Berrios 7 IP, 3 ER)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
I gotta say, I'm a little surprised. And maybe a little disappointed? In our last edition, I proposed a change on the bench as we looked to replace Ehire Adrianza's redundant presence with a speedy outfield backup. The options were to sign a free agent (Rajai Davis being the favorite), or promote an internal option from Triple-A. And by more than a 3-to-1 margin, you guys picked... internal promotion.
Typical cheap Pohlads.
In all seriousness, I applaud the very rational decision. We promoted Jimmy Kerrigan, who seemed the best fit as a righty-swinging outfielder with good speed. The 26-year-old made his MLB debut on the day he was called up, filling in for a scuffling Byron Buxton in center and finishing 1-for-4 as the No. 9 hitter in a 9-4 loss to Detroit. Kerrigan – who becomes the first Twin since Augie Ojeda in 2004 to sport No. 4 on his uniform – will continue to serve as a late-inning bench option, and very sporadic starter.
Our last 10 games brought a winning record, with plenty of ups and downs. Jose Berrios started the slate off with a thud, coughing up five earned runs before we had to give him the hook with one out in the second. For whatever reason, our rotation-fronter just seemed off. In his 1 1/3 innings, he allowed five hits and a walk without a strikeout.
Luckily, Berrios would bounce back in a big way five days later, tossing a complete game shutout against the Mariners to seal a 3-1 series victory. The righty actually made three starts in these 10 games, adding seven innings of three-run ball against Los Angeles in the final contest we simmed. That's because I made the executive decision to skip Rich Hill's latest start. We'll get to that later.
Through 30 games, the Twins are 17-13, still chasing the Cleveland Indians and their sizable division lead, which is buoyed by an 11-0 start to the season.
When I next check in, we'll be about one-quarter of the way through the season, so at that point I'll give you all a full statistical breakdown across the roster. But for now, here are the notable performers.
Josh Donaldson is officially going ham. He leads the Twins in home runs with 11, well ahead of second-place Miguel Sano (7). Among AL hitters, only J.D. Martinez (15) and Eloy Jimenez (13) have more long balls. Donaldson is slashing .309/.393/.610 with 24 walks and 16 strikeouts in 140 PA.
The newly signed slugger is a standout, but basically the entire offense is scorching. Nelson Cruz is slashing .304/.380/.500 with a team-leading 25 RBIs. Miguel Sano is mashing to the tune of .314/.408/.569 with seven homers and 23 RBIs. Leadoff man Max Kepler is rocking a .933 OPS, and his 25 runs scored rank second to only Francisco Lindor (28) in the AL.
Luis Arraez is batting .310 with an even 11-to-11 K/BB ratio, which probably doesn't surprise anyone, but how about this: he already has four homers in 87 at-bats, and is slugging .529. Juiced ball? Who needs it?
In the rotation, Berrios's overall numbers (4.69 ERA, 1.49 WHIP in 40.1 IP) have suffered from a of couple clunkers, but he has five quality starts in seven turns. Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi has looked every bit an ace, turning in a 2.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 42-to-9 K/BB ratio in 39 2/3 IP. Kenta Maeda joins him as a sturdy fixture, with a shiny 4-0 record to go along with his 3.03 ERA in 35 2/3 IP.
Taylor Rogers is leading the bullpen with a 1.13 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 16-to-3 K/BB ratio through 16 frames. He's 7-for-8 on save chances. Zack Littell still hasn't allowed a run through 11 innings. Tyler Clippard (1.64 ERA) and Tyler Duffey (2.25) are getting 'er done as well.
Byron Buxton, sadly, continues to struggle immensely. Through 106 PAs, he's slashing .183/.260/.237 with zero homers, five RBIs, and nine runs scored. The production looks especially bad when compared to his peers in the Minnesota lineup, but it's lackluster from any angle. On the bright side, I've chosen to take an aggressive approach with his 99-rated speed on the bases, where his nine steals (on 12 attempts) lead the American League.
While the bullpen's mostly been good, two key late-inning cogs have had their issues. Trevor May (5.23 ERA and 1.94 WHIP in 10.1 IP) has been plagued by control issues, with six walks to go along with his 12 Ks. Meanwhile, Sergio Romo's control has been impeccable (7-to-0 K/BB in 10 IP) but he's been haunted by the long ball, with four homers allowed and a 5.23 ERA.
And then there is Rich Hill. As you may recall, I put his removal from the rotation up for vote after 10 games, because his first two starts were so brutally bad. In responsible fashion, you all shot down that notion overwhelmingly, opting to show patience with the reputed southpaw. Sure enough, he showed a bit of improvement over the following couples starts. But in his latest turn... the wheels came off entirely.
Hill's fifth start opened up like this: hit, home run, hit, error, home run. With five runs and zero outs on the board, I had no chance but to yank him and make it a bullpen game. This egregiously poor performance ballooned his ERA to 9.78 and his WHIP to 1.97, with eight homers allowed in 19 1/3 innings.
What's really frustrating is that the offense came to play in this game – led by Mitch Garver homering twice and driving in five – to nearly pull out a victory, but we lost 7-6 in 10 innings. With any kind of competent effort from the starting pitcher, we probably win that game and sweep Seattle.
Hill's sixth start was scheduled to open the Los Angeles Dodgers series, which most recently got underway, but I couldn't bear the thought of sending Hill into Chavez Ravine to face his stacked former team. Since the series followed on off day, I skipped Hill's start and turned the rotation over instead.
And I'm sorry to say, but that's it for Hill. Can't do it anymore. As a 40-year-old on a one-year deal, and with several viable replacement options available, I just can't see a compelling reason to hang on anymore.
DECISION TIME: WHO SHOULD REPLACE RICH HILL AS FIFTH STARTER?
My first instinct would be to say let's give top prospect Jordan Balazovic, who's been working in a long relief role out of the bullpen, a shot to find some traction in the MLB rotation at age 21, cuz that'd be fun. He actually does have the highest overall rating (74) of anyone we'll discuss here. But his performance (7.31 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in 16 innings) doesn't remotely justify a promotion.
So we'll consider three worthy options, and y'all can vote for your preferred choice in the comments.
Candidate #1: Randy Dobnak, RHP
While he and Balazovic are both operating as long relievers out of our bullpen, Dobnak's been the higher-leverage option, and he has been absolutely tremendous. The 25-year-old has picked up right where he left off in 2019, posting a 1.65 ERA through 16 1/3 innings. However, that shiny number does conspicuously come attached to a 7-to-8 K/BB ratio and 4.53 FIP.
Candidate #2: Devin Smeltzer, LHP
Smeltzer would've been pitching alongside Dobnak in the MLB bullpen, but got bumped to Triple-A before Opening Day when we decided to sign Balazovic (who was oddly available in free agency). The left-hander has been Rochester's ace, with a 3-0 record, 2.86 ERA and 19-to-4 K/BB ratio through 22 innings in four starts.
Candidate #3: Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
His case isn't especially great on the surface, as he's 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.65 WHIP at Triple-A. But the argument for him is this: he's an established veteran who's mostly been effective (ERA was 2.25 before he gave up 4 ER in 4 IP in his last start), he has a higher overall rating than Smeltzer (69 vs. 68), and his stamina rating is significantly superior to Dobnak (75 vs. 66) so he'd likely put less burden on the bullpen.
4/29: @ LAD
5/1: @ LAA
5/2: @ LAA
5/3: @ LAA
5/4: vs. SF
5/5: vs. SF
5/6: vs. SF
Part 1: We Can Build This Thing Together (0-0)
Part 2: 10 Games In, 6 Games Back (4-6)
Part 3: Roaring Back (11-9)
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