Even in a shortened season, there are a lot of Major League Baseball games. These events — normally 1 of 162, this year 1 of 60 — tend to blend together and follow predictable paths. Few stand out from the crowd.
For four innings, both Milwaukee starter Corbin Burnes and Twins starter Kenta Maeda hadn’t allowed a hit. The Twins broke through in the fifth with two hits and a run, but Maeda kept putting up blanks — at one point striking out eight consecutive batters.
He carried that no-no all the way to the ninth, when Eric Sogard led off with a single. Maeda left. The normally reliable Taylor Rogers came in to presumably finish off a 3-0 win. Until the Brewers tied it, leading to a tense three innings before the Twins prevailed 4-3.
That’s a lot to remember, right? The near no-hitter. The unraveling. The extra-inning drama. The relief.
When games like that happen, though, sometimes we tend to overlook the most important things. Such as this:
A no-hitter from Maeda would have been a great story, but the bigger picture story is that he continued a trend this season where he has been pitching like an ace.
Note: He’s not an ace yet. We need a little more time on that. But if the hope from the Twins when they dealt top prospect Brusdar Graterol to get Maeda in the offseason went beyond just a salary-controlled middle-of-the-rotation starter, their faith (and scouting and trust in numbers) is paying off.
Even before he threw eight hitless innings Tuesday, Maeda wasn’t giving up many hits. The most he’s allowed in any of his five starts this season: five. His grand total in 31.2 innings: 14. Yeah, less than a hit every other inning.
Maeda isn’t overpowering with his fastball, but his pitch mix consistently has hitters off-balance. He primarily throws three pitches — slider, change-up, four-seam fastball — but he can mix in a sinker, cutter and even a curve just to really keep batters guessing. Batters have put 63 balls in play against Maeda and have only barreled him up three times.
The thing is, a lot of Maeda’s numbers are in line with what he did previously with the Dodgers, meaning the small sample size this season has a larger context.
Given a bigger role with the Twins — Maeda was shuttled between the bullpen and starting rotation with the pitching-rich Dodgers — Maeda is thriving.
Five starts this season is a small sample size (though it’s close to half of a season this year). But at this point, Maeda looks like a prime candidate to be a Game 1 starter in the postseason — and someone who could match a lot of other team’s best starter inning-for-inning.
For the Twins to advance in the postseason, that’s the thing that matters most.