The Twins and Yankees played one of the most memorable regular-season games in their series history Tuesday night, with the Yankees pulling out a back-and-forth affair 14-12 when Aaron Hicks made a game-saving diving catch of Max Kepler’s line drive in the bottom of the 10th inning with the bases loaded.
One of the big story lines from that marathon was the apparent fatigue of the Twins bullpen. After Cody Stashak pitched two scoreless innings in his major league debut, Blake Parker, Tyler Duffey, Ryne Harper, Taylor Rogers and Kohl Stewart combined to allow nine earned runs in three innings. And while some of those pitchers have had successful seasons thus far, the bullpen could use some help.
When it comes to the big question of whether or not the Twins are in the running to trade for pitching help before the July 31 deadline, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said earlier this week that the market is slowing down and that he remains impressed with the determination of his pitching staff.
“Our guys, they just keep fighting and battling, and we’re going to do everything we can as we get toward the deadline here and close in,” he said. “There hasn’t been much activity of late, but I would say we’re going to continue to search for ways to add to this team, if we can find it. But I think a lot of the guys in that group have really done a nice job.”
One of the big problems Falvey and other front offices around baseball are facing is a volatile trade market. Heading into Wednesday night, there were six teams within 6½ games of an American League wild-card berth and 11 teams within seven games of a National League wild-card slot.
Does that make the market more competitive?
“I think that is part of the kind of slowing down of the market, quote unquote,” Falvey said. “It has been something that we clearly have dealt with the last couple of seasons. I think most of the activity comes in the last few days going into the deadline because there are so many teams that are in contention. There are so many teams within shouting distance of the wild card. I think it is going to be different. We’re going to have to go as long as we can through that process and try to find the right guys.”
Boone nearly a Twin
Falvey was asked how close the Twins were to hiring current Yankees manager Aaron Boone in an advisory role before Boone ultimately took the Yankees job in 2017.
“We talked to him a little bit about some potential roles and opportunities with us when he was trying to think about getting back into the dugout at some point,” Falvey said. “[The Yankees position] was a dream job for him, and I’m really happy for him, but we did discuss about the potential about maybe he’d do some things maybe more in a special advisory capacity.”
Is he surprised Boone got the Yankees job and is having this kind of success in only his second season?
“No, really I wasn’t. He is someone who comes off incredibly articulate, intelligent. He knows the game,” Falvey said. “He has lived it his whole life, going back to his father and brother and playing it. He has been around it [with] multiple generations of professional baseball in the Boone family. I am not surprised. He played in New York, he knows the environment. He has lived it.”
Sano heating up
While Tuesday night’s incredible game had a disappointing end for the Twins, one thing is certain: Miguel Sano is back to being one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.
His two home runs — a three-run shot off Yankees starter Domingo German in the fourth inning and a two-run blast off reliever Zack Britton in the bottom of the eighth — were huge.
Sano has been a Yankee killer in his career. In 15 games against the Bronx Bombers heading into Wednesday night, he has a .271 average with eight homers, two doubles, 18 RBI and 13 runs scored. His .712 career slugging percentage is the highest against any AL opponent.
In his past 20 games going into Wednesday night, Sano has hit .299 with seven homers, 17 RBI, 15 runs scored and has posted a 1.099 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
While Sano has had an inconsistent career, it’s worth remembering one of the greatest mistakes the Twins ever made was letting go David Ortiz too early. The Twins released Ortiz after the 2002 season, when he was 26, after he had hit .272 with 20 homers, 32 doubles, 75 RBI and 52 runs scored in 125 games.
The comparisons between Ortiz and Sano are similar. Sano turned 26 in May, and his numbers are nearly identical to what Ortiz accomplished up to that age.
From 1997-2002 with the Twins, Ortiz hit .266 with a .461 slugging percentage and .809 OPS in 455 career games.
In his Twins career through Tuesday, Sano has hit .243 with a .487 slugging percentage and .821 OPS in 432 career games, reaching 100 home runs faster than any player in club history.
Sano might not go on to the sort of Hall of Fame career Ortiz had in Boston, but there is no doubt the Twins should do everything they can to keep the power-hitting third baseman, who has really started to come on after a slow start.
Sano said that while he’s hitting for more power of late, the most important part of his game has been his preparation for each at-bat.
“You know my approach at the plate every time, I have my plan for the day for the pitchers and I do what I need to do every day to get ready for the game,” Sano said. “I don’t try to hit homers, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Over his past 21 games through Wednesday’s 10-7 loss to the Yankees, Sano has drawn 13 walks while striking out 25 times. Sano is third on the team in strikeouts with 81 behind Nelson Cruz (88) and Jonathan Schoop (84).
“I’m a big guy, a big guy, like Nelson Cruz,” Sano said. “We strike out because we’re power hitters and they pitch different to us. I do what I can do about it.
“I do the best I can every day at the plate.”
Has he been able to figure out how pitchers are trying to get him out?
“They’re pitching breaking balls away, fastballs away and fastballs high,” he said. “I try to take a lot of walks.”
While Sano is batting only .232, he’s walked 25 times and his .562 slugging percentage this season would rank fifth in the American League if he had enough qualifying at-bats.