Well who, looking at the schedule last winter, would have guessed that when Minnesota first came to town, that it would be a contest between the first place Twins against the second place Astros?
And so it is. Let’s take a look at the Twins from their perspective, and find out what they think about us.
Crawfish Box Questions:
- Do Twins fans feel this is the year Cleveland relinquishes control of the division?
Tyler Gorsegner responding:
Overall, I think so. While every fanbase has negative fans, the Twins are consistently pulling in 95% plus approval rankings in FanPulse surveys. Cleveland actively got worse this winter, and that’s before the injury bug hit them hard. The Twins got better, and if things hold, I think we’ll see a new AL Central champion.
2. Do Twins fans feel this is the year Buxton puts it all together or are they tempering expectations?
Fans have had relatively low expectations and high hopes for Buxton the last few years. When he is healthy and in the zone, he’s one of the best players in baseball. As a prospect, it often took a couple years for him to adjust to a new level, and due to injury and ineffectiveness, he might be finally approaching his second full season’s worth of at bats. While we remain cautious, there is nothing he has done to temper our excitement. The early returns look like he is finally putting together a masterful offensive performance with his already-stellar defense. Lets just hope the small sample holds true.
3. What are the differences between the 2016 and 2017 teams, and which one does this year’s team feel more like?
Frighteningly, there wasn’t a ton of difference. The biggest thing was a healthy season from Sano and Buxton, both of whom were multi-win players. This season isn’t really looking like much from Twins history. The Twins for years have emphasized defense, pitching to contact, and playing small ball. This year its big offense and strikeouts from the pitchers, in addition to a great and versatile defense. In a lot of ways, its like the Twins have caught up to and maybe even got a little ahead of the game of baseball, after being old fashioned for the last decade plus. This is shaping up to be a season where we surprise people and contend. In a lot of ways, 2017 was an early taste of what the 2019 squad is capable of.
4. What changes have been noticeable under Rocco Baldelli in his first year as manager?
Obviously Baldelli is new, but he has brought an entirely new mindset with him. The Twins are embracing unconventional defensive alignments, and shifting more than any team in baseball. They are also embracing some of the newer science and technologies around pitching, and brought in early trackman advocate and biomechanics wunderkind Wes Johnson at pitching coach. If I had to sum up the changes, its that Molitor and Gardy were old-school guys at heart, even if they try to embrace change. Baldelli, on the other hand, is a change agent, and is tinkering with everything, in a good way.
5. What do you think of the Marwin signing. Isn’t he hitting sub-.200 so far?
Marwin is off to a rough start. He’s hitting under .200 and without much power. That said, he’s been better than expected on the diamond, filling in as an almost-full time third baseman while Miguel Sano is out. He’s also not the worst hitter in that infield, as Ehire Adrianza is scuffling early as well, and even our beloved Willians Astudillo hit a bit of a mini-slump. So far there hasn’t been a lot of frustration with Marwin, and folks still seem to be pretty positive towards him. I do believe his true value is yet to be revealed, as he should move around the diamond much more once Sano returns, and allow the Twins some bench flexibility if they want to add a 13th pitcher come the dog days of summer.
6. Do you think Berrios has made the jump to Cy Young contender?
I think Berrios is absolutely a Cy Young caliber pitcher. That said, I’m not sure he’s a serious contender this year unless the Twins start beating a lot of very good teams. As Johan Sanatana found out in 2005, pitchers from Minnesota need a much stronger resume than pitchers from major markets like NY or LA. So while Berrios is quietly one of the most effective pitchers in baseball, he probably won’t be near the top of the CY conversation until he’s had a couple dominant seasons or the Twins shock the world. We basically need to give people a reason to pay attention.
Twinkie Town Questions:
1. Obviously the Astros were a pre-season favorite, and haven’t done anything to dispel that belief. What would it take for you to consider this a successful season?
After waiting 55 years for a World Championship, and with the youth, talent, and spirit that this team displays, I think Astros fans are a little spoiled right now. This 2019 team looks as good as any other we’ve seen, so I think many fans would be disappointed by any less than another World Series trophy.
2. Marwin Gonzalez was a popular player for you guys, and we talked a little bit about that when the Twins signed him. With his departure, you guys have a new left fielder and/or utility guy I presume. What have you missed about Marwin, and what do the new guys bring to the table?
Marwin Gonzalez is a beloved Astro. Expect a teary, standing ovation when he returns to Minute Maid Park. He and Altuve were Astros during the dark days of multiple 100 loss seasons, a Rule 5 pickup who wouldn’t have been able to stick with any other team. In that first season with the Astros he earned fame by breaking up Yu Darvish’s perfect game with a ninth inning single. He kept improving every season, little by little, and also developing his remarkable versatility. He is a classic Cinderella story.
Then in 2017 he exploded. A 102 wRC+ hitter for his career, during the Astros’ championship run he crushed for 144, while playing almost every position in the field. At one point he had a run of four straight games in which he hit five home runs playing four different positions and from both sides of the plate. But Marwin is best remembered for his ninth inning, game tying home run in Game two of the World Series, a game the Astros eventually won. No Marwin blast, no Astro World Championship. Marwin in an Astro immortal.
Marwin’s replacement is Aledmys Diaz, a solid player, former NL All Star. He made a very bad first impression with the Astros, making fielding errors, one of which cost the team a win, and starting the season 0 for 9. He’s not as versatile as Marwin, but he has made a nice comeback, and has had a couple key home runs in Astros victories. He’s probably a slightly better hitter than Marwin, but not as good defensively, nor as versatile. But we have adequate versatility elsewhere.
3. We miss Ryan Pressly. Can we have him back? But more seriously, he’s become a dominant reliever for the Astros. What changed to unlock his potential?
No one knows what Astros pitching coach, the Wizard, Brent Strom, and his elves in the Nerd Cave, do to pitchers, or what kind of fairy dust they’ve sprinkled to transform the careers of so many of their subjects. But the transformation of Ryan Pressly may be the most impressive work of the Astros staff to date. Pressly came to the Astros already with a high spin rate, which has increased, and he is relying more on on his curve and slider than before. Since last August he is the best reliever in baseball, and has a streak of 26 innings without allowing a run.
4. On that topic, the bullpen has seemingly been the Astro’s weakness the last few years. Is that the case this year again? Do they have any other weaknesses? Is there any help on the horizon?
I have to take exception to the idea that the Astros have or had a weak bullpen. Last year the pen was ranked first in ERA, FIP, xFIP SIERA and second in K%. And that was without Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly for most of the year. This year they rank first in the AL in ERA and FIP, and first in MLB in xFIP and SIERA. The Astros bullpen has three All Stars; Will Harris, Chris Devenski and Roberto Osuna. My money says Ryan Pressly is an All Star this year. Since last August Pressly has the lowest ERA, the lowest WHIP, and the lowest xwOBA in the Major Leagues, and nearly the lowest in every other metric you can think of.
As far as replacements, the Astros have righty on righty specialist Joe Smith on the IL, probably returning in July. They also have some of the best depth in baseball in the Minors. Forrest Whitley is consensus #1 pitching prospect in baseball, and should arrive later this year. Other top 100 prospects not currently on the 25-man roster are J.B Bukauskas and Corbin Martin. There are probably a half dozen arms in the Astros Minor League system that are good enough to be pitching somewhere in the Majors right now.
Despite all the high profile trades the Astros have made in recent years to get veterans like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, there is still a treasure trove of talent in the Minors that can be used at the trade deadline to fill any gaps that might occur.
5. Who is a player we probably haven’t heard of who will have an impact on this series?
mhatter 106 responds:
Astros fans are accustomed to Altuve leading the team in batting, but so far, fourth outfielder Jake Marisnick is the team’s surprise leader at .314.
Always excellent defensively and on the base paths, he struggled at the plate last year, at one point with a 1:51 BB:K ratio, being sent down to AAA for a short while.
This year, through spring and these first 20 games, Jake has shown an improved approach at the plate, a better eye, better contact, fewer strikeouts, and has consistently been getting on base, earning him more playing time. He bats exclusively in the 9 hole, setting the table for George Springer. After hitting 85 wRC+ last year and with an 80 career average, Jake is off to a 135 start this year.