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Twins Q&A with Twinkie Town

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I get TJ Gorsegner to answer my Twins questions ahead of the Rays visit to Rocco’s modern ballpark.

Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays
Rocco Baldelli #5 of the Minnesota Twins acknowledges the Tampa Bay Rays dugout during a tribute to his time as a player for the team during a baseball game at Tropicana Field on May 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Ahead of this week’s meeting with the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins, I exchanged questions with Twinkie Town’s T.J. Gorsegner:

Are the Twins going to keep their stranglehold on the AL Central?

Probably not, to be honest. They still have like an 89% chance (don’t hold me to that exact number) chance to win the division, but Cleveland is finally getting healthy, and has been on a hot streak lately. Meanwhile, the Twins have started seeing the injuries pile up, and have slipped a bit off pace. They still haven’t lost three in a row this season (and aren’t at risk of doing so tomorrow,) but have only gone 7-6 in their last thirteen games, and the more pessimistic parts of the fanbase see the sky falling.

For the rest of us, who aren’t Chicken Little, I think it’s unrealistic for the Twins to stay on this pace, but just playing .500 baseball from here out is still good for 93 wins. They’ll probably be a little better than that, especially if they pick up some reinforcements, so 96-100 wins is very possible. Cleveland would have to win at a .627 rate the rest of the season to see 96 wins, and we see them 12 more times this season. It will get closer than it is now, but that gap will not be easy for them to close entirely.

The Rays will not face Berrios, but he and Jake Odorizzi are outperforming their xFIP’s considerably, with their FIP’s closer but still worse than their actual ERA. Are you worried the 2.5ish ERA’s may slip away?

I worry more about Jake Odorizzi than I do Berrios. The big thing about Jose Berrios is he is very, very consistent. When he takes the mound, the Twins are almost guaranteed to see at least six innings, and probably less than three runs on the board. He’s also a young player, at just 25, and just coming into his prime. He could be scary good for a long time.

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Jose Berrios
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Odorizzi has been a bit more of a smoke-and-mirror show. He has thrown a couple absolute clunkers, but he has also shut teams down for a long period of time. I do believe some part of that success may have been based on a soft schedule, but he did pitch well against the Yankees and Astros. It’s a little hard to say how much of his success is luck, how much is comfort in his second year with the team, and how much we can attribute to the new coaching staff--but Wes Johnson is certainly a factor in that conversation.

Are the Twins still flirting with The Opener (at the MLB level or in minors)?

Eh, not really.

They haven’t used it at all in the majors this year. It almost felt like last season was a september “look-at-me” from a lame duck manager at this point. Paul Molitor was a great baseball player, and a great baseball mind, but he never truly embraced modern concepts. I suspect (without proof) he was on notice from the front office to try something.

The new staff, meanwhile, has the sabermetric bonafides to not need to look like they are embracing it. The Twins also used a lot of younger guys in that role last season, which made it more logical in September, after the rosters expanded. The last factor is that our starters have all pitched well, and mostly fairly deep into games.

When you have a guy who is giving you seven innings and two runs fairly often, you don’t really need to put an opener in front of him.

Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays
Jake Odorizzi
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

How is our old friend Rocco treating you, half way through the season?

We pretty well universally love Rocco. I think the lowest approval rating he has ever received on FanPulse was like, 92. I know it was in the 90’s. Part of his success might be that he inherited a roster of guys who are starting to peak, but he has also brought the most out of them.

The team is clearly having fun (look up Eddie Rosario’s “bomba” interview) and Rocco made some smart hires with his staff. Tony Diaz is a fluent spanish-speaker who has been around the league for forever. Jeremy Hefner and Wes Johnson are both brilliant at finding issues with pitchers. Derek Shelton was convinced to stick around as bench coach, which is great for continuities sake. Tommy Watkins coached a lot of these guys in the minors.

Overall, I think Baldelli has made the right moves, even with some rookie in-game mistakes, we are very, very happy with him so far.

Is there anything he seems to have “brought” from Tampa Bay with him to Minnesota?

It’s hard to say that he brought one thing with him, but more the entire organizational philosophy. The front office was already transitioning to a more analytical approach, but having a coach who is steeped in the ideas and understands how to communicate them to the players was an absolutely critical addition. The other coaches around Baldelli also seem to be enthusiastic about doing things the best way possible, not the traditional way.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, second from the right, talks with catcher Jason Castro (15) and starting pitcher Michael Pineda (35), third from the left, at Target Field
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Another very outside-the-box, Tampa-esque move was hiring Johnson as the pitching coach. He is a guy with a great track record in college, and a strong background in biomechanics, a trackman pioneer, but no one in the MLB had ever hired a pitching coach straight from college. If we were still following the “Twins Way” there was no way he would have been given that role.

What’s the closer situation in the bullpen? Your saves leader (Parker) has a 4.10 ERA, 5.84 FIP?

The Twins really have a committee situation there. Taylor Rogers is going to fill the highest leverage roles as the “bullpen ace.”

Parker was the de facto closer to begin the year, due to experience, but he just missed some games due to a family medical leave. Without him, the Twins were just fine to close out games. Rogers got overused a little, but Trevor May is also a weapon in the late innings. Tyler Duffey and Ryne Harper have also made a case to be used in higher leverage situations.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Parker supplanted before August first, whether by an internal option, or by a trade. Another interesting name to keep an eye on is Cody Allen. Allen was a great reliever in Cleveland for years, before falling off a bit last season, and a lot this year with the Angels.

Even last season, people were claiming they could see Allen’s issues, and with the Twins staff, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spend a month in Triple-A, and come back looking like his old self. If that happens, he is another great late-inning weapon. If Allen and a couple guys from trades step up, and either Rogers or May continues to impress, Parker could be the seventh-inning guy sooner rather than later.

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Thank you to TJ for answering questions; I hope your team loses. You can read the Rays side of the Q&A here.