Twins Split Bumpy Series in Detroit

The Twins split their weekend series against the Tigers, which could be a sign of what is to come this season for Minnesota.

Joe Ryan of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Progressive Field.
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 08: Joe Ryan #74 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Progressive Field on September 08, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Twins came into Detroit having dropped four of their last five games. With a 4-6 record, they needed to get back on track during this important divisional series. Splitting the series was not ideal, but it was also far from the worst possible outcome.

Now, just fourteen games into the year, the Twins find themselves in a tough position. Riddled with injuries and numerous players struggling, it looks like it could potentially be a long season for the Minnesota Twins.

Yes, it is early, but this four-game set against the Tigers serves as a possible forewarning of what might be to come for this Twins team. Injuries, struggling offense, and good pitching were all major storylines this weekend in Detroit.

Minnesota Twins Injuries

The Twins have been struggling with injuries since spring training. Their injured list has been absolutely littered with key players.

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The bad injury luck continued in Detroit, as Carlos Correa went down with a mild right intercostal strain on Friday. There is currently no timeline for his return, but an update should come this week.

On the bright side, the Twins finally got back one of their many injured relief pitchers, Caleb Thielbar, who made his first appearance on Sunday. He gave up three runs, but he will be a key member of the bullpen going forward despite his rocky season debut. Thielbar posted a 3.23 ERA last season in just over 30 innings pitched.

For reference, this is what the Twins IL looks like now that Thielbar is back with the team:

Player (IL)2023 fWAR
Royce Lewis – INF (10-Day)2.4 fWAR
Carlos Correa – INF (10-Day)1.9 fWAR
Max Kepler – OF (10-Day)2.9 fWAR
Anthony DeSclafani – SP (60-Day)1.0 fWAR
Daniel Duarte – RP (15-Day)-0.2 fWAR
Jhoan Duran – RP (15-Day)1.0 fWAR
Josh Staumont – RP (15-Day)0.2 fWAR
Justin Topa – RP (15-Day)1.1 fWAR
Zack Weiss – RP (60-Day)-0.2 fWAR
Josh Winder – RP (60-Day)0.1 fWAR
10 Players10.2 fWAR

This should provide a little context for all the injuries the Twins have been dealing with.

Most of the injured pitchers are relievers. Outside of Duran and Topa, there is not a lot of impact on the IL, but there is a lot of depth. This has resulted in a decimated 40-man roster for the Twins.

On offense, Kepler was the Twin with the highest fWAR in 2023, while Royce Lewis had the highest wRC+ on the team. Correa was the Twins’ best player by fWAR this season, up until he exited the game on Friday. They all now find themselves on the injured list.

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The injuries the Twins have suffered have led to bench players turning into regulars. That has caused the offense to stall, and now the team is putting out one of the worst offenses in the league.

Offensive Struggles

This Twins’ offense has been nothing short of disappointing. That continued in their series against Detroit. They managed to score 20 runs across four games, but that number is not what it seems. Eleven of those runs came in the first game of a doubleheader that went twelve innings.

In that long contest, two of the runs were automatic runners, three came in on a fielding error, and two more on a home run hit off a position player pitching. Take those away and the Twins offense really only produced four runs in that game.

If you run through where the Twins rank relative to other teams, you can see a clear picture of their offensive struggles:

Offensive CategoryMLB Rank
Runs – 4927th
Strikeout Rate – 27.6%28th
AVG – .18530th
OBP – .28127th
SLG – .32527th
wRC+ – 7828th
via FanGraphs

Some of the notable under-performers include Willi Castro, Byron Buxton, Matt Wallner, Kyle Farmer, and Carlos Santana. They are all currently posting a wRC+ under 70. None of them is hitting above .200, and Wallner, specifically, is striking out 50% of the time. This offense is not going to sustain itself with all five of these players getting everyday reps and continuing to produce at this level.

Injuries play a large role in this. If Kepler, Correa, and Lewis were healthy, we likely would not be seeing Wallner, Farmer, or Castro on a regular basis.

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While the offense has been absolutely terrible as a unit, a collection of individuals have held their own. Austin Martin is not blowing anyone away, but his 101 wRC+ means he has produced at roughly a league-average level.

Neither Edouard Julien nor Alex Kirilloff have seen many lefties, but they have produced consistently in the at-bats they have been given. A 125 and 170 wRC+, respectively, have been great, but those two cannot carry this offense alone.

The Twins Pitching Shines

While the offense has been really hard to watch, the pitching has shown up this season. In Detroit, Joe Ryan, Simeon Woods Richardson, and the bullpen were particularly impressive.

Joe Ryan

Ryan started the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday. He was incredible over his six-inning start.

Outside of a splitter that hung over the middle of the plate in the first inning, Ryan was close to flawless. The second inning of his start stood out in particular. On ten pitches Ryan registered three strikeouts, three whiffs, and was one ball away from an immaculate inning.

Ryan would go on to throw six innings, giving up six hits, and one earned run while collecting a career-high 12 strikeouts. He also collected 19 whiffs, good for a 37% whiff rate. He looked almost completely untouchable.

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Through the first five innings of this start, he allowed only three hits and collected twelve of a possible fifteen outs via the strikeout. That also includes a stretch of eight consecutive outs that were recorded via the strikeout.

This looked like the Joe Ryan that I argued deserved an extension from the Twins last season. This Joe Ryan forms a formidable one-two punch with ace Pablo López.

Simeon Woods Richardson

With the doubleheader on Saturday, the Twins were allowed a 27th man and elected to have Woods Richardson start the second game. In an important, early-season divisional contest, the 23-year-old was sensational.

Woods Richardson completed six innings on just 80 pitches in a very efficient start. Only allowing two hits and one run, he was able to give this struggling lineup a chance to win the game.

One way to effectively make your way through a start is to pepper the strike zone. While he was not missing bats the way Ryan did, Woods Richardson threw a lot of strikes.

Landing over 66% of your pitches for strikes is hard to do. Woods Richardson did it on short notice, having to meet the team in Detroit on Friday.

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In my season preview for the Twins, I was deeply concerned about the lack of pitching depth. Woods Richardson helped to quell some of that concern this weekend. He is likely to make more starts this year, and the Twins will need them to be of similar quality.

The Bullpen

The Twins have boasted one of the best bullpens in all of baseball this season. They were exceptional again in Detroit, considering the context.

The first game of the series got out of hand rather quickly. The Twins were down five before they went to the bullpen. The ‘pen gave up another three runs in only four innings, but the game was already out of reach. On the bright side, the relievers managed to rack up eight strikeouts in that game.

The doubleheader is where the bullpen really shined. They threw six innings in the first game and then another three in the second. In those nine innings that day, they gave up no earned runs and collected ten strikeouts. The bullpen was pivotal in winning both of those games.

The real ugly spot was the series finale. The bullpen gave up four runs in two innings. Keep in mind that this came after a doubleheader in which every arm was used. It was also the return of Thielbar, who had been on the injured list.

The bullpen’s poor showing was compounded by some bad defense. Both Farmer and Castro made defensive miscues that contributed to the meltdown.

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Despite the bullpen blunder on Sunday, the Twins relief corps has been outstanding this season. Here is where they rank amongst bullpens in MLB:

Pitching StatMLB Rank
Earned Runs – 133rd
ERA – 2.133rd
K/9 – 11.621st
BB/9 – 3.6013th
AVG – .1933rd
WHIP – 1.096th
SIERA – 2.933rd
via FanGraphs

Despite missing one of the top relievers in the game, Jhoan Duran, this bullpen still ranks among the best in baseball. The blunder during the series finale in Detroit was unfortunate but also an outlier. It was this bullpen’s first and only blown save of the season; it is not going to become a habit.

Moreover, this unit will only get stronger as pitchers return from the injured list.

Where Is the Twins’ Season Headed?

This series against the Tigers could serve as a nice synopsis of what is to come.

The Twins currently find themselves in fourth place in the AL Central. They have gotten off to a rather disappointing start.

It was clear in this series that the offense is really holding Minnesota back. Despite quality starts from the rotation and a great bullpen, the Twins aren’t winning as many games as they should. While splitting this series was a fine result, this team should be disappointed they were not able to leave with three of the four games.

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The Twins have already been through a lot this season. Hopefully, they have burned through all of their bad injury luck. As players return to the bullpen and lineup from the injured list, this team should continue to grow stronger.

Yes, it is very early in the season. The Twins just played their 14th game, so it is hard to make any sweeping assumptions. However, I certainly believe that there is some cause for concern.