I know this inter-league series doesn’t seem like it belongs on a marquee. But, check out the standings – these two are leaders in their respective divisions. For both organizations and their fans, it’s a welcome change from the mediocrity that has been the norm for more than half a decade. More after the jump.
The change in fortunes for these clubs in the early going has been mainly attributable to their revamped pitching corps, with the Twins moving to a more veteran staff (only one starter under age 29) while the Rockies have gotten considerably younger, with rookies (Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez) holding down three of their five rotation spots. On offense, the Rockies are the graybeards with four starters aged 30+ and only one (Trevor Story, currently on the DL) aged 25 or younger. For Minnesota, five regulars (Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler) are aged 25 of younger, all just one or two years removed from their rookie seasons.
Game 1 matched Kyle Freeland for the Rockies against Twins’ veteran Phil Hughes. Hughes’ 5.23 ERA this season is not a surprise; his 4.48 ERA since 2010 is the fourth highest among active pitchers (min. 1000 IP). But, he hangs onto his job by turning in quality starts close to half the time. This year, Hughes has yet to reach triple figures in pitches thrown, so the Twins are getting what they can from him before handing it to the bullpen. On this night the teams matched each other through 5 innings, each scoring a pair in the second and adding a solo home run in the fourth. Hughes was still on the mound to start the 6th, so when the first two Rockies that inning went double, single to plate the go-ahead run, Minnesota wisely went to the bullpen for Tyler Duffey, relegated to relief duties this season after a 6.43 ERA in 26 starts last year. Duffey had a nice 1.62 ERA over his first 10 appearances, but stumbled a bit in his next outing against the White Sox, and again this night, giving up a double and home run, after retiring the first two Rox he faced. That damage came at the hands of lefty batters Gerardo Parra and Charlie Blackmon, so it’s perhaps surprising that Twins manager Paul Molitor didn’t go to a lefty in that spot, already down a run and needing to avoid further damage. He certainly had options as veteran Craig Breslow (2.03 ERA) and second-year man Taylor Rogers (3.65) were rested and available (indeed, Molitor did go to Breslow later in the game). With a comfortable four run lead, the Colorado bullpen finished out the game, shutting out the Twins over the last three innings. Final score: Rockies 7, Twins 3
Charlie Blackmon had a breakout season (.324/.381/.552, 29 HR, 82 RBI) for Colorado last year and has kept it going this season with 24 extra-base hits (.601 slugging) a quarter of the way into the season. Blackmon’s 4.4 WAR season last year was the best ever for a Rockie primary center fielder (min. 100 games); indeed, only Blackmon and Dexter Fowler have managed more than one 100 game season in center with even a modest 2 WAR total.
Rain on Wednesday forced a twin bill on Thursday with Game 2 of the series pitting Twins ace Ervin Santana against 22 year-old German Marquez for the Rockies. Colorado jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, on Nolan Arenado‘s first inning solo shot and some nice small ball in the fourth with three runs on two walks (both scoring) and three singles. Mark Reynolds delivered the key two RBI single to give him 35 for the season, on pace for a gaudy 140 total that would be easily the best mark of his career. Minnesota got one of those runs back the next inning, cashing an Eddie Rosario triple, but again could get nothing off the Colorado bullpen. As happened in game 1, closer Greg Holland was called on to retire the last Twin batter, chalking up two of the easiest saves he’ll have this year, both needing just one out and with the tying run no closer than the on deck circle. Final score: Rockies 5, Twins 1
After a 0.95 ERA over his first 6 starts, Santana has posted 4.95 over the next three. Main problem is the long ball, with 5 over those three games though the opposition isn’t getting much else off him, with only a .188 BA over that stretch. The 33 year-old Reynolds seems to have found himself in Colorado with a .292/.367/.493 clip (112 OPS+) this season and last after only .216/.303/.395 (92 OPS+) over the three prior years. The new Reynolds has cut down on the strikeouts (32.3% of PAs through 2013, 26.7% since), but his power is still there with a team-leading 12 home runs to start this campaign.
Looking for the series sweep in the nightcap, Colorado started veteran Tyler Chatwood against second year man Jose Berrios for the Twins. Just 23, Berrios was called up to take Kyle Gibson‘s rotation spot, after Gibson went on the DL. As a rookie last season, Berrios was overmatched, posting an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts, with that ERA and his ERA+, BB/9 and WHIP all ranking second worst among 184 pitchers with 10 or more starts. On this night, though, Berrios brought his “A” game, shutting out the Rox on two hits through 7.2 IP and getting the win, his second in as many games since his call-up. Berrios is the youngest of six Twin starters to begin a season with back-to-back games of 7 IP and no more than one run and one walk allowed; one more like that (a tall order, to be sure) will tie him with Bill Krueger, who started 1992 with 3 such games and added a fourth with 8 IP, 1 R and 2 BB (alas, he ended the season with a 4.53 ERA). Final score: Twins 2, Rockies 0.
The Colorado bullpen pitched 11 innings in this series and did not allow a run. The Rox used an under-25 starter in 21 of their first 40 games, one game less than the franchise record set by the 2015 team.
Six runs is the Twins’ lowest run production at home this season in a 3-game series; they had only two such home series last year. Minnesota’s team shutout in the series finale was their third so far this season, matching their total for all of last year. Third-year man Miguel Sano recorded 28 RBI in the Twins’ first 30 games, tying Harmon Killebrew (1959) for the franchise record for third basemen.