3 Up, 3 Down (4/1): Little Things Cost Twins in Heartbreaking Opening Day Loss
Thursday’s 6-5 Opening Day loss in extra innings to the Milwaukee Brewers showed just how much little things can snowball in the major leagues.
The Minnesota Twins never trailed until the last pitch of the game, and a three-run rally for the Brewers in the ninth was keyed by two misplays that, by themselves, probably wouldn’t be a huge deal but were exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding them.
Let’s talk to it:
Win Probability Log (Via Fangraphs.com)
Luis Arraez was completely dialed in. He had a pair of hits and a walk and filled in capably at third base when Josh Donaldson went down in the first inning with an injury. He showed his typical, as usual, command of the strike zone and also hit the ball extremely hard on the lineout that opened the game — a tremendous play by Brewers shortstop Luis Urias (almost a homonym of Luis Arraez, when you think about it). While the hope is that the Donaldson issue is temporary, the Twins are well insulated against this sort of thing — something that isn’t as true for other teams in the division.
Despite striking out three times, Miguel Sano took some terrific plate appearances. He fell behind 1-2 in the first inning against Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff before taking three straight close pitches for a walk. And while he struck out swinging in the fifth and six innings, he worked three-ball counts in both instances, and saw eight pitches against Freddy Peralta, who was absolutely dealing for the Brewers this afternoon (six strikeouts in two innings).
While Kenta Maeda struggled, the relievers who immediately succeeded him were solid. An error by Andrelton Simmons ended Maeda’s day, and a run came around to score as a result. However, Tyler Duffey did just enough to get the Twins out of trouble in the fifth while maintaining a 3-2 lead — one that was extended to 5-2 when Byron Buxton throttled a first-pitch breaking ball from Eric Yardley off the batters eye in center field — 456 feet for a home run that was the longest hit of the day across MLB and the longest round-tripper in Buxton’s career.
Cody Stashak, Taylor Rogers and Hansel Robles each followed with scoreless frames and combined for four strikeouts as all went smoothly until things went sideways for Alex Colome in the ninth inning.
Donaldson getting hurt was surely not a good thing, but for now, it appears that his leg issue which cropped up on his first-inning double has nothing to do with his previous calf problems. As previously noted, the Twins are pretty well protected if he can’t return right away, though of course, the hope is the injury isn’t terribly serious.
It was just one game, but Mitch Garver really, really struggled at the plate. He managed to lift the first pitch he saw in the ninth inning to left for a relatively deep fly out, but otherwise he was stuck in the middle of taking pitches in the zone and chasing pitches out of it. Again, it’s just one game and he’s going to be fine — but Thursday looked awfully similar to some of Garver’s struggles from 2020.
For a team that was supposed to be based on improved defense, it let them down a few times on Thursday. Simmons potentially saved a run in the second inning by keeping Travis Shaw’s hit in the infield, but he dropped a relatively easy throw from Sano at second base which would have resulted in at least one out. That run, in the form of Christian Yelich, eventually crossed home on an Omar Narvez bloop single to left against Duffey.
In the ninth, Colome got Daniel Robertson to fly to left and was up 0-2 on Kolten Wong before hitting him on the finger. Keston Hiura followed with a swinging bunt that should have absolutely resulted in an out, but Colome’s throw to second pulled Jorge Polanco off the bag.
Yelich followed with a single to deep right that appeared to mystify Max Kepler in right field, clanging off his glove to make it a 5-3 game before Travis Shaw, in his return to Milwaukee, tied the game with a double into the gap in right-center.
As a result, it was a blown saved with as many unforced errors as hits (two) in the ninth inning.
The Twins advanced Simmons — the extra-innings runner at second to start the 10th — to third but couldn’t cash him in against uber reliever Josh Hader. Randy Dobnak threw three pitches — all strikes — in the bottom of the 10th before Lorenzo Cain scored on a jam-shot off the bat of Orlando Arcia to score the winning run.
How dumb is it that Dobnak, who threw three pitches — all strikes — took the loss despite having nothing to do with the winning run “reaching” base?
MLB needs to institute universal DH as soon as possible.
Rogers was throwing gas on Thursday. So was Robles. Rogers touched 98 mph with his sinker, per Baseball Savant, and Robles went a tick better at 98.1 against Cain on his 11th pitch (of 12) in the eighth inning. That was up from Rogers averaging 94.6 mph over the last year on his sinker, while Robles had averaged 95.4 mph on his four-seamer — and averaged 96.8 on Thursday. These are both good signs.
Buxton matched his walk total from 2020 in one game. He also popped a home run and looked every bit like the difference-maker the Twins hope he can be for 140 games this season.