Twins 4, Tigers 1: Joe Ryan is Nolan Ryan?

Bless You Boys

The rubber match of a mid-week three-game series between the Tigers and Twins in Minnesota saw the Twins début of Michael Fulmer, a whole bunch of strikeouts of Tiger hitters, and a 4-1 Twins win to clinch the three-game series.

Tyler Alexander took the mound for Detroit, coming off a four-inning start in Toronto last Thursday, his first start since the end of April. Alexander’s year has been pretty steady-as-she-goes so far, and his season stats are roughly in line with what he’s done in his career, although his strikeouts per nine innings is down significantly (last year, 7.4; this year, 4.6). You can’t make it in this biz these days if you don’t strike out a ton of guys, especially if you skew a little towards the fly-ball side of things, which Alexander does. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s always been a little fly-ball-ish.

Facing Alexander was righty Joe Ryan, whose name sounds like it should be in an Irish folk song or something. (“Poor Joe Ryan was out working the fields / the potatoes that year weren’t giving their yield…” Ehh, I’ll keep workshopping it.) Ryan had an impressive cup of 5-start coffee last year with the Twins, and kept right on going this year as well: a 1.109 WHIP through sixteen starts coming into today, with good-looking walk, strikeout and home run rates (with one exception). Over a third of batted balls against him were in the air, compared to a league average just over a quarter, and I hope you’re decent at fractions. Ryan’s previous outing, however… let’s just say, things did not go well for him in San Diego, as the Friars hung a ten-spot on him while hitting five home runs. He recovered nicely today, as you’ll see.

The Twins got on the board first during Sandy León’s first at-bat as a Twin in the second, drilling a two-run double into the left-field corner. (León’s OPS since the start of the 2018 season: a whopping .522, in about 800 plate appearances.)

Meanwhile, Ryan breezed through the Tigers’ order the first time through it, and he then he just kept the party going; through the end of the fourth he’d already struck out seven Tigers. Alexander was no slouch, either; aside from that shaky second inning, he was looking solid and, notably, his slider was much improved.

Ryan got into trouble, entirely by his own doing, in the fifth: with two out the Tigers had two on base, both of whom he plunked. Riley Greene, the previous night’s hero, cashed Willi Castro in from second with a single to centre.

Victor Reyes struck out to end the threat with runners on the corners, Ryan’s ninth of the game, matching his season high.

With a strikeout on a lovely changeup to end the bottom of the fifth, Alexander had retired ten batters in a row, five on strikeouts. At that point he’d thrown 66 pitches, 47 for strikes, and was looking pretty darn good.

And then… Michael Fulmer entered the game wearing a red jersey to start the sixth, which was a very strange sight. Predictably, Fulmer threw a boatload of sliders, and let’s just say he was getting some very generous strike calls. For example, below, pitches #1 and 3 to Eric Haase were called strikes:

That’s just unacceptable.

Alexander’s day was done after five innings and two turns through the Twins’ lineup, and “Everyday José” Cisnero came on for the sixth. Carlos Correa singled-in Byron Buxton, who Cisnero had walked and wild-pitched to second, to restore Minnesota’s two-run lead at 3-1. Willi Castro went a looooooong way to make a great running catch in the right-field corner off a drive by José Miranda; honestly, I kinda like Willi out there. Too bad about the bat.

Jhoan Duran came on in the eighth for the Twins and his fastball got up to 102 mph. That’s pretty fast, girls and boys — but it’s not much good if you can’t control it, as he walked Tucker Barnhart to start the inning. He was replaced by Greene on a fielder’s choice, who advanced to second, but was stranded there because Togers gonna Togers.

Derek Law — and, let me make it clear, we are not related (that I know of) — took over for the bottom of the eighth, and the results didn’t look like they were going to be a whole lot better than in his weekend début in Toronto: he loaded the bases with one out for Gio Urshela. A sacrifice fly tacked-on a run making it 4-1, but thankfully that’s where the damage ended.

The Tigers, as you might imagine, went 1-2-3 in the ninth against the Twins’ new closer, Jorge López, who they picked up from Baltimore. Game over.

Get Better Soon, Big Fella

I saw him in that Toronto series and yeah, he just couldn’t get anything going in terms of his swing. He connected solidly on a couple of pitches that were just medium-depth fly balls to right, instead of having the leg drive to put them over the fence.

Numbers and Notes

  • Jeimer Candelario’s been very hot-and-cold lately. From July 21 through 27 (25 plate appearances): a ridiculous .458/.480/1.052 for a ridiculous 1.522 OPS. But from July 28 through August 2 (24 PA): a dismal .091/.167/.182, .349 OPS. Ouch!
  • Just after 1:00 pm Central time, you could clearly hear the test of the tornado sirens in downtown Minneapolis coming through the broadcast. Those must be deafeningly loud in person.
  • In case you missed it, the one and only Vin Scully passed away yesterday. What a master storyteller and fine gentleman he was; we could all take more than a few lessons from how he conducted himself, both inside and outside the announcer’s booth. Al Yellon’s piece a few years ago on Bleed Cubbie Blue is definitely worth a read. Dan Petry on the radio broadcast today had some nice reminiscences, too; he grew up listening to Dodger games on the radio in southern California.
  • On this day in 1894, Tigers legend Hary Heilmann was born in San Francisco. He probably doesn’t get as much attention these days as, say, his teammate Ty Cobb, but his numbers weren’t too far off Cobb’s, especially during his peak years of 1919 through 1929. Get this: in those eleven seasons he averaged .360/.427/.551 for an OPS of .977, and batted over .390 four times. No wonder he ended up in the Hall of Fame — although it took a while, and unfortunately his election was in the year after his death.

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