Twins 4, Tigers 3: Torkelson’s defense burns them again

Bless You Boys

After playing some of the best defense in the league through 15 games, the past week has been another story. Reese Olson wasn’t very sharp and did get numerous excellent plays turned behind him on a day when his command wasn’t good. But while I rarely pin a loss on one player, two meltdowns from Spencer Torkelson defensively were the biggest factors in the outcome as the Twins evened the series at a game apiece.

The Tigers haven’t given up two or more unearned runs in four straight games since 1989, but they managed it today.

Reese Olson wasn’t his sharpest in this outing, but while inefficient, he pitched pretty well overall and didn’t give up much hard contact. Unfortunately, the Twins did a good job battling him in two strike counts, and again a couple of mistakes from Spencer Torkelson defensively cost the Tigers. Meanwhile, Bailey Ober had the Tigers flying out and popping up weakly all afternoon.

Olson pitched around a leadoff walk to Edouard Julien in the bottom of the first. In the second, a sinker that got too much plate was rifled into the left field corner by Byron Buxton for a double. Olson got Jose Miranda on a ground ball to first, but a wild pitch allowed Buxton to take third and a Willi Castro fly ball to left was deep enough to score him. 1-0 Twins.

The third inning went similarly. Austin Martin got a fastball over the plate and pulled it to left for a leadoff double. A Julien ground out move him to third and a Ryan Jeffers fly out to right brought him home.

While Olson was wasting a lot of pitches, he didn’t give in and handled pitching from the stretch all afternoon pretty well. His slider command just wasn’t sharp and the Twins were able to spoil some pitches that usually draw whiffs.

Meanwhile, Ober retired the first 13 batters he faced, despite only one strikeout.

In the fourth, the Tigers defense came through for Olson. A leadoff single by Trevor Larnach was followed by a Buxton single through the left side. Báez let the hard grounder get under his glove as he ranged to his backhand, but it’s arguable whether he could’ve thrown out Buxton anyway. Jose Miranda then hit a sharp grounder to the left of second base, and this one Javy speared on a fine diving play, shovel flipped to Keith in one motion, and the Tigers’ second baseman did a great job to turn it around to first base for the double play. Willi Castro worked a phantom hit by pitch call to be awarded first base, but Jair Camargo grounded out to end the inning without a run scoring.

Matt Vierling’s one-out single in the fifth broke up Ober’s no-hitter bid, but Keith and Báez went down flailing to end the frame.

In the fifth, the defense fell apart, specifically at the first bse position. Austin Martin pulled a ground ball and Báez made a good play to snag it deep on the backhand and fire off balance to first. Torkelson just whiffed on the tricky one-hop bounce and Martin cruised into second. It was charged an error on Báez, but it was entirely on Torkelson to pick that ball.

Olson struck out Julien, but couldn’t put Jeffers away after getting up 1-2 on him. Jeffers walked, and then Alex Kirilloff pulled a ground ball right to Torkelson and he just whiffed on it, turning a likely double play into another run for the Twins. Jeffers reached third on the play and tagged and scored on a Larnach sacrifice fly.

This has been ugly. Torkelson was bad last year too, and as a I noted in our season preview on him, cleaning up his defense just by making all the routines plays and scoops is the fastest way to him becoming an above average player. Unfortunately, after a solid start the last week has offered plenty of evidence that this is still a real problem.

Finally in the top of the sixth, the Tigers broke through. Riley Greene walked with two outs, and Wenceel Perez lined a triple into the right field to score him. 4-1 Twins. Torkelson stepped to the plate with a chance for some redemption, but flew out off the end of the bat to left to end the frame.

Joey Wentz spun a perfect bottom of the sixth, and lefty Steven Okert took over for Ober to open the top of the seventh. The Tigers were no doubt glad to see Ober out of the game. Vierling greeted him with a solid single to left. Buddy Kennedy, just up from Toledo in place of Gio Urshela, who hit the IL with a hamstring strain today, fell behind 1-2, but took some close pitches to fight back and draw a walk. Rocco Baldelli went back to his bullpen for right-hander Cole Sands to got after Báez, Meadows, and Rogers, the Tigers 7-8-9 hitters.

Báez whiffed at a pair of slurves down and away, but Sands got greedy and tried another one. The Tigers’ shortstop ripped a line drive to left and Austin Martin tried for the hero play and dove for it. He came up short and the ball shot past him almost to the wall, scoring Vierling. Kennedy had to hold a moment to make sure it dropped and could only go first to third, as Báez cruised to second with a double. 4-2 Twins.

Parker Meadows got a first pitch cutter right down the middle and missed it, popping out. Mark Canha got into a duel with Sands, but was eventually punched out on heater up and in that he couldn’t lay off of.

Wentz got Martin to pop out to Torkelson to open the bottom of the seventh. Julien singled through the right side and Wentz fell behind 3-1 to Jeffers after missing gloveside repeatedly and walked him. That brought the lefty Kirilloff to the dish, so Baldelli inserted Carlos Santana to hit right-handed against Wentz. That’s not Santana’s best side as a switch hitter, and after a bit of a battle, Santana flew out to Pérez in right field. Baldelli had Maneul Margot up to bat, and so A.J. Hinch turned to Alex Lange, who retired Margot with a first pitch fastball that was grounded to Kennedy at second for the final out.

That left the Tigers with six outs to get three runs. Baldelli turned to lefty Kody Funderburk again to face the top of the Tigers order.

Riley Greene put together a nice AB to earn another walk leading off the eighth. Pérez struck out and Torkelson paddled a grounder to second base, moving Greene to third. And so it was up to Carpenter again. Kerry wasn’t having a good day to this point and against a tricky lefty it was a difficult matchup, but Carpenter got a slider up 3-2 and drilled a single through the right side of the infield to score Greene and make it 4-3 Twins.

Baldelli brought in right hander Matt Bowman, and Matt Vierling flew out to Buxton in center to end the inning.

Lange got Buxton to ground out to start the bottom of the eighth, but then hit Kyle Farmer. A Willi Castro single to right moved Farmer to third and Castro took second on the play. Lange bounced back to punch out Camargo swinging, and that left it up to Austin Martin. Lange got a weak fly ball to right field, but almost too weak. Pérez’s speed bailed them out as he came trucking in for a sliding catch to turn the Twins away.

So, it was last call for the Tigers. Both teams have seen everything each other’s bullpen has to offer in the past week, but they’d have to come through against Griffin Jax again to win this one.

Hinch inserted Zach McKinstry at second base to hit for Kennedy and lead off the ninth. He struck out, as did Javier Báez, who decided to trust his reputation and just not swing at anything. Jax fell behind 3-1 but put two cutters on the outer edge to get him looking. Parker Meadows lifted a fly ball to the base of the wall in right field, but it fell harmlessly in Margot’s glove, and the Twins had evened the series at a game apiece.

Really frustrating game. The Tigers didn’t strike out much against Ober but nothing was dropping. Meanwhile Torkelson gave up multiple runs with his glove. Not great. They did get great defensive efforts from Riley Greene, Wenceel Pérez, and particularly Javy Báez, so it may have been a wash in terms of defense for the game, but those two Torkelson plays were brutal, particularly the ground ball through the wickets.

Casey Mize will take on RHP Louie Varland on Sunday to decide the series.

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