Michael Pineda's return & the Twins' postseason rotation

Hi readers, wanted to share a snippet from this week’s Member column with the non-members (don’t worry, you are still members in my heart!)

Other things I wrote about this week include the returns of Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton; Brent Rooker’s debut and a great early sign from his bat; Miguel Sanó getting personal; and a cap tip to a giant.

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2. Michael Pineda, six-foot-seven, 280 pounds out of the Dominican Republic. Originally signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2005 as an international free agent.

Pineda, AKA Big Mike, returned to the Twins, and there’s no need here to harp on whether or not it was worth the wait. He broke the Twins’ back last season, getting popped for a drug that’s on the banned substance list in an apparent attempt to shed some pounds.

The point of bringing up Pineda for this column, though, is that he pitched really well in his first two starts back this year.

In his first outing, first baseman Miguel Sanó made a mistake going to his right in the 1st inning, which gave the Chicago White Sox an extra out, in my opinion, and they eventually cashed that in when Eloy Jiménez hit a 2-out, 2-RBI double. Otherwise, Pineda was in a groove with high fastballs and good sliders to a White Sox team that was eager to hit. He finished 6 strong innings, and those first two runs — which, though technically “earned,” were the result of the Sanó misplay — were the only runs he allowed. Impressively, Chicago swung at 22 of Pineda’s sliders, and failed to make contact on half of them. It was a good exhibition of what Pineda tries to do to opposing hitters: spot his fastball for early strikes, use it late in counts when guys are looking for his slider, and of course, punish them with the slider in and out of the strike zone to rack up strikeouts and weak contact.

You’d argue that his second start, Monday against the Tigers, was even better: 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks. Five base runners and 8 punchouts over 7 strong innings put the Twins in great position immediately after kicking away a game for an ugly loss on Sunday.

His strong outings had me wondering a few of things.

a) How would last year’s stretch run and ALDS have been different with Big Mike in the mix?

b) Since the Twins and others will draw the comparison to a traded starter, how many starting pitchers traded at this year’s deadline would you rather have than Pineda?

Since we can’t replay history in an alternate setting, let’s skip the first one. As for starters traded, with the exception of former Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger, is there anyone on this list you’d take over Pineda right now?

Mike Clevinger
Caleb Smith
Mike Minor
Robbie Ray
Tommy Milone
Taijuan Walker
Cal Quantrill
Ross Stripling

Those are the starters that got dealt this year, and while we’re not going to cave in to the silly-excuse logic that Pineda ‘counts’ as a trade acquisition, the big man certainly would slot high up on that list.

Serious follow-up question: Would you rather have him than Clevinger right now?

2b. What is Minnesota’s starting rotation for October if the postseason started today?

The second one is a mix of informed statistics and a bit of a gut feeling (the opposite of statistics). We’re also going to add the phrase “in a vacuum” to the answer here, since you could use things like the first-round opponent, stadium and various other factors to help determine your preferred order of deployment.

Since Jake Odorizzi is on the Injured List, I’ll leave him off for this list. And I’ll also leave off Homer Bailey. If I had to pick an order in this moment I’d line them up starting with Kenta Maeda, then Pineda, José Berríos and then choose between Randy Dobnak and Rich Hill for the fourth (and final) starter, with a lean towards early Cy Young favorite and groundball machine, Dobnak. That order might look silly two weeks from now – especially if Hill begins to pitch up to his capabilities, which serves as a high ceiling, or if Odorizzi returns with great gusto.

For now, I’m going with: