Why is this one team Gausman's kryptonite?

May 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

TORONTO -- has a personal Mount Everest.

No matter how dominant he’s been in a given season, how sharp his stuff is looking or how many adjustments he makes, overcoming the Twins has been an unreasonably difficult task for the Blue Jays right-hander.

“The Twins, for whatever reason … yeah, [they] drive me crazy,” Gausman said last June. “For whatever reason, my whole career has been a grind against them.”

Minnesota’s game plan was clear as ever on Saturday at Rogers Centre: Lay off the splitter and hunt the fastball. It has worked well for the better part of the past decade and it worked again this time, as Gausman lasted just three innings in Toronto’s 10-8 comeback win, allowing seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits and two walks.

That added another chapter to a puzzling saga.

The last time Gausman had faced the Twins was in Game 1 of last year’s American League Wild Card Series on Oct. 3 at Target Field. He took the loss then, allowing three runs on three hits (two homers) and three walks in four innings.

“I think Kev would like to never see them again,” manager John Schneider said with a laugh. “That’s just how it is. They have a really good approach against him.”

Six of the hits against Gausman on Saturday came on 0-2 or 1-2 counts. Five of those hits came on fastballs, including an elbow-high offering that Carlos Santana drilled for a three-run homer in the third.

That ended a streak of four starts with one run allowed or fewer for Gausman, who owns a 6.93 ERA in 13 career starts (including the postseason) against the Twins.

“They’ve always been a [thorn in my side],” Gausman said after his latest outing. “I thought I had my best stuff of the year today. It was, honestly, the first time I felt like myself, as [I felt] last year. But they came out, and you’ve got to give them credit, they wouldn’t chase the split. … They’re great hitters and they had a really good approach. Maybe they had something on me -- maybe a tip -- so we’ll kind of go back and look.”

This isn’t the first time that theory has come up, but things are rarely that clear-cut.

Gausman was still able to get swings and misses out of his splitter on Saturday, throwing the pitch 35% of the time (which lines up with his 38.8% mark for the season) and registering a 50% whiff rate (30.8% for the season).

This isn’t to say that any theory is without merit, but there’s no secret recipe in the Major Leagues. Gausman himself was quick to point that out.

“In my mind, I kind of know that in those 1-2 and 0-2 pitches, I just didn’t execute,” said Gausman. “I did a really good job to get to those counts, but the putaway pitches were maybe just a little too high or not enough in or [I was] really trying to get in on a hitter and missing.”

There’s pitch calling, there’s location, there’s execution. Then, there’s the opponents’ scouting report -- one factor out of several at play when a pitcher takes the mound.

Gausman won’t sweat it too much, though, especially since his offense chose that same game to break out.

“That was incredible to watch,” said Gausman. “The team -- bullpen and offense -- just picked me up completely. …

“I'll face [the Twins] again, and hopefully, I’ll have some answers by then. But I feel like I'm on the right track.”