Josh Donaldson and the top of the Minnesota lineup brought some early fight -- but once again, the Twins found themselves on the wrong end of several timely hits late in the game.
In his second appearance since returning from a right hamstring strain, Donaldson clubbed two more solid singles and drove in what was, at one point, the go-ahead run. But the Twins’ bullpen again gave way, with Randy Dobnak and Caleb Thielbar allowing a barrage of late hits that pushed the game out of hand in a 10-3 loss at Angel Stadium, their sixth defeat in the last seven games.
Donaldson did bring the kind of punch and energy needed when the Twins were mired in their recent losing streak.
Both his hits were knocked at 106.5 mph or harder, and his renewed presence near the top of the lineup was key in the Twins’ three-run, go-ahead rally in the sixth inning. With the Twins facing a two-run deficit, Jorge Polanco’s single and Max Kepler’s walk were followed by Mitch Garver’s game-tying double down the line, and Donaldson’s subsequent single up the middle gave Minnesota the lead with the kind of clutch hit that it lacked for much of the last week.
“Having that bat in the lineup is a big part of it,” said Lewis Thorpe, who started and threw four innings on Friday. “And he's been swinging it lately, so we're happy to have him back. And he's doing a good job.”
His smarts and attention to detail on defense were also immediately evident once again on a pair of plays in the sixth inning that didn’t pick up an extra out on Friday, but showed that he’s always thinking a step ahead.
When David Fletcher went from first to third on Shohei Ohtani’s single, Donaldson took the throw, applied the tag, feigned a throw to second and immediately turned around to try and catch Fletcher off the base -- just in case. Three batters later, he intentionally let a popup drop -- trying to sell it as an accidental play -- in order to get Mike Trout off the basepaths at worst or create a double play at best.
“It's awesome having him behind you when you pitch,” Thorpe said. “He pretty much gets every ball that's hit at him.”
But still, Donaldson is only one piece of the puzzle -- and this team can’t get Byron Buxton back in the lineup or Andrelton Simmons back on the field quickly enough.
Simmons’ absence at shortstop following a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent placement on the injured list was felt throughout the Angels’ late rallies on Wednesday, and particularly in the sixth and seventh innings, when Los Angeles first mounted a two-run frame to retake the lead and a six-run inning to pile on its insurance runs.
Following the singles by Fletcher and Ohtani in the sixth, Trout hit a grounder through the left side through a drawn-in infield that plated two, putting the Angels on top, 4-3. The ball just evaded the glove of interim shortstop Jorge Polanco and carried an expected batting average of only .260, according to Statcast.
Then, in the seventh, Dobnak allowed a trio of singles to José Iglesias, Luis Rengifo and David Fletcher to key the Angels’ big frame -- and the expected batted averages on those hits were .340, .280 and .480 based on their quality of contact, per Statcast. In fact, Iglesias’ single was trapped under the glove of a diving Polanco, while Rengifo’s knock caromed off the glove of a diving Luis Arraez at second base.
With Simmons on the field, the Twins have vastly more range with his glove at shortstop and that of Polanco at second base. But the Twins won’t have that luxury again until he clears the COVID-19 protocols following his recovery.
And the lineup has been just as much of a concern in Buxton’s absence, with 10 runs scored in four games since he last played. While Buxton worked out on the field before Friday’s game as he continues to work back from a lingering right hamstring strain, Baldelli said a decision as to his immediate future could come as soon as Saturday.
“He is trending in the right direction,” Baldelli said. “I think that's very easy to say. He looks a lot more comfortable than he did a couple of days ago. But we're going to sit down with our medical group. We're going to talk about what things look like and where he's going to be in the next day or two or three."