The Royals had a disaster of a weekend at home against a club with a losing record, but here we sit on Monday with Kansas City still holding the best record in the American League with a magic number of 15 to clinch the division. The Royals can not only drop that magic number quite a bit this week, but they can right the ship and keep distance between them and the Toronto Blue Jays for home field advantage.
The Twins are still battling for a post-season spot, trailing the Rangers for the final Wild Card by 1.5 games. Minnesota has won 11 of their last 16 games but have gone just 21-26 since the All-Star break. The offense has been below average, with the ninth-most runs scored, but they have gotten a boost lately with rookie sensation Miguel Sano. Since promoting the slugger on July 1, the right-hander has destroyed pitching with 15 home runs in just 55 games. Sano is a feast-or-famine hitter, striking out 37% of the time, including a "Golden Sombrero" on Sunday. When he does hit it however, it goes a long way.
Twins rookie Byron Buxton has been less successful at the plate, although he has the tools to be a star. Among the veterans, Joe Mauer has become a defensive liability to go along with a mediocre bat at first base. All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier has been in a second-half slide, hitting just .212/.281/.315 since the break. Torii Hunter has also been in an awful slump, hitting .159/.222/.280 since July 1, and his -1.5 dWAR is the fifth-worst in all of baseball.
Overall the Twins have been just below average defensively. Replacing Danny Santana with Eduardo Escobar at shortstop has been an upgrade and rookie Buxton and Eddie Rosario have been good ball hawks in the outfield. Mauer, Dozier, and Hunter represent the biggest holes on defense.
The Twins have managed a winning record despite the fourth-most runs allowed in the league. Four Twins starting pitchers are in the bottom 20 in the league in strikeouts-per-nine innings for pitchers with at least 100 innings. Mike Pelfrey sits near the bottom, with only Mark Buerhle whiffing fewer hitters. Pelfrey has succeeded by allowing the third-lowest home run rate in the league. Lefty Tommy Milone has increased his strikeout rate, but it still sits at a paltry rate of 6.4 per-nine-innings. He has been BABIP lucky this year and has the twelfth-highest FIP in the league. Former Mizzou Tiger Kyle Gibson has dominated the Royals in his career, with a 2.20 ERA in seven lifetime starts.
Twins relievers, like the starters, are dead-last in the league at striking out hitters, with a rate of 6.73 per-nine-innings. They have managed a decent 4.02 ERA although they have a league-worst xFIP of 4.37. All-Star closer Glen Perkins continues to be the most reliable reliever, although he has given up 10 runs in 14 innings since the break with two blown saves. Lefty specialist and Nebraska grad Brian Duensing has struggled to get lefties out this year, with a line of .291/.418/.382 against them this year, causing the team to acquire Neal Cotts from the Brewers. Right-handers Blaine Boyer and Casey Fien have been serviceable despite puny strikeout rates.
The Royals have played the Twins well, going 8-5 against them. The Blue Jays embark on a ten-game road trip that will take them to Yankee Stadium for four big games, presenting a challenge to the Jays who have not played well on the road this year. The Royals can keep them at arm's length by taking care of business against the Twins, and moving closer to clinching their first Central Division title.