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Minnesota Twins series preview: If you thought the Braves were bad...

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Wait until you get a load of these guys.

Don't call him "Johan."
Don't call him "Johan."
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite having a slew of promising young talent heading into this season, the Minnesota Twins enjoyed an entirely different start to their 2016 campaign than they did in 2015. Where they were once surprise contenders for the Central Division crown, they jumped out to a horrid start this season and own a 11-32 record, one game worse than the similarly terrible Atlanta Braves.

Of course for the Twins to have succeeded this season, they needed a number of things to break their way, chiefly for all of their high-end young talent to burst onto the scene with near-superstar rookie campaigns. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Byron Buxton did not enjoy the instantaneous success that Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant, Jose Berrios punched his ticket back to the minors in a matter of four starts, and Eddie Rosario was so miserable through his first 32 games that he was optioned to AAA last week as well. Failure did not simply rain on the Twins. It poured.

To start out this terribly, a lot of things have to go wrong for a team. They have for the Minnesota Twins.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 7:10 PM CDT

Ian Kennedy 8 50.0 50 17 3.24 4.15 4.28 3.81
Ricky Nolasco 8 49.1 43 9 4.74 3.71 3.76 3.69

The career DIPS underperformer Ricky Nolasco is back to his pre-2014 tricks. His ERA is back in the semi-palatable 4.50-5.00 range while sitting about a run higher than his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA would imply that he has pitched. That the Twins signed him expecting this trend to change while insisting on fielding a poor defensive unit in his support was silly, of course, but that doesn't mean that Nolasco hasn't at least begun to re-establish some value should a justified tear-down take place at the deadline. His sub-5.0% walk rate is impressive, and his 16.5 K-BB% is impressive enough to make Nolasco the Twins' most valuable player (in a tie with Byung-Ho Park). Though his hard-contact rates are back up to his 2014 level of 32.5%, his line-drive rate is at a career-low 17.6%. Some of his modest success might be attributable to his increased usage of his slider - up to 33.4%, 6.3% more than in any other year - but given that his hard contact allowed is still high, he's probably been a bit on the fortunate side thus far.

Ian Kennedy has enjoyed an experience inverse to Nolasco's. In comparison to 2015, Kennedy is actually pitching worse this year but for a regression to the mean in home-run rates. His K-BB% is down from 17.1% to 16.3% this year. This has mattered little, as the Royals' defense behind him has helped keep his ERA down at 3.24.

Game Two - Tuesday, 7:10 PM CDT

Edinson Volquez 9 54.2 43 19 3.79 3.96 4.21 4.24
Ervin Santana 7 37.1 32 14 3.13 3.52 3.96 4.20

Without the inconvenience of a suspension cancelling the first half of his season, old friend Ervin Santana has enjoyed a different season than his preceding rotation-mate Nolasco. Santana is in the midst of posting his best ERA since his season with the Royals. Sure, his peripherals would imply that luck might have been on his side thus far, but that his FIP is still in the 3.50 neighborhood would suggest he has been pretty solid. His 11.3 K-BB% isn't the stuff of Nolasco or Kennedy, but he has nonetheless enjoyed a better campaign than either by many measures.

Edinson Volquez is who we think he is.

Game Three - Wednesday, 12:10 PM CDT

Dillon Gee 8 31.0 26 12 2.90 4.42 4.27 4.08
Tyler Duffey 5 30.0 25 6 3.30 3.50 3.88 3.79

Tyler Duffey sort of came out of nowhere. Before last season, Duffey seemed like low-profile arm who might bounce around the high minors through his late 20s before leaving the game to pursue other ventures. As a 23-year-old in AA, he was walk-averse but putting up a 4.13 FIP, giving no one any reason to think that the 2012 fifth-round pick had a future in the big leagues. Then 2015 happened. Despite having a repertoire limited to a four-seamer, two-seamer, and curve, Duffey suddenly dominated in both AA and AAA before putting up 1.2 fWAR in just 10 starts in 2015. He has added a change-up to his pitches, mixing it in 7.0% of the time. As Jeff Sullivan detailed here, it can be argued that his two fastballs utilized quite differently are two different pitches, but Duffey's success is certainly surprising.

Dillon Gee's reintroduction to the rotation has gone well through two starts. His last three outings have been at least 5.0 IP, including that mop-up duty appearance in New York. In those 15.2 IP, he has allowed five earned runs while striking out 13 and walking five. We are talking small samples here, but it feels like Gee is at least a decent back-of-the-rotation option for the Royals at this juncture, at least as long as Ned Yost doesn't give him too long a leash.

The Batsmen

Brian Dozier 2B 170 4 18 14 2 .199 .284 .318 .269 66
Eduardo Nunez SS 132 3 16 17 8 .320 .356 .475 .358 128
Joe Mauer (L) 1B 179 2 11 11 1 .260 .374 .353 .320 101
Miguel Sano RF 177 7 18 19 1 .230 .328 .414 .325 105
Trevor Plouffe 3B 111 3 9 11 1 .245 .270 .387 .283 76
Byung-ho Park DH 143 9 19 15 1 .220 .301 .496 .340 116
Oswaldo Arcia (L) LF 92 4 16 12 0 .217 .293 .373 .295 84
Kurt Suzuki C 93 1 5 10 0 .220 .283 .317 .266 63
Danny Santana (S) CF 104 1 12 9 9 .267 .279 .366 .278 72
Juan Centeno (L) C 24 1 2 3 0 .304 .333 .522 .366 134
Jorge Polanco (S) IF 32 1 4 4 1 .231 .344 .462 .346 120
Robbie Grossman (S) OF 10 1 3 3 0 .444 .500 .889 .577 283
Darin Mastroianni OF 11 0 1 0 1 .000 .182 .000 .125 -36
Eduardo Escobar* IF 102 0 6 6 0 .237 .275 .289 .247 50
Stats through Sunday, May 22

*eligible to return from the disabled list Monday, May 23

As a unit the Twins are slashing .234/.298/.375 with a .294 wOBA and 83 wRC+. Their defense has been poor (by DRS, they're the fourth-worst unit in baseball). The one area in which they have excelled is on the basepaths, as they have the fourth-highest baserunning runs total in baseball. Fueled by a .387 BABIP, Eduardo Nunez has opened the season on quite the tear. Byung-ho Park has been the power source that the Twins hoped he would be when they signed him, though the strikeouts have been as big a negative as had been worried. Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer round out the full-time Twins enjoying at least above-average offensive seasons.

Then there are the rest of the Twins. Dozier has been a resounding disappointment. Buxton, Rosario, and John Ryan Murphy played their way into demotions after starting the season atop positional depth charts to open the season. Trevor Plouffe has been in a season-long funk, low-lighted by a 3.7 BB% less than half his career 7.6 BB%. And while on the subject of walk rates, only one batter with more than 100 plate appearances has a lower walk-rate than Danny Santana's 2.0 BB%. No, Royals fans, it's not Salvador Perez or Alcides Escobar or some other Royal. Only dodged bullet Gerardo Parra has walked less frequently.

With Eduardo Escobar on a rehab assignment and eligible for return during this series, it is likely that Darin Mastroianni, Jorge Polanco, or Robbie Grossman gets sent down / designated for assignment to make room for Escobar. Polanco has more value in the long-term to the franchise, but it may behoove them to get him more regular playing time, something which Eduardo Nunez's strong first-quarter of the season has rendered unlikely. Of course it is unlikely that the addition of Escobar will magically fix the Twins' offense. That will require Buxton bringing his AAA numbers with him when he gets recalled. Even that might not be enough.

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