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Minnesota Twins Series Preview: That’s all, folks

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One Royals win and they avoid last place. It’s the little things.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

It all started with a chilly Opening Day slugfest on April 1 against the Rangers and it all ends this weekend against the Minnesota Twins. This season has somehow been just mind-numbingly slow and also basically over with one snap of the fingers. The Twins probably feel the slow part more than the fast. They came into the season as one of the favorites to be atop the division and just never could get anything going. They spent seven total days in first this year. Their most games over .500 was three when they were 5-2. The last time they were even at .500 was when they were 5-5. They’ve been generally okay for a couple months now, but okay isn’t good enough for a team that thought they would be playing long beyond Sunday.

How did they get to this point? The offense has been just okay, ranking in the middle of the pack in just about everything but home runs. But they’ve just had so many injuries throughout the season that it seems like they couldn’t get anything going ever. Byron Buxton has missed a ton of time. Mitch Garver has been out for various ailments. Alex Kirilloff came up, antagonized the Royals and now he’s missed a ton of time. They’ve gotten some really solid performances from Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz before he was traded and Jorge Polanco has been outstanding for awhile now. But they just couldn’t stay on the field enough. The pitching was done in by a shoddy bullpen early and the rotation just wasn’t good enough to compensate. They also had some injuries and now Kenta Maeda is out for a long time. But they traded Jose Berrios and outside of Michael Pineda, it’s back to the drawing board with mostly young arms. Some look very good, but we all know about young arms.

Royals vs. Twins Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Twins
Category Royals Twins
Winning % .459 .447
Team wRC+ 89 101
Team xFIP 4.52 4.43
Run Differential -99 -108
H2H Wins 9 7
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 4.3 Jorge Polanco, 4.1

Twins Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Luis Arraez 3B 466 .286 .352 .370 9.2% 10.1% 100 1.6
Byron Buxton CF 240 .299 .354 .629 5.4% 24.6% 164 3.8
Jorge Polanco 2B 635 .271 .324 .503 6.9% 18.6% 123 4.1
Josh Donaldson DH 530 .248 .351 .472 13.6% 21.1% 124 2.1
Max Kepler RF 481 .213 .310 .420 11.2% 19.5% 98 1.8
Mitch Garver C 239 .256 .360 .522 13.0% 28.9% 139 2.0
Miguel Sano 1B 520 .216 .308 .463 11.3% 34.6% 108 0.3
Nick Gordon LF 208 .245 .298 .365 5.8% 26.4% 82 0.2
Andrelton Simmons SS 446 .224 .285 .275 7.2% 13.9% 57 -0.5

Twins Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Ryan Jeffers C 285 .197 .270 .394 7.7% 36.8% 81 0.7
Willians Astudillo C/INF 212 .240 .264 .382 1.4% 5.7% 74 -0.8
Jake Cave OF 174 .181 .243 .288 5.7% 35.1% 46 -0.4
Brent Rooker OF/1B 203 .207 .300 .413 7.4% 32.0% 97 0.1

Twins Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Alex Colome 66 64.0 4 4 20.2% 8.0% 4.22 4.18 0.1
Tyler Duffey 63 60.2 3 3 24.0% 11.2% 3.26 4.21 0.7
Juan Minaya 28 38.2 2 1 25.3% 12.3% 2.56 4.16 0.1

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - John Gant vs. Jon Heasley, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jon Gant 38 106.0 5 10 19.0% 14.7% 3.74 5.01 0.5
Jon Heasley 2 9.1 0 1 13.5% 5.4% 3.86 5.32 0.0

The Twins picked up John Gant in the deal that sent J.A. Happ to St. Louis. Gant has always been a bit of an anomaly. He walks too many guys and probably doesn’t strike out enough (though he has with the Twins), but he’s also very hard to hit. The long ball hasn’t hurt him much, so his FIP is fairly in line with his ERA, but no outing from him ever seems especially comfortable to watch. He has a sinker in the low-90s, a changeup, a cutter and a four-seam fastball. I don’t know if this is a Twins thing or if it’s just monthly variance, but he is throwing his changeup a lot more and his cutter a lot less in September. And the changeup has been excellent with opponents whiffing on 38.5 percent of swings and going hitless in 12 at bats ending on it. He essentially has had no platoon split this year, but using the changeup more might make him a real weapon against lefties. He’s probably a guy you don’t want facing a lineup a third time, but the way you beat is Gant is with patience and letting him beat himself.

Jon Heasley found himself on the big league roster because of a need. He earned the opportunity, sure, but in a normal season, I don’t think he sees a big league mound. But he’s taken advantage of the opportunity in his two starts. Yes, he gave up four runs in four innings in his debut, but he didn’t walk a batter and showed some poise that we haven’t seen from certain starters. Then in his last start he threw 5.1 scoreless against the Tigers. He did walk a couple, but he looks like a pitcher who can at least be part of a rotation, which is what you want to see with pitchers like him. I thought he used his curve more in his last start and I’d love to see him go with it even more against the Twins who haven’t been especially good against curves from righties. He did give up some home runs in AA, so this might not be the best matchup for him, but it’s a good low-pressure test.

Saturday - Griffin Jax vs. Kris Bubic, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Griffin Jax 17 77.0 3 5 18.1% 7.9% 6.78 5.73 -0.8
Kris Bubic 28 123.1 6 6 20.6% 11.2% 4.52 4.63 0.2

Griffin Jax was the Twins third round pick in 2016 and finally got to the big leagues this year for his debut. Things haven’t gone well. He made his first career start against the Royals in Kansas City and give up six runs on eight hits in five innings. Then he made three straight starts where he gave up exactly one run. But since, it’s been ugly. In nine starts, he’s given up fewer than four runs just twice and has a 7.60 ERA with 15 home runs allowed in 45 innings. He gave up four in six innings to the Royals the last time these two teams faced off. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Twins do something with his pitch mix before next season. His fastball just isn’t really good enough and he throws it about 46 percent of the time. I actually like his curve and he barely throws it. Maybe it’s one of those things that it would get exposed if he used it more, but it’s worth finding out, I would think. One area that is probably just random chance is his numbers with runners in scoring position. He’s allowed a .318/.378/.727 line there which explains a bit his low 63.1 percent strand rate.

Kris Bubic appears to be finishing strong again, just like he did last year. He threw seven shutout innings in his last start in Detroit and that was after allowing one run on two hits in 6.1 innings against Seattle in the start before. In total, he has a 2.08 ERA in 26 September innings and his command and control both have looked as good as they’ve looked all year. I’ve said for awhile that velocity is the key to Bubic’s success, but he was locating his fastball so well and reaching back for velocity when he needed it that I’m amending my hypothesis a bit on that. He hasn’t been bad against the Twins this year, but they’ve given him a little trouble, so this’ll be a nice litmus test to finish out his 2021 with the hopes of springboarding into an even better 2022.

Sunday - Charlie Barnes vs. Jackson Kowar, 2:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Charlie Barnes 8 35.1 0 3 10.7% 9.4% 5.86 6.32 0.1
Jackson Kowar 8 26.1 0 5 16.9% 14.0% 11.28 6.22 -0.3

You may not know much about Charlie Barnes. I know I don’t. He’s a lefty who was drafted in the fourth round in 2017 by the Twins. He got his first taste of AAA in 2019 and it was rough, but he went back there this year and was pretty solid for St. Paul. He is the prototypical crafty lefty. He isn’t going to strike out a ton, but he’s not going to shoot himself in the foot with walks most of the time. He’s a sinker/slider/changeup guy with the sinker sitting 89-91 and touching a tad higher than that. He’s gotten some whiffs on his changeup, but as we’ve seen with Bubic, without the velocity, his margin for error is thin, so he’s gotten hit a bit too. He has handled lefties well, but righties have hit him hard, so that’s good news for the Royals right-handed bats. He’s also been adequate at home, but an absolute disaster on the road, so maybe the Royals can get to him.

Jackson Kowar has one last chance to make a good impression heading into the offseason. He’s been incredibly disappointing through his first eight big league appearances. It’s not all bad, though. Since he’s been back, he’s gotten about a strikeout per inning and he’s shown flashes of what he can be, but he just hasn’t put it together yet. This isn’t any particularly new information, but it comes down to control for him. His stuff is good (though his fastball can get too straight), but when he’s walking as many as he has, it just doesn’t matter at all. I’m a little worried about this Twins lineup against a straight fastball, so I’d like to see a steady diet of changeups and sliders from him to hopefully round out his season on a high note.

Prediction

Final series between two teams with literally nothing important to play for can be tricky. And especially that last game that might get done in under two hours if the hitters are swinging early and often. With that said, I think the Royals take two of three and the hype machine into the offsason goes into overdrive after a strong finish.

Poll

Do the Royals handle the Twins and avoid last place?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    The Royals sweep and finish five games up on them.
    (13 votes)
  • 56%
    The Royals take two of three to finish three games ahead.
    (51 votes)
  • 21%
    The Twins win two of three, but that’s not enough to get out of the basement.
    (19 votes)
  • 7%
    The Twins sweep and the Royals have their first last place finish since 2018.
    (7 votes)
90 votes total Vote Now