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Minnesota Twins Series Preview: Basement buddies!

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The two worst teams in the AL Central meet this weekend at The K.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins have struggled for the vast majority of 2021, so much so that they have been behind the Royals every day of the season since April. Until recently. The Royals slide has put them ahead of Kansas City. Had they been able to take a couple games against the White Sox in their series this week, I think the Twins could have set their sights on a potential mad dash to getting back to relevancy, but they fell short. It’s not that it’s wholly impossible at this point, but they’d have to play at a 110+ win pace in order to get to 90 wins. I’m not sure that’s the spot they have to get, but even so, for a team that hasn’t been at .500 since the season’s 10th game, that seems like a task just a bit too tall.

The Twins can only go as far as their pitching staff will take them because they’ve always been able to hit. The only below average bats in their lineup on a regular basis are Andrelton Simmons, who plays great defense and Max Kepler, who is a much better hitter than what he’s shown this season, so the offense isn’t anything for them to worry about. It’s all about the pitching, and this season they’ve only gotten consistently good efforts from Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda and Pineda is now injured, though on a rehab assignment. The bullpen has come together a bit with Alex Colome moved out of the closer role long ago, but even so, it’s just been a struggle for them all season to find the right formula. It might be too late, but they seem to have found something that works a bit better at least.

Royals vs. Twins Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Twins
Category Royals Twins
Winning % .412 .418
Team wRC+ 89 104
Team xFIP 4.55 4.47
Run Differential -83 -62
H2H Wins 5 5
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.3 Byron Buxton, 2.7

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 LF 213 .282 .352 .367 9.4% 10.3% 100 0.7
Josh Donaldson 3B 252 .250 .345 .486 13.1% 19.4% 124 1.3
Trevor Larnach RF 169 .243 .349 .410 10.7% 30.2% 112 0.5
Nelson Cruz DH 283 .310 .382 .584 9.5% 19.1% 158 2.0
Max Kepler CF 192 .199 .297 .392 11.5% 21.4% 88 0.5
Jorge Polanco 2B 304 .250 .319 .419 8.6% 15.5% 102 1.2
Alex Kirilloff 1B 177 .265 .305 .446 5.6% 22.6% 100 0.4
Ryan Jeffers C 112 .198 .277 .396 9.8% 33.9% 84 0.3
Andrelton Simmons SS 230 .245 .314 .332 8.3% 16.5% 82 0.4

Twins Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Ben Rortvedt C 58 .132 .179 .208 3.4% 34.5% 6 -0.2
Miguel Sano 1B/3B 230 .190 .274 .424 10.0% 37.8% 89 -0.3
Nick Gordon INF/OF 50 .313 .340 .417 4.0% 20.0% 108 0.3
Gilberto Celestino OF 43 .146 .186 .317 4.7% 18.6% 34 -0.5

Twins Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Hansel Robles 36 34.0 3 4 23.6% 13.5% 3.60 4.62 -0.1
Taylor Rogers 31 32.0 2 3 32.6% 3.9% 2.53 2.28 1.2
Jorge Alcala 33 31.2 1 2 21.5% 6.6% 4.83 4.44 -0.4

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - J.A. Happ vs. Brady Singer, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
J.A. Happ 14 71.0 4 3 17.6% 7.3% 5.83 5.48 0.1
Brady Singer 16 76.2 3 6 23.2% 9.5% 4.70 4.09 1.2

At some point, a pitcher is going to slow down and it seems like that’s what has happened with J.A. Happ thi season. While he struggled some in 2019, he did limit hits at least, but his strikeout rate is down, he’s giving up tons of hits and with all those base runners, the home runs are hurting more. He is coming off a nice start against Cleveland, but he struggled against the Royals in his last start against them in early June, going five innings and giving up five runs on nine hits with three homers allowed and just three swings and misses. He’s done well against lefties, but righties have stung him for a .287/.349/.561 line, and the Royals are pretty righty heavy these days, so that bodes well. He’s also posted a 7.98 ERA on the road with 42 hits allowed in 29.1 innings. And one thing for the Royals that probably is good is that Happ has allowed a .370 average and .963 SLG on the first pitch. That’s right in the Royals collective wheelhouse.

Brady Singer continues to be a bit of an enigma in this rotation. Once again, against the Rangers he didn’t have a bad start when it was all said and done. He went five and give up three runs with two earned. He had five strikeouts and he got 12 swings and misses. But he also made some terrible pitches with two strikes that gave up the runs and ultimately the offense couldn’t muster enough to help bail him out. Since a rough start against the Pirates to start June, he’s posted a 3.86 ERA in five starts with a perfectly acceptable 23.9 percent strikeout rate but a bloated 11.9 percent walk rate. He’s also given up four home runs in 23.1 innings which isn’t truly terrible but you’d prefer maybe one fewer. This run of starts actually began against these Twins when he allowed two runs on eight hits over 5.2 in a 2-1 loss, but he did strike out seven and generally looked pretty good against them, so maybe he can keep going and build on the solid enough last five starts.

Saturday - Griffin Jax vs. Danny Duffy, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Griffin Jax 4 12.2 1 0 19.3% 8.8% 7.82 5.66 -0.3
Danny Duffy 10 48.0 4 3 27.9% 8.1% 2.44 3.99 1.2

The Twins selected Griffin Jax with their third round pick in the 2016 draft and he made his big league debut in relief against the Yankees on June 8, allowing three runs in an inning with two home runs allowed. Since then, he’s pitched mostly longer outings throwing between 51 and 93 pitches in his three relief appearances and is now set to make his first big league start in this one. He was solid for St. Paul in five starts in AAA with a 3.33 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 27 innings with no home runs allowed. In the big leagues, he’s thrown his fastball about half the time without much in the way of results. He has just a 12.1 percent whiff rate on it and a .297 ISO allowed. His slider has been even worse, though the sample is even smaller, with a .429 average allowed and 1.071 SLG. He’s actually been victimized by righties big time, allowing a .360/.379/.840 line to them with four of his five home runs allowed.

Danny Duffy will get his third start since his return from the injured list. The first and subsequent relief outing went pretty well, though his command was off in his second inning in New York. But he just wasn’t sharp against the Red Sox and got hit hard even though he had a 3-0 lead before even taking the mound. He ended up giving up a season-high tying four runs in just 3.1 innings with three homers allowed when he had allowed just two homers all year before that game. His fastball did look sharp at times with four whiffs, but he just generally wasn’t fooling hitters. You could sort of tell early when he couldn’t put away Rafael Devers in the second at bat of the game that he wasn’t on. He’s faced the Twins once this year and had one of his best games with just one run on two hits allowed over seven with seven strikeouts and three walks in an 11-3 Royals win. He won’t go that deep in this one, but hopefully he’s that effective.

Sunday - Kenta Maeda vs. Brad Keller, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kenta Maeda 12 56.2 3 3 21.0% 7.8% 5.56 4.33 0.3
Brad Keller 17 81.0 6 8 17.2% 10.8% 6.67 4.78 0.1

When the Twins acquired Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers before the 2020 season, they thought they were getting a pitcher who could be a big piece of their rotation. And in 2020, he absolutely was, finishing second in the AL Cy Young vote and just generally dominating with only 40 hits allowed in 66.2 innings. This season has been a different story. He’s giving up more hits than innings pitched, he’s walking more and striking out fewer and the home run has bit him more than pretty much ever before. Just compare last season’s strikeout rate of 32.3 percent with the one you see above and his walk rate of 4.0 percent with what you see above and the story becomes clear pretty easily. When the Twins picked him up, he started throwing his slider as his number one pitch and while he’s still getting swings and misses on it this year, it’s just not fooling hitters when they can get to it, and that’s been a big problem. But the real problem has been his splitter, which is still okay, but not otherworldly like last year and his four-seam fastball that he throws nearly a quarter of the time. Last season, he allowed a .086 average on it and .114 SLG. This season, it’s .342 and .684. That’s just not going to cut it. He had been pitching better over the month or so before his last start, but gave up seven runs in 4.2 innings to the White Sox and walked five, so that stretch has ended.

Brad Keller was also pitching well for a stretch when he was actually getting strikeouts. Once the strikeouts dried up, so did the quality pitching, which should be a lesson for the Royals, but likely won’t be. His last start where he gave up fewer hits than innings pitched as May 25 against Tampa Bay. That was also the last time he completed six innings (he actually went seven that day). The Royals are trying to get innings out of him, but the performance just isn’t allowing it and that’s a huge problem. I think there is something to him getting bit by some bad luck, but his lack of command and control are causing a good portion of that bad luck, so it’s hard to feel like there’s a turnaround coming until we see some sort of change from him. He did win back-to-back starts against the Twins at the end of May and early June by going 10 innings between the two games with five runs allowed and 11 strikeouts and four walks, so maybe he can get things going against a team he’s sort of had success against this season.

Prediction

I honestly don’t know what to predict with this team. They have been able to turn things around on seemingly a dime in the past, but they look worn down, defeated and just simply overmatched so much of the time out there. They still have 10 games left in their 20 games in 20 days stretch leading up to the break, so hopefully they can find a second wind because they’re really sputtering to that break. I think they can take one of three from the Twins this weekend, but only because it’s hard to just keep losing.

Poll

How does this series with the Twins end?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Royals sweep and the Twins are relegated to AAA.
    (9 votes)
  • 16%
    Royals win two of three somehow.
    (11 votes)
  • 41%
    Royals actually win a game, proving a non-zero percentage of the fanbase wrong.
    (28 votes)
  • 29%
    Twins sweep and the Royals vow to fight harder in the next series.
    (20 votes)
68 votes total Vote Now