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Minnesota Twins Series Preview: Basement buddies do battle

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If you told someone before the season that the Twins and Royals would be neck and neck in September, it’d either be great for KC or terrible for Minnesota. It’s the latter.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins did not anticipate their season going like this. After posting .600+ winning percentages in each of the last two seasons, the Twins were sure they were going to be doing battle with the White Sox at the top of the division all season long. Instead, they’ve been in fourth or fifth place after every game since the break and have finished just one day better than fourth just once since the start of July. It’s a disaster season for the Twins who shipped off Nelson Cruz and Jose Berrios at the deadline as well as J.A. Happ and Hansel Robles. They’ve also demoted Trevor Larnach and lost Alex Kirilloff for the season to an injury. They’re also without Taylor Rogers and Kenta Maeda, who are hurt as well as Mitch Garver. It’s a very different Twins team than the one that was expected to contend, but that original version wasn’t doing much better anyway.

They can still hit, though. Byron Buxton is finally back from his injury and while he hasn’t been great since his return, we all know the talent he possesses. Miguel Sano has had a trying year, but he can hurt you on any given pitch. Jorge Polanco is having a fantastic year, Josh Donaldson is still there and Luis Arraez can still really hit. So they can beat you even though they don’t have that same level of fear instilled in their opponents that they did a couple seasons ago. They do have some black holes. Andrelton Simmons has been terrible. Ryan Jeffers is no Garver. And Nick Gordon isn’t exactly lighting things up. On the pitching side, they’re almost entirely young now. We’ll get a chance to see a couple of them, but a rotation with upside is at least more fun to follow than one with little to none, so getting to see Griffin Jax and Bailey Ober try to figure things out in the big leagues provides a little interest at the very least. The bullpen, well, they try their best.

Royals vs. Twins Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Twins
Category Royals Twins
Winning % .450 .443
Team wRC+ 87 100
Team xFIP 4.49 4.43
Run Differential -89 -105
H2H Wins 7 6
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 3.7 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 404 .297 .364 .383 9.4% 10.4% 107 1.5
Byron Buxton CF 161 .289 .329 .592 3.7 25.5% 147 2.5
Josh Donaldson DH 451 .251 .348 .470 13.1% 20.4% 122 1.6
Jorge Polanco 2B 559 .278 .335 .509 7.3% 17.4% 127 4.0
Miguel Sano 1B 442 .221 .310 .469 11.3% 34.6% 110 0.3
Max Kepler RF 419 .204 .305 .412 11.5% 20.3% 94 1.4
Ryan Jeffers C 250 .199 .276 .398 8.0% 36.0% 83 0.7
Nick Gordon LF 154 .238 .292 .322 5.8% 26.0% 70 -0.1
Andrelton Simmons SS 414 .220 .285 .273 7.5% 13.3% 57 -0.3

Twins Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Willians Astudillo C/INF/P 197 .249 .274 .397 1.5% 6.1% 81 -0.6
Ben Rortvedt C 89 .138 .207 .225 6.7% 30.3% 19 -0.1
Jake Cave OF 155 .191 .260 .312 6.5% 34.2% 57 0.0
Rob Refsnyder OF/INF 136 .261 .346 .361 11.8% 24.3% 98 0.3
Brent Rooker OF/1B 164 .207 .299 .400 7.3% 32.3% 93 0.0

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 57 54.2 4 4 18.0% 9.0% 3.95 4.55 -0.2
Tyler Duffey 55 51.1 3 3 22.0% 12.0% 3.33 4.29 0.5
Juan Minaya 21 29.2 2 0 26.0% 12.2% 2.73 4.10 0.1

Projected Starting Pitchers

Friday - Daniel Lynch vs. Griffin Jax, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 11 51.0 4 4 18.5% 10.7% 5.29 5.06 0.6
Griffin Jax 13 58.1 3 3 18.2% 8.9% 6.79 5.67 -0.6

Jax was the Twins third round pick in 2016 and really had a pretty linear rise to the big leagues that was probably delayed by the lack of a full season in 2020. He performed well at every level and was solid in AAA this year before getting his callup. He has struggled some as you can see from the numbers above, but he’s shown the potential to be a solid big league starter. The pitch that is most intriguing to me is the slider, which has gotten a ton of whiffs, though his command of it needs some work. He leaves too many over the plate, but when he’s putting it on the edges, it’s a good pitch. His fastball is just fair, so he might need to develop something else to back off that pitch a bit, but I like him as a back-of-the-rotation guy if he can make a couple small improvements. He needs to be better pitching with men on. He’s allowed a .982 OPS with men on base and .989 with runners in scoring position. And maybe he ultimately doesn’t have enough to start. The first time through the order, he’s allowed a .123/.210/.260 line and that jumps to .309/.385/.721 the second time through and .395/.429/.684 the third time. The Royals got him for six runs on eight hits in five innings earlier this year and followed that pattern; they were held scoreless in the first three and scored six in the fourth and fifth innings.

Daniel Lynch’s last start was his worst since coming back from the minors and there might be a blister or a cut or whatever it is that caused his finger to bleed. I don’t know why he was even pitching when blood was causing him to struggle to get a grip, but that’s a different story. If whatever was ailing him is fixed, I feel good about him out there, but it’s something to focus on now every time out until he gets it under control. When right, he’s shown the slider is a truly plus pitch and his fastball needs a little work to find more deception. It’s easy to see that in the .396 average and .591 SLG on his fastball with a 12 percent whiff rate and .169 average and .203 SLG on the slider with a 45.3 percent whiff rate. The Twins have struggled with lefty starters this season and a lot of that is with Cruz in their lineup (also without Buxton, so maybe it eventually evens out), so Lynch has a chance to really bounce back here.

Saturday - Brady Singer vs. Bailey Ober, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 24 116.0 4 9 22.1% 9.2% 4.58 4.20 2.3
Bailey Ober 17 78.2 2 2 25.1% 5.3% 4.00 3.98 0.9

Ober is kind of a fun pitcher. He’s 6’9” so be ready for many Chris Young references on the broadcast, as we heard the last time he faced the Royals. But he’s added velocity this season to what he was in the minors and it’s really helped him quite a bit. He doesn’t really get too deep into games generally, but he has a 2.55 ERA in his last 35.1 innings over seven starts with 36 strikeouts and just four walks. So that’s who he is. He’s around the plate. He’ll give up his hits, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he’s probably going to be pretty effective. The pitch he’s gotten in the most trouble with his slider, which can have some very real depth but he doesn’t always locate well. He’s had a lot more trouble with lefties than righties and he’s struggled when the lineup turns over, so the Twins generally get him out pretty quickly. He’s faced the Royals once and pitched well in his second big league start, giving up one run on five hits in four innings with four strikeouts and no walks.

Brady Singer made his best start of the year against the White Sox his last time out, going seven shutout innings. It was just the second start out of 36 in his career where he’s pitched at least seven shutout innings. He was masterful. He didn’t walk anyone. He got strikeouts. The only thing he didn’t do was throw the changeup, but he didn’t really need it. He did throw it on his last pitch and got a groundout, so he went to it when it was necessary, which is really all you can ask for. Now, he’s posted a 1.46 ERA in his last four starts since his first start back off the IL, which was pretty awful. His season against the Twins has been a mixed bag. In late April, he left a start early after getting hit in the foot, but he didn’t have much in the way of command before leaving. Then he was okay enough in early June, allowing two runs on eight hits over 5.2 innings with seven strikeouts. And then he went three against them in early July and just generally looked bad, so it’s hard to say how he’ll fare based on past results.

Sunday - Kris Bubic vs. Michael Pineda, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 25 104.2 4 6 20.7% 11.5% 5.07 4.67 -0.3
Michael Pineda 18 88.0 5 8 20.7% 4.9% 3.99 4.23 1.1

It hasn’t been a great platform free agent season for Michael Pineda in terms of staying healthy as he’s had a couple stints on the IL this season, limiting him to just 18 appearances so far this year, but he’s generally been pretty good when he’s actually been on the mound. He came back on Monday and went three scoreless against the Indians. I’d anticipate he won’t be counted on for more than 60-65 pitches, but against a free-swinging Royals lineup, that could get him through five. He’s become more of a finesse pitcher, which is surprising coming out of his large frame, but his fastball averages just 90.5 MPH and has been hit pretty hard. His slider remains very good and he uses his changeup on righties sometimes, so both sides need to be ready for it. The thing about Pineda is he’s going to be around the zone, so Royals hitters need to do damage on that first pitch, which is a strike about two-thirds of the time, the seventh-highest rate among pitchers with at least 80 innings. At bats against him have ended on the first pitch 41 times and resulted in 16 hits and seven extra base hits. It’s risky because it can lengthen his stay in the game, but swinging early isn’t a bad strategy.

I was hopeful for a better season out of Kris Bubic, but he’s given some highlights for sure and has a lot to work on heading into the 2022 season. His last start against Baltimore was...fine. I liked that he only walked one batter and he did pitch into the sixth. And he only gave up two runs, which allowed the Royals to get back into the game. I just wasn’t terribly impressed with the crispness of his pitches, if that makes sense. He had a really good start against Minnesota at the end of May and then pitched against them his next time out and that was kind of where his trouble started with the changeup. He couldn’t get out of the fifth in that outing and gave up an early home run to Donaldson. The Twins can find themselves in trouble against a really good changeup. I know I’ve harped on Bubic’s velocity forever now, but I think the changeup is definitely the key against this lineup. If he can keep it below the bottom of the zone, he has a chance to get a lot of swings and misses.

Prediction

The Royals have played the Twins pretty well this year, but there haven’t been a ton of close games. Just four out of the first 13 have been decided by fewer than three runs. I want to believe that the Royals offense can do their thing at Target Field, but it’s hard to actually believe that, so I’m going to say the Twins take two of three.

Poll

Last three in Minnesota for the year...how does the series go?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Royals sweep them and put the Twins in their rear view mirror.
    (11 votes)
  • 46%
    Royals take two of three and act high and mighty even though they only lead them by two games.
    (29 votes)
  • 30%
    Royals lose two of three and come back home tied for fourth...which is also last.
    (19 votes)
  • 6%
    Twins sweep and the Royals are in the basement all alone.
    (4 votes)
63 votes total Vote Now