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Minnesota Twins Series Preview: Their slow start turned around awfully fast

Now perched at the top of the AL Central, the Twins are looking to build their lead against a struggling Royals club.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The last time we saw the Minnesota Twins, they were in a bad way at the bottom of the division. Granted it had been just 10 games when the two teams met for the first time, but they were at the bottom of the division in 2021 too, so even with all their changes, you wondered if it was more of the same. After dropping the first two games of that series to the Royals, they salvaged one victory and since then have gone 18-8. While the White Sox have struggled to find footing and the Guardians have been up and down, the Twins have risen to the top of the division. They’ve been solid offensively. They hit their fair share of homers, work their share of walks and all that, but where they’ve been surprisingly good is in their pitching staff. And that’s very impressive because they’ve kind of had to piece it together with some injuries to key pieces to start the season. Their starters have come back to earth a bit in May, but they’ve also gotten Sonny Gray back and while they could definitely use another arm, they look better than I expected.

Royals vs. Twins Matchup Stats

Category Royals Twins
Category Royals Twins
Winning % .378 .579
H2H Wins 2 1
Team wRC+ 88 113
Team xFIP 4.40 3.72
Run Differential -46 21
Highest fWAR Zack Greinke, 1.0 Byron Buxton, 1.6

Twins Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Byron Buxton CF 105 .245 .324 .649 7.6% 28.6% 182 1.6
Luis Arrarez DH 113 .323 .425 .406 14.2% 6.2% 152 0.2
Carlos Correa SS 108 .265 .333 .388 8.3% 24.1% 116 0.5
Jorge Polanco 2B 158 .235 .335 .382 13.3% 24.7% 116 0.9
Max Kepler RF 137 .259 .358 .431 11.7% 16.1% 136 1.0
Gary Sanchez C 111 .230 .306 .460 6.3% 29.7% 126 0.5
Gio Urshela 3B 123 .229 .293 .330 8.9% 13.0% 85 0.0
Jose Miranda 1B 56 .094 .143 .189 3.6% 19.6% -5 -0.7
Nick Gordon LF 78 .247 .286 .301 5.1% 28.2% 74 0.1

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 97 .207 .289 .368 10.3% 29.9% 96 0.7
Gilberto Celestino OF 63 .333 .387 .404 4.8% 25.4% 139 0.7
Kyle Garlick OF 32 .222 .344 .556 15.6% 21.9% 164 0.3

Twins Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Emilio Pagan 12 11.2 0 1 28.3% 18.9% 1.54 4.16 -0.3
Jhoan Duran 13 17.2 0 1 39.1% 4.3% 3.06 1.74 0.0
Tyler Duffey 14 15.0 1 2 24.6% 5.3% 3.00 2.28 0.1

Royals vs. Twins Projected Pitchers

May 20 - Devin Smeltzer vs. Daniel Lynch, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Devin Smeltzer 1 5.0 0 0 10.5% 10.5% 1.80 5.15 0.1
Daniel Lynch 6 30.0 2 2 22.5% 10.1% 3.30 4.67 0.2

Devin Smeltzer is a name I had kind of forgotten. He had a very nice start to his career with solid numbers in 2019 as a 22-year old, but was kind of whatever in 2020 and then got hurt in 2021 after just one big league outing. He came back last weekend and pitched pretty well in five innings after looking pretty okay in a few AAA starts leading up to the outing. I’ll be curious to see what his pitch mix looks like. He’s thrown a lot of changeups in his career, but went to his curve quite a bit in his first start against the Guardians and didn’t throw much of his changeup at all. His fastball isn’t overpowering and has been hit throughout his career, so if Royals hitters can sit on that and not let his secondary stuff eat them up, they could do well in this game.

Career vs. KC: 5 G, 2 GS, 16.0 IP, 2-0, 2.25 ERA


Daniel Lynch is coming off a scoreless start in Colorado, which is reason for celebration no matter how he actually pitched. He’s seen his walks tick up a bit over his last two starts with four each in just nine total innings, so that’s something to be watched, but what I’m most interested here is if the Twins can do to him what some other teams have done and fight off the tough pitches to foul away. Lynch is getting a lot of swings and misses, but ranks very high in both the number of foul balls he’s allowed and the percentage of foul balls per swing. A foul ball isn’t always a bad result, but he’s allowed a foul ball on 34 percent of two-strike pitches. That’s been a big factor in him throwing 90+ pitches in each of his last three starts without even finishing the sixth. The Twins do a great job of fouling off two-strike pitches, ranking in the top five in that category, so this will be a challenge for Lynch.

Career vs. MIN: 2 GS, 11.0 IP, 1-0, 3.27 ERA

May 21 - Joe Ryan vs. Brad Keller, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Joe Ryan 7 37.2 4 2 24.2% 8.1% 2.39 4.30 0.7
Brad Keller 7 43.2 1 3 14.6% 5.3% 2.89 3.91 0.5

A lot of people were excited to see Joe Ryan with the Twins after they got him back in the deal that sent Nelson Cruz to the Rays and a big portion of it was the fact that he is so fastball heavy and he uses that pitch up in the zone. But he does it without big-time velocity. Instead he relies on movement up there, which is interesting because it’s a pitch hitters shouldn’t have a big problem with. Yet they do. But I also find it interesting that he’s replaced about 10 percent of last year’s fastballs with sliders, a pitch he has a solid whiff rate on and doesn’t allow much in the way of hard contact. What’s even more interesting is that he misses with his slider in the fat part of the zone way more than you’d expect for someone who has allowed just two extra base hits on it in 47 at bats. Is that something that will change or is this sustainable? It’s hard to say, but he looks awfully good right now.

Career vs. KC: 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA


Brad Keller simply can’t get run support during a very solid season he’s having to start the year. It’s been a bit better in May, but of course that’s come when he’s made two of his three starts where he allowed three or more runs. In his last start, he was solid, giving up three runs over seven innings with no walks allowed. It was the second time this season he hasn’t walked anyone and the 11th time in his career as a starter. That’s been one of the biggest differences for Keller. He’s getting a ton of grounders and he is generating some whiffs with his slider, but he’s not walking batters. His walk rate is roughly half of last year’s and 2.6 percent below his previous best that came in 2020, a year he made just nine starts. The Twins haven’t given him many problems throughout his career, actually posing as one of the few teams he’s had no issues getting strikeouts against, so it’ll be interesting to see if he plays more for the swing and miss in this one or continues to throw strikes and let his defense help him out.

Career vs. MIN: 9 GS, 50.2 IP, 3-3, 3.20 ERA

May 22 - Bailey Ober vs. Jonathan Heasley, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Bailey Ober 4 19.2 1 1 19.3% 6.0% 2.75 4.53 0.3
Jonathan Heasley 2 8.1 0 2 4.9% 17.1% 4.32 6.80 -0.1

The Twins have been without Bailey Ober since he went on the IL with a groin injury following a start against Detroit in late April, but he appears set to come back this weekend to face the Royals. He’s a big boy, standing at 6’9” and weighs 260 lbs so you feel like he’d be more of a power arm, but he isn’t. He’s generally 90-93 with his fastball, but he works the top of the zone with the pitch hard. His heat map is a lot of red at the top and even above the zone. With his height, he gets a ton of extension, so the perceived velocity is a lot higher. While he’s averaged 92.2 MPH on his fastball in his career, the perceived velocity is 94.1. That’s a big difference. The gap has been a bit smaller this year, so his fastball was hit a bit more before he got hurt. He did make one rehab start and wasn’t great, but he had seven strikeouts in five innings, so he’s probably ready to come back.

Career vs. KC: 2 GS, 8.1 IP, 0-0, 4.32 ERA


This is either going to be Jonathan Heasley or Brady Singer, but I’m going to guess Heasley for now. I’m quickly becoming confused with Heasley. He’s been a strike-thrower in the minors. He’s had good stuff. And yet, in the big leagues, he’s pedestrian. I posited that he was giving hitters too much credit and maybe that’s it, but it’s just not working with seven walks and two strikeouts in 8.1 innings across his first two starts. He’s only allowed four runs, so it hasn’t exactly hurt him, but it’s just not working. He’s not getting hit hard, so he really just needs to trust his stuff and throw some strikes and stop nibbling. The Twins' offense is good, but there are spots to nibble and spots to attack. He needs to know those in this one or else he won’t fare as well as he has so far.

Career vs. MIN: 1 GS, 5.1 IP, 1-0, 6.75 ERA

Royals vs. Twins Prediction

The Royals are playing better, but still not especially well. The Twins are playing well. This doesn’t seem like a good series for the Royals, though I can at least see a path to winning two of three. Still, I think the Twins take the series but it’s not a sweep.

SB Nation has partnered with DraftKings to sponsor select series previews this season. Here are the betting odds for this series. The Royals are a +1.5 run underdog tonight with a +105 moneyline, and an over/under of 7 runs scored in the game.

Poll

How many wins for the Royals this weekend against the Twins?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    3
    (12 votes)
  • 21%
    2
    (22 votes)
  • 46%
    1
    (48 votes)
  • 21%
    0
    (22 votes)
104 votes total Vote Now