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Minnesota Twins Series Preview: They’re in a fight they don’t want to be in

It looked like the AL Central was theirs until they stopped winning games.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when it seemed like the Twins might win the AL Central walking away. They had a 5.5 game lead in late May and looked like they were hitting their stride. They had a 4.5 game lead on July 10. Things have not gone great since. Since that 5.5 game lead, they’re 31-39. Which is much more in line with their 73-89 record from last season. But they did make a lot of changes and with the addition of Carlos Correa plus their deadline moves to add Tyler Mahle, Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez, so this is a team that does seem better equipped to rebound. If they will remains to be seen, but they have a very good, though not great, offense. They do pretty much everything well offensively other than stealing bases. Their rotation needed some help and they did get some with the addition of Mahle, but while he’s a big move, they need Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray healthy and pitching well for that move to actually matter. We’ll see all three in this series. Their real pitching issue was a leaky bullpen and they picked up two of the better relievers on the market to stabilize things back there along with Jhoan Duran. It seems like they’re in a much better position in the late innings, but they need a strong finish to overtake and hold off the Guardians and maybe the White Sox.

Royals vs. Twins Matchup Stats

Category Royals Twins
Category Royals Twins
Winning % .414 .513
H2H Wins 4 6
Team wRC+ 96 110
Team xFIP 4.48 4.10
Run Differential -125 17
Highest fWAR Brady Singer, 1.9 Byron Buxton, 3.6

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 1B 424 .333 .399 .441 9.4% 7.8% 143 2.6
Carlos Correa SS 384 .271 .351 .440 10.6% 20.3% 126 2.0
Byron Buxton CF 357 .223 .303 .545 8.4% 30.5% 137 3.6
Jorge Polanco 2B 408 .234 .343 .405 14.5% 21.1% 116 1.8
Max Kepler RF 365 .223 .321 .357 11.5% 15.3% 97 1.4
Jose Miranda DH 279 .275 .319 .458 4.3% 20.1% 121 1.0
Nick Gordon LF 268 .272 .320 .419 4.9% 24.3% 110 0.7
Gio Urshela 3B 354 .265 .308 .434 6.5% 16.9% 108 0.9
Sandy Leon C 41 .200 .400 .300 24.4% 22.0% 119 0.2

Twins Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Gary Sanchez C 323 .218 .282 .395 7.1% 27.6% 91 1.0
Tim Beckham INF 19 .105 .105 .105 0.0% 31.6% -52 -0.3
Jake Cave OF 31 .207 .258 .414 6.5% 25.8% 87 0.1
Gilberto Celestino OF 197 .267 .323 .333 6.6% 21.8% 90 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
Jorge Lopez 49 53.1 4 6 26.6% 8.7% 2.03 3.23 1.2
Jhoan Duran 42 50.2 1 3 32.3% 6.0% 2.13 2.32 0.8
Michael Fulmer 47 45.0 4 5 23.8% 11.4% 3.20 4.38 0.7

Royals vs. Twins Probable Pitching Matchups

August 15 - LHP Kris Bubic vs. RHP Joe Ryan, 6:40pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 19 86.0 2 6 19.0% 11.2% 5.02 4.54 0.3
Joe Ryan 18 95.2 8 5 23.4% 6.5% 3.95 4.53 1.2

Kris Bubic just narrowly missed the chance to extend his quality start streak to five when he couldn’t escape the sixth inning in his last start against Boston. He still only allowed one earned run as an error cost him the chance at six scoreless innings, but he has a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts spanning 72.2 innings since he came back from Omaha. As I’ve said before, there are plenty of peripherals indicating the ERA is a bit deflated from where it should be, but he does have a 4.00 FIP in that time. Over his last five starts, he has a 2.27 ERA with a 3.66 FIP, so he seems to be getting stronger, which isn’t new for him as he’s finished both of his first two seasons well. What’s a little puzzling on the surface is his massive reverse platoon split. He’s allowed a 1.053 OPS to lefties and a .708 OPS to righties. That speaks to his changeup playing well, but he simply has to find some pitch he can use to get same side hitters out. Maybe it’s simply using the changeup on them more, but I do wonder what happened to the slider we heard so much about in spring training. Either way, that seems to be the next step for him.

Career vs. MIN: 7 G, 6 GS, 31.0 IP, 1-3, 4.65 ERA

Ryan missed a good chunk of time earlier this year with Covid and since he’s been back, things haven’t been quite as wonderful. He went on the IL with a 2.28 ERA, 24.3 percent strikeout rate and 8.1 percent walk rate. Since, his ERA is 5.33 with a 22.8 percent strikeout rate and 5.4 percent walk rate. So he isn’t walking hitters, but he’s had some rough starts with one ending with him allowing 10 earned runs in 4.2 innings. He gave up five home runs in that start. Ryan doesn’t throw hard and where he’s had some issues is that he isn’t working quite as high in the zone as earlier this year, so where his sub-92 MPH fastball plays pretty well at the top, it gets hit a bit harder more toward the middle, which is no surprise. He also has a slider that has spun a bit recently and a changeup with the occasional curve that have both been hit hard. Where he’s been fine is at home with a 2.92 ERA compared with a 5.05 ERA on the road. Fortunately for him, he’ll be pitching at home in this game.

Career vs. KC: 2 GS, 11.2 IP, 2-0, 0.77 ERA

August 16 - RHP Zack Greinke vs. RHP Sonny Gray, 6:40pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zack Greinke 19 98.2 4 7 13.5% 4.7% 4.29 4.52 1.1
Sonny Gray 17 83.2 6 3 22.9% 7.5% 3.33 3.81 1.6

Zack Greinke had his longest start of the season his last time out and didn’t give up any runs. He worked around trouble from hits allowed all game, but it was a very good start against a White Sox lineup that has some spots where they can hurt a pitcher. But he got out of multiple jams and gave the Royals offense a chance to score some runs late. That’s the formula for Greinke. Keep the team in the game and occasionally that’ll end up with a very good line at this point in his career. I talk a lot about what guys like Bubic and Brady Singer have done since they’ve been back, but since Greinke returned from his injury, he’s made nine starts, gone 47 innings and has a 3.45 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 10 walks allowed. Kauffman Stadium has been very friendly to him, yes, but it’s still been impressive. The reality is that he’s probably at the stage of his career where he should be a longer opener as he performs very well in the first three innings and the first time through an order, but there’s enough guile with him that he’ll continue to get a second and third time through.

Career vs. MIN: 27 G, 23 GS, 143.0 IP, 5-11, 4.72 ERA

When Gray got to Cincinnati a few years ago, his strikeout numbers shot up and his walk numbers rose just a bit with them. But this year with Minnesota, the strikeout and walk numbers look a lot more like what he did in Oakland. I’m not sure if he was pitching to his ballpark there, knowing that strikeouts were maybe even more important with the small outfield, but he’s still a very good and effective pitcher and has been a nice pickup for the Twins. With the Twins, he’s throwing his four-seamer a little more and his slider a little less, but all of his pitches have been pretty effective this year. But how he pitches is very different depending on what side of the plate they stand on. Against lefties, he’s really a two-pitch guy. He throws his curve nearly 45 percent of the time and his four-seamer 43 percent of the time. He does mix in his sinker, but lefties have hit that pitch. Against righties, It’s nearly 42 percent sinker, 21 percent slider, 16 percent four-seamer and 14 percent cutter. That’s a big difference. Righties have hit the four-seamer and the cutter well, which seems to be why he’s allowed an OPS of about 100 points higher against righties than lefties.

Career vs. KC: 8 GS, 52.0 IP, 5-2, 2.08 ERA

August 17 - LHP Daniel Lynch vs. RHP Tyler Mahle, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 18 87.2 4 7 22.4% 9.3% 4.52 4.33 1.1
Tyler Mahle 21 116.1 6 7 25.8% 8.7% 4.26 3.94 2.1

Daniel Lynch didn’t have it easy against the Dodgers in his last start, but in the end, he threw five shutout innings. I wrote on Inside the Crown that he clearly was being careful, living on the edge of the zone, and maybe too much, but when he needed to go after hitters, he was getting the Dodgers out with his stuff and pitch mix. I don’t know if there’s going to be a letdown for him or if that final inning that he escaped the bases loaded jam will pump him up, but I’m very interested to see his response after that game. Now in his last eight starts, which have been interrupted by two separate IL stints for a blister, he’s gone 39 innings with a 26.4 percent strikeout rate and 8.6 percent walk rate. That comes with a 3.46 ERA. I’d like a few fewer walks and a few more innings, but when you talk about the end goal being in sight, that’s what you’re looking at with Lynch. You can see how he becomes something special, now it’s just about getting there for him.

Career vs. MIN: 4 GS, 20.0 IP, 1-1, 4.50 ERA

Before the season, I looked at Mahle as a potential option for the Royals with the Reds open for business. While everyone wanted Luis Castillo, and rightfully so, Mahle had a very similar year to Castillo and likely would cost far less in a prospect haul. His season started off very poorly and on May 24, he gave up eight runs in four innings against the Cubs. But since then, and including his first two starts with the Twins, he’s gone 69.1 innings in 11 starts with a 2.86 ERA, 27.5 percent strikeout rate and 7.0 percent walk rate. And the Twins have him for 2023 as well. This is a pretty underrated acquisition in my opinion. Mahle throws a good four-seamer and he throws it a lot. Opponents are hitting just .197 on it. He also has a splitter, cutter and slider and while hitters are doing well on the latter two pitches, they’ve looked a lot better lately. He’s another pitcher with a big reverse platoon split. Righties are hitting .263/.318/.460 against him compared to .195/.276/.330 for lefties, which isn’t great for a lefty-heavy Royals lineup, but it does bode well for guys like Salvador Perez and Bobby Witt Jr.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance

Royals vs. Twins Prediction

The Royals are coming off a difficult series against a great team that they actually won a game in. I could see that ending up either leading to them erupting or them having a bit of a hangover effect and struggling some. I just don’t love the way the Twins are playing right now and I think I’m going to lean toward the Royals emerging from that Dodgers series with a fresh sense of purpose and taking two of three.


How many wins do the Royals get in Minnesota this week?

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  • 10%
    (23 votes)
  • 54%
    (117 votes)
  • 28%
    (60 votes)
  • 6%
    (14 votes)
214 votes total Vote Now