The Cleveland Indians welcome a familiar foe to Progressive Field this weekend as the Minnesota Twins come to town for a three-game series. It’s been a rough year so far for the Twinkies—their 18-32 record is the worst in the American League, and with less than a third of the season in the books they’re already 10.5 games behind in the division.
As we wait for the action to get underway at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, we talked to Nate Gilmore from the terrific Twins blog Puckett’s Pond about Minnesota’s slow start, Josh Willingham‘s breakout, and Joe Mauer‘s resurgence. Here’s what he had to say:
- Fifty games in, the Twins have the worst record in the league. Do you expect them to improve at all over the course of the season?
No, I do not. Going into the season, it was possible to think that last year was a fluke, but the terrible first third of this season proves it wasn’t. The Twins have to embrace the rebuilding role if they want to improve. That means unloading high-priced veterans like Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Carl Pavano, and Matt Capps in exchange for prospects. This would make the Twins even worse this summer and fall, but it would benefit the team in the long run, which is what is really important now.
Josh Willingham has been one of the season’s biggest surprises. What’s fueling his breakout?
I wouldn’t say it’s much of a breakout—the guy hit 29 homers last season, so he’s been a well-known power hitter for a while. He knows how to hit for power, and he does it. I have always believed that Target Field is not as much of a pitchers’ park as people say it is, and Willingham seems to be backing that theory up.
- Joe Mauer is having a bounceback year. What is he doing differently in 2012?
The only thing I see that he’s doing differently is not getting injured. You can chalk up 100% of Mauer’s 2011 struggles to his bad health. This year he’s getting on base at a frantic pace. This year, he’s actually a little worse than his career norm. Mauer should be a .320 to .330 hitter in addition to all his walks, so I think his average will rise a bit in the second half of the year.
- Who’s pitching for the Twins this weekend, and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
You know Carl Pavano already, so I won’t say much about him. The Indians faced Scott Diamond a couple times last year, but he seems to be a much better pitcher this year (so far). You can probably pin that on having a bit of MLB experience and a little more confidence. P.J. Walters is the other starter, and all I can say about him is that he makes quality starts. Given the shoddy state of Twins pitching this season, that is an invaluable commodity.
- What’s your prediction for the series?
I think the Indians will win two of three. Cleveland is a more talented team.
You can keep up with the Twins all season long on PuckettsPond.com.