Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Minnesota Twins

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I don’t know what it is about the Minnesota Twins, but they just come off as the most bland team in the majors. Other teams have either recognizable players or some kind of special quirk. The White Sox have a grittiness birthed from the Southside of Chicago, the Royals get to wear that beautiful blue and play in a future park, even the Padres, another blandery, have those cool throwbacks and a sociopath in Carlos Quentin.

The Twins though, they’re just kind of there, representing “baseball team” if ever anyone did. Not too flashy, just a bunch of guys with decent chins and square heads that play in the sun. That would be fine too, but they’ve become my personal scapegoat for why people think the AL Central is a weak division. If not for them people might have a bit more respect for the Indians’ record now but instead it’s all “Tigers this,” “Tigers that,” and “Why aren’t the Tigers running away with the division?”

It’s because they’re not playing the Twins all the time guys.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most marvelous thing about the Twins though, besides a nickname in the Twinkies that they abhor and I adore because I love Twinkies and they’ll save us from starvation in a nuclear holocaust, is Joe Mauer. Joe does three things well – play catcher (better than anyone [Editor's note: Apparently Merritt forgot about this guy by the name of Yadier Molina who plays for St. Louis.])  hit the ball (best as a catcher ever, probably top five in the game) and grow rich, delicious sideburns. Those things are beauties – if they were Doric columns we’d be on our way to building a second Parthenon, and the Twin Cities could become the Athens of the north plains. You know they want this title from, I don’t know, Butte, Montana? It’d make Fargo the modern Sparta then. And Canada becomes Elysium.

But the hitting, that’s what makes Joe shine. Everyone talks about how he’s fallen off since that MVP in 2009, but those people are uninformed. Everything he’s doing is in line with his career numbers:

  • 2013: .320/.402/.473
  • Career: .323/.405/.468

Yet people expect him to be popping near 30 homers a year. I’ve never heard a more apt comparison to Roberto Clemente than Joe Mauer. While the right field comparison doesn’t work, he’s perhaps the best at his job in the game just like Clemente, and yet is sometimes forgotten because he toils in a park off the beaten path. Shoot, Clemente was never a bit power numbers guy, except one year when he decided to win an MVP and bopped 29 donk boxes. They’re both legit guys who everyone loves. Hopefully it ends better for Joe. Even though I loathe seeing him at the plate the guy is a marvel.

I’d mention Josh Willingham here, but he spurned the Indians to play in even more obscurity, and now his numbers are taking a dive. Anyway, I’m a strong, independent Indians fan who don’t need no WIllingham. He’d probably do something to kill the Tribe this series if he wasn’t on the DL though.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

As a whole, this Twins team is deep in the doldrums. Their minor league system has gone dry the last few years and they now have only four regulars with an OPS+ over 100, and only Mauer is over 108. Justin Morneau hasn’t really rediscovered the power that won him an MVP, though as a fan I like seeing him back on the field after all that he had to go through battling back from concussions. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe is doing alright, 108 OPS+ with 10 homers, but he’s not much more than a role player.

The pipeline seems to be getting ready to flow though, with three or four great looking prospects coming down. Oswaldo Arcia is already in the majors and producing at a decent level for a 22-year old. He’s got a .725 OPS and that’s after a brutal 3-for-28 slump heading into the break. If nothing else, he’s better than Chris Parmalee.

Along with Arcia, the next couple years will see Miguel Sano, a third base prospect that ranks in the top 10 by several publications. The guy is a monster, and we tried figuring a way to pry him from the Twins a couple podcasts ago, to little avail. He’s going through the AA test and not looking great but it’s still early, and he’s only 20.

Finally and furthest away is Byron Buxton, a guy the Star Tribune called a prospect better than Mauer, Pujols or Trout…? Bold, to say the least, since the kid’s only in high-A. Drafted last year, Baseball America already has him ranked 10th in the minors and he’s showing why in the lower levels with a .331/.414/.531 over two levels this year. He might see New Britain this year.

As we’ll see in a moment with the starters the Indians will face this weekend, the Twins are worse pitching than they are hitting. They’re 14th in the AL in team ERA and 15th in strikeouts and despite all this have walked the fourth least batters and given up the second least home runs. Their park plays large, but at least you can say they’re aggressive, not afraid to throw it in the zone. It just gets blasted is all.

Closer Glenn Perkins is likely to be traded by the end of the month and the rest of the bullpen is spotty at best. But they do have Kyle Gibson in the majors, a highly touted prospect back from elbow surgery, and he could be a wave of the future. Or he could be another Nick Blackburn/Brian Duensing/Kevin Slowey/every other pitcher the Twins have had not named Santana. They seriously seem to just print the same guy over and over and expect different results.

They’re bad, there’s a reason they’re in last place. It’d be nice of the Indians to gain some ground here, because the Tigers are in Kansas City. Depending on which Royals team shows up the Indians need to either hold ground or crawl closer, keep the pressure on the underachieving felines.

What of the Indians? Jason Kipnis shows no signs of slowing down too much, he had an RBI double in the All-Star Game which was sweet. Asdrubal Cabrera has to produce more – or at least get on base more than a .315 clip. Lonnie Chisenhall looks to be hitting and liking the world of the Major Leagues enough to stay so it’ll be nice for his doubles and gap to gap swing to play in an ocean of grass at Target Field. And Mark Reynolds. HIT THE BALL. That’s all I got on them.

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