Series Preview: Minnesota Twins @ Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians’ attendance woes the last few years are well chronicled, so with this four game set against the Minnesota Twins taking up the normally hard to draw middle of the week I got to wondering if that’s something the Tribe money people like or not. Like, would they rather have the Yankees or Dodgers or whatever come to town during the week because those teams draw so well everywhere, leaving the Twins and their ilk to the more fan-tractive weekends, or do they just want to get the drek out of the way and pack the place when the big boys come around? Does it even matter if they’re in last place like they are right now? Just something I was thinking about.

 

At any rate, the Twins are in town for four games, and hopefully the Indians can enjoy some more of that home cooking. Were it not for a very loud bat in the hands of Dayan Viciedo they’d have the sweep of the White Sox, but relievers are fickle in nature, as they say. Hopefully John Axford has a bit more composure and discretion than Chris Perez. Seriously, your dog? They don’t have proper lips, how could they smoke? This is the Indians’ second go around with the Twins this year, they played them in the home opener series and lost two of three. It was a close series in aggregate, Minnesota outscoring Cleveland 19-17 though the first two games were decided by five and four runs. The Twins looked real good, especially considering nobody had any faith they’ll do much of anything this season. That offense of theirs has really come out of nowhere.

 

As discussed with Puckett’s Pond editor Collin Kottke on the podcast a few days ago, there’s lots of unknowns about the Twins even now. Joe Mauer is rounding into form, packing a .375/.458/.475 slash line his last 10 games. He’s not as magical now that those sideburns aren’t framing the strike zone every day, but the constant hitting won’t leave, much as we pray.  Though to be honest, the dude is just too good to hate sometimes. The bad news is he left the game Sunday with back spasms. He’ll likely play and continue his routine domination of Indians pitching, but it’s something to keep in mind. Kurt Suzuki will never be Mauer but he’s doing a decent job behind the plate in his own right and hitting the ball to boot with a .780 OPS. He ain’t great, but he’s not Drew Butera. I’d call that one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason.

 

The Twins enjoyed a judge early season outburst from a host of players. Found money in Chris Colabello, Brian Dozier and the return of Jason Kubel glossed over a poor start by power hitting outfielder Josh Willingham, now on the DL but working his way back. Not in time to hurt the Tribe this go-around, but it’d be kind of cool to see him coming back hitting bombs. Meanwhile, Colabello has fallen back to earth with a .509 OPS the last two weeks though he still packs comfortable season numbers. I don’t think Twins fans or management expected much out of him and the story was super rad, but talent is what it is, and it reveals itself whether good or bad. Will he make adjustments to the adjustments of opponents? Is he any good at all? All I can say is, maybe.

 

Dozier and Kubel will probably keep up what they’re doing, though Kubel in particular might continue to fade some. He was garbage last year particularly for the Indians but he could have had some nagging injury, and if he finishes the season at like .280/.340/.410, it wouldn’t surprise me. He’s comfortable in Minnesota, that counts for something. Dozier is hitting the hell out of the ball, and unlike Kubel he’s right in the heart of the prime of his career. A power hitting second baseman like that isn’t super rare,  but they’re awesome to have and are sparse enough that they still need celebrating. He’s slashing at .246/.365/.465 and his .260 BABIP is 12 points lower than his career rate. On the other hand, he’s got a 21.1% HR/FB rate. Jose Bautista was at 21.7% the year he hit 54 homers. I’m not saying Dozier can’t, but as I said about Colabello, talent is talent. It makes itself known.

 

Third base has been great for the Twins too – Trevor Plouffe may have learned how to take a walk, already 16 this season after amassing only 34 all last year. He’s hitting a lot of doubles, that’s about what he rates as, is a nice lower-middle of the order hitter, or else number two if they didn’t have Mauer. He doesn’t make the Twins any more scary offensively since they’re not scary anyway, but Plouffe is a great complementary piece. If his walk rates hold and the power maintains, that’s the kind of role players that causes misery for other teams.

 

They also just picked up Sam Fuld to play center for them. Remember when he caught every single ball hit in the air in the United States? What was that, two years ago? Super Sam Fuld was a cool nickname. He won’t keep up .286/.348/.429, but that’s not what his value is. He’s a glove man and the offense is a nice bonus. He’ll probably have a huge hit, I figure a misplayed ball in left-center turns into a triple. He’s a cool player though, hella exciting.

 

The Twins by and large are coming back to earth from that explosive beginning to the season, and the Indians need to accelerate that progression. A four game set at home against a should-be bottom feeder should be three wins at least. I’d call a split a failure, really. But hey – no pressure.

Pitching Match-ups

Kyle Gibson vs. Zach McAllister

 

The last time the Indians saw Gibson, it was game three of their home opener series back in April. Kyle was a nice combo of lucky and good, going five innings with only one earned run, but four walks to three strikeouts. If he pitches like that again it could mean bad news for the Twins – the Indians take walks and their RISP hitting is going to have to get in gear eventually. He’s still middling to almost impressive as a starter, though he seems to have found a home already as the third or fourth starter in the rotation, as is his place. In his five starts, he’s walking 4.7 per nine with 4.3 K’s per nine innings. That’s not a combination that leads to quality starts. Hopefully the Indians can feast.

 

McAllister has been awesome this year, for the most part at least. His last outing came on short rest with Carlos Carrasco’s demotion, and it was far from pretty. He didn’t get out of the fifth if you’ll remember, giving up four runs with four walks. He’s been using his two-seamer heavily still and that little adjustment could be the reason behind his great start. It means he’s striking out 7.64 batters per nine innings and he’s going deeper into games too, save for that last start. He’s going to get hit by Joe Mauer because everyone does, but I’ve got a good feeling about this game.

 

Sam Deduno vs. Josh Tomlin

 

He might actually go by Samuel, but I feel like Sam has more pop. Speaking of which, he’s been popping the mitt pretty well so far this year, striking out nearly a man per inning, a drastic improvement over his career numbers (6.35 K/9). It probably won’t last, 18.2 innings is one of those small sample sizes people like to talk about, but it looks nice. He’s taken over for Mike Pelfrey who is on the disabled list, and he’s got decent stuff for a Twins pitcher – cutter and four seam along with a change and a classic curve. HE relies on movement and contact though he’s been getting the whiffs this season, maybe he found something. His curve ball is his strikeout pitch. There’s no real domination one way or the other with him and Cleveland hitters, though Michael Bourn has a .375 batting average against him. Shame he’s disabled.

 

Josh Tomlin, welcome back. Tomlin might have been the best of that dreadful crop of pitchers the Indians popped out toward the end of the last decade, a group of soft-tossing college boys who can’t get out of the fifth inning. Tomlin’s greatest attribute is his not walking guys – he pounds the hell out of the zone, and though he’s likely to give up a homer or two a game, there’s rarely anyone on base. He gets a lot of weak contact too, so that defense has to be good. He seems to be fully back from the Tommy John surgery that eliminated a year of his career, and he’s dominated down in triple-A. The stuff is as it ever was – on the surface unsurprising, normal, but suddenly he’s allowed two runs and he’s out there finishing the sixth inning. And maybe we’ll see a bit more velocity – TJ surgery has given guys a bit of a boost in the past. He’s everything Carlos Carrasco, the man he’s replacing in the rotation, isn’t. Low level stuff but great control and a ton of composure. He hasn’t seen much of the current iteration of the Twins, though Joe Mauer is hitting .462 off him, surprising nobody. I fully expect him to make 25 starts for the Indians this year, at least.

 

Ricky Nolasco vs. Danny Salazar

 

There’s a great article on buyer’s remorse and Ricky Nolasco over at mlbdailydish.com, and I didn’t realize how bad Nolasco had been for the Twins. He was an upgrade to the rotation by default, but he’s somehow forgotten how to strike people out. For his career his K/9 is 7.7, this year its in the crater at 4.4. It could be any number of things – age, a poor start, adjusting to major league pitching, being in Minnesota instead of Miami or Los Angeles. Any or all of these could impact his ability to pitch. He’s been not good though, leading the league in most hits and earned runs. Good news for the Indians. He did throw a complete game against the Orioles last time out and gave up three runs, though how much of that was Gardenhire avoiding using his bullpen is up to questioning. He faced the Indians earlier this year, four innings of five run ball with four walks and one strikeout. There’s no reason to believe that can’t happen again. Bummer for the Twins that he’s so bad right now, but it’s a chance for the Tribe to feast.

 

In Salazar’s best outing of the year, a seven inning, eight K one run outing in San Francisco, he threw way more sinkers than normal. What does this mean? Perhaps keeping the other guys guessing, not just leaning on the fastball and slider, gives him a better chance to dominate. More generally, he needs to stop elevating that slider, but that is fixable with repetition. He faced the Twins in his first start of the year, 5.2 innings with four strikeouts, two earned runs and a few walks. Against Nolasco that could get it done, though it’d be nice for him to use his latest starts as a springboard toward greatness.

 

Kevin Correia vs. Justin Masterson

 

There it is, the most irritating name to spell in the AL Central. Correia is nothing like neighbor or weigh, is it? What’s that “i” doing there? Anyhoo, Correia was destined to make it to the Twins, stuff that middling is what Terry Ryan hunts for. Personally, I’m impressed he strikes out more than five guys per nine innings. He uses deception and pitches off that 90 mph fastball, his curve and change the tools of the limited swing and miss. I feel like we’ll see him hang one up there for Santana to belt. It’s what I hopef or. Correia hasn’t faced the Tribe yet this year, though Santana hit a homer off him and Nyjer Morgan is 3-for-8. Others have fared less well. These contact pitchers can be irritating sometimes.

 

It’s nice to see Masterson finally round into form a bit, silencing the White Sox for eight innings. When he’s on, he’s damn near unhittable. His numbers are trending back toward last year, in particular the hit rate needs to drop. He’s still not showing the velocity of years past, down around 91 instead of 93-94 like he was doing. It’s not even an early season thing – last year in April he averaged 93.72 on the four seamer and 91.97 on his sinker. The sinker is below 90 now, that’s big news. SO naturally this all creates drama for the contract situation we’re going to face at the end of the year. When Justin saw the Twins this year it was ugly as his other starts – 3.2 innings, seven hits with six runs and only four strikeouts. He struggled, and it showed. In 116.2 innings against Minnesota he’s got a 4.47 ERA, but of course that means little and nothing. He’s evolved, the Twins have built, deconstructed and are rebuilding again. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Tags: Cleveland Indians