Series Preview: Cleveland Indians (50-48) vs. Minnesota Twins (44-53)

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What a weekend in Motown, huh? The Cleveland Indians won three of four in three days against the division-leading Detroit Tigers, outscoring them 21-12 and settling two games over .500 on the way out of town is really about as good as it could realistically have gone. A sweep would have been nice but when you roll Josh Tomlin out there and the other guys start a middling left hander, that’s a recipe for a loss for the Tribe. With Jason Kipnis’s bat waking up, Carlos Santana having a great weekend and Trevor Bauer continuing his growth into young major league stud there’s lots to be excited about as the second half wears on. And luckily for the Indians, the going gets a little easier the next few days. It’s off to the Twin Cities for another round with an old foe.

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Jul 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) hits an RBI double during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When last we saw the Minnesota Twins the Indians were just finishing up taking three of four from them in early May. The Twinkies started out hotter than expected and were scuffling just around .500 when the teams met, but that spelled the beginning of the cool off. They’ve had a losing record every month since and now sit nine games under .500, last in the division. Really, right where most expected them to be.

Their superstar catcher turned underpowered first baseman is on the disabled list, their best pitcher is Phil Hughes and his 99 ERA+, and they hosted an All Star Game. Their bullpen is pretty lights out, at least the back end of it, so that’s nice. And really, that offense, even without Mauer, isn’t super bad, eighth in the league in runs scored. Brian Dozier, Josh Willingham and Kurt Suzuki all have OPS+’s over 110 with the rest of the infield being right around average, and the bench has some neat tools on it if Ron Gardenhire feels like using the Sam Fulds and Chris Parmalees of the world properly. They also just signed Kendrys Morales last month. Oh yes. Yes they did.

Jul 18, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Kendrys Morales (17) hits a single in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Is it sad that the most famous thing Morales has done is break his ankle jumping on home plate during a walk-off home run celebration? Prior to that he looked like a legit hitter even if he can barely field his position even if that position is DH. The last two years since missing all that time with surgery and its complications he’s had a .787 OPS averaging 22 homers and 30 doubles between his time with the Angels and Mariners. His K/BB ratio is somewhere around 2.5/1 and he’s on the wrong side of 30, but he’ll help the Twins if he can round into form. Unfortunately this year has been pretty awful. He’s been worth nearly minus one win above replacement and is slashing at .232/.260/.326 in his 35 game with the Twins. Plus with Mauer on the shelf you know he’s going to end up playing some first base simply because the hole is going to need filling, and even at a relatively easy position he is a mess. Morales is the type of player the DH role is made for and if they were at full strength he’d certainly lengthen their lineup solidly, but right now it might actually harm the Twins more than help them. Still, he can hit a bomb or two when he’s right. Always a good attribute.

I mentioned Dozier earlier and I have to say this dude is killing it. Besides the 18 homers he also plays Gold Glove caliber defense. Basically he’s putting together a season a lot like Jason Kipnis’s a year ago but with a shiny glove. The Twins are not going anywhere this season, that’s for sure, but Dozier is a guy to hold on to long-term while Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and the other farmhands find their way to the Show. Him, Mauer, those two and Oswaldo Arcia if he can put it all together along with those young guns is a very good lineup. Maybe Dozier’s power will fade a bit, maybe this is an outlier season at the plate, but he’s shown up on defense since he came up, and that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t streak. Unless he gets injured or something, but you can’t worry about that. He’s pretty wicked good.

Jul 14, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; American League infielder Brian Dozier (2) of the Minnesota Twins at bat in the first round during the 2014 Home Run Derby the day before the MLB All Star Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

That “rest of the infield” that’s doing alright but not brilliant includes Eduardo Escobar at short. While he’s no Troy Tulowitzki out there the fact that Escobar packs a 103 OPS+ and 25 doubles is great news for the Twins. This is his first real shot at consistent playing time in his fourth year in the league, and by far his best offensive output to date. Sometimes it takes a little bit for a guy to find his place in the game, get used to the everyday life of baseballing and really get back to plying his craft. This is where Escobar is. Plainly he was made to play short with that last name, and in addition to the name and the bat he’s got a pretty strong glove. He’s no Dozier but he’s a net positive defensively, great news for a team needs every bit of help for that weak pitching staff. At 25 his best years are ahead of him and the Twins aren’t a team to lay out cash willy nilly AND he’s cheap so I’d get used to him. He’s the kind of guy that Indians fans will grow to loathe, an Alexei Ramirez type who is always there when you don’t want him to be, making a big hit or nice play in the field. Strong praise I think, I’m intrigued to see what life will turn into for the guy.

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