Aug 16, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) celebrates with Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire after scoring a run in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians (62-61) @ Minnesota Twins (55-68)

Indians Travel to Minnesota to Face Struggling Twins

We’ve reached that point in the season where a lot of teams are just hoping to play out the string, get their paychecks, and finish the season healthy. Fortunately for us, the Indians aren’t one of those teams. At 6.5 games back in the Central and 5 games back in the Wild Card, the Tribe is still very much alive with 39 games left to play.

The Minnesota Twins cannot say the same thing.

Another season, another slow and agonizingly painful descent to the AL Central cellar. It’s especially disappointing because for the longest time this season the Twins actually looked like they might have the gumption to make a run at least at one of the two AL Wild Card spots. They even went so far as to sign Kendrys Morales to bolster their offense.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. After a promising first half of the season, the Twins have seen the bottom nearly completely fall out. At 55-68, the Twins are 12.5 games back in the division and 11.5 back in the Wild Card. In looking for an explanation why, it’s actually really simple. Talent-wise, the Twins just aren’t on par with the rest of baseball.

Looking at the current make up of the Twins, there are significantly lacking when it comes to pitching. As a staff, they are among the worst in all of baseball. Heading into play tonight, they were 26th in ERA (4.39) , 26th in WHIP (1.36), and 28th in batting average against (.276). A lot of this is due to a lack of power arms. The Twins have never been known for having dominant starting pitchers. This incarnation is no different.

 

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Aug 10, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes (45) throws to the Oakland Athletics in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Hughes has proven to be a spectacular free agent acquisition. His 3.76 ERA is the best among the Twins starters along with his 13-8 record (if you’re into that), 8 k/9, and 9.33 K/BB. He’s been even better than his ERA would suggest with a FIP of 2.61 and ERA+ of 104. He’s basically become the pitcher the Yankees always hoped he’d become.

Meanwhile, the rest of the rotation has been god awful. Most notable of the underperformers has been Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco was one of the “elite” free agent starting pitchers available on the market this winter. All he’s done is go 5-8 with a 5.99 ERA. You have to think the Twins would like a refund on the four years and $49-million they agreed to pay him.

The bullpen has been a different story, though. Glen Perkins has been his usual dominant self, closing out 31 games to date while compiling a 2.58 ERA and 10.7 k/9. It’s a shame they can’t get the ball to him more. Helping Perkins out is Casey Fien and Brian Duensing. Each has put together a spectacular season with ERAs under three in close 50 appearances apiece. That’s something to build on.

However, it would be follish to place all of the blame squarely on the arms of the Twins pitching staff. The offense has also played a part in the Twins’ struggles, but not nearly to the level of the pitchers.

First, let’s start with Joe Mauer. Sure, he’s a nice guy and a hometown hero, but let’s be honest. Mauer has done nothing in 2014 to make up for the massive salary he is earning. Injuries seem to have played a significant role in his struggles. A concussion early in the season and an oblique injury later on seem to have robbed him of his offensive talents. Since returning from the DL this past week, he has looked like a different player, hitting .333 with 2 homers and 3 RBI last week.

Also not helping thing any was the injury issues with Josh Willingham. The Twins projected cleanup hitter played in about 60 games for Minnesota before being traded to the Royals this past week in a waiver deal. The Royals will hope he can do for them what he couldn’t for the Twins – stay healthy and hit home runs. So far so good after the first week.

Trevor Plouffe was also being relied upon to provide power in the heart of the Twins lineup. Like mostly everyone else on the roster, save for Brian Dozier (more on him in a second), Plouffe was expected to be a run producer. Unfortunately, Plouffe still hasn’t been able to duplicate the success he experienced in 2012. To date, Plouffe has hit only home runs and driven in 55 runs.

As for Brian Dozier, he’s been one of the few bright spots for the Twins in 2014. While he his production has dropped off since his exceptionally hot start to the season, Dozier is still hitting .233/.331/.418 with 20 homers and 53 RBI. He has been, without question, the best the Twins have had to offer to the world in 2014. Along with his partner at short stop, the surprising Danny Santana, the Twins might be set up the middle for the next few years.

Here’s the kicker, though. The Indians almost always find a way to lose crucial games to the Twins in Minnesota. We’ve seen it happen time and time again (Granted, the Indians did sweep the Twins in Minnesota last season to win the #1 Wild Card spot). It’s almost as if Target Field has become the Indians own personal house of horrors. Hopefully this season will be different and the Indians can pull it together for a mid-August showdown in Minneapolis.

Pitching Match-Ups:

Trevor Bauer (4-7, 4.35 ERA/3.94 SIERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (11-9, 3.96/4.28)

T.J. House (1-3, 4.13/3.38) vs. Ricky Nolasco (5-8, 5.99/4.27)

Corey Kluber (13-6, 2.41/2.69) vs. Phil Hughes (13-8, 3.76/3.23)

Tags: Brian Dozier Cleveland Indians Joe Mauer

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