After flipping back-and-forth between wins and losses over the last two series, it sure would be nice to see the Cleveland Indians go on a winning streak. Doing so against a division rival would be even sweeter, even if it is the lowly Minnesota Twins. I call them "lowly," but the last time these two teams played it was the Tribe that looked like a team that was 17 games below .500, not the Twins. Maybe fortunes will turn this time and Cleveland hitters won't make fourth starters look like Cy Young contenders.
These two American League Central foes will play a 7:10 p.m. start tonight, then round out the weekend with a pair of afternoon games, Saturday at 4:10 p.m. and Sunday at 1:10 p.m. For some reason, ESPN did not find this matchup to be Sunday Night Baseball worthy.
- Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Ricky Nolasco (RHP)
- Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Ervin Santana (RHP)
- Sunday, 1:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Matt Duffey (RHP)
On paper, these should be pitching advantages across the board for the Indians, but I hesitate to say it outright. Whether or not you are worried about Corey Kluber long-term, he has struggled early in recent starts and Joe Mauer always seems to do something noteworthy against Cleveland. Ervin Santana has walk issues this season (4.24 BB/9), but he has still maintained a 3.74 FIP, thanks to his 8.49 strikeouts per nine innings.
Trevor Bauer has barely hung on to some good starts in his return to the rotation, but he could revert back to bad Bauer at any given moment. His foe in Sunday's game, Matt Duffey, has been a surprising success so far this season, carrying a 2.60 ERA and 3.50 FIP in his three starts.
Upcoming schedule: The Tribe's brief home stand ends after the next four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. After that, they head on the road to face the Boston Red Sox, then the Chicago White Sox.
Minnesota has not been a great team all season long, but last week has been especially rough in the Twin Cities. They are 1-7 in their last three series against the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles, getting outscored 26-58 in the process.
The obvious thing for the Indians to jump on in this series is the Twins' penchant for giving up home runs. Mike Napoli has been especially hot in the power department lately, so if he can keep that up, he may be able to clobber some balls into the Progressive Field bleachers this series.
Similar to the Astros, the Twins offense is built primarily around three hitters right now: Joe Mauer, Byung-Ho Park, and Eduardo Nunez. Mauer provides the on-base threat with a 17.3 percent walk rate and .424 on-base percentage while Park has already hit seven balls out of the... park... in his first major-league season.
When the Indians last faced the Twins, Trevor Plouffe was on the disabled list. Since his return, the third baseman is slashing .271/.288/.486 with three home runs. Everyone besides the aforementioned trio of Mauer, Park, and Nunez have been somewhere between below average and atrocious in 2016. Second baseman Ben Dozier has not been able to repeat his great 2015 campaign so far, slashing .222/.305/.376 in his 132 plate appearances this season.
Danny Santana was placed in center field to replace struggling superstar prospect Byron Buxton, who was sent down just prior to the Indians' last series against the Twins. Santana has hardly been better, slashing .246/.269/.323 and striking out in 22.4 percent of his at-bats. He has been worth -0.4 FanGraphs WAR so far this season.
Twins starting rotation
Although he has struggled so far this season, it is probably a good thing the Indians get to avoid Jose Berrios. He is the type of pitcher who easily fools some of the worst hitters on the Indians, as he did when he struck out five batters in 4.0 innings in his major-league debut last month.
Ricky Nolasco has been the best pitcher on the staff, according to fWAR, but his ERA sits at 4.70, mostly due to some poorly-timed home runs and a failure to keep runners from scoring. He has a 3.41 FIP on the season, but he has stranded just 59.5 percent of base runners this season.
Most optimism about the Twins stems from their bullpen. The leader in this regard is Trevor May, who currently sports a 12.79 K/9 and a 1.89 ERA. Michael Tonkin and Pat Dean are both averaging more than a strikeout per inning, as well.