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Minnesota Twins nearly good enough to be Tribe killers

The final installment in this pseudo-series, the Twins list is highlighted by guys that were nearly good enough to make the list. Counter-intuitive, I know.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps I'm just mean, or dismissive when I shouldn't be, but the Minnesota Twins have always come off as the little brother of the American League Central to me. Even when they were at their mid-2000's apex with Johan Santana and the M&M Boys, they were still constantly thumped by the Yankees in the Playoffs. They never won back to back division titles, almost acting as filler while the other teams figured themselves out. They had those championships in the 80's and 90's which was certainly a high point, but other than that their whole history is just kind of alright. Even that high point a forgotten era since the strike happened immediately after, and anyway nobody remembers the 80's. It was too weird a time. The Twins are just such a team of "almost there".Especially the last decade or so. Whether being New York's sacrificial lamb in the ALDS or being a team almost done rebuilding the last few years, they can't get over whatever hump they're presented with. That's even evident in my searching for their Indians mashers. Using the same parameters as before, .900 career OPS against the Indians in more than 400 plate appearances, only one name came up. But in the most Twinnish circumstance in the world, two other Minnesota greats were in the .890-.899 range, along with another man from another city and another time. That being almost there deserves attention.

In case anyone wondered, I did include the Senators. Their history counts for something, even if the Nationals have statues of Walter Johnson and Frank Howard outside their stadium. Theirs is a history claimed by three different teams at different times, so might as well include them here.

The one man that did crest my admittedly arbitrary threshold (because humans love round numbers) was one of the greatest Twins ever, Rod Carew. In an article series that has had so many Hall of Famers as well as the merely great, Carew is one of the best. From 1969 to 1978, when he left Minnesota for the California Angels, Carew hit .344 with an .865 OPS. He won an MVP in 1977 with a .388 BA to lead along with a 1.019 OPS, both of which led the world. He was hitting .400 halfway through July. It's a shame he couldn't have faced the especially hapless Indians a few more times that season to hit that hallowed .400 mark, since he batted .400/.509/.756 against them. He also killed the White Sox, batting .497/.537/.678. He really liked those Midwestern teams. Or hated them. It's hard to tell with players who so brutalize a team like this.

As a Twin Carew hit .356/.433/.474 against Cleveland. Whether or not he's the best Twin ever is up for debate, though Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and some others might have something to say about that. But he definitely killed the Indians better than anyone in franchise history.

With that we fall under the .900 OPS threshold, and meet a very familiar name. Anyone who has watched the Twins and Indians face off over the last 13 years knows the name Joe Mauer. He's the one constantly smacking singles to the opposite field, always finding green grass instead of leather. Without looking, I'd have thought he was hitting about .500 against Cleveland in his career. It's not that amazing, but he does pack a .330/.416/.478 over 165 games, 162 starts. So essentially Joe Mauer has had an equivalent to his third or fourth best season in his career against Cleveland. In his prime one of the most dominant players I’ve ever seen, even these days he’s a machine. In 2016, a year where he slashed .261/.363/.389, Mauer hit .329/.434/.586 against Cleveland. That’s a 170 tOPS+. That is absurd. When it comes to the Indians he just stopped aging seven years ago. Even if he didn’t crack the .900 threshold for his career, I wouldn’t mind saying he’s on his way to being the best Cleveland killer the Twins have ever had.

Then there’s Kent Hrbek. Perhaps a bit forgotten amid the heroics of Kirby Puckett, Hrbek overcame the lack of vowels in his last name to slash .317/.387/.507 against Cleveland. This is the kind of hitter I’d hoped to find more of when starting this search - somewhat forgotten, "pretty good" players who just happen to turn it on against the Tribe. Instead, it turns out that for the most part, superstars play like superstars. But Hrbek was very good in his own right, smacking 30 doubles in the 140 game he faced the Indians along with 19 home runs. Of the men on this list, his was perhaps the closest to a re-creatable career as his BABIP was only .320. It wasn’t hot streaks that carried Hrbek, it was just being very good. He was worth 38 WAR in his career, a very respectable number. One of a million guys we see and forget a few years later, but the big first baseman was everything you could want out of that position. FOurteen years of loud sounds off lumber. And he sure hated the Indians. Or, again, loved them. Who knows.

The only other guy to creep close to .900 was another Hall of Famer, both in baseball and names, Heinie Manush. For this we must delve into the Senators era. Somehow Manush crammed more than 500 plate appearances against the Indians in five years with the Senators. That early baseball was absurd with the number of times you’d see a team. His hitting .328/.369/.528 when facing Cleveland is remarkable mainly because if he did it, but also because it’s amazing nobody else did it on his team. Joe Cronin was on the Senators for a while, but he couldn’t get there. Second baseman Buddy Myer spent fifteen of his seventeen seasons with Washington but hit only .307/.387/.400 when facing Cleveland. Manush got it done, and the Indians helped him get into the Hall of Fame. He’s one of those guys you just never hear about, and when visiting Cooperstown look at his plaque and just say, "Who?" He’s a Veteran’s Committee selection, so there’s a bit of an Old Boy’s Club aspect of him being there. But he was a fine player, and demonstrated that mostly against Cleveland.

Notable absences on this list include Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett. This is not to say they didn’t do damage against Cleveland. Killebrew hit 52 home runs when facing the Tribe, and from 1959 to 1979 owned a .953 OPS with 504 home runs. In that same span though, he "only" logged an .849 OPS against Cleveland. Which, to be fair, was a time when the Indians pitched pretty well and didn’t do anything else of value. Puckett hit .334/.367/.478 against Cleveland in 604 plate appearances. That’s excellent. But we were looking for Tribe destroyers, not mere excellence. That’s also a batting line that works out to a 102 tOPS+, so he was barely better than his usual exceptional averages.

The Twins have long been a pretty good franchise. This list is full of pretty good players. This list makes sense to me. Dominance of the type I hoped to find is a rare thing, and it makes sense none of these division rivals have more than a few. It makes sense that the Twins have a bunch of "nearly there" guys, just as it makes sense that the Tigers have a list of players who simply annihilated the Indians. Or the Royals with Mike Sweeney and not much else. With any luck, the Indians can find some of their own guys to return the favor.