The Cleveland Indians may be the current AL Central basement dwellers, but at least the Minnesota Twins lost last night so they are not longer leading the division. Because that would be unbearable. As it stands, though, the Indians will look to begin their crawl out of last place tonight against the Twins and Joe “Perfect game killer” Mauer.
Last season, while the Indians made quick work of every other division foe, there was some trouble beating Minnesota. The Tribe did manage to squeak out a winning record, 10-9, against the Twins, but expectations were much higher for facing a team that lost 103 games.
Joe Mauer has been one of the most consistently annoying players against the Tribe in recent years. Last season, he was especially great in two particular games: April 29 and September 10 when he had three hits and two hits, respectively.
Luckily, the Indians will only face one left-handed pitcher this series, rookie Adalberto Mejia. Indians batters are a combined .220/.320/.307 against southpaws, 10th worst in the American League.
Monday, 8:10 p.m. ET: Danny Salazar (RHP) vs. Kyle Gibson (RHP)
This will be Kyle Gibon’s third start of the season; also his third against an AL Central opponent. In his debut against the Detroit Tigers he allowed five runs over four innings, and in his second start against the Kansas City Royals he allowed three in five innings.
While Gibson had a couple of 2.0+ fWAR seasons in 2014 and 2015, he is mostly a fourth or fifth starter and not much else. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but when he’s at his best he can induce a lot of ground balls. In fact, during those two “peak” years, only six players had a higher ground ball rate than Gibson’s 53.9 percent.
Danny Salazar is having a very Danny Salazar season to this point. His FIP is much lower than his ERA, 2.42 and 4.63 respectively, because a lot of balls are finding holes against him. But he’s still walking a lot of batters 12.2 percent (which would be a career high). So why is his FIP so low? An MLB-leading 40.8 percent strikeout rate might have something to do with it.
K% leaders, minimum 10 IP:— Let's Go Tribe (@LetsGoTribe) April 17, 2017
1. Danny Salazar, 40.8%
2. Drew Pomeranz, 37.2%
3. Chris Sale, 36.7%
4. Luis Severino, 35.4%
Tuesday, 8:10 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Phil Hughes (RHP)
Fun fact of the day: Phil Hughes is still around, and he’s only 30 years old. The one-time Yankee pitcher, one-time Twins ace for the that one year, Hughes has turned in a couple, not spectacular, outings for the Twins so far this season.
His first outing against the White Sox was a doozy — one earned run over six innings — but he was roughed up for four runs in his second start against the Tigers.
Hughes velocity has been on a steady decline since it peaked at 95 mph in 2009; it’s sitting at around 89 mph on average this season.
Could this be Josh Tomlin’s last start? If not for the season, at least for a few weeks? While Tomlin has been rocked in both of his starts this season, Mike Clevinger — Tomlin’s eventual replacement — leads the all of minor league baseball in strikeouts with 25 for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Adalberto Mejia (LHP)
The Twins’ No. 8 prospect coming into the season with only one MLB inning under his belt, Adalberto Mejia made his debut as a starting pitcher against the White Sox on April 8. It ended after 1.2 innings and two earned runs.
Mejia was acquired by the Twins last year for Eduardo Nunez. He was suspended for 50 games back in 2015 after testing positive for Sibutramine, a stimulant used to treat obesity.
Trevor Bauer has said after both of his starts this season that he felt like he executed well, but the box scores don’t necessarily agree. He finished his last start after five innings and six earned runs. His struggles may have come because Miguel Cabrera complained about a ball inside and got both benches warned, or it may just be that Bauer has more trouble than most going multiple times through lineups.
Thursday, 1:10 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Ervin Santana (RHP)
It’s a battle of aces, technically.
Ervin Santana has never been a typical ace, but on a team like the Twins that has been starved for pitching for so long, his last three years have been a godsend. Santana, 34, is essentially playing to up his trade value as he likely doesn’t factor into the future of Minnesota. He’s no Chris Sale, but the massive return that the White Sox got for sale should make the Twins salivate at the idea of trading a pitcher like Santana with a few more years of control left.
That plan is working so far this season; Santana has allowed just one run in his first three starts, with 15 strikeouts and five walks.
The Indians wrap up this four-game series on Thursday then head to Chicago to finish their second road trip of the season.
What to watch for
Will Byron Buxton get going?
I’ve made no secret that I really, really like Byron Buxton. In general, I like fast center fielders — it’s why Kenny Lofton is my favorite all-time Indian, and why Ken Griffey Jr. is my all-time favorite player. Byron Buxton is very fast, and is a center fielder with a lot of prospect hype that he hasn’t lived up to. A hot finish the 2016 had a lot of Twins fans — and me — excited about Buxton’s future, but he’s been absolutely awful in 2017. Coming into play today he has struck out in 50 percent of his at-bats and is slashing .093/.152/.140. At least his defense is still good.
If he can get going now, combined with Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, and the always-great Brian Dozier, the Twins could have a sneaky good offense.