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Series preview: Cleveland vs. Twins

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The well-traveled Twins caught an overnight flight to Cleveland after playing a doubleheader in LA

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

I think everyone assumed the Twins would be in the baseball conversation around Memorial Day, but probably not for the reasons they currently are.

Entering their weekend series against Cleveland, the Twins sit at 15-28, dead last in the AL Central and with the second-worst record in baseball. From injuries, to bad luck, to simply underperforming, seemingly everything has gone wrong in Minnesota and there doesn’t appear to be a way out for them.

Byron Buxton started the season on a tear and finally looked like the MVP candidate he was hyped to be as a prospect, but a hip injury has sidelined him since May 7 and there is still no timetable for his return. Alex Kiriloff, one of Minnesota’s top prospects who debuted in the postseason last season, is on the injured list with a wrist injury.

The Bomba Squad is still mostly in full effect — Minnesota is tied for third with 59 home runs — but they rank 15th in runs scored and have gotten on base at a .311 clip. When they’re not hitting home runs, they are not scoring. And they are not leading the league in dingers by double digits as they did for much of 2019.

Instead of being in a heated race with the White Sox atop the division, the Twins are in the middle of a silly controversy that started when Yermin Mercedes had the audacity to swing at a 3-0 pitch up late in a game. Mercedes’ own manager called him out on it, apologized to the Twins, and even failed to defend Mercedes when Tyler Duffey threw at him in the next game. The White Sox are the dumber part of this controversy, but the Twins certainly haven’t helped things. And, frankly, it’s the only reason Minnesota is in the headlines right now.

All of this to say — things aren’t going great over there. To even finish .500 on the season, Minnesota would have to go 67-54 through the rest of the season. And I don’t think .500 is going to get them into the postseason.

Minnesota will enter this series without an off-day since May 10, and coming directly off a doubleheader against the Angels on the West Coast Thursday.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 15-28
  • Runs Scored: 192
  • Run Differential: -35
  • Last 10: 3-7
  • Slash: .240/.311/.420
  • wOBA: .318
  • wRC+: 103
  • ERA: 4.84
  • SIERA: 4.17
  • K-BB%: 13.6%

Projected starters

Friday, May 21, 7:10 p.m. ET: TBD (RHP Randy Dobnak) vs. Triston McKenzie
The Twins haven’t announced anything official yet, but Randy Dobnak is pretty clearly the starter here as he was recalled to give the injured Kenta Maeda an extra day of rest.

Dobnak has come out of the bullpen in all seven of his appearances this season and he carries an 8.16 ERA over 14.1 innings. Most of his 13 runs allowed came over two starts — he allowed five over three innings against the Tigers on April 5, and another five-run disaster came against the Angels over 2.1 innings on April 16.

His last outing against Cleveland came on April 28, when he allowed one hit over two innings and struck out three of the seven batters he faced.

Since being demoted in early May, Dobnak started three games in Triple-A with a 3.38 and 20.4% strikeout rate over his 13.1 innings.

The 26-year-old righty has slowly morphed into a two-pitch pitcher, relying primarily on his sinker and slider with a changeup and four-seamer being used sparingly. Aside from the typical sinker-slider mirroring of horizontal breaks, he also gets by on his sinker, four-seamer, and changeup having nearly identical breaks coming in at different speeds. When it works, he can induce a lot of weak contact. When it doesn’t, it’s 2021.

Saturday, May 22, 4:10 p.m. ET: RHP Kenta Maeda vs. Shane Bieber
Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the Twins’ disappointing year is Kenta Maeda. After turning in his best season ever in 2020, the 33-year-old has recently suffered a groin injury on top of just not performing at his best in 2021.

Maeda felt tightness during his last outing but is slated to pitch on Saturday. He avoided the injured list but it’s hard to imagine he has suddenly figured out what’s gone wrong with the season while sitting on the couch with an ice pack on his groin.

After briefly showing a cutter last season, Maeda has ditched it entirely for increased usage of his slider and four-seamer, neither of which has been very good despite an impressive array of spin axis that he twirls them on.

His splitter still has the same drop it always has but just isn’t fooling batters this time around. Maeda’s average exit velocity has ballooned to 90.4 mph (up from 85.3 mph last year), and he’s not missing nearly as many bats as he used to. Surprisingly enough, the combination of not missing bats and getting hit hard isn’t a winning one.

In his last injury-shortened outing, Maeda held the Athletics to three runs over four innings. He has struck out five or more batters in just three of his eight starts this season.

Sunday, May 23, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP J.A. Happ vs. Sam Hentges (but actually Zach Plesac)
J.A. Happ probably isn’t going to strike anyone out Sunday, but he’s going to limit hard contact and be annoyingly effective against Cleveland’s lineup. That’s just what he does. And I hate him.

Happ is coming off two terrible starts against the White Sox in which he allowed a combined 15 earned runs over 6.3 innings. He struck out just four White Sox batters in those two games and walked five. He was off to a great start to the season prior to those two games, however, including his seven-inning domination of Cleveland in which he allowed two runs off of four hits.

Note: MLB.com still has Hentges listed here as the probable, but he’s actually being switched with Zach Plesac, according to Zack Meisel.

Lineup highlights

DH, Nelson Cruz - It has to stop eventually, right? The man is 40 and has to age at some point — it’s just science. Still, right now he is holding strong at a 138 wRC+ and 10 home runs. His .292/.344/.535 would be wonderful for most players in their peak, but it would be one of Cruz’s worst seasons in the last decade. Cruz was hit by a pitch in the first game of their doubleheader yesterday and sat out the second, so we’ll see how many games he plays against Cleveland over the weekend. Hopefully not many.

Roster

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How many games will Cleveland win against the Twins?

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  • 36%
    3
    (46 votes)
  • 48%
    2
    (62 votes)
  • 8%
    1
    (11 votes)
  • 6%
    0
    (8 votes)
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