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Series preview: Cleveland at Twins

Cleveland could retake the AL Central lead this weekend with a few wins and some luck

Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

How can you not feel bad for Byron Buxton? Yes, he’s on the Twins and the Twins are bad and gross, but just three days after finally coming off a lengthy injured stint, the center fielder was sent right back to it after getting hit on the hand by an errant pitch Monday night. At this point, he has an injury history about as long as some of his home runs and there just doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Buxton’s scorching start to the season was supposed to herald a great season for Minnesota, but he got injured and everything else fell apart quickly for them. They now sit at 31-42, 12.5 games back in the division and going nowhere fast. There are already rumors that are going to be hard sellers at the deadline, and it makes sense.

Assuming the new meta is to trade players with 1.5 years of control as opposed to a half-year rental, the Twins have some prime players lined up in Byron Buxton (if anyone can get past the injury risk) and José Berríos. They also do have those rentals available for teams looking for a 2021 push: Nelson Cruz, Matt Shoemaker, J.A. Happ, and Andrelton Simmons are all gone after the season and not worth holding onto if the Twins aren’t getting out of the AL Central basement any time soon.

Just try not to revel in the Twins’ misfortunes too much. Cleveland is on the razor's edge of becoming this exact team if some prospects don’t pan out and pitchers don’t come back from injuries hurling the same way they were before. Besides, even though they have slumped and been terribly inconsistent throughout much of the season, the Twins lineup can still thump, and Cleveland’s patchwork starting rotation is very thumpable right now.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 31-42
  • Runs Scored: 337
  • Run Differential: -52
  • Last 10: 6-4
  • Slash: .246/.316/.432
  • wOBA: .323
  • wRC+: 105
  • ERA: 4.91
  • SIERA: 4.24
  • K-BB%: 13.5%

Projected starters

Thursday, June 24, 8:10 p.m. ET: RHP José Berríos vs. J.C. Mejía
If the Twins do decide to sell at the deadline, one of their more enticing targets for opposing teams has to be José Berríos. He hasn’t quite put it all together to become the ace Minnesota projected when they drafted him 32nd overall in 2012, but year after year he keeps his ERA under four and is capable of a lot of strikeouts.

This season is one of his best yet so far. The 27-year-old has pitched 83.1 innings and if his 25.7% strikeout rate holds, it would be the highest of his career. More importantly, his 6.2% walk rate would be the second-lowest. All of that comes with the caveat that his advanced measurements show this might not be sustainable. He’s getting hit harder than usual and has an expected wOBA against in the 39th percentile. More hits are going to drop eventually.

Cleveland can expect a heavy dose of curveballs Thursday night, as Berríos has thrown them 31.5% of the time, more than any other pitch. It’s more of a sweeping curve that comes in on lefties while his other pitches — a four-seamer, sinker, and change — break away.

Friday, June 25, 8:10 p.m. ET: RHP Randy Dobnak vs. Cal Quantrill
Randy Dobnak, the Uber driver turned MLB pitcher, signed a five-year, $9.25 million extension with the Twins this offseason, but so far he hasn’t lived up to it. To say the least.

Dobnak currently sports a 7.83 ERA in 13 games (five starts) and 43.2 innings. He sits in the bottom first or second percentile in average exit velocity, xwOBA, xERA, xSLG, and just to put salt in the wound: fastball spin. Dobnak has slowly begun leaning on his slider more over his three-year career, and in 2021 he’s using it 51.8% of the time. As you could probably guess by the sentence preceding that one, the results haven’t been good.

Dobnak’s last start against the Rangers was one of his best of the season, despite only striking out one in five innings of work. He allowed two earned runs and walk one in the start. It was his first time starting a game and allowing fewer than three earned runs since his first start of the year on May 21 against (sigh) Cleveland, when he struck out five and held them scoreless over six innings.

Saturday, June 26, 2:10 p.m. ET: RHP Kenta Maeda vs. Sam Hentges
This will be Cleveland’s third time facing Kenda Maeda. They, like most offenses this year, haven’t had much trouble against him. Cleveland has scored seven runs in 10.2 combined innings against him, striking out nine times and walking once. In total, Maeda has a 4.85 ERA on the season, which would be his worst by far over a full season. He also sports the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 21.7%.

Sunday, June 27, 2:10 p.m. ET: LHP J.A. Happ vs. Eli Morgan
J.A. Happ has never been one to keep the ball on the ground in his 15-year career, but his 33.3% ground ball rate would be one of his lowest ever if it holds over the full season. Maybe that’s part of the reason he’s also carrying what would be his worst ERA ever, 6.09.

Is it father time finally catching up to the 38-year-old? Is it whatever curse has found its way to the Twins to make them atone for past transgressions? Whatever it is, it’s preventing Happ from being much of anything this season. With that said, the last time he faced Cleveland he struck out 10 batters over six innings — his only double-digit strikeout game of the season so far.

Lineup highlights

OF, Trevor Larnach - This is typically the part of a Twins series preview where I’m forced to gaze upon the massive dingers mashed up and down the lineup. Not so much this year. Instead, I’m left looking at a couple of intriguing pieces. For one, rookie Trevor Larnach has played like a rookie. A good rookie, mind you, but he’s not Fernando Tatis Jr. or anything yet. The outfielder is slashing .254/.358/.429 with five home runs and a 120 wRC+. He also has one of the hardest-hit balls of the season so far, which is a good sign if you’re a Twins fan. I am not, so it’s a terrible sign.

3B, Josh Donaldson - Josh Donaldson is healthy and hitting, and there’s not much more the Twins could ask for given his recent track record. At 35 years old and still with two years left of the four-year, $92 million deal he signed in 2019, Donaldson is slashing .240/.339/.453 with 10 home runs. The Cleveland legend is third on the Twins in home runs behind Nelson Cruz (16) and Miguel Sano (14).


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