Two teams in desperate need of a hot streak
If you thought Cleveland was off to a rough start, wait until you get a load of these folks from Minnesota.
The American League Central was always thought to be a two-team race in 2021 at the very least, with the Cleveland optimists out there making it three teams. But few could have predicted that it would be the Royals and White Sox duking it out atop the division with the Twins just a game ahead of the Tigers and six games under .500.
Now, of course, this comes very early into the season. One winning streak from the Twins, one bad streak from the Royals, and we’re right back to what the robot overlords projected prior to the season. But still, just like Cleveland has had to watch some questionable offense, Twins fans have had to endure some absolutely rough games over the first month.
At least part of the Twins’ slow start can be attributed to the struggles they’ve had keeping a COVID-19 outbreak under control. They’ve still managed to play 20 games so far, but they’ve had as many as five players at one time on the COVID-19 list, either positive cases for the virus or players who were in close contact with a positive player. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has not played since April 13, is expected to rejoin the Twins for today’s series and reliever JT Riddle is expected to return soon.
Minnesota comes into the series having won one game in their seven — a 2-0 squeaker over the Pirates. Prior to their series against Pittsburgh, they ran into the walking woodchipper that is the Oakland Athletics as they were rolling on an 11-game winning streak. A streak that ended Sunday, by the way, meaning Cleveland’s AL record 22-gamer from 2017 is still intact. Even their 14-game winning streak from 2016 beats the A’s. Get on our level, Oakland.
Twins prospect Alex Kiriloff, who debut and had his first career hit in the playoffs last year, was recalled from the alternate site on Friday and has played four games with the Twins so far without a hit in 14 plate appearances.
Weather shouldn’t be an issue for the first two games of the series, but rain may interfere with Wednesday’s matinee.
Team at a glance
- Record: 7-13 (3rd in AL Central)
- Runs Scored: 85
- Run Differential: -9
- Last 10: 2-8
- Slash: .241/.311/.391
- wOBA: .309
- wRC+: 100
- ERA: 4.20
- SIERA: 3.73
- K-BB%: 17.2%
Monday, April 26, 6:10 p.m. ET: RHP Jose Berrios vs. Zach Plesac
After a couple of seasons where he has seemed to peak as a mid-rotation piece (or maybe I’m just spoiled by Cleveland pitching), Jose Berrios is finally off to an ace-like start for the Twins. Through four starts, he’s struck out 30, walked seven, and allowed seven earned runs in 21 innings. Most importantly, he has given up just one home run this season.
His 2021 debut was brilliant as he no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers through six innings but was pulled as his pitch count soared with 12 strikeouts. He followed that up with an eight-strikeout performance against the Mariners, a rough outing against the Red Sox in which he was chased after 4.1 innings, and a solid effort against the streaking A’s in his last start.
Berrios has deployed his four-seamer more than ever this season, and his velocity on it seems to have leveled off at around 94.5 after last year’s mph jump. His 38% strikeout rate would be his largest ever by a wide margin, and may not be sustainable unless he’s made some huge changes under the hood. The main thing I think that is attainable to continue his success is to limit home runs. So far this season he’s done it by limiting hard contact over the heart of the plate. That seems kind of obvious, but it’s something he’s struggled with in the past, and at least so far, his improved command has seemed to keep under control in the fledgling 2021 season.
Tuesday, April 27, 6:10 p.m. ET: RHP Kenta Maeda vs. Aaron Civale
The series opener has a nice pitching matchup, but for my money, this is the one to watch. Kenta Maeda is known for his devastating split-changeup, and Aaron Civale just added one to his repertoire this year. Only one of them has had a good season so far, though.
OK, that’s not entirely fair to Maeda. You can’t just pick and choose which starts to include, but come on. He allowed seven runs against the A’s in his last outing — those A’s that were in the middle of being the hottest team on the planet — after giving up two or fewer in each of his first three starts. He struck out a combined 16 batters in those first three outings and just one in three innings against the A’s last week. He’s fine, overall, but one bad game out of three will mess up your whole statsheet.
Maeda has caused batters to chase (and miss) a lot, but whenever bat meets ball the results haven’t been pretty. A lot of that is the A’s game, but he also allowed his fair share of hard hits against the Tigers on April 7.
As previously mentioned, Maeda features a split-change that drops off the table late on its way to the plate. This season, he’s relied on his slider 43% of the time, his four-seamer 23.7%, and that split-finger changeup 21% of the time. He’ll also occasionally mix a sinker and curveball in there. I would be surprised if Cleveland finds much success against him given their struggles with offspeed and breaking pitches.
Wednesday, April 28, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP J.A. Happ vs. TBD (Logan Allen)
The perpetually underrated J.A. Happ just keeps kicking at 38 years old. The 15-year veteran is off to one of his best starts ever with a 1.69 ERA through three starts. A lot of it appears to be luck, though with a .159 BABIP against and 87.3% strand rate, which would be the highest of his career. Unless you’re Jacob deGrom or Shane Bieber, a bit of luck helping you to three earned runs over 16 innings is expected, though.
Happ led the Twins to their only win in the last week, by holding the Pirates scoreless over 7.1 innings on Friday. He has yet to strike out more than four batters in any start, but he’s limited hard contact well as he continues to rely on his sinker and four-seamer keeping hitters off balance.
OF, Byron Buxton – It’s fair to say Byron Buxton has arrived. After turning heads with surprising power in the shortened 2020 season, the 27-year-old is slashing .382/.424/.818 with six home runs in 59 plate appearances this season. He’s second in the league with a ridiculous 248 wRC+, behind only some fish guy, and he has the best expected batting average, wOBA, and slugging in the league based on the quality of his contact so far. His approach could theoretically still some refining, as he’s walked just 3.4% of the time and struck out 23.7%. But if it works, it works.
2B, Luis Arraez – For all of the long ball threats that the Twins have, Luis Arraez may be one of their most compelling players. He’s a man out of his era as a slap-happy hitter who sprays the ball everywhere and doesn’t strike out much. He has just five home runs to his name in 565 career plate appearances, but a 123 wRC+ thanks to the frequency, and quality, of his contact. He’s not a power hitter, he’s not a speedster, but he has elite bat control and it’s fun as hell to watch.