Cleveland Indians Versus Minnesota Twins Series Preview

Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins prepare to face-off against last year’s A.L. World Series representative, the Cleveland Indians, in a four game series.

Up is down, black is white, Cleveland can’t pitch and the Twins’ pitching staff is on top of the world. While their records are flipped (7-5 to 5-7) and the Twins lead in the standings is only two games, it could be worse for Cleveland.

They can’t pitch. Four of the five Indians starters have ERA’s over 4.50. The lone holdout is Carlos Carrasco – a pitcher who isn’t scheduled for this series.

They started out by sweeping the Texas Rangers to begin the season on the strength of their offense. They proceeded to drop six of seven, their only win in extra innings as Carrasco out-dueled James Shields.

While the back-end of the bullpen consisting of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen remains stellar (only one run allowed in 10.2 IP), Cleveland rarely can hand them a lead.

Only Carrasco and Corey Kluber have earned wins as starters for the Indians. Meanwhile, Ervin Santana has three wins by himself in the early going for the Twins.

It has indeed been a strange start to the 2017 season. Most baseball pundits and Twins fans thought if Minnesota could just get some decent pitching, they would have a chance at .500 because of their offense.

Instead, the Twins have the best team ERA in baseball (2.46). They are tied with the Dodgers for the best run differential (+23), despite having a batting average in the lower third of the league.

Last year, the Twins played the Indians nearly to a draw, even while they struggled against other division foes. How they continue to play against division opponents will determine not only their April record, but also their overall place in the standings.

Monday Night Game

Danny Salazar (0-1, 4.63 ERA vs Kyle Gibson (0-1, 8.00 ERA)

7:10 PM Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Tuesday Night Game

 Josh Tomlin (0-2, 18.47 ERA) vs Phil Hughes (2-0, 3.86 ERA)

7:10 PM Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Wednesday Night Game

Trevor Bauer (0-2, 8.44 ERA) vs Adalberto Mejia (0-1, 4.05 ERA)

7:10 Target Field


Thursday Afternoon Game

Corey Kluber (1-1, 6.38 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (3-0, 0.41 ERA)

12:10 PM Target Field

TV: MLB-Network (no FSN broadcast)

Cleveland: The Indians are trying to recapture their attitude from last season’s pennant-winning team. That team was built on solid starting pitching, a lights-out bullpen, and just enough clutch hitting.

They are led by a young, burgeoning, infield. The problem is, a main contributor to that equation has been missing since the season began. Two time All-Star, Jason Kipnis, has been on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

His fellow All-Star infielder, Francisco Lindor, has been trying to do it all in his absence – leading the team in HR’s (4), total bases (33), runs (11), and batting average (.362). The problem is, no one is on base in front of him.

His team-leading 17 hits have led to just eight RBI, with four of them being himself on his home runs. Their usual lead-off hitter, Carlos Santana, has struggled to a .208 average over the past two weeks.

Offense: The Indians made a splash free-agent signing by adding veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion. He’s averaged nearly 40 home runs and 110 RBI over the last five years in Toronto. He too, has struggled out of the gate.

He’s accounted for just one run batted in, himself. A solo shot has been his only home run, as he has struck out 18 times (35% of his plate appearances) in 12 games. The biggest difference is his K/BB ratio.

Over the past five years it’s been at 82% (the closer to 100% the better), while this year it’s at 44%. It is part of a trend, a part that might have led to the Blue Jays letting Encarnacion walk. After nearly a 1/1 ratio from 2012-2015, he fell off last year to 63%, striking out 138 times – 36 more than any other year in his career.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Player to Watch: Lindor. He stirs the drink that is the Cleveland offense. He’s also the quarterback of the infield defense. He’s been electric this year, starting off with a grand slam (his second HR of the game) to allow Cleveland to come back in the ninth inning against the Rangers to finish off the season-opening sweep.

He hits .337 against current Minnesota pitching, not unusual given his career .308 batting average. But he really likes hitting against one of the Twins’ starters who will be pitching this week – Kyle Gibson.

Batting .800 (8-10) against Gibson – hopefully, manager Paul Molitor won’t employ the same strategy of “he’s due to make an out” as he did against Avisail Garcia in the 10th inning Sunday.

Conversely, he’s struggled against one-time starter, Tyler Duffey (2-16). If a starter runs into a jam late in a game this week, look for Molitor to get Duffey loose in the pen to face Lindor.

Pitching: As is stands, the Twins are getting a little lucky. The one starter pitching well, Danny Santana, pitched yesterday and won’t appear in the four-game series. He’s also been a hard one for Twins’ hitters to figure out over the years.

Josh Tomlin usually has the Twins’ number, but has struggled mightily so far this season. In two starts, he’s only lasted a total of 6.1 innings, putting up a 2.68 WHIP – basically filling the bases every inning.

If the Indians hold a lead anywhere from the sixth inning on, beware. Post-season hero, Andrew Miller can appear at any time to put out a fire. Manager Terry Francona doesn’t wait for the eighth inning to use his shut-the-door setup man.

Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Pitcher to Watch: Corey Kluber. Cy Young award winner in 2014, nearly the hero in last year’s World Series against the Cubs. He went 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA in six starts last October, including two wins in the Fall Classic.

While Kluber has a good ERA against the Twins over the past three seasons, they do hang some losses on him. His victories against the Twins are usually 6-1 affairs, but he does serve up some gopher balls to Minnesota batters.

Since he entered the league as a full-time starter in 2012, the Twins haven’t fielded very many good teams opposite Kluber. And yet, he’s allowed 13 home runs to them, the second-most against any opponent. Tigers lead the way with 17.

He and Santana highlight a great matchup in Thursday’s afternoon finale. One of the great pitchers over the past few seasons (Kluber), against arguably the hottest pitcher in Major League Baseball (Santana).

More from Call to the Pen

Twins: The decision to pitch to Avisail Garcia proved to be the incorrect one by Molitor yesterday. But, given how well his bullpen has already pitched this year, he can be forgiven for his over-zealousness.

But the Twins wasted a golden opportunity to win the White Sox series, and an amazing pitching performance by Hector Santiago (7 IP, 0 R, 6H, 6K, 0BB). The biggest number from the usually wild Santiago was zero walks.

The offense again could not get on track. They had seven hits, and only one at-bat with runners in scoring position all day. Their only run came on a Brian Dozier home run. He’s heating up, lifting his average from .214 to .267 over the past four games – including hitting his first two home runs.

Twins do need to get on track as a team. Usually, it’s been the Miguel Sano show. Or eight walks plus a clutch hit show. Considering how young the Twins are, it has been a nice surprise to see the patience at the plate they have exhibited.

One stat that blows everyone away (outside of the Twins leading in ERA), is that the Twins also lead the league in walks taken with 57. Sano leads the leauge with 11, followed closely by Robbie Grossman (10) and Jason Castro (9). And Castro has only played in 75% of the Twins’ games.

Minnesota looks to jump-start their offense tonight, playing Max Kepler in center field and giving the struggling Byron Buxton the night off. Grossman moves to right, Sano to first, Mauer to DH, and Eduardo Escobar will play third base.

Next: Minnesota Twins vs Chicago White Sox Preview

Notes: Dozier sat out Saturday’s game with a contusion in his right knee, but was back in the lineup Sunday. The MRI came back showing no damage, so Dozier said he would just play through the pain as long as it wasn’t going to hurt him long term.