Tribe Starts Second Half Needing to Solve Trouble with Twins
Bob Toth | On 15, Jul 2016
The Cleveland Indians have owned the American League Central Division for the better part of the season, but they have not displayed the same level of dominance over the last place Minnesota Twins in two prior meetings this season.
The Indians (52-36) hit the All-Star break with a six and a half game lead in the AL Central and a 26-12 mark since the first of June that is the best in the game. They begin yet another long road trip with the AL’s best record away from home at 26-20. Despite the positive numbers all around, the results against a disappointing and struggling Twins team this season have been mindboggling – the Indians are 2-4 against Minnesota and 24-7 against the rest of the division.
The Twins (32-56) are the biggest surprise in the Central. The division was thought to be a five-team slugfest throughout the year, but several extensive losing streaks to start the season buried the Twins before they could get out of April. They were ten under for the month and added another eleven games below even for May. The Twins “improved” to a 10-17 record in June and have started July strong with a 7-3 mark while outscoring the opposition 78-37.
Their dominance of the Tribe is all the more confusing when considering their 2-19 record against the rest of the AL Central.
Friday, 7/15, 8:10 PM ET – RHP Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 2.47 ERA) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (3-7, 4.06)
Saturday, 7/16, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (5-6, 5.20)
Sunday, 7/17, 2:10 PM ET – RHP Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (2-5, 5.02)
All three Indians pitchers this weekend have not had much success against the Twins, at home or away. Carrasco is 0-2 in games at Target Field and 1-5 in his career in 12 games (nine starts) against the Twins with a 3.96 ERA. He has not earned a win against Minnesota since 2011. Bauer is similarly 0-1 in appearances in Minnesota and 1-4 in his career with a 5.07 ERA against the Twins. He struck out eight in a quality start loss earlier in the season against them. Tomlin is 3-4 against the Twins in his career, including a win in two starts this season. He has a lifetime 5.81 ERA against them and is just 1-2 on the road with a 7.15 ERA versus the Twins.
Despite owning a no-hitter against the Tribe, Santana is just 5-10 against Cleveland in 20 career starts. He won his only appearance against them this season, throwing six innings of one-run ball. Duffey has baffled the Indians in three career starts – he has limited them to just two runs in 19 1/3 innings (0.93 ERA) while earning a pair of wins. Gibson, the Twins’ first rounder in 2009, is 2-2 with a 5.77 ERA in seven career starts against the Indians. He is 1-1 this season with a 6.23 ERA, striking out 14 but allowing six runs on eleven hits and four walks in eight and two-thirds innings.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports North
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; Treasure Island Baseball Network (MIN)
Michael Brantley (LF) – 60-day disabled list (May 10) – right shoulder inflammation, right biceps tendinitis; on rehab assignment
Erik Gonzalez (UTL) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (July 14)
T.J. House (RP) – optioned to Triple-A Columbus (July 14)
Zach McAllister (RP) – 15-day disabled list (July 7) – right hip discomfort
Roberto Perez (C) – 60-day disabled list (May 1) – fractured right thumb; on rehab assignment
Byron Buxton (CF) – day-to-day – right knee contusion
Phil Hughes (SP) – out for season – recovery from July 2016 rib surgery
Glen Perkins (RP) – out for season – recovery from June 2016 left shoulder surgery
Trevor Plouffe (3B) – 15-day disabled list (July 2) – fractured left rib
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
VARGAS PROVIDING SOME PUNCH
Slugger Kennys Vargas has returned to the Twins and provided the lineup with a bit of punch in his limited action. In six games, he has eight hits in 17 at bats (.471 average, .609 OBP) and has yet to single (!) with five doubles, three homers, and four RBI in that span. He brings a five-game hitting streak into the series with Cleveland this weekend.
The Indians brought switch-hitting outfielder Robbie Grossman to spring training on a minor league deal with a non-roster camp invite and they appeared to take a long look at him for the vacancies in the outfield prior to the season before opting to send him to Columbus. He got out of his contract and later signed with the Twins and has been a productive contributor to their offense, hitting .289 with a .421 OBP in 48 games of action. He has ten doubles, six homers, and has driven in 21 and has shown quite a bit of patience at the plate, tied for third on the club with 36 walks, despite spending the first month and a half of the season in the minors.
NUNEZ WAS AN ALL-STAR
Eduardo Nunez has had a very quiet and underrated season with the Twins in his seventh MLB season and his fourth in the north.
He has already more than doubled his previous career high in home runs this season (with 12 at the break) and has exceeded his best RBI production by ten (with 40 as of Sunday). He has also been a threat on the base paths, stealing a career-high tying 22 bases in 27 attempts.
For the season, he is hitting .321 with a .347 OBP and .489 slugging. He has hit just .158 against the Tribe with a .227 OBP.
Joe Mauer has been held to a .182 batting average in the two series so far, but has drawn six walks for a .357 OBP.
Tyler Naquin has played in all six games of the series, starting four times. He is hitting .462 on the year and has scored five runs against Minnesota. Jose Ramirez has a .444 mark against the Twins this season with eight hits, tied with Carlos Santana for the team lead.
WHO NEEDS OFFENSE AGAIN?
While the story from fans, the media, and baseball experts all share a common theme that the Indians need to acquire more offense, their offense has stood up pretty well on its own without one of the team’s best players (Brantley) sidelined for all but eleven games this season. The Indians are averaging 4.95 runs per game, the third-best mark in the league and the sixth overall of 30 MLB teams. Their run differential of +81 is the tops in the league and trails just Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis.
Designated hitter/first baseman Santana has made his option for next season a no-brainer to pick up. His flexibility to hit in both the leadoff spot and in the middle of the lineup has been an asset to the team. His 20 homers already passed his total of 19 in 2015 and lead the club. He is first in walks and extra base hits; second in RBI (tied), sacrifice flies (tied), slugging percentage, and OPS; third in runs scored and doubles (tied); and fourth in hits and on-base percentage.
The 30-year-old brings an active eleven-game hitting streak into the series with the Twins, including hits in all ten games of July.
RIGHT-HANDED POWER BAT
Mike Napoli is second on the team with 18 homers, trailing only Santana on the list. His 61 RBI are tops on the team and one of the best marks in the AL, as his total is good for fifth in the league. He has struggled on the road some this season, hitting .201 with seven doubles, just five of those home runs, and 17 RBI.
He has hit just .125 against the Twins this season with 13 strikeouts in 26 plate appearances.
Three Indians were selected to the 2016 All-Star Game.
Pitcher Danny Salazar did not play in order to rest his right elbow. Corey Kluber earned the win in the contest with a strong second inning before the AL team took the lead. Francisco Lindor was 0-for-2 at the plate. It was the first MLB All-Star team nods for the trio.
GONZALEZ UP, HOUSE DOWN
The Indians announced on Thursday that they have recalled the shortstop Gonzalez from Triple-A Columbus. While he has been on the 40-man roster for some time already, he will be making his Major League debut when he gets onto the field for the first time. Primarily a shortstop, he has mixed in time all around the infield and outfield this season to boost his versatility.
House was the only left-handed reliever in the Tribe’s bullpen, but coming off of the All-Star break and with several days off in July, the team is going to pitch a reliever light in the ‘pen for the time being.
The Indians continue their avoidance of Cleveland during the Republican National Convention by swinging through Kansas City again for a three-game series with the Royals before taking Thursday off.
Minnesota will hit the road after their brief homestand, playing three in Detroit to start next week and four in Boston starting next Thursday.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez