Can the Tribe Finally Figure Out the Twins?
Bob Toth | On 29, Aug 2016
Sometimes, a team just has your number. For a team like the first place Cleveland Indians, that team giving you fits should not be the worst team in the American League and the second-worst team in all of baseball.
The Indians (73-56) have made losing to the Minnesota Twins (49-81) a season-long problem. They have posted a 5-8 (.385) record against the Twins this season, yet have owned the rest of the American League Central, earning a 28-9 (.757) mark against Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas City, easily the better teams in the division this season. The Twins are the only one of the four teams that the Indians have not scored more runs against than they have allowed – their run differential is a -12 against Minnesota, while they have +19, +23, and +46 marks against the Royals, White Sox, and Tigers, respectively. Cleveland will need to put the past to rest and start anew against Minnesota this week during an important homestand.
The Twins have struggled all year long, but the Indians are not the only playoff contending team that they have stepped their game up for. They took five of seven from Texas, swept Seattle in three straight, and went 2-1 against Miami. After playing better in July (15-11 record, +33 run differential), the Twins have returned to earth, posting a 9-17 record in August while marred in an active ten-game losing skid. It marks the fifth time this season that Minnesota has lost at least five straight games and the third time that they have dropped at least eight in a row.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Santiago may have a positive record overall for the season, but his stay in Minnesota has been brutal through its first month. He has made four starts and been dealt the loss in each outing, posting a 10.89 ERA in those games. The long ball has returned as a big issue for Santiago – he has allowed seven as a Twin in 19 innings while opposing hitters have batted .372 against him. He was scratched from his August 26 start with a bruised thumb. Bauer will make his fourth start of the year against Minnesota and is still in search of his first win. He is 0-2 with a 7.63 ERA and 1.96 WHIP against the Twins this season and just 1-5 with a 5.86 ERA in ten starts against them in his career.
The Twins will play the southpaw card again against the Indians while sending Albers out for his first start since 2013. He has made a pair of relief appearances this season for Minnesota, working eight and one-third innings while allowing seven runs (four earned) on 12 hits with a walk and six strikeouts. It will be his fourth career game against the Indians and his third start. Tomlin is in need of a big start and the Twins may be the club for him to do that against. He is 2-0 in three starts against Minnesota this season and is 4-4 in 13 games in his career.
The 27-year-old southpaw Dean will be the third straight lefty tossed by the Twins and the sixth seen in the last seven games by the Tribe. He has appeared in 12 games on the season and made seven starts, but will be making his first career appearance against the Indians. Kluber will make his second start of the season against the Twins on Wednesday. He is 6-5 in his career with a 3.76 ERA in 16 starts versus Minnesota, but he took the loss earlier in the year when he allowed four runs on seven hits in six and two-thirds innings.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports North
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; Go 96.3, Treasure Island Baseball Network (Minneapolis)
Shawn Armstrong (RP) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (August 29)
Michael Brantley (LF) – out for season (May 10) – recovery from right biceps surgery
Yan Gomes (C) – 15-day disabled list (July 17) – separated right shoulder
Danny Salazar (SP) – paternity list (August 29)
Buddy Boshers (P) – 15-day disabled list (August 11) – left elbow inflammation
Phil Hughes (SP) – out for season – recovery from July 2016 rib removal
Trevor May (P) – 15-day disabled list (August 7) – low back strain
Tommy Milone (SP) – 15-day disabled list (August 12) – left biceps tendinitis
Glen Perkins (RP) – out for season – recovery from June 2016 left shoulder surgery
Danny Santana (SS) – 15-day disabled list (August 28) – left AC joint sprain
Logan Schafer (OF) – recalled from Triple-A Rochester (August 29)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
HOW THE DEED WAS DONE
The Twins have won all but one series against the Indians so far this season, leading to Cleveland’s 5-8 mark against them. Some bad luck has also been at play.
At the end of April, the two clubs met in Minnesota. The Twins won each of the first two games on walk-off hits, with the Indians claiming a 6-5 win to avoid the sweep. They met for the first time in Cleveland in mid-May, with the Indians winning the opener 7-6 before dropping 6-3 and 5-1 losses. The Tribe opened the second half of the season in Minnesota and took two of three, winning the first and last games of the series, 5-2 and 6-1, but suffered a third walk-off defeat in the middle game.
When the two clubs last met to open August, Minnesota ran up 37 runs in the four games, including three straight double-digit tallies in taking three of four. Cleveland once again avoided the sweep with a 9-2 win in the finale on August 4.
KEPLER MAKING A CASE
Max Kepler’s Rookie of the Year case may have been made primarily against the Indians earlier this season. He brings a .333 average into the series with a .412 on-base percentage and a disgusting .867 slugging mark. He appeared in seven games, scoring nine runs, driving in eleven, and showing some brute strength with a double and five home runs.
For the season, Kepler is hitting .250 with 16 doubles, 15 homers, and 58 RBI in 86 games.
MAUER MAKES HIS MARK AGAINST CLEVELAND
Joe Mauer may have started the season a little slow against Cleveland, but he has done plenty to come on strong of late. He is hitting .362 for the season in 12 starts with team highs in runs scored (12), hits (17), doubles (7), and walks (12). He has a .492 on-base percentage and .617 slugging mark and even drew two intentional walks over the course of the first 13 games of the season series.
In his career, Mauer has hit .333 with a .421 on-base percentage against Cleveland with 41 doubles, 13 homers, and 74 RBI. His next run scored against the Indians will be his 100th against them in his 13 MLB seasons.
DOZIER DOING WELL IN SECOND HALF
Brian Dozier had a strong first half, but his numbers have improved even more in the second half. The second baseman slashed .246/.335/.450 in 83 games in the first half with 16 doubles, 14 homers, and 43 RBI. He has followed that by almost matching that production in half as many games in the second half, putting together a .313/.354/.693 line with 15 doubles, 16 homers, and 35 RBI in 42 games.
Against the Indians, Dozier has hit .308 on the year with three doubles, a triple, four home runs, and a team-high 14 runs batted in.
BRING ON THE LONG BALL
Power and run production were both lacking during the Indians’ series this past weekend with the Texas Rangers, but the club did use home runs to score their three solo runs in the prior series with the Oakland A’s. A return to Progressive Field may do the team some good, and the sight of the Twins may help Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli.
Napoli has hit six homers on the season against Twins pitching while driving in nine runs and hitting .275. Nineteen of Napoli’s 29 homers and 61 of his 88 RBI on the year have come in Cleveland. He is tied with Francisco Lindor for the team lead with seven homers and trails the Tribe’s All-Star shortstop with 24 RBI against left-handed starters.
Kipnis is second on the club with five homers against Minnesota this season while driving in eight. Half of his 20 homers this season have come in the friendly confines of Progressive Field, where he is hitting .297 for the year. He is hitting an impressive .315 against left-handed starters this season with five homers and 22 RBI, third on the club.
RAMIREZ AMPS UP FOR TWINS
Jose Ramirez has appeared in 12 of the 13 games for the Indians against the Twins and has been a strong contributor. He is second on the team with 17 hits in the season series against Minnesota and is tops on the club with a .370 batting average on the year against them.
Tyler Naquin was missing in action in the last series with Texas as the Rangers opted to throw three different left-handers over the course of the four-game set. The same problem could be present again for Naquin, despite his strong numbers in 12 games (ten starts) against the Twins this season. He has hit .344 with a .432 on-base percentage and .594 slugging percentage with two doubles, two homers, and three RBI. However, the left-handed hitting rookie outfielder may be shelved as the Twins utilize three left-handers to start the three-game series.
He has a .222/.323/.407 slash in 33 plate appearances against lefties this season and a .313/.368/.586 slash in 250 plate appearances against righties.
ON DECK AND IN THE HOLE
After a grueling stretch of 23 consecutive days with a game played, the Indians will rest on September 1, presumably enjoying the penultimate day off on their regular season schedule. They will resume action on Friday when they host the NL Wild Card contending Miami Marlins in a three-game series. The Indians will then welcome their final opponent of the season who does not call the AL Central home as the Houston Astros come to town for four straight next week.
The Twins will return to Target Field on Thursday as they begin a four-game series with the White Sox before hosting the Royals.
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images