Series Preview: Twins vs. Indians, May 14-15


The homestand continues today, as the Minnesota Twins (10-24) match bats with the division-leading Cleveland Indians (18-16). This will be the first time all year the Twins seen the Indians. The two did not even meet in Spring Training, since Cleveland apparently considers itself too good for the Grapefruit League.

The Matchups:

Monday, May 14, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Carl Pavano vs. RHP Jeanmar Gomez

Tuesday, May 15, 12:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Derek Lowe

Seemingly every series so far has featured at least one matchup that looks incredibly lopsided on paper. This series has one too, a rare Tuesday afternoon contest in which Marquis (6.26 ERA) faces Lowe (2.47). But there is a silver lining for the Twins. They are 4-1 against Lowe all time, and he has a 5.97 ERA in 63 innings against our local team. Joe Mauer is 6 for 10 against him.

Pavano absolutely owns Asdrubal Cabrera, who has just a .038/.133/.038 line in 30 PAs against the Twins’ pitcher. Pavano has been successful against the Tribe in general, holding a 2.83 ERA in 70 innings. Gomez has only made 26 starts in his career, but three have been against Minnesota (plus one relief appearance). The Twins have tagged him for 24 hits, eight walks, and 12 runs in 20.2 innings.

The Weather:

It’s a great time for baseball, weather-wise. Highs will hit the low 80s both days, which means it will still be nice and warm Monday night, and it will just be warming up on Tuesday. There is zero chance of rain either day, and only a few little clouds in front of the picture of the sun that showed for Tuesday.

The Head to Head:

These are both original American League franchises, so this rivalry dates all the way back to 1901. The Indians have a big edge in the all-time series, with 1,080 wins compared to just 943 for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins. Since the move to Minnesota in 1961, the Twins have done a bit better, going 349-371. At home in Minnesota, the Twins are actually over .500 with a 194-167 record.

Cleveland won 11 of the 18 games between the two clubs in 2011, ending a three year streak of Twins’ dominance. At one point last year, the Indians had an eight game winning streak against the Twins, but that snapped with a 6-4 Twins victory last September 25th.

The Story:

2012 is starting to look a lot like 2011. For most of the early part of that season, the Twins were well under .500, but the rest of the division struggled so mightily that they failed to earn any real separation in the standings. We’ve reached mid-May, and though the Twins’ winning percentage is under .300, they are only eight games back from the Tribe. As ludicrous as it sounds, they could pull within six of first place if they somehow manage to sweep this series.

They’ll need pitching to accomplish that. Despite strong starts from P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond, Minnesota is still suffering for starters. After being a rock of stability the last two seasons, Pavano has looked weak in his recent starts. His fastball has lost significant velocity, and he has to try to win on sheer cunning and guile (with help from his defense as well). Marquis has surrendered nine walks and 11 hits in 10 innings pitched this month. Base runners seem to be an every-inning occurrence.

Despite the Twins’ obvious pitching struggles, don’t expect too much hitting in these two games. The Twins had a lowly .236 team batting average entering play Sunday, and the Indians were not a lot better at .245. Cleveland has done a much better job converting hits into runs, though. They have scored 147 runs compared to the Twins’ league-worst 116.

A week ago, after sweeping a doubleheader against the White Sox, the Indians were in a pretty solid position. Since then they have lost five of six, and they visit the Twins on a three game losing streak, thanks to the Red Sox. The Twins have had no shortage of chances to beat up on slumping opponents this year, but they have opted to pass on all of them so far. Instead, Minnesota has become something of a slump-buster, which means the Indians are probably landing in Minnesota at exactly the right time.

The Other Side:

For some Indian-centric commentary, we turn to Lewie Pollis, editor and very talented writer for Wahoo’s on First. Here are his answers to three big questions:

1. The Indians seem to be the perfect model of a team that goes through bad stretches and rebuilds itself. After being very succesful in the ’90s, they hit a rough stretch. Then they rebuilt and reached the ALCS by 2007, only to collapse again. But this year they seem to have risen from the ashes again. Can Twins fans take any consolation from the Indians’ real-life story? Or would we be better off hoping for a real-life version of the movie “Major League” to happen in Minnesota?

LP:  The crowning achievement of Mark Shapiro’s tenure as GM was the unparalleled speed with which he rebuilt the team. The fire sale started in 2002, but by 2005 the Indians were back winning 93 games. The honeymoon didn’t last very long (rebuilding started again in 2008) and it’s taken a little longer to get back to contention this time around, but Shapiro showed that you can build a team from scratch in a hurry.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the Twins, but at this point it doesn’t seem like you’re on the right track. The most important step towards a quick and efficient rebuilding process is a willingness to commit to it. Pretending to be a contender by going after complementary-piece free agents and declining to trade established veterans for promising prospects isn’t going to save a mediocre team, and waiting to blow it up and start over just means it will take longer before you get back in the race.

2. Cleveland enters the series in first place in the AL Central, but the Indians’ roster is not full of instantly-recognizable names. Which players should we keep an eye on this season?

LP: Asdrubal Cabrera has established himself as one of the best offensive shortstops in the league and he’s known for his flashy (if subpar) defense. Jason Kipnis is fun to watch—he has good wheels and impressive power potential and he’s been hitting ever since he got called up last season. Carlos Santana is a tremendous hitter with great pop and incredible patience at the plate. And I’m a big fan of Shelley Duncan—he hasn’t gotten much playing time since Johnny Damon got called up, but over the last couple years he’s shown that he can really hit. He’s not just a Quad-A player anymore, and I’m excited to see what he’ll do if he ever gets some extended playing time.

3. Derek Lowe’s statline does not even look real: just 2.7 K/9, but five wins and a nifty 2.47 ERA. And he’s 38 years old! What is his secret?

LP: The easy answer is luck. He’s blowing his DIPS stats out of the water, and even if he wasn’t it would be ridiculous to think a pitcher his age could be having his best season in 10 years. That said, it was clear this winter that Lowe was in for some positive regression in 2012, and he’s really looked good so far.

The key for Lowe is his sinker. It’s his signature pitch and you can tell a lot about how comfortable he’s feeling by how often he throws it. He’s going to it more frequently this year than he did in 2011 (pitchf/x has him using his sinker in 60% of his pitches, up from 48% last year), and as a result he’s inducing ground balls at a 64% clip. He’d be more effective pitching for a team with better infield defense, but as long as he’s making batters beat the ball into the ground he’ll do just fine.

The Bottom Line:

As mentioned above, a sweep would pull the Twins within six, but that seems impossible given the Marquis vs. Lowe matchup on Tuesday. Let’s hope for a split.