Minnesota Twins vs Kansas City Royals Series Preview

May 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (right) talks with infielder Omar Infante (left) against the Chicago White Sox during the fifth inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (right) talks with infielder Omar Infante (left) against the Chicago White Sox during the fifth inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Continue Homestand, Still Searching For Winning Formula

At times last week, the Minnesota Twins (11-32) looked like an average baseball team. Quality start by the pitcher, a few runs to support him, and the bullpen unable to hold on. Then there were those times where they looked inept, unable to stop the other team from scoring, and completely clueless at the plate.

Right now, the Twins need a string of baseball where both the pitching and the offense are hitting on all cylinders. A stretch of ballgames where the starters take it upon themselves and throw deep into ballgames, allowing only a run or two.

A stretch where the Twins’ former All-Stars, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, and Kurt Suzuki, start hitting like it. Where runners in scoring position means another opportunity to put a crooked number on the scoreboard to give your starter some breathing room.

Once the leaders on the Twins lead by example on the field, the younger Twins can have some of the pressure lifted off their shoulders and hopefully perform better given the freedom.

This week, the Twins host the Kansas City Royals 22-21), a team that is struggling as well. It sits in 3rd place in the AL Central standings, 3.5 games behind Chicago. The Royals have recently owned the Twins, winners of the last six, all of them played at Target Field.

Monday Night Game

Ian Kennedy (4-3, 3.24 ERA) vs Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 4.74 ERA)

7:10 Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Tuesday Night Game

Edinson Volquez (4-4, 3.79 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (1-2, 3.13 ERA)

7:10 Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Wednesday Day Game

Dillon Gee (1-1, 2.90 ERA) vs Tyler Duffey (1-3, 3.30 ERA)

12:10 Target Field

TV: MLB Network (out of market) / FSN

Kansas City: The Royals have been struggling on the road, winning just 9 of 23 contests. Prior to going 4-2 last week, Kansas held the second closed door team meeting of the year. The first was just days earlier. Manager Ned Yost met with his players, his leaders and his newcomers, to see what needed to be changed, if anything.

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Before the first meeting, he told them, the front office was wondering if changes needed to be made, as they were unhappy with losing four straight series, and dropping behind Cleveland in the standings.

They seemed to have left it up to Yost and the players to hash it all out, like a team with accomplished players do. Since the second of those meetings, KC has won three straight series, including one on the road.

After reaching the World Series two years in a row, a new carrot had to be placed at the end of the stick. That carrot was the chance to not only go to the World Series for three straight seasons (a la the Yankees), but to cement themselves as the first great team of the 2010’s and repeat as World Champions.

Offense: The Royals’ leading RBI man, and one of their post-season heroes, Kendrys Morales, has struggled all season. 41 doubles, 22 homes runs, and 106 RBI last year seems like forever ago to someone now batting .190, and just 2 for his last 19.

The Royals have built their dominance on speed and gap power. This year, the Royals rank behind even Minnesota in doubles (sitting at 24th in MLB), and no Royals player is ranked in the top 25 AL hitters for doubles in 2016.

They still do rank high in steals (4th in MLB) with 31 team steals, with Alcides Escobar ranking third in the AL with 10.

Player to Watch: Lorenzo Cain. The Royals’ #3 hitter leads the team in RBI (22), yet his XBH are considerably down. A quarter into the season, Cain only has 6 doubles, after posting a career high 34 last year. Cain lives off of Twins pitching, hitting .371 in his last 10 games against Minnesota.

Pitching: The Royals have built their pitching from the bullpen forward. Any lead they have going into the 7th, they want to nail down. It’s great for team psyche, builds a team identity, and in close games, allows for the offense to comeback in the later innings.

Closer Wade Davis shuts that door nearly every time, getting 11 saves in 12 opportunities, and owing a miniscule 1.15 ERA and hasn’t yet allowed a home run this season. Kelvin Herrera is one of the premier setup men in all of baseball. In 23 appearances, Herrera has 26 K/2 BB, with 11 holds and an ERA of 0.81.

Player to Watch: Ian Kennedy. The Royals have won three of his last four starts, his one loss a disastrous short start allowing 7 earned runs, including 3 home runs. Kennedy defeated Minnesota in his first start of the season, throwing 6.2 shutout innings, allowing only 5 hits, 1 walk, and striking out 7 Twins in a 7-0 win on April 9th.

Minnesota: Twins have gotten some quality starts from Ervin Santana, but haven’t been able to back him with any runs. He takes on Volquez Tuesday night, who has struggled with his control this year. Against Minnesota during the opening week of the season, however, Volquez had his “A” game, getting 10 strikeouts and zero walks in game the Twins lost in extra innings.

Eduardo Escobar has been activated from the disabled list and will be ready for tonight’s ballgame. Infielder Jorge Polanco takes his fourth plane back to Rochester this year already. Twins getting their money’s worth on their last option year for Polanco.

Eduardo Nunez and his .320 batting average, should begin to qualify to be included among the league leaders after tonight’s game. That is, if Molitor has Nunez in the game. With Dozier’s continued struggles, look to see Escobar make a start a shortstop, and Nunez slide across the infield an man the second base bag.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Terry Ryan was fairly blunt on a lot of topics, including Dozier. However, he offered up that Dozier “can be fixed.” Dozier’s problem is that he tries pulling everything. He has made a living turning on the inside pitches and driving them into the gaps and over the walls.

Other teams have learned this as well, and are not pitching him inside. There lies the dilemma. Either Dozier begins to crowd the plate even moreso, or learns to hit the ball the other way, and with power.

Next: Minnesota Twins Nunez All-Star?

Notes: ***Update, Eduardo Escobar will be in tonight’s starting lineup, batting 7th and playing shortstop. And Nunez will take over Dozier’s position, at least tonight. Robbie Grossman once again gets the start in left field.