Minnesota Twins: Can They Stay Hot vs. the Tribe?

May 15, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco (11) scores beside Cleveland Indians catcher Chris Gimenez (38) in the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
May 15, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco (11) scores beside Cleveland Indians catcher Chris Gimenez (38) in the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite record differences, the Minnesota Twins look to continue run over Cleveland

Despite being 20 games behind the Cleveland Indians to start unofficial second half of the season, the Minnesota Twins have downright owned the Indians this year.

Even when Rome was falling around them, the Twins managed to win two of three both at home, and on the road, in each of the two series played earlier.

The Minnesota Twins have out-scored the Indians, 32-25 and produced two of the most exciting moments at Target Field this year.

The first two wins (both with Kevin Jepsen as the winning pitcher) were walk-off affairs.

First, former Twin Oswaldo Arcia hit a send-’em-home blast in the bottom of the 9th inning, a day after a heart-breaking loss in extra innings to the Washington Nationals.

The following day, after Jepsen recorded his third blown save, Miguel Sano rescued the Twins by hitting a walk-off RBI single to send the locals home happy once again.

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A couple weeks later in Cleveland, both Ervin Santana and Tyler Duffey earned their first wins of the season in back-to-back quality starts.

After opening the season 0-9, the Minnesota Twins climbed within three and a half games of the Indians following their first series.

Once again stumbling after the first series, the Twins were still within earshot of the Cleveland following their road series win, now eight games back.

From there until July, the two teams went in opposite directions.

The Indians charged up the leader board, passing the Tigers, White Sox, and Royals to take command of the AL Central. The Twins, meanwhile, plummeted to the worst record in baseball.

Turning the page to July, the Twins are now the hottest team in all the land, while Cleveland has struggled – though still clear of second-place Detroit by six games.

Friday Night Game

Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 2.47 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (3-7, 4.06 ERA)

7:10 PM CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Saturday Night Game

Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30 ERA) vs Tyler Duffey (5-6, 5.20 ERA)

7:10 PM CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Sunday Day Game

Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51 ERA) vs Kyle Gibson (2-5, 5.02 ERA)

1:10 PM CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

CLEVELAND: While they have just a 4-6 record in July, Cleveland is enjoying life atop the AL Central.

They have also gotten healthy, with Carlos Carrasco making his first appearance against the Twins after missing portions of the first half due to a strained hamstring.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, who came off the disabled list during the series in Minnesota, appeared in only 11 games before returning to the DL with shoulder soreness. He’s currently in a rehab assignment with AAA Columbus, and the Indians are pegging him to return for the Baltimore series that begins on July 22nd.

Fresh off an All-Star win, shortstop Francisco Lindor leads the young Indians infield.

Fellow All-Star, Corey Kluber got the win in relief for the American League on Tuesday, assuring home field once again for the junior circuit in this Fall’s World Series.

With the prospect of the Indians making it to the post-season becoming better by the week, Cleveland faithful, and the Indians themselves, hope Kluber’s win gains them an extra home game come October.

HITTING: Cleveland’s offense begins with their 30-year old DH/1B, Carlos Santana. The one-time catcher until 2013, Santana has been employed as Cleveland’s lead-off hitter for nearly half of their games this year, despite his lack of speed.

What he does do, however, is get on base.

His .351 OBP is third on a team that gets on base a lot, and his 20 home runs lead the team, though they are split evenly between his stints as lead-off hitter and when he hits fifth.

The one weak spot in the lineup is the spot vacated by Santana, the catcher position. While Yan Gomes receives plenty of credit for his handling of the pitching staff, his batting average has not been over .200 since April.

For July, Gomes is batting 1-for-29, dropping his season average to .166 and his OBP to an anemic .201 – both worst in the majors.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Kipnis. Over the past three years, Kipnis has terrorized the Minnesota Twins’ pitching. His 60 hits, five home runs, and 33 RBI are all highs against any opponent during that time span.

Ervin Santana seems to be the only Twins starter who has him figured out (just 5-for-26), and Santana will face him in tonight’s game.

PITCHING: The Minnesota Twins will miss All-Star pitchers Kluber and Danny Salazar, though the Twins did rough up Kluber the last time they faced him.

They will, however, face Carlos Carrasco, the promising starter who has come of age during the past two seasons.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last three seasons is 428/92 in just over 390 innings. He hasn’t fared well against the Twins, however, going 0-4 with a 5.86 ERA in his last eight games versus the Twins.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Tomlin. Unlike Carrasco, Tomlin has feasted on Minnesota hitters. Over the same past three seasons, Tomlin’s ERA is just 1.93, with a 10/1 KK/BB ratio.

Tomlin picked up the Tribe’s only win in Minnesota this year, though the Twins did get to him for four runs, including a home run by Byung-ho Park.

MINNESOTA: Baseball’s hottest offense for the last four weeks, the Twins have scored 140 runs since June 18th – eight more than any other club.

They’ve been paced by the resurgence of veterans Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki, along with the emergence of Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas.

Dozier collected a team-high 38 hits in June, followed by Suzuki’s 27.

While Dozier has cooled a little in July, he’s still walked eight times and scored seven times in 10 games. Suzuki, meanwhile, has seen his average steadily climb.

After hitting just .200 in May to see his average fall to .212, Suzuki hit .370 in June and .400 so far in July, raising his batting average to a season-high .294.

With just three doubles and a single home run through May, Suzuki has turned it on for ten more doubles and four additional home runs in the past six weeks.

From the top, where Twins All-Star Eduardo Nunez sets the pace, down through the number nine spot, with Danny Santana hitting .313 in his last seven games, the Minnesota Twins are definitely hitting on all cylinders.

It will be interesting to see what manager Paul Molitor does after Byron Buxton and Trevor Plouffe are ready to return to the lineup.

With Santana stroking, Eddie Rosario smoking since his recall, and Kepler becoming an RBI machine, I’m sure Molitor won’t want to upset the apple cart too much.

But Buxton will need to get his at-bats to get valuable experience in the second half of the season. And Rosario has earned a second look.

What the front office decides to do with the logjam at 1B/DH/3B in the coming weeks should provide Molitor with some flexibility, and hopefully some reinforcements to his bullpen with whatever trades are made.

NOTES: Byung-ho Park, after resting his sore wrist, hit his first home run for AAA Rochester. Also, during the All-Star break, both Tommy Milone and Kurt Suzuki welcomed new Twins fans into this world. Little Mia Jean Milone (Tommy’s first) and Elijah Suzuki (Kurt’s third) were born this past week. Kudos!

Next: Minnesota Twins: I Still Believe in Byung-ho Park

UPDATE: Buxton (knee) has been cleared to play, and will start in center field tonight and bat ninth.