You can’t lose in the postseason if you don’t make the postseason.
After winning the AL Central two years in a row, the Twins seemed primed before the season to be in a season-long fight with the Chicago White Sox to retain their crown. And they might get there, but boy has it been a rough go for them to this point. They’ve won just eight times in their first 23 games and have lost in some creative ways, which is never a good thing to start the season. They’ve had some issues with COVID-19, losing a few players to positive tests and others for short times due to close contact, so they haven’t really had much of a chance to get going as a team just yet. The Royals luck, though, is that they seem to finally be about back together just in time to face the team that is actually in a fight with the White Sox. We’ll see if they can get back on track or if the Royals can put more distance between the two teams.
The Twins can still hit, regardless of injuries, and so far this season Byron Buxton has been the player they thought he would be years ago. He’s always been an elite defender, but he is hitting the absolute snot out of the ball this season. The walk rate is low, so maybe there’s a slump coming, but it hasn’t happened yet. Put him with Nelson Cruz and a now healthy Josh Donaldson and the Twins have some serious firepower. But they’ve struggled down in the lineup. Max Kepler looks like he’s back for this series, but they haven’t gotten much outside of those three and Luis Arraez. If the supporting cast can get going, they might end up as scary as they were in 2019.
I’ve been surprised by how rough of a start Kenta Maeda has had this year. The Royals won’t see him, but he’s had a very difficult start of the season. Otherwise, Berrios and Pineda have been good. Shoemaker hasn’t. The Royals will see those three, so you’ll get more info on them below. And JA Happ has been fantastic for them. In the bullpen, they made a bit of a splash and signed Alex Colome, but he’s been so bad that they’re moving him into low leverage spots. Really outside of Taylor Rogers, they’re having some issues finding their footing in the bullpen, so that’s a spot the Royals could exploit this weekend.
Probable Starting Pitchers
The stuff isn’t what it once was for Pineda, but he throws strikes and he gets outs. In spite of some issues with a suspension, he’s been a really nice pickup for the Twins since they signed him, giving them 195 innings over the last three years of 3.74 ERA ball. Obviously the lack of availability has been an issue, but he’s been solid when on the mound. His fastball this season is down to 90-91, which is a huge departure from even last year’s 92.1 MPH average. And so far, he’s been a bit lucky on it. He’s allowed a .188 average and .388 SLG, but the expected numbers on those are .288 and .622 respectively, so there’s some regression coming. His slider, though, remains nasty, so Royals hitters will have to do a better job laying off it than they have some others this season. He has given up four homers in 17.1 innings at home this season, so the Royals could score that way. If hitters don’t let him to get to that slider, they do much better, hitting .333 with a .722 SLG when ahead in the count compared with .108 with a .189 SLG when behind.
Brady Singer has gotten better each start this season. He struggled in that first outing of the year and then was better in his second, very good in his third and had one of the best starts of his career his last time out in Detroit. He had everything working with his fastball up and his slider down and doing what he needed to do to keep hitters off balance with the movement he has on his pitches. The Twins are a different test than the Tigers, though, even with some of the holes in their lineup, so this is going to be a good test for the young righty. Last year, Singer had the unenviable task of facing the Twins three starts in a row, something that isn’t likely to happen in a normal season. He got progressively worse each time out, so I think this is an interesting test for him.
When the offseason began, the Royals were among the teams talking to Shoemaker to fill the role they eventually filled with Mike Minor. He obviously ended up choosing the Twins, but it hasn’t yet worked out for them as he’s struggled a bit to start. He has just two strikeouts in his last two starts, which obviously just doesn’t work in today’s game. Where he had success last year with the four-seamer, he’s been hit hard this year. His best pitch is his splitter, but opponents have hit that this season for a bit of power. If he doesn’t have that working, he’s likely to get hit hard. Oh and he has a massive platoon split, allowing a .493 OPS to righties compared with 1.072 to lefties. Carlos Santana, Ryan O’Hearn and Andrew Benintendi are good picks if you’re filling out a daily fantasy lineup.
Danny Duffy is just trying to keep up the magical start to the season he’s had so far with his 0.39 ERA, which is ridiculous. He’s throwing harder and carrying the heat deeper into games than he has in the past. The Twins have actually hit for a bit less power against lefties, which is sort of surprising given the makeup of their lineup, but they do have some very real threats to give Duffy his first bad start of the year. Duffy’s historically been good against the Twins with 2019 really the only year he’s struggled against them. He’s actually been pretty good in Minneapolis too, so this is a good chance for him to keep the good times rolling.
Berrios was my choice for Cy Young last season and he just didn’t take that step I was expecting. He was basically the same guy he’s been every year outside of his terrible rookie season. So maybe that’s just who he is. This season has looked different, though, so we’ll see if maybe this is the time he finally breaks through. Of course, since he started the year with six no-hit innings where he struck out 12, he’s made four starts and hasn’t finished six innings in any of them. He has a 3.92 ERA in those 20.2 innings. From 2017 through 2020, he had a 3.82 ERA in 601.1 innings. So maybe that’s just who he is. Even if that’s the case, his curve is still nasty and the real damage done to him is going to be on the sinker more often than not. I personally love his changeup and wish he’d throw it more, but he’s actually throwing it less this year. He also has a crazy platoon split, but he hasn’t been as bad against lefties, still limiting them to a .712 OPS compared to .396 for righties. He’s also struggled a bit with runners in scoring position, so if they can get there, that’s the time to strike.
Brad Keller has had a season’s worth of emotions in just five starts with three absolutely brutal outings and two that were very good. His last one in Detroit felt like it was more stressful than it was, and I do kind of wonder if that’s because we were all on edge watching him. But after walking two in the first, he didn’t walk another batter and ended up getting through six for the first time this season. If that’s him turning the corner, the timing was good because the Royals need him for their upcoming schedule, but I’m still skeptical of what I saw given how poor the Tigers lineup is. On the plus side, he got 14 swings and misses, which is a season high. On the down side, he allowed 12 fly balls, which is not his game. The Twins will make him pay for some of the mistakes he made, so he’ll need to be better to keep up the good pitching.
While their records are inverses, I still think the Twins are a good team and they’re starting to get the band back together. It kind of depends on how Keller pitches against Berrios but I’m going to take the pessimistic view and say the Twins take two of three this weekend.