5/30-6/1 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

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(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Even as the Yankees struggled last season, their dominance over the Twins remained. They took five of seven from Minnesota and have won 72 of 94 games against the Twins during the Ron Gardenhire era, including the postseason. Four of those 22 losses came against peak Johan Santana. Gardenhire’s team is in the Bronx for a three-game weekend set.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Twinkies lost a close game to the Rangers yesterday afternoon and have dropped two in a row. They’ve also lost six of their last seven games. Minnesota is 24-27 with a -27 run differential overall, which has them sitting right smack in the middle of the AL Central.

Offense
Despite one of the highest walk rates in baseball (10.1%), the Twins are a slightly below-average club offensively, with a team 95 wRC+ and an average of 4.24 runs per game. They are currently without OF Sam Fuld (87 wRC+) long-term due to a serious concussion, but otherwise Minnesota is perfectly healthy on the position player side.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

As always, Gardenhire’s lineup is built around 1B Joe Mauer (96 wRC+), who had the tools of ignorance taken away this offseason in an effort to keep him healthy. 2B Brian Dozier (122 wRC+) has been very good (11 homers and 12 steals) and the catching platoon of C Yosmil Pinto (120 wRC+) and C Kurt Suzuki (114 wRC+) has been excellent. 3B Trevor Plouffe (108 wRC+) has had his moments and OF Josh Willingham (147 wRC+ in limited time) is just returning from a wrist injury. SS Eduardo Escobar (134 wRC+) has been awesome since taking over as the starter a few weeks ago.

OF Aaron Hicks (74 wRC+) stopped switch-hitting like four days ago and is still going through the adjustment of facing right-handed pitchers as a right-handed batter. OF Jason Kubel (83 wRC+) got off to a crazy start but has really cooled off of late. OF Chris Parmelee (62 wRC+), OF Oswaldo Arcia (108 wRC+), and IF Danny Santana (151 wRC+ in limited time) are also on the roster. Oh, and they’re carrying UTIL Eduardo Nunez (82 wRC+) too. He’s on outfielder now. Yep, playing left field. How about that?

Pitching Matchups (Pitcher GIFs is still down for whatever reason)

Friday: LHP Vidal Nuno (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (vs. NYY)
The Twins spent a lot of money this winter to improve their rotation, and most of that money went to the 31-year-old Nolasco. He signed a four-year deal worth $49M. The early returns: a 6.12 ERA (4.67 FIP) in ten starts and 60.1 innings. Ouch. Nolasco has a very good walk rate (2.39 BB/9 and 6.0 BB%), but he isn’t missing bats (5.97 K/9 and 15.0 K%), getting ground balls (41.7%), or keeping the ball in the park (1.49 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB). Lefties (.431 wOBA) are hitting him hard and righties (.358 wOBA) aren’t being so kind either. Nolasco is basically a kitchen sink guy these days. He throws upper-80s/low-90s two and four-seam fastballs, an upper-80s cutter, low-80s changeups and sliders, an upper-70s splitter, and a mid-70s curveball. Seven pitches. The cutter and changeup are show-me pitches more than anything, but he uses the other five regularly.

Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (vs. NYY)
Correia, 33, is the prototypical Twins pitcher in that he doesn’t strike anyone out (5.04 K/9 and 12.6 K%). It’s amazing a pitcher can have a strikeout rate that low. Then again, Correia has a 6.34 ERA (3.86 FIP) in ten starts and 55.1 innings, so it’s not like it’s working either. His walks are low (2.11 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) and he hasn’t had any homer problems (0.81 HR/9 and 6.0% HR/FB) despite a low ground ball rate (42.2%). He actually has a reverse split so far this season: righties have a .373 wOBA while lefties are at .340. Correia is another kitchen sink guy, and believe it or not, he uses his upper-80s two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter fewer than 40% of the time combined. A hard upper-80s slider is his top pitch, and he’ll also throw mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs. I get the sense PitchFX might be misclassifying some of his cutters as sliders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sunday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
After years of watching Hughes give up dingers and struggle to put hitters away, we’ll finally get to see how the other half lives. Hughes, 27, has actually been very good this year, with a 3.23 ERA (2.61 FIP) in ten starts and 61.1 innings. His strikeout (7.34 K/9 and 19.8 K%) and ground ball (32.6%) rates are right in line with his career norms, but he isn’t giving up as many homers (0.59 HR/9 and 4.7% HR/FB). Spacious Target Field certainly has something to do with that (1.9% HR/FB at home, 8.9% on the road). The biggest improvement in Hughes’ game is his walk rate. He always limited walks, but now he’s taken it to the extreme: 0.88 BB/9 and 2.4 BB%. Phil hasn’t walked a batter in his last 44.2 innings (!), a span of 125 batters. His streak of six straight walk-less starts is the longest in baseball since Stephen Strasburg also went six straight back in 2011. Go figure. Righties (.353 wOBA) have hit him much harder than lefties (.232 wOBA) so far. Hughes has always been a tinkerer and he again changed his repertoire this year, bringing back his upper-80s cutter and shelving his low-80s slider. He’ll throw a few mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs per start, but for the most part it’s straight heat, low-90s fastballs in the zone. What do you think, two runs in seven innings or seven runs in two innings? I feel like there’s no middle ground. Hughes will either dominant on Sunday or get hammered.

Bullpen Status
Gardenhire quietly has a strong back end of the bullpen, led by closer LHP Glen Perkins (1.33 FIP). He might be the second best lefty reliever in baseball behind Aroldis Chapman. Top five for sure. RHP Casey Fien (2.41 FIP) has been very good in a setup role and LHP Caleb Thielbar (3.63 FIP) gets the call to face the toughest left-handed batters.

RHP Jared Burton (5.62 FIP) is having a terrible year after being very effective the last few seasons. RHP Anthony Swarzak (3.17 FIP) is the long man while perpetual Twins RHP Matt Guerrier (2.93 FIP) and LHP Brian Duensing (4.62 FIP) round out the rest of the bullpen. Duensing, Swarzak, Fien, and Guerrier all pitched yesterday and Guerrier has pitched in each of the last two days. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees bullpen, then check out Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman’s Blog for everything you need to know about the Twins.

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  • Yangeddard Solarte

    I’m torn in two this series. The Yankees ripped the heart out of Nuney and Hughes and then just threw it away like one of Nuney’s throws to 1st. They did the same thing to Hideki and Johnny. I do think we’ll take the first two but then Phil will shut us down in game 3. The Yankees will rue the day they let go of Nuney and Phil.

    • W.B. Mason Williams

      You truly are a marvel.

      • I’m One

        Who else could come up with this stuff on a regular basis?

    • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

      I really can’t tell if you are serious with half of bullshit that you say. My God man.

      • I’m One

        I’m at the point where I read it and laugh.

      • WhittakerWalt

        It’s clear that he’s just pulling all our legs at this point. What amazes me, though, is just the consistency. Who has that kind of time?

  • The Great Gonzo

    The big question:

    Dare I start Sir Philip of Hughes in Fantasy on Sunday? I mean, he’s been good, but he has many years of being real bad at NYS. And the Yankees have been scoring runs all over the place of late… but yeah.

    • The Other Matt

      Start him. I’ve learned on here that when you have a pitcher going up against the Yankees just start him. I did it with Chris Archer this year, but then again he’s killed the Yankees so far in his career. Look at it this way, if he pitches well then it’ll be a boost to your fantasy team. If he doesn’t pitch well, then at least you can have solace that the Yankees will have a decent chance of winning. There are positives on each spectrum. The worst thing to do would be not to start him and then he goes out there and pitches a gem.

      • vicki

        the pascal’s wager of fantasy baseball.

    • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

      I do not think that’s a good idea.

  • Slu

    I know it is petty, but I want Hughes to get hammered. Either way, it is must see TV.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

    Watching Hughes come back to the stadium kills my little prospect heart….. :(

  • Dick M

    I watched a bit of Hughes’ outing vs the Red Sox. He looked different, more confident. Challenging hitters and not nibbling. He didn’t seem to be short-arming the ball as much either. Probably just change of scenery.

    I didn’t see many curves or changes. He used the cutter to give a different look vs the rising 4 seamer.

    • Yan Solo

      Apparently, he’s thrown one changeup all season and it was…wait for it…a homer! Probably won’t see too many changeups vs the Yankees I’m guessing.

  • Preston

    I didn’t realize Phil was doing so well. I guess I should have when people stopped updating how terribly he was doing.

  • CountryClub

    McCann has 8 homers vs Nolasco.

    • CountryClub

      I should have given Sweeny credit for this tidbit:

      Sweeny Murti ?@YankeesWFAN 47m
      Brian McCann vs tonight’s MIN starter Ricky Nolasco: 20 for 58 (.345) with 8 HR. 8!!

  • TWTR

    I want to see Hughes’, and the Yankees’ hitters’, HR rates normalize, precipitously and simultaneously.

    • vicki

      ferociously!

  • CountryClub

    Sweeny Murti ?@YankeesWFAN 1m
    Carlos Beltran took BP on the field today, said he feels good. “Very happy” elbow is pain free, optimistic he can return soon.

    • TWTR

      But for how long?

      • CountryClub

        Fair point. But it could be the whole year. My guess is that throwing the ball would be his biggest concern.

        • TWTR

          True, and Girardi mentioned when he was on with Francesaa that they may know more once he gets into real games and has to quickly check his swing.

          My primary goal is for him to be as close to 100% as possible from September on. The Yankees may or may not prioritize that.

        • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

          And as I have been saying all year they should be dhing him. If you sign Morales that’s a different story, but if you are going with the team you have, then I’d rather start Sori/Ichiro in rf regularly. We gave Beltran’s knees’ 3 year deal, it’s not a good thing for them to play everyday. It’s not like he is any good in the field anyways.

  • CountryClub

    Yanks have Murphy behind the plate tonight with McCann at DH. I think we say see some more of that if Murphy keeps hitting.

    • I’m One

      Keep that hot bat in the lineup. And his D certainly isn’t killing them either. Great to have this kid. I’m torn between seeing his continued devlopment and seeing what kind of return he can contribute to.

    • Yangeddard Solarte

      There’s also a day game tomorrow so McCann was only going to catch one, but I’d like to see them do more of this to get JRM in the lineup.

    • vicki

      there’s also: mccann has caught every one of tanaka’s starts, while murph has caught nearly all of nuno’s.

  • Paisa

    “the tools of ignorance”

    Is this a reference to Mauer moving out from behind the plate? I don’t understand.

    • I’m One

      Yes. The coining of the phrase is attributed variously to catcher Muddy Ruel and to Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, according to the Glossary of Baseball.

      • lightSABR

        Huh. Didn’t know that. Cool.

        • I’m One

          Neither did I. The Internet is a great tool. :-)

    • lightSABR

      “The tools of ignorance” is an old phrase for the catcher’s glove and protective gear. The idea being that if you’re willing to have 90-mph pitches thrown right at you all game, you must not be the sharpest tool in the shed.

      Ironic, of course, given that catcher is the position that requires the most thinking.

      • vicki

        the brains of the operation wears the tools of ignorance. the basis of my catcher predilection lies therein.

  • The Other Matt

    Brian Roberts batting sixth tonight. Normally that would be most ideal, but Roberts has swung the bat well the past few games. In the past five games he’s gone 7-22 with 3 XBH (2 2B, 1 HR), so for one game, I actually don’t mind having him bat sixth tonight. Hopefully he doesn’t make me eat my words. Solarte is down in the eighth spot and ideally you would want to have them flip-flopped, but Solarte has struggled a bit as of late, so it does make sense a bit. Take a little bit of pressure off of him, having him bat towards the bottom of the lineup, and “ride” Roberts while he’s hot. Not like it’s all that big of a deal, as he isn’t batting 3rd or cleanup. It probably has more to do with breaking up the lefties in the lineup (McCann 5th, Ichiro 7th), than anything. And after doing some more research while writing this I see that Roberts is 5-7 in his career against Nolasco so that may also explain him batting ahead of Solarte.

    • The Other Matt

      correction: “Normally that * wouldn’t be most ideal,”

    • forensic

      They’re really not all that different over the last month and change (really, Roberts has been a touch better). Since April 17th, which is the day Roberts returned from his little injury:

      Roberts: .279/.323/.434
      Solarte: .258/.328/.417

      Their recent stretches are just more icing on the cake to indicate that Roberts should be above Solarte at this point.

  • WhittakerWalt

    The “Phil Hughes is finally becoming a great pitcher away from the Yankees” narrative has to go bye-bye now. He’s having an excellent stretch. He’s had them before.