Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Next Up: The Minnesota Twins

Continuing their tough second half schedule, the Pirates travel to Minnesota to play two games against the Twins, their eighth and ninth straight games against teams currently qualifying for the postseason, before traveling to Cincinnati for four games against the (Cueto-less) Reds. After that respite, it's twelve straight against teams with winning records: Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Mets.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Twins are 12-12 over the past 30 days, the sixth best record in the American League. During those 30 days, they've scored 4.3 runs per game, the seventh most in the league, while giving up 4.2 per game, the seventh most. That's the run differential of a .500 club. So far this season, they're in second place in the American League Central, eight games behind the Royals. They're tied with the Astros for the two American League wild cards, three ahead of Toronto and Baltimore. I still consider the Twins to be the most surprising team in the majors this year, given that they seemed, going into the season, a lock for the American League Central cellar. They're only 3-6 since the All-Star break, though six of those games have been against the two hottest teams in the league, the Angels and Yankees.

What's Going Right? The Twins are seventh in the league in batting average (.258) over the past 30 days, sixth in on base percentage (.316), and sixth in slugging percentage (.417). They strike out a lot (21% of plate appearances, fourth most in the league) and don't hit a lot of home runs (ninth in the league in home run rate). They make up for it by walking a fair amount (7% of plate appearances, seventh most) and hitting lots of doubles and triples (two per game, third most in the league). They've stolen a lot of bases over the past 30 days (16, second to the Royals) but negated it by getting caught stealing too often (nine times, most in the league), resulting in a subpar 64% success rate. 

What's Going Wrong? The bullpen ERA of 4.25 is the fourth worst in the league over the past 30 days, and, typical of the Twins, they've struck out the fewest batters in the league. They've blown four saves, tied for the third most in the league. The starters have been better--3.86 ERA, seventh best in the league over the past 30 days--with a middle-of-the-pack strikeout rate (ninth highest in the league). Twins pitchers pitch to contact--opposing batters have whiffed on only 19% of their swings over the past 30 days, the fourth lowest rate in the league--but the team defense rates somewhere between average and below average by standard and advanced fielding metrics, meaning that all that contact's resulting in base hits that a better-fielding team might prevent.

Who's Hot? The Twins signed pitcher Ervin Santana to a four-year, $54 million (with a $15 option/$1 million buyout for a fifth year) free agent contract over the winter and he promptly got himself suspended 80 games by testing positive for PEDs. He's back now, and has been pretty good: 2.60 ERA over four starts, though with lousy peripherals (not a lot of strikeouts, too many walks and homers, and an unsustainably low .205 batting average on balls in play). He'll face the Pirates tomorrow. Over the past 30 days, All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier is batting just .221 but he leads the team with six homers and 18 RBI. Rookie Miguel Sano, called up at the beginning of the month, has a team-leading .922 OPS in 18 games at DH. Center fielder Aaron Hicks, a strong defender who's blown hot and cold offensively throughout his career, has been hot over the past 30 days, with a .306/.392/.516 slash line. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe's hit four homers, leads the club with 17 runs scored, and is second in RBI to Dozier. First baseman Joe Mauer's hit .326 over the period.

Who's Not? Closer Glenn Perkins has pitched in nine games over the past 30 days. In seven of them, he's pitched seven innings, allowing no hits and one walk while striking out eight, racking up five saves. But in the other two--two of his last three appearances--he's pitched 1.2 innings, allowing seven hits (including two homers) and five runs, blowing two saves. This presents a problem for the Twins, whose only other relievers who've pitched over seven innings in the past 30 days with an ERA below 4.50 are Brian Duensing (0.00), who doesn't strike out enough batters, Ryan O'Rourke (1.23), who walks too many, and J.R. Graham (3.86), who's been used more as a long relief/mop-up guy than a set-up man. Tonight's Twins starter, Mike Pelfrey, has been terrible over the last 30 days (7.78 ERA in four starts, barely more strikeouts than walks). 

On offense, over the past 30 days, the Twins have gotten almost no production from catcher Kurt Suzuki (.222/.290/.238 slash line), shortstop Danny Santana (.234/.279/.344), and right fielder Torii Hunter (.209/.242/.442). (The league average is .252/.310/.408.)

What's the Outlook? I haven't made any secret of my disdain for Twins management, and it strikes me that the Pirates are catching a team that played over its head for the first half of the season just as the clock's striking midnight, to mix metaphors.

No comments:

Post a Comment