Baseball

Twins VS.

 

Records: Twins 12-20 (LOL) White Sox 19-13

First Pitch: Tues/Wed 7:10 Thursday 1:10

TV/Radio: NBCSN and ESPN1000

Ted Talk: Twinkie Town

 

Probable Starters

Game 1: Kenta Maeda (2-2 5.02 ERA) vs. Dylan Cease (2-0 2.37 ERA)

Game 2: J.A. Happ (2-0 1.91 ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (1-1 3.79 ERA)

Game 3: Michael Pineda (2-1 2.43 ERA) vs. Carlos Rodon (5-0 0.58 ERA (!!))

 

Ahhh the Twins. The Nashville Predators of the AL Central. The team that has the talent to win the division year in and year out, yet is hilariously unable to win even a game in the postseason. It would be even more hilarious if it usually didn’t come at the expense of the White Sox playoff chances. This year things seem to be upside down, however. The Twins record currently sits at an ugly 12-20, good enough for 4th in the division while the Sox sit atop the pile at 19-13. The Twins, known these past few years for pounding the ball out of the yard (earning them the moniker of Bomba Squad) continue to be offensively gifted, sitting 4th in the AL in total offense right behind the Sox. The pitching is where it all starts going wrong for the Twins. They currently rank dead last in the AL for WAR earned by their pitching staff (the Sox sit 2nd behind NY), and are bottom 3 for all the major categories including K/9, ERA, and FIP.

The starters for Minnesota actually haven’t been as bad as the above indicates, as nobody expects Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda to have 5+ ERAs for the rest of the season (though to be fair, nobody expects JA Happ to have a sub 2 ERA for the rest of the year either). It’s when the starters come out of the game that the pitching gets truly horrendous. The Twins bullpen is worth a collective -0.6 WAR, and has the most blown saves of any AL team thus far in the season, most of which came from Sox Sleeper Agent Alex Colome who’s 1-3 record with 3 blown saves has done more for the Chicago cause than anyone else on the Minnesota Squad. Anytime I see those stats, my complaints about the start for Liam Hendriks die a quiet death.

On the offensive side of the ball, the long awaited breakout for Byron Buxton seems to have finally happened. In the month of April he absolutely punished the ball, to the tune of a .370/.408/1.180 slash line and a hilarious 226 wRC+ rating. He also crushed 9 home runs and stole 5 bases, which seems kind of low for him but when all the balls you hit leave the yard stolen base opportunities tend to go down. Unfortunately for Buxton and the Twins, the injury bug that has plagued him his entire career reared it’s ugly head last week when he pulled up lame with a grade 2 hip flexor strain (sound familiar?) and will miss a few weeks at least while it heals up.

Nelson Cruz is still doing his thing, slashing .295/.340/.910 with 8 dingers. For a guy pushing 41 years old, that’s impressive as hell. He no longer plays in the field, so the Twins lose him when they head to NL parks (much like the Sox with the Yerminator) but when he’s at the dish there’s nobody on the Twins who can do more damage with Buxton out.

After Buxton, Cruz and Josh Donaldson (when healthy), the drop in production rate is pretty steep for the Twins. Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler are all under the .250 mark for average, with .480 the highest slugging percentage among them. Prized rookie Alex Kirrillof was called back up a few weeks ago (mysteriously after the service time deadline for another season passed. Weird) and went on a tear for about 10 days before he fucked up his wrist (and my fantasy team). They’re waiting on a second opinion, but season ending surgery is still on the table. Either way, both him and Buxton will be out from this series.

As for the Sox, they look to keep the momentum going on the pitching side of things after the triumphant sweep of the Royals this weekend where Rodon, Lynn and Giolito allowed a combined 4 runs the entire series. The offense did it’s part, banging out 29 hits and plating 21 runs in the series. The Sox jumped all over the Royals prized rookie starter Daniel Lynch by dropping 8 runs on his head and chasing him from the game before he could complete the first inning. The Yerminator had his first career triple on Sunday afternoon, hitting a ball in the gap that Michael Taylor tried to snag with a dive but ended up punting it into the corner. The Yerm ended up a home run short of his first career cycle, but seeing him chug past second for the triple was well worth my time.

Both Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease look to build off their excellent starts last time out against Cincinnati, going a combined 13 innings without yielding a run. Cease had his best outing possibly of his career, going 6 strong innings with 11 strikeouts. More importantly he was efficient with his pitches, only walking 3 (which for him is an improvement) and throwing 96 to finish the day. His fastball had more life on it than in previous starts, and he was accurate with it at the top of the zone. Keuchel was back to his old economical self, only striking out 1 but getting everyone else on the Reds to pound the ball in the dirt with his sinker, which looked the best it has since last season. Both guys are going to need to continue this trend, because despite the Twins being in a rut they still have the offensive weapons to make the Sox arms pay the price for mistakes.

Despite being up 7 games on the Twins, now is not the time to take the foot off the gas. I think we all know that the Twins misery is only temporary, and at some point the sleeping giant is going to awaken and climb back up the rankings. The 6 games the Sox have with them in the next 9 days is the perfect chance to put even more distance between them and Minnesota, and making that hole they have to climb out of even deeper. 4 of 6 would be an excellent start, 6 of 6 would be considered euphoric. Bury these fuckers while you have the chance…no mercy.

Let’s Go Sox

Baseball

I sincerely hate the Minnesota Twins, but I have to give them credit where it’s due. In an age where the way you build an MLB team has changed completely from buying through free agency to building through youth and farm systems they’ve managed to land at the forefront of that particular revolution. It’s hard to say if they read the tea leaves correctly 5 years ago and just kept doing what they were doing, or if they just lucked into this by being cheap everywhere but their scouting, but either way it’s working out at an annoyingly high level.

Just looking at their current roster (which as of today still leads the league in team slugging percentage) it’s chock full of home-grown talent that includes the following on offense: Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Mitch Garver and Jake Cave. The total WAR of that science lab creation of slugging so far this season is 17.1.  In comparison to the WAR generated by the homegrown talent of the White Sox offense (which is 27th of 30 in the league for slugging) is merely 9.3 (Eloy, Abreu, Moncada, Anderson, Yolmer and Engel). That’s not a very sightly set of stats for the Sox offense, and it paints the Twins in a pretty impressive light. HOWEVER! If you go back to the same group of players for the Twins last season, you get….9.7 WAR from those guys combined. Take those numbers and add in the fact that the Twins were 78-84 last season makes the differences between the Sox and the Twins a little easier to swallow, and maybe even adds a slight feeling of hope in there.

So you have the 2019 White Sox, who are pretty close to what the 2018 Twins were: Some high level prospects with a ton of talent and not a lot of major league experience combined with an untested pitching staff and shitty hydra for a 5th starter. Does that mean the Sox will lead the league in slugging next year? Probably not, but it provides a little insight into just how much time in the oven baking a professional team takes. It’s been forever since the Sox had to create a contender this way, so fans can be forgiven if they’ve forgotten how this type of rebuild goes. You’d have to go back to the early 2000s to find a team that was as built from the bottom up as this one is now.  Just look at this chart that shows top 10 Sox minor league prospects from the past decade (as decided by MLB.com). Be warned, it’s not a pretty sight.

Hahahaha Trayce Thompson and Courtney Hawkins…good times, good times. That chart before the 2017 time frame is like looking directly into the Ark of the Covenant, except when you look into the Ark your head explodes so you don’t have to see a list with Jared Mitchell in the top 5 prospects anymore. Things after 2017 start to look much, much better (unless your name is Carson Fulmer), and resembles an actual major league farm system.

Now look at the same chart, but for the Twins:

God dammit I fucking hate them.

If there were a blueprint for how to build an MLB team through quality scouting and franchise-wide patience, it would look exactly like that. Even the guys who aren’t with the Twins anymore are pretty quality. Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia and Ben Revere were/are all serviceable MLB players (In the case of Hicks, a little more than “serviceable”). In addition to that, they still have 2 top 20 ranked prospects in Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff sitting in AAA waiting for their chance. The Twins think so highly of both these players that they passed at legit chances to upgrade their struggling starting rotation a few weeks ago because teams were sniffing around those two.

The Twins have always done it this way, ever since Terry Ryan took over as GM for them back in 1995. He engineered many of the Twins teams that I absolutely despised in the early 2000s by using the “New England Patriots” method of shipping off players just before they were due to get paid for younger, cheaper talent. He snagged Johan Santana off the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft. He traded eventual Sox Legend AJ Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser (best fake name ever). He also increased the money the franchise spent on scouting for the first time in decades. Ryan stayed with the Twins until 2016 when Thad Levine was hired away from the Indians after their loss to the Cubs in the World Series. Levine was cut from the same cloth that Ryan was, having helped build Cleveland into the contender it was through the same methods Ryan did. He helped draft Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramierez so he knew how to build through the lower levels of the minors.

The Sox in that same period continued along the path that Kenny Williams set them on in 2006, consistently trading away promising young talent for one last gasp after another, year after year, until finally the team had no choice but to trade away the best pitcher in the history of the organization to jump start a clinically deceased farm system. Now that the team started the season ranked 4th overall in the league for their minor league system, the question that falls before Rick Hahn and company is can they develop players they draft? They’ve been able to trade for other team’s well scouted minor leaguers, and had pretty good success bringing them along. The Sox international scouting crew has been nothing short of aces so far, but the continental US team has been pretty hit or miss. Has Nick Hostetler done enough at the lower levels to reap the kind of benefits the Twins have done for decades? Is Chris Getz the guy to guide the next round of Sox prospects to AAA and beyond?

The Sox farm system was absolutely decimated by a plague of injuries this season that bordered on the biblical, so the only grade that can really be given so far is “incomplete.” It will be very interesting to see how Zack Collins, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn fare at the higher levels in the next few seasons as they have the potential to solidify the Sox lineup like Kepler and Polanco have done for the Twins thus far.

Fingers crossed.

 

Baseball

vs.

 

Records: Twins 76-48   White Sox 55-68

Gametimes: Monday/Tuesday 7:10, Wednesday 12:10

TV: Monday WGN, Tuesday/Wednesday NBCSN

Where The Wild Things Are: Puckett’s Pond

 

Ugh, these assholes again.

Since the last meeting between these two teams (in which the Twins took three of four from the Sox) life has been somewhat of a mixed bag for the Towering Terror of the Twin Cities. After winning the series against the Sox, the Twins took two of three from Miami and swept the Royals. All good, right? Well then the Braves came to town and took the series against them, then shortly thereafter Cleveland showed up and not only took three of four, but tied them for 1st place in the Central in a Sunday afternoon matchup that saw Carlos Santana plunge the dagger in Taylor Rogers heart with a walk off grand slam in extra innings that wiped out a nice Twins comeback in the bottom of the 9th.

Unfortunately the dagger wasn’t made of silver, because since then the Twins have won five of six, including a four game sweep of the Rangers this past weekend and have retaken first place from the Tribe (who now sit 2.5 games behind). They just won’t die. The Twins still sit at 4th best in the AL for hitting, having fallen behind the Yankees only because the Yankees played the Orioles seven times so far in August alone. The Twins still inexplicably lead the entire league in slugging percentage at .499, almost a full .010 ahead of the second place Yankees. The fact that they’re able to power the ball so much when they play so many games in their stadium with the cavernous outfield is even more impressive. Marwin Gonzalez has caught fire after a slow start, having hit .362 since the page flipped to August. Max Kepler continues to hit for power, mashing 10 taters since he last saw the Sox. Byron Buxton is still on the IL with a laundry list of maladies, this time with his shoulder. It’s severe enough that the Twins aren’t expecting him back until at least the beginning of September.

The rotation for the Twins is still scuffling a bit as Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios both have seen their respective ERAs rise more than a point in the month of August. Michael Pineda has returned from his stint on the IL and righted the ship, having only given up 11 runs since the beginning of July, and despite his peripherals looking hilariously bad Jake Odorizzi has a 2.08 ERA so far this month and managed to shut down the Tribe in their only win that series.

The Twins bullpen has been a mixed bag since trading for some fresh faces at the deadline. Former closer now LOOGY Sergio Romo has appeared in nine games and given up three runs in that span, all in one game against the Braves. The other big acquisition Sam Dyson has gotten shelled out of the gate with his new team, giving up seven runs in 3.1 innings. In addition to that, closer Taylor Rogers hasn’t been as sharp as he was in May and June. He got charged with the loss against the Indians mentioned above and blew two other saves since the trade deadline. With Dyson being so shaky his job seems safe for the time being, however.

As for the Sox, they seem to have corrected the offensive malaise that infected them throughout the entire series with Oakland, having pounded out 40 runs in their last seven games. Ivan Nova has continued his excellent run since the All-Star break, having only given up 12 earned runs in 53 innings since the beginning of July. This has included some starts against pretty stalwart offenses like Houston, Philly, Cubs, and these Twins. I’ve said since the beginning that Nova would be a fine 5th starter on a contending team, and he’s making his case to stick around to see that possibility. The Sox will also toss out Lopez and Giolito, both of whom have had pretty good success since the break.

The key to this series is the same as it was against Houston last week. The starters need to keep the Twins big bats off the board, and the offense take advantage of a middling bullpen where they can. It’s looking like Yoan Moncada will be back for this series after his rehab stint in Charlotte, which will be a nice boost both offensively and defensively. Having him and Leury Garcia back in the lineup will make the Sox offense as potent as it’s been all year. Well, at least until Luis Robert gets here in a few weeks. Fuck the Twins, take two of three from them.

Lets Go Sox!

 

Baseball

The Twins sit eight games clear at the top of the AL Central. While they have been predicted to compete for a couple years now, surging to the front with authority was not predicted many places outside the State of Hockey. Sure, it helps that Jose Ramirez and a few pitchers in Cleveland died, but the Twins look to have arrived.

Two big reasons the Twins are up there is Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton. Polanco has a case for AL-MVP-Who’s-Not-Trout division, and Buxton is making good on the promise that most thought had gone to waste. A difference in approach with the rearing of the two is apparent.

Hard to believe, but Buxton is appearing in his fifth major-league season. He came up first when he was 20, which some do but is a big ask for just about anyone. Before being called up, Buxton only got 13 games at AAA and 59 at even AA. So he was pretty damn green. He got an additional 49 games at AAA the following year, but he was up full-time after that. Buxton has always been a positive player purely on his defense in center, but his offense has finally joined the party this year, after some thought it never would.

Polanco would also appear briefly in the majors at 20, but that was only for four games. He spent all of 2015 in the minors, where he got 95 games at AA and another 22 in AAA before another cameo in the majors. In 2016, Polanco received another 75 games in AAA, which is far more than Buxton ever got. Polanco never quite struggled at the plate in the majors the way Buxton did at times, but both have exploded this year, especially Polanco.

Polanco’s 27% line-drive rate is top-20 in MLB, and his 41% hard-contact rate will get it done as well. Polanco’s been especially dangerous on off-speed pitches this year, crushing curves and change-ups like never before. That’s probably a product of a new alley-to-alley approach, as a jump of nearly 10% more of his contact going up the middle.

Buxton seems to be the latest member of the Launch Angle Cabal, raising his fly ball rate nearly 20% over last year and 10% over his career norm. He’s on the other side of the spectrum, pretty much selling out to turn around fastballs and susceptible to breaking or slower offerings. And as you can see from the zone profile from what he’s doing with fastballs in his career vs. this year, he’s dead-set on lifting lower ones:

Either way, the Twins appear set up the middle for a long time to come. Good thing Hawk isn’t around anymore to have the Twins continually break his heart, even if it takes place outside now instead of in a garage.