There has been no bigger MLB surprise story this season than the Minnesota Twins. A year ago, the Twins 59-103 mark was the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
Entering this weekend, Minnesota has fashioned a 34-29 record. The Twins have sat atop the AL Central Division standings now for more than a month.
Trying to chase them down are the defending division and American League champions. At 32-31, the Cleveland Indians have been in either first or second place for nearly two months.
Target Field in Minneapolis will be the site of a big four-game divisional spotlight series between the two rivals. They have met a half-dozen times already this season, with the Tribe coming out on top in four of the six games. The all-time series is also tight between the clubs, with Cleveland holding a 324-298 edge.
The Indians swept a series in the Twin Cities back in mid-April, outscoring the hosts by a 20-7 margin. But Terry Francona‘s squad comes in cold, having dropped eight of their last 13 contests.
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor‘s Twins are in the midst of an 11-game home stand. They come into the showdown having won five of eight.
A key player that the Indians need to get going is my preseason AL MVP pick, shortstop Francisco Lindor. The talented 23-year old is hitting for just a .257/.319/.486 slash line thus far in 2017.
With a dozen homers and 27 RBI, his power production is up. But Lindor has stolen just three bags, and his overall performance has been inconsistent.
WEEKEND PITCHING MATCHUPS
The pitching matchups are as follows, and include a Saturday doubleheader:
The Indians stormed to the division crown a year ago. Then they went 7-1 against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to move into the World Series for the first time in nearly two decades. They were finally bested in the Fall Classic in a dramatic seventh game by the Chicago Cubs.
But this year, both the Tribe and the Cubbies seem to be fighting a bit of a World Series hangover. Each were expected to finish on top of their respective divisions once again. But each are struggling a bit, finding unexpected challenges.
Not much at all was expected of the Twins. Earlier this week, Minnesota enjoyed a bit of a consolation prize for last year’s basement finish. The Twins chose first overall in the MLB Amateur Draft, selecting SoCal area prep shortstop Royce Lewis with the pick.
While that pick was exciting for the future of the organization, the present becomes the focus now. For the first time in seven years the Twins are in contention. Fans in the Twin Cities and all around baseball are curious to see if they can maintain that status. This weekend may go a long way towards deciding the situation.
Neither of these teams can be described as an offensive juggernaut to this point. The Twins 304 runs scored has them at 15th in MLB. The Indians 287 leave them at 22nd in baseball.
Minnesota’s offense has been more potent to date. Not just in the runs scored category, but their team .765 OPS mark is eight in the game. The Indians .746 mark is just 16th in Major League Baseball to this point.
On the mound, the Tribe staff holds the advantage. Their combined .248 Batting Average Against is the 10th best mark in baseball. The Twins cumulative .260 BAA is just 22nd in MLB.
Both starting rotations have produced 27 Quality Starts, tied for 17th in the game. But the Tribe staff has seven Shutouts, best in all of Major League Baseball.
One thing that the Twins do have going for them where the pitching matchups are concerned in the is particular series? They miss Indians ace Corey Kluber, who just made his second start after being activated from the Disabled List.
“We’ve been inconsistent in a lot of areas,” Francona said per a Fox Sports report on the series. “There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, but we need to get going.”