Minnesota at Toronto, June 3-5

Friday, June 03 2022 @ 12:45 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in the human machine
We're the future
Your future

God save the Queen! It is Jubilee Weekend, after all, and I promise that none of us are going to see the next platinum jubilee. And then say hello to the first-place Minnesota Twins. Hey, didn't these guys suck just last year?

They surely did. What might have changed?

Well, their pitching last year was pretty dreadful. They allowed 5.15 runs per game. Only the Orioles allowed more and we're still not sure that the 2021 Orioles qualify as a major league team at all. Last year's Twins had two good starting pitchers, neither of whom are still with the team. They traded Jose Berrios for a couple of prospects. You're probably aware of that. Then this winter they looked on, with sadness in their hearts no doubt, as Michael Pineda signed with Detroit as a free agent.

But this year, we look at the Twins pitching staff and what do we see? Two good starting pitchers. Two really good starting pitchers, mind you, both of whom the Twins acquired via trade - one at last year's deadline, the other this spring. Joe Ryan came over in the trade with Tampa Bay for Nelson Cruz just before the deadline last July. Ryan got his feet wet last September (2-1, 4.05 in five starts, with a very nifty 30-5 K/W ratio in 26.2 IP). He's continued being very good in his first full season. The other very good starter is Sonny Gray, acquired by the Twins in a trade with Cincinnati once training camps opened  this March (in exchange for Chase Petty, a RH pitcher who was the Twin's first choice, 26th overall, in the 2021 draft.) You see, Gray's contract calls for him to earn more than the minimum wage which obviously made him a luxury the Reds could not afford (tanking, after all, is generally done On The Cheap.) Gray of course has been a quality major league starter pitcher for years and years (85-73, 3.58 ERA+ of 117) and has been especially good so far this season.

 The rest of the rotation - Dylan Bundy, Bailey Ober, Chris Archer - has been pretty mediocre. No one's been terrible, or even bad - but no one's actually been all that good either. And as it happens, the Jays are not going to see either Ryan or Gray this weekend. Gray is having an issue with his right pectoral and just went on the IL. Ryan has been on the COVID list. Tonight's starter is Chi-Chi Gonzalez, just summoned from AAA St.Paul. He pitched previously for Colorado and Texas and has faced the Blue Jays once in his career - way back in June 2015 he lost 3-2 to Drew Hutchison. On Sunday the Twins will be running Devin Smeltzer to the hill, a 26 year old LH with a flashy 2-0, 1.50 mark in his four starts, despite striking out... well, basically nobody. Some cranky veteran catcher in the minor leagues may have told him that strikeouts were fascist. And so Smeltzer has fanned just 12 hitters in 24 innings, which is just about impossible in today's game. I suspect there are position players who could match that if they took to the mound. But Smeltzer doesn't  walk anybody either, and he hasn't allowed a HR yet in 2022. It's been working for him, but it's hard not to think that there's a trick being done with mirrors.

The front end of the bullpen - closer Emilio Pagan, old Joe Smith, and young Jhoan Duran - has been outstanding. There just isn't a whole lot behind that trio.

On the other side of the ball, the Twins are somewhat improved from last season. They were a little below average, but generally middle-of-the-pack a year ago. So far this season, they've been a little above average, but generally middle-of-the-pack. Alas for them, Joe Ryan is not the only key player on the COVID list - he's been joined by shortstop Carlos Correa, whose resume we're all quite familiar with. Royce Lewis filled in for Correa earlier this season, but now Lewis is out with a bruised knee after colliding with the centre field fence in Kansas City. Maybe that's just what you get when you ask a shortstop to play centre field. So Jermaine Palacios is up from AAA to fill in at short.

But Byron Buxton is not on the IL, and has actually made it on to the field for 37 of 53 games so far. That's very impressive for Buxton, who would probably hurt himself playing fantasy baseball. He's only hitting .207, but... baby steps, you know? The Twins' most productive hitters in 2022 have been RF Max Kepler - he's really just a decent player who happens to be off to a good start - and "first baseman" Luis Arraez. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli surely gets marks for originality or courage or something in trying Arraez at first base. Prior to this season, he had played exactly one professional game at first base. That was with the Dominican Summer League Twins way back in 2014, when he was 17 years old. You see, they don't usually put guys who are 5-10 at first base, unless they throw like Steve Garvey and you can't put them anywhere else. But Miguel Sano, the regular at the start of the year, hit .093 before undergoing knee surgery and this was Baldelli's solution. Arraez doesn't have the power most teams expect from a first-baseman - he has struck but one, singular, home run this season. Not much more should be expected of him, either - he now has a total of 7 homers in his MLB career, which runs to almost 300 games and more than 1,000 ABs. But the little fellow can definitely hit - he's a lifetime .317 hitter and 2021 is the only time he's fallen below .300 in the majors (and .294 is pretty damn close - three grounders find a hole, and he's there.) He also takes his share of walks - his lifetime OBP is .382. And so far in 2022, he's doing even more of both of those helpful things - he's batting .340 and he's taken enough walks to post the second-best OBP (.429) in the league.

Go figure.


Fri 3 June - Gonzalez (---,-.--) vs Kikuchi (2-1, 3.48)
Sat 4 June - Bundy (3-2, 4.76) vs Berrios (3-2, 5.62)
Sun 5 June - Smeltzer (2-0, 1.50) vs Gausman (5-3, 2.51)