Minnesota Twins Series Preview: June 8 to June 10

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With a much needed day off behind the Yankees, it’s time for a three game series against the Twins in Minnesota. The Bombers are 17-8 against non-divisional opponents this season (though most recently lost three straight to Detroit), so hopefully getting out of the AL East will be a welcome reprieve.

Their story so far

If you think the Yankees are having a disappointing season, just take a look at the Twins. They’re 24-35 and tied for last in the AL Central with the Tigers. It’s going to be pretty difficult for Minnesota to climb out of the cellar and into a playoff spot at this point. They’re 12 games out of first place and 9 games behind the pace for a Wild Card position. Things are pretty bleak.

The Twins have gone from AL Central favorite to having a very slim chance to make the playoffs in just a matter of two-plus months.

For what it’s worth, Minnesota is 1-5 in seven-inning games and 2-8 in extra innings, which has really driven down their record. Even so, a -35 run differential and a dreadful pitching staff (5.2 runs per game) doesn’t make for a playoff contender. Only the Diamondbacks, Reds, and Angels have allowed more runs per game than the Twins.

Kenta Maeda, who was terrific for the Twins last year and emerged as the team’s ace, has been terrible (5.27 ERA, 5.04 FIP). And now, he’s currently on the injured list. Free agent signings JA Happ (5.61 ERA) and Matt Shoemaker (7.28 ERA) have been disasters. At least José Berríos has been good and Michael Pineda has been fine, but sheesh. Perhaps betting on Happ and Shoemaker to anchor the back-end of the rotation was not a good idea, huh?

With a staff like this, the Twins only way to win games is to outhit the opponent. They’re 10th in the league in runs scored per game and own a 106 wRC+, which is good but not great. They are fourth in the majors with 83 homers, though. The team probably would have better offensive numbers if they didn’t have so many positional players on the injured list, as you’ll see next.

Injury Report

PlayerPositionInjuryStatusEstimated Return
Mitch GarverCGroin surgery10-day ILJuly
Luis ArráezINFStrained shoulder10-day ILLate June
Byron BuxtonCFStrained hip10-day ILNext week
Jake CaveOFStress reaction in back60-day ILJuly
Max KeplerOFStrained hamstring10-day ILThis week
Rob RefsnyderOFConcussion7-day ILTBD
Edwar ColinaRHPArthroscopic elbow surgery60-day ILLate August
Kenta MaedaRHPStrained groin10-day ILLate June
Shaun AndersonRHPBlisters10-day ILNext week
Devin SmeltzerLHPElbow inflammation10-day ILJuly
Caleb ThielbarLHPStrained groin10-day ILNext week

Spotlight: Rob Refsnyder

The Yankees may not see Refsnyder this series, but there’s no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to write about everyone’s favorite prospect in 2014. He’s bounced around since the Yankees traded him for Ryan McBroom in 2017, but it seems like he may have now found a home in Minnesota, small sample size be damned.

Before signing with the Twins on a minor league deal in November, Refsnyder had bounced around from Toronto, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Cincinnati, and Texas over the previous three seasons. He became something of an afterthought, especially in 2019 when Refsnyder didn’t appear in a single major league game for the first time since 2015. He resurfaced last year with the Rangers, but didn’t impress: he hit .200/.265/.233 (40 wRC+).

It didn’t seem like Refsnyder would be in the forefront of anyone’s mind this year either, but once Buxton, Cave, and Kepler got gurt, the Twins had to roll the dice with him in center field. That’s right, Refsnyder is playing center field for the Twins. And so far, so good offensively. The 30 year-old owns a .320/.364/.500 (138 wRC+) in 55 plate appearances.

This is the best stretch Refsnyder has had in the majors since he debuted with the Yankees in 2015. That year, he batted .302/.348/.512 (130 wRC+) in 47 plate appearances and started the Wild Card game. Then, the Yankees traded for Starlin Castro ahead of the 2016 season, blocking the position that Refsnyder had vied for. Hence the trade in 2017.

Back to 2021. We’re talking about an incredibly small sample size here, so by no means is he actually this good. Still, his xwOBA (.357) isn’t much lower than his actual wOBA (.370). However, DRC+ is skeptical at 91 (+/- 24). Advanced metrics aside, perhaps a better indicator of true improvement are the changes he made to his swing at the team’s Alternate Site in April, as covered by MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park.

At the very least, it sure seems like he’s resuscitated a career and perhaps could be a role player for the Twins or another team going forward. That’d be a nice outcome after struggling to establish himself at the big league level for the previous few seasons. Let’s just hope he comes back strong from the concussion he suffered in Baltimore.

Projected Lineup

  1. Jorge Polanco, 2B (.242/.314/.409, 101 wRC+) — Moved over to the keystone with the acquisition of Andrelton Simmons.
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B (.252/.353/.453, 124 wRC+) — Called out Gerrit Cole’s spin rates a few days ago and will have a chance to face him this series.
  3. Alex Kirillof, RF (.238/.277/.410, 88 wRC+) — Either the Twins’ first or second best prospect, depending on your publication of choice.
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH (.280/.355/.503, 135 wRC+) — Still doing it at 40 years young.
  5. Miguel Sanó, 1B (.161/.267/.409, 88 wRC+) — 11 homers but not much else.
  6. Trevor Larnach, LF (.247/.389/.438, 137 wRC+) — Another top outfield prospect in the organization.
  7. Andrelton Simmons, SS (.259/.339/.333, 94 wRC+) — 100th percentile in Outs Above Average.
  8. Ryan Jeffers, C (.200/.245/.380, 71 wRC+) — Hasn’t matched his production last season by a long shot (119 wRC+).
  9. Gilberto Celestino, CF (.000/.000/.000, -100 wRC+) — Just 12 plate appearances. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of him until now.

Bench

  • Ben Rortvedt, C (.147/.216/.235, 29 wRC+) — Team’s second-round pick in 2016.
  • Willians Astudillo, UTIL (.255/.265/.400, 82 WRC+) — Pitched three games this season too.
  • Nick Gordon, INF (.400/.429/.550, 175 wRC+) — 21 plate appearances. Son of former Yankee Tom Gordon.
  • Kyle Garlick, OF (.245/.294/.489, 114 wRC+) — Lefty masher has a 153 wRC+ against southpaws and 59 against righties.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 8:10pm eastern:

LHP Jordan Montgomery

Monty started the last game the Yankees won, June 2nd against the Rays. He went 6.1 innings, gave up three runs (one earned), and struck out six. He’s had a good year and enters this outing with a 3.92 ERA and 3.54 FIP. (Stats vs. Twins)

RHP Michael Pineda

Big Mike is one of two ex-Yanks who will face the current Bombers this series. Home runs allowed remain an issue (1.70 per nine innings), but he’s limited the damage nonetheless (3.40 ERA, 4.34 FIP). (Stats vs. Yankees)

Pineda.

Tomorrow, 8:10pm eastern:

RHP Gerrit Cole

Although he’s cooled off (4.30 ERA in last four starts), it’s really two bad outings and two good outings and not consistently poor performances. Everyone will be watching his spin rates in this one, that’s for sure. (Stats vs. Twins)

RHP Randy Dobnak

The righty was a revelation for Minnesota in 2019 and 2020, but has had a dreadful 2021 (6.19 ERA and 6.09 FIP). He’s pitched both in relief and in the rotation. This will be his fourth start of the season. (Stats vs. Yankees)

Dobnak.

Thursday, 8:10pm eastern:

TBD

The Yanks could go with Michael King on five days rest or Jameson Taillon on four days rest here. I’d bet on the former given how the team has handled the rotation, but we’ll see. There are a bunch of off days coming up anyway.

LHP JA Happ

Well well well, if it isn’t our old friend JA Happ. The veteran lefty was great in his first five starts for Minnesota (1.91 ERA), but has a 10.17 ERA in his previous five, including six homers allowed in 23 innings. (Stats vs. Yankees)

Happ.

Bullpen Status

PitcherMonday (off)SundaySaturdayFriday
Hansel Robles1510
Taylor Rogers (L)1312
Alex Colomé
Jorge Alcala107
Tyler Duffey147
Luke Farrell13
Griffin Jax
Bailey Ober51
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13 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    I wish I could remember the game, but there was a highlight of Refsnyder running into the wall at full speed chasing after a HR earlier this year. He had no idea the wall was coming. I guess he didn’t notice the warning track.

  2. dasit

    don’t forget about (currently injured) old friend jake cave, who has become a serviceable fourth outfielder for the twins. hopefully luis gil will make this trade look like a win for both teams

    • MikeD

      .198 .265 .335 with a 69 OPS+ the last two seasons. 44 OPS+ here in 2021. Sadly, he’d fit in perfectly with the current Yankees!. Guys like Cave are always available so I’ll hope on the upside of Gil.

      • dasit

        he was above league-average in 2018-2019 but yeah not much production since. i can’t help rooting for ex-yankee prospects (solak, kaprielian, mateo etc)

  3. Esteddardban Florial

    The Yankees have traditionally beat up on the Twins, Derek, but this isn’t your father’s Yankees. It’s a bad bad club with no leadership. Just as Ji Man Choi, Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Ottavino came back to hanut us Ref, Pineda and Happ will be more of the same. I could see maybe winning the Cole start, though Donaldson brought up a good point that he can no longer doctor the ball and that’s why he’s struggling. I see us winning 1/3 and falling further into the abyss.

  4. The Original Drew

    JA seems to be the prescription for the Yankees offensive woas. Hopefully beating up on a downtrodden Twins can help jump start the team.

    It sounded silly as a I was typing it out, but this team is desperate for any kind progress. I will take whatever I can get at this point.

    • Bubba Crosby's Left Cleat

      I think it’s a little too easy to just constantly declare each upcoming series “must win,” but this does seem to be the biggest test for whether the Yankees are in a slump, or just not that good.

      If you can’t beat up on a team that has awful pitching and is mired in its own disappointing slump then you’re probably not one of the AL’s contenders. Regardless of projections for your offense, it’s just not going to happen if you can’t get it going against the Twins.

      Toronto is probably going to cool off now that they’re out of Dunedin (Vlad Jr. has a 1.400 OPS at home and an .802 on the road) so this stretch of games is really the Yankees best chance to jump right back in the race.

      • Jersey Jerry

        Isn’t Buffalo a hitter’s park too? It could be that Vlad is the real deal.

        • Bubba Crosby's Left Cleat

          I think Vlad is the “real deal,” but I suspect he’s much closer to an .800 OPS hitter in this run environment than a 1.400 OPS hitter. Anyway they should be back in Toronto at some point this year. The entire Jays team has almost a .150 better OPS at home. They’re not “fake” but they’re also not quite as “real” as they’ve looked.

          • MikeD

            True, but maybe there pitching will then be better.

            Vlad is for real, but not 1.400 real. Buffalo did increase offensive production by about 50% last season, IIRC, leading all the majors. They’ve made some changes to the park, so maybe it won’t be as offensive, but I’m sure it will still boost offense. It remains a small minor league park, but bigger than Dunedin.

    • I thought the same thing about the Detroit series…….

    • MikeD

      Maybe. JA used to give the Yankees fits before he was traded to them. That was a different Yankee team (and probably better!), but this is a different Happ too. My attitude at the moment is to assume underperformance by the Yankees. A Twins sweep?

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