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Red Sox vs. Twins series preview

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Previewing the weekend series in Minnesota

David Ortiz

SB Nation Blog

Twinkie Town

The opponent in one sentence

The Twins are probably still a couple years away from really doing damage, but with excitement on offense and solid contributors on the hill there is a real chance they can surprise people in 2017.

Record

14-12

Trend

Up. The Twins have won six of their last eight in a run that included three consecutive series wins. They’ve done so by winning both close games and blowouts in this run, and have gotten contributions from both their pitching staff and their lineup. The wins came against the Rangers, Royals and A’s.

Pitching Matchups

5/5: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Phil Hughes, 8:10 PM ET

Rodriguez is coming off an outstanding start against the Cubs, an outing that has put him on track to make the leap in 2017. The big thing to watch with him on Friday night, as always, will be his secondaries. His changeup has been otherworldly early on this season, and if that keeps up he’ll be great once again. It would also help if the southpaw gained a little more confidence in his slider as the year goes on.

Hughes, a former exciting young pitcher for the Yankees, had one really good year in Minnesota and turned it into an extension that was ill-advised for the Twins, to say the least. The righty is an extreme fly ball pitcher who pounds the strike zone and doesn’t have big-time strikeout stuff. That is, of course, a dangerous combination and leads to a ton of home runs. Through his first five starts Hughes has a 5.06 ERA, a 4.16 FIP and a 6.31 DRA.

5/6: Rick Porcello vs. Nick Tepesch, 2:10 PM ET

Porcello didn’t get the win his last time out, but he certainly deserved it. While he hasn’t been close to the same guy he was in 2016, Monday’s outing against the Orioles was as close as he’s come. He struck out seven without walking a batter in six innings and allowed just two runs. As long as he keeps pitching like that, the wins will come.

Tepesch is a 28-year-old who was a depth starter for the Rangers a few years back before missing all of 2015. That missed time set his career back, and he spent the majority of last season in the Dodgers’ minor-league system before making one start. This past winter, he signed a minor-league deal with the Twins and has made three starts with their Triple-A affiliate. He has a 2.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts and 4 walks in 18 innings of work. This will be his first major-league appearance of the 2017 season. You can expect a pitch-to-contact type of style from Tepesch, which fits the mold the Twins have fashioned for themselves over the last decade or so.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

5/7: Chris Sale vs. Ervin Santana, 2:10 PM ET

Sunday is Sale Day. Mark your calendars. As always happens in these series previews that include a Sale start, I don’t know what to say. Dude is amazing, and cancel any Sunday plans you may have.

Santana has easily been Minnesota’s best pitcher this year, making this far-and-away the best pitching matchup of the weekend. Through his first six starts, he has an absurd 0.66 ERA. That’s backed up by impressive peripherals, too, as he boasts a 2.90 FIP and a 1.87 DRA. The biggest key has been an ability to induce weak contact, as he’s allowed just two home runs this year and opponents have a .141 batting average on balls in play. A significant amount of that is luck, to be sure, but even at his true-talent level Santana is a tough pitcher to face.

Old Friends

The lone player on the active roster that we are familiar with here in Boston is Craig Breslow. The lefty spent a few years with the Red Sox starting midway through the 2012. His time in Boston came to a close at the end of the 2015 season. That, of course, means he won a ring with the team in 2013, and he was a key part of that bullpen. Those days are long gone, sadly. He had a rough year in Miami last season, and while the results have been good early in 2017 the 36-year-old’s stuff clearly isn’t where it once was.

The Twins also boast Justin Haley, who never made a major-league appearance with the Red Sox but steadily made his way through the system in recent years. The Twins picked him up in the Rule 5 draft this winter and opted to keep him out of spring training. He’s currently on the disabled list, but he spent much of April in the major-league bullpen. Haley’s 4.15 ERA in 13 innings doesn’t look great, but he has pitched to a solid 3.62 DRA. At best, he’s probably a back-end starter, but the Red Sox sure could use a guy like that right now.

Notable Hitters

The most fearsome hitter in the Twins lineup is easily Miguel Sano, who has torn the cover off the ball to start the season. Through his first 111 plate appearances, he is hitting .300/.432/.656 with eight home runs. The 23-year-old has monstrous power and has the potential to win games all by himself at the plate. The one thing to watch for is his propensity to strikeouts. Sano has been set down 35 percent of the time to start the year.

Brian Dozier was considered the team’s best hitter coming into the year after his 42 home run season in 2016. He hasn’t been quite the same guy this year, but he’s still been a solid overall hitter at second base who has shown strong plate discipline and flashes of the power he showed off last season.

Max Kepler is a big German outfielder who is building off what was a solid rookie year in 2016. Like Dozier, he’s been the beneficiary of good plate discipline and has shown flashes of power.

Joe Mauer is the long-time face of the Twins, but he’s not the hitter he once was. He’s had a really tough start to this season, hitting just .230/.295/.310.

Byron Buxton was once the best prospect in all of baseball and looked like a future five-tool player. He is still only 23 years old, but pitchers have just taken full advantage of him at the plate over his short career. He strikes out over 36 percent of the time and hasn’t had any power this season. The potential is certainly still there, and the defense is center field is fantastic, but it’s hard to be afraid of him at the plate.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Twins have gotten solid production from their bullpen this year, but there aren’t a lot of scary individual pitchers. Brandon Kintzler is their closer, and he’s not your prototypical back-end arm. He’s never been able to strike batters out, and this year he’s lost his ability to induce ground balls. He does have a 1.46 ERA to start the year, but the Red Sox certainly have the talent to score off him in a close game.

Matt Belisle has emerged as their primary set-up man thanks to a big increase in strikeouts. He’s also been walking many more batters this season.

Michael Tonkin and Ryan Pressly are probably the most talented right-handed arms in their bullpen, but both have had major home run issues to start this season.

Taylor Rogers is their go-to arm from the left side, and has shown real skill in his one-plus year in the majors. He can get strikeouts at a respectable rate and induces ground balls over 50 percent of the time.

Injuries

The Twins have a lot of injuries, but none are too major. I already mentioned Haley, and joining him among Twins relievers are Glen Perkins, Trevor May and Ryan O’Rourke. Perkins is their former closer who spent four years as one of the game’s premier relievers before struggling in 2015 and missing almost all of last year with injury. He’s yet to pitch this year.

May was quietly one of the scariest relievers in the game last year after never living up to his promise as a starter. The Twins were ready to let him compete for a rotation spot heading into this season before he underwent Tommy John surgery right before Opening Day.

O’Rourke also underwent Tommy John around the same time. He doesn’t possess May’s ceiling, but he’d developed into a solid left-handed reliever who could’ve served a significant role on the major-league roster.

Their only injury for position players is to Ehire Adrianza, a lackluster utility man who has spent his career with the Giants before being claimed off waivers by the Twins in January. He went down before the season started.

Weather Forecast

It is shaping up to be a nicer weekend in Minneapolis than it’s expected to be back home. They should have clear skies for all three games and each should be played in mid-60’s degree weather.