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Red Sox vs. Twins Series Preview

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A look at this week’s three-game set against the Twins.

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Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins Game 2 Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

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Twinkie Town

The opponent in one sentence

The Twins came into this season expecting to be among the best teams in the American League, but instead find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Record

54-70

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 3, Twins 1

Trend

Down. The Twins actually were playing solid baseball after the trade deadline despite trading off a could of their best players, but they’ve hit a snag more recently. They lost all three games against the Yankees this past weekend and have lost four of their last five overall.

Pitching Matchups

8/24: Tanner Houck vs. Griffin Jax, 7:10 PM ET

Tanner Houck continues to be yanked back and forth between Worcester and Boston (on paper, not physically for the most part) between starts, but with the lack of doubleheaders and days off on the horizon he should be up for good this time around. The righty starts the series opener for this three-game set, and the only complaint that could be had about him right now is how deep he goes into games. And even that is more about management’s preference than anything he’s doing. Since more or less joining the rotation he has made five starts, pitching to a 2.95 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only five walks over 21 13 innings.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Jax is a former third round pick by the Twins who is up in the majors for the first time in his career. After starting his career in a long relief role, he’s been in the rotation since early July and has made six starts, pitching to a solid 4.02 ERA as a starter. The key for Jax is going to be command, as he’s never really been the type to rack up a lot of strikeouts. In the minors, however, he excelled at limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. That said hasn’t really worked out this year, both in the majors and at Triple-A. If he’s not hitting his spots early, the Red Sox should be able to get some momentum in this game. Jax will offer a fastball that sits around 92 mph, along with a slider, changeup, and the occasional curveball.

8/25: Nick Pivetta vs. Bailey Ober, 7:10 PM ET

Pivetta is a classic number five starter, which works out well because that is where he ranks in this rotation in terms of expectations. We’ve seen some great starts from him this month, and then we’ve seen starts like his last time out when he couldn’t make it out of the second inning. For the most part this season, bad starts from the righty have been a product of giving up too much hard contact, but it was an inability to find the zone that really did him in against the Yankees last time out. Against a Twins team at the bottom of their division, this should be a chance for Pivetta to trust his stuff and throw strikes.

Ober will make it a second rookie in as many days going up against the Red Sox, though he’s been in the rotation on a full-time basis about month longer than Jax. Ober is another righty, though the commanalities end there. While Jax relies on command, Ober misses a ton of bats, striking out double-digit batters per nine innings on a consistent basis in the minors. In the bigs this year, he has 65 strikeouts in 63 23 innings, helping him to a 4.38 ERA. His control is really solid, especially when paired with his stuff, as well, but he’s had some homer issues. Ober has been really strong over his last five starts, pitching to a 2.81 ERA with 24 strikeouts over 25 23 innings. The righty will feature a fastball that sits around 92 mph to go with a slider, changeup and curveball.

8/26: Chris Sale vs. John Gant, 7:10 PM ET

It’s another Sale Day on Thursday, continuing his easing into the return. Granted, a big part of his easy competition — each of his first three starts will have come against non-contenders — goes back to the Red Sox simply hitting a soft spot on their schedule at the same time he returned. Still, it’s been nice to see him back and he’ll be back again for this one. We’ll be keeping an eye on his velocity here, though his stuff has been effective in his first two starts anyway. Sale has 13 strikeouts over 10 innings to start off his 2021 season.

The Red Sox don’t have a rookie on the mound to face for the series finale, but Gant did just join the Twins rotation. The righty was sent to Minnesota from the Cardinals at the deadline, and had been pitching solidly by results for St. Louis in a swingman role despite less appealing peripherals. Since getting to Minnesota, the peripherals look better but his ERA is 6.00, because baseball makes no sense. He’s mostly pitched as a reliever in his career, and even as a starter he won’t be expected to go all that deep into the game. Gant features a pair of low-90s fastballs along with a changeup, cutter, slider, and the occasional curveball.

Old Friends

None.

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Notable Position Players

Josh Donaldson is still the biggest name on this roster, but his production doesn’t match the name value at this point. He’s still a good hitter, but he’s no longer elite as he’s struggling to turn batted balls into hits and his power is simply very good rather than elite.

Jorge Polanco is the best player currently playing for the Twins. Playing up the middle, he makes a lot of contact, walks at roughly an average rate, and hits for good power atop this Twins lineup.

Max Kepler got some trade interest this summer but ultimately was kept in Minnesota. He’s been a league-average hitter this year, largely due to a low BABIP that is canceling out his power, patience, and league-average strikeout rate.

Luis Arraez is a throwback kind of player, not providing much power but making a ton of contact and drawing walks to keep that OBP up approaching .400.

Mitch Garver has quietly broken out for the second time in three years, again tapping into big power and thriving as a three-true-outcome catcher.

Brent Rooker had been starting regularly before being sat for basically all of last weekend. It’s not really clear what they’re doing here, but the offense hasn’t been much to write home about anyway.

Miguel Sanó is going to strike out a ton, but he is another three-true-outcome hitter whose overall output has come in above-average.

Andrelton Simmons is still a great fielder, though not where he was in his prime, but his offense has totally cratered and he’s been among the worst regular hitters in the league this year.

Jake Cave hasn’t played quite as much as Simmons, but he’s been about as bad at the plate when he has played.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Twins bullpen has been one of the worst in all of baseball this year, as they lack a truly elite arm at the back of the group. Alex Colomé was a potential Red Sox target last winter, but he’s been bad this year with poor command and lackluster stuff. The lackluster stuff has been a theme in this bullpen, with their top arms not really posting strikeout rates you expect from late-inning relievers in today’s game. Of late, lefty Caleb Thielbar has been their best option in relief.

Injuries

The Twins have had some big injuries this year, most notably to Byron Buxton. The best player on Earth for the early part of the season, but he’s only been able to play 27 games this year. More recently, they lost key starting pitchers in Michael Pineda and Kenta Maeda along with former first round pick and outfielder Alex Kirilloff. They’re also without one of their key relievers in Taylor Rogers along with another starter in Lewis Thorpe.

Weather Forecast

There shouldn’t be any worries whatsoever for this series weather-wise, with all three days looking warm, sunny, and clear.


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.