SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
Led by two of the best position players in baseball in Byron Buxton and surprise free agent addition Carlos Correa, the Twins are aiming to contend again after a dismal 2021.
Head-to-head record (2021)
4/15: Nick Pivetta vs. Joe Ryan, 2:10 p.m. EST (NESN)
Like most of the Red Sox’s starters during the first run through the rotation, Nick Pivetta wasn’t especially sharp in his season debut against the Yankees last weekend. He did pitch fairly deep into the game for an early April start (5 2⁄3 innings), but he also allowed two home runs and walked three batters while allowing four total earned runs. Miscast as the Red Sox’s No. 2 starter until Chris Sale returns or Tanner Houck really breaks out, Pivetta’s velocity was a bit down in that opening start, so maybe he’s still getting tuned up after a short spring training, but the walk issues have always plagued him, even during his largely solid 2021 season.
Joe Ryan is among the Twins’ best prospects, so he hasn’t reached full-blown ace status yet, but that didn’t stop manager Rocco Baldelli from giving the 25-year-old right-hander the start on Opening Day against Seattle. Ryan, who is best known for his fastball and slider, was OK in that first start. He struck out four batters in as many innings, but he also walked a quartet of Mariners and gave up a long ball. It was a step backward from Ryan’s brief but promising audition in 2021 when he struck out 30 percent of the batters he faced while walking only five percent in 26 2/3 innings.
4/16: Tanner Houck vs. Sonny Gray, 4:10 p.m. EST (NESN)
Houck’s path to a major breakout and the solidification of his spot in the Red Sox’s rotation got off to a bumpy start on Sunday night against the Yankees. Although the 25-year-old right-hander made some good pitches, including an air-bending slider to strike out Josh Donaldson looking for the first out of the bottom of the first inning, Houck’s command faltered and he exited midway through the fourth inning after allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out three batters. Houck consistently hit the mid-90s with his fastball on the radar gun and it’s just one start, but the Red Sox need much more from him. Many would argue that they should expect more as well. Houck has flashed some incredible stuff in his short time in the majors, including three brilliant albeit brief starts in 2020 and a 2021 season in which he logged 69 innings across 18 appearances (13 starts) while posting a 3.52 ERA, 2.58 FIP and a 30.5 percent strikeout rate.
The Twins have taken a throw-anything-and-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to improving a pitching staff that could hold them back from contention. One of the biggest splashes of that strategy was trading for Sonny Gray right after the lockout ended. Gray, who began his career in Oakland looking like he was on track to be a certified ace, has been a solid big-league pitcher for quite some time, although I’m not sure he’s the type of pitcher who can sit at the very top of a rotation. Still, with more-than-solid career marks in ERA (3.61), FIP (3.70), ERA- (87) and FIP- (88), he was a good addition to a staff that needed effective arms. Gray didn’t quite live up to that billing in his first start as a Twin, heading for the showers after 4 2⁄3 innings of two-run ball against the Mariners on April 9.
4/17: Michael Wacha vs. Bailey Ober, 1:35 p.m. EST (NESN and MLB Network for out-of-market viewers)
The Red Sox aren’t too far off from the Twins in terms of their rotation construction strategy, except they opted to buy a few lottery tickets rather than sign bigger names or swing trades. Michael Wacha was one of those fliers. A right-handed starter in his age-30 season, Wacha has been a below average starter based on ERA- for three-straight seasons and even during the 2021 campaign in Tampa Bay, he pitched to a 5.05 ERA across 124 2⁄3 innings. If the Rays couldn’t work their magic on him, I’m not sure anyone can. However, the Red Sox saw enough in Wacha (maybe his 3.91 xFIP last season) to give him a shot in the rotation.
After a rocky opening to his first start with the Red Sox earlier this week, Wacha settled in a bit before eventually running out of gas in the fifth inning. He definitely had his hiccups (three walks allowed), but he also avoided too much hard contact and struck out four batters while allowing just one earned run in 4 1/3 innings. In many ways, it was one of the better starts by a Red Sox pitcher through the first spin of the rotation.
Bailey Ober tossed 92 1/3 innings of relatively solid baseball in his first taste of MLB action in 2021, earning him a spot in the Twins’ rotation, at least to start the year. The 26-year-old right-hander doesn’t have overwhelming velocity, but he did have pretty impressive strikeout rates in the minors and a tendency to avoid free passes. He was so-so in his first start this season, allowing four earned runs on four hits (including a home run) and two walks while striking out four batters against Seattle last Sunday.
4/18: Rich Hill vs. Dylan Bundy, 11:10 a.m. EST (NESN and MLB Network for out-of-market viewers)
This year’s Patriots’ Day start belongs to the ageless Rich Hill. The journeyman southpaw with the dynamite curveball is in his third stint with the Red Sox, having pitched with them from 2010 to 2012 and then again in 2015 when his career found new life. From that 2015 season to today, Hill has pitched in 668 innings with a 3.17 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 128 ERA+. Even last year with the Rays and Mets, he combined to appear in 32 games (31 starts) across 158 2/3 innings (the second-most of his career) while posting a 3.86 ERA and 4.34 FIP. At some point, the wheels will fall off for Hill, but he seems to still have enough to be a serviceable starter at the very least. That’s what he looked like on Tuesday against Detroit, surrendering three earned runs on five hits while walking only one and striking out four before exiting in the fifth inning.
Dylan Bundy is pretty well known to the Red Sox since he spent the first four full years of his career with the Baltimore Orioles (not counting a two-game cup of coffee in 2012), surpassing 100 innings pitched every year from 2016 to 2019. Bundy, who has a career 5.58 ERA in 88 2/3 innings against Boston, is trying to regroup from an ineffective 2021 with the Los Angeles Angels when his ERA ballooned past 6.00 and he walked more than three batters per nine innings. So far so good for the 29-year-old right-hander, who threw five shutout innings against Seattle last Monday while walking just one batter.
None at the MLB level.
Starting Position Players
Buxton might be the best center fielder in baseball not named Mike Trout and he his absolutely crushing the ball to start this season. Don’t let his .217 batting average fool you, as Buxton is slugging .696 with a barrel rate in the 100th percentile in baseball so far in 2022. Buxton got off to a similarly hot start in 2021 before injuries robbed him of a full campaign, something that has often kept him from reaching the stratosphere in terms of production, but maybe this is the year.
Correa was considered the top free agent this past offseason and for good reason. The former Astros shortstop is a strong hitter and a great fielder at the most important infield position. At the plate, Correa can hit for power, but he also has a keen eye and even cut his strikeout rate down by more than four percent last season. He has been more strikeout prone in the early going this year and has slashed .211/.250/.474, but it’s only been through 20 plate appearances.
Jorge Polanco is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The former shortstop who has moved over to second with Correa on the field smashed a career-best 33 home runs last season and was 22 percent better than league average at the plate.
Luis Arráez doesn’t provide a ton of power, but he rarely strikes out and regularly hits above .300. Last year was his first season of more than 100 games, but he’s been at the MLB level (and with Minnesota) since 2019.
Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela are a pair of former Yankees who came over to Minnesota in a trade that sent Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to New York. Sánchez is a catcher who can still slug homers and Urshela is an infielder, mostly playing third base for the Twins, who posted back-to-back 130 wRC+ seasons as recently as 2019 and 2020.
Miguel Sanó provides more right-handed power for the lineup and the ability to play either corner infield spot, although he is best suited for first base or DH duties.
Max Kepler can play all over the outfield and is adept at drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts. He even has some 30 home run power in him, although his bat-to-ball work has drastically regressed since his 36 home run outburst in 2019.
With outfielder Alex Kirilloff recently sidelined with wrist inflammation, some combination of Trevor Larnach, Nick Gordon and Gilberto Celestino will likely get some starting time this weekend.
The Twins didn’t completely overhaul their bullpen for 2022, but they did add Joe Smith and Emilio Pagán into the fold. Smith, a 38-year-old right-hander who doesn’t usually strike out many batters, has appeared in three games and logged 2 1/3 innings without allowing a run, while Pagán, who struggled in San Diego for two years after a breakout in 2019 with Tampa Bay, has pitched in two innings so far, allowing a single run. Even with those two on board, however, the reliever corps remains a potential weakness for the Twins.
In terms of holdovers, Danny Coulombe has been one of the most utilized relievers on the roster so far, pitching 3 1/3 innings and appearing in three games. Like Smith, he’s also yet to allow a run. Meanwhile, promising prospect Jhoan Duran (3 innings, no runs allowed), Tyler Duffey (two innings, two runs allowed) and Caleb Thielbar (2 1/3 innings, three runs allowed) are some of the other more utilized arms on the roster, with a true pecking order largely unclear, at least from the outside.
The Twins have multiple pitchers on the injured list, including Kenta Maeda, who started in 21 games for them a year ago. Unfortunately, he will miss most of this season after Tommy John surgery. Other hurlers on the shelf include Randy Dobnak (strained finger), Jorge Alcala (elbow inflammation) and Cody Stashak (strained biceps). On the position player side, outfielder Alex Kirilloff is sidelined with wrist inflammation.
The weather should be generally good this weekend at Fenway Park, with a mix of sun and clouds and temperatures ranging from the low 50s to the high 60s.