Hey all, I'm thinking of doing one of these for each series for the rest of the summer. Let me know if you like them, and I'll keep posting them, hopefully sooner before the beginning of the series than with this one. Here's a preview of the Twins as the Bucs prepare for a two-game set at PNC Park.
OFFENSE: .260/.313/.384. 3.0 fWAR, 11th in American League. Second baseman Brian Dozier is one of the best players a significant percentage of baseball fans probably haven't heard of -- he's leading Twins position players in fWAR for the second straight year and batting .264/.347/.486. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe quietly posted 3.6 fWAR last year and is off to a good start this season. He's improved markedly since his first couple years in the league, when you might have thought of him as a first-round bust. An undead Torii Hunter is somehow having a strong season.
On the other side of the ledger, Joe Mauer has morphed into a no-power first baseman who reaches base but doesn't do much else. Eduardo Escobar, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia have been awful, and Jordan Schafer has been even worse. Vargas has been demoted, and Arcia and Schafer are both currently on the disabled list, which I suppose is good for the Twins, although now they have Aaron Hicks in center, who isn't a sure bet to be better. Hicks is kind of the Twins equivalent of Jose Tabata, a former top prospect who has disappointed everyone but who's getting another shot after a good performance at Triple-A. Center field in particular is a huge hole for the Twins. If by some miracle the Twins can continue to contend this season, and if Hicks doesn't work out, trading to get Carlos Gomez back might be a bold move.
PITCHING: 4.25 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 4.59 xFIP, 1.9 fWAR. 13th in American League. The Twins easily rank last in the AL in K/9 (5.49) and generate the third-fewest ground balls (42.5 percent). They get by on control (2.57 BB/9, third in the AL). The Bucs will miss the Twins' two best starters, Phil Hughes and Trevor May (neither of whom have impressive ERAs, but we're going to mostly ignore a stat as fickle as ERA and focus on peripherals, particularly at this early point in the season), and will instead face Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey. The former has had a disastrous year, and the latter has struck out just 17 batters in 39 innings, although he's at least gotten ground balls. Ervin Santana, who's serving an 80-game PED suspension, would have been a significant boost to the Twins rotation.
Closer Glen Perkins has yet to walk a batter this season and has generally been outstanding, and righty Ryan Pressly has quietly pitched well. But the rest of the bullpen doesn't appear to be much good. The key for the Pirates will be to get their offense in before the ninth inning. In theory, that shouldn't be difficult. (In practice, who knows.)
OUTLOOK: Not a good team. The Twins are currently 21-17, and they're just three games back in the AL Central, but that isn't a good measure of their talent -- Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Standings thinks they've played like a .441 team so far. Despite the presence of somegood ballplayers, like Dozier, Hughes and Perkins, the Twins don't appear to have enough talent to contend, and their pitchers' lack of strikeouts in particular is a huge problem (especially since they aren't compensating for that deficiency with something else, like the Pirates' organization-wide emphasis on grounders). The Twins do have a ton of minor-league talent, although that won't help them here, and many of their top prospects (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer) haven't had great seasons so far.