The fact that the Minnesota Twins (7-2) bring the American League’s best record into this week’s four-game home-and-home series with the Pirates (2-7) should come as no surprise to anyone.
The Twins, who host the punchless (.177 batting average) Pirates tonight and Tuesday afternoon at Target Field and then travel to PNC Park for games Wednesday and Thursday – COVID-19 permitting — won last year’s AL Central title and finished with 101 wins. That was third best in the league behind the AL champion Astros (107 wins) and the AL East king Yankees (103). Ultimately, the Twins were eliminated from postseason play by the Yankees, who swept their divisional series in three games.
Minnesota became the top home run-hitting team in MLB history a year ago, smashing 307 round-trippers. Seventeen different players got in the longball act, led by Nelson Cruz with 41 bombs. Four other players finished with at least 30 homers in Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31). Altogether, the Twins had eight players who struck at least 20 home runs.
Pirates fans might remember the great Sano Saga, which played out in the fall of 2009 when the Dominican prospect was being courted hard by Pittsburgh. The Pirates reportedly offered Sano – then a shortstop – somewhere between $2 million and $2.6 million, but ultimately the Twins secured his services with a reported $3.15 million signing bonus.
In the early going this year, Sano has struggled mightily, as he is hitting just .135 with two home runs and two RBIs heading into tonight’s game. Kepler is off to a slow start as well, as he’s hitting just .212 with four RBIs, but he did have two hits and scored twice in the Twins’ 3-1 win over Cleveland Sunday.
Cruz leads the Twins in the RBI department with 12, followed by Rosario and outfielder Jake Cave with six each and shortstop Jorge Polanco with five.
On the mound, Kenta Maeda has looked strong in his two starts, yielding just two earned runs and five hits in his first 11 innings while striking out 12 and walking just two in picking up a pair of wins.
Randy Dobnak is 1-1, giving up just six hits and one earned run in nine innings. Jose Berrios is the only Twins pitcher to get off to a rough start, as he has yielded seven earned runs and 10 hits in nine innings of work over two starts.
In the bullpen, closer Taylor Rogers, who earned 36 saves a year ago, has chalked up three through Sunday’s game, striking out four and giving up no hits and no runs in three innings of work.
While the Twins took three out of four from the Indians over the weekend, the Pirates scuffled in Chicago, getting swept by the Cubs and losing two key arms in the process.
The club placed two pitchers on the injured list Sunday in starter Mitch Keller and reliever Michael Feliz. Keller had to leave in the third inning of Saturday’s loss after experiencing left side discomfort and Feliz was pulled after he felt discomfort in his right forearm.
Th club activated lefty Sam Howard, who pitched two scoreless innings Sunday, and Cody Ponce, who took the loss Sunday.
The Pirates, who have lost four straight and own the majors’ worst record, managed just 19 hits in the three-game set at Wrigley Field. They scored in just four of the 29 innings played between the two teams — one in the eighth and two in the ninth Friday, three in the ninth Saturday and one in the first Sunday. They actually outhit the Cubs 6-4 Sunday but wasted a strong three-inning start from Steven Brault and some solid work from several relievers. Brault did not give up a or a walk and struck out four while throwing 27 of his 35 pitches for strikes. Chad Kuhl came on in a planned piggyback outing, but lasted just 1 1/3 innings after suffering an abrasion to the cuticle on his right index finger.
The starters for tonight’s 8:10 series opener are Derek Holland for the Pirates and Lewis Thorpe for the Twins. Holland has faced the Twins 14 times in his career and hasn’t had a whole lot of luck, as the Twins have touched him for an .830 OPS in those outings. Holland has a 3-7 career record against Minnesota with a 5.56 ERA.
In Holland’s only start thus far, he went 5 2/3 innings against Milwaukee, giving up two runs and two hits while walking three and striking out five in a no-decision.
The Pirates were scheduled to face Homer Bailey tonight, but he was placed on the injured list Sunday with biceps tendinitis. Instead, the Bucs will battle Lewis Thorpe, a left-hander who will be making his first start of the season. Thorpe appeared in 12 games for the Twins last year, 10 of which came out of the bullpen, and he went 3-2 with a 6.18 ERA. So far this year, he is 0-0 and has given up three hits and no runs in 4 2/3 innings while walking two and striking out one.
Joe Musgrove is scheduled to start Tuesday’s 2:10 p.m. matchup while Trevor Williams is slated to get the call when the series moves to PNC Park for a 7:05 p.m. start Wednesday. Thursday’s series finale is scheduled to start at 1:35 p.m.
NOTES – The Pirates’ bats remained silent for the most part Sunday. Outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who did not start, struck out as a pinch-hitter and saw his average dip to .143. Josh Bell, who also did not start, singled as a pinch-hitter to raise his average to just .188. Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman both remain under the Mendoza Line, with Frazier at .167 and Newman .179 after a 2-for-4 performance Sunday. Jacob Stallings is at .143. Colin Moran, who was the lone bright spot offensively over the weekend in Chicago, went 0-for-5 Sunday to drop his average to .273 on the young campaign. …Closer Keone Kela, who had been held out of action due to issues related to COVID-19, has resumed workouts, but it’s not known when he will be ready for game action.