Opposite dugout: Twins going from worst in MLB to playoff contention

Manager: Paul Molitor (3rd season)

TwinsLogo.jpgRecord: 43-41

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 3B Miguel Sanó (20 HR, 60 RBIs), DH Robbie Grossman (.253/.382/.389), CF Byron Buxton (16 stolen bases), RHP José Berríos (3.44 ERA, 1.071 WHIP), RHP Brandon Kintzler (2.41 ERA, 22 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 3-0

Pitching probables:

July 6: RHP Dylan Bundy vs. RHP José Berríos, 8:10 p.m., MASN2

July 7: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. RHP Felix Jorge, 8:10 p.m., MASN2

July 8: LHP Wade Miley vs. LHP Adalberto Mejía, 2:10 p.m., MASN

July 9: RHP Ubaldo Jiménez vs. RHP Kyle Gibson, 2:10 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Twins:

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins were the worst team in baseball, suffering nine more losses than any other team. However, this year, they sit firmly in playoff contention and could actually make the postseason for the first time since 2010. Somehow, they are winning by compiling stats that do not exactly resemble those of a playoff team.

On offense, the Twins rank ninth in team average (.253), seventh in on-base percentage (.329) and 12th in slugging percentage (.414) out of all American League clubs. It’s fair to say these numbers are largely underwhelming for a team that is one game behind in the wild card race. As for the individuals in Minnesota’s lineup, Miguel Sanó leads the way when it comes to power. His 20 home runs are eighth in the AL, while he is tenth in the league with a solid .548 slugging percentage. In addition to providing the Twins with power, he is striking out less and walking more than he did last year. While Sanó is the Twins’ big bopper, Robbie Grossman provides Minnesota with excellent plate discipline. He walks in 16.7 percent of his at-bats, tied for the best rate in the league. Grossman’s .389 on-base percentage is also strong, as he ranks fourth out of all qualified AL hitters. While Grossman often gets on base, he does not provide Minnesota with much power to go along with his walks: out of qualified hitters, he is 7th on the Twins in slugging percentage. The Twins’ everyday lineup also normally features someone who is in the starting lineup for his glove, not his bat: center fielder Byron Buxton. Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball, but his OPS of .552 is the second-worst mark in the American League. Don’t be surprised if Buxton has a game in which he goes 0-for-4 but makes a few spectacular plays in center field, thanks to his wheels.

The Twins open their four-game set with 23-year-old José Berríos on the mound Thursday. This’ll be the second time the O’s see Berríos, having faced him May 24. On that day in Baltimore, Berríos allowed three solo home runs, but also recorded seven strikeouts and had a quality start of three earned runs over 6 1/3 innings. Despite the Orioles’ burst of homers earlier this year, Berríos is not particularly prone to allowing long balls: he allows 1.1 home runs per nine innings. Against righties, Berríos has allowed an excellent batting average of .194, compared to a more reasonable .237 facing lefties. Regarding recent outings, Berríos’ last two starts have been rough: four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings at Fenway Park and five earned runs in five innings at Kansas City. Friday, the Orioles will get to face someone making his second career start: Felix Jorge. Jorge made his debut on July 1, lasting five innings and allowing three earned runs in Kansas City. He had a 3.26 ERA in 85 2/3 innings in Double-A Chattanooga this year. On Saturday, the left-handed Adalberto Mejía will start. Mejía had a horrendous start on June 12 against the Mariners, getting shelled for eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Since then, his numbers have looked much better; he has a 2.01 ERA in his last four starts. Mejía struggles with his control, and his 4.5 walks per nine innings ranks last for Twins starters. To close out the series, Kyle Gibson starts on Sunday. To be concise, Gibson has been very bad this year. His 5.82 ERA is the fourth worst out of all AL starters with at least 70 innings pitched. Similarly, his 1.72 WHIP trails only Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley in the American League.

The Twins bullpen is near the bottom in basically every notable category. They are 14th in both ERA (4.95) and WHIP (1.46) and 13th in home runs allowed per nine innings (1.48) out of all AL bullpens. Right-hander Brandon Kintzler is in his second season as Minnesota’s closer. Kintzler has improved his WHIP and ERA from 2016 and is 22-for-25 on recording saves this year. Before the Twins get to Kintzler, they turn to righty Matt Belisle and the left-handed Taylor Rodgers, as their key setup men. It’s particularly impressive Belisle has 13 holds this year, given his rather poor 6.06 ERA this season.

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