Minnesota Twins vs. Cleveland Guardians: Who has the upper hand at All Central?

It’s a battle to outrun the Centrals…or something. So before the 25-30 Guardians head to Minnesota to take on the 29-27 Twins in a four-game set this weekend, our hit writers discuss the states of their teams, who has the best chance of winning the division and so much more.

Zack Maisel: Well, can we agree not to mention the sorry state of the department while we preview this Twins-Guardians series? We all get: If your team isn’t, oh, I don’t know, 20 games under . 500, you have a chance of winning that thing. (Better luck next year, Royals).

Still, from Cleveland’s perspective, this series seems important — at least as important as the early June encounter. The Guardians floundered through the first couple of months, pressure mounting to make some changes and now they have something of a real test against the team chasing them.

What about twins? Where do they stand? Does this series look like more than an identical game to the AL Central from their point of view?

Dan Hayes: I think it’s hard to capitalize on the value of this unique series because of the stretch that happens in the middle of: a 16-game round where they play Toronto twice, in Houston and in Tampa Bay. Of course, Cleveland has carried weight for what happened last season, and the twins can’t forget how much of a part they played in giving The Guardians momentum this past June with those two series. But they have enough issues of their own to worry about for now.

Carlos Correa didn’t provide the offensive punch the Twins needed. (Brandon Slaughter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While the Twins are finally getting their start in pitching, a variety of issues keep them from escaping the division at a time when openings matter. The offensive issues of these teams are incomparable. Cleveland’s problems are much worse. But the Twins sit right in the middle of the majors in runs scored with an underperforming offense that never quite hits its stride and is insanely inconsistent. Rule-filled team conflicts will become legendary if they continue. The defense is porous and the Bulls have been forced into action more often than not, losing a lot of winnable games.

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While later in the season this series may carry more weight, I don’t think the twins can do anything but focus on getting themselves right first.

What is Cleveland’s way to get back on track?

Maisel: Man, I thought the Guardians’ problems with bases loaded were worrisome (.549 OPS), but then I peek at the Twins’ numbers—a .272 OPS! – I can’t understand how that’s even possible. Did they try to simply not load the bases?

It’s pretty straightforward for Cleveland: the score.

Here is a full list of players who met or exceeded expectations this season:

[birds chirp]

[a plane flies by overhead]

[the neighbor’s St. Bernard barks at an Amazon delivery person]

Yes, no one. Jose Ramirez was…fine. Josh Naylor has had a couple of weeks where he’s gone crazy. This, uh, about it. So, they’re stuck hoping Amed Rosario, Josh Bell, and Andrés Giménez will turn it around, praying someone calls out the turnstile in right field and debating when to call up Bo Naylor and possibly Brayan Rocchio. It wasn’t pretty. They hit three home runs in a Wednesday game for the first time all season. The slash-and-slash style of Tito’s Blob Troop we’ve seen in 2022 has only appeared sporadically.

There will be some turnover in this lineup this summer, either via call-ups, playing time adjustments, trades, or all of the above. If any of that can result in increased scoring, it will ease the burden on another Cleveland team of playoff caliber, especially with the return of Triston McKenzie and Aaron Cival from the injured list.

How has your view of twins changed with two months of evidence at your disposal? Are you more confident they can win the division than you were on opening day? If so, is it because of incompetence in Cleveland and Chicago, or because the Twins have brighter days ahead of them?

Hayes: On Opening Day, I thought the twins would be really strong contenders for the division as long as they stayed healthy. Their rotation has promised a huge improvement over the past two seasons and it’s been amazing. I thought that could cause them to quarrel because the crime would happen.

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Nothing in those two months has changed my perspective as a competitor. Honestly, they seem stronger because of how bad the others are.

What’s still shocking is that Carlos Correa still has a hot streak and the offense really underperformed. Going into Wednesday, they’ve scored three runs or fewer in 47 percent of their games, which means they’re playing in a lot of competitive draft. Playing a 3-1 game every day can weaken the team because you’re never going to be very far with good relievers or you’re trying to maintain a solid lead.

Maisel: do not be That young man, but the Guardians have scored three runs or fewer in 58 percent of their games, and, well, they’re well on their way to matching the major league record for one-run games. It should come as no surprise, then, that Emmanuel Clasie leads the league in appearances (and reps (and reps in the wind)).

Hayes: Oh, I know how depressing this abuse of guardians is now. Twins lovers are frustrated, and they deserve it. But comparing the two is absurd.

However, Correa entered this season with a lot of expectations due to his $200 million contract. So far, his offensive performance has been disappointing apart from delivering several successful strikes. His performance in his career suggests he’ll turn things around, but I don’t think the Twins can wait until August or September. They should start taking the pressure off the show’s crew. There should be an expectation that the starting pitchers will drop back and the bullpen will need a break.

These are very good problems. But they are also issues that need to be addressed before they become issues that could bring down a team with a clear path to a division title.

Do you think Cleveland has a chance on this one, and what do you think of the Twins?

Maisel: In this division, why not? But for me to take it seriously, I need to see some kind of progress. Perhaps the club’s effort in Baltimore this week is the first sign. After scoring five runs in a game once over the past two weeks, they’ve done so three straight against the Orioles, including a 12-run blast on Wednesday. However, I don’t know for sure if Bo Naylor will produce more than Mike Zunino, but I find it hard to believe he could do worse. I don’t know if Rocchio or Tyler Freeman is the answer, but I don’t see the harm in offering them some rackets.

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More than anything, I think the Guardians will be a great team to watch as the trading deadline approaches. I could see them trading Shane Pepper, no matter where they were. I could see them targeting hitters with several years of control, no matter where they were. Perhaps these two things overlap.

What about twins? Will this be a July arms race because these teams think the division is, almost hypothetically, ready for attention?

Hayes: I think the Twins realized this was the right time to push for the split and they will act accordingly at the trade deadline. As long as Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, and Pablo López are healthy, they won’t have to hunt for a top-tier pitcher like in years past. The trio is the best set of weapons the twins have had in a very long time.

Since they have Jhoan Duran in place, they need to focus on adding good, quality guns to the bullpen and not the elite-level guy to close the game, though that never hurts. Really, it is about knowing this crime. If they can reach the top 10 level consistently, the twins are in good shape.

They desperately need Jorge Polanco to stay on the field – this group is in dire need of a consistent running product in the middle. Maybe this is Alex Kirillov or Royce Lewis. But it would be better if Polanco returns to his form in 2021 and only drives in sprints.

But as long as they don’t seriously fall apart from a physical standpoint, I see the Twins doing what they have to do, not only winning the division, but ending an obnoxious 18-game losing streak. This is a good position to be in no matter how pervasive the stink is.

(Top photo: David Richard/USA Today)

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