For years, it felt like these interleague series against the Minnesota Twins in late May were giant sources of frustration, whether it was Brian Dozier turning into Superman or Ben Hendrickson not getting a single out in what turned out to be his last appearance in the majors.
Most of the time, those Twins teams felt average at best, which only made things more frustrating. Things are different this year. Not only are the Twins one of the biggest surprises of 2019, they come into this series with the best record in baseball at 36-16.
They’re also the most dangerous offensive team in baseball, which is a bit weird to think about after years of being typecast as a weak-hitting smallball-centric team after all those years under Ron Gardenhire. Instead, Rocco Baldelli has somehow turned the Twins into a dinger-mashing machine.
Minnesota leads the majors with 104 home runs in just 52 games. They’re slugging .518 as a team, 40 points higher than the second-place Houston Astros. They’ve racked up 927 total bases, also first in the majors by a mile (Houston is also a distant second with 884 total bases).
They’ve combined that explosive offense with solid pitching, ranking 5th in the majors with a 3.70 ERA and 6th in FIP at 3.96. The result? A major-league best run differential of +111, 22 runs better than the Astros for second-best. For the sake of comparison, the Brewers’ run differential this year is +14. FOUR. TEEN.
There’s a good chance the Twins might actually be the best team the Brewers have played since they faced the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Monday, May 27th - 6:10 p.m. CDT
Gio Gonzalez vs. Michael Pineda
Pineda is back in the majors after missing all of last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery in July 2017. The Twins signed him to a two-year deal in December 2017 knowing he likely wouldn’t pitch until this year, and he’s shown some of the rustiness you’d expect from someone who hasn’t pitched in the majors in a year and a half -- he has a 5.43 ERA in his first 10 starts and has allowed 14 home runs so far this year. He has turned in three quality starts in a row, although that included a pair of starts where all 3 of his earned runs came off of solo home runs.
Tuesday, May 28th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Zach Davies vs. Martin Perez
Another former top prospect, this reclamation project has worked out better for the Twins. The left-handed former prized Texas prospect has struck out 56 batters in 58 innings and has a 2.95 ERA. He’s allowed 3 runs or less in his last six starts, including shutting out the Astros for 8 innings on May 1st.
After (seemingly) years of frustrating series with the mediocre Twins teams of past, the Brewers won 5 of 6 from Minnesota last year. They could have made it a clean sweep if it weren’t for a late-inning loss in the finale in the series at Target Field, when Boone Logan allowed a 2-run single to Logan Morrison in the 8th inning.
Player to Watch
There are plenty of dangerous bats up and down the Twins lineup this year we could highlight, but let’s take a moment to talk about our old friend Jonathan Schoop.
When David Stearns traded for Schoop last July, he intended for Schoop to be the team’s second baseman this year. Unfortunately, he was so bad last year he was unplayable by September and the Brewers couldn’t justify giving him an estimated $10 million in arbitration over the winter. He was non-tendered and caught on with the Twins on a one-year deal, and has gone back to hitting pretty close to his career norms.
Schoop comes into this series hitting .266/.319/.521 for an .839 OPS, with 10 home runs and 13 doubles with an OPS+ of 120. He’s spoken openly about how he struggled to adjust after seeing his best friend in Manny Machado get traded away, getting traded and changing teams for the first time in his career himself, and pressing too much to contribute to a team that was trying to contend. Now in a more comfortable situation, he’s hitting again.
It’s a fun thought exercise on where the Brewers would be if they had hung onto Schoop. Even if he turned things around to hit like he has this year, that would likely mean the Brewers would not have Mike Moustakas, who in a lot of ways has saved the Brewers’ offense in the season’s first two months, whether that’s sliding into second base while the organization waited for Keston Hiura to “be ready” or taking over at third full-time when Travis Shaw’s production fell off a cliff.
With that said, you should probably take the odds on Schoop homering against the Brewers at some point this year.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference