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Series Preview: Minnesota Twins @ Milwaukee Brewers

The Twins come to town with an impressive record, but have been treading water for 2 months

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The last time we saw the Minnesota Twins, it was the day after Memorial Day and Minnesota had MLB’s best record at 37-17 after splitting two games with the Brewers.

They had a 10-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central, and that lead would grow as large as 11.5 games as late as June 3rd, with Minnesota holding a record of 40-18.

The Twins enter Miller Park tonight trailing Cleveland in the AL Central by a half-game.

You could call it a collapse, but they’ve basically treaded water since that point in early June, going 31-30 in that time while Cleveland has gone an unreal 43-17.

Minnesota is still slugging the juice out of the ball, with their 675 runs scored ranking third in baseball and a league-leading 228 home runs. For a point of comparison, the Brewers rank 7th in baseball in home runs and have hit 40 fewer.

The problem has been a pitching staff that has totally unraveled in the summer months, with a team ERA of 4.69 in the second half, as opposed to 3.97 in the first half. As a team, they have an ERA of 5.29 in the month of August, including a 5.55 ERA from their starting rotation.

As we saw with some Brewers teams in the 20-teens, slugging can only outscore so many teams when your pitching is struggling that much. It doesn’t help that Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton will miss this series on the Injured List.

Probable Pitchers

Tueday, August 13th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Martin Perez vs. Chase Anderson

Perez has had a rough start to August, giving up 11 runs on 18 hits in his last two starts with much of the damage coming on 6 home runs allowed over 11 innings. The lefty is in his first season with the Twins after spending parts of 7 years in Texas, putting up a 4.80 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 122 innings so far this year. He’s basically the exact definition of a backend starter, sprinkling a couple of good months in between rocky ones this year.

Wednesday, August 14th - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Kyle Gibson vs. TBD

Gibson’s ERA is a little more than a half-run higher than it was last year during his re-emergence from mediocrity, but he’s actually pitched better this year in a lot of ways. He’s upped his strikeouts from 8.2 K/9 to 8.9 K/9 and cut his walks from 3.6 BB/9 to 2.9 BB/9. He’s coming off a rough start against Cleveland, though, coming off the rails to allow 6 runs (5 earned) while walking 6 batters in just 4.1 innings.

Player to Watch

Max Kepler is enjoying a breakout season, putting up a career-high OPS of .878 while coming into this week with 32 home runs and 27 doubles. With Nelson Cruz (who had 32 home runs at 38 years old before hurting his wrist) now on the injured list, Kepler is the biggest power threat left in Minnesota’s lineup.

Kepler has homered three times this month, which is second on the team behind Cruz. But like much of the Minnesota lineup, he struggled mightily in the fateful Cleveland series that saw the Twins lose 3 of 4 -- and their division lead. He went just 3-for-18 on the weekend, striking out 4 times and grounding into a double play. He went 3-for-8 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI in the two games against the Brewers at the end of May.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference