Starting on Friday, the Twins will be in Cleveland to take on the second place Indians. Coming off a sweep of the Oakland Athletics, it's easy for Twins fans to feel good right now. The largest free agent investment in franchise history, Josh Willingham, did what he's paid to do and came up huge in the middle of the order. Francisco Liriano was dominant over six innings yesterday. Even the much maligned bullpen was pretty solid.
While we're all feeling good, let's take an opportunity to give ourselves another dose of optimism. Can the Twins take two of three from the Indians, while in Cleveland? Of course they can!
Even after outscoring the A's 12-6 the Twins are a disturbing -74 in run differential, having been outscored 270 to 196. Meanwhile the Indians, in spite of holding a solid record of 27-23, hold a run differential of -24. After 50 games MLB history would expect a team like Cleveland to be four games worse than they are: 23-27.
Part of that success comes from being so successful in one-run games, where the Indians have won ten of twelve. No team will win 83% of their one-run games all season long, so with that number due to regress a bit and with the Minnesota offense certainly capable of putting up a late run or two against a small deficit, I feel confident that if Minnesota is down but close, they'll be able to pull off a victory. Call it my fan's intuition. Or, bias, if you will.
Lack of Power
I know, I know: the Twins aren't exactly a powerhouse. But Justin Morneau (.535) and the aforementioned Willingham (.564) are posting fantastic power numbers in their time so far, at least in terms of slugging percentage. No Cleveland hitter even gets close to those marks, with Asdrubal Cabrera (.478) getting the closest, followed by Jason Kipnis (.450) and the still interesting and sometimes dangerous Travis Hafner (.439).
The important thing about power in this context is that it can lead to some exceptionally big innings which, as hinted at above, don't exactly play to Minnesota's strengths. When five regulars are posting on-base percentages between .342 and .392, that can set an offense up for a big inning. Fortunately it seems like the Indians will be forced to find grass, where I've heard there are possibilities of recording an out. Home runs drastically reduce outs.
Mediocre Starting Pitching
There's no such thing as a Cleveland starter who intimidates other hitters. Zach McAllister has been okay so far, but otherwise the best Indians starter has been Derek Lowe. But he's still allowing one and a half base runners per inning, which means that cute 3.25 ERA won't be sticking around long. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are both a hot mess. Josh Tomlin, who the Twins will see on Saturday, has allowed five home runs in 40 innings.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has absolutely no problems with their pitching.
So far in 2012 the Indians are just 15-14 within the confines of Jacobs Field. As any national baseball pundit will tell you, if you want to be a contending team you need to play .500 ball on the road. Never do they say "be .500 at home". If we ignore everything about the terrible records the Twins have put up both at home AND on the road this season, this counts as an advantage. Because if we don't count those things, whose to say the Twins aren't .800 away from Target Field this year?
Quasi-seriously, though: if the Indians are a mediocre team at home while still being outscored, that bodes well for the Twins.
No Grady Sizemore
I've been taking a light-hearted approach to my reasoning, but this one is just a bit unfortunate: even if Sizemore were healthy right now, he wouldn't be the Sizemore we all knew. He's only 29 but the slugging, golden-gloved multi-year All-Star is years in the rear view mirror. For as much as I knew he'd make life hell for the Twins (he hit .281/.372/.496 from '05 to '08, garnering MVP votes all four years, being an All-Star three times, winning two Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger), he was a lot of fun to watch. And sure, not having THAT Grady to go up against will make a series victory this weekend that much more attainable.