Eye on the Enemy: Scouting the Minnesota Twins as they travel to Wrigley Field
31-21, 3 games back of the White Sox in AL Central
Friday: Rich Hill (2-1, 3.81 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (5-4, 3.29 ERA)
Saturday: Michael Pineda (1-0, 3.57 ERA) vs. Alec Mills (5-3, 3.93 ERA)
Sunday: José Berríos (4-3, 4.15 ERA) vs. Yu Darvish (7-2, 1.86 ERA)
Minnesota has dealt with some injury concerns all season, but they’ve been lucky in the sense that none of them were to their core group of starters. They’re getting healthy at the right time, with outfielder Max Kepler, catcher Alex Avila and reliever Sergio Romo all returning to action in the last week. In a team that mashes, contact-first second baseman Luis Arraez is on the 10-day DL since Sept. 19 and is eligible to return during this series against the Cubs.
The team self-dubbed the “Bomba Squad” — bomb squad — last season is still living up to that mantra. They’ve mashed 81 long balls this season, the sixth most in baseball. But, unlike last year where they coasted to a 100-win season and an AL Central title, they’ve found themselves looking up at the White Sox in a tough AL Central race.
The Twins have been led by the ageless designated hitter, Nelson Cruz. The 40-year-old has a whopping 1.040 OPS and 16 home runs, third most in baseball behind Luke Voit (20) and José Abreu (17). The Twins have benefited from a resurgent Byron Buxton, who has been red-hot since he returned from the injured list earlier this month. He has 7 home runs since he was activated off the injured list on Sept. 1 and has homered in 6 of his last 9 games.
The Twins pitching staff has been stellar this season, amassing a team-ERA of 3.68, the fifth-best in the majors and a 1.22 WHIP, tied for fourth-best in baseball. They’ve been led by Kenta Maeda, whom they acquired from the Dodgers in the offseason. He has a dazzling 2.52 ERA and 0.76 WHIP, but the Cubs will avoid the Japanese hurler this weekend. Instead, they’ll get another ageless Twin, former Cub Hill, who has a solid 3.81 ERA in 6 starts this season.
Pineda returned on Sept. 1 from a 60-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy. He’s been strong in his 3 starts, posting a 3.57 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He’s struck out 8 hitters in each of his last two starts. The Cubs get Berríos in the series finale, a Puerto Rican hurler who has been an All-Star the last two seasons. He’s been strong again this season, posting a 1.37 WHIP and striking out at least 6 in seven of his 10 starts this season.