As a resident of North Dakota for the past decade, I’ve attended a heavy dose of Twins games. And as a Rays fan living in NoDak (AKA the geographic center of North America), I get pretty lonely living in an area where so few people share the interests of the team I grew up watching.
Up here, the consensus majority of baseball fans are followers - sometimes proud, sometimes not - of the Minnesota Twins.
I’ve had the privilege of attending the majority of games the Rays have played in Minnesota since 2010. And to be honest, it almost feels supernatural when they lose because they just haven’t done much of it in front of the Twins faithful.
Tampa Bay is 19-7 at Target Field since it opened in 2010 with a run differential of 135-66. That, my friends, is what you’d call embarrassing your opponent in front of their home fans. The culprit? Probably a mix of teams of some REALLY good Rays teams and some REALLY bad Twins teams.
However, this year should should be different. At the very least, it won’t be so one-sided.
These are not the same Twins of the past. These Twins are much better.
Sitting alone at the top of the AL Central, Minnesota (25-18) has taken advantage of a division that has looked pretty mediocre up to this point. They’ve received contributions throughout a roster that features a healthy blend of youth and veteran leadership and are coming off a sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore.
Ervin Santana - whom the Rays will see Sunday - has pitched out of his mind through through 10 starts posting an MLB-best 1.80 ERA. How the Twins play over the next two months will determine Santana's fate. Maybe they'll trade for a starting pitcher rather than trade one away (the Rays could be a trade fit).
That being said, it’s not just him, the entire pitching staff has performed fairly well to this point, ranking 14th in ERA (4.15) after finishing near or at the bottom every year since 2010.
Left-handers Hector Santiago (4-2, 3.96 ERA) and Adalberto Mejia (1-1, 4.96) are set to take the mound in the first two games of the three-game set.
The offense - spearheaded by Miguel Sano - has been better. The 24-year old has gotten off to a monster start and is mashing baseballs at a league-leading 99.9mph average exit velocity.
Sano is leading Minnesota’s offense in nearly every category with a .300/.417/.600 slash-line, 11 HR’s, 37 RBI’s, and 1.017 OPS. He also ranks in the top 10 league wide for wOBA and wRC+.
The defense has been the biggest improvement for the Twins this year. They’re leading the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (the only team ahead of the Rays) after ranking 28th last season. This is largely thanks to Byron Buxton, who is one of the few defensive center fielders you can compare to Kevin Kiermaier without looking like an idiot.
Byron Buxton can hit .200 all he wants if he keeps doing this... #MNTwins pic.twitter.com/qG2nc27dgE— The Eephus (@EephusPod) May 14, 2017
Bottom line: these are not the same Twins of the past.
The Rays (25-25), meanwhile, have won six of their last ten games and will look to build on back-to-back wins over the Angels to finish their series, including a 4-0 shutout win on Thursday afternoon. They’ll send Chris Archer to the mound for game one, hoping he can lock down an improved offense and gain series momentum for the remainder of the weekend.
As we get set for Rays-Twins tonight at beautiful Target Field in Minneapolis, one thing is increasingly clear.
Unlike past years, we should have the privilege of watching highly competitive and entertaining baseball in the Twin Cities.