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Series Preview: Rocco’s Modern Twins

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MLB: Minnesota Twins at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays split their four game series with the Boston Red Sox. Now they’ll host the Minnesota Twins for a three game series this weekend.

The Rays maintain a strong lead in the American League East. They are up 6.5 games on the New York Yankees, 8.0 games on the Boston Red Sox, 13.0 games on the Toronto Blue Jays, and 42.0 games on the Baltimore Orioles. 28 games remain.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Randy Dobnak vs Michael Wacha
Saturday 4:10 PM: Andrew Albers vs Chris Archer
Sunday 1:10 PM: Griffin Jax vs Luis Patino

Randy Dobnak has had a rough 2021 after very solid results over the last two years. This year he’s put up a 7.83 ERA/6.18 FIP/4.41 xFIP over 43.2 innings. He’s never been a strikeout pitcher but his strikeout rate has plummeted to 12.5% in 2021. His 6.0% walk rate is very good. He generally does a good job keeping the ball on the ground with a 53.8% groundball rate. The problem has been when batters are able to elevate the ball. In the limited time he’s allowed 11 homers thanks to a 29.7% HR/FB rate. Dobnak primarily works as a two-pitch pitcher. He throws a 91.6 mph sinker and 84.3 mph slider. He will infrequently add in a 92.2 mph four-seam fastball and 85.4 mph changeup.

Andrew Albers is the epitome of crafty lefty. In two appearances totaling 9.1 innings he’s put up a 0.96 ERA/4.23 FIP/3.79 xFIP. He doesn’t strike out many (16.7% strikeout rate) and limits the free passes (5.6% walk rate). Albers primary pitch is a 88.7 mph sinker that he pairs with a 88.6 mph four-seam fastball and 78.3 mph slider. He will infrequently throw a 69.3 mph changeup and 69.0 mph curveball.

Griffin Jax’s first taste of the major leagues has not been kind. He’s put up a 6.71 ERA/6.74 FIP/5.66 xFIP in 53.2 innings. Jax gets more strikeouts than the other starters the Rays will face, but that bar was low. His 18.6% strikeout rate is well below average and unlike the other pitchers he walks more than his fair share with a 9.3% walk rate. Jax works off a 92.5 mph four-seam fastball. He pairs it with a 83.4 mph slider and 85.4 mph changeup. The secondary pitch you’re likely to see depends on which side of the plate you swing from. Against righties he’ll lean on the slider and against lefties he’ll lean on the changeup. However he willing to throw the other pitch at low frequencies. A 79.8 mph curveball is a low frequency pitch against batters of both hands.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Minnesota Twins
Alex Colome
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The whole pitching staff has been a let down for a team was expected to compete for the American League Central crown. The bullpen has been a big part of the story. They rank bottom five in the league with a 4.68 ERA/4.52 FIP/4.26 xFIP out of their bullpen. Taylor Rogers was their only high leverage performer, but he went on the Injured List just before the trade deadline. Alex Colome started the year as closer before he lost the job to Hansel Robles. Robles was traded to the Red Sox, and now Colome has been the guy to get recent save opportunities.

The Bomba Squad still hitting for power.

The group led by Nelson Cruz has been one of the best homerun hitting clubs over the last few seasons. This year is no exception even though they’ve been without Cruz for the last six weeks. Their 185 homers rank sixth in the majors, but that has only led to the 14th highest scoring offense at 4.53 runs per game. As a team they have hit a solid .241/.316/.421 and have put up a 101 wRC+.

Byron Buxotn has returned from a long Injured List stint due to a broken hand. He hasn’t been available often but when he has he’s been incredible. He’s hitting .317/.358/.651 and putting up a 171 wRC+ over 134 plate appearances.

Josh Donaldson (129 wRC+), Jorge Polanco (121 wRC+), and Luis Arraez (110 wRC+) have provided a dynamic top to middle of the lineup even after the loss of Cruz. Max Kepler (100 wRC+) and Miguel Sano (106 wRC+) haven’t been bad, but they haven’t lived up to expectations with the bat.

The Twins defense is polarizing. Their +34 DRS places them just outside the top 10 but thinks they bring a lot of defensive value. On the other side their -22.7 UZR ranks third worst in the majors.

The Twins might be at the bottom of the AL Central but they have played better ball of late.

The Twins are 58-73 and are in last place of the American League Central, but since the All-Star break they are 19-25. They won two out of three against the Rays. Despite trading Jose Berrios and Nelson Cruz the team has looked better.

The Rays don’t need to play amazing ball to lock down the American League East thanks to the lead they have built, but they need to make sure they don’t hit a lull before they head into the playoffs.