Perhaps it’s only fitting in this weird Twins season — which finds Minnesota in first place in the AL Central with a 34-29 record through 63 games despite having allowed at least 11 runs in a game 10 different times (more than they did during all of last year’s nightmare) — that the Twins would be preparing for the biggest series at Target Field in at least two years while also preparing to send four starting pitchers to the mound who have spent good chunks of 2017 in the minor leagues.
Cleveland, the preseason favorite to win the AL Central after reaching Game 7 of the World Series last season, trails Minnesota by two games in the division entering this weekend’s four-game series, which includes a doubleheader Saturday.
Staff ace Ervin Santana pitched (and struggled) Wednesday, while staff revelation Jose Berrios gave the Twins eight strong innings in a big win Thursday. If there is a catchy slogan regarding the rotation at this point, it might go something like, “Berrios and Santana, then pass the Mylanta.” (Yes, I’m aware that’s terrible and that Santana does not really rhyme with Mylanta).
Phil Hughes is hurt. Hector Santiago is, too. He was hoping to pitch Saturday, but that’s not the case. Throw in the doubleheader, which jams up even the best of rotations, and you get these four pitchers for the Twins in this AL Central showdown:
*Nik Turley: The 27-year-old lefty who gave up four runs on eight hits in four innings during his MLB debut last week, will get the ball in the series opener Friday. Turley was pitching in an independent league just last year. Two good months split over Class AA and Class AAA earned him a promotion, and now he’s pitching in a very important game for the Twins.
*Adalberto Mejia and Adam Wilk: Mejia started the year in the rotation, then spent a month in the minors. He returned toward the end of May and turned in four decent starts (nine runs over 23 innings) before getting shelled in his last outing. Wilk gave up three home runs with the Mets in his only appearance of the season before getting dumped and picked up by the pitching-needy Twins. He has a 5.48 ERA in the minors this year, but he’ll get a start Saturday. It’s worth noting that Mejia and Wilk, like Turley, are lefties. Cleveland has struggled against left-handed starters this year, going 11-15 (compared to 20-15 against righties). So there is at least some strategy at play.
*Kyle Gibson: The Twins had high hopes for the right-handed pitcher going into the season, but he went 0-4 with an ERA over 8 before being sent to the minors. Since his return, he’s actually gone 4-0 in five starts (three of which were OK to good), but his record is more a function of absurd run support than pitching prowess as the Twins have scored 47 combined runs in the four victories. Still, Gibson on the mound Sunday will by far be the team’s most recognizable starter of the weekend.
Then again, the Twins were swept by Cleveland at Target Field earlier this year when sending Gibson, Hughes and Santana out to start. We’ll see if the relative unknowns can help the Twins fare any better — and whether a team that enters the weekend in sole possession of first place will still be able to make that claim after the series is done.