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Know Your Enemy: Minnesota Twins

Not to be hyperbolic, but the truth hurts: This could be the last important series of the season

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins David Berding/Getty Images
Brett Ballantini started at South Side Sox in 2018 after 20 years of writing on basketball, baseball and hockey, including time on the Blackhawks and White Sox beats. Follow him on Twitter @BrettBallantini and email your site feedback to brettballantini@yahoo.com

After salvaging a split in a four-game set with Cleveland, leaving town in third place just as they entered, the White Sox move north to Minneapolis to take on the first-place Twins.

(Yes, every one of these KYEs starts with “after salvaging,” it’s been that kind of season.)

It’s hyperbole to say that this could be the last important series of the season. However, the White Sox enter play tonight five games behind the Twins (four in Steve Stone’s ballyhooed loss column, because, yeah), and a sweep leading straight in to the All-Star break would not only leave the South Siders a despondent nine games buried in the division, but give them five days to stew about it. With the mental toughness this team hasn’t shown, that would not be a good thing.

Conversely, a winning series, or even a sweep of the Twins, would not only see the Sox storm into the break a just a game or two back with 70-odd games left to play, but would presumably create a cluster of three teams atop the division, giving the White Sox as good a chance as anyone for the playoffs.

Speaking of playoff chances, let’s check in at Baseball Prospectus, which lists the current likelihoods as such:

Minnesota Twins 68.5% playoff likelihood (58.3% division, 10.2% wild card)
Chicago White Sox 39.3% playoff likelihood (26.5% division, 12.8% wild card)
Cleveland Guardians 25.1% playoff likelihood (15.0% division, 10.1% wild card)

Odds are odds, so sure, there’s a chance an AL Central teams sneaks in as a wild card, but right now Cleveland is No. 8 in the American League, the White Sox ninth — don’t count on it.

So this is what it’s come to, realistically a bit better than a one-in-four chance at October baseball for the White Sox. Sheesh.

Oh, and the Twins have won five of six from the Sox this year, the only White Sox win being a 9-8, extra-innings affair a week ago that truthfully seemed a game neither team wanted to win. The notion that the White Sox will reverse a season-long trend (seriously, pick your trend, whatever) and go up to Minny and win the series is a stretch. But, that’s why they play the games, and some lucky folks get to preview the series.

Old Friends

Oh shit, over at Baseball-Reference, which I’m combing to see whether there are any old friends in Minnesota (because yeah, I pay attention to those jagbags), the Twins are listed as having an 81.8% shot at the playoffs (White Sox 25.4%).

No, there are no old friends in Minnesota. And if there were, they’d be dead to us, anyway.

A Painful Visual

Well, to make up for the lack of friends content, here’s an ugly visual I found at B-R that illustrates the horrendous run differential for the White Sox, with wins/run margin in green, losses red:

Baseball-Reference

Chicago’s run differential has actually improved some, to -38, projecting to a 74-88 season. Minnesota, at +50, is the only ALC team that’s in the black overall, with Cleveland now dropping to -10.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday is a dandy battle, with Johnny Cueto taking on Sonny Gray. Cueto has been a White Sox godsend. Imagine how much sharper the pitchforks would be if this lark of an end-of-spring pickup didn’t bail Rick Hahn out a bit for punting the offseason? Cueto and Gray have basically identical ERAs (~3.00) and game scores (high 50s), so this ought to be a great game.

Friday night is Michael Kopech vs. Devin Smeltzer. And as much as you want to credit Byron Buxton or some other Minny star for the Twins being in first, the real reason is Smeltzer. See, you don’t come out of nowhere to win divisions (simmer down, Minny, you sucked last year, so yeah, out of nowhere) without a helping of Smeltzers. Devin is a nobody pitcher who has contributed to a division-leading rotation to the tune of a barely sub-4.00 ERA. Smeltzer is a Twins Vince Velasquez, and when you see that one guy is thriving, the other underwater, it tells you a lot about how the two teams have competed in 2022’s first half. Kopech has been great for the White Sox, but he’s not 100% and there is no point in him not having gotten like a month off midseason, unless that White Sox plan to shut him down for the summer if they’re still five-plus games out at the end of July.

Saturday’s 1:10 afternoon affair pits Lance Lynn vs. Dylan Bundy. Both pitchers sorta suck, only Lynn wasn’t supposed to. And both have had surprising success against their opponents in this series, so who knows, this isn’t a guaranteed 10-8 ballgame after three innings. Lynn fine-tuning his stuff, and putting in a good start (win or lose) could do wonders for his (and team) confidence heading into the second half. Oh, Bundy has basically put up Dylan Cease game scores in his two starts vs. Chicago this season, so this is no mismatch.

Sunday’s finale is another 1:10 game: Dylan Cease vs. someone. Cease has been superb this season. But for all the uproar about him not getting picked for the All-Star team, by pitching on Sunday he wouldn’t have seen action in the All-Star Game anyhow. (Is it a bummer that the White Sox couldn’t arrange the rotation to make Cease a more logical pick for the Midsummer Classic? Sure, but they already had to rearrange the rotation so he didn’t have to get a shot and travel to Toronto, so ...) One flag is that for as good as Cease has been against patsies like Detroit, he’s not been great recently against Minnesota; over his last five starts (four in 2021, when, again, sorry Minny, you sucked) he’s running a 5.19 ERA.


DraftKings Corner

Hey friends, do you like sports? Do you also like gambling? Well, SBNation and South Side Sox have just the link for you. Stop by and visit the DraftKings Sportsbook and you can learn that before the opening game of the series, the White Sox are +140 on the moneyline and and +1.5/-145 on the run line ... I don’t know what those things mean, but I bet if you click the link you do! Or will!