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Orioles-Twins series preview: Fresh off a winning month, the O’s visit the first-place Twins

The Twins still sit atop the AL Central but Cleveland is hot on their heels, and the sudden departure of their pitching coach has shaken up the locker room.

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Baltimore Orioles vs Minnesota Twins Set Number: X164045 TK1

To me, the Twins perpetually seem like a stacked team that ends up disappointing in way or another. Last season, they looked ready to take on the world—then they slunk to a 73-89 record and a fifth-place finish. This year, they’re comfortably leading the AL Central, and all of a sudden their pitching coach Wes Johnson leaves to take a job at LSU. Furious that Johnson was being poached in the middle of the season, the Twins asked LSU to wait until the All-Star Break to hire him. LSU refused (a pretty dick move, if you ask me), and now “emotions [in the Twins’ locker room] are running high.”

This may or may not ultimately affect the Twins’ postseason odds. The Twins remain one of the better-hitting and -pitching teams in the game, with an MLB sixth-best .742 OPS and an eighth-best 3.70 ERA. (For comparison, the O’s team ERA currently stands at 4.06, 19th in MLB.) Minnesota’s biggest threat is a surging Cleveland Guardians, just two games back in the AL Central, who just split a four-game series with the Twins. If the playoffs started today, no other Central team would qualify; Cleveland remains a game back of the Rays for the third Wild Card spot.

So we’ll see if Minnesota weathers the disruption. They certainly have the talent to. Currently, their most valuable players are all position players: first baseman Luis Arraez (2.7 WAR, .337 BA, .849 OPS), Byron Buxton (no surprise here—though he’s hitting .235, his .896 OPS makes up for it), and Carlos Correa (.301 BA, .845 OPS). Slightly behind them in value are the pitchers, although the Orioles will be facing Minnesota’s three best starters in Sonny Gray (1.6 WAR), Devin Smeltzer (1.3 WAR), and Joe Ryan (1.3 WAR).

The last time the Orioles and the Twins played, on May 2-5, they split a four-game series in Camden Yards. At that point in the season, the Orioles were pitching surprisingly well while putting up some of the weakest offense in baseball. The Twins showed the same league-wide trend: they were middle-of-the-pack hitters in May and had great pitching numbers; their ERA has risen since but so has their offense.

Game 1: Friday, 8:10pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Joe Ryan (6-3, 3.20 ERA, 53 K) vs. Spenser Watkins (1-1, 5.14 ERA, 18 K)

DraftKings odds: Orioles +1.5 runs is a -115 bet, or Orioles to win outright is +190

Joe Ryan was a midseason pickup for the Twins in 2021 from the Rays as part of the Nelson Cruz trade. Ryan’s first full big-league season got off to a flaming hot start, with a 1.17 ERA this April, but in four May starts he went 3.54 and posted a 5.74 ERA over three starts in June. This is simply because he’s allowing lots more hits, including a .303 average against last month. Ryan faced the Orioles for the first time on May 3 and allowed two runs on six hits in 4.2 innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. Austin Hays and Trey Mancini both went 2-for-3 against him.

We’re still not sure what to make of Spenser Watkins. I love the guy personally, and as a pitcher he shows a lot of determination. A 1.63 WHIP is not much to shout over, though, nor a .289 opponent average against. Perhaps Watkins is still making adjustments, as his variable monthly splits suggest: he pitched to a nice 2.55 ERA in April, an ugly 10.95 mark in May, when he suffered a forearm injury from a comebacker, and has an 0.00 ERA in one start in June so far. Against Watkins, Byron Buxton is 1-for-3, Correa 0-for-2, Max Kepler 2-for-2, and Gary Sánchez 1-for-2. We’ll see which Watkins shows up tonight.

Game 2: Saturday, 2:10pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Sonny Gray (4-1, 2.17 ERA, 49 K) vs. Jordan Lyles (4-7, 4.94 ERA, 70 K)

The O’s have not faced Gray this year. In his first season with Minnesota, the 32-year-old righty is putting up some of his best numbers in years, his 0.97 WHIP and .202 average against particularly standing out. This past week, Gray turned in his best outing of the season, limiting Cleveland to three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings. A few O’s have faced Gray before: Trey Mancini is .462 in 13 at bats against him, and Robinson Chirinos has a career .269 average in 26.

Meanwhile, Jordan Lyles keeps chugging along as promised. The 31-year-old innings-eater’s ERA is lower than his career mark of 5.19, and he’s given the Orioles over five innings in 13 of his 15 starts. Unfortunately for him and for the O’s chances this weekend, Lyles has struggled to a 6.47 ERA on the road. His last time out, against the White Sox on June 26, Lyles gritted out 7.0 innings with four runs allowed for a tough-luck loss. Of the current Twins lineup, Carlos Correa has seen a fair amount of the former Ranger Lyles, with a 4-for-13 line against him. Gio Urshela is 1-for-3 against Lyles, Max Kepler 1-for-2 with a home run, and Kyle Garlick 1-for-3.

Game 3: Sunday, 2:10pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Devin Smeltzer (4-1, 2.86 ERA, 31 K) vs. Tyler Wells (6-4, 3.23 ERA, 43 K)

Acquired from the Dodgers as part of a package for Brian Dozier in 2018, Smeltzer appeared in just a handful of MLB games from 2019-21, but in nine starts this year, he’s got an impressive 2.86 ERA. The lefty is not a strikeout machine, with just 31 in 50.1 innings, but he has a nice 1.01 WHIP. His home/away splits are pretty drastic; unfortunately for the Orioles, it’s at home that he’s been his best, with a 2-0 record and 1.50 ERA at Target Field. Only Rougned Odor has faced him before, going 1-for-4.

From Rule 5 pickup to the Orioles best starter, it’s been a wild 2022 for Tyler Wells. He didn’t have a great beginning to his season, with a 5.54 ERA in April. But since May 2, he has a 2.70 ERA with a .204 opponent average against. This past Monday, Wells threw 4 2/3 innings worth of a perfect game before a solo home run broke it up. What he flashed in that stretch was massively impressive, though. Wells isn’t a big strikeout guy, at a 5.6 rate, though that isn’t hampering his effectiveness for now. No Twin has more than three at bats against Wells: Luis Arraez is 1-for-2, Carlos Correa 0-for-2, Ryan Jeffers 1-for-3, and Gio Urshela 0-for-3.


How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Twins?

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  • 4%
    (7 votes)
  • 64%
    (111 votes)
  • 26%
    (45 votes)
  • 5%
    (9 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now