Friday, June 2, 2023

MLB Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (26-25) at Minnesota Twins (26-24)


THE LATEST: The Blue Jays were doubled up, 6-3, in the finale of a four-game series in Tampa Bay yesterday…Are now 6-10 in series finales…Dropped to 6-15 against divisional opponents this season (5th among the AL East clubs). Toronto has dropped seven of its last eight games and is now 2-9 across its last 11 contests…Has been outhit in just four of those 11 games…Has lost three consecutive series…Prior to this skid, had not lost consecutive series since last August.

KIRKY CONNECTING: Alejandro Kirk singled three times as he went 3-for-4 with a run scored yesterday…Was his 2nd three-hit game this season (3-for-4 on April 28 vs. SEA)…Has gone 9-for-25 (.360) with two doubles over his last seven games. The 24-year-old is 5-for-20 with a home run, five RBI, and five walks in his seven games vs. AL Central clubs this season…His career .896 OPS against the division is 2nd-best among all active catchers (min. 100 PA), behind Christian Bethancourt’s .905 mark (courtesy Stats Perform).

BO KNOWS BASE HITS: Bo Bichette singled, walked, and drove in a run as part of a 1-for-4 afternoon…Extended his hitting streak to five games, going 10-for-23 (.435) over that stretch. The 25-year-old leads all MLB hitters with 71 hits (2nd: Freddie Freeman – 66) and leads the AL with 109 total bases (2nd: Luis Robert Jr. – 102)…His .326 batting average also ranks 1st in the AL (2nd: Yandy Díaz – .322).

MAY’S FLOWER: Brandon Belt singled, walked twice, and drove in a run as he went 1-for-2 yesterday…Over his last 18 contests, has batted .400 (20-for-50) with six doubles, a homer, six RBI, and 12 walks (.524 OBP, .580 SLG)…Among AL batters in May, ranks 1st in OBP (.500), 3rd in
AVG (.377), and 5th in OPS (1.047).

VLAD HABITS: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was limited to a lone single yesterday…Among AL batters, is T-5th in hits (56), 9th in AVG (.298), and T-9th in RBI (34)…Has recorded an AL-best 89 hard-hit balls (95+ MPH) this season, four ahead of 2nd-place Bo Bichette (85), who is two ahead of 3rd-place Matt Chapman (83).

STAY AWAY: Daulton Varsho walked and scored Toronto’s 1st run yesterday…Is batting .279 (31-for-111) during his 29 road games, including 13 extra-base hits and 18 RBI for an .838 OPS…Has batted .118 (9-for-76) with two extra-base knocks and two RBI in 21 home contests (.383 OPS).

KEVIN’S K’S: Kevin Gausman gets the ball tonight, coming off a season-high-tying 8.0 innings on Sunday vs. BAL… Has racked up an AL-high 81 strikeouts (2nd: Shohei Ohtani – 80), which is also the most ever by a Blue Jay in his first 10 games of a season (2nd: Roger Clemens – 76 in 1997).

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Blue Jays are on a seven-day, seven-game road trip (1-3 so far)…Own a 13-16 road record this year for a .448 win% (9th in the AL)…After this weekend series in Minnesota, will have Monday off before playing a brief three-game homestand against the Brewers (27- 23). Blue Jays hitters lead the Majors with 279 road hits (2nd: NYM – 250)…Rank 2nd in the AL in road AVG (.269), 2nd in road SLG (.436), 2nd in road OPS (.770) and 3rd in road OBP (.334)…The pitching staff ranks 12th in the AL in road ERA (4.69), 13th in road opponents’ batting average (.264), and 13th in road WHIP (1.38).

RICHARDS REACHING NEW HEIGHTS: Trevor Richards tossed 3.0 shutout innings of relief yesterday, striking out three while retiring all nine batters faced…Marked his longest outing since April 20, 2021 at KC (3.0) and his longest scoreless game since throwing 6.0 scoreless frames on Aug. 23, 2019 at BAL…His 55 swing-and-misses on the changeup are 2nd most in the AL (Shane McClanahan – 68).

HITTING IT: The Blue Jays have notched an MLB-high 474 hits this season (2nd: TB – 473)…Are currently 3rd in the AL in team AVG (.265), 3rd in OBP (.333), 6th in SLG (.418), and 6th in OPS (.752). The Blue Jays are one of two AL teams who have scored in every game this season (also: LAA)…Have gone 69 straight games without being shut out, the 2nd-longest active streak in the Majors (LAA – 92G).

QUITE A STRETCH: The Blue Jays are in the midst of playing 17 games in 17 days, their most consecutive days with scheduled games this season…Have gone 5-9 so far…Their opponents over this 17-game stretch (ATL, NYY, BAL,)

VS. THE TWINS: All-Time: 230-180 2022: 3-4 Road: 111-98 Road: 2-2 Target Field: 27-16 The Blue Jays went 3-4 against the Twins last season, including a split of the four games in Minnesota…Their all-time .561 win% vs. the Twins is their best vs. any AL opponent (2nd: .542 vs. BAL)…Have gone 27-16 at Target Field for a .628 win%, 2nd best among AL clubs to New York’s .651 (28-15). Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had hits in all seven games against the Twins last season, going 10-for-30 (.333) with a double, four home runs, and eight RBI (.767 SLG)…In 16 career meetings, has hit .270 (17-for-63) with two doubles, five homers, 10 RBI, and seven walks for an .883 OPS. Bo Bichette also recorded 10 hits vs. Minnesota last year, going 10-for-31 (.323) with four doubles, two home runs, and five RBI (.989 OPS)…Is a career 18-for-60 (.300) with five doubles, three homers, and nine RBI over 14 games (.845 OPS). Whit Merrifield leads all current Blue Jays with 104 career games played against his former division rivals…Has batted .297 (127-for-427) with 34 doubles, three triples, five home runs, and 47 RBI along the way (.772 OPS).

STARTING PITCHER – Kevin Gausman, RHP #34
TODAY’S GAME: Making his 11th start of the season and his 7th on the road…Took a no-decision his last time out, on 5/21 vs. BAL, tossing 8.0 frames of two-run ball on a season-high 115 pitches (6H, 2BB, 4K)…Matched his longest outing of the year (8.0IP on 4/12 vs. DET). His 81 strikeouts are the most ever by a Blue Jay in their first 10 outings of a season (2nd: Roger Clemens – 76 in 1997), and are the most in the AL in 2023 (2nd: Shohei Ohtani – 80K). Owns a 2.76 FIP since the start of the 2020 season, the 2nd-best mark among qualified hurlers (Corbin Burnes – 2.72).

2023 HIGHLIGHTS: Gave up 3R/2ER runs on 5/16 vs. NYY, surrendering 5 hits and 2 walks over 7.0 innings with 10 strikeouts on 102 pitches (63 strikes)…Marked his 7th quality start of the year, and his 4th with double-digit punchouts.Tossed 6.0 shutout innings on 5/10 at PHI, giving up 3 hits with no walks and 9 strikeouts…Was his 6th quality start of the year, and his 5th outing with no earned runs. Tossed 7.0 shutout innings on 4/29 vs. SEA, giving up 5 hits with a walk and a career-high 13 strikeouts…Threw a season-high 108 pitches (74 strikes) while inducing a career-high 28 swing-and-misses…Got 20 whiffs on his splitter alone, the most on a single pitch in the Majors this season, and the most on a splitter in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Earned his 2nd win of the year on 4/23 at NYY, hurling 7.0 shutout frames with 3 hits, no walks, and a season-high-tying 11 strikeouts. Took a no-decision on 4/12 vs. DET, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits over a season-high 8.0 innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts, his most as a Blue Jay…Surrendered a solo home run to Nick Maton with one out in the 4th inning, ending his streak of 15.1 innings without allowing an earned run, the longest stretch to begin a season in franchise history (2nd: Matt Shoemaker – 14.0 IP in 2019). Picked up his 1st win of the year on 4/6 at KC, throwing 6.0 shutout frames with 4 hits, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts…Didn’t allowed an earned run for a 2nd straight outing to begin the season. Took the loss in his season debut on 4/1 at STL, giving up 3 runs (all unearned) on 8 hits and a walk over 6.0 innings with 7 strikeouts.


THE TWINS: Have gone 1-2 through three games on their current six-game, seven-day home- stand, losing a three-game series to the Giants earlier this week…tonight, Minnesota will continue the homestand with the first of three against the Blue Jays through the weekend…after this series, the Twins will travel to Houston for a quick three-game series/roadtrip against the Astros from Monday-Wednesday…the Twins have gone 15-10 at Target Field and 11-14 on the road…Twins have a run differential of +30 (125-95) at home and +15 (105-90) on the road.

Twins are 0-2 this season on 7:10 home games this season, losing to the Cubs on Friday, May 12 and to Washington on Friday, April 21.

RYAN GETS HIS SEVENTH AS TWINS AVOID SWEEP: The Twins beat the Giants on Wednesday afternoon at Target Field by a score of 7-1…Joe Ryan (7-1) was the starter and winner, allow- ing one run on six hits in 5.0 innings pitched…Ryan is now one of three pitchers in baseball with at least seven wins, joining Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan (8) and Zach Eflin (7)…the bullpen combined to pitch 4.0 scoreless innings as Jhoan Duran finished off the game with 0.2 innings and threw three pitches at 104-plus mph, marking the fastest velocities for a Twin in the Statcast era (since 2015)…the offense recorded seven hits as Edouard Julien hit his first career leadoff home run and Ryan Jeffers hit his second on the season…Willi Castro stole two bases, including a swipe of home on a double steal, marking the Twins’ first steal of home since Clete Thomas also did so on a double steal on August 3, 2013 vs. Houston.

BIRD WATCHING: The Twins and Blue Jays are playing each other for the first of seven times this season…they went 4-3 vs. the Jays last season, going 2-1 at Toronto from June 3-5 and 2-2 at Target Field from August 4-7…they have won the season series over Toronto four-straight seasons (4-3 in 2017, 4-2 in 2018, 4-3 in 2019 and 4-3 in 2022).

The Twins have gone just 33-49 vs. the Jays since 2010…from 2010-16 they were 14-34, but have gone 19-15 since 2017.

Byron Buxton is hitting .302 (29-for-96) with nine doubles, eight home runs, 19 RBI and a 1.020 OPS in 26 career games vs. the Jays…Buxton’s career batting average against Toronto is his best versus any AL club…his 1.020 career OPS against the Blue Jays ranks fourth among active hitters (min. 100 PA), behind Shohei Ohtani (1.105), Alex Bregman (1.035) and Mike Trout (1.032).

Carlos Correa is hitting .310 (27-for-87) with four doubles, six home runs, 19 RBI and a .945 OPS in 22 career regular season games vs. the Jays…has reached safely in seven straight vs. Toronto.

ME AND MY FRIENDS: Twins pitchers have posted a 3.40 ERA (450.0 IP, 170 ER) with 154 walks, 500 strikeouts, a .225 opponent batting average and a .653 OPS…they lead baseball in strikeouts and opponent batting average, and rank second in ERA and opponent OPS… additionally, their strikeouts are the most through the first 50 games in club history, while their ERA is seventh (lowest since 1972 — 2.59).

SULTANS OF SWING AND MISS: Twins pitchers have combined for 10-plus strikeouts in a franchise record six-straight games…below are the longest double-digit strikeout streaks in club history:

May 19-present…………………………………………6…………………………………… 68 (11, 10, 11, 10, 12, 14)
April 3-8, 2023…………………………………………..5………………………………………… 66 (11, 12, 10, 16, 17)
September 16-20, 2019 ………………………………5………………………………………… 60 (10, 14, 14, 11, 11)
August 30-September 3, 2019 ……………………..5………………………………………… 58 (13, 11, 11, 11, 12)
8 times……………………………………………………..4……………………………………………………………..-

WANNA BE STARTIN’ SOMETHIN’: Twins starters have averaged 5.6 innings-per-outing, up from 4.8 in 2022…below are Twins starting pitching ranks in all of baseball: INNINGS ERA BAA WHIFF% FIP WHIP K’s OPS
TOR – 290.0 TB – 2.88 TB – .217 HOU – 29.9 MIN – 3.26 SEA – 1.09 MIN – 314 TB – .617
CWS – 285.0 MIN – 3.21 MIN – .226 ATL – 29.5 SEA – 3.30 TB – 1.09 CWS – 291 SEA – .630
SEA – 283.2 TEX – 3.25 SEA – .230 MIN – 28.1 TB – 3.33 MIN – 1.11 TOR – 284 MIN – .647
TEX – 282.1 HOU – 3.30 TEX – .236 LAA – 27.6 ATL – 3.69 TEX – 1.15 ATL – 280 TEX – .673
MIN – 280.1 ATL – 3.40 LAD – .237 CIN – 27.6 TEX – 3.70 LAD – 1.18 HOU – 280 CHC – .691
NOTE: The starting staff’s 3.21 ERA is their fifth-lowest through 50 games in club history.

DON’T STOP RELIEVIN’: The Twins bullpen has posted a 2.00 ERA (18.0 IP, 4 ER) with six walks, 32 strikeouts and a .225 opponent batting average in their last five games…they struck out a season-high 10 batters on Wednesday afternoon vs. San Francisco, their most in a nine-inning game since fanning 11 on October 2, 2021 at Kansas City.

The ‘pen has the fifth-lowest home run-per-9.0 IP ratio in baseball at 0.80…they also rank sixth in both opponent batting average (.223) and opponent OPS (.663).

On Wednesday afternoon, Jhoan Duran threw three pitches at 104-plus mph, hitting 104.6 (foul ball by Wilmer Flores), 104.4 (foul ball by Flores) and 104.0 (swinging strike by Casey Schmitt)…they marked the fastest pitches by a Twin in the Statcast era (since 2015)…to the right are the pitchers to reach 104+ in the pitch-tracking era.

TOO CLOSE: The Twins have played 14 one-run games this season, going 4-10 in such instances, tied for the fourth-most losses in baseball…they have played 35 games within two runs, going 21-14 in those games, eighth-most wins in baseball…they have played 24 games within three runs, going 14-10 in those.

Of the Twins’ 26 wins, eight have been by more than four runs and 18 have been by four runs-or-fewer.

BYE BYE BYRON: Byron Buxton went 1-for-4 with a stolen base on Wednesday…Buck extended his on-base streak to a career-long 24-straight games, since April 25…Buxton’s current streak is the longest for a Twin since Jorge Polanco reached safely in 37-straight from May 13-June 25, 2019.

In his last nine games, Buxton is hitting .324 (11-for-34) with four walks, two doubles, two home runs, four RBI, nine runs scored, four stolen bases, a .410 on-base percentage, a .559 slugging percentage and a .969 OPS.

LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN: The Twins have walked 172 times this season, fourth-most in the AL, trailing Baltimore (188), Tampa Bay (179) and New York (175)…additionally, they have seen 3.92 pitches-per-plate appearances, tied with Boston and Detroit for fourth-most in the AL, trailing Seattle (3.94), Baltimore (3.93) and Los Angeles (3.93).

This month, they have drawn 83 walks…only the Yankees (85) and Rays (85) have walked more in May among AL teams.

Byron Buxton leads the club in walks with 25, which also ranked tied for 11th in the AL…next is Correa with 22 free passes, then Trevor Larnach with 20.

STEAL AWAY: The Twins stole four bases on Wednesday (Castro – 2, Buxton & Wallner), tying their season-high, done previously on May 16 at Los Angeles-NL…the Twins have stolen 21 bases on the season…17 of those steals have come this month, the eighth-most in baseball…by comparison, in 2022, the Twins stole 38 bags, the fewest in baseball.

2023: 2-0, 4.18 ERA CAREER: 3-2, 4.00 ERA

Making his sixth start of the season and his third home start of 2023…also his 11th career start and appearance.

Facing Toronto for the first time in his career…is 1-2, 4.05 ERA (33.1 IP, 15 ER), with nine walks and 29 strikeouts when facing an opponent for the first time.

Each of his last three starts have been against new opponents (San Diego, Chicago-NL & Los Angeles-AL), combining to go 2-0, 3.12 ERA (17.1 IP, 6 ER) with four walks and 17 strikeouts.

Selected by the Twins in the 15th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Division II Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

LAST TIME OUT: Won in consecutive starts for the first time in his career, earning the victory on May 20 at Los Angeles-AL in the Twins 6-2 win…went 5.0-plus innings, allowed two runs on six hits, with one walk and four strikeouts…opposed left-hander Patrick Sandoval, who took the loss…allowed one run in the fourth inning on a RBI groundout by infielder Jared Walsh…allowed a solo home run to designated hitter Shohei Ohtani to lead off the sixth inning; was relieved by Jovani Moran after he allowed the first three batters to reach in the sixth…Twins bullpen pitched 4.0 scoreless innings and the offense recorded 12 hits in the victory, including three from infielder Kyle Farmer.

At 25 years old, became youngest Twins pitcher to win back-to-back starts since Randy Dobnak won two straight from September 20-25, 2019 at 24 years old.

Became the fourth Minnesota starter this year (also, Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray) to go undefeated in their first five starts of the season…marks the most starters in one season to go undefeated through their first five starts in Twins history (since 1961), surpassing the 1965 team which had three starters go undefeated through five starts (Camilo Pascual, Mudcat Grant and Dick Stigman).

Recorded four strikeouts, his lowest total of the season and the fewest since he struck out three vs. Chicago-AL on September 29, 2022…snapped a career-long streak of four-consecutive starts with six-or-more strikeouts, the fourth longest to start a season in Twins history (since 1961).

TWO STARTS AGO: Earned his first win of the season and his first career win at Target Field in a 16-3 Twins victory against the Chicago Cubs on May 14, opposite Marcus Stroman…pitched a career-high 6.1 innings, allowing three runs on four hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts…permitted his first run on a solo home run to outfielder Christopher Morel in the top of the fourth inning…allowed a solo home run to outfielder Seiya Suzuki in the top of the seventh inning and was lifted from the game after walking Trey Mancini with one out in the frame…relieved by Emilio Pagán, who allowed the inherited runner to score on infielder Nick Madrigal’s RBI single…threw a career-high 97 pitches… Twins offense set season highs with 16 runs and 18 hits in the victory.

HANG 10: Varland has recorded 52 strikeouts in 54.0 innings pitched through his first 10 major league starts…his 52 strikeouts are tied with Jim Merritt (1965) for the fourth most in Twins history (since 1961) through a pitcher’s first 10 games of his career, trailing Tyler Duffey (53 in 2015), Bert Blyleven (58 in 1970) and Joe Ryan (58 from 2021-22)…he has also recorded three-or-more strikeouts in each of his 10 career games, tied with Merritt for the second-longest streak by a Twins pitcher to begin his career (Joe Ryan, 15 games from 2021-22).

BRAND NEW BLUE JAYS: Making his first career start against the Blue Jays; Toronto will become the seventh team he has faced since his debut last season…in six previous starts when facing a new opponent, Varland is 1-2, 4.05 ERA (33.1 IP, 15 ER) with nine walks and 29 strikeouts…has never faced any active Blue Jays hitters in his career…tonight marks his third career start against an American League East opponent, having faced the New York Yankees once last year and once this year; went 0-0, 3.97 ERA (11.2 IP, 5 ER) with two walks and 15 strikeouts in those two starts, with the Twins splitting the two games.

HOME COOKING: The St. Paul native is making his third home start of the year tonight and first since May 14 vs. Chicago-NL, when he defeated the Cubs and recorded a quality start (6.1 IP, 3 R/ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K)…in his two home starts this season, he is 1-0, 2.92 ERA (12.1 IP, 4 ER) with three walks and 13 strikeouts, with the Twins going 1-1 in those two games…on the road this year, he is 1-0, 5.17 ERA (15.2 IP, 9 ER) with four walks and 18 strikeouts…is 1-1, 3.52 ERA (23.0 IP, 9 ER) with six walks and 19 strikeouts in four career starts at Target Field.

LEFTIES VS. RIGHTIES: Through his first five starts this season, left-handed hitters are batting .270 (10-for-37) with 13 strikeouts against Varland, while righties are hitting .247 (18-for-73) with 18 strikeouts…allowed his first homer to a left-handed hitter this season in his last start at Los Angeles AL on May 20 (Shohei Ohtani, 6th inning); only the second home run he has allowed to a lefty in his career (also, José Ramírez on September 17, 2022 vs. Cleveland)…while righties have posted a lower batting average (.254) against Varland in his career than lefties (.266), right-handed hitters have hit for more power (four doubles, one triple, nine home runs, .508 slugging percentage) than left-handed hitters (four doubles, two home runs, .392 slugging percentage).

PITCH BREAKDOWN: Varland has used a four-pitch mix in his first five starts of 2023, including a four-seam fastball, cutter, slider and changeup, according to Baseball Savant…threw 58 four-seam fastballs in his last start on May 20 at Los Angeles-AL, his most in any start of his career; also recorded all four strikeouts with his four-seamer in his last start…below is a look at his repertoire:

4-Seam Fastball (95.1)…………….44.7% (203 pitches, 137/66)……….. .250 (11-for-44), 5 HR, 13 K
Cutter (89.9) ……………………………25.6% (116 pitches, 85/31)……. .321 (9-for-28), 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 K
Slider (83.7)……………………………..15.6% (71 pitches, 58/13)……………………… .150 (3-for-20), 4 K
Changeup (84.8)……………………….14.1% (64 pitches, 27/37)…….. .278 (5-for-18), 1 2B, 1 HR, 7 K

Has averaged 10.6 inches of horizontal movement on his slider this season, tied with Bailey Ober for the most slider horizontal movement on the Twins staff in 2023, according to Baseball Savant; his slider has the third-lowest wOBA (.162) and xSLG (.307) on the Twins this year.

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