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Game 62: Rays at Twins

Buck and Correa are back in the lineup as the Twins go for the series sweep!

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
“Did we just become best friends? YUP!”
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Time: 1:10 Central

Weather: Cloudy, first pitch 74°

Opponent’s Excellent SBNation site: DRays Bay

TV: Dick and Justin on Bally Sports North

Radio: Cory and The Dazzle Man on Treasure Island Baseball Network

The Twins somewhat surprisingly stole a series win over the visiting Rays yesterday despite playing what I affectionately call “the JV lineup.” White-hot Byron Buxton and the recently returned Carlos Correa both grabbed some rest and watched with us as the suddenly powerful Luis Arraez led the Twins to a 6-5 victory. The win was the Twins’ fifth in this nine-game stretch against AL East opponents, ensuring an improbable winning record in a part of the schedule that most Twins fans had been anticipating with dread. It turns out the JV Twins might be pretty solid themselves and they deserve a ton of credit for how they have played and overcome having a bunch of their teammates unavailable at various points.

Arraez will be joined by Buxton and Correa behind righty Cole Sands as the 35-26 Minneapolis nine (or I guess it’s ten with the DH?) go for the sweep against lefty Jeffrey Springs and the rest of the 34-25 Tampa Bay Rays. Here’s your starting pitching matchup:

Starting Pitcher Matchup

2022 Stats Springs Sands
2022 Stats Springs Sands
IP 44.1 11.2
ERA 1.62 8.49
FIP 3.25 6.91
K% 26.8% 22.4%
BB% 6.0% 10.3%
CSW% 29.6% 25.3%
fWAR 0.8 -0.2
Tempo - Empty (secs) 20.8 13.8
Tempo - Runners On (secs) 25.1 19.7

The 29-year-old Springs is a four-seamer, changeup to righties, and slider to lefties guy who started this year in the Rays’ bullpen and has gradually worked his way into a consistent starting role thanks to the excellent numbers you see above.

He’s one of those guys that might not even get drafted today. He was a 2015 30th-round selection by the Texas Rangers out of Appalachian State. He debuted with Texas in 2018 and pitched 32.1 innings of 6.40 ERA ball out of their bullpen in 2019. That offseason, he was DFA’d by the Rangers twice and traded to Boston as part of the second one. In the pandemic season, he threw 20.1 innings of 7.08 ERA ball from the Boston ‘pen before he was once again DFA’d in the offseason and traded to Tampa Bay’s magic pitching factory.

Naturally, the Rays did their thing and had Springs start emphasizing his changeup (especially) and slider in lieu of his fastball. Springs has now gone on to give the Rays 89 innings of 2.53 ERA / 3.58 FIP pitching over the past two campaigns.

This year, perhaps in part because of the starting role making him face more right-handed batters, Springs has amped the changeup usage up to 37%. It’s one of the most effective changeups in baseball, already racking up -9 run value per Statcast and generating a whiff rate of around 39%. As you’ll see below, the Twins have gone with a mostly righty lineup today, so we’ll figure to see quite a few of these:

As for Sands, he’s just trying to get a footing in the majors. This will be his fifth career appearance (third start) and it’s been a bumpy ride so far. Sands was a 2018 fifth-round draft choice out of Florida State who has consistently ranked in the middle of the Twins' top prospects lists thanks to an excellent curveball and sneaky fastball. The public-facing scouts have had questions about Sands’ future as a starter because the changeup has always been a distant third in his pitch arsenal. Still, a potential multi-inning relief role seems a probable outcome.

So far, though, Sands has been hit very hard by major leaguers (92.6 average exit velocity allowed, 10.6% barrel rate per PA). Part of that has been because his high-spin curveball (90th percentile) has not been very excellent (+2 run value, .294 BA, .529 SLG allowed). And that’s mostly because of command:

Of the 64 breakers that Sands has thrown in his limited action this season, just 24 (37.5%) have landed in the strike zone, per Statcast. Batters have swung and missed at 32.3% of Sands’ curveballs and the pitch has strong expected stats — .166 xBA and .282 xSLG (obviously a small sample) — so an adjustment to land a few more of those for strikes and to make the ones just out of the zone more tempting for chase swings would help Sands’ entire arsenal and enable him to be more efficient and get deeper into games.

Somewhat like Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober, Sands tries to work his ~92 mph fastball up in the zone despite not having overwhelming velocity. The pitch can work up in the zone if it’s located well because it has a flatter than average attack angle (-4.6°). This year, he’s also been working in a cutter with the changeup to try to find that third pitch that can help against left-handed batters.

In any event, it seems likely we’ll see quite a bit of the Twins’ bullpen today. As has become an almost daily occurrence recently, the ‘pen has another new face. Nine-year veteran right-hander Tyler Thornburg was added to the roster and may stand to make his Twins’ debut this afternoon.

The Rays will start the game this way:

Minnesota will counter like this:

Enjoy the game!