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Game 131: Twins at White Sox

It’s Tyler Mahle vs. Dylan Cease as the Twins look to rebound from yesterday’s disappointing loss

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Start time: 6:15 Central

Records: Twins (67-63, 1 GB), White Sox (66-66, 3 GB)

Weather: Partly cloudy, 30% chance for an isolated thunderstorm, first pitch 75°

Opponent’s SB site: South Side Sox

TV: FOX (Cory Provus and A.J. Pierzynski on the call)

Radio: Treasure Island Baseball Network

Last game: White Sox 4, Twins 3: Missed opportunities and a strange ending. RECAP

Scoreboard Watch: Guardians 68-62 (Curry) vs. Mariners 74-58 (Ray), 6:15 Central

Assuming Tyler Mahle is healthy, tonight projects to be one of the better starting pitching matchups we will see in September, with Mahle squaring off with AL Cy Young contender Dylan Cease.

Starting Pitcher Matchup

2022 Stats Mahle Cease
2022 Stats Mahle Cease
IP 118.2 147.0
ERA 4.17 2.27
FIP 3.78 3.08
K% 25.6% 31.7%
BB% 8.7% 10.4%
CSW% 28.6% 30.9%
fWAR 2.2 3.5
Tempo - Empty (secs) 17.1 18.5
Tempo - Runners On (secs) 23.8 24.7
Data from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

Cease operates mostly with mid-to-upper-90s four-seamers up in the zone, lots of upper-80s sliders, and occasional low-80s curveballs for get-me-over strikes or in-the-dirt chase swings. As you can see from his seasonal stats, he has reached another level this season after putting together a strong campaign last season (3.91 ERA / 3.41 FIP / 4.4 fWAR).

He was long a highly-regarded prospect, although evaluators had some modest fears of a future in the bullpen because of wobbly command. He’s improved that aspect of his game enough to thrive as a starter, although he still leads all qualified pitchers in walks allowed and walk percentage. While that is often a disqualifier for a starter, Cease has been able to make it work because he has an elite ability to spin the baseball and he uses that skill to get tons of whiffs and strikeouts and suppress squared-up, hard contact:

Dylan Cease Summary
Baseball Savant

Brian Menéndez, writing for Five Thirty Eight, recently broke down the adjustments that have helped Cease improve upon a 5.79 ERA in 2019 and a 6.36 FIP mark in 2020. As you might guess, they have a lot to do with optimizing the finer points of his release to make better use of the raw spin on his fastball. As a result of some subtle tweaks, the active spin (or spin efficiency) on his four-seamer — that is, the spin that contributes to movement — has improved to 92% this season from 83% in 2020. He’s added about 2.8 inches of vertical movement (i.e., less drop) and missed a lot more bats with his four-seamer (24% four-seamer whiff% this season compared to 17.2% in 2020) as a result. (If you’re curious about how this works and why it can result in more missed bats, I encourage you to read this.)

This season, Cease has also jumped whole hog onto the “throw your best pitch as often as possible even if it's not your fastball” train. In his case, that’s his slider, and he’s been offering it on 42.3% of his pitches this season (30.6% last season). The thinking behind that shift is plain enough. Cease’s slider was his best-performing pitch by run value in each of the prior two seasons. This season, with the amped-up usage, Cease’s slider has been the most valuable pitch in baseball by a wide margin:

Baseball Savant

All of that is to say, the Twins' inconsistent bats will have their hands full tonight. Many in the lineup should be familiar with Cease, as the team has faced him eight times over the past four seasons. This will be the second time they’ve seen him this season. Cease allowed one hit and struck out eight over seven scoreless innings at Target Field back on July 17.

As for trade deadline pickup Mahle, he’ll be making his fourth start for Minnesota, across which he’s allowed four runs in 14.1 innings with twelve strikeouts and four walks. This time he’s returning from shoulder inflammation after the minimum stay on the injured list. He left his last start against Kansas City following an alarming drop in velocity. Still, both he and the Twins are optimistic that he’s ready to go after he successfully completed bullpen and simulated game work earlier this week:

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli cautioned in comments yesterday that Mahle might be pitch count restricted today. To make room on the 28-man roster for Mahle’s activation, left-hander Jovani Moran was optioned to AAA. At any rate, everyone in the Twins bullpen should be available again today, despite Sonny Gray’s short outing yesterday. The initial indications for Gray, who left after four innings with hamstring tightness, are that he’s avoided serious injury. He’s currently being listed as the probable starter for his next scheduled turn on Wednesday in New York, but it’s something to monitor considering his past with hamstring injuries.

Here are today’s lineups:

Enjoy the Game! Go, Twins!