StaTuesday: Twins’ Max Kepler figures out Trevor Bauer, and then some

Max Kepler is on pace for a career season, but he hasn’t been particularly good against the Cleveland Indians.

He’s hitting .263/.334/.530 with a .864 OPS overall — all career bests — and leads the Twins with 23 home runs, but is hitting just .237 in nine games against Cleveland.

Tell that to Indians starter Trevor Bauer.

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Kepler hit three home runs (and walked) against Bauer back on June 6, then hit two more in their next meeting, July 13. He finally went down swinging Saturday in the fourth inning after an eight-pitch battle, before Bauer was yanked in the sixth inning.

Kepler hit two more home runs off Bauer on Saturday, going yard in consecutive at-bats to help the Twins to a 6-2 win over the Indians.

He’s has been uniquely dominant against Bauer this season. Per STATS, Kepler is the first player ever to homer in five consecutive at-bats against the same pitcher in the same season.

Kepler’s streak is tied for the longest against a single pitcher since 1961, according to Elias Sports Bureau. While two other batters have done it, both — Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Frank Howard – did it over the span of two seasons.

Kepler had gone seven games without hitting a home run before crossing paths with Bauer again.

Bauer is not, it should be noted, some scrub who keeps running into Kepler. He was an All-Star last season, and is among the better rentals expected to be available at the trade deadline with a 3.65 ERA and a 10.4 K/9.

He just can’t figure Kepler out, at least lately. Maybe it’s because of familiarity.

Kepler has faced Bauer 40 times in his career, which is the most plate appearances he’s had against any pitcher. His 13 hits, five homers and nine RBI are all highs for Kepler vs. those he’s faced.

A potentially interesting wrinkle: There’s a non-zero chance the two could be teammates before the end of the month.

The Indians have gained ground on the Twins in recent weeks, but if they’re not looking like a contender by the July 31 deadline Bauer could be on the move. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s chief baseball officer, Derek Falvey, was with the Indians’ front office when they traded for Bauer back in 2012.

Bauer’s numbers would certainly improve with Kepler out of the picture.