2011 Series Preview: Twins vs Athletics (4/8-4/10)


Finally the Twins get to kick of year 2 of Target Field. To make things even better, their opponent doesn’t come out of the ridiculously loaded AL East. Both teams head into the first of a three game series with offenses ranked in the bottom 3rd of the American League in terms of runs scored. While each team has played only 6 games, they share a common opponent in the Toronto Blue Jays. Like the Twins, the A’s went 1-2 against Toronto.

Dropping in to offer up the A’s perspective on the series is Swingin’ A’s Lead Writer, Joseph Lopez.

Oakland Athletics:

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-4, t-3rd in AL West (4.0 GB)
22 Runs Scored (10th in AL) / 25 Runs Allowed (t-4th in AL)

Minnesota Twins:

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-4, t-4th in AL Central (2.0 GB)
19 Runs Scored (12th in AL)/34 Runs Allowed (t-11th in AL)

Pitching Matchups

April 8th (4:10 pm ET): LHP Brett Anderson (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA)

Anderson had a pretty decent first outing, surrendering one earned run in six innings against Seattle. He could have worked deeper into the game, but the Mariners made him throw 108 pitches during the outing. The A’s lefty signed a four-year extension last April, and the A’s view him as their future ace. Health will be key for Anderson this season, as two separate elbow injuries last season limited him to just 19 starts in 2010.

Pavano is one of many Opening Day starters looking for a mulligan. In his first start against the Blue Jays he was unable to locate and paid the price. He got knocked around with 3 of the 6 hits he allowed in 4.0 innings of work sailing over the fence. Pavano also walked 2 in his brief outing which is very atypical for him. He will be well rested after throwing just 64 pitches in his 1st start and also thanks to Wednesday’s rainout in New York which was his scheduled start. Twins fans can expect a much more efficient and relaxed Pavano pitching at Target Field while facing a far less imposing lineup than what he saw in Toronto.

April 9th (7:10 pm ET): LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. RHP Nick Blackburn (1-0, 1.59 ERA)

Gonzalez had a nice breakout season in 2010, winning 15 games while posting a highly respectable 3.23 ERA in 33 starts for Oakland. In his first start of the new season, Gonzalez made it through seven innings. I guess you could say that he was “effectively wild,” as he walked four batters during the outing as well. Cutting back on his walks is probably something Oakland would like to see from their young lefty this season.

Nick Blackburn is the proud owner of the team’s best start through 6 games. While he only allowed 1 earned run, he also lasted just 5.2 innings. After having a clean-up procedure on his elbow in the offseason, Blackburn figures to return to the pitcher we saw in 2008 and 2009 (ERA+ of 103 and 109 in those seasons respectively). He’s not flashy, gives up a lot of hits and doesn’t strike anyone out. He mitigates those things by rarely walking batters and also has a good feel for the art of pitching. There is no doubt he gets the most out of his stuff that he possibly can, but there is also no doubt that he is clearly outclassed – in terms of stuff – by Gio Gonzalez.

April 10th (2:10 pm ET): RHP Brandon McCarthy (0-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Scott Baker (0-1, 6.00 ERA)

McCarthy, who won out the fifth-starter job during spring training, was the victim of poor defense in his first start for the green-and-gold. McCarthy allowed four earned runs against the Blue Jays, but did make it through seven innings. It was a positive outing considering it was his first start in the majors since he last appeared in 2009 while still a member of the Texas Rangers. If he remains healthy, Oakland will continue to use him as their No.5 starter, but with news that Rich Harden is approaching a rehab assignment, the A’s could certainly change their mind if McCarthy begins to falter.

Baker, like Blackburn, also had offseason elbow surgery – he had bone chips removed – and came back strong in spring training. Unlike Blackburn however, Baker’s 1st start this season did not go as planned. Facing the Yankees, he gave up 2 runs in the 1st and 2nd innings before settling down to throw 4 scoreless innings. New York didn’t score another run after the 2nd, but the Twins could only muster 3 runs of their own. Of pitchers in the Twins rotation, outside of Liriano, Baker is the most capable of putting a well above average season because he is able to miss bats (7.1 career SO/9) and has an solid 3.32 career SO/BB rate.

Who’s Hot

Oakland Athletics: Andy LaRoche

LaRoche, Oakland’s infield utility guy, hasn’t played much this year, but he’s batting 0.444 with an RBI through nine at-bats. Oakland added a ton of pieces this past winter, and while guys like Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham are getting most of the attention, LaRoche could prove to be just as valuable. He demonstrated some power during spring training, as went deep four times. While Adam Rosales is out, LaRoche should find playing in various spots throughout the infield so long as he stays hot.

Minnesota Twins: Denard Span and Jason Kubel

Span and Kubel are the only 2 players on the Twins roster with an average above 0.300 so they get the label of “hot” by default. Span has been doing his part and has hit in 5 out of 6 games this season and has also drawn 3 walks. He needs to keep getting on base at the top of the order because eventually the bats behind him will wake up. Kubel has hit in all 5 games he’s started, but has not been driving in runs which is his primary purpose. He is still looking for his 1st HR of 2011 and only has 1 RBI.

Who’s Not

Oakland Athletics: Kevin Kouzmanoff and the rest of Oakland’s defense

The A’s are a team that is built around its strong starting rotation and defense. Defense was a big part of Oakland’s success in 2010, and is partly responsible for helping the team lead the American League in ERA (3.56) and majors in quality starts (103). This year, however, the defense hasn’t been up to par. In fact, they’ve looked more like the Bad News Bears rather than a professional baseball team, as they lead the majors with 9 team errors. Kouzmanoff along with 1B Daric Barton lead the team with three errors each, and the A’s are hoping for better defense down the line.

Minnesota Twins: All hitters not named Denard or Jason K.

It’s hard to pick just one or two players here when the Twins, as a team, are hitting 0.201/.267/.281 with just 2 HR through 6 games. Those slash stats rank them 12th, 13th and 12th in the AL respectively. The lineup is too deep, too talented and too experienced to keep hitting so poorly but things are clearly not clicking just yet.

Injury Update

Oakland Athletics:

Day to Day: 2B Mark Ellis (inner ear problem)

15-Day DL: RHP Rich Harden (right lat muscle), RHP Andrew Bailey (right forearm), RHP Michael Wuertz (hamstring)

60-Day DL: 3B Adam Rosales (recovery from ankle surgery)

Minnesota Twins:

Day to Day: RHP Kevin Slowey (biceps soreness)

TBD: 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured left fibula)

3 on 3 Questions

Twins Questions:

Joseph: The Twins ranked 11th in the majors in team ERA (3.95) last season, but can they replicate that kind of success again this season?

Wally: The easy answer here is no. The team lost a lot of talent from their 2010 bullpen (Rauch, Fuentes, Crain and Guerrier) and it is hard to imagine that Pavano can repeat what he did last season. However, the Twins always manage to rebuild their pen on the fly and make it a strength. Nathan and Capps are a force at the back of the pen and Jose Mijares is more than capable of dominating in the late innings as well. While it is reasonable to expect a regression from Pavano and Duensing both should still be average to slightly above average starters in 2011. If he stays healthy, Liriano should be able to match or slightly exceed what he did last season. That leaves Blackburn and Baker who both should return to form after down seasons in 2010.

Will they match their 3.95 ERA from last season? No, but I don’t anticipate they will be that far off. Pitching in Target Field for half of their games will certainly help the final numbers when the regular season comes to a close.

J: Delmon Young, the former first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, enjoyed a breakout type season last year, hitting 0.298 with 21 HR and 112 RBIs. With that in mind, what type of season can we expect from the Twins outfielder this season?

W: I’m very pro-Delmon and have written quite a bit about him in the last 2 months. Understandably, he’s the one guy in the Twins lineup that everyone asks about and I’ve stayed consistent in my assessment that DY has just scratched the surface. As far as what type of season he’ll have in 2011, I’d expect his final line to wind up in the ballpark of 0.305/.345/.510 with 25-30 HRs and continued improvement in his BB/SO rate. I also anticipate that his defense will take another step forward as he continues his climb toward average in that regard.

J: At 2-4 the Twins currently sit two games back of the White Sox, Indians, and Royals. The team has scored 19 runs through the first six games of the season, and have been poor offensively. How can Minnesota get back on track against Oakland this weekend?

W: The season is only a week old, so there is no reason to worry about the standings or the lack of offense right now. Of the three teams at 4-2 in the division only the White Sox have the roster to finish about 0.500 and we’ve seen Ozzie’s bunch go into month long slumps in past seasons.

Minnesota is going to be fine and playing at home in Target Field is going to cure a lot of their offensive and pitching woes in a hurry. Facing a lineup such as Oakland’s, as opposed to the Blue Jays and Yankees, is also going to help the team get back on track. I’d also expect the team to rally around the loss of Tsuyoshi and take it to Oakland this weekend. I anticipate that the Twins will take 2 out of the 3 games against the A’s and are a good bet to sweep the series.

Athletics Questions:

W: Of Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill which one do you think will emerge as the staff ace this season and who will have the best career long term?

J: If he’s healthy, Brett Anderson has the best shot at emerging as the staff’s ace this season. Anderson, 23, has the best quality stuff of the three, but health issues have limited Anderson so far in his young career. Last year he had to deal with two separate elbow injuries, and as a result, Anderson made just 19 starts in 2010.

Cahill was Oakland’s ace last year, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in 30 starts. He was also incredibly lucky, as evidenced by his low BABIP (.238). Cahill was good last year, and A’s fans should expect to see Cahill post good numbers in 2011, just not quite as good as 2010′s numbers.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, has the raw talents necessary to become a legitimate big-league ace. He had a terrific spring, and while he did walk four in his season debut against Seattle, Gonzalez managed to start the season with a win. He’s got a devastating curveball, and I expect great things from Gonzalez who also demonstrated tremendous growth last year.

If we’re looking to the future, I’d say that barring any major health issues, Anderson is probably the guy with the brightest future. Anderson is just beyond his 23-years, and he’s just going to keep getting better with experience. His ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes is just one example of how good this guy really is. The future is definitely bright for a guy like Anderson.

W: I had the pleasure of watching David DeJesus here in Kansas City for 8 seasons. What are your initial thoughts of him now that you’ve had a chance to see him play half a dozen games for the A’s?

J: I like that the A’s added a guy like DeJesus to the offense, but I’m just not sure if he’s a big upgrade over fellow-outfielder Ryan Sweeney. He did have a nice 2010 campaign, even if it was shortened due to a torn ligament in his thumb. He does have a little more power than Sweeney, but I wouldn’t expect DeJesus to hit more than 10 HR this year, especially in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. If he manages to stay healthy and productive, I could see Bob Geren using him at or near the top of the lineup on most days.

He hasn’t played too well through his first five games with Oakland, as he’s 4-for-20 so far this year. The A’s brought DeJesus to Oakland in the hopes that he can help out on offense by finding a way to get on base, and as of right now, he hasn’t been able to do that. The fact that he’s a .289 career-hitter, however, puts my worries about his slow start to ease.

W: Looking at the A’s roster and depth chart, the lack of power and impact bats jumps out. Who is going to lead the team in HRs this season and can Oakland really expect to compete with Texas given this significant shortcoming?

I think in the long run, Oakland’s going to be the AL West’s top team in 2011. I think the A’s have the best rotation in the division, and I think that’s what will ultimately take Oakland a notch or two above Texas when all is said and done. Offensively, the A’s are better this season than they were last year.

I do think Oakland has a lack of power, but I also think the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham will help Oakland score a few more runs this season. Both Matsui and Willingham have 20+ HR power, and both should hit at least hit 20 HRs this year for Oakland. Last year, the A’s did not have a single position player with more than 16 HRs. As a team they hit just 109, 28th in the majors. That definitely needs to change this season if Oakland is to have any real chance of capturing a division title for the first time since 2006. Ultimately, I think Willingham will lead the team in homers this year. He’s got two homers already, and hit 16 last year despite being limited to just 25 games during the second-half.

Honestly, I think even if Oakland’s offense is just “average,” the A’s could end up winning the division due to their strong pitching staff. The A’s scored just 663 runs last year, but with the additions made this winter to bolster the lineup, the A’s see plenty of scoring opportunities in 2011.

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Tags: Andy LaRoche Brandon McCarthy Brett Anderson Carl Pavano Daric Barton David DeJesus Delmon Young Denard Span Gio Gonzalez Hideki Matsui Jason Kubel Jose Mijares Josh Willingham Kevin Kouzmanoff Minnesota Twins Nick Blackburn Oakland Athletics Rich Harden Scott Baker Trevor Cahill