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2011 Series Preview: Twins vs Red Sox (5/6-5/9)

Tonight the Twins open up a 4 game series with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. They took 2 games from the equally anemic White Sox, but Minnesota’s bats are still MIA. They outscored Chicago 4-3 in their latest series and are now 20 runs behind the Athletics and 31 runs back of the Seattle Mariners in the AL rankings. San Diego has scored 97 runs, though they have played 2 more games, leaving the Twins dead last in all of baseball when it comes to crossing home plate.

Boston can relate to getting off to a slow start. On April 15th they were just 2-10 but they’ve gone 12-7 since. The Red Sox found the switch and flipped it. The Twins are still stumbling around upstairs in the dark, a fuse has blown and the fuse box is in the basement. I still believe in this team, but with every passing day the part of me that wonders why grows just a little bit.

Anyway, helping me out on this preview are BoSox Injection Staff Writer, Derek Stykalo, and Puckett’s Pond staffer Adam Krueger. Derek is obviously tackling the Red Sox side of things while Adam was kind enough to answer Derek’s 3 Twins questions. He also provided the content for the pitching matchups.

Boston Red Sox

2011 Record: 14-17, t-4th in the AL East (4.0 GB)
129 Runs Scored (8th in the AL) / 139 Runs Allowed (9th in the AL)

Minnesota Twins

2011 Record: 11-18, 4th in the AL Central (9.5 GB)
89 Runs Scored (14th in the AL) / 151 Runs Allowed (13th in the AL)

Pitching Matchups

May 6th (7:10 pm EDT): RHP Scott Baker (1-2, 3.16 ERA) vs. RHP Tim Wakefield (0-0, 4.08 ERA)

Baker’s career against the Red Sox: 20.2 IP, 4.35 ERA, 1.452 WHIP, 4.0 K/BB

The Twins might actually have lady luck on their side before this series even gets underway (fingers crossed). Due to a rain-delayed, 7-hour marathon game that the Red Sox played against the Angels a couple of nights ago, the Sox have been forced to shuffle their rotation and give Wakefield a spot start. At age 44, Wakefield still has “stuff”, especially if his knuckleball is ‘knuckling’, but I like the Twins chances a lot better against him than against other members of the Red Sox rotation. On the bump for the Twins is Scott Baker who has pitched very well in his past three starts (20.1 IP), surrendering only 3 earned runs while posting a 17:3 K/BB over that stretch. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Baker has also not given up a HR in any of those starts, an amazing feat for a guy who’s been notorious for watching hitters launch pitches over the wall (71 HRs in the past three seasons combined). That I mentioned this fact almost guarantees that Baker will give up a couple of gopher-balls, but what the hell, gotta give credit where credit is due.

An added bonus from a Wakefield start is the fact that he will likely not be able to pitch much past the 5th or 6th inning. Given the way the Twins have been going this season, I’m not supremely confident that they will be able to get to Wakefield, but chances are they’ll have some shots at a Red Sox bullpen that has been taxed heavily over the past couple of days.

Wakefield’s career against the Twins: 152.1 IP, 4.31 ERA, 1.287 WHIP, 2.53 K/BB

Derek: Once again the ageless veteran has worked himself into the Red Sox starting rotation. This time it’s at Daisuke Matsuzaka’s expense when Dice-K was used as the eighth pitcher during Boston’s marathon game on Wednesday. Wakefield started last week against the Seattle Mariners and he was brilliant in his 5.2 innings of spot work. He only gave up one run during his outing and thanks to a faulty bullpen, Wake got a no decision.

May 7th (1:10pm EDT): LHP Brian Duensing (2-1, 2.91 ERA) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (2-3, 4.81 ERA)

Duensing’s career against the Red Sox: 2.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, 3:0 K/BB

Buchholz was lights out last year, at least on the face of things. He had a sparkling 2.33 ERA in 173+ innings and was pretty much the ‘ace’ of the Red Sox staff, holding a 17-7 win/loss record. When you look a little deeper, however, a different picture emerges. For example, his FIP was a more pedestrian 3.61 and his xFIP was 4.07. As it turns out, luck played a big factor in Buchholz’ performance, most clearly evidenced by the fact that he only gave up 9 HRs over the course of the entire season. This year that luck is turning. In only 6 starts this season, Buchholz has already surrendered 6 longballs, which has led to a higher ERA and a bloated FIP (5.86). Let’s hope the Twins can get something going against the struggling Buchholz.

Pitching for the Twins is steady-Eddie Brian Duensing. Since being named to the rotation mid-Spring Training, Duensing has done nothing but confirm that he belongs in the role, giving the Twins 4 quality starts and maintaining a 23:9 K/BB ratio in 5 total starts. If you take out his first start of the season against the Yankees, Duensing has only allowed 7 earned runs in his last 27 innings of work. In his last 3 starts, Duensing has given the Twins 7 strong in each, with the Twins going on to win 2 out of those 3 starts. I expect much of the same from Duensing in this one as the Red Sox have only managed to hit .235 against left-handed starters so far this season.

Buchholz’ career against the Twins: 12.1 IP, 6.57 ERA, 1.541 WHIP, 1.83 K/BB

Derek: It hasn’t been the Buchholz of old to start this season and he hasn’t really given any indication that the old dominating righty will be returning to the Red Sox anytime soon. He’s picked up 2 wins thanks to the offense and Buchholz continues to struggle with his command. He is averaging just over 1 strikeout every 2 innings and his WHIP is 1.78, the highest of his career.

May 8th (1:35pm EDT): RHP Carl Pavano (2-3, 5.84 ERA) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-3, 4.33 ERA)

Pavano’s career line against the Red Sox: 34.0 IP, 6.09 ERA, 1.676 WHIP, 3.25 K/BB

On the one hand, Dice-K pitched in the marathon game against the Angles on May 4th, which means he’ll be pitching on short-rest. On the other hand, he has fared well against the Twins over his career so far so all-things-considered, it may be a wash. As for his competition, Pavano has been pretty terrible of late, giving up 16 runs in his last 17 innings over three starts. In looking at Pavano’s numbers the one red flag I see is his velocity. In 2009, his average fastball was 90.7 mph, in 2010, it was an even 90 mph and so far in 2011, his fastball has averaged only 88.7 mph. If it weren’t for his age (35), this decline in velocity would be a major concern, but even if you factor that in, a 2 mph decline in the speed of his fastball over a two year period gives on pause for reflection. This velocity-drop has coincided with a decline in Pavano’s K-rate which has ultimately resulted in an increased contact rate (84.6% in 2011 vs. 81.4% in 2009) and thus he has become a more hittable pitcher. Pavano has certainly shown that he can still pitch well, but the results of his last three outings were not good at all, and when you consider how much he has struggled against the Red Sox throughout his career, you can’t help but feel uneasy about his fortunes in this game.

Matsuzaka’s career line against the Twins: 27.1 IP, 2.30 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 2.36 K/BB

Derek: After his first career relief appearance on Wednesday, Dice-K is back in the starting rotation, despite being pushed back a couple of days. Dice-K has looked better in his last few starts, but does continue to get into some trouble innings that have cost him a few wins. His last start was against Seattle and was taken out of the game after just 4 innings due to some tightness in his right elbow. Up to that point he had only surrendered 1 run on 3 hits, while striking out 4. Dice-K likes to work quickly and when he’s able to do so, he finds his rhythm and that’s when he’s most effective.

May 9th (7:10pm EDT): LHP Francisco Liriano-no OR RHP Nick Blackburn (2-4, 4.41 ERA) vs. LHP Jon Lester (4-1, 2.33 ERA)

This one is hard to figure. Gardenhire came out yesterday saying that the Twins are considering pushing Liriano’s next start back to Tuesday because he threw 123 pitches in his no-hitter vs. the White Sox. If the Twins ultimately decide to pull the trigger on this idea, I have to imagine that Nick Blackburn would get the nod and the two pitchers would simply trade starts. I’ll give you each of their lines against the Red Sox, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if indeed the Twins moved Liriano’s start back a day to give him an extra day of rest.

Liriano’s career line against the Red Sox: 19.2 IP, 7.78 ERA. 1.678 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB

Blackburn career line against the Red Sox: 20.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 1.452 WHIP, 5.00 K/BB

After looking at those two lines, now I’m hoping the Twins push Liriano’s start back a day … ouch.

Whoever the Twins throw out there, the competition will be one of the best pitchers in baseball right now. Jon Lester has been dominant this year, limiting opposing hitters to a .217 BAA while holding down a 46:15 K:BB ratio in 46.1 IP. In his last 4 starts overall (27 IP) he has 4 wins, he’s allowed a minuscule 4 runs, he’s given up only 5 extra-base hits and owns a 29:9 K:BB ratio. This one’s looking like a rough go for the hometown team, but hey, crazier thing have happened right?

Lester’s career line against the Twins: 34.2 IP, 4.67 ERA, 1.385 WHIP, 2.80 K/BB

Derek: All Lester has done this season is lead this pitching staff and ballclub and he’s doing it by example. He continues to get a head in counts and is consistently showing good command of all his pitches. Lester has been the one guy who the Sox can rely on every time he starts that he’ll give an excellent outing and that is something that this club needs right now. Lester’s latest victory was another beauty. He outpitched the Angels Dan Haren by going 7 strong innings of work, allowing 1 run on 6 hits while striking out a season high 11 batters.

Who’s Hot

Boston Red Sox

David Ortiz – Big Papi has been tearing it up at the plate lately. Over the past 4 game set against LA, the Red Sox DH went yard twice and drove in 3 runs. He managed to go 7 for 15 over the series and has pushed his batting average up t0 .295 on the season. Over his past 10 games, Ortiz is batting .359 and has hit safely in 8 of those 10 games.

Minnesota Twins

We should probably rename this section “Who’s Like Kubel” since he remains the primary (and sometimes the only) player carrying this team offensively. All Jason did in the last 7 days was hit 0.438/.500/.750 with 2 2B and 1 HR. After Kubel, the next “hottest” player at the plate is Danny Valencia who hit 0.250/.368/.500 in the last week. I will say that it is encouraging that all of Valencia’s four hits were doubles and he also drew 3 walks without striking out once. Maybe these are signs that his bat is waking up.

Francisco Liriano. If you don’t know why he’s listed here, then stop reading and get your head out of the sand. Glen Perkins, Matt Capps and Brian Duensing also deserve some recognition this week. Especially Perk who has thrown 14.0 innings on the season and has allowed just 1 ER (0.64 ERA). He also has a very respectable 1.14 WHIP.

Who’s Cold

Boston Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia – I never thought I’d write his name down in this section but here it is. The little engine is sputtering at the plate right now. Over his last 10 games and 42 at bats, Pedroia has just 6 hits for a dismal .142 AVG and has struck out 11 times. In his last game against LA he set a new personal worst by striking out 4 times in one game. Prior to that, Pedroia had never struck out more than twice in a game in his career.

Minnesota Twins

Until they start showing some signs of life, I’m going to start listing the Twins offense as whole here (sorry Kubel!). They are in the bottom 3 of the AL in basically every offensive statistic and that includes ranking dead last in the AL in all three slash stats (BA/OBP/SLG).

On individual terms, Drew Butera is 1-14 in the last week, but he’s not really expected to hit. Justin Morneau is mired in 2-18 stretch (0.111/.200/.278) and he is supposed to hit. A solo HR accounts for Justin’s only RBI in the last 7 days.

Dusty Hughes and Joe Nathan have ERAs north of 10.00 in the last 7 days and on the season.

Injury Update

Boston Red Sox

15-day DL: RHP Bobby Jenks (right biceps strain), RHP Dan Wheeler (calf strain)

60-day DL: RHP Junichi Tazawa (torn ulnar collateral ligament)

Minnesota Twins

15-day DL: C Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness), 2B/SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured left fibula), OF Jason Repko (strained quad), DH Jim Thome (sore oblique), OF Delmon Young* (sore oblique), RHP Kevin Slowey* (shoulder strain)

*Both Slowey and Young are expected to come off the DL and return to action during this weekend series.

3 0n 3 Questions

Boston Red Sox

Wally: Offensively the Red Sox have 5 players 35 or older that have logged at bats this year. Outside of David Ortiz none of the other four (J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron and Jason Varitek) have contributed much of anything. Is the lack of youth of the position players on the roster a concern for you?

D: The lack of youth is a concern but not the first one that comes to mind. Aside from Drew, the other three players are not everyday starters with Scutaro and Varitek getting more games than most bench palyers. Scutaro struggled early and thanks to the hot play of Jed Lowrie, Scutaro has found himself watching more than he’s playing. The most concerning part is J.D. Drew. He’s known for his many ailments and that could be the case early on this year. The problem is, the Red Sox are stuck with him for the remainder of the year. Had Ryan Kalish not been seriously injured then perhaps he could’ve come up and given Drew a run for his everyday spot. Cameron has struggled offensively and has made too many mental mistakes in the outfield which have hurt the Sox. Case in point, two game ago against the Angels, what should have been a base hit turned into a double thanks to Cameron slowly sauntering to the ball. I say trade him and bring up Josh Reddick or Daniel Nava and between them and Darnell McDonald, develop your young talent.

W: Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler were put the 15-day DL yesterday. How will the team adjust, and are the losses of those two relievers that big of a deal given how badly they’ve both been struggling this season?

D: The team tried to adjust by bringing up Rich Hill and Scott Atchison from Pawtucket. Problem was, Atchison was no better than Jenks or Wheeler had been and his stay in the big leagues was a short one as he was sent back down today. The bullpen continues to baffle everyone and apparently that includes Terry Francona. There are some good young arms in the minors and for whatever reason they’re not getting a shot. Jenks and Wheeler won’t be missed for the next short period of time because they were so ineffective with their relief appearances. Bobby Jenks has nicely been referred to as Eric Gagne by my counterpart Rick Meegan, and that’s not a compliment. Both relievers have better worked out their mechanic problems during this stint on the DL, because if they haven’t their stay in Boston could be short lived.

W: Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek have a combined OPS+ of 66. What are the Red Sox going to do at C in the short and long term?

D: This is a great question and one that continues to come almost every series. First the short term. There appears to be no immediate plan to make any changes at catcher. Both Salty and Tek will get ample opportunity to turn things around. Varitek is getting more playing time than anticipated due to Saltalamacchia’s slow start, both offensively and defensively. The Red Sox organization believe in Saltalmacchia’s ability which is why they went out and got him last season. So far it’s been a bit of a bust, but the brass aren’t giving up just yet. Lately he’s show signs of finding his rhythm at the plate as he’s raised his average to just under .200. Still a far cry from where it needs to be as an everyday catcher.

Now the long term. Should Salty not get going and prove he’s a bust, I would expect the Red Sox to make a deal for a more proven catcher. Varitek can’t handle the everyday workload and doesn’t have many years left after this one. The Red Sox currently have Luis Exposito and Michael McKenry in the minors, but neither are ready to make the jump to the bigs’ anytime soon. Should the shortstop position continue to be held down by Jed Lowrie then perhaps Marco Scutaro becomes a commodity to other teams. One possibility would be the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit, but concerns are the ability to stay healthy, much like Saltalmacchia and he’s not exactly an offensive powerhouse. The Milwaukee Brewers is a team that has been thrown around as a possibility for Scutaro to go to and they currently have three young catchers who have all seen playing time this year. That could be an option for the Brewers to unload one of their back stoppers.

Minnesota Twins

Derek: What has been the biggest downfall for the Twins slow start to the season thus far?

Adam: Uh…where to start? I would say the main culprit for the Twins slow start has been overall offensive ineptitude. Injuries have played a big part in that, no doubt about it, but the fact remains that the Twins have scored 5 runs or less in 28 out of 29 games this season. I think this team will come around offensively at some point, especially when they start to get some of their key players back (Mauer being the biggest key), but up until now it’s been a tough offense to watch. The starting pitching hasn’t been spectacular either, but part of me wonders if they’re feeling the pressure of knowing they’re not going to get much run support. Who knows. I guess it depends on how much of the game you believe is mental.

D: Quite often a no-hitter is a good case for a rallying point for a struggling club. With Liriano’s no-no the earlier this week, the Twins seem to be on a bit of a roll. In your opinion, what effects will this no hitter have on the club and could this be the spark to get the Twins turned around?

A: The Twins have only played (and won) one game since Liriano’s no-no, so to say they are on a “roll” is a bit pre-mature. I think it could be a boon to the club, but time will tell really. I guess I was not all that convinced by Frankie’s no-no, he walked 6, struck out only two and his no-hitter came against a team that is in the throes of a team-wide offensive quagmire. To be completely honest, if this was the spark that turns Liriano’s season around I’d be happy. He has not pitched well at all this season and if he could get back on track, it could go a long way in turning this team’s fortunes around.

D: Joe Mauer is no question the face of this franchise. Being a St. Paul native, signing Mauer to a long term deal to keep in Minnesota was a must. With the contract no longer a distraction and some recent time on the DL, what must Mauer do to put his struggles behind him and get him back to the level of play that is so valuable to his team?

A: I think the biggest thing Mauer can do right now is get healthy. I’d rather have a fully healthy Mauer for the final 4 months of the season, than have him come back too early and struggle again. Beyond that, I think the Twins need to look honestly at Mauer’s future as a catcher. How much longer can his body put up with the rigors of the position? Where would you put him if he isn’t catching? What can be done to acquire a competent back-up? These are all questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later. A healthy Mauer is going to produce, of that I have few doubts, so right now getting healthy and back into playing condition is the best thing Mauer can do to get back on track.

Topics: Boston Red Sox, Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Danny Valencia, David Ortiz, Drew Butera, Dustin Pedroia, Dusty Hughes, Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, Jon Lester, Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Tim Wakefield

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