After an ugly two game sweep at the hands of the division rival Tigers, the Twins start a three game series against the Toronto Blue Jays tonight.
AL East clubs have not been kind at all to the Twins this year. In 21 games against the Eastern Division, the Twins have won six and lost 15, including two games out of three in the first series of the year against the Jays. The series against the Blue Jays was where the Twins’s 2011 troubles started. With a little luck, they hope to begin their turnaround against the same team.
The following is Puckett’s Pond’s preview of the three game series. Thank you to Mat Germain of Jays Journal for his insight into the Toronto Blue Jays.
Toronto Blue Jays
2011 Record: 17-20, t-3rd in the AL East (4.5 GB)
163 Runs Scored (6th in the AL) / 168 Runs Allowed (9th in the AL)
2011 Record: 12-23, 5th in the AL Central (11 GB)
113 Runs Scored (14th in the AL) / 187 Runs Allowed (14th in the AL)
Romero has had a little trouble recently, losing four of his last five starts, including he last start against the Tigers, when he gave up six runs and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. But he pitched very well against the Twins on Opening Day, striking out seven and allowing just one run.
Pavano has yet to get on track this season. In seven outings, he has notched only two quality starts. In his past two outings, he has been knocked around, giving up six runs on 12 hits in 5.1 innings at Kansas City and seven runs on 10 hits in a five inning stint versus Boston . In the season opener at Toronto , Pavano surrendered seven runs to the Jays. That trend needs to stop if the Twins are going to dig themselves out of their early season hole. They’ll need the starting pitchers, especially Pavano, to pitch much better.
On Saturday, the Jays will throw 26 year old lefty Jo-Jo Reyes at the Twins. Reyes did not pitch in the first series between the two teams. He is looking for his first win of the year and is coming off a loss against the Tigers in which he allowed five runs in seven innings.
One of the streakiest pitchers on the team, Blackburn has actually pitched quite well in four of his seven starts this year. But he has been the victim of some weak run support. On Monday he pitched 6.1 strong innings and only allowed one run, but he received a No Decision as the Twins lost in extra innings. Blackburn was the only Twins pitcher to beat Toronto last time around, allowing one earned run in 5.2 innings in his first start of the season.
Another talented young starter on the Jays staff, the 26 year old Morrow is striking out batters at an impressive rate this year, with 29 Ks in just 21 innings. Since joining the Jays’ rotation on April 23rd, his 1-2 record is deceptive, since his only bad start was his last one against the Tigers. Like RRomero, he failed to survive the fourth inning in that one, allowing five runs.
By far the most reliable of the Twins starters in 2011, the only thing that can stop Duensing is the weather. His last start at Boston was cut to two innings when a rain delay stopped the game for nearly two hours. Three days later, another rain delay against the Tigers forced the Twins to bring Duensing in out of the bullpen. It was not his best effort, as he walked four and gave up a pair of runs in a two inning stint. Before the weather-related madness, Duensing was working on a string of five consecutive quality starts. The Twins hope he can start a new streak on Sunday.
Toronto Blue Jays
Last year’s surprise home run champion, Jose Bautista, is continuing to put up the power numbers (11HR so far this year). And he’s also hitting for average with a .350 mark, 90 points higher than last season, and getting on base to the tune of a .515 OBP.
Jason Kubel continues to be the only Twin hitting well. He is currently 2nd in the American League in hitting (.355), 3rd in OBP (.414), and 8th in slugging (.539). On the pitching side, Glen Perkins continues to dominate out of the bullpen. He has not given up an earned run in 5.2 May innings, and has struck out 9 batters this month, making him the only reliable short relief option the team has. His season ERA now stands at 0.51.
Toronto Blue Jays
After hitting 21 homers last year, Edwin Encarnacion has yet to leave the yard this season. The Twins hope that Target Field doesn’t cure his power drought. But in a four game series to close out the 2010 season, Encarnacion hit an incredible five home runs off Minnesota pitching.
Take your pick. Almost every hitter not named Jason Kubel is cold for the Twins. Other than Kubel and Denard Span, no Twins regular has a batting average over .250.
3 0n 3 Questions
Toronto Blue Jays
Nate: Jose Bautista is off to another great start. Has he proven that he is more than just a one year wonder? If so, how is it that the Blue Jays were smart enough to give this guy a chance when the Royals, Rays, Orioles, Pirates and Mets all gave up on him?
Mat: It’s not really that they were smart enough to give him a shot, it’s that circumstances prevailed in his direction. At the time, the Jays were left relying on an oft-injured Scott Rolen at 3B which meant that Jose got more playing time than was planned. Once the Jays dealt Rolen to Cincinnati, in return for Edwin Encarnacion, Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke, Jose has already proven that he could play well enough to deserve more playing time and got more playing time in the OF as a result since Travis Snider was struggling. The writing should have been on the wall for all doubters at that point, because he was able to knock out 10 HRs in the month of September alone with regular playing time and managed 56 walks (3rd most on the team) despite having only 336 Abs to his credit. That’s why 2010 didn’t surprise some of us as much as it did others. Would we have predicted that many HRs? Not likely, but 30-40 was expected by some of us.
N:When I look at the Blue Jays’ roster, I see a lot of very talented young pitchers. But like the Twins, they don’t appear to have a single standout ace. Who is the team ace right now, and who do you think has the brightest future on the Jays’ staff?
M: Personally, I love Brandon Morrow’s stuff, and also believe that Kyle Drabek has the stuff to become an ace. Whether they settle in as #2 calibre guys or have “the” breakthrough that makes them real aces in debatable, but to have 2 x #2s is a nice problem to have. In terms of leadership, Ricky Romero is undoubtedly the leader of the rotation, but he’s a #2 or #3 as well. Therefore, in my humblest opinion, the Jays will have to wait for Morrow or Drabek to mature into an ace, or wait for one of Asher Wojciechowski, Aaron Sanchez, and/or Noah Syndergaard to take that role on in 2-3 years. I still like the Jays rotation overall, as any rotation that should have 5 x #2 or #3 starters in it in 2012 (Romero, Morrow, Drabek, Wojciechowski, McGuire) is fine by me!
N: Is this the year that the Blue Jays finally do the American League a favor and end the Yankee/Red Sox dynasty in the AL East?
M: I can’t really tell at this point because I’m not sure of a few key things. First, what will the likely promotions of Brett Lawrie, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, and Zach Stewart do for the Jays in the second half? Will they be lightning rods for the lineup and rotation, or will they fizzle under pressure? If they come on like gangbusters and spark the Jays, I don’t see why the Jays can’t contend for the wild card. They’ve been able to stay 4 games back of that spot despite tons of injuries and lacklustre pitching from Jo-Jo Reyes and others, so a good run could get them far in the second half. But, if the young guys come up and struggle, it could be end-game for 2011 and the Jays would wind up gaining experience to make a very strong push in 2012.
My best bet at this point would be that it’s 50/50. If they get healthy and get help from the minors, however, I fully expect them to be in the race right up until the last few weeks. It should be a fin summer as a result!
Mat: The Twins have “seen better days” and are obviously struggling thus far in 2011. I can remember everyone speaking about how Carl Pavano was not a true #1 and that the Twins really needed better pitching but seemed uninterested in acquiring any help there. Has that changed with the horrible start to the year? If so, who’s on their radar if anyone?
Nate: During the offseason, the Twins appeared to have 5 solid #2 or #3 starters in their rotation, but no true ace. I don’t think anyone thought of Pavano as an ace; if anything, Twins fans hoped that Francisco Liriano would take the next step and become one. There were no real attempts to acquire a #1 guy because there were really none available – the Royals would never have traded Zach Greinke within the division, and the Twins could never afford a 6 year $20+ million per year deal that Cliff Lee commanded. I haven’t heard any talk lately – from fans or from the media – about the Twins trying to acquire an ace. Everyone in Twins Territory is just hoping that the current crop of starters can hold it together. There is some help on the way later this year, though. 2010 first round pick Kyle Gibson looks ready to jump to the Majors.
M: Francisco Liriano threw a gem recently, and that had to feel great for all Twins fans. Is he steadily pitching great in 2011, or has he been inconsistent?
N: Liriano has been very consistent – consistently terrible! He has taken the mound seven times, and only twice has he managed a quality start. In 35 innings, Liriano has an astronomical 27 walks and only 21 strikeouts. For comparison, last year he threw 191 innings, struck out 201 and walked only 58. His season has been shaky from the beginning , as he reported to Spring Training without keeping up on his offseason conditioning routine, and he hasn’t gotten on track since then. The no-hitter has been the only bright spot so far in a dismal season for Liriano.
M: A lineup that’s missing Joe Mauer is always missing a huge piece of the puzzle, but others (Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau) have not pulled their own weight at all, while another – Jason Kubel – has been an offensive juggernaught. Is there a sense that once Mauer returns and the slow bats get going, this team could be in for one great winning streak – like the Colorado Rockies have shown can happen in recent years?
N: I could write a book about all the Twins hitters who haven’t hit well so far this season. But to be fair to Young, he’s been on the Disabled List almost as long as Mauer. The Twins #2 through #6 hitters (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Mauer, Morneau, Young, and Jim Thome) have all had significant injury problems this year. The Twins need someone to step up and fill the gap, but there’s almost nobody left to do that.
As a Twins fan, though, I can’t help but think they do have one great winning streak in them. I’ve seen it so many times in the recent past: 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, and to a lesser extent, 2010. The Twins always seem to have a very rough patch in the season and then go on a huge tear after the All Star Break. I just hope they haven’t dug too deep of a hole for themselves this year.