2011 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals (6/2-6/5)

It used to be that the Minnesota Twins beat the Royals seemingly every time they played, those days have come to an end.  After an early season split in a two game series at Target Field the Twins were promptly swept out of their last series in Kansas City, failing to score more than 3 runs in any game.  Hopefully this time around the Twins can continue to hit the ball well and come out of Kansas City with nothing worse than a 4 game split.  Although the Twins bats are not REALLY that hot, as they haven’t won a single game in 2011 when they have given up more than 4 runs (0-25).  Oofda.

A big thank you goes out to Michael Engel from Kings of Kauffman for helping complete this series preview!

Kansas City Royals

2011 Record: 25-30, 4th in the AL Central  (9 GB)
254 Runs Scored / 275 Runs Allowed

Minnesota Twins

2011 Record: , 17-37, 5th in the AL Central (15.5 GB)
189 Runs Scored  / 282 Runs Allowed

The Twins head to Kansas City for the 2nd series of a 10 game road trip.  The Twins were swept out of Detroit losing three games by a total of 4 runs.  The Twins’ bats have been relatively hot as they have scored at least 5 runs in 4 of their last 6 games, but they have not been able to translate any of that offense into any wins.

The Royals are fresh of a 2-1 series win against the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim and are in the middle of an 11-game homestand.  The Royals have averaged 5.4 runs over their last 10 games despite being just 3-7 over that same stretch.  Joakim Soria has definitely been on the wrong end of a couple of those games, but the Royals have given up almost 7 runs a game(including 9+ on 4 occasions), clearly the issues are bigger than just one guy.

Pitching Matchups

June 2, 7:10pm: Anthony Swarzak, RHP 0-2, 3.60 ERA vs. Sean O’Sullivan, RHP 2-4, 6.75 ERA

Swarzak is coming off a magical 1 hit, 8 inning performance against the Angels’ Jared Weaver in which the Twins failed to give Swarzak any run support and he earned no decision as the Twins won in 10 innings.  Twins fans will not expect Swarzak to turn in a repeat performance on Thursday evening but improving on Francisco Liriano‘s season record should not be an unrealistic expectation as Liriano was sporting an ERA of 5.73 before landing on the DL last week.  O’Sullivan has been pretty bad in his last 5 starts with an ERA above 9 and a Strike Out to Walk ratio of 3-11!  In his last start he lasted just 5.2 innings and gave up 10 runs, all earned.  He will be looking to respond against the Minnesota Twins but sports a very scary OPS of .967 against current Twins hitters, including Jim Thome who is 3/6 with 2 walks and 2 home runs against him in just 8 plate appearances.  The Twins should have a great opportunity to start this series off with the W if they continue to hit well and figure out how to play good defense again.

June 3, 7:10pm: Carl Pavano, RHP 2-5, 5.19 ERA vs. Danny Duffy, LHP 0-0, 4.11 ERA

Carl Pavano has been trying to win his 100th game for more than a month, and he’s been tagged with 2 losses and 3 no decisions even with an ERA of 4.45.  Carl Pavano has been one of the few Twins pitchers to enjoy something resembling runs support through his last 5 games, but he has not done himself any favors working into early deficits.  Duffy made his major league debut on May 18th and pitched just 4 innings giving up only two runs.  The Royals have been trying to stretch Duffy out letting him work 5.1 and 6 innings in his last two starts, never giving up more than 3 runs.  He has struggled with walks during his initial outing but has since calmed down and Twins hitters should be prepared to face a mid 90s fastball with a pretty good lefty tail on the back end.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game  turn into a battle of bullpens, and Twins fans know how those games have been going lately.

June 4, 6:10pm: Nick Blackburn, RHP 4-4, 3.57 ERA vs. Luke Hochevar, RHP 3-5, 4.96 ERA

In 92 plate appearances against current Royals players Nick Blackburn has not walked a single man!  While he has had some success against this current crop of Royals players (.222 BA and an OPS of just .584) he has struggled in his career against the Royals (1-3, ERA 5.57 and a dreadful .318 batting average against), he’s actually pitched worse against the Royals than the Yankees which is hard to believe given the Twins’ struggles to defeat the Bronx Bombers.  Hochevar is struggling this season with an ERA approaching five and averaging less than 1/2 a strike out per inning and he’s giving up 1.5 HR/9.  Fortunately for Hochevar the Twins are struggling to hit the long ball and have struggled to work walks this season.  I expect Blackburn to pitch well but ultimately get no decision as this game is once again decided by the bullpens.

June 5, 1:10pm: Brian Duensing, LHP 2-5, 5.37 ERA vs. LHP Jeff Francis 2-5, 4.46 ERA

Brian Duensing has struggled in 2011 in his first season as a full time starter.  His ERA over his last 6 appearances up around 9 and his WHIP is 1.905!  As a results Duensing has struggled to pitch deep into ballgames and stressing an already overworked Minnesota Twins bullpen.  Duensing really needs to bounce back against Kansas City if he wants to keep his spot in the starting rotation with Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Gibson, and maybe even Kevin Slowey all breathing down his nick for that 5th spot in the Twins’ rotation.  Francis is 2-0 with a 2.4 ERA in his last 3 starts.  His lone indecision came despite giving up 5 runs in 6 innings against the O’s as Baltimore ultimately won in 6-5 in 12 innings.  Duensing will have to bring his best stuff if the Twins want a shot at winning the series finale.

Who’s Hot

Kansas City Royals

Eric Hosmer is sporting a .290 batting average and 10 RBIs over his last 6 games despite a BABIP of only .241 (league average is usually just over .300).  In those 31 ABs Hosmer has 5 extra base hits and ZERO strike outs.  The only knock on Hosmer over the last week has been his inability to draw a walk, but he has stolen a base and reached on a error, more than making up for a lack of free passes.

Minnesota Twins

Every week it seems like Denard Span makes the “Who’s Hot” list.  He’s hitting .354 over his last 12 games and has his average for the season just a tad under .300.  Alexi Casilla, who was hot two weeks ago remains hot.  The light hitting short stop has his batting average over .300 over the last week and his OPS is over .900!  Twins fans will be quick to point out that Thursday’s scheduled starter, Anthony Swarzak, is probably the only Twins pitcher even under consideration for anything more than a “Who’s luke warm?” list.  Swarzak pitched beautifully in his last outing filling in for the injured Francisco Liriano and looks to build on that success at Kauffman Stadium.

Who’s Cold

Kansas City Royals

Joakim Soria.  He’s given up 8 runs over his last 3.1 innings pitched and blow 3 consecutive saves.  He’s since been removed from the closer’s role and is struggling to hit his spots.  More to come on Joakim below.

Minnesota Twins

The way the Twins are playing this year there is a lot of competition to be named to this list, but the much maligned bullpen takes the cake here.  The Twins have been dreadful late in games finding new ways to lose close ballgames almost every night.  Especially cold is Brian Duensing, who has given up 5 or more earned runs in 3 of his last 4 starts including 6 earned runs through just 4.2 innings this past Tuesday.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Delmon Young.  Not only has he been making outs, and making them quickly, his lacksidasical play in left field is wearing on Twins fans and manager Ron Gardenhire alike.  Shouldn’t be too long before Ben Revere is patrolling LF while Delmon Young takes a seat on the bench.

3 on 3 Questions

Questions From Michael Engel:

1. What will it take for the Twins to turn things around? This is the million dollar question.  The Twins have not played great baseball very many times this season.  There have been a lot of things going wrong for the Twins at all the right times.  Joe Mauer is hurt, Justin Morneau has not returned to form, Tsuyoshi Nishioka is recovering from a broken leg, and half of the pitchers for the Minnesota Twins have been on the DL, and their replacements from AAA Rochester have been less than impressive.  As a team the Twins are being outscored by about a run and a half per game compared to the league average, and their early season schedule has been anything but average.
For the Twins to turn things around they need to get healthy, and they need to find consistency in their every day line up.  I think that Nishioka’s return will help solve some problems in the middle infield and eventually Nishioka and Alexi Casilla will figure things out up the middle.  If Joe Mauer ever comes back it will replace the awful offensive performances the Twins have been receiving from behind the dish (Butera’s HR on Wednesday against Detroit notwithstanding).  Mix in regular rest for Jim Thome and Jason Kubel and you’ll find that these Twins will be playing competitive baseball before the end of June.  I think playing on a competitive team will recharge Delmon Young‘s batteries and he will again play baseball with purpose.


2. Justin Morneau looks to finally be hitting – and then has pinched nerves.  Can he catch a break, and what are the expectations for him the rest of the way?  The pinched nerves seem to be the least of Morneau’s problems, as he hit two home runs in his first game after news of the pinched nerves came to light.  Taking half a year off of baseball, and about 75% of the offseason has definitely limited Justin’s success in the early part of this 2011 campaign.  Over his last 24 games Morneau is hitting .283 and his OPS is up near .750 (.745).  His line for the year (48 games) is still only .247 with an OPS of .669, which tells you how anemic he has been up to this point.  He has been slowly coming around (hitting .388 in the last week) and I think he will settle in hitting right around the .285-.300 range and his power will increase to bring his OPS closer towards his career mark in the .850s.

 

3. Who are the Twins eyeing in the upcoming MLB Draft? I’m definitely not an expert on scouting players and I don’t want to make an uneducated guess here so I’m going to rely on some of our other writers for assistance here.  Looking back through the Puckett’s Pond Draft Archives I find names like University of Kentucky RHP Alex Meyer and 2B Kolten Wong from the University of Hawaii.  My own internet research has turned up n interesting pick from ProspectJunkies.com, Nicky Delmonico, a catcher/third base prospect from Farragut HS (TN).  ProspectJunkies points out that Farragut HS is also the former school of current Twins prospect Kyle Waldrop.


Questions From Me:

1. Joakim Soria seems to have fallen off the map.  A closer examination of his pitching statistics leads me to believe he just isn’t hitting his spots as well as he used to and this is leading to guys chasing less balls out of the zone.  What does the future hold for Soria and what should the Royals need to do if he doesn’t rebound? Soria’s success over the years has been part composure and part a deep arsenal of pitches.  This season, so far, his repertoire hasn’t been as effective, and his command has been off.  Also, batters have adjusted and are letting more of his pitches with movement go off the plate to be called balls.  He’s worked behind too much, walked too many, and it’s hurt him.

I think he’ll bounce back – rough patches happen and he’s got a longer track record of top-tier success to counter his two months of trouble.  It’s all about command, and if that doesn’t come back, he’ll continue to struggle.

2. The Royals are a really exciting team to watch with all of the young studs coming up from the farm system, of the players not yet up to the big league club, who should Twins fans fear most looking to the future? The next two players to come up for the Royals will be Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery.  Moustakas had struggled in April, but he’s picking it up in Omaha.  He led the minors in homers in 2010 – and missed two weeks of the season with an oblique strain.  He’s a stocky power hitter who has scouts split over whether he’ll maintain enough athleticism to play third base full time or not.

Montgomery has had some issues with control and seems to alternate strong and iffy starts.  He was the top prospect in the Royals system according to Baseball America going into 2010 and has the same kind of frame and stuff that Danny Duffy does.  He had issues with his elbow and forearm last year but those troubles seem to be behind him.

3. After a hot start the Royals are just 25-30 and 3-7 in their last 10.  What is a realistic finish for this club over the last two thirds of the season? Not even optimistic fans could have thought the Royals would contend in 2011.  This season is more about finding how the prospects adjust to major league pitchers, hitters and all the circus that surrounds being a big leaguer.  That being said, they’ve played better for stretches than most fans could have imagined, and they have an energy that seems to shorten losing skids and keeps them in ballgames late most of the time.Going into the season, I thought 70 wins was a good target.  I’d stick around that number, but if Moustakas has a similar impact right away like fellow superstar Eric Hosmer, they could even sniff at…well, 72?

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Tags: AL Central Alexi Casilla Anthony Swarzak Baltimore Orioles Brian Duensing Carl Pavano Danny Duffy Delmon Young Denard Span Eric Hosmer Francisco Liriano Jason Kubel Jeff Francis Jim Thome Joakim Soria Joe Mauer Justin Morneau Kansas City Royals Kevin Slowey Kyle Gibson Kyle Waldrop Luke Hochevar Mike Montgomery Mike Moustakas Minnesota Twins Nick Blackburn Sean O'Sullivan Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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