It has been a busy week for baseball fans. In addition to the regular hustle and bustle of the MLB, the 2011 First Year Player draft was in full swing earlier this week. Both the Twins and the Rangers selected more than 50 new players to potentially join their ball club. Despite being the worst team in baseball, the Twins are 6-4 over their last 10 and playing their best baseball of the season. An influx of scrappy young kids from AAA Rochester has finally given life to the lineup and the Twins are having fun playing baseball again. Meanwhile the Texas Rangers come in even hotter than the Twins, winners of 7 of their last 10 and 2.5 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for 1st place in the AL West.
2011 Record: 35-28, 1st in the AL West
298 Runs Scored / 256 Runs Allowed
2011 Record: , 23-38, 5th in the AL Central (11.5 GB)
224 Runs Scored / 295 Runs Allowed
The Minnesota Twins are finally coming home to Target Field for a lengthy home stand. After just 21 home games through their first 61 games the Twins will now enjoy 31 of their next 41 games at home in Minneapolis. The Twins have not been very good at Target Field this season (6-15) but with a pile of injuries and several difficult East coast trips, the Twins haven’t played very well anywhere.
Texas comes in playing pretty good baseball despite dropping 2/3 at home against the Detroit Tigers. This series in Minnesota will test the Rangers pitching staff as the Twins have been hitting the ball fairly well in June. Texas is currently palying .500 ball on the road and will hope to improve on that record as they take the field tonight in Minnesota.
Thursday, June 9, 7:10pm: Derek Holland, LHP (5-1, 4.36 ERA) vs. Nick Blackburn, RHP (5-4, 3.57 ERA)
Derek Holland is just 2-0 over his last 5 starts despite giving up only 12 earned runs. In his last start against the Rays Holland pitched a complete game shut-out and should carry that confidence into tonight’s game against Nick Blackburn. Blackburn is also undefeated in his last 5 starts, going 3-0 and also gave up just 12 earned runs. However, since earning a complete game win on May 24th, Blackburn has managed to only give the Twins 11 innings in his next two starts, including an injury shortened outing last week. Blackburn says that his back is feeling fine after that 5 inning outing, but only time will tell.
Friday, June 10, 7:10pm: Colby Lewis, RHP (5-6, 4.37 ERA) vs. Scott Baker, RHP (3-4, 3.86 ERA)
Lewis was blasted in his most recent outing, giving up 10 earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers, including 4 home runs. That outing raised Lewis’ ERA nearly a full point, and despite his most recent performance Lewis has been a fairly average pitcher for the Rangers averaging right around 6 and 2/3 innings per start and giving his team a chance to win ballgames. Baker has struggled early in his last two outings, allowing multiple runs before the 4th inning. In his most recent start Baker gave up 2 runs in the first but settled in after that and the Twins bats rallied behind him for a 6-4 victory.
Saturday, June 11, 3:10pm: Matt Harrison, LHP (5-5, 3.48 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano, LHP (3-6, 5.20 ERA)
Harrison has given up only 3 earned runs over his last three starts but only lasted 4 innings in his most recent outing against the Tigers. Liriano, fresh off the Disabled List, gave up just 1 unearned run in his last start, striking out 7 in five innings. Liriano was held to just five innings and 81 pitches as the coaching staff kept him on a short leash. Current Rangers are hitting .288 against Liriano, and given his high walk counts this season he is going to need his slider to be getting him strike outs or it could be a long night for Frankie.
Alexi Ogando is the hottest thing in Texas that isn’t measured in degrees Fahrenheit. He is 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA, including a 7.2 inning, 7 strike out game on Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers. Luckily for Twins fans Ogando will not face the Twins during this quick 3 game series. Unfortunately for the Twins, Josh Hamilton plays every day, and he’s hitting .333 in the past week and his OPS is a super human 1.078. If the Twins have any shot at winning this series they’ll have to cool him down.
While Minnesota’s starting pitchers have turned in some pretty solid games as the calendar has turned to June, the Twins’ bullpen has been ever hotter. With the exception of Matt Capps’ blown save in the 9th on June 8, the bullpen has been outstanding, not giving up in the previous two series against the Indians or the Royals. I can’t say for sure if the tides are turning, but this bullpen has been as good as their pre-game bullpen entrance!
Mike Napoli is hitting just .125 and striking out in nearly a third of his ABs over the past week while drawing just 1 walk and only 2 hits. Nelson Cruz his hitting just .208 with 5 hits over the past 6 games, but 4 of those hits have been home runs! Pitch to contact might not be the best strategy against this guy, but if the Twins can keep the ball down they should be able to limit Cruz’s HR power.
It is always a struggle to put Michael Cuddyer on this list because it’s hard to find fault with a guy who has been doing everything the team asks of him, though not always doing it exceptionally. But in the last two weeks Cuddyer is hitting just .218, has 10 strike outs and only 3 walks. He’s managed to only rack up 7 RBIs despite a plethora of plate appearances with men in scoring position. While his BABIP is low (just .233 over the same time period) a regression back towards an average BABIP would only result in a couple of extra singles.