Tonight the Twins open up a three game set against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Minnesota hopes to continue a surprising streak that has seen them win seven in a row, and 14 of 16, to climb out of last place in the AL Central. San Francisco is slumping, having lost four in a row, including a sweep at the hands of their Bay Area rival Oakland Athletics.
Special thanks to the writers at Frisco Fastball for their help with this preview.
2011 Record: , 31-39, 4th in the AL Central (7.5 GB)
263 Runs Scored (13th in AL) / 320 Runs Allowed (11th in AL)
2011 Record: 39-33, 1st in the NL West
248 Runs Scored (15th in NL) / 254 Runs Allowed (3rd in NL)
Like the Twins, the Giants have suffered some big injuries this season. The Twins have seen six members of their Opening Day lineup spend time on the DL, and currently have Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, and Denard Span out of commission. Meanwhile, San Francisco has lost catching phenom Buster Posey and 2B Freddy Sanchez for the season, and they just got 3B Pablo Sandoval back after an extended DL trip.
Aside from the medical similarities, it would be difficult to find two teams in MLB built more differently than the Twins and Giants. The Twins have spent the last two decades developing left-handed hitters and collecting interchangeable strike-throwing starters who can pitch quality starts, but rarely dominate hitters or display overpowering “stuff.” Meanwhile, the Giants have built their team around a collection of ace pitchers like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, who can blow hitters away with powerful fastballs and nasty breaking pitches, despite their occasional tendency to give up walks. Rarely will you hear a San Francisco coach preaching the “pitch to contact” philosophy that Minnesota fans hear about all the time.
Pitching philosophies aside, this should be a very low-scoring series. The Giants have scored the second fewest runs in the NL and have given up the third fewest. The Twins are also second to last in runs scored. While their pitching numbers are not great overall, they have held opponents to some very low scores lately. The pitcher-friendly environment of AT&T Park should hold scoring down even further.
Pavano is coming off a complete game win against the Chicago White Sox, and like most of the Twins’ pitchers, he is on a roll. For the month of June, Pavano has allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings for a 1.44 ERA with a 2-0 record and two complete games.
Bumgarner’s terrible won-loss record is disappointing, because he has pitched well for most of the season. Case in point: he is just 1-2 in June, despite throwing quality starts and holding opponents to two earned runs or fewer in all of his starts this month. Look for a low-scoring contest every time he takes the mound.
After a rocky start to the year, Blackburn has pitched well enough to merit speculation about an All Star spot. He has had a quality start in eight of his last nine outings, including a brilliant eight inning scoreless performance against Chicago last Thursday.
Vogelsong has come out of nowhere to put up some great pitching numbers this season. After years of anonymity in Pittsburgh and a three year stint in Japan, the 32 year old is making the most of his opportunity to pitch for a contender back home. Like Bumgarner, though, Vogelsong has suffered a lack of run support.
Thursday, June 23, 2:45pm: Brian Duensing, LHP (4-5, 4.82 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum, RHP (5-6, 3.39 ERA)
Duensing has not been the same surprisingly effective starter who posted a 2.62 ERA in 2010. Strangely, his worst outings this year have coincided with bad weather, such as hit 2 inning performance against Texas at a rain-soaked Target field on June 10th. The weather should be dry on Thursday, so perhaps Duensing will pitch another quality start.
There is no such thing as a good time to face the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Lincecum, but this might be as close as it gets. “The Freak” has been very hittable in recent starts, giving up giving up 16 earned runs in 15.1 innings vs. St. Louis, Washington, and Cincinnati before tossing a quality start against the A’s last Friday.
The Twins’ pitchers are scorching hot right now. They have been the catalyst for the seven game streak. Twins’ starters have thrown quality starts in all seven of those games, and they seem to be pitching into the 7th or 8th inning nearly every game. In the month of June, the staff has a 2.01 ERA.
First baseman Aubrey Huff has started to hit after a weak start. He has a .304 average, a .883 OPS, and four homers in June. Outfielder Cody Ross is also enjoying the month of June, hitting .317 with a .958 OPS.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Joe Mauer had trouble hitting the ball against San Diego after returning from the DL. Nishioka went 1 for 8 in the series, and Mauer was just 1 for 11. The Twins will need these two to get on base if they want to extend their winning streak on the road.
Catcher Eli Whiteside, filling in for the injured Posey, has put up a meager .190/.278/.291 line in 33 games. Lincecum is 0-2 with a 7.59 ERA this month.
Three Questions for Frisco Fastball
To give our readers a little glimpse of the series to come, Puckett’s Pond has consulted with Bryan Rosa, lead writer for Fansided’s Giants website, Frisco Fastball.
Nate: Just like the Twins, the Giants have suffered some devastating injuries this season. How have the DL stints for Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Freddy Sanchez affected the team’s chances to repeat?
Bryan: Obviously, injuries at any time are always significant – but they become at an epically bad level when they’re essentially to your three best players (offensively) and probably defensively as well. Losing your second, third and clean-up bat’s is just devastating. Then combine that with Posey’s stunningly good game calling and all three of their solid defensive games, I’m really shocked they’re where they are in the standings right now. It’s a big testament to their starting staff and bullpen. As to them repeating, when you have a staff like the G-men have – I guess anything is possible. But if they don’t improve significantly on the offensive end, it’s not looking promising at all.
Nate: Thursday’s scheduled starter, Tim Lincecum, has hit a bit of a slump lately, getting roughed up by St. Louis, Washington, and Cincinnati before throwing a quality start against the A’s. Is there any reason to be concerned (mechanical issues, injuries, etc.), or is it just a statistical fluke for one of the game’s greatest pitchers?
Bryan: For whatever reason, Tim seems to go through these funks. His delivery is so unique, one little hitch and it gets all out of whack. He hasn’t lost much velocity, but his control is really poor and that’s where the problems start. He has ALWAYS had a horrid time holding runners on so when you’re walking guys, you’re essentially giving up doubles to guys with even average speed. The Giants current starting catcher, back-up Eli Whiteside has been having a terrible time throwing the ball to second base (seriously, it’s been on Major League the Movie levels… he needs a Playboy magazine),* so combine that with Tim’s inability to hold runners on, it’s like a freeway on the basepaths lately. Tim will snap out of it – it’s just weird when he looks human to most everybody since he’s been so robotic through his first few seasons.
Nate: Who would you rather have behind the plate, Buster Posey or Joe Mauer (assuming that both were healthy)?
Bryan: It’s a tough call – assuming both were healthy and we’re talking about their current stages, I’d have to take Joe simply because he’s more polished than the current Buster. In a few years assuming both were healthy, I’d have to take Posey – though, I have a major man-crush on Gerald [Posey’s given name], so, I’m biased.
*Nate’s Note: Regrettably, I could not find a link to this video clip. If you have not seen Major Leauge II, please do so immediately. It is the funniest baseball movie ever.