After a weak start, the Twins finally seem to have figured out a winning strategy. All they have to do is fail to hit for five or six innings to lull the opponents into a false sense of security, then beat the living tar out of the opposing bullpen. It makes for some exciting baseball, though if the Twins do that for a full season, fans’ stress levels will probably spiral out of control.
Next up: three games at home against the Texas Rangers.
Friday, April 13: RHP Anthony Swarzak vs. LHP Matt Harrison, 7:10 p.m. CDT
Saturday, April 14: RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Yu Darvish, 12:10 p.m. CDT
Sunday, April 15: RHP Liam Hendriks vs. RHP Neftali Feliz, 1:10 p.m. CDT
Saturday’s game with Blackburn on the mound might not be a pretty sight for Twins fans. The current Ranger roster has hit .392/.409/.608 against him, including Josh Hamilton, who has a .571 average and a homer in 15 at bats. Mitch Moreland (.382) is the only current Ranger Blackburn has faced who has an OPS against him of less than .775.
Fortunately for the Twins, they have hit fairly well against Harrison. The current roster has a line of .313/.389/.438 against him in 55 plate appearances. They’ve fared less well against Feliz. Joe Mauer has three hits in four at bats against Feliz, but no other Twins player who has faced Feliz has a hit. To be fair, though, no Twin has more than four at bats against the converted closer Feliz, so the individual numbers might not mean too much.
There’s a chance the Twins will have their first rain delay of the season this weekend. Tonight’s forecast calls for temperatures no higher than the low 50s with about a 60% chance of rain. Scattered thunderstorms are a strong possibility. Saturday should be much nicer, with temperatures climbing all the way up to the 70s in the daytime, though rain is still a possibility. Sunday brings another chance for rain, and temperatures will hover somewhere around 60 degrees.
The Head to Head:
The Twins have dominated the franchise now known as the Rangers for 50 years. With 358 wins for the Twins (aka the old Washington Senators) and just 313 for the Rangers (aka the new Washington Senators), Minnesota owns a .534 all-time winning percentage in this series. The only AL team against whom the Twins have a better percentage is Tampa (.536).
Even though the Rangers’ recent fortunes have been much better than the Twins, Minnesota has managed to maintain the upper hand in this matchup. Last season the AL worst Twins somehow won five of the eight games they played against the two time AL champs. And dating back to July of 2008, the Twins have been victors in 13 of the last 16 games in Minnesota.
The only notable recent Ranger triumph came last July 25. On that date, the Rangers put up 20 runs against Blackburn and five relief pitchers (including Michael Cuddyer).
Unfortunately, Cuddyer is not available out of the bullpen anymore, so the Twins will have to hope their current crop of relievers is up to the task. Closer Matt Capps was shaky yesterday while recording his second save in as many days. On the plus side, Glen Perkins has been lights out so far, with six strikeouts and no runs allowed in 3.2 innings. If only the starting rotation were so stable; the Twins have not recorded a single quality start this season in six tries. They cannot expect to bang out 20 hits every game, so the starters are going to need to contribute a little more.
Texas comes to town after winning three of four against their division rival Mariners. A franchise known for its hitting has received some exceptional pitching through seven games, allowing just 18 runs for a 2.57 team ERA. But the hitting isn’t slumping either. The Rangers already have 10 homers, compared to six for the Twins. This lineup will be a formidable test for Swarzak and Hendriks – if they can shut these guys down, they definitely belong in the rotation.
The Other Side:
For the Ranger fan perspective on this series, Puckett’s Pond turned to Jean-Luc Tilly, Staff Writer for Nolan Writin’, Fansided’s Rangers site. Here’s how Jean-Luc answeredour three questions:
1. Former Ranger C.J. Wilson suffocated the Twins’ lineup on Monday. Do you think Wilson and the Angels will be a threat this year, or do the Rangers have the AL West locked down again?
The Angels will definitely be a threat this year, but I think that will have more to do with Pujols finally giving them some offense. Sure, Wilson played well against the Twins, but take a look at these peripheral stats: 6.43 K/9, 5.14 BB/9, a mere .125 BABIP, and an 88% groundball rate (twice his career average). His FIP was nearly 5.00. Wilson didn’t really have a great game at all, and I’m skeptical of his ability to be successful this year.
2. What do you think of Yu Darvish so far?
Darvish seemed wild at first, but once he got his nerves under control, he was very effective. I thought it was pretty encouraging, and I’m looking forward to him making a start with a little less pressure.
3. What do you think of Joe Nathan so far? (As a Twins fan, I hope to see him on the Target Field mound again, but hopefully not because the Rangers are winning in the 9th)
I actually just wrote an article about this, but I think Joe Nathan has been pretty ok. He’s taken a lot of flak for directly contributing to the Rangers’ only two losses, but I think that’s misplaced anger. He hasn’t walked a batter, and has maintained excellent strikeout rates; he’s just gotten kind of unlucky. I think he’ll end up being one of the surprises of the Rangers bullpen this year, when he sharpens his command and gets back to his dominant ways.