Series Preview: Red Sox at Twins, April 23-25

The Red Sox won the Mayor's Cup, but now the games count! Photo by Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

 

Welcome home, Twins. Tonight the local nine starts a three game stretch versus the reeling Red Sox. Can the Twins take advantage of a struggling Boston team? Or will their own ample shortcomings hold them back?

The Matchups:

Monday, April 23, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Jason Marquis vs. LHP Jon Lester

Tuesday, April 24, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Josh Beckett

Wednesday, April 25, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Liam Hendriks vs. RHP Clay Buchholz

Lester may be one of the AL’s premier pitchers, winning 15 or more games each of the last four seasons, but he has struggled against the Twins. He has just a 1-3 record and a 4.71 ERA against Minnesota in seven games (six starts). Denard Span has a .529 OBP against Lester in 17 plate appearances. Beckett has fared much better, with a 3-1 record and a 3.00 ERA. The Twins have not seen Buchholz much, but in 32 plate appearances, their current roster holds a .345/.406/.448 line against him.

Since Marquis spent his entire career in the NL before this year, he has not faced many of the current Red Sox, but former Padre Adrian Gonzalez has seen plenty of him, and he has a solid .316/.480/.474 line in 25 plate appearances (no homers, though). The current Sox roster has hit .364/.424/.580 versus Blackburn. Look out for catcher Kelly Shoppach, who has a 1.596 OPS against Blackburn. Rookie Hendriks has never faced the Red Sox.

The Weather:

Daytime temperatures will be in the upper 60s and lower 70s all three days. Rain is not likely to be a concern, with the possible exception of Wednesday.

The Head to Head:

Since 1901 the Twins (formerly Washington Senators) have won 919 games against the Red Sox. They’ve lost 950. The Sox took five of the seven matchups last season, and they have won the season series every season since 2006.

Back in ’06, the Twins won five of six against Boston, benefiting from a Jason Kubel 12th inning grand slam in one game, and earning victories from such pitchers as Boof Bonser, Dennys Reyes, and Carlos Silva.
The Story:

Minnesota continues to plod through a difficult early season schedule that pits them against all of the American League’s powerhouse teams. They’ve already faced the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, and Rays. The Twins actually managed to hold their own against all but the Rangers, but two losses to end the Rays series have left a bad taste. Starting pitching continues to be a struggle for Minnesota; they still have only three quality starts on the season, two from Carl Pavano and one from Hendriks. The defense will need to stay on its toes this series, because all three starting pitchers are ground ball artists who rely on the infield to throw out runners and turn double plays.

Boston lands in Minnesota with a 4-10 season record. They are riding a five game losing streak that includes a pair of embarrassing losses to their archenemy New York Yankees. The Yanks dropped the Sox 6-2 on Friday despite the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, and they beat Boston again on Saturday, even though the Red Sox had jumped to a 9-0 lead early in the game. Sunday’s game was rained out, which could be a mixed blessing for the Red Sox. They get a day to rest, but they also have to stew over the losses for an extra day.

Boston’s outfield is banged up. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are on the Disabled List, and former Twin/current Red Sox backup Jason Repko is day to day with a partially separated left shoulder. On the mound, all three of Boston’s starting pitchers for this series bring ERAs over 5.00. Buchholz has given up five runs or more in each of his three starts this season, making him the Boston version of Francisco Liriano.

The Other Side:

Derek Stykalo of BoSox Injection joined us to answer three questions about the series from the Sox point of view:

1. Both teams head into this series with losing records. A lot of people expected that from the Twins, but the Red Sox slow start is quite surprising. How long do you think it will take for the Sox to turn things around?
That’s a tough question. A week ago I would have said they were on the road to recovery so to speak, then Bobby V opened his mouth and now the club is in a skid both mentally and physically. The bullpen is beyond struggling and the fans are crying for Bard to be put back as the closer. Until that happens and some key players return from injury the Sox could continue to limp along.

2. How much does it hurt for the Red Sox to lose Jacoby Ellsbury? (his injury really puts a dent in my fantasy team, but I imagine it’s even worse for Boston!)

It’s a huge loss without their MVP playing everyday. Not only his bat but his speed on the base paths is game changing and his ability to track down balls in the outfield secures outs that seem destined to find the hole. This team is not the same without him in the lineup and it’s evident based on the results. If he can recover and return by June he may be able to contribute enough to help this team make a run at a wild card. If surgery ends up in his future you can’t replace him and the Sox will sorely miss him.
3. What do you think of Nick Punto so far? Where does he rank amongst the plethora of former Twins on Boston’s roster (David Ortiz, Darnell McDonald, Jason Repko)?

I personally like the signing of Punto. You know he’s not going to hit 20 home runs or .300 but his defensive skills are a nice option especially late in the game. Aside from Ortiz I would say Punto is the next most valuable ex-Twin on the Sox team. McDonald has struggled to find his groove and Repko is a substitute outfielder that could become a bench player with the arrival of Marlon Byrd. Punto is a utility type guy that will give guys like Pedroia, Aviles and Youkilis a breather as the season wears on and as I said, his defense reassures the team that he’s not a liability. His character speaks for itself and to be honest a few other players on the club could learn a thing or two from Punto on how to play the game the right way.

The Bottom Line:

Playing Boston is always a challenge for the Twins, but this is the time to strike. The Twins need to win this series against a struggling team to boost their confidence and avoid falling into a deep early season hole.

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