Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies at Minnesota Twins, June 12-14

It’s all well and good to win series against pitiful teams like the Athletics, Royals, and Cubs. The recent winning streak faces a tougher test this week as the Twins (24-35) host the Philadelphia Phillies (29-33) in an interleague matchup.

That guy sure looks familiar, doesn't he? Photo by Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

The Matchups:

Tuesday, June 12, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Kyle Kendrick

Wednesday, June 13, 7:10 p.m. CDT: RHP P.J. Walters vs. LHP Cole Hamels

Thursday, June 14, 7:10 p.m. CDT: LHP Scott Diamond vs. RHP Joe Blanton

Yikes! Nick Blackburn has a 43.20 ERA in his career versus Philadelphia. To be fair, he earned that hideous number in just one start back in 2010. Blackburn recorded five outs and allowed eight runs that day. Walters has never faced the Phillies, and neither has the rookie Diamond.

Kendrick has never pitched against the Twins, but he has faced Josh Willingham 15 times. Willingham has a solid .364/.400/.727 line off him with a home run. Hamels has seven career innings against the Twins, and he allowed three earned runs. Willingham is also the Twin with the most experience against Hamels – he has a .905 OPS in 30 PAs. Blanton has actually pitched againt the Twins quite a bit, since he was on the Athletics until 2008. He has a 4-4 record and a 4.45 ERA.

The Head-to-Head:

This rivalry did not exist until 2002, and the Twins and Phils have only played nine games against each other. The Twins have  a slim 5-4 advantage. The Twins took the last series in 2010 thanks in part to a key Drew Butera home run. The last time the Phillies visited Minnesota, the Phils won two out of three. Carlos Silva won the only game for the Twins. Aaron Fultz and Terry Mulholland took the losses.

The Story:

Four series wins in a row, and the Twins suddenly find themselves on the cusp of looking respectable. They’re within 8.5 of the division leader, and the starting rotation does not look nearly as bad as it did in April. Diamond in particular has been a welcome addition – whenever he is on the mound, one gets the impression that the Twins have a good chance to win the game. Still, this team has a long way to go before they start turning any heads. Minnesota is still last in the AL in runs allowed (312) and third from last in runs scored (245). Any baseball expert will tell you that its hard to when games when you give up way more runs than you score.

Is the Twins’ winning June a sign that they’ve finally managed to duct tape a winning team together? Or is it a mirage created by facing awful competition? The Phillies might provide an answer.

Philadelphia is certianly not an awful team. They still have the same core of players that won a pair of NL titles within the last four years, and their slightly under .500 record is probably due in large part to being in the cutthroat NL East division. The Twins are lucky to face the Phillies while All-World ace Roy Halladay is on the Disabled List. The Philadelphia rotation is probably the best in baseball when he’s healthy. But with Halladay gone, the Phils are struggling badly. They come into this series having lost eight of their last nine games, and they find themselves almost as far out of first place (8.0 games) as the Twins are.

But no self-respecting Twins fan cares about the Phillies’ place in the standings. We’re all going to watch because of one reason: Jim Thome. He only spent a year and a half with our team, but in that time he became one of the favorite baseball players for almost every Minnesotan. This will not be Thome’s first return visit to Minnesota; if you were still watching Twins games last September, you may recall he hit a ninth inning home run off Joe Nathan on September 16th for the Indians. Still, Thome is sure to receive a resounding round of applause and several standing ovations.

We really like the guy, is what I’m trying to say.

The Other Side:

We all know Jim Thome, but what about the other Phillies? For some answers, we turn to Ethan Seidel of That Ball’s Outta Here, the greatest Phillies website in the world. Here are the Pond’s three questions and Ethan’s answers:

1. How much does it hurt to lose Roy Halladay? Do you think he’ll be back in time to help the Phillies make a run at the NL East title again?

The loss of Roy Halladay has been demoralizing to the team and the fans. Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the rotation had to be nothing less than perfect. But, now without Halladay for up to two months and Cliff Lee has yet to record a W this year things are not looking good for the Phils. Doc is a hard worker, and will come back as fast as humanly possible. He should be back on the mound around the trade deadline, but that looks to be too little too late for the team to make a run.

2. Cole Hamels is putting up some of the best numbers of his career in his contract year. Do you think he’ll stay with Philadelphia or bolt via free agency? Where does Hamels fit in a rotation that already contains Halladay, Cliff Lee, and young phenom Vance Worley?

There is no doubt that Cole Hamels is having his best year in a Phillies uniform. Coincidentally or not, it is helping his value ten fold as there really isn’t any pitcher in the 2013 free agent class who’s comparable. Despite having Halladay and Lee locked up for big bucks for a few more years, Hamels still has a place in the rotation. He is the youngest of the group at 28, so a long term investment makes a lot of sense. I still believe he will wind up with the Phillies, because he is too valuable to this franchise. If Hamels does sign with the Dodgers or Yankees, expect to see an angry mob outside Citizens Bank Park calling for Ruben Amaro’s head.

 3. A rough patch has knocked the Phillies under .500, but they are a perennial powerhouse in the NL, and they’re still within 8.0 games of the division leader. If the Phillies are looking to add a veteran or two at the trade deadline, is there anyone on the Twins who might be a good fit?

The 8 games out of first place is less daunting than having to leap frog 4 teams in front of them. With the added wild card the Phillies will still be in “contention” around the deadline. Whether they decide to buy or sell could be a major turning point for this team for years to come. They have very few prospects left in the coffers left to deal, but Dominic Brown could be dealt for MLB ready bat. Looking at the Twins roster, i would say Josh Willingham would be a nice fit. Given the state of the bullpen veteran reliever Matt Caps could be an attractive name as well. Trading what little they have left from the farm may not be enough to put them over top like years past. If the Twins do become sellers, i wouldn’t bet on the Phillies to come knocking.

The Bottom Line:
Two weeks ago, this prediction would have sounded like utter insanity, but Puckett’s Pond predicts that the Twins will win this series. Minnesota should take one of the first two (possibly with the help of some late-inning clutch hitting) and Diamond will shut down the competition on Thursday.

Topics: Jim Thome, Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins, Nick Blackburn, P.J. Walters, Philadelphia Phillies, Scott Diamond

Want more from Puckett's Pond?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.