Now that Johnny Damon is public enemy number one for the Twins faithful, it’s time to leave Tampa behind and head for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. After the Twins snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the first 3 games against Tampa Bay, they won the 4th and final game. It was a rough weekend to say the least, but there is reason for hope. The White Sox are 7-8 and the Tigers are 7-9, so while the Twins have really stumbled out of the gate their main competition for the division has also underachieved.
Baltimore started the season 6-1 but has lost 7 in a row and is clearly not hitting on all cylinders. Minnesota has scored fewer runs than any other team in the AL, but you know who is 13th in the AL? That’s right, Baltimore. The Twins have allowed 69 runs this season which ranks them 10th in the AL. The Orioles are 9th in runs allowed. This is the series the Twins need to win to turn the tide. It is right in front of them and the O’s are ripe for the picking.
Helping me out with the Orioles half of this series preview is Birds Watcher Staff Writer Scott Taylor.
With the hope of getting the Twins offense on track, I’ve decided to switch the up the logo for this preview.
2011 Regular Season Record: 6-8, 3rd in the AL East (3.0 GB)
51 Runs Scored (13th in the AL) / 65 Runs Allowed (9th in the AL)
2011 Regular Season Record: 5-10, 5th in the AL Central (6.0 GB)
45 Runs Scored (14th in the AL) / 69 Runs Allowed (10th in the AL)
Show me a Twins fan that correctly predicted Liriano’s season to start like this and I’ll show you someone that is probably a fan of another team in Minnesota clothing. His first three starts have “earned” game scores of 37, 45, and 26. In 2010, only 8 of his 31 starts resulted in a game score of less than 45, and only one resulted in a game score less than 26. While the final results didn’t reflect it, he looked much better in his last start and he really has no where to go but up from this point. Baltimore has a lineup that Liriano should be able to take advantage of, and facing Tillman isn’t as imposing as having to deal with Britton or Guthrie.
Liriano’s career against the Orioles: 13.0 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6.2 SO/9, 3.00 SO/BB
The talented Tillman started off the year throwing six no-hit innings against the Rays but has showed why he isn’t a great young pitcher yet because of his inconsistency. Tillman can easily go out and pitch six great innings but more often than not in his young career he has lacked command and catches too much of the plate with his straight fastball, resulting in him getting knocked around. Tillman is still young and has time to grow, but in the meantime he needs to show more command or else he will continue to be knocked around.
Pavano’s start on Opening Day in Toronto was forgettable (21 game score) but in his last two starts he’s given the Twins 16.0 innings of 8 hit, 1 run baseball (70 and 79 game scores respectively). Combine it all together and through 3 starts he’s been basically the same pitcher that we saw during the bulk of the 2010 season. That is a very good thing for the Twins who banked on his ability to repeat the results of last year when they signed him to a 2-year $16.5 million contract over the winter. Pavano has had great success in his career against Baltimore which gives Minnesota a decided advantage in this matchup.
Pavano’s career against the Orioles: 55.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.0 SO/9, 2.38 SO/BB
Another young and talented right hander, Jake Arrieta faces the same issues that Tillman does. Arrieta lacks consistency and command. He can come out and looks like a dominating young starter with his mid 90’s fastball and great slider. He can also look overmatched and get knocked around like he did against the Texas Rangers earlier this season when he doesn’t command the strike zone. Arrieta looked solid against the Yankees in his last start pitching 6 innings and allowing only 5 hits and 3 runs. You won’t know until Tuesday night which pitcher will show up.
After the first 2 turns through the rotation, Blackburn was the one starter trying to hold things together with a 0.77 ERA in his first 11.2 IP. Then in his third start last Friday he came back to earth and got knocked around giving up 10 hits in 6.0 innings. Interestingly enough, he fanned 6 and didn’t walk anyone after 4 BB and 4 SO in his first 2 starts. When he’s right and going well, Nick can get the job done but he gives up far too many hits (10.7 career H/9) to be much more than a back of the rotation starter. While it is a small sample size, Blackburn has struggled against the Orioles and given that he is facing Britton, this is the matchup in the series that favors Baltimore the most.
Blackburn’s career against the Orioles: 18.2 IP , 5.79 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 1.0 SO/9, 0.50 SO/BB
Zach Britton has pitched extremely well in 2 of his first 3 major league starts of his career. Even in his lone bad start he was able to get through 6 innings. Britton is a left hander who can hit the mid 90’s with a fastball that has late movement and hard sink. When he is on hitters can’t get the sweet part of the bat on the ball. Britton seems to have the most upside of the Orioles young starters and has already proven to be the most consistent. He will look to bounce back from his first sub-par start of his young major league career.
Baker’s first 2 starts this year (11.0 IP, 12 H, 8 ER, 6 BB, 9 SO and 4 HR) were lackluster at best, but he turned things around in start number 3 and also kept the ball in the yard. Last Saturday he limited the Rays to 4 hits and 1 run in 7.0 innings. He struck out 6 and walked just 1. Baker often doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he has been one of the better starting pitchers in the AL Central for several years now. He combines a strong 7.1 career SO/9 and a excellent 2.1 career BB/9. Outside of Liriano, Baker is the most capable pitcher in the Twins rotation to miss bats and at 29-years old, still has plenty of strong seasons ahead of him.
Baker’s career against the Orioles: 42.2 IP, 2.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 6.1 SO/9, 4.14 SO/BB
The Orioles ace, Guthrie, like the rest of the Orioles rotation started the season off strong only to stumble in his most recent start. Guthrie is solid and will look to bounce back after getting hit hard in his last start against the Indians. Guthrie is still looking to gain his strength back from a hospital visit because of pneumonia.
Really no one is hot. Not only are the Orioles losing games, but none of their players are playing well. Their hitting has been abysmal and during this losing streak their pitching hasn’t been much better. If there is one player who is at the very least holding his own it would be leadoff hitter Brian Roberts. He continues to be a presence at the top of the lineup. Roberts went 6 for 13 in the Indians series and is looking for the middle of the lineup to start to hit so he can cross home plate.
LHP Brian Duensing, picked up his 1st win of the season on Sunday but has pitched well enough this season to win all 3 of this starts. He has been the most consistent starter in the Twins rotation and continues to get the job done in whatever role Minnesota puts in front of him. Ron Gardenhire locked Duensing into the rotation early on in spring training and it appears to have been a wise decision.
Besides just saying the entire team, which would be true, the Orioles offense has been terrible all season. Even when the Orioles were winning games their offense wasn’t scoring. The Orioles don’t have one player hitting above .300 and Pie has the highest batting average with only 17 at bats. The middle of their lineup has been abysmal and hasn’t been getting the job done. Roberts, the teams leadoff hitter, leads the Orioles with 3 home runs. In addition, Mike Gonzalez is looking a lot like he did at the begging of last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up on the disabled list soon like he did last season. Gonzalez has a 10.38 ERA in 5 games.
The bats are slowly coming around and the Twins are now hitting 0.235/.284/.321. Yes, that is an improvement but it’s still not very good for a squad that hit 0.273/.341/.422 last season. Despite the 2 HR over the weekend from Kubel, the power outage continues. Minnesota has hit only 5 HR on the year which ranks them dead last in all of baseball. Even the slugging challenged Athletics and Mariners have managed to hit 7 HR each this season.
Joe Nathan lands here after blowing saves on Thursday and Saturday and for “losing” his job as the team’s closer. However, the fact that he is back on the mound and contributing to the team so quickly after Tommy John surgery is a testament to his dedication and ability. It’s going to take a while for him to shake off the rust and regain a feel for pitching, but when he does he will be the Twins closer once again.
Day-to-Day: 1B Justin Morneau (Flu)
3 on 3 Questions
Wally: Nick Markakis has had a fine career so far and he’s been a well above average player, but there remains a perception, nationally, that he hasn’t quite lived up to the player he was expected to become. Has too much been expected of Markakis to this point and do you think his best seasons are still ahead of him?
Scott: Being that Markakis was a first round pick (7th overall) of the Orioles and he has 5 tool talent, I wouldn’t say too much has been expected of him. However, I do think some people forget that he made the jump rather quickly to the big leagues and his rookie season was when he was only 22. He is now in his 6th season already and he is only 27 years old! When you look at what Markakis has done at the major league level he really has been amazingly consistent year in and year out, producing similar numbers from his rookie season until now. With that said, I think Markakis may have hit his ceiling. He is a huge fan favorite in Baltimore and because of that I think he slides a little bit here from fans. Not to say he isn’t a great player and he doesn’t perform, but I always thought he had more power potential (30 homers and 100 RBI potential). I think Markakis will have a productive and consistent career, but I would be surprised if he improves on the numbers he has put up so far. You may see that one big year, but besides that I think Markakis is at the top of his game right now.
W: Of Baltimore’s 4 young starters, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta which one do you feel will have the most productive career as an Oriole?
S: I think of the Orioles 4 young starters who have become known as the “cavalry” that the two left handers really have shown themselves to be better pitchers than Arrieta and Tillman. Both Arrieta and Tillman have great stuff and potential, but have shown themselves to be very inconsistent and lacking command. They really have reminded me a lot of past Orioles pitching prospects in that they are having a lot of trouble adjusting to major league hitters. This worries me and I think the Orioles would be thrilled if they became middle of the rotation starters. Matusz and Britton however both have the stuff and poise to be top of the rotation starters. Matusz has shown he can pitch in the majors and Britton, in just three major league starts, has shown he can handle major league hitters as well. It’s a tough call between the two, but after watching Britton pitch his first major league game without his best stuff to the tune of 6 innings and 1 run and then shutting down the potent Rangers offense in his second start, I think Britton will have the most productive career in an Orioles uniform.
W: Can Matt Wieters and Adam Jones be the offensive cornerstones that Baltimore can build around, or will O’s fans have to wait for the arrival of Manny Machado in a few years to have that franchise player on the roster?
S: This is a good question and one that probably worries/frustrates Orioles fans the most. Adam Jones was actually an All-Star and Gold Glove award winner in 2009 and ended 2010 putting up similar offensive numbers, but there still is a lot of frustration over his long slumps at the plate. Jones is very undisciplined at the plate and still can be gotten out way too easily by good pitchers. However, if he can learn to shorten his swing he has shown he can be a very good major league hitter. Wieters, on the other hand, has yet to really consistently hit major league pitching. When you watch Wieters hit you also wonder how he ever was viewed as such a great hitting prospect because his swing is slow. I hate to say it, but I don’t see either player right now being the offensive cornerstone they were once viewed as or hoped to be. The Orioles are going to need to wait on Machado, but if they really want that feared hitter for the middle of their lineup they are going to have to find it on the free agent market.
Scott: With Matt Capps taking over the closers job from Joe Nathan what will this mean for Nathan’s future? Will Nathan ever get the closers job back if Capps takes the job and runs with it or could Nathans future as the Twins closer be in jeopardy for the rest of the season?
W: Capps stepping in as the team’s closer gives Joe Nathan time to regain his form and continue to recover from his Tommy John surgery last year. Nathan’s long term future is not altered by this move and he will regain his job as closer of the Minnesota Twins as soon as he back to full strength. In the interim, this scenario is exactly why the team chose to sign Matt Capps to a 1-year $7.15 million contract. By all accounts Nathan, played a part in handing the job over to Capps for the time being. As LaVelle E Neal III reported yesterday “Nathan realized that he was hurting the team by trying to close and regain his closing form.”
S: With Joe Mauer on the disabled list where can the Twins expect to get their offense? What player needs to step up the most in order for the Twins to get runs?
W: The Twins have a deep, established, and productive lineup which should generate more then enough scoring over the course of the season. The problem right now is that outside of Denard Span and Jason Kubel, the rest of the team’s regulars are hitting under 0.240 which obviously explains why the team is dead last in runs scored through 15 games. As far as who needs to step up, it’s basically everyone beyond Span and Kubel, but Delmon Young and Justin Morneau could turn around the team’s fortunes in a big hurry if their bats get hot. The good news is that it is extremely unlikely that the offense, as a whole, continues to produce at such a sub-par level.
S: Which pitcher has been the bigger disappointment so far for the Twins…Liriano or Nathan? Which pitcher is more likely to bounce back regain their form?
W: This one is no contest. Francisco Liriano has been a bigger disappointment.
Nathan has struggled, but given that he is just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery I think even the most optimistic of Twins fans recognized and anticipated that Nathan would have some struggles as he tried to regain his velocity, control, command and general feel for pitching during the season.
Liriano, on the other hand, was coming off a season where he was clearly the second best pitcher in the AL Central (behind Justin Verlander) and he was expected to solidify himself as the team’s first true ace since Johan Santana‘s departure after the 2007 season. Instead Liri has a 44 ERA+ through 14.1 innings this season. That ranks him dead last on the team (starters and relievers included). For what it’s worth, Nathan’s ERA+ so far in 2011 is 51.
I believe both pitchers will bounce back and regain their form so it’s hard for me to pick one or the other. Given the journey pitchers have to typically deal with as they come back from Tommy John surgery, I’ll go with Liriano as the one most likely to regain his form first. As I mentioned above, I think he showed some signs in his last start and I believe he’s already started to turn the corner.