When people start saying “things can only go up from here” that is usually a nice way of saying “wow, things really suck” and for the Twins right now, that’s pretty accurate. After winning three straight games against Seattle and Oakland, the Twins have now lost 5 of their last 6 games and are a season-worst 16 games below .500. Though the offense has been a little better in the past couple of weeks, the bullpen has been downright terrible which has cost the Twins a number of potential wins. This 3-game weekend set finishes out a 6-game home-stand after which the Twins will embark on a 10-game road-trip, all against divisional foes. If there was a time to turn things around, there would be no better time than now.
The following is Puckett’s Pond’s preview of the three game series. Thank you to Kalup Alexander of Halo Hangout for his insight into the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and thank you to Adam Krueger for preparing just about everything else!
Los Angeles Angels
2011 Record: 26-25, 2nd in the AL West (0.5 GB)
198 Runs Scored (18th in MLB) / 191 Runs Allowed (9th in MLB)
2011 Record: 16-32, 5th in the AL Central (14.5 GB)
164 Runs Scored (30th in MLB) / 252 Runs Allowed (30th in MLB)
Normally I would say something like “you gotta like the Twins chances in this one because Tyler Chatwood is basically a walking disaster when he’s pitching on the road.” However, given the Twins inability to generate offense I can’t say that, even if Chatwood has a 7.43 road ERA this season in 13.1 innings. I probably shouldn’t even point out that Chatwood has walked more batters (31) than he’s struck out (25) this year or that his WHIP sits at 1.57. Or how about that 5.02 FIP, no, probably shouldn’t talk about that either. The negative Twins fan in me believes that Chatwood will probably find a way to shutout the Twins through 7+ innings. The hopeful Twins fan in me says we should easily score 5+ runs off this guy.
As for Scott “Did you see how far that ball went” Baker, he’s been getting knocked around a bit lately but has kept the Twins in the game for the most part. Per usual, he’s given up 5 homeruns in his past 4 starts, but hey, 4 of them were solo shots? He does have a tidy 29:11 K:BB ratio over that same period, so there’s something positive. The thing to look for in this one is whether Baker can continue his dominance over some of the bigger Angel bats. Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter are a combined 1-for-17 lifetime off Baker and he’ll need to continue to silence them to keep the Twins in the game. If I’m being optimistic in this one, I say Twins 7, Angels 5 – if I’m being negative, I say Twins 3, Angels 6.
This actually looks like it could be a marquee match-up, which is nice to be able to say considering how much Liriano struggled through the month of April. Liriano is 2-1 in 4 May starts with a 2.52 ERA over 25 innings pitched. Though some of his peripherals still have me concerned (16:14 K:BB, 28:39 GB:FB), I think Liriano is on his way to looking more like he did last year. As for his competition, Weaver started out the year by winning 6 straight games and had an ERA of 0.99 at the end of April. May has been exactly the opposite as Weaver has lost 4 straight and though he has not pitched all that poorly, he hasn’t gotten any run support to back him up.
Weaver has faced Thome, Cuddyer, Morneau, Kubel and Young a number of times each and he’s pretty much owned them as they are collectively 18-for-76 (.237) against the 28-year-old right-hander. Meanwhile, Liriano has had limited exposure to the Angels’ lineup but has allowed a .932 OPS in 25 ABs. If Liriano has the good stuff going, this could be a very low scoring game, maybe 2-1 or 3-2, but if Liriano struggles, we’re looking at a Angel win because I don’t see the Twins scoring more than 3-4 runs off of Weaver.
I guess my heart sinks a little when I see this one. Haren has been one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball so far this year and though he has struggled a little bit in May, his 72:13 K:BB pretty much guarantees he will pitch well against the free-swinging, impatient Twins hitters. Unless Jimbo (6-for-13 lifetime, 2HRs) can single-handedly beat Haren, it’s unlikely the rest of the lineup (17-for-71, .239) is gonna be able to do much.
Pavano has pretty much been garbage lately, surrendering 18 earned runs in 29.2 May innings while striking out only 6 against 6 walks. When the Twins re-signed Pavano in the off-season I thought it was a good deal for them, but Pavano has looked nothing like last year’s version as his strikeout rate has continued to drop along with his velocity. Angel hitters have a robust .300/.371/.518 hitting line against Pavano in 110 career at-bats and Bobby Abreu has been particularly deadly with a .950 OPS and 2HRs in his career against Carl. This is looking like a long afternoon for the Twinkies, I see a 7-2 score in favor of the Halos.
Los Angeles Angels
Prior to landing on the DL earlier this week as a result of a hamstring injury, Howie Kendrick had been lighting up American League pitching to the tune of a .322/.388/.520 hitting line to go along with 7HRs, 12 doubles, and 18RBIs. Erick Aybar is quietly having himself a nice season as well sporting a .309/.354/.421 line and playing excellent defense at the shortstop position. Torii Hunter has been heating up in the last couple weeks, hitting .360/.448/.720 with 2HRs and 8RBIs in his last 7 games.
It’s hard to call anyone “hot” right now for the Twins, but Michael Cuddyer has been swinging well lately, hitting .351/.400 with 6RBIs and 8Rs in his last 10 games. He’s been held out of the last couple due to a mild hip injury, but should be back in there soon. Denard Span is also hitting well with a .364/.440/.636 in his last 7 games, but the production hasn’t followed as he’s only driven in 3 runs over that stretch. On the pitching side Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano have been pitching well for the Twins, each has a sub-3.00 May ERA and each has pitched well in their last handful of starts. Now if the Twins could just start producing some consistent offense, we could get this thing turned around.
Los Angeles Angels
After a hot start, Maicer Izturis has cooled off a bit hitting only .234/.345/.319 in his past 15 games. Peter Bourjos has been brutal over the last month with a line of .159/.250/.207 in May and 30 strikeouts in his last 95 at-bats.
As Eric said, “Plouffda.” Trevor Plouffe has been pretty bad of late with just 1 hit over his last 17 at-bats. Drew Butera is on-pace to make history (the bad kind) with his bat, Delmon Young has struggled since coming back from the DL, Justin Morneau continues to struggle, Danny Valencia‘s “season of regression” continues, and now Jason Kubel has slowed down as well, hitting only .203/.217/.339 over his last 15 games (59ABs) with 16Ks and only 1 walk. In a nutshell, offense has been a struggle for the Twins. On the pitching side, the starters have been decent over the last month, but the bullpen has blown a number of games and with Mijares and Perkins on the DL, the Twins essentially have zero trustworthy bullpen options. To quote my co-worker “it’s all frigged up.”
3 on 3 Questions
1. With the Twins slow start lingering for the entire season. Are Twins fans still confident the team can make a run? By and large, Twins fans know that the 2011 version has failed to meet expectations. I think that the Twins will eventually turn things around and start playing good baseball, but another AL Central championship is out of the question. If and when the line up is healthy (including Joe Mauer) the Twins will still have a suspect bullpen, so closing out games and winning series is not going to be easy. A team struggling to score runs, and struggling to stop the opposition from scoring runs of their own is not going to win a lot of games, no matter how many excuses there are.
2. When will Justin Morneau go back to being Justin Morneau? It is tough to say exactly what is ailing Justin Morneau. Are there lingering effects from last season’s concussion? Is the problem a mental one, and he’s just not comfortable putting his body in harms way again? Or, and I think Twins fans are hoping, I think we are just looking at a guy who spent almost an entire year away from baseball and 6 months away from any vigorous activity. We like to think of MLB players as super-human, but after a year removed from baseball I think that only now is Justin Morneau really to come back to his MVP caliber self. Having said that, Morneau is only hitting .230 over the last 10 games (matching his season average). I think that the Minnesota Twins and Ron Gardenhire would have liked to give Morneau more days off this year, but with the string of injuries the Twins have been battling this season it has been very difficult to take anyone out of the lineup. He might not be back yet, but don’t be surprised of Morneau is red hot after the All-Start break.
3. Francisco Liriano has had an inconsistent year. What’s the key for him to get back on track? Getting Liriano on track has been a hot topic up in the Twin Cities this season. Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson seemed to think that “pitch to contact” was the phrase that pays, and unfortunately Lirinio found himself pitching to contact and pitching to lopsided losses. Liriano is best when his fastbull is buzzing around 94/95 and he is locating it. This forces opposing hitters to start their swings early and set up for a fastball and makes Lirianio’s slider even more devastating. There had been some recent discussion following his no-hitter that Liriano was struggling to find a consistent release point and many pointed to this for Liriano’s struggles. I think that was definitely part of it, but another piece, perhaps snowballed by an erratic release point and lack of success is that Liriano is a confidence pitcher, and if he gets rattled, or he isn’t feeling on top of his game, he’s going to show it out on the field. He’s dropped his ERA a full 5 points in the month of May (no doubt aided by a no-hitter) but his last two starts have been pretty decent, and Liriano only allowed 3 earned runs over his last 13 innings. He still isn’t going as deep into games as Twins fans would like, especially with the shaky bullpen, but if he can give the Twins 7 innings, 110 pitches, and 6-10Ks he’s going to start winning a lot of games.
1. The Angels are fighting to stay at .500, but they’re only 1/2 a game behind the Rangers for the AL West lead. Looking forward to the trade deadline, what type of personnel will help the Angels win the West? The Angels desperately need offense. So the proverbial “big bat” will likely be the target. With Kendrys Morales again out for the year and Torii Hunter Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells all not producing the Angels offense has had a hard time generating runs. They could also use another strong relief arm as currently Scott Downs and Rich Thompson are the only stable pillars on the bridge to Jordan Walden.
2. Howie Kendrick was the Angel’s best offensive player (.322/.388/.520) before going on the 15-day DL, retroactive to May 20th. How will the Angel’s replace his offense? It’s clear that Vernon Wells (.183/.224/.303) wasn’t helping create ANY runs before his own DL stint (and he’s still a couple weeks away, having just resumed light baseball activities). It will be hard to replace Kendrick’s production. Although he’s not expected to be out for much longer than the required time frame the Angels have desperately missed his bat. With Wells out Kendrick had moved from second base and had been playing left field regularly. The Angels have a few options to fill in while Kendrick Is out including Reggie Willits, Alexi Armarista and the newly acquired Russell Branyan. None of the options will likely match Kendrick’s production but Branyan at least has the ability to put the ball in the seats which is something the Halos desperately need.
3. After 11 seasons in Minnesota, most Twins fans still have a soft sport for Torii Hunter. Despite hitting almost .300 (.294) over his 10 games, Torii Hunter is having a down year offensively (.240/.324/.380). What does he need to do to turn things around? As Twins fans know Torii Hunter can at times can turn into a dead pull hitter. His struggles in 2011 have been a manifestation of just that. He has rolled over on pitches on the outter half all season long. When you couple that with an obvious decline in bat speed you get the results Hunter has displayed so far. Torii has been hot over the past few games as he has started driving the ball to right and right center. That approach is the main key for Hunter to remain productive.