2011 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers (5/30 – 6/1)


Happy Memorial Day, Puckett’s Pond Readers.

This is a bittersweet holiday, as we fire up the grills, visit friends and family, and celebrate the unofficial start of summer, but also take time to remember the millions of Americans who have died in wars, from Lexington and Concord to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Twins vs. Tigers series also brings out some mixed emotions. It is still a battle between intense division rivals who have a recent history of competing for the Central Division title. But the stakes are much lower this time, as the Twins enter with baseball’s worst record, and the Tigers are fighting just to prove they’re better than a .500 team.

Minnesota Twins

2011 Record: 17-34, 5th in the AL Central (14.5 GB)
175 Runs Scored (14th in the AL) / 264 Runs Allowed (13th in the AL)

Detroit Tigers

2011 Record: 26-26, 2nd in the AL Central (6.0 GB)
220 Runs Scored (8th in the AL) / 231 Runs Allowed (10th in the AL)

The Twins head to Detroit with C Joe Mauer and 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka still missing from their lineup. Relief pitchers Joe Nathan, Kevin Slowey Glen Perkins and Jose Mijares are also on the Disabled List. For the Tigers, OF Magglio Ordonez joins pitchers Brad Thomas and Phil Coke on the 15 day DL, with all three expected back sometime in June. Carlos Guillen isn’t so lucky, as he is on the 60 day DL with a left knee injury, and expected out until July. P Joel Zumaya is out for the season after elbow surgery.

Also absent from this series, though fortunately not on the disabled list, are the two teams’ aces: Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano. The owners of MLB’s two 2011 no-hitters will sadly not have a chance to face each other this series. Verlander pitched on Sunday against the Red Sox and Liriano is not scheduled to start until later this week, having missed his last start with some shoulder soreness.

Pitching Matchups

May 30th (12:10 p.m. CDT): RHP Nick Blackburn (4-4, 3.20 ERA) vs. RHP Brad Penny (4-4, 4.45 ERA)

Blackburn must be overjoyed to have one last start in the month of May. After posting a 5-0 record and a 2.65 ERA in May of 2010, he has a 3-0 mark with a 1.72 mark in 36.2 innings this month. For his career, Blackburn is 13-3 with a 2.66 ERA in May, and he has not lost a May start since May 5, 2009. He is coming off the best start of his career, a brilliant 7-hit, 127 pitch shutout over the Mariners.

Penny had a rocky start with the Tigers this year, but like Blackburn he settled down in May. He is 3-1 this month and had recorded three straight quality starts until the Pirates tagged him for five runs in 5.1 innings on May 20th. Penny started a game last Wednesday as well, but that start was eradicated after three innings due to a rainout.

 May 31th (6:05 p.m. CDT): LHP Brian Duensing (2-5, 4.83 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (6-2, 3.86 ERA)

Duensing’s May has been as bad as Blackburn’s has been good. In five May starts, he has a scary 8.10 ERA and four May losses (part of a five game personal losing streak). He seemed to regain a little bit of command in his last outing, a quality start. Unfortunately, Duensing got no run support in that game, as Erik Bedard and the Mariners shut out the Twins.

Scherzer would like to forget his last start on May 26th against the Red Sox. He lasted just two innings and gave up seven runs in a 14-1 Red Sox rout. The performance raised his ERA by nearly a full run, from 2.98 to 3.86. Other than that outing, 2011 has been a promising year for Scherzer, who has struck out 61 batters in 65 innings and has looked like a solid #2 starter behind Justin Verlander.

June 1st (6:05 p.m. CDT): RHP Scott Baker (2-3, 3.65 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (4-3, 3.93 ERA)

Baker dominated the Angels in his last start, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out six. Unfortunately, the Twins’ bullpen robbed him of a deserved victory. For the season, Baker has pitched much better than his 2-3 record indicates, but bullpen and run support troubles have collaborated to make him look bad. He’ll try to get back into the win column against the Tigers.

Porcello’s last start was not nearly as solid as Baker’s. He gave up six runs in three innings against the Red Sox on Friday. Other than that, he has pitched quite well in 2011. He has also pitched very well against the Twins in his career, with a 2.66 ERA in 47.1 innings versus Minnesota.