Series Preview: Twins at Rays, April 20-22


The Yankee series, and all the irrational excitement, happiness, and disappointment it entailed, is over. Now the Twins move on to an equally challenging opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays. The series starts tonight.

The Matchups:

Friday, April 20, 6:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Liam Hendriks vs. LHP Matt Moore

Saturday, April 21, 6:10 p.m.: RHP Carl Pavano vs. RHP James Shields

Sunday, April 22, 12:40 p.m.: LHP Francisco Liriano vs. RHP Jeff Niemann

The Hendriks vs. Moore matchup will be uncharted territory; both pitchers made their debuts late last year, and neither has ever faced any member of the opposing team.

Rays hitter Sean Rodriguez has hit quite well against both Liriano and Pavano. He has a 1.125 OPS against Pavano and a 1.025 against Liriano, albeit in only 8 plate appearances versus each. Denard Span has owned Niemann (8 for 18 with a double and a triple), but he cannot hit Shields (just 2 for 20).

The Weather:

The weather is pretty much irrelevant for this series, as the Rays play in a domed stadium. But if you are curious, it looks like a weekend of typical Florida weather: warm and humid. Temperatures should hover around 80, and there is a chance of thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday, which should probably make us grateful for the aforementioned dome.

The Head to Head:

Minnesota owns a .536 winning percentage against the Rays, the highest against any American League team. But that percentage was built over just 110 games, since the Rays did not exist prior to 1998. The Twins beat up on the Rays for years when they were a perennial last place team – in 2003 and 2005, the Twins swept the season series. But the Rays have become a very good team in recent years, and things have started to even out. The last time Minnesota won the season series was in 2006. Last season, the Rays won seven of the 10 meetings.

In fact, Tampa now has a winning record against the Twins in Tampa, 27-25. The Twins will have a chance to even that out this weekend.

The Story:

The Twins played some exciting games in New York, and their hitting came alive. Justin Morneau slammed three home runs during the series, and Josh Willingham extended his season opening hitting streak to 13 games. Even Ryan Doumit, who had struggled to start the season, snapped out of his funk with a home run in the series finale. Overall, the Twins enter this series third in the AL with a .266 batting average. This is a team that can hit.

Twins starters now have a 6.52 ERA – 50 earned runs allowed in 69 innings pitched! Through 13 games, the Twins have received just two quality starts: one from Hendriks last Sunday, and one from Pavano the next night. The bullpen clocks in at a more respectable 3.98 in 43 innings. Alex Burnett and Jared Burton gave the team some promising outings this week, and the return of Glen Perkins bolsters the ‘pen. The relief corps still cannot be considered a strength, but so far it is far from the weakness it was last season. But the abysmal starting pitching cannot continue, or the bullpen will quickly find itself overworked.

Surprisingly, Tampa, a team built on dominant pitching, has struggled on the mound as well. Their 5.35 team ERA is almost as bad as the Twins’ 5.54 (only Boston is worse than these two teams in the American League, at 6.20). Starters Shields and Jeremy Hellickson have been solid, but the Rays have received some truly scary performances from their bullpen. At the plate, Carlos Pena has gotten off to a hot start with a .333/.458/.604 line. He’ll probably maintain the power numbers, but Pena is never going to hit over .300 for a full season. He’d be lucky to top .240. Tampa enters the series having just taken two of three from the division-rival Blue Jays. Earlier in the week they were swept by Boston.

The Bottom Line:

The Rays are a great team, but they’re struggling a bit, especially on the mound. If the Twins’ starters can somehow remember how to pitch, Minnesota could come away with a series victory, which would make this a succesful road trip.