Series Preview: Twins at Mariners, May 4-6


The Twins start this weekend’s series against the Seattle Mariners with a simple goal: get a hit.

If that works out for them, they can move on to a more ambitious goal: score a run. Those feats will not easy for the uberslumping Twins, who haven’t accomplished either in their last 15 innings of play. The fact that they’ll be traveling to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field will not make things any easier on the offense.

The Matchups:

Friday, May 4 at 9:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Carl Pavano vs. RHP Jason Vargas

Saturday, May 5 at 8:10 p.m. CDT:RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Felix Hernandez

Sunday, May 6 at 3:10 p.m. CDT: RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Hector Noesi

Saturday’s matchup may be the greatest pitching mismatch so far this season. Marquis may need a Cinco de Mayo Miracle that night. Hernandez is dominant against pretty much every team, and the Twins are no exception. King Felix has a 2.64 ERA in 78.1 innings versus the Twins. Joe Mauer has hit him well: .500/.567/.885 in 30 plate appearances, but most Twins have a line closer to Justin Morneau‘s .138/.235/.241. The Twins do a better job scoring against Vargas; he has a 4.68 ERA in 25 Twins innings, but Vargas has beaten the Twins in two of three decisions. Noesi has pitched just one career inning against Minnesota. Mauer earned a hit in that inning.

Pavano has been decent against Seattle with a 3.97 career ERA (25 innings). Interestingly, Marquis has been stellar in Seattle, with a 1.71 ERA in four career starts. On the present Seattle roster, though, only veteran Ichiro Suzuki has more than five plate appearances against Marquis. Ichiro is three for 12. Blackburn also has a good ERA versus the Mariners (2.91 in 46.1 innings), but like the others he has not faced many current Mariners, thanks to that club’s high rate of roster turnover. Chone Figgins is looking forward to facing Blackburn, since has a .423/.464/.577 line in 28 PAs.

The Weather:

Safeco has a retractable roof, and that is a good thing, because as usual for Seattle, there is rain in the forecast. It will probably rain today, and there is a slight chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures will be somewhat cool, with highs ranging from the low 50s to the low 60s.

The Head to Head:

This matchup has only existed since 1977, when the Mariners were a new expansion franchise. But thanks to the Twins’ long period of futility in the 90s, which coincided with Seattle’s best years, the M’s actually own the advantage. The Twins are 194-203 all time against Seattle, including 86-110 on the road. Recently it was the Twins who were a better team, and Seattle who has been in the basement, but that changed last year, when Seattle won the season series for the first time since 2003. The M’s took six of the nine games between the two teams in 2011.

The Story:

The Twins may be at their lowest point right now. They followed a highly disappointing homestand, in which they managed just one win, by getting swept in Anaheim. Pitching had been a serious concern all season, but in the Angel series the Twins completely forgot how to hit. Their team batting average (.250) is still close to the league average, but runs have been elusive. In the American League, only Oakland has scored fewer runs than the Twins’ 87. And their 5.77 ERA is still dead last in the league. In order to win, a team needs to hit and/or pitch well. The Twins have done neither.

Seattle is not exactly an AL juggernaut, either. They sit at 11-16, seven games behind Texas in the dangerous AL West. If there was ever an opportunity for Twins’ pitchers to build their confidence, this might be it. Seattle has a team line of .237/.288/.375. The batting average and on-base percentages are both second-worst in the league. Other than Hernandez, Seattle’s pitching has not been of the quality we expect from the Mariners either. The team holds a decent but uninspiring 4.17 ERA. Like the Twins, the Mariners enter this series on a losing streak; theirs is six games long, thanks to a series loss against the Blue Jays and a four game sweep by the  Rays. Three of the four losses to Tampa were one run games, and the other was a two run affair, so the Mariners have to be eager to get back on the winning path.

The Other Side:

For more on the Mariner perspective, we turn to Harrison Crow, the creative force behind Fansided’s Mariners site, SoDo Mojo.

Question 1. Texas and Los Angeles both have lucrative television contracts, and both went out and lured some high-priced talent in the offseason. Is it starting to feel like the AL West is another AL East? Do you think the Mariners can be competitive in a division like this one?

HC: The AL East has a real rivalry that can’t and won’t, unfortunately, ever be duplicated. I’ve wished for a long time that Mariner fans would harden up and we’d generate some fun sports hate between us and the Rangers, Angels and Athletics. But it’s never happened and realistically it probably won’t for multitude of different reasons.

Can the Mariners compete? Absolutely, but it’s not going to be easy. As it’s been pointed out in several places the Mariners are primed for a sale, not to mention a new TV deal before 2015, which is going to hopefully enable the Mariners to once again spend money. While they have been playing with payrolls in the 90-100 mil range, it’s been four years for team cut backs and drawing player salaries down.

Money isn’t the source for which the Mariners return to prominence resides, rather it will be a way of keeping it. The Mariners are in a strong position with young pitching and young hitters who as soon as next year could start making a move towards that second wild card.

Hopefully we’ll start to see some of what is needed to compete, blossom this season. Guys like Justin Smoak, Mike Carp, Jesus Montero, Alex Liddi, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and maybe even Kyle Seager. Are all very capable of being solid major league hitters and providing for this line-up. Three possible front of the rotation pitchers to a rotation that already includes one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and you start buying into the company line: “Anything is possible”.

Question 2. The Twins draft right before the Mariners this year. Who are you hoping will fall to the number three spot? Is there anyone you would hate to see taken by the Twins or Astros?

HC: There are a lot of rumors about the Mariners being extremely interested Carlos Correra, and Kyle Zimmer. Both of which are premium talents in my estimation, though I am no expert, but I think if the Mariners front office had their way they would like to see someone like Mike Zunino slip through the cracks.

If it’s not already, it will be soon –thanks to Miguel Olivo— Jesus Montero will be able to be a catcher, but isn’t a good one. Mike Zunino could possibly allow the Mariners to push Montero to the DH spot or even to another spot on the field.

That said a few of us had talked about the possibility of the Mariners even still drafting Lucas Giolitto. Though, I doubt that happens, it would help the organization keep a premium arm down in the lower level the minors as well as there little real pressure to move him any faster than he would be ready. Enabling him to be 100% healthy and returning from such a serious arm injury this spring.

I think if I were to set the Mariners at #1 and give them 5 choices of the field I think it would be something like: Buxton, Zunino, Correra, Zimmer and Max Fried (the lefty from High School kid from Florida). But, I’m not in Tom McNamara’s head so who really knows how things work out.

Question 3. I think that watching Ichiro play would be one of the greatest things about being a Mariners fan. He is a one of a kind player. How long do you think he can keep going? Will he retire as a Mariner?

HC: I love, Ichiro. My 2-year old son has an Ichiro jersey. My wife loves Ichiro. Ichiro is a very unique and distinctive talent when it comes, not just to baseball, but the Pacific Northwest in general. He’s be a true joy to have around and I –for one– would love the see him stick around for the rest of his career. I think it will be a really odd feeling when he’s no longer in the club house or out on the field. Regardless of when that happens, I hope he calls it quits as a member of the Seattle Mariners organization.

That said he’s a free-agent at the end of the year and while I don’t see him going anywhere right now. I wouldn’t be surrpised if he said “this is it, I want to go out at the top of my game” and he stepped away into retirement or maybe he said “I plan on retiring, I want to go to a playoff team that needs an outfielder so I have a shot at a ring.”

I think Mariner fans in general don’t truly appreciate what he’s done over the course of his career with the emerald city nine. Not only has he set MAJOR LEAGUE records in hits but he’s displayed some of the most amazing defense ever shown in spacious Safeco field.

His time is growing closer to an end but that’s life. I am hoping to be able to enjoy him for this season and we’ll handle the off-season when it happens. My hope and dream is that he works out something with the Mariners where he doesn’t handicap the finances but is still returns to the organization.

The Bottom Line:

There is at least a 90% chance the Twins will get a hit this series, and pretty good odds that they’ll even score a run. If they can’t do it on Friday against Vargas, their best chance to score will probably be Sunday against Noesi. With luck, they might even win a game to end this nightmarish road trip.