Minnesota Twins Look to Start Turnaround Against One of NL’s Best
The Twins have righted themselves a bit after starting 2016 0-9, sweeping the Angels in last weekend’s series, and just finishing off a split against the Brewers in a home-and-home 4-game series yesterday. Now, they take on the Nationals, owners of the 2nd best winning percentage in the majors.
The Minnesota Twins got a taste of what the Nats got cooking back on the weekend just before opening day, back when both teams were vying for the best records in Spring Training.
Washington has continued that torrid pace (11-4), but the Twins are looking to get to .500 and restart their season’s quest for the post-season.
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The Twins will have to somehow slow down Bryce Harper, who leads all of baseball with 8 home runs and already 22 RBI in just 15 games. Somehow, he could even be better if he had some luck. He’s batting .321, but his .225 batting average on balls in play is .144 points less than last year’s MVP season. Just walking him every time up may be the only way to stop him. Teams did that with Barry Bonds at his peak, it wouldn’t be surprising if teams began to employ a similar strategy with Harper. Maybe not intentional walks, but throwing around him, making him swing at pitches out of the strike zone.
Friday Night Game
6:05 Nationals Park
TV: Fox Sports North PLUS
Saturday Day Game
12:05 Nationals Park
TV: Fox Sports North
Sunday Day Game
12:35 Nationals Park
TV: Fox Sports North
Washington: Three out of their 4 losses have come to the Miami Marlins, as they have split 6 games with Miami. the Nationals have won all but one other game to the Phillies. Washington is 15th in batting average and 14th in runs scored, but their success has been in their pitching. They are second only to the Chicago Cubs in ERA, and have allowed only 153 total bases. Compare that to the Twins, who have allowed 218 total bases. Of Washington’s 63 runs scored this season, Harper has accounted for 34 of them (12 R & 22 RBI), an astounding 54% of their run total.
Offense: They have the majors’ second leading hitter, Daniel Murphy (Mets hero from last year), plus the league’s best home run hitter and RBI man (Harper). Yet they are middle of the pack offensively. Much of that has to do with Murphy batting 5th instead of lead-off. Center fielder Michael Taylor is their lead-off hitter, but his numbers (.175 BA, .200 OBP) aren’t allowing the Nationals to set the table very often for Harper, and even with that he’s still other-worldly. There has been some grumbling about Murphy’s spot in the order. The push is on to move Murphy’s .483 OBP into either lead-off or into the second slot, ahead of Harper.
Player to Watch: Biggest no-brainer of the year…Bryce Harper. Coming off a 2015 campaign in which he was the NL MVP with 42 HR and 99 RBI, Harper looks to blast past both of those numbers this year.
Pitching: Despite all the headlines that Harper is getting, the Nationals are winning because of their pitching. Washington has three starters with ERA’s under 1.50 and two under a run a game.
Luckily for the Nationals, they are giving their bullpen a large enough cushion, because closer Jonathan Papelbon has not been sharp this year, despite his 6 saves. He has given up 3 runs in 7 appearances, including a loss to his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite the great numbers by the Washington starters, they are not getting that same help from former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Scherzer has given up over one third of the Nationals runs (12 of 34) in his 4 starts. Unfortunately, the Twins are not scheduled to face Scherzer.
Player to Watch: Stephen Strasburg. Back into top of the rotation form after surgery, Strasburg (3-0, 1.25 ERA) hit lighting up the radar gun once again in 2106. Any worries about Strasburg after finally pitching over 200 innings last year have been quelled by his control and velocity this year. His fastball, though no longer touching 100, regularly hits 95-97, setting up his devastating slurve. He has 21 K’s in three starts. The Twins face Strasburg in Sunday’s finale.
Twins: The Twins look to keep it rolling with Eduardo Nunez leading off tonight and playing third base. Joe Mauer will stay at first base (Byung-ho Park has yet to start in inter-league play), and Byron Buxton will once again bat ninth, after the starting pitcher. One reason Mauer is starting tonight against Gonzalez is that he is the only Twins batter (with Plouffe on DL) that has more than 5 at bats against Gio. He’s batting a lifetime 5 for 17 with two home runs against Gonzalez.
Notes: Teams have not met in regular season since 2013, when the Nationals when 2 out of 3 in a home game set. The Minnesota Twins 2-2 against NL this year, with Washington playing their first inter-league game of 2016. After a dismal start which left the Twins at the bottom of the league in batting, the Twins have moved up to 12th in the majors with a .251 team batting average.