Minnesota Twins vs Tampa Rays Series Preview

Jun 1, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) is congratulated by left fielder Brandon Guyer (5) after hitting a home run against the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 1, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) is congratulated by left fielder Brandon Guyer (5) after hitting a home run against the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Return Home Injured and Reeling

What started out as a great road trip, soon devolved into a M*A*S*H unit, with both Danny Santana and Miguel Sano hitting the disabled list. Even Kyle Gibson, the supposed starter for game one tonight, was not activated from the DL due to a stiff back.

With that, the Phil Hughes bullpen experiment will get a stay of execution, as Hughes takes the mound once more to prove his worth to the starting rotation.

Tampa, losers of 10 of their last 12, are reeling as well, losing their last four in a row. Every team that seems to be going through a downswing in their season gets healthy against Minnesota. The A’s threw their three worst pitchers against the Minnesota Twins this week, and swept the series by outscoring Minnesota 15-7.

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The sweep against the Minnesota Twins was the 8th time they have been swept already in 2016, after getting swept only 6 times all last season. Tampa (22-29) have done well in Minnesota since Target Field opened in 2010. They’ve won 16 of the last 22 games played here, though the Twins were able to win last year’s series 2-1.

For Minnesota, it will be another chance to possible preview the outfield of the future, as Robbie Grossman has taken control of left field. Joining him are two of the Twins’ top prospects: Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. Both rookies are back for another look, hopefully an extended one, after doing everything they can at the AAA level.

The new, speedy outfield should be a blessing to the Twins’ pitching staff, especially a fly-ball pitcher like Phil Hughes. While both new outfielders are plus fielders, they must prove they belong by improving their hitting this time around.

Thursday Night Game

Matt Moore (2-3, 5.31 ERA) vs Phil Hughes (1-7, 5.74 ERA)

7:10 CDT at Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Friday Night Game

Jake Odorizzi (2-3, 3.36 ERA) vs Ricky Nolasco (2-3, 5.28 ERA)

7:10 CDT at Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Saturday Day Game

Matt Andriese (3-0), 2.36 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (1-4, 4.13 ERA)

3:10 CDT at Target Field

TV: FS-1 and Fox Sports North

Sunday Day Game

Drew Smyly (2.-7, 4.77 ERA) vs Tyler Duffey (2-4, 4.57 ERA)

1:10 CDT at Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Tampa: The Rays have been streaky this year, winning and losing in bunches. They have four 3+ games winning streaks, and 5 3+ games losing streaks, including losing their last four games. They have hovered around .500 almost all year until this most current stretch that has them a season-low 7 games under.

The Rays are another team lacking a true ace in the rotation to help quell any losing streaks. Tampa appeared to have Chris Archer in that role, but after winning 9 games before the All-Star break last year, he’s only won 6 games in his last 27 starts.

Their closer, Brad Boxberger, who had 41 saves last year, has been on the DL almost all season. He had surgery in the off-season on his abdomen, and finally pitched in a game on Tuesday. He re-hurt the area (oblique) and was put back on the DL for at least 4-8 weeks.

Their star defensive centerfielder, Kevin Kiermaier, is out for at least another 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. His 42 defensive runs saved last year broke the record (41) set by shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was second last year to Kiermaier with 25.

Offense: Their top hitter, left fielder Logan Forsythe, has also missed games due to fracture in his shoulder blade. After Forsythe and Evan Longoria, the Rays have re-made their team with lots of new faces. Go ahead, name 3 Rays position players not named Longoria who are currently on the active roster. Stumped?

Nine year veteran Steve Pearce (who broke out with the O’s in 2014) leads the team in batting (.298 AVG / .389 OBP / .921 OPS) when he is healthy. The ever-reliable Longoria has played in every game this year, and has missed only 4 games since 2012. While not as powerful as what the Rays had hoped for after his 2009 campaign (100+ runs, 100+ RBI, 44 2B, 33 HR), he’s still a feared hitter in the Rays lineup.

Player to Watch: Logan Morrison. Close to being benched after hitting just .100 in April and striking out 42% of the time, Morrison hit .351 in May with 10 less strikeouts in 14 more at-bats. He will be batting cleanup versus the Twins.

Pitching: Luckily, the Rays are getting production from the 4th and 5th starters in their rotation as their top 3 (Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly) have struggled. Smyly and Archer are a combined 5-14, with Smyly tying the Twins’ Phil Hughes for the most losses in the AL with 7.

Alex Colome has saved all 12 of his opportunities after taking over the closer’s role following Boxberger’s injury. Colome’s K/9 has risen from 7.22 to 11.86 in the move from setup man to closer. Also, his strikeouts to walks ratio (K/BB) has skyrocketed from a pedestrian 2.84 in 2015 to 7.25 this year.

Player to Watch: Matt Andriese. Since his call-up on May 8th, Andriese has given manager Kevin Cash 4 quality starts in 5 times out. His 3 wins are tied with Archer for the team lead among starting pitchers. A control pitcher (0.93 WHIP), Andriese relies on ground ball outs. He induced the Kansas City Royals to ground out 13 times in 7 innings on Monday.

Minnesota: After hitting so well against the good pitching in Seattle, you could almost see a slump coming against the A’s. Two of the three Oakland starters doubled their win total at the Twins’ expense. Kendall Graveman hadn’t won in more than a month before his gem against Minnesota in the series opener.

With the injuries to Sano and Santana, manager Paul Molitor will probably have a set lineup, for the most part, the next 2 weeks. The only change will be to change up Juan Centeno and Kurt Suzuki in the catcher’s spot. And making sure Eduardo Nunez gets his name somehow at the top of the batting order.

But the Grossman – Buxton – Kepler outfield should get some heavy play over the coming schedule as both Molitor and the front office want to see what the young batters can do at the plate with extensive playing time.

But, as stated before, that outfield alignment should prove to be the pitchers’ best ally. The Minnesota Twins are starting a 10-game homestand at Target Field, a stadium with lots of ground to cover in the outfield. Those three, especially with Buxton in center, should catch nearly everything that’s hit in the air during this homestand. And that will help bolster the confidence of their shaky rotation.

Next: Gibson stays on DL

Notes: Kyle Gibson was scratched from tonight’s start (back stiffness). Front office makes it seem like it should be a short-term situation, looking for Gibson to be ready the next time around. If Hughes pitches well, does that mean rookie Pat Dean needs another quality start Tuesday in Miami to keep his spot in the rotation over Hughes?