Minnesota Twins vs Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview

Mar 9, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; The Philadelphia Phillies mascot Phanatic entertains the fans during the seventh inning at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; The Philadelphia Phillies mascot Phanatic entertains the fans during the seventh inning at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Square Off Against Philadelphia Phillies at Target Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Minnesota Twins, fresh off a promising win, open up a series against a club that is in a season-worst slump. Players and fans eye an entertaining series win, maybe even a sweep, to help pull team out of season-long doldrums.

I could be wrong, but I think this is the sixth or seventh time this scenario has played out already in 2016. This time, the Phillies are coming to town, fresh off a six game home stand in which they they were outscored by a count of 42-9.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first home stand of at least  games in which Philadelphia failed to win a game since 1964.

After a surprising start, including a run where they went 16-6 from the last week of April to the middle of May, that even had Phillies fans thinking wildcard run, the Phills have crash-landed in June, losing 11 of their last 12 games, to fall to 11 games under .500, 13 games behind the Washington Nationals, and 7.5 out of the wild card hunt.

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They come to Target Field, with more questions surrounding their team than even the Twins right now.

Former NL MVP, Ryan Howard, is stuck on the bench riding out the last of his 5 year, $125 million contract. The fastest player to 100 and 200 home runs, is hitting a slash (.145 AVG / .203 OBP / .547 OPS) and has lost his first baseman’s job to rookie Tommy Joseph.

The King of Strikeouts (MLB career record of 27 Golden Sombreros), strikes out 34% of the time. His 10 home runs are just one shy of the number of singles he has in this season’s total of 24 hits.

And without any trade partner, the Phillies are expected to just dump Howard onto the open market as they turn the page on the past, and look forward to their future.

Tuesday Night Game

Aaron Nola (5-6, 3.51 ERA) vs Tyler Duffey (2-6, 5.56 ERA)

7:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Wednesday Night Game

Adam Morgan (1-6, 6.49 ERA) vs Kyle Gibson (0-5, 6.06 ERA)

7:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Thursday Afternoon Game

Jerad Eickhoff (4-9, 3.49 ERA) vs Tommy Milone (0-1, 5.79 ERA)

12:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Philadelphia: Pre-season pick to battle the Atlanta Braves for last place in the NL East, the Phillies were the surprise team in baseball this year until their June swoon. Manager Pete Mackanin was winning with smoke and mirrors, before opposing teams finally caught on to their act.

They weren’t just beating the Reds and Braves, either. Both Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola threw shutout ball while the Phillies swept the Nationals in Washington. They won seven of Nola’s previous nine starts, until he fell apart in losses to Washington and Toronto – giving up 10 earned runs while lasting on 6.2 innings combined in the two losses.

Second-year center fielder, Odubel Herrera, has learned patience and brought some more pop to the lineup while now batting lead-off. His .302 average, 36 runs, and 107 total bases lead the Phillies in every category. His 39 walks are 11 more than he had in nearly 500 at-bats last year, and rank a surprising 8th in the National League.

Offense: The Phillies are in the midst of a lineup turnover, much like the Twins, with youngsters at nearly every turn. Third baseman, Maikel Franco (just 23), is in his third year, and he leads Philadelphia with 33 RBI.

Cody Asche (25) and Tyler Goeddel (23) split time in left field, making one-time Angel Peter Bourjos the grizzled veteran of the outfield at 29. Their youth shows at the plate. While they don’t strike out too much (14th in league with 568 – Twins have 602), they struggle at drawing walks.

While Herrera has developed a better approach, he’s alone on the Phillies squad. Their team total of just 162 ranks them 28th, just three more than MLB-worst Oakland and Kansas City, who are tied with 159. Incidentally, the Twins have drawn 207 walks, good for 18th.

Philadelphia has just two players with over 100 plate appearances who see at least four pitches per at-bat, while the Twins have seven players. Oswaldo Arcia was second on the team to Joe Mauer before he was designated for assignment.

Player to Watch: Ryan Howard. This may be his last go-around at Target Field, for sure his last with the Phillies. While he hasn’t been able to hit consistently the past few years, he still can hit home runs.

Despite the lack of contact, and playing time recently, Howard still ranks second on the team in home runs (10), and fourth in RBI (21).

Pitching: The trend toward youth extends to their pitching staff as well. The Twins will face three starters, aged 23, 26, and 25 – two of whom have ERA’s in the mid-three’s. Adam Morgan (1-6) is their hard-luck pitcher, winning only one game out of six in which he’s allowed three earned runs or less.

Hellickson, too can’t seem to collect wins despite some stellar outings. Of his four wins, two have come when he allowed zero earned runs, the other two wins were when he allowed only two. The other six occasions either resulted in a no-decision or a loss.

Player to Watch: Aaron Nola. The former LSU product (#7 pick in 2014 draft), Nola has life and movement on all his pitches. He has an outstanding 9.89 K/9 and 4.89 K/BB ratio. While he’s struggled his past two outings against two of the best offenses in baseball, it will be fun to watch how he does against a young team like Minnesota.

Minnesota: 1-3 on their current seven-game homestand, the Twins look to keep pace with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have won five in a row, and now lead Minnesota by two games in the overall MLB standings. After some blowout losses this week, Minnesota now ranks last with a -116 run differential.

The Cincinnati Reds (-107) have led nearly all year long, but have now moved ahead of the Twins.

Tyler Duffey looks to right himself against the light-hitting Phillies. He’s allowed at least four runs in each of his last six starts, with his ERA ballooning to a season-worst 5.56. Tommy Milone makes his first start since April 25th in Thursday’s finale.

He’s worked hard at Rochester to cut down on his walks by being more aggressive. We’ll see if he can extend that mentality against major league pitching. He pitched well last year for the Twins after a demotion, and looks to duplicate that this season.

Notes: Byron Buxton returns to the Twins lineup tonight, batting 9th. Eduardo Nunez again leads off, playing shortstop. Max Kepler earned another start after Sunday’s three-hit game. He will bat sixth, one spot above Byung-ho Park.