Minnesota Twins Visit Fenway, Say Goodbye to Big Papi

Jun 12, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) in the on deck circle in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) in the on deck circle in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Travel to Boston for four-game Weekend Series

The Minnesota Twins continue their road trip, this time stopping at venerable Fenway Park in Boston for four games.

This continues their trend of playing one of the top teams in the American League. Since July 1st, all but three games have been against division contenders (Texas, Cleveland, Detroit), yet somehow the Twins have put together their first winning month at 10-6.

Those 10 wins match their season high for wins in a month, but our new-look Minnesota  Twins aren’t looking to rest on any laurels.

They still have the AL’s worst record (35-59), though the Tampa Rays are within striking distance, sitting at just 37-57.

Their “Farewell to David Ortiz” rematch series begins tonight.The Red Sox won two of three in Minnesota, including blowouts in the first two games in which Boston out-scored Minnesota 23-5.

The starters of the first game will meet once again tonight, as Tyler Duffey looks to avenge one of his worst starts (six runs in 5.1 innings) against knuckleballer Steven Wright.

More from Puckett's Pond

Duffey has been on a roll, in fact he can even his season record (5-6) with a win tonight. He’s earned a win in his last three starts, with an ERA just a shade over three.

The Minnesota Twins have won all of Duffey’s last five starts overall.

Coming off a series where they only gave up four runs in three games, the Twins look to replicate that formula against the Sox. The starters are getting into a groove of getting into the seventh inning (or later) with their best stuff still intact.

It seems easy enough, but when the starters are only going three, four, sometimes five innings, they don’t get their arms “stretched out” to be ready for those times when they actually reach the sixth inning.

In this weekend’s series, three of the Twins’ starters are coming off their best run of starts all year. the lone holdout, Kyle Gibson, will need prove that his two wins in successive starts at the end of June weren’t outliers, otherwise we may see Jose Berrios in his rotation spot the next time around.

Thursday Night Game

Tyler Duffey (5-6, 5.23 ERA) vs Steven Wright (11-5, 2.78 ERA)

6:10 PM CDT Fenway Park

TV: Fox Sports North

Friday Night Game

Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.12 ERA) vs Eduardo Rodriguez (2-3, 7.18 ERA)

6:10 PM CDT Fenway Park

TV: Fox Sports North

Saturday Night Game

Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.02 ERA) vs David Price (9-7, 4.36 ERA)

6:10 PM CDT Fenway Park

TV: Fox Sports North

Sunday Afternoon Game

Tommy Milone (3-2, 4.71 ERA) vs Rick Porcello (12-2, 3.47 ERA)

12:35 PM CDT Fenway Park

TV: Fox Sports North

BOSTON: Back in first place in the AL East, the Red Sox have won eight of their last ten, including a six game winning streak that was snapped by the Yankees on Sunday night. Boston is the majors number one-ranked scoring team; their 516 runs are thirty more than second place St. Louis.

They’ve been hurt by their pitching, which is ranked 19th, despite having career years from both Steven Wright and Rick Porcello. While David Price can still be the David Price of old, too often his fastball has been extremely hittable as he’s another veteran suffering from the dreaded “diminished velocity.”

After signing a $217 million contract this past off-season, Boston has been worried about the dip in the radar gun on Price’s fastball – nearly 3 mph lower than just last year. But Price has already learned to adapt, and his 141 K’s in only 130 innings shows that he can still miss bats one way or another.

PITCHING: Clay Bucholz is another victim of a slower fastball, but despite repeated attempts to find a decent secondary pitch, Bucholz has been demoted to bullpen duty after posting a 3-9 record and a 5.91 ERA in 13 starts.

The Sox traded for San Diego’s Drew Pomeranz, though his first outing was a bust. Staked to an 8-0 lead against the Giants, Pomeranz couldn’t get out of the 4th inning. Luckily for him, Hanley Ramirez slugged three 2-run homers as the Red Sox offense bailed out another starter to win 11-7.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rick Porcello. He, not Price or Wright, has been the stabilizing force for the rotation. While he doesn’t have Price’s gaudy K/9 stats, and gives up the long ball twice as much as Wright, Porcello keeps his pitch numbers down, racking up wins (11) and quality starts (13) along the way.

The Red Sox won his first five starts (and five wins for Porcello) and have won his last six starts, giving him five more wins during this latest stretch. In three starts for July, Porcello is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA.

OFFENSE: Leading in hits, total bases, runs, and batting average, Boston wins with its offense. If the starting pitcher fails early for Boston, their power can bail them out any night.

While they rank 13th in the league for home runs (Twins 15th), Boston has hit 221 doubles – 60 more than the Minnesota Twins to date.

Their offense is spread out from top to bottom.

Six batters have double digit home runs and 20+ doubles while five batters are hitting .290 or better. Like they proved in that 15-4 blowout, Boston’s relentless approach can prove difficult to deal with game after game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: David Ortiz, of course. He leads the powerful offense in batting average, RBI’s, home runs and OPS at age 40. He keeps saying he will stick to his promise that this is his last year, even if he wins the MVP.

He’ll most likely have the best final year for any notable player of all time, especially for those who are in the Hall of Fame. Kirby Puckett‘s career was ended early due to eye issues, he hung it up at age 35 after hitting .315 with 23 HR’s and 99 RBI.

But his slash is close to career highs (.326 AVG / 34 2B / 23 HR / 75 RBI / 1.085 OPS), in fact he last hit for 50+ doubles in 2007 when he was 31. That was also the last year he walked 100 times. He’s on pace to do that as well. His OBP & OPS, if they held for the whole season, would be his highest for his 19 year career.

MINNESOTA: The Twins do have a rising star of their own – Max Kepler. The German wunderkind did it again yesterday, his tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning was his 10th since being recalled, and his 35th RBI puts him fourth on the team despite 30+ less games played in.

In fact, Kepler has a flair for the dramatic, and for hitting for extra bases. Among all batters with 150 or more at-bats, Kepler has the highest extra base hit rate (60.5%), with 23 of his 38 hits going for a double or home run.

The only knock so far has been his lack of hits. Hitting coach Tom Brunansky is trying to have Kepler not waste at-bats falling into an 0-2 hole. Kepler was a little too patient, his 5.29 pitches/PA was the highest on the team last year. This year, he’s at 3.89.

They would like for him to be in the 4.2 range that Robbie Grossman and Joe Mauer are at. He’s trying to find a balance of being aggressive and staying patient enough to look for a pitch he can drive. Yesterday, Kepler stroked a full count pitch for the game-winning home run.

In a contrast of styles, Eddie Rosario picked the second pitch to put two more runs up on the board to give closer Brandon Kintzler some breathing room. The MLB average for P/PA is 3.86, and Rosario is closer to average than you would think.

Despite his lack of walks (just four in 169 plate appearances), Rosario averages 3.67 P/PA. All-Star Eduardo Nunez is the Minnesota Twins’ most aggressive batter, averaging only 3.53 pitches. Brunansky might have a point, since Nunez and Kurt Suzuki (3.58) have the two lowest ratios, but have the two highest batting averages on the team.

Next: Eureka! Twins Pitching Shuts Down Tigers

NOTES: While yesterday’s game was not televised, the game featured one of the best “fans on the field” moments ever. He eluded security for over a minute before surrendering himself near second base – only to get flattened by a flying security guard. Easily one of the funniest videos of that genre ever. Easy to find via a search engine.