Originally published at TwinsMVB.com.
After a satisfying series victory over the divisional rival Detroit Tigers, the Twins will end their homestand with a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tampa Bay started the season off on an excellent note, perching themselves atop the American League East while the Yankees and Red Sox tried to re-group. Now, though, the Rays have struggled to maintain their pitching prowess, and have slipped in the standings.
Still one of the best teams in baseball, though, the Rays will be trying to accomplish the same thing as the Twins during this series: closing the door on a rotten June in an attempt to get back on track in July.
Game One – Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.72) vs. Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.33)
Niemann, 27, was a major factor into Tampa Bay’s incredible start to the season, posting a 2.38 ERA through the month of May. Like his team, though, Niemann took a step back in June. This step back has been minimal, but could be the start of a major regression.
Despite coming off two successful starts against National League squads, Niemann is a classic example of a pitcher with artificially impressive stats. With an extremely low BABIP, a low line drive percentage, and a very high strand rate, it’s not a question of whether or not Niemann will regress; it’s a question of when.
While he’s certainly not as good of a pitcher as his stats suggest, Niemann may not return to earth for quite a while. The longer he keeps up this façade, though, the harder his fall will be.
Pavano’s success, meanwhile, appears to be more a result of ability. Although he has the benefit of a low BABIP and high strand rate, Pavano hasn’t given up any fewer line drives than is usual for the 34-year old. His overall talent level is probably worse than his current 3.33 ERA, but to expect a 4.00 ERA on the season would be fair.
Though not the case for most Twins, the month of June has been extremely friendly to Pavano. Coming off two consecutive complete games, Pavano has an ERA of 2.25 through 40 June innings. Pavano (and teammate Francisco Liriano) have been paramount to Minnesota’s ability to avoid a free-fall this month.
Both BJ Upton and Carl Crawford have dealt with minor bumps and buises these past few days, and they may miss a game or two during this series.
Game Two – David Price (11-3, 2.44) vs. Scott Baker (4-7, 4.97)
A few weeks ago, David Price was in the same boat as Niemann; a lucky pitcher who would likely plummet back to a more realistic realm. Instead of regressing, though, Price seems to be finally tapping into his incredible potential.
Price, 24, has marginal success last year with basically two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a slider. This season Price has introduced two new pitches: a curveball and a two-seam fastball. With the ability to better deceive opposing batters, Price has had great success in 2010. His ERA won’t stay below 2.50 for too long, and he won’t be able to strand nearly as many runners as he is now, but Price, the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, has started to realize his potential. Which should frighten batters across the American League.
Baker has been one of the most disappointing players for Minnesota this season. A career 4.36 ERA pitcher, Baker’s near-5.00 ERA this season has angered many fans. Looking at the stats, though, shows that Baker has BABIP slightly higher than is usual for the right-hander, and that more fly balls than usual are ending up as home runs. Both of these will likely regress eventually, though, Minnesota fans could be treated to a start along the lines of Baker’s most recent.
Game Three – Wade Davis (5-9, 4.68) vs. Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.47)
When looking at opposing pitchers in these series previews, I usually make sure to mention whether or not that pitcher has had “luck” on their side. In Davis’ case, though, his poor stats are simply because he hasn’t pitched very well.
Whether his issues are mental or mechanical isn’t necessarily known, but he has garnered far fewer swinging strikes than in the past. This lack of deception has greatly hurt his stats, and Price could be replaced by top prospect Jeremy Hellickson very soon.
Liriano has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, and “luck” hasn’t played too big a factor in his success. He will give up more home runs per fly ball than he is now, but all signs point back to the biggest reason for Liriano’s success: his improved slider.
Game Four – James Shields (6-8, 4.76) vs. Nick Blackburn (7-5, 6.02)
On the face of things, it appears that Shields has been unimpressive this season. When trying to root out the reason for this mediocrity, though, I can’t find any glaring abnormalities. Most of his batted-ball and plate discipline stats have remained the same from years past, as Shields is still inducing plenty of ground balls and getting ahead in the count at a very impressive clip.
So why is the ground-ball pitcher struggling? For one, his BABIP is slightly higher, but something intangible is also a likely culprit. In any case, Shields hasn’t been very effective this season, and there is no reason to believe that his mediocrity will end against the Twins.
Blackburn has also struggled to get batters out this year, but we can pinpoint exactly what is ailing the 28-year old righty: He just isn’t very good. He is dead-last in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, and when he throws a pitch in the strike zone, opposing batters make contact an astounding 96.6 percent of the time, which is also tops in the league.
Marginally successful for the past few years, Blackburn relied upon his extremely accurate arm to paint the corners of the plate and walk very few opposing batters. This year, however, it appears the league knows that most of Blackburn’s pitches are hittable.]]>
Earlier today, I mentioned the Twins' struggles in both the run scoring and run prevention departments. If this June slump continues for the rest of the season, Minnesota may struggle to eclipse the 75-win plateau. In order to get back on track, something needs to start working.
Going 4-4 with three triples last night against Detroit, Denard Span apparently got the memo.
Hitting three triples in a game for just the third time in the past 30 years, Span may have kicked off the long-awaited improvement that we've been banking on for weeks.
Before last night's game Span was hitting .275/.347/.367. The walk rate and on-base percentage are fine, but Span hasn't been hitting the ball with nearly as much power or consistently as most would like.
Although Span's ten total bases stole the national spotlight, starting pitcher Nick Blackburn's strong outing deserves to be mentioned, as well.
Typically an atrocious pitcher in the month of June, Blackburn has held true to form so far this season. Before last night's start, Blackburn had an ERA over 12 in his June starts. After throwing seven strong innings while giving up four runs, that June ERA plummets.
I'm still not convinced that Blackburn is capable of throwing league-average innings, but a few more starts like these would greatly ease my mind. Even with a significant improvement, though, Blackburn is still the rotation's worst starter and would be the odd-man-out were the Twins to pursue a starting pitcher before the trade deadline.
Today's rubber match against the Tigers will have a large influence on the Twins' mood and momentum heading into the month of July. A series victory over Detroit will give Minnesota some breathing room (however little) atop the AL Central, while a loss would do nothing to help remove this atmosphere of losing from the Twins' dugout.
With Kevin Slowey (7-5, 4.79) on the mound while the Twins trot out a day-game lineup, though, I'm anything but confident.]]>
Runs scored per game
Runs allowed per game
In the 25 games the Twins have played in June this season, they have had a net loss of 1.14 runs per game. As you can see, if the Twins don't burst from this slump and start scoring and preventing runs at a much better clip, they will have no chance of postseason contention.
But in order to break free from the shackles they currently find themselves in, the Twins will need to bank on a few key players finding their groove once again. Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer have lost an average of 159 OPS points in June. JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, Minnesota's starting shortstop and second baseman, have combined to appear in just 15 games during the month of June.
As a team, the Twins have dropped 82 OPS points during the month of June. Essentially, Minnesota hitters have transformed from Cody Ross to Christian Guzman. Clearly, the offense has been an issue for the Twins. Luckily, most of these players will be unable to keep up this futility for too long, and should start slowly pulling themselves out of the mud.
Minnesota's starting rotation, though, could be a bigger issue.
Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano have been excellent for the Twins this year, but the other 60 percent of the rotation has been downright dreadful. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn have combined to post an ERA of 7.17 in the month of June, which, at the major-league level, is laughable and simply unacceptable.
Still, a few of these rotation members should be able to get back on track before too long. Blackburn, though, has sandwiched an outstanding May with a horrendous April and June. If the Twins were to acquire a starting pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline, Blackburn would be the one to go. And, let's face it, replacing Blackburn's innings with that of a league-average starter (or even Cliff Lee) would drastically improve the team.
Yes, the month of June has left Twins' fans with a rotten taste in their mouths. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox have had very strong months, and are flying up the standings.
Chicago won 15 of 17 games at one point and are about to hold a mini-fire sale, though, and will inevitably fall back to third in the division. The Tigers will endure a tough month or two, as well, and the Twins will have an opportunity to re-gain some ground.
After all, baseball is a six-month sport. Unlike football or basketball, one extended losing streak won't derail a season. The Twins have plenty of time to address their needs, catch their breath, and engage in a dogfight with Detroit.
There's no time like the present, and with the Tigers in town for a three-game series, the Twins need to take advantage. We've hardly reached the do-or-die point in the season, but a series win against Detroit this week would do wonders to Minnesota's attempts to break out of a funk.]]>
With a few months of the minor league season in the books, and with several players having been either promoted or demoted throughout the system, it’s time for another Minor League Check-In. Here are three players who Twins fans should be keeping their eye on this year:
Kyle Gibson, SP, New Britain Rock Cats
After dominating his opposition while with the Fort Myers Miracle, Gibson sported a 1.87 ERA on the season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was looking excellent, and a few thought the former first-round pick may be able to challenge for a September call-up later in 2010.
Since being promoted to Double-A New Britain, however, Gibson has received a harsh welcome. Through seven starts, Gibson has a 4.83 ERA to go with an inflated WHIP. He is being hit much harder in New Britain, but Gibson has managed to keep his K/BB ratio in tact and as appealing as ever.
Nearly all hope of a 2010 appearance with the major-league club has been dissolved, but Gibson should still be able to finish the season with the Rochester Red Wings. He will contend for a rotation spot to start the 2011 season.
Joe Benson, OF, New Britain Rock Cats
Benson was one of the first Twins to be promoted this season, as he was sent from Fort Myers to New Britain. He has played 40 games at the Double-A level, and has proven that he isn’t over-matched at the higher level. He is still struggling with strikeouts, but Benson’s .350/.478 on-base and slugging percentages are among the best in Minnesota’s organization. Benson has hit 12 home runs so far this season, and is stealing more bases than he has in the past.
Although the Twins’ outfield is jam-packed with talented players, if Benson keeps hitting like this it will be impossible to leave him out of the major-league picture for too long.
Miguel Sano, 3B/OF, Dominican Summer League
One of the Twins’ biggest international signings in their history, Sano has been raking opposing pitching through his first 14 games. Hitting .341/.444/.636, Sano has shown himself to be a natural hitter at the Hot Corner.
Of course, he’s only had about 50 professional plate appearances, and Sano will need many more years before he is polished enough to join the big-league club. When Sano is ready for big-league action, though, the Twins will be more than happy to accommodate him.]]>
Click here to read a few of my trade predictions!]]>
Last night, I had the chance to attend my third Target Field game of the season, and had a blast
Scott Baker channeled his inner Francisco Liriano and set a career high in strikeouts by fanning twelve Colorado batters. No, you read that right: Scott Baker tallied 12 strikeouts. His fastball/slider combination was as good as it's ever been, and Baker looks to have officially transitioned from his usual early-season struggles to last-season dominance.
Through all of the first-halves in his career, Baker has a 4.94 ERA. From August 1 on, Baker's ERA lowers to 3.71. In the first two months of this season, Baker's ERA was a disappointing 4.48. Opponents were batting .284/.326/.447 against Baker; essentially Jason Kubel or Hideki Matsui. His last two starts have been especially poor, though the seven shutout innings he threw Wednesday night indicates a turn for the better.
As a team, the Rockies have a wOBA of .330, the 11th-highest total in the league. They've relied heavily upon the long ball, though their on-base average is also among the league leaders. Colorado is a good offensive team, which may or may not be primarily a result of the hitters-friendly Coors Field. Still, allowing just three base-runners through seven innings (and striking out twelve) is a very impressive feat.
This afternoon, the Rockies will attempt to salvage the third and final game of this Interleague matchup. They will have their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, on the mound, but so will Minnesota. Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez are perhaps the best two pitchers in their respective leagues, and Thursday's game could be one of the quickest games so far this year. At the rate these two have been getting outs, the game could be over in just two hours.
Some food for thought: If Baker can K an even dozen Colorado batters, how many can Liriano retire via the strikeout? Also, is it wrong to root for a dual no-hitter?]]>
The Twins certainly didn’t stray from their organizational philosophy in this most recent MLB Draft. Holding the 21st overall selection in the Rule 4 Draft, Minnesota made several selections of players that fill a mold that Twins’ fans have grown familiar with. Here is a brief run-down of Minnesota’s first three picks.
21st pick: Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State (6′2”, 195 lbs)
Wimmers is exactly the type of pitcher the Twins have historically favored in the draft. Although he doesn’t possess a blazing fastball, Wimmers is able to consistently throw three pitches for strikes. His curveball has the possibility to develop into a ‘60′ pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, according to Keith Law, while his changeup could reach ‘65.’ Wimmer’s fastball ranges from 89-92 mph, which is why he will rely on his offspeed stuff in the future.
One of the safest picks in the draft, Wimmers is a very polished pitcher and should be able to fly through the minor league system, perhaps reaching the Twins’ rotation in the middle of 2011. Of course, the sooner he signs the sooner he can fill out a rotation spot in Minnesota.
71st pick: Niko Goodrum, OF, Fayette County HS, Jonesboro, Ga. (6′3”, 175 lbs)
A toolsy 18-year old from Georgia, Goodrum was one of the more high risk/high reward players in the draft this year. He is a switch hitter, and played shortstop in high school, though both of those are in question as he transitions to professional baseball. Goodrum will probably move to center field to take advantage of his plus speed and arm.
Goodrum’s main concern lies in his ability to make contact. His raw strength shows great power potential, but he needs to make contact before he can send the ball into the seats. The Twins have tons of athleticism to work with, but Goodrum could very likely be a complete bust at the minor-league level. With the Twins coaching and development staff working their magic, though, I wouldn’t bet against Goodrum having a long major-league career.
102nd pick: Pat Dean, LHP, Boston College (6′1”, 175 lbs)
Any left-handed pitcher has a better-than-average change of making it in professional baseball, but Dean’s polished four-pitch repertoire gives him an even better chance. Dean’s sum is greater than his parts, as no aspect of his game is far above average. The fact that he possesses an average ability to do so much, though, is where he finds his value.
An average fastball, changeup, curve, and slider are available to Dean, though he didn’t use his offspeed pitches very much because of the low quality of his opponents. Dean’s above-average command and control are probably what attracted him most to the Twins, and he should move through the minor-league system with relative ease.]]>
Starting the season with low expectations and a very young team, the Oakland Athletics find themselves at the top of their division through the first third of the season. In the Oakland Colosseum, the Athletics boast an impressive 19-8 record. As the Twins attempt to shake off a disappointing series with Seattle, the Athletics appear an intimidating foe.
Game One - Baker (5-4, 4.48 ERA)vs. Braden (4-5, 3.60 ERA)
As I’m sure you’re aware, Braden tossed the first perfect game of this historic 2010 season. Despite being forever plastered in the record books, though, Braden is not an elite pitcher. His BABIP is unusually low, which is why his FIP is higher than his impressive-on-the-surface ERA. Braden has been an extreme fly-ball pitcher, and is very prone to the home run ball. He doesn’t strike out many opposing batters at all, though his fastball/changeup duo are noteworthy.
Baker, on the other hand, has fought off some tough luck so far this season. His BABIP is a few points higher than his career average, which indicates a possible regression of opposing batters’ ability to keep their batted balls out of Minnesota gloves. Baker’s strikeout and groundball rates are higher than last year, and he’s averaging just over six innings of work per start.
Twins fans have long been searching for an ace since Johan Santana was dealt away. Liriano hasn’t been able to fill the void, but so far this season Baker has looked everything like an ace. If Baker can step up and help the Twins finish off this tough road series on a good note, the unofficial designation of “staff ace” is his to lose.
Game Two - Liriano (5-3, 3.29 ERA) vs. Cahill (4-2, 3.02 ERA)
So far this season, few pitchers have been as lucky as Trevor Cahill. With a BABIP of just .222, he is sure to regress to the mean eventually. Will it be against the Twins tomorrow night? Probably not. Even so, Cahill has struck out opposing batters at one of the lowest rates in the league while walking around three per nine innings. He has been aided by an extremely good groundball rate, as well as a great strand rate.
Liriano started the season off beautifully, but struggled for a brief three-game stretch before returning to his groove. If you remove Liriano’s starts on May 8, 15, and 20 from his season total, his ERA drops to just 2.02. Even with the low ERA (which isn’t the best way to evaluate a pitcher), Liriano’s FIP is even lower. He has struggled through a very high BABIP of .349 while striking out just over nine opposing batters per nine innings.
With five days of rest, Liriano’s ERA is 1.78. Unfortunately, Liriano will only get four days of R&R during this turn of the starting rotation, where he has an ERA of 5.76.
Game Three – Blackburn (6-2, 4.73 ERA) vs. Gonzalez (5-3, 3.68 ERA)
Fortunately, the Twins will be able to escape Oakland without being forced to find an answer for Brett Anderson. Instead, they will take on three young starters who boast very impressive ERAs, and are currently riding lucky streaks. Gonzalez has been able to limit baserunners at a great clip this year, with a WHIP of just 1.29. He hasn’t struck out many, though, and his strand rate is way above his career average.
Blackburn has been one of the more disappointing Twins’ pitchers this year. He is currently dead-last in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, and his walk and homerun rate are both higher than last year. Blackburn’s ability to induce groundballs is up, but his stats don’t look to be aided by a BABIP regression anytime soon. He has been able to provide the Twins with plenty of average innings, though, as he’s averaged 6.42 innings per start so far this season.
It’s way too early to apply the “must-win” label to this series, but two or even three wins in Oakland could help the Twins prepare for a tough interleague stretch later this month.]]>
Consistently competing on a reduced payroll and in a small market, the Twins owe a great deal of their success to their scouting department. Minnesota's young core of players -- Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, among others -- are all home-grown and a product of Minnesota's usually-excellent minor-league system.
This year, the Twins will look to bolster that system by adding some organizational depth.
Predicting what Minnesota will do in the Rule 4 Draft is as futile an exercise as making contact with a Steve Carlton slider; unless you got lucky, there's no way you are going to make solid contact.
The Twins have no discernable tendencies in the June First-Year Player's Draft. They are just as willing to draft a prep outfielder as they are a college-groomed relief pitcher. Minnesota will draft the player they feel will help the organization the most.
This year, the Twins have been awarded the 21st overall selection in the draft. Here are five players that they could wind up in Minnesota's minor-league system.
Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee State - (Click here to read more!)