The Orioles enter this week after being swept in Cleveland and New York, totaling a seven game losing steak (dating back to the loss in the second game of last Saturday’s doubleheader) that is certainly taking a toll on the team and its fans alike. The club, after starting the year on a 6-1 run, now is left at a 6-8 record, one that at first may not look too terrible, but is much worse when thinking about how that mark was reached.
The Minnesota Twins, currently sitting in last place in the extremely competitive AL Central at 5-10, have has issues all around the diamond, whether it be starting pitching, no spark in their offense, and trouble closing out games. Along with recently placing Joe Mauer on the DL with a viral infection retroactive to April 13th, it was just announced today that closer Joe Nathan would be removed from his role and replaced by Matt Capps for save situations after Nathan went 3-5 in save situations and has allowed five runs in five and a third innings pitched.
The only guys that have been hitting are Denard Span and Jason Kubel. Both players have had decent numbers so far with Kubel smacking two HRs in the last two games. As far as who isn’t hitting? Most of the team is an appropriate answer. The Twins haven’t scored more than 5 in any game this season. Justin Morneau has shown some signs coming back from his concussion but only has a .552 OPS to show for it. Michael Cuddyer has been even worse. He has 1 extra base hit and a .489 OPS.
The only other injury the Twins are dealing with is Kevin Slowey has been on the DL for a week plus, costing the team depth in the pen.
The pen has coughed up a couple leads lately, but it’s the bats that are killing the Twins right now.
Here is a review of the pitching matchups for the series:
Game 1: Monday, April 18
7:05 PM EST
RHP Chris Tillman (0-1, 7.30) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42)
Chris Tillman has had some chancy outings so far in 2011. After throwing six no-hit innings in Tampa Bay, Tillman has had two poor and short starts, making many question his status in the rotation and his ability to face major league batters overall.
Liriano has had a rough start as his ERA suggests. His velocity has been a little spotty with his fastball but his slider velocity has been in the 87-88 range, pre-Tommy John type velocity. He’s been victimized by poor command and bad BABIP/unlucky innings. He has had dominant stretches in his last couple starts, but seems to lose it for a time. If he could find the plate early in the count his stuff could allow him to dominate as soon as his next start.
Game 2: Tuesday, April 19
7:05 PM EST
RHP Jake Arrieta (1-1, 7.04) vs. RHP Carl Pavano (1-1, 3.60)
Jake Arrieta has been interesting to watch so far this season, with his worst start coming against the Rangers a little over a week ago when he only lasted three and a third innings, allowing eight earned runs. His two other starts have been quality starts, both lasting six innings and allowing one and three runs respectively. Arrieta will look to establish his fastball and not be predictable against these Twins hitters.
Pavano got shelled opening day but has been great. He’s been getting by the same way as he did last year. He pitches to contact and the fielders make the plays.
Game 3: Wednesday, April 20
7:05 PM EST
LHP Zach Britton (2-1, 2.75) vs. RHP Nick Blackburn (1-2, 3.06)
Zach Britton faced his first troubles in the majors this past Friday against the Indians (5 ER in 6 IP), but should be able to pick right back up where he left off before, allowing only one run between his first two starts combining for thirteen and two thirds innings. The sinker ball pitcher just has to locate his stuff down in the zone and will continue to hit his strides as a top prospect southpaw.
Blackburn has looked pretty decent so far this year. He dominated his last start until his pitching to contact tendencys got to him. His K/9 rate has crept up a little so far this year. If he can keep the ball done, he is serviceable.
Game 4: Thursday, April 21
7:05 PM EST
RHP Jeremy Guthrie (1-2, 3.32) vs. RHP Scott Baker (0-2, 4.50)
Jeremy Guthrie, after coming back from pneumonia, has has some struggles with pitching deep into games since then and also an ineffective start in Cleveland, where he allowed six runs in five innings pitched. The veteran on this staff, Guthrie looks to reestablish himself this series and be the quality pitcher he has shown he could be when healthy.
Baker has pitched decently. His HR and BB rates are a little high so far, but as a flyball guy, he will give up some HRs. His K rate is similar to prior years. Not a conventional strikeout pitcher, baker can rack up a decent amount of Ks and generally doesn’t give up many hits.
Overall, the Orioles face a tough challenge against the Twins, though may have caught them on a cold streak. Though the Twins carry a worse record than the O’s, the ball club is known to have quality pitchers and an impressive lineup, so they could easily come to life at any time. Both squads are looking to make a run back to the top of their respective divisions, and this four game series will be a test for both of them to see how far they can go at the beginning of this young 2011 season.
***All information about the Minnesota Twins in block quotes was provided by Shawn Berg. You can read more of Shawn’s writing on his blog “On the road with…” and also follow him on Twitter @ShawntheRoad.