Twins-White Sox: Two Stumbling Teams Careen into Bridgeport
The Minnesota Twins were more than glad to see the old Yankee Stadium abandoned, given their recent history in the Bronx.
Accounting for the Jays' four game sweep of the Pale Hose and the Twins four-losses-by-five-runs in New York, plus the Rays series win over the Indians, the AL East improved to 42-23 against the AL Central on the season.
Kansas City was the only AL Central team to salvage even a split in their weekend series with an AL East team, posting a 2-2 record against the O's.
With the weekend's miseries behind, Tuesday finds the teams who bore the brunt of the East's punch set against each other in a battle to get right.
While both teams are reeling, the Sox have been on their skid longer than the Twins, who had swept the Tigers before heading to New York. Entering play on Tuesday, the Sox have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games to fall 5.5 games behind the division leading Tigers.
Their bats have been fairly quiet, averaging just 2.9 runs per game in May, but the Twins would be wise to treat them as a wounded bear more than a declawed cat; the Sox's hitters have a history of getting healthy against the Twins, especially when they're at US Cell.
Still, the Twins enter the series as the clear favorite.
Joe Mauer, missing the first time these two teams squared off, is red hot as is Justin Morneau. They lead an offense averaging 5.6 runs per game so far this month, and the teams' starters seem to be finding their groove.
The Sox do, however, boast a much better bullpen, which could be the X-factor in such a series. The Twins called up Sean Henn to help with their late game woes, but they are still far from the secure crew that the Twins have had in the past.
Tuesday: Scott Baker (1-4) v. Mark Buehrle (5-1)
Scott Baker missed the Twins' first trip to the South Side, but this time around he'll catch the Sox's best pitcher so far this season.
To match his 5-1 mark, Burhrle has posted a stellar 1.09 WHIP and 3.00 ERA. Part of his success has been a move away from his fastball and a better mix of cutter and change up.
Baker, on the other hand, has been hard to figure out so far this season. He's improved some from his early season home run-itis, but is still falling victim to the big inning.
Still, as the Mariners found out on May 8, Baker is more than capable of shutting a line-up down.
Wednesday: Francisco Liriano (2-4) v. John Danks (2-3)
The last time Liriano pitched against the Sox, he cruised through four innings, then absolutely melted down in the fifth when home plate umpire Ted Barrett stopped giving Liriano the inside strike.
Since then, Liriano has settled down quite a bit, but is still allowing too many base runners. The Sox were exceptionally patient last time, and would do well to keep that approach; Liriano walked a season high six Yankees in his last outing, though he also struck out six.
It has been feast or famine for John Danks this year. In four of his seven outings, he has given up one or fewer runs in no fewer than six innings. In the other three, he's given up at least five runs in an average of four innings.
If he's got his best stuff, the Twins will need to be especially efficient since scoring chances won't come often, but if he's shakey...the Twins could easily send him to another early shower.
Thursday: Nick Blackburn (2-2) v. Bartolo Colon (2-3)
Like Danks, Colon's starts this season have been either train wrecks or gems. He's thrown three starts without giving up a run, one of two runs, and three of five runs, lasting more than six innings just once.
With Colon closing out the series, the Twins have a huge incentive to get into the Sox bullpen early and often in games one and two of the series. Even if Colon pitches well, the Twins will see Sox relievers before Bobby Jenks, and that could be their chance to score several runs.
Nick Blackburn is the same as he ever was: consistent, if not consistently good.
He's a lock to give up four runs on between six and eight hits, or at least he was last season and in April, 2009.
While that is still his modus operandi, Blackburn has shown the ability to hold down even good lineups in a way he did not last year. There's no way to know if he'll be able to do so in any given start, but his control seems to have improved as shown by a drop in his FIP.
Each of these matchup portends a good game, especially if the streakier pitchers among them bring their A-games.
So, don't be fooled by records heading into Game One—these two teams are bringing a chip on their shoulder into an already fierce rivalry; these three games should be fantastic.
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