Minnesota Twins Look for Sweep; Zach Greinke Looks To Stop Them

Dan WadeSenior Analyst ISeptember 27, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 14:  American League All-Stars Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals and Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins walk off the field during the 2009 MLB All-Star Game at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Twins walked past Robinson Tejada in game one and battered Lenny DiNardo in game two of their three-game set with the Royals.

Game three, however, might not be so easy.

This was almost an irrelevant game; had the White Sox kept their five-run lead intact last night, the Twins would have been one game behind instead of two, meaning the worst case scenario has the Twins down two games heading into Detroit, a workable margin, since the Twins would only need to win three games instead of sweep to take the division lead.

But good teams don't let themselves get beat in the second inning.

The Tigers fought back, won their game, and put a reasonable amount of pressure on the Twins today. If they lose against the Sox this afternoon (Edwin Jackson v. Daniel Hudson), then the Twins will once again be in good position.

But, assuming their games last the same amount of time, the Twins will have all of five minutes to know whether or not they can afford to lose. Translation: they'd better plan on taking care of their own business.

Standing in their way is the best pitcher in the American League. Whether he wins the Cy Young award or not is fairly irrelevant at this point, Zack Greinke is simply the best.

It's hard to find a number to throw out that "proves" how great he's been. His ERA is just a tick over 2 (2.05), his WHIP is 1.05, his ERA+is a staggering 210 on a scale where 100 is average.

The only thing that might keep him from being the AL CY Young winner is his relatively low win total, an issue Twins fans certainly understand well. In 2005, Johan Santana was jobbed out of the award when Bartolo Colon and his 21 wins blinded voters to the fact that Colon had been good, while Santana had been nothing short of unhittable in the second half of the season.

Saying that having Greinke on the mound gives the Royals an advantage in this game is a horrible understatement. His 15 wins account for nearly 25 percent of the Royals' season total. If Grenkie wins today, it will be exactly 25 percent. If that's not value, I can't imagine what is.

Standing in the way of the seemingly undeterable freight train that is the Greinke campaign is...Francisco Liriano?

Liriano, booted from the rotation in favor of Jeff Manship earlier this season, has been fairly effective pitching out of the bullpen since his return from the DL. Manship seemed overwhelmed in his last start, so the more established Liriano will get the ball, but on a strict pitch count.

The 45-60 pitches Liriano has been promised means he'll probably get through three to four innings before turning the ball over to a bullpen which threw just 2.2 innings last night and just three innings the night before. While the 'pen might be well rested and ready to roll, if Liriano's pitches are effective and he doesn't seem to be fatiguing quickly, Gardy well might leave him out there for five or six.

The Twins do not have an off day the rest of the season, so pulling a starter after three innings, irrespective of effectiveness, isn't really good strategy.

So, the question is: What chance do the Twins have?

A lot depends on Liriano. The Boston Red Sox gave up five early runs against the Royals and Greinke was able to coast through his innings knowing he could be aggressive. If Liriano can keep the Twins close, it will make Greinke be more careful with how he pitches.

He's lost or received a no-decision nine times in games in which he allowed two or fewer runs, so it's certainly possible for Greinke to be at his best, but for the Royals to be unable to turn that into a win.

Liriano's slider and changeup are still above average pitches, so it may seem like an overstatement, but the Twins are truly banking on Liriano and his fastball.

If he can locate it like he wants to and use it effectively to set up his off-speed pitches, the Twins will have a much better chance at beating the Royals, even if they can't beat Greinke.