Originally published at TwinsMVB.com .
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.
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 ground ball 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.
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 and walked around three per nine innings. He has been aided by an extremely good ground ball 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, 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.
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 home run rate are both higher than last year. Blackburn’s ability to induce ground balls 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—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.