Going In, In Brief
From one pair of Sox to the next, the Twins (17-16) managed to hold onto first place in spite of dropping two of three to the south side of Chicago. There've been a couple more injuries (Pat Neshek, Scott Baker), but the last week and a half hasn't been too bad from a team perspective; going 7-3 in any stretch is more than acceptable. The offense still struggles with power and getting on base, which results in inconsistent run support. If Minnesota wants to continue to remain above .500, the starting pitchers will have to keep locking down the opposition and a few more position players will need to step up on offense.
Boston (23-14) sits atop the AL East, 8-2 in their last ten and just took three of four from the Tigers. Remember how over-matched the Twins looked against the Tigers last weekend? This weekend is worse. The Red Sox, as a team, post an .810 OPS. As. A. Team. That's sick. Additionally, their pitching staff is second in the American League in strikeouts; conversely they're fourth in granting walks (about one every two innings). For a team with a decent batting average, like the Twins, that struggles with power, working a few more walks would definitely help manufacture some runs.
Boof Bonser VS Jon Lester
Glen Perkins VS Daisuke Matsuzaka
Nick Blackburn VS Tim Wakefield
Livan Hernandez VS Clay Buchholz
Jon Lester: Lester's had a couple of disappointing starts this year, but nothing horrendous. Additionally, he's had a couple of exceptional starts. He's coming off a pair of starts in which he combined 14 innings, one run and five hits. He'll get a good share of ground balls, is keeping the ball in the park pretty well, and will get a handful of strikeouts in every outing. His achilles heel, if he has one, is that he does issue walks. In fact, his K:BB ratio is virtually one-to-one, so there's something the Twins could build off of.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K has been effective this far into '08, even when he allows eight walks in five innings like he did in his last start versus the Tigers. Like Lester, he's been helped out by a pretty good defense and a bit of luck, with a BABIP of only .182. He's completed seven innings only once, and can be erratic with his control on a couple of his pitches, so once again I repeat: patience is a virtue. Look at Joe Mauer everybody, and don't be allergic to a base on balls.
Tim Wakefield: Wakefield's already logged five quality starts this year. There's that knuckleball, which if the Twins can lay off, they can force some walks. (Can you tell I'm pushing walks here? This offense needs to take more walks. Just sayin'.) Wakefield is what I'd call effectively wild, because with his arsenal and how he throws, just picking up the ball can be deceptive let alone knowing whether it's a 78-mph fastball or some other junk. If Minnesota can be judicious in pitch selection, they can work 4-6 walks off the right-handed veteran. If not, Wakefield might go eight innings and allow two hits. Ish.
Clay Buchholz: There's a reason I wanted Santana to go to Boston, and Buchholz was one of those reasons. Of course it never looked like he was on the table, but he's a good pitcher. Lots of strikeouts, usually not a lot of walks. His curveball gets a lot of vertical movement, but his release point isn't as consistent with it, so if hitters can recognize his release point it might tip them off on the curve. His fastball comes in around 90-92, but his slider, curve and changeup all come within six mph of each other, from 74-80, and because of their individual breaks make for some every effective pitches.
Manny Ramirez: Sure he's striking out more and walking less, but he's tearing the crap out of opposing pitchers. .316/.397/.571, lots of line drives (25%), seven bombs and 11 doubles for a .255 ISO. Manny's about to turn 36 and isn't slowing down. That's just Manny being Manny.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsubury is 24 most of this season, so he's a couple years older than Carlos Gomez, but this is the kind of player I can see Gomez turning into. 13 stolen bases, never been caught, lots of line drives (24%), excellent discipline. He's batting .290/.397/.420. He looks good.
Kevin Youkilis: What an on-base machine, and he's smokin' hot right now: 10-for-23 with four doubles and five homers in his last six games. Again, he doesn't strike out much (12.2%), takes some walks (13.5%), hits a lot of line drives (23%) and his ISO is .275! If I had one baseball wish, it'd be for Youkilis to hit right behind Joe Mauer. Mauer would lead off, Youkilis would hit second. Sigh.
David Ortiz: He was off to a slow start, but is clicking on all cylinders now. He's 15-for-35 in his last eight contests, with four doubles and three home runs. I'm expecting a couple of bombs over the baggie.