Tonight we begin the biggest series of the season.
Just as should have happened over the weekend, the streaking Twins took two of three from the under-achieving Indians. Cleveland's suspect pitching has been the bain of their existance for most of the year, neutralizing their high-octane offense. For the Twins, everything has been coming together. Pitching has returned for form, defense has been bettered exponentially and the offense has been timely with enough punch to provide the necessary deathblows. I've been reading in a number of places recently how the Twins' offense is "hapless". I'm not sure how that tag is true at this point in time. Just to be sure, let's check where the Twins sit over the course of the season, and recent history in particular.
MLB Offensive Rankings
Statistic Year June July
Runs 14 10 11
Hits 8 14 3
XBH 28(t) 19(t) 22
AVG 4 9 2
OBP 8(t) 3 3
SLG 19 16 11
OPS 15 9(t) 7
While the Twins certainly started out the year in an offensive (and everything else) funk, they've been quite efficient over the summer months. I'm not sure what I'm trying to prove exactly, as everyone here knows what strides the team (and offense) has taken over the last six-and-a-half weeks. Granted, we're at the bottom of the barrel with extra base hits, but between June and July it hasn't stopped us from being in the top third of league scoring.
The Chicago White Sox
Winning on Sunday gave the Sox 3 wins in their last 10 games, meaning that the Twins made up 6 games in that same stretch. All together, Twins fans: It's about time somebody ahead of us in the standings lost during this torrid hot streak of ours! As of this morning the Twins are 3 games behind the lagging South Siders, who still hold the American League lead in the Wild Card race.
On the White Sox side of things, Chicago is 7-11 in the month of July. Their potent offense has been betrayed by the division's top-to-bottom strongest pitching staff. Take a look at their starting rotation this month. Those in italics are slated to start against the Twins.
Pitcher G IP ERA H K BB
Buehlre 4 21.1 11.39 37 12 4
Garland 4 23.0 1.17 21 9 2
Garcia 4 25.0 5.76 31 14 7
Vasquez 4 19.0 6.16 24 16 5
Contreras 4 26.2 3.04 23 13 9
Garland has hit a hot stretch, in spite of being mediocre or worse the first three months of the year. In fact, Jose Contreras is the only one of the starting five having what you could consider a "good" year, in spite of the fact that all five also have at least 9 wins. It's nice to have an offense.
Speaking of which, let's not let our momentum and the fact that Chicago is sporting sub-par pitching cloud the daunting force that is the White Sox batting order. Six guys with double-digit home runs. Four guys slugging over .500; 2 over .600. This is going to be no small task for Twins pitching.
The Minnesota Twins
The Twins haven't won in Chicago all year. Additionally, the White Sox hold the third most wins at home in all of baseball, trailing the Twins and the Blue Jays. Finally, the Twins (although they've been better as of late), have collected a paultry 19 road victories. For the Twins to continue gaining ground on the reigning champs, they'll have to conitinue their constant uphill climb. At the end of this series, the Twins will be sitting in one of four scenarios. Six games behind Chicago in the Wild Card race, four games behind, two games behind, or tied. The Twins should like to win at least two of three.
Brad Radke gets the nod in the opening salvo of the AL Central rivalry, which bodes well for the Twins. Radke has been effective if not overpowering, allowing a mere 18 runs in his last 10 starts and 63.2 innings. He's regained his control, locating his fastball and breaking balls, and his circle change has been reattached to its string. Following Radke will be Santana, who is due to become unhittable again at any time. In the final game of the series the Twins are scheduled to pitch Carlos Silva. Which Silva shows up to pitch may determine the course of that game very early; consistent Carlos or unpitchable Carlos.
Here are how the Twins and White Sox match up, with Chicago's home numbers running against the Twins' away numbers.
Team Rec Avg Obp Slg H/G R/G HR
Chicago 34-16 .281 .353 .475 9.66 5.88 81
Minnesota 19-30 .256 .323 .374 8.86 4.14 39
Exploiting Chicago's Weaknesses to Date; 2006
Konerko kills southpaw pitching (.368/.455/.719), he merely mashes right-handers (.269/.333/.474). He's patient and will take a walk if you don't go after him, but he's largely a pull hitter. Attempting to pitch him outside while trying to jam him on occasion may help to keep him off balance. While he's been in a slump since the break (.179/.258/.500), there aren't too many holes in Paulie Nerk-Nerk's swing. Pick your spots.
Thome has power to all fields, but at US Cellular hasn't grounded out to anything but the right side of the infield. Strangely enough, a majority of his fly outs are to center and left field. Against right-handers he's unstoppable (.323/.434/.805), so in the later innings there's no reason NOT to go to the pen for a lefty. So far this year Thome has been able to reach base on southpaws due to his patience and willingness to take a free pass, but his bat is largely neutralized (.246/.367/.365). Against the lefty the Twins will throw at him, Santana, Thome is 1-for-6. The hit is a home run. Go figure.
The key to Podsednik is to keep him off the basepaths, because once he's there he causes a whole new set of problems. At US Cellular this year he's been largely unspectacular (.261/.356/.398), but his true achilles heal is also against the left-handed pitcher (.232/.293/.313). Podsednik, while he has little power, controls the strike zone well and doesn't have a tendency to hit to any particular field in Chicago. He is strikeout prone, however, so hitting your spots and changing velocity is key.
This guy is a nightmare when playing at home, and when hitting against right-handed pitchers. He hits for a solid average and has just enough pop to keep you from challenging him if he's ahead in the count. Like Podsednik, he doesn't have much tendency to hit in any field. Any late-inning key situation should have him facing a southpaw when possible (.213/.281/.370).
Crede doesn't strike out often, so it's in the best interest of most pitchers to keep the ball down and away. While he can hit to all fields, for power he's mostly a pull hitter. Unlike the majority of Chicago's hitters, Crede is exceptional against left-handers. Like the majority of Chicago's hitters, he also hits right-handers well. In the past, Crede had been a low-average, low-OBP hitter with occasional power. In 2006, he's a legitimate offensive threat.
By any standard, Dye is having a career year. In 313 at-bats, he's hitting .316/.395/.620 with 25 homers. He CANNOT be allowed to face a left-hander in a critical situation (.400/.492/.737), although he carries a .917 OPS versus right-handers. He gets around on the inside pitch surprisingly fast, and although he too can hit to all fields, any volley of power will be pulled from an inside pitch. Keep the ball low and away, and keep him off-balance on anything inside.
A.J. is back to having the kind of offensive years we expected him to have. While he's not a primary threat he's very solid all around, with enough punch to keep pitchers honest. He still hits better against righties (.310/.352/.450), and while he also does decent against the left-hander his power is neutralized (.274/.322/.345). He's also still a pull hitter, albeit with good control of the strikezone, so a steady diet of breaking balls away should give you the chance to occasionally throw inside and keep him on his toes.
Uribe has little patience and is prone to streaks of striking out. While he does carry some pop, his aggressiveness can easily be used against him. Currently he struggles from both sides of the plate and isn't hitting well at US Cellular, so the Twins should feel free to nibble and pick at Uribe because he'll usually get himself out. All of his home runs in Chicago are to left field, so don't leave any fastballs up and/or in, because he'll jump all over it.
Mackowiak (say it fast three times) is a platoon player, getting the majority of his plate appearances against right-handers...whom he hits well (.333/.417/.452). In his few times facing left-handers, he's struggled mightily (.216/.293/.216). Most of his ground balls go to the right side of the infield; fly balls to the left-center field gap. He'll take cuts at balls inside, but generally will induce a groundball out. Pick your spots, but don't be afraid to go after him.
In the hurt bag, no matter how you look at it. Do what you like, just don't hang anything up.
Cintron is having his best statistical year since 2003. He does decently against the pitcher no matter what the hand, but generally isn't dangerous. He is slightly better against lefties (.316/.352/.342), but has better power against right-handers (.274/.313.378). Jam him inside and he'll get himself out on a weak grounder. Pitch him intelligently and there shouldn't be many problems.
Ozuna is hitless in July (0-for-16). In part-time duties he's hit very well against both sides, however, so you never know when he could break out of his slump. He can hit the ball to any part of the field, but never really is successful when pushing it to left field. If you see him, his confidence should be low, so pick at him on the outside corner. Hopefully he'll continue to retire himself.
Now is the time for all the progress that has been made over the last 6 weeks to come to fruition. A setback here wouldn't kill the Twins, but a series victory heading into Detroit would inch us that much closer to the goal of reaching the postseason. As Christopher Walken says in Poolhall Junkies: ...every once in a while, the lion has to show the jackals, who he is. If we are indeed the lions we think we are...indeed, Mr. Walken. Now would be a good time.
Christopher Walken, says: Seriously. You're not scared of me? Because...you should be. You know how your mother, she makes, banana bread? Well, if for some reason, let's say your slider stops working, then I make banana bread out of you. I think we understand each other here. Cocktail? What's that? Yes, that was me in that video. You see...sometimes, I like to dance. It makes me happy. You should wish you were Fatboy Slim about now.