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Bring On the Sox: Pitchers Preview

You can only say IT'S ANOTHER BIG SERIES so many times before it makes your head hurt, but the Twins have six games versus the dreaded Sox over the next week and a half.  Here is a preview of the pitchers we'll see this weekend.


The Scheduled Starters
Name             Age    IP    H  HR   K  BB   ERA   K/9  WHIP   AVG  DERA  VORP
Boof Bonser       24  45.1   53  11  37  14  5.56  7.35  1.48  .296  5.47  -.01
Brad Radke        33 150.1  184  22  76  29  4.43  4.55  1.42  .309  4.27  22.9
Johan Santana     27 177.1  145  19 187  38  3.10  9.49  1.03  .221  2.99  57.3

Freddy Garcia     30 154.1  175  26  93  37  4.78  5.42  1.37  .281  4.72  18.0
Jon Garland       26 148.1  178  23  78  31  4.98  4.73  1.41  .299  4.58  19.8
Javier Vasquez    30 144.0  154  18 120  41  5.13  7.50  1.35  .269  4.93  12.9

Coming into the season, there wasn't much doubt who had the deepest pitching rotation in the AL Central.  Sure, the Twins had the best talent in Johan Santana, but top-to-bottom, Chicago was just stacked.  Hell, they had to keep one of baseball's most highly touted pitching prospects in the bullpen!

Okay, so did the Twins, but that was by choice.  Chicago had to do it out of necessity.

Until recently, however, Chicago's rotation was struggling.  Now, Buehrle has put together two consecutive quality starts.  Garcia came up big against the Tigers on the 13th.  Vasquez is having his first decent month since May.  Garland and Contreras, while they have been up and down over the last couple of weeks, were having the best seasons of any of the previous.

Struggling out of the post-All Star gate, Chicago has recovered enough to go 10-6 in August.  Even though they split a series with the Royals, the pitching has been better and the offense has been it's usual potent self.  Prior to the two losses to Kansas City, Chicago's hurlers had allowed only 24 runs during a 6-1 stretch.

The reason the Twins have the advantage in starting pitching for this series is because of Brad Radke.  Johan Santana gives us a point no matter who Chicago could have thrown, but we get the deciding point because of a guy who many had thrown off as barely a back-end starter.  This "back-end starter" has been better than any of the White Sox pitchers we face in this series.  His overall stats, while not impressive, are generally better than Garcia, Garland or Vasquez, and in the end tell the story of Brad Radke's two seasons of 2006.

Stretch        GS  W  L    IP  K  BB   H  HR  ER
Before May 29  10  4  6  55.2 31  14  87  14  46
Since May 29   15  8  2  94.2 45  15  97   8  28

Stretch         ERA  WHIP   H/9   K/9
Before May 29  7.44  1.81 14.07  5.01
Since May 29   2.66  1.18  9.22  4.28

The tale of two seasons has another episode on Saturday.  Let's get out and support Brad and the Twins this weekend.

The Bullpen
Name            Age   IP    K  BB   ERA  WHIP   AVG  VORP
Joe Nathan       31  51.0  72  10  1.59  0.80  .175  26.0
Juan Rincon      27  58.0  53  17  2.17  1.21  .247  19.9
Pat Neshek       25  20.0  30   3  0.90  0.45  .092  11.7
Jesse Crain      25  58.2  47  15  4.45  1.38  .278  10.1
Dennys Reyes     29  36.0  35   7  1.00  0.86  .190  17.6

Bobby Jenks      25  56.1  65  23  3.67  1.30  .239  15.9
Brandon McCarthy 23  64.1  45  23  4.06  1.24  .239  15.3
Neal Cotts       26  47.0  36  17  3.64  1.43  .267  12.4
Matt Thornton    29  40.2  41  18  3.54  1.25  .219  12.0
David Riske      29  25.0  18  13  2.52  1.24  .200   9.3

As the Twins have come around, Joe Nathan has had more opportunities.  As Joe Nathan has had more opportunities, he continues to kick hitter's asses.  Batters step into the box and Nathan sends them back to the bench, usually on a strikeout via that 96 mph fastball or the knee-buckling curve.

If you face Pat Neshek, you're lucky if you don't strike out.  In fact, you're lucky if you're getting more than one batter to even reach base during his two innings of work.  Yes, Neshek is allowing 0.45 baserunners per inning.  And that, my friends, is sick.

In spite of this, and in spite of Reyes and Rincon and even Crain, Chicago's bullpen doesn't exactly consist of a bunch of push-overs.  Now that Cliff Politte has been removed from the equation, these five guys are doing more than an adequate job.  Jenks, while no Nathan, has converted 36 of 38 save opportunities.  Between May 10 and July 5 he allowed ONE RUN.  His 7.94 ERA in July has done him no favors, but if the Twins have to face him with a deficit in the 9th inning I may not be as optimistic as I like to be.

McCarthy has only started one game all season, as Ozzie refuses to give up on his five guys.  He goes between one and two innings mostly, and while he's definitely better suited for the rotation he has been effective in his role.  Neal Cotts and Matt Thornton have been more than solid as well; especially Thornton.  In addition to Riske, the White Sox are also now sporting the lanky Mike MacDougal, who has also been reliable since his arrival.

Conslusions

Both of these teams have great bullpens, meaning that if the Twins want to build any sort of a lead, their best chances will be against Chicago's starting pitchers.  With the inconsistency that has plagued the White Sox rotation, this may not be too difficult of a task, provided guys like Tyner, Bartlett, Rabe and Punto continue to give the offense their support.

You could say the same thing in favor of the Sox:  If you want to win, score against the starting pitchers.  Their best chance will come against Minnesota's series opener, Boof Bonser, who has been a replacement-level starter in his time at The Show.  You could also say this will be an easier task for the Sox, as they have more threats throughout the lineup than do the Twins.

Going in, the Twins are two games behind the White Sox in the Wild Card race.  A series win guarantees we're one game out on Monday morning, if not tied.  Taking only one game from Chicago still wouldn't spell certain doom, but our chances to make up direct ground on this team are evaporating quickly.  If you want to make a legitimate run, these opportunities NEED to be taken advantage of.

And yes, I'm optimistic.  I like our chances this weekend, all things considered. I'll see you at the ballpark.