Two of the American League's three division leaders are taking to the field for a brilliant Saturday night matchup. In what's become, from my perspective, a rivalry based on respect, the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels will square diamond off in round three of a very telling series for our boys from Minneapolis. Rounds one and two have gone to the away team, and while the first contest could have gone either way the Twins earned two big victories over a very good team.
To avoid dropping a series at home, the Angels will fly out another old nemesis. Right-hander Jon Garland spent eight seasons taking on the Twins while donning black and whites, but has already seen them once earlier in the season wearing red; on April Fool's Day he threw eight innings of six-hit, one-run ball in the Dome. But at his best, Garland is a back-of-the-rotation, smoke and mirrors pitcher. His stuff isnt overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination, with all due respect to a decent fastball, and gets by like a lot of pitchers have to get by in baseball...on a little grit, location, on pitching in-and-out, and, on good days, by limiting his walks. For Garland though, his strikeout rates are the lowest of his career (4.09 K/9), and his walk rates are the highest they've been in four years. He doesn't have a specific advantage against right-handed hitters (.796 opponent OPS) or left-handers (.821 opponent OPS). To state it plainly, Garland is a very mediocre and very plain pitcher...but in baseball, to be able to just be average for as long as Garland has been is an extraordinary achievement. So, in spite of how it may seem, Garland can string up zeros on the score board at any time. We've seen him do it many times over the course of his career. But hopefully in nine years the Twins have compiled a nice thick scouting report on the 28-year old, and can figure him out a bit easier than they did four and a half months ago.
For the Twins it's Nick Blackburn, who usually is the picture of consistency. In his last ten outings he's logged quality starts against the Tigers, Red Sox, Tigers again, Indians, Indians again, Mariners, and most recently the Athletics. Against Oakland he went eight innings, a great theme for Twins starters over the last week. Blackburn is better than most people have given him credit for, including me, and in spite of a very mediocre 4.6 K/9 his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a superb 3-to-1. His xFIP, at 3.98, is just 0.27 points higher than his traditional ERA. Meaning, that even if his future performance isn't sustainable on its current level, the difference between who his numbers say he is and who he actually has been is very small. Blackburn is effective, and that's the bottom line, and whether he's a number three or number four starter that's a very, very good thing.
For the Angels tonight I'm predicting: Figgins (3B), Aybar (SS), Teixeira (1B), Guerrero (RF), Hunter (CF), Anderson (DH), Kendrick (2B), Rivera (LF), Napoli (C)
And for the Minnesota Twins I like: Span (RF), Casilla (2B), Mauer (C), Morneau (1B), Kubel (DH), Young (LF), Buscher (3B), Punto (SS), Gomez (CF)
08/23/08 9:05 PM EDT
|Minnesota Twins||Los Angeles Angels|
|Denard Span - RF||Chone Figgins - 3B|
|Alexi Casilla - 2B||Erick Aybar - SS|
|Joe Mauer - C||Mark Teixeira - 1B|
|Justin Morneau - 1B||Vladimir Guerrero - RF|
|Jason Kubel - DH||Torii Hunter - CF|
|Delmon Young - LF||Garret Anderson - DH|
|Brian Buscher - 3B||Juan Rivera - LF|
|Nick Punto - SS||Howie Kendrick - 2B|
|Carlos Gomez - CF||Mike Napoli - C|
|2008 - Jon Garland||11-8||25||25||1||0||0||0||158.0||183||84||76||19||48||71||4.33||1.46|
|2008 - Nick Blackburn||9-7||25||25||0||0||0||0||152.2||170||74||63||15||26||78||3.71||1.28|