After a successful home stand in which the Twins (62-49) have taken over sole possession of first place in the AL Central, a road trip that includes stops in Seattle (42-69) and Kansas City (52-60) will be a welcome one. While the Mariners are just as bad at home (21-34) as they are on the road (21-35), the Twins have been a completely different team away from the Metrodome. They're 23-28 away from the comforts of home, so with 14-game road stand at the end of the month, this is about as good of a warm up as could be asked for. To win this division, and to win in October, Minnesota needs to win while they're away. Picking up four or five wins before they come home a week from today would be a massive boost.
For the Mariners, there isn't much to say. They're the walking dead, at least as far as 2008 is concerned, but hopefully the Twins aren't looking past them. Every game is important, particularly right now, and Minnesota needs to come away with a series win. Also, the Mariners needs pitchers. So if you can throw 61 feet, I advise you to give them a call.
Glen Perkins VS Miguel Batista
Scott Baker VS R.A. Dickey
Nick Blackburn VS Jarrod Washburn
Miguel Batista: It's been one of the worst statistical seasons of this 37-year old's career. The right-hander is usually good for 190 innings, and as things go wasn't a bad number three or four guy for the last seven years. This year it seems he's lost his command, walking more guys (59) than he's struck out (57). Yet the Mariners are seemingly in a position where they can't not keep giving him starts. They've tried him in the bullpen, where he still gets rocked, but with Erik Bedard on the disabled list and even a guy like R.A. Dickey getting run out to pitch every five days, Seattle doesn't seem to have many good options (Carlos Silva, anyone?). But back to Batista, his scouting report is as follows: he'll walk you and he'll give up a gopher ball or two if you just wait for your pitch. Don't force anything, because he'll destroy himself. Now that I've sufficiently cursed the Twins, I'll move on.
R.A. Dickey: I have a friend, we'll call him "bobomojo", who's a big fan of Dickey, and would have liked for the Twins to have kept their paws on him. He throws a knuckleball about 70% of the time, which is neat, but apart from that he isn't very effective. Because in spite of the knuckler, he doesn't get a lot of ground balls, and traditionally he's been prone to streaks of missing his spots. I know, that's normal for a knuckle-ball pitcher, but the problem with Dickey is that he doesn't have anything else to offer. Still, over his last seven starts five of them have been "quality", so he is riding some success. Hopefully he won't buck his long-term trends on Tuesday, and he'll walk four if he goes six, and he'll probably allow 8-10 hits and a homer as well. Patience, as always, is the key!
Jarrod Washburn: Washburn, clearly, didn't get traded at the deadline. Poor Yankees! Still, he's not worth what the Mariners are paying him. His only saving grace this season is that he's been able to keep the ball in the park, allowing just 14 bombs in 122.2 innings of work. But he does get hit hard: 23.1 LD%, .295 opponent average and a few walks which tends to result in about one-and-a-half base runners per inning. But here's the rub--he's pitched much better the last two months. Between May 25 and July 27 he made 11 starts, eight of which were quality starts and another two which were just one out away from a quality start. His ERA dropped in that run from 6.99 to 4.50. Now, his first August start was forgettable, but it's hard to ignore how effective Washburn has been the second half of his season. Plus, he's a southpaw. And we all know what that means.
Ichiro Suzuki: One of baseball's most dangerous leadoff hitters, if not one of the most effective, the 34-year old has been the benefactor of a poor offense. Okay, maybe benefactor isn't the right word...how about "victim". His strikeout rates are down, his walk rates are up, he's still making a lot of contact and isn't going outside of the strike zone any more often than in the past, his isolated power is still poor but not any lower than last season, and his LD/GB/FB splits aren't showing any major changes. What's effected him this year is his BABIP, which at .328 is the second lowest mark of his MLB career. It's kept him off the bases a bit more often, dropping his OBP to .360, which is the third lowest mark of his MLB career. Another 13 singles would have raised his .303 average to his career mark of .331, and would also raise his OBP and SLG to right around their averages as well. Another thought: maybe he's lost a step out of the batter's box? Or he might just be unlucky this season.
Adrian Beltre: He could have been a Twin, but it just wasn't to be. He's a good defender and a good supplemental bat, but he's not the guy a lot of us hoped he would be, either. With a mediocre line of .252/.322/.434 it's hard to say that he'd be an offensive improvement over Brian Buscher, unless they were to have gone into a platoon role...which wouldn't make sense considering Beltre's contract. He does bat right-handed though, and he does mash LHP (.966 OPS), but for what the Mariners were asking he should have been the complete package. And he isn't. Besides, he swings at 32% of all pitches outside the strike zone. He'd likely have been more frustrating to fans than anything else, because expectations would have been pretty high.
Raul Ibanez: As the third, and final, position player in this edition of Series Previews, Ibanez also represents the third and final decent bat in the Mariners' lineup. In many ways the 36-year old is having his finest season in a while. His strikeout rates are at their lowest since '04, walk rates are at their highest since '05, and he's making better contact overall. While his line of .281/.347/.464 is actually down from last year, it seems he might be better "tuned in" this year. He's already notched 32 doubles, and so is on pace to shatter his career best of 37 that he set in 2002 with the Royals. It's been a tough year for the Mariners, and they might have been better off trading Ibanez (and Washburn) in the long-run, but it's still important to have players on the field who can bring in fans and show them that the team is making an effort to put a competetive product on the field. Ibanez is a fine player, and any organization would be well suited to have him on their team.