7/1-7/4 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Joe West gives zero f**ks. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Joe West gives zero f**ks. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Whenever the Yankees have needed a few wins over the years — and they certainly need a few right now — they could always count on the Twins. New York has won 67 of 87 (!) games against Minnesota during the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs), and four of those 20 losses came against in-his-prime Johan Santana. The Bombers are also 12-3 at Target Field, which is where these four games will be played. Hopefully the domination continues.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Twinkies just split a four-game series against the Royals and have won just three of their last nine games. They sit in fourth place in the AL Central at 36-42 with a -28 run differential.

At 4.2 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, the Twins are pretty close to a league average offense. They are currently without CF Aaron Hicks (57 wRC+), OF Darin Mastroianni (51 wRC+), and OF Wilkin Ramirez (57 wRC+), all of whom are on the DL and will not return in time for this series. OF Josh Willingham (113 wRC+) has been dealing with a knee issue and is day-to-day. He should return at some point this week if not tonight.

Mauer. (J. Meric/Getty)
Mauer. (J. Meric/Getty)

As usual, the centerpiece of the Minnesota offense is C Joe Mauer (144 wRC+), who quietly continues to be one of the best hitters in the world. 1B Justin Morneau (107 wRC+) is still productive even if he isn’t the hitter he once was. Rookie OF Oswaldo Arcia (126 wRC+) has had a nice start to his big league career and 3B Trevor Plouffe (118 wRC+) has bounced back well after missing time with concussion and leg issues earlier this year. OF Clete Thomas (115 wRC+ in limited time) has stepped in as the leadoff hitter with Hicks on the DL and DH Ryan Doumit (92 wRC+) has been his typically okay but not great self.

The rest of the lineup is a bit of a mixed bag. OF Chris Parmelee (91 wRC+) has some power and SS Pedro Florimon (71 wRC+) has some speed while IF Brian Dozier (87 wRC+) has a little of both. IF Eduardo Escobar (69 wRC+) and IF Jamey Carroll (46 wRC+) round out the lot of position players. The Twins are currently using a three-man bench even with Willingham banged up.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Scott Diamond
The Twins struck Rule 5 Draft gold with the 26-year-old Diamond in 2011 — technically, they traded for his rights in Spring Training that year and didn’t have to jump through the Rule 5 hoops — as he pitched to a 3.54 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 27 starts a year ago. He opened this season on the DL after having offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and he’s since posted a 5.40 ERA (4.48 FIP) in 14 starts. His walk (1.88 BB/9 and 4.9 BB%) rate is excellent and he gets plenty of grounders (47.8%), but he misses no bats (4.23 K/9 and 11.0 K%) and will give up the long ball (1.17 HR/9 and 10.8% HR/FB). Diamond is the pitch-to-contact philosophy personified. He’ll throw his upper-80s four-seam fastball almost two-thirds of the time, using it to set up his low-80s curveball and changeup. It’s worth noting he’s had a reverse platoon split during his entire big league career. The Yankees didn’t see Diamond at all last year, but they crushed him for five runs on ten hits in a four-inning start in 2011.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
Deduno. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Sam Deduno
Deduno, who turns 30 tomorrow, was called up a few weeks ago and has pitched to a 3.32 ERA (3.79 FIP) in seven starts. His strikeout rate (4.98 K/9 and 13.0 K%) is terrible, but he limits walks (2.91 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) and doesn’t give up any homers (0.42 HR/9 and 6.9% HR/FB) because he gets a freakin’ ton of ground balls (60.7%). That’s not just a small sample size thing, he has a 59.0% career ground ball rate in parts of four big league seasons. Deduno lives off his low-90s four-seamer and cutter, but he also throws a ton of low-80s curveballs and a handful of low-80s changeups. It’s worth noting he has a decent-sized reverse platoon split — lefties have gotten him for a .307 wOBA in his career, righties a .351 wOBA — which might have to do with the cutter. Deduno started a game against the Yankees late last year, but he was forced from the game after just 1.2 scoreless innings with an eye issue.

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP P.J. Walters
The Twins have really had to scrape the bottom of the pitching barrel this year. The 28-year-old Walters has a 6.03 ERA (5.24 FIP) in seven starts, and he comes with the low strikeout rate (4.98 K/9 and 11.8 K%) required of all Minnesota starters. He doesn’t really limit walks (3.93 BB/9 and 9.3 BB%) and he has been homer prone (1.31 HR/9 and 11.6% HR/FB) because he doesn’t get a ton of grounders (42.4%). A trio of upper-80s fastballs — two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter — set up a mid-70s slider that he throws more than 30% of the time. He’ll use a low-80s changeup on occasion. Walters has never faced the Yankees despite spending parts of each of the last five seasons in the show.

Thursday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Kyle Gibson
Minnesota called up their top pitching prospect last week, and he held Kansas City to two runs in six innings while striking out five and walking zero. A fine debut, to be sure. Before the call-up, the 25-year-old Gibson had a 3.11 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 15 Triple-A starts with good peripherals: 7.67 K/9 (21.3 K%), 2.72 BB/9 (7.6 BB%), 0.39 HR/9, and 58% grounders. He works primarily off a low-90s four-seamer that sets the stage for his mid-80s changeup and nasty low-80s slider. That’s the pitch that got him drafted 22nd overall in the 2009 draft. Obviously the Yankees have never faced Gibson before, but I suppose it’s worth noting Zoilo Almonte and David Adams saw him in Triple-A back in April.

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Royals roughed up Kevin Correia yesterday, so Gardenhire had to get four innings from his bullpen. Closer LHP Glen Perkins (1.88 FIP) did not pitch but setup man RHP Jared Burton (3.91 FIP) did. Long man RHP Ryan Pressly (3.27 FIP) threw two innings and middle man RHP Josh Roenicke (5.22 FIP) threw one as well. LHP Brian Duensing (2.95 FIP) and LHP Caleb Thielbar (2.74 FIP) are the matchup guys while RHP Anthony Swarzak (3.25 FIP) and RHP Casey Fien (3.09 FIP) round out the eight-man bullpen. It’s a sneaky good pen. Not great, but effective.

The Yankees are in good shape as far as their relievers go, and in fact we’ve reached the point where Mariano Rivera and David Robertson need get some work in. Neither guy has pitched since last Tuesday, and Rivera hasn’t even warmed up since then. Robertson warmed up on Wednesday, that’s it. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact recent reliever usage details. For the latest and greatest on the Twins, check out Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman.


Possible Trade Partner: Minnesota Twins

(Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The Twins and Yankees had a very one-sided rivalry in the mid-to-late-aughts, a rivalry that included four ALDS matchups from 2003-2010 and two wins by Minnesota. Not series wins, individual game wins. New York took all four of those ALDS meetings by a total of 12 wins to two.

The Twins have run off a pair of 95+ loss seasons since last getting bounced from the postseason by the Yankees, so they’re in something resembling a rebuilding phase. I say “something resembling a rebuilding phase” only because they’re still signing free agents and trying to piece together a contender given their weak division, yet they’re still closer to another 95-loss campaign that a playoff berth.

If Minnesota does decide to commit to a rebuild this winter (unlikely but possible), they would have several pieces of interest to the Yankees. I’m not talking about Joe Mauer, whose contract is prohibitive and days behind the plate are numbered, or even Ryan Doumit, who just signed a contract extension. Yesterday I wrote about utility man Jamey Carroll, now here are two outfielders who might fit in New York…

Josh Willingham
When you hit .260/.366/.524 (143 wRC+) with 35 homers and a 12.4% walk rate, you’re going to generate some buzz like the soon-to-be 34-year-old Willingham did this season. The Twins reeled him in with a three-year contract worth $21M last offseason, a deal that sure looks like one of the biggest bargains of the winter at this point.

The Yankees need to replace Nick Swisher and Willingham is one of the few outfielders who can provide similar offensive production. This year was a career year for him and I don’t expect him to repeat it, but he still hit .257/.360/.476 (127 wRC+) with an average of 23 homers per year from 2009-2011. He’s consistently offered power (.233 ISO since 2010) and patience (12.2 BB%), plus his right-handed bat would help balance out a lineup short on righty power given Alex Rodriguez‘s decline.

Willingham, however, is an atrocious defensive outfielder who has only gotten worse following 2010 knee surgery. His best position is probably first base or even DH at this point. You’re also getting nothing on the basepaths and usually a stint on the DL at some point during the season as well. His value stems exclusively from his bat, but luckily for Willingham he can really hit.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Denard Span
The 28-year-old Span is generally considered to be more attainable than Willingham because the Twins already have his center field replacement lined up — Ben Revere put together an 88 wRC+ and stole 40 bases while playing stellar defense this summer. Span is signed to a long-term contract that will pay him $4.75M next year and $6.5M the year after before a $9M club option ($500k buyout) comes into play for 2015. For luxury tax purposes, the average annual value is a friendly $3.3M.

The concern for the Yankees is that Span is basically Brett Gardner with half the stolen bases and half the called strike threes. He broke out during the 2008-2009 seasons (119 wRC+ in 1,087 plate appearances) but has hit just .271/.334/.397 (95 wRC+) in 1,584 plate appearances since. Concussion and shoulder problems have hampered him the last two years and could be to blame for the declining offense, but he was perfectly healthy in 2010 and still managed an 89 wRC+ in over 700 plate appearances.

What Span does provide is crazy good contact skills from the left side (10.9 K% and 92.0% contract lasts three years) and some patience (8.5 BB%) to go along with dynamite defensive ability. He ranks ninth in UZR (+21.9) and tenth in DRS (+24) among all outfielders over the last three seasons, but he hasn’t played anywhere other than center since 2009. Although it would create a stellar defensive outfield, Span and Gardner are completely redundant. The Yankees would be lucky to get ten homers out of the duo combined.

* * *

One of the oddest trade discussions to (reportedly) take place in recent years involved Span and the Nationals at last year’s deadline, when the Twins were willing to trade him for a reliever (Drew Storen) but Washington haggled over which reliever (offered Tyler Clippard instead). Given their lack of a long-term center fielder, it seemed like an easy call for the Nats. I highly doubt the Yankees would be lucky enough to pry Span away with just a reliever now that Minnesota has revamped their bullpen (3.77 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 2012), but even if they wanted to replace Swisher with a contact-and-speed, defense-first outfielder, they’d probably just re-sign Ichiro Suzuki. They know him and it would only cost money.

Willingham is a different case since the only free agent outfielders who could match his offensive production are Josh Hamilton and Swisher. Normally bringing a dead pull right-handed hitter to Yankee Stadium would give me pause, but Willingham has the kind of power to overcome Death Valley in left-center. I’m not too concerned about that with him. Considering his luxury tax friendly contract (just $7M average annual value through 2014), maybe the Yankees have to overpay a bit to get the production they need at affordable rates. The Twins appear to be very disinclined to move him however, so chances are this is all moot.

9/24-9/26 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The fourth series of the Yankees’ season was a four-gamer against the Twins in Yankee Stadium, but the two clubs have not faced each other since. They split those four games and since the start of the Ron Gardenhire era in 2002, the Yankees are 65-19 (!) against Minnesota (including playoffs). Four of those 19 losses came against in-his-prime Johan Santana. The Bombers are 10-2 at the new Target Field as well, where these three games will be played.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Twins swept the Tigers in a doubleheader yesterday, which I can’t imagine went over well in Detroit. They had lost two straight prior to that, and have dropped nine of their last 17 games. Overall, the Twinkies are 64-89 with a -119 run differential. Only the Indians have a worse record in the league.


(Tim Umphrey/Getty)

Despite the pitcher friendliness of Target Field, Minnesota averages 4.4 runs per game with a team 99 wRC+. They’re a league average offense, and that’s pretty good. Their two best hitters this year have been Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham (both 142 wRC+), who go about it very differently. Mauer hits for a sky-high average (.323) and leads the league in OBP (.416) while Willingham has 35 homers and a .265 ISO. They shouldn’t be underestimated, they’re right behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder as the best three-four combo in the AL this year.

Setting the table for Mauer and Willingham is leadoff man Denard Span (107 wRC+) while Justin Morneau (114 wRC+) bats fifth behind them. Ryan Doumit (106 wRC+) and the powerful Trevor Plouffe (103 wRC+) add length behind the middle of the order. Ben Revere (95 wRC+) and Jamey Carroll (83 wRC+) play everyday, and the recently recalled Pedro Florimon (71 wRC+) is getting regular reps at shortstop. Darin Mastroianni (103 wRC+ in limited time) plays more than the typical fourth outfielder and brings a lot of speed to the table. The September call-ups include former Yankees farmhand (and former RAB Lifetime Achievement Award honoree) Matt Carson, infielders Eduardo Escobar, Alexi Casilla, and Chris Parmalee, and catchers Drew Butera and Chris Herrmann.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Liam Hendriks
Hendriks, 23, has been up-and-down all season and has pitched to a 5.88 ERA (5.38 FIP) in 72 innings. He’s a classic Twins pitcher in that he doesn’t walk anyone (2.88 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and doesn’t strike anyone out (5.38 K/9 and 13.2 K%), but he doesn’t get many ground balls either (41.7%). Hendriks is five-pitch pitcher, using two upper-80s/low-90s fastballs (two- and four-seamer) to set up an array of offspeed pitches: low-80s slider, low-80s changeup, low-70s curveball. Lot of separation between those pitches. The Yankees have never faced Hendriks, who has pitched decently against the Royals and Indians the last two times out.

(Jason Miller/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Esmerling Vazquez
A former reliever with the Diamondbacks turned starter for the Twins, the 28-year-old Vazquez has pitched to a 6.75 ERA (5.36 FIP) in four starts and 20 innings since being recalled. He’s walked 15 and struck out just eight in that time with a 31.8% ground ball rate. Vazquez is offspeed heavy, throwing his low-90s four-seamer and sinker just ~45% of the time. A low-80s changeup is his top offspeed pitch, and he’ll also mix in a mid-70s curveball. The Yankees scored five runs in zero innings (!) against Vazquez back when he was pitching out of the Arizona bullpen, but otherwise they haven’t seen him. They’ll also be the first above-average team he faces as a starter after four games against the dregs of the AL Central.

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Sam Deduno
Deduno, 29, has made 14 serviceable starts since being recalled from Triple-A at midseason (4.54 ERA and 5.54 FIP) in 77.1 innings. He gets a ton of ground balls (57.9%) and won’t miss a ton of bats (6.40 K/9 and 16.1 K%), typical Twins stuff, but he will walk himself into trouble (5.94 BB/9 and 15.0 BB%). Deduno sits right around 90 with two fastballs (four-seamer and cutter), and will throw his hard, low-80s curveball almost one-third of the time. A low-80s changeup is a distant third offering. He makes it three starters the Yankees have never faced before, for all intents and purposes.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters soaked up some innings as the two starters yesterday, so Gardenhire’s bullpen is in decent shape. Left-hander Glen Perkins (3.00 FIP) has assumed closer duties with Matt Capps on the DL, and he’s being setup by splangeup specialist Jared Burton (3.26 FIP). Both of those guys pitched an inning last night but otherwise had two days off beforehand.

Middle relief duties belong primarily to right-handers Casey Fien (2.18 FIP) and Alex Burnett (4.22 FIP), as well as left-handers Brian Duensing (3.86 FIP) and Tyler Robertson (3.86 FIP). Robertson is the specialist while Duensing is the multi-inning guy. Burnett was the only one of those four not to pitch in either of yesterday’s games. The lot of September call-ups is righties Luis Perdomo and Anthony Swarzak, that’s it. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on the Yankees’ relievers, then check out Aaron Gleeman and Twinkie Town for the latest and greatest on the Twins.

4/16-4/19 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(REUTERS/Eric Miller)

Having watched the Twins play over the last week and a half, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to win 62 games this season. They’re that bad. The Yankees also completely own them, winning 63 of 80 games during the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs). They’re also 10-2 in new Target Field, but this series will be played in the Bronx.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Twins have won just two of their nine games this season, both against the same Angels team that just left the Bronx. They were swept by the Orioles in the season-opening series, and they were just swept by the Rangers over the weekend. Their 28 runs scored are the fewest in the league and their 48 runs allowed are the fourth most. That -20 run differential the worst in baseball. Yeah, they’re awful.


(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Only twice in nine games have the Twins managed to score more than three runs. They’ve mustered no more than two runs in six of ten games, and their team .311 wOBA is the fifth worst in the league. Joe Mauer (.307 wOBA) and Justin Morneau (.276 wOBA) are shells of their former selves due to injury, though they recently homered in the same game for the first time ever at Target Field. Jamie Carroll (.276 wOBA) is either going to walk or make an out, while Chris Parmalee (.262 wOBA), Danny Valencia (.238 wOBA), Ryan Doumit (.212 wOBA), and Alexi Casilla (.182 wOBA) have contributed next to nothing.

Only two regulars in Minnesota’s lineup are doing anything with the sticks. Josh Willingham (.579 wOBA) has four of the team’s seven homers while Denard Span (.433 wOBA) has been setting the table as the leadoff hitter. Recent waiver claim Clete Thomas took over the right field job from Ben Revere (.160 wOBA) and hit a homer in his first game as a Twin yesterday. You still have to respect Mauer and Morneau because of what they were, but this lineup isn’t scaring anyone.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Carl Pavano
Pavano has a special place in the hearts of Yankees fans thanks to his hilariously injury-riddled and ineffective stint in pinstripes back in the mid-aughts. Ironically enough, he’s turned into a innings eater since leaving New York, though he hasn’t always been effective. He owns a 4.39 ERA (4.05 FIP) over the last three years, ranking 12th in innings (656) but 35th in fWAR (9.8) among all starters. Pavano’s velocity has dropped off in a big way recently, as he now sits in the mid-80s with his sinker and low-80s with his slider, changeup, and splitter. He relies on ground balls and not strikeouts per team philosophy, and he is stingy with ball four. At 36 years old, Pavano is a junkballing righty.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Francisco Liriano
The Twins have one guy in their rotation — really on their entire pitching staff — that can miss bats consistently, and that’s Liriano. He’s injury prone and enigmatic, two traits that are very likely to be related. On any given night he’s capable of a ten-run stinker or a two-hit shutout. Liriano relies very heavily on his offspeed pitches, specifically his wipeout mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup. His two fastballs — two and four-seamer — are more low-90s now than the mid-90s they average two years ago. Liriano has traditionally piled up a ton of strikeouts and ground balls, but walks have been an issue in recent years. He’s been very hit or miss against the Yankees, with a few strong games and a few duds.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. Jason Marquis
Marquis, a Staten Island-native, will be making his first start of the season after leaving the team to be with his family after his daughter suffered a near-fatal injury in a bicycle accident. She is recovering well, thankfully. Marquis threw a simulated game as a tune-up on Tuesday, and believe it or not, this will only be his second career start against the Yankees in his 12-year career. That’s what happens when you spend all 12 years in the NL. Marquis is a classic Twins pitcher, getting ground balls with an upper-80s sinker and no strikeouts with his mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup.

Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Nick Blackburn
It’s a matchup of disappointing right-handers in the finale, though at least the Yankees don’t owe Hughes over $10MM from 2012-2013 like the Twins owe Blackburn. Like Pavano and Marquis, Blackburn is the prototypical pitch-to-contact back of the rotation dreck the Twins love so dearly. He gets ground balls (career 48.3%), doesn’t miss bats (career 4.33 K/9), and rarely walks anyone (career 2.20 BB/9). I feel like I’m repeating myself here. An upper-80s sinker, low-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball are Blackburn’s weapons of choice. The Yankees have hit him very hard just about every time they’ve faced him through the years.

For what it’s worth, Blackburn left his last start due to shoulder discomfort, but the tests came back clean and he’s not expected to miss a start. There’s always a chance he could, however.

Bullpen Status
Minnesota’s bullpen has taken a bit of a beating over the last two days, with standout setup man Glen Perkins getting spanked for three runs in two-thirds of an inning over two games. He threw 23 pitches on Saturday and ten pitches yesterday, so it’s unlikely he’ll be available tonight. Right-handers Alex Burnett and Jared Burton have each pitched in three of the last four days, so I wouldn’t count on seeing either guy tonight barring an emergency.

The rest of the Twins’ bullpen is pretty well set. Closer Matt Capps is both terrible and well-rested, plus they have righty Jeff Gray and lefties Matt Maloney and Brian Duensing in reserve. Overall, their bullpen ranks 23rd in baseball with a 4.50 ERA, though their 3.83 FIP paints a rosier picture (13th in MLB). For the latest and greatest on the Twins, we recommend Aaron Gleeman and Twinkie Town.

2012 Season Preview: Rest of the AL

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.

Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.

Baltimore Orioles
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!

Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.

Cleveland Indians
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.

Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
LOL Frenchy.

Minnesota Twins
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.

Oakland Athletics
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?

Seattle Mariners
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.

Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.

Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Photo Credit: Flickr user steffofsd via Creative Commons license)

As a Yankees fan, is there anything you’d rather see more than a four-game series against the Twins? I suppose it would be better if they were in the Bronx, but that’s just nitpicking at this point. The Yankees have won two of the three games they played against the Twinkies this season, and the one loss was that Rafael Soriano, four-run eighth inning gem way back in April. You remember, this game. Anyway, the Yankees are 59-19 against the Twins in the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs), and they’re 7-1 in new Target Field.

What Have The Twins Done Lately?

Minnesota just took two of three from the Tigers, but before that they had lost eight of nine and 11 of 13. Their 54-68 record is the third worst in the AL, besting only the Orioles (47-74) and Royals (51-73), but their -113 run differential is second worst to the O’s (-138). It’s been a pretty rough year for the Twins, who usually do a fine job of fielding competitive teams.

Twins On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees are likely to welcome Alex Rodriguez back to the lineup at some point in this series, and the Twins have been getting some important pieces back as well. Justin Morneau returned from his latest round of concussion problems five games ago, and is hitting just .226/.281/.338 in 253 sporadic plate appearances this year. Jason Kubel (.294/.344/.460) missed nearly two months with a foot sprain before returning earlier this month. Rhett Bollinger reports that Kubel will be out for at least tonight’s game due to family reasons, however.

Bollinger also reports that either Michael Cuddyer (.295/.360/.485) or Denard Span (.263/.331/.342) will be placed on the DL before tonight’s game. The former has a neck strain that has kept him on the shelf for the past six games, the latter concussion-like symptoms. Losing Cuddyer would be a huge blow since he’s been their best hitter all season long; he leads the team in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, ISO, wOBA, wRC+, HR, RBI, R … basically every significant offensive category whether you’re a stathead or a traditionalist (min. 250 PA).

Despite all those injury problems, the Twins still have Joe Mauer, who has hit .325/.395/.390 over his last 36 games to bring his season line to .281/.346/.340. It has not been a banner year for Mr. Mauer, who missed time with injury as well. Jim Thome is still mashing taters, with a .259/.365/.513 batting line in limited playing time. With Kubel and possibly Cuddyer out tonight, there’s a chance he’ll play even against the lefty CC Sabathia. Danny Valencia (.244/.288/.381) crashed back to Earth after last year’s stellar rookie campaign, and the rest of the lineup is filled out by guys like Ben Revere (.253/.301/.298), Trevor Plouffe (.206/.289/.373), Rene Tosoni (.215/.279/.342), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.214/.256/.240). Luke Hughes (.233/.296/.317) will be called up to take Cuddyer’s/Span’s spot, and the backup catcher is Drew Butera (.167/.208/.256. Yeah, they’re offensively challenged up in Minnesota.

Twins On The Mound

Thursday, LHP Brian Duensing (vs. CC Sabathia): A rematch of Game One of the 2009 ALDS, the Yankees typically hit Duensing very hard whether it’s the playoffs or regular season. His FIP (4.00) looks a lot better than his ERA (4.53), and his strikeout rate (6.54 K/9) is surprisingly good this year. Duensing will give up some homeruns though (1.04 HR/9), in part because he’s just not much of a ground baller (42.8%). The 28-year-old southpaw lives off his low-90’s two-seamer, throwing it just about half the time. He’ll also mix in a straight, low-90’s four-seamer, a low-80’s changeup, a low-80’s slider, and a low-70’s curveball. Duensing has a huge platoon split both this year and for his career, so it’s a good night to stack the lineup with righties.

Friday, RHP Kevin Slowey (vs. Phil Hughes): Slowey will be making his first start of the season after being banished to the minors in part because the team doesn’t seem like him all that much. He made six relief appearances earlier this year, got hurt, came back and was immediately sent to Triple-A where he’s started for the last two months or so. Slowey’s calling card has always been his control. His career unintentional walk rate is just 1.44 uIBB/9, and he misses enough bats to post respectable strikeout numbers (career 6.79 K/9). He’s a huge fly ball guy though (just 32% grounders for his career), so he’s definitely prone to the homerun (career 1.41 HR/9). Slowey will throw a low-90’s two-seamer, a high-80’s slider, a mid-70’s curveball, and the occasional low-80’s changeup.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Saturday, LHP Francisco Liriano (vs. A.J. Burnett/Freddy Garcia): Liriano could have won the Cy Young Award last year, but his numbers are down across the board this season, whether you want to look at ERA (5.12), FIP (4.63), xFIP (4.45), tERA (4.47), SIERA (4.39), K/9 (7.39), BB/9 (4.90), HR/9 (1.02), ground ball rate (47.9%), whatever your heart desires. He’s throwing more low-90’s four-seamers (33.2%) than last year (just 6.6%), and has scaled back the usage on his low-90’s two-seamer (18.1% after 42.7%). Liriano still has that big wipeout slider, and he’ll also throw a power changeup. It’s a roll of the dice every time out these days, he could be dominant or a disaster.

Sunday, RHP Nick Blackburn (vs. Burnett/Garcia/Ivan Nova): Blackburn is the quintessential Twins pitcher. He doesn’t strike anyone out (4.65 K/9), keeps the walks in check (2.76 uIBB/9), and gets a ton of ground balls (53.2%). They like him so much, they threw $14M at him last year by way of a four-year contract. Crazy. Blackburn doesn’t miss bats with his high-80’s sinker or his high-80’s cutter or his low-80’s curveball or his mid-80’s changeup. Pitching to contact works great in theory, but not so much when you’re facing a powerhouse offense like the Yankees (especially with men on base).

The Yankees’ rotation is a little up in the air for Saturday and Sunday. It all depends on Garcia’s finger, if it’s healed and allows him to throw his splitter, then he’s likely to start Sunday with Burnett going the day before. If not, then Freddy might hit the DL with Nova filling in. No one will be on short rest regardless of what happens, so don’t worry about that.

Bullpen: It took more than half-a-season, but Matt Capps (4.78 FIP) finally lost the closer’s job. Joe Nathan (4.70 FIP but much better of late) gets his old gig back, and his primary setup man is left-hander Glen Perkins, who’s been one of the very best relievers in baseball this year (9.92 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 0.18 HR/9, 50.9% GB, 2.39 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 2.81 xFIP). The only other non-Perkins reliever in Minnesota’s bullpen that has been above replacement level this year is Anthony Swarzak, who’s pitching to a 4.00 FIP in 29.1 IP. The rest of the crew is filled with guys like Jose Mijares (4.80 FIP), Alex Burnett (4.52), and Phil Dumatrait (5.80). Yeah.

Recommended Twins Reading: Twinkie Town, Aaron Gleeman, and Nick’s Twins Blog

Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Until it stops, we’re going to continue talking about it. During the Ron Gardenhire era, which began in 2002, the Yankees have downright dominated the Minnesota Twins. Of their 75 games in that span, including playoffs, the Yankees have won 57. As FanGraphs’s Jack Moore explains, the probability of that happening is 0.021% — and that’s not a misplaced decimal point. That dominance really shines in the Bronx, as CBS’s Danny Knobler notes. The Yankees are 30-6 there against the Twins since 2002, and four of those losses came during Johan Santana starts.

Tonight marks the first of four games the two teams will play at the Stadium this week. For the Yankees to continue their string of dominance would only extend a vast statistical anomaly. But, since we’ve already seen some crazy trends this weekend, maybe the Yanks will keep things going.

What Have They Done Lately?

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

We have only one series in the books, so this section is even less meaningful than it normal. (I.e., we know that momentum can change at any time, without notice.) But if the opening series means anything, the Twins are in a heap of trouble. Their Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers got bombed during their starts, and their closer nearly blew Sunday’s game. In total they were outscored 21-8 by the Blue Jays. Now they come into New York and face another hot offense, but this time they’re putting their Nos. 4 and 5 starters on the mound to start the series.

The team’s lack of offense to this point has been a bit startling. They’ve gotten some quality production from the top of the lineup in Denard Span and from Jason Kubel, but after them the rest of the team hasn’t done a lick. It’s early, of course, and that will change. But will it change as the Twins face the team that has cursed them for the past nine seasons?

Twins On Offense

(Charles Krupa/AP)

In the past it wasn’t difficult to note the Twins’ strengths as a team. They’ve always had contending clubs — even in 2008, after they traded Johan Santana, they came within a few games of a playoff spot — but this year they appear to have more weaknesses. For the moment, though, we’ll look at where the Twins are strong.

Clearly, at catcher they have an advantage over most of the league. From 2008 through 2010 Joe Mauer led all catchers in fWAR by no insignificant margin. His wOBA was 30 points higher than his closest peer, Brian McCann. In the same period another of the Twins up-the-middle player, Denard Span in center, ranked among the best at his position.

Then there’s Justin Morneau at first base. He’s off to a slow start, but the concussion he suffered last July kept him out for the entire second half. He still has some rust to scrape off, but once he has that worked out he’ll rank among the league’s best hitters. (In fact, he was an MVP candidate last year before he got bonked on the head.) In the outfield corners the Twins have a trio of solid hitters in Delmon Young, who stepped up last year, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. And at DH they have Jim Thome, who, even at his advanced age, continued to mash taters last season.

Twins On The Mound

(Tom Olmscheid/AP)

Game 1: Scott Baker. The past two years have not been kind to Scott Baker. In 2008 it appeared that he was reaching his peak, with a 3.45 ERA and 3.79 FIP. But then this fly ball propensity caught up to him. His home run rate jumped. It appeared that he had been granted a reprieve when the Twins moved to spacious Target Field, but his home run rate stayed around the same level. (

Since 2008, only Ted Lilly and Jered Weaver have a higher fly ball rate than Baker — though his teammate, Slowey, would also rank higher if he qualified. That is not a good mix with Yankee Stadium, especially given the way the Yankees opened the season. Baker does mitigate that rate with a low walk rate and average strikeout rate. There’s a good chance he bounces back this year, as his peripherals last season were good overall. But against the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t appear a good match.

2010 numbers: 29 starts, 170.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 3.82 xFIP

Game 2: Brian Duensing. The Twins pretty clearly prefer their pitchers to induce contact and avoid walks. In that way, Duensing is the consummate Twin. Even in the minor leagues he didn’t manage an average strikeout rate. During his season and a half in the bigs he has a 5.49 K/9, which is among the lowest in the league. (His teammate, Nick Blackburn, owns the lowest strikeout rate in the last two years.) Yet he produced some excellent results last year, thanks to a low home run rate, low walk rate, and high strand rate.

Despite the low strikeout rate, Duensing does have excellent peripherals. He avoids handing out free passes, which should match-up well against the patient Yankees. He also keeps the ball in the park, in part due to a ground ball rates that eclipses 50 percent. Duensing might not be a top of the rotation pitcher, but he’s the type of guy I can see giving the Yankees fits.

2010 numbers: 53 games, 13 starts, 130.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Game 3: Carl Pavano. The story you’ll hear throughout this game is how the Yankees nearly signed Pavano this off-season. It didn’t happen, which pleased many fans who can’t stand to look at him. Those fans would have been doubly pissed if Pavano pitched for the Yankees like he pitched on Friday for the Twins. It was an ugly, ugly drubbing in which he allowed eight runs, seven earned, in four-plus innings.

Last year Pavano re-established himself as a solid MLB pitcher. His strikeouts dropped, but he made up for it with an uptick in ground balls. And, of course, he always seems to do well against the Yankees.

2010 numbers: 32 starts, 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.86 xFIP

Game 4: Francisco Liriano. The Liriano-to-the-Yankees rumors ran rampant this spring, but nothing came of it. The two sides could come together for a deal later this year, but if the Twins are contending they have little reason to trade their most dominant pitcher. That is, he’s the only arm in their rotation with an above-average strikeout rate. He combines that with a high groundball rate to give them one of their most complete pitchers.

As with Pavano, Yankees fans would have been steaming mad if the team had traded for Liriano and he turned in a performance like Saturday’s, in which he allowed four runs, on five walks and two homers, in 4.1 IP. Chances are, he’ll turn in a better performance this time around.

2010 numbers: 31 starts, 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.95 xFIP

Bullpen. For years the bullpen had been a strength for the Twins, but this past off-season they lost a number of key contributors. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all departed. That might not hurt too too much, though, as the Twins got back Joe Nathan and will have a full season of Matt Capps. They also now have Slowey in the bullpen, who should prove a solid option — until they need him in the rotation, at least — and Jose Mijares, who picked up the pace after a terrible start in 2010. The real loss for the Yanks here is Guerrier, off of whom Alex Rodriguez has hit four home runs.