This weekend, the first-place Reds (38-30) kick-off a six-game homestand with three against the Minnesota Twins (27-41). Minnesota sits in last place in the AL Central, sporting the worst record in the American League. The two teams haven’t played each other for eleven years. The Twins are coming off a series at Pittsburgh where they were outscored by the Pirates’ anemic offense 17-5.
It’s a common misconception that the Minnesota Twins are a small-market, low-spending team. Their payroll ($92 million) places them on the salary list between teams from New York and Los Angeles and $10 million above the Madson-included Reds.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
- Fri. (7:10): Nick BlackburnÃ‚Â (R) vs. Homer Bailey
- Sat. (4:10): Brian DuensingÃ‚Â (L) vs. Johnny Cueto
- Sun (1:10): Scott DiamondÃ‚Â (L) vs. Mat Latos
TPS. In fact, TPRS. The Twins starters’ collective FIP (5.30) is dead last in the major leagues. They don’t strike anyone out. They give up the most home runs. And that’s playing in one of the least hitting-friendly parksÃ‚Â in MLB. Welcome to Great American Small Park.
That lip-licking sound you hear, it’s coming from the Reds’ batting cage.
Nick Blackburn has an ERA of 7.48, a reality check for the Homer haters, the Latos loathers, the Arroyo abhorers and the Leake lamenters. In his 10 appearances, Blackburn (3-4, Ã‚Â 5.61 FIP, 4.4 K/9)Ã‚Â has only three quality starts and has never given up fewer than two runs. He’s hasn’t lasted more than six innings this year. His strikeout rate isn’t a typo. It should come with a warning label.
The Twins don’t have five healthy, plausible, starting pitchers. That’s why Brian Duensing, who hasn’t started a single game this year, will take the mound Saturday afternoon. Duensing has a decent FIP (3.03) over his 34+ bullpen innings this year. But he’s only scheduled to throw 50-60 pitches. As one Twins blog puts it, “for some reason Duensing’s name keeps coming up as a starting option despite the fact that he … wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be stretched out at this point.” So yeah, Minnesota’s bullpen should be in great shape after the first two games.
That brings us to Sunday andÃ‚Â Scott Diamond. At first glance, Diamond’s 2.57 ERA sparkles, but if you look closer, it’s cubit zirconia (4.14 FIP, 4.8 K/9). He’s already starting to lose his twinkle, surrendering four earned runs in each of his last two starts. His one (1) strikeout in those games is not a recipe for dominance. But keep in mind that chicks dig the long ball, so Diamond’s start on Sunday may indeed be a girl’s best friend.
TWINS LIKELY LINEUP
The Twins offense ranks in the bottom half of AL batting orders. Yes, veteran manager Ron GardenhireÃ‚Â crosses-the-streams, batting three left-handed hitters in a row at the top of his line-up. He’s obviously never talked to Hank Aaron. (Speaking of Aaron. I wish he’d call up the Reds’ manager and point out that he, Hammerin’ Hank, had a base-clogging walk-rate of 10.1% over his 23-year career.)
TheÃ‚Â Twins lead-off tandem ofÃ‚Â Denard SpanÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â Ben RevereÃ‚Â do a decent job of getting on base. They have little power to go along, but they will steal a base or two.
The biggest question mark for the Twins offense this weekend is the health of catcher Joe Mauer. While Mauer has never returned to hisÃ‚Â well-playedÃ‚Â daysÃ‚Â of 2009 (.365/.444/.587, 28 home runs)Ã‚Â he continues to get on base at a high rate (.415) and walk more than he strikes out. But, Mauer sat out the entire Pirates series after being kneed in the thigh by Rickie Weeks in a recent collision at home plate. No word yet on whether he’ll play this weekend.
26-year-old Trevor Plouffe is one of the hottest hitters in the league that you’ve never heard of. After spending three mediocre seasons on the Twins AAA team in Rochester and hitting poorly for the Twins through mid-May this very year, Plouffe looked like a bust draft pick. Then, suddenly, he’s Harmon Killebrew, with 10 home runs in the last thirty days.
Take a close look at the Twins’ Josh Willingham this weekend. He’s the Ghost of RedsLF Past (and possibly Future). Willingham was a free agent this off-season and his agent tweeted that Josh had a strong preference to play for the Reds, not something you see every day. The right-handed slugger eventually signed with the Twins for 3-years-$21 million. Sadly, the Reds were negotiating in their pre-epiphany era.
See him there, batting fourth for the Twins, with Joe Mauer before and Justin Morneau after?Ã‚Â Willingham’s .279/.387/.549, 14 home runs, 46 RBI, and 12% walk-rate this year would rock in the Reds line-up, say right between Joey MVP and Jay Bruce. If you wonder what it looks like when your organization isn’t interested in paying a premium for OBP, imagine Ryan Ludwick instead of Josh Willingham in your left field region.
THE TWINS BULLPEN
The Twins closer has been Matt Capps. He’s a pretty average ninth-inning guy although fitting right in on the Twins staff with an undersized K/9 (5.3) and ho-hum FIP (4.28) for a bullpen arm. He has converted 14 of 15 save opportunities (see, almost anyone can close). But Capps has been outÃ‚Â for a few days with an inflamed shoulder. He was expected to pitch against the Pirates Wednesday, but Glen Perkins recorded the saveÃ‚Â instead.Ã‚Â Capps is expected to resume the closer role this weekend.
Glen Perkins is the COF for the Twins. He’s also left-handed, so he’ll be the late-inning match-up with our big-gun lefty, Willie Harris. In contrast to the rest of their staff, Perkins is an elite strike out pitcher. His K/9 rate is 11.5 and while his swinging-strike rate (14.1%) isn’t sha-ma-la-ma-ding-dong, it is Sean Marshall with a 95-mph fastball. Then again, post-Chapocalypse, maybe Perkins can match mph with the Cuban Missile.
On a happy final note, former Reds pitcher, Jared Burton, is having a nice year in the Twins’ bullpen.
TWINS ON THE DISABLED LIST
- Scott BakerÃ‚Â – SP – out for the season, Tommy John
- Carl PavanoÃ‚Â – SP – 15-day DL, shoulder weakness
- P.J. Walters – SP – 15-day DL, shoulder inflammation