Series of the Week: Minnesota Twins @ Los Angeles Angels

Why is this the series of the week? Well, simply for the fact that one of these two teams has to win and start to turn their season around. The Angels were one of the most hyped teams coming out of this winter with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but they have puttered out of the gate; the Twins weren’t being talked about all that much throughout the winter, but with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau healthy and back in the lineup, Minnesota had high hopes to return to the top of the AL Central division.

After being shut out in the series finale against the Cleveland Indians, Pujols and the Angels have now dropped 9.5 games out of first

Apr 28, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) drops his bat after being called out on strikes in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

with their 7-15 record. Within their last 10 games, Los Angeles has gone 3-7, but most of their struggles have come on the road, with a 3-9 record so far in 2012. GM Jerry DiPoto and the organization is hoping that the Halos can get back on track by coming back home. On the other hand, the Twins have continued their downward trend from 2011, starting the year 6-15, but in the evenly matched AL Central (with the Tigers not playing well), they’re only 5.5 games out of 1st.

How they’re performing:

Most of the Angels struggles have been coming at the plate; their .235 team batting average ranks 25th in the MLB and the team’s 76 runs scored are 24th worst in the league. The front office felt the need to give the team a spark, and did so in a big way, when they released Bobby Abreu and called up Mike Trout, one of the top prospects in all of professional baseball. In his first game of the season, he didn’t provide much of a spark for this downtrodden lineup, going 0-4 with a strikeout. The pitching was supposed to be dominant with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana leading the way; they have been respectable with a 4.01 team ERA (16th in MLB) and 1.28 WHIP (14th), but only scoring 3.5 runs/game won’t lead to many victories.

Up in Minnesota, Ron Gardenhire’s squad has shown that they can get on base; their .266 team batting average ranks 6th in the league, but the Twins also can’t score many runs. So far in 2012, they have pushed 84 runs across the plate, which ranks 21st in the MLB. Still, averaging four runs per game is respectable…so why are the Twins tied for the least wins in the Major Leagues? You guessed it; their pitching. Minnesota is dead last in Major League Baseball with a 5.69 team ERA and their 1.43 WHIP isn’t much better, being the fifth worst in baseball.

Probable Pitching match-ups:

Los Angeles is running out some of their best starters this series to try and get themselves back on track, climbing back up the ranks the division. Francisco Liriano highlights the pitching match-ups for the Twins, but more from his struggles than for his successes. Gardenhire is hoping that he his staff can stop their pitiful performances and bring themselves back up to relevancy.

Nick Blackburn (MIN) vs. C.J. Wilson (LAA)

Francisco Liriano (MIN) vs. Jerome Williams (LAA)

Liam Hendriks (MIN) vs. Jered Weaver (LAA)

Recent head-to-head meetings:

This will be the second time that the Angels and Twins will be going head-to-head in 2012, and over the past few years, the balance of power between the two have been swaying back and forth. In 2010, Los Angeles struggled mightily after numerous very strong years, and ended the year at 80-82. The Twins, on the other hand, were busy claiming the AL Central crown with a 94-68 record. They handled LA quite easily, taking five out of their seven match-ups, winning both the home and away series.

Last season, the Angels took a step forward with an 86-76 record, whereas injuries and ineffective play plagued the Twins to go from first to last in the division, going 63-99. The balance of power in this match-up shifted over to the Angels, who took six out of nine contests winning at Target Field and in their own backyard.

So far this season, these two organizations have met for one series before tonight’s game, with Minnesota taking two out of three, but they haven’t been able to build upon that momentum. There are a handful of faces in new uniforms for this match-up, with the most notable one being The Machine himself, Albert Pujols. LAA’s prized off-season acquisition is still trying to get comfortable in his new surroundings, and is looking forward to getting some support from the home crowd over the next few days to bust out of his season-long slump.

What people are saying:

Tyler Brett over at Halo Hangout expressed his disappointments on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, “Albert Pujols is the most prominent Angel to be struggling, posting just a slash-line of .221/.272/.302 with no home runs and only four RBI, along with 12 Ks to just six BB. He hasn’t shown any of the patience at the plate, or the power on contact that’s made him one of the best hitters in baseball for the last decade. While it could just be an extended slump, anybody who signs a quarter of a billion dollar contract doesn’t get the luxury of extended slumps. The bullpen has been worse than feared, blowing three games for Haren, two for Weaver, one for

April 20, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham (16) hits a 3-RBI double in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Williams and young hurler Jordan Walden has already been replaced as closer after giving up a walk-off home run to a pinch hitter in Tampa.”

On the other hand, Nathaniel Gilmore from Puckett’s Pond decided to see the ray of sunlight in a mostly disappointing start of the season by commenting on the performance of Josh Willingham. “The most pleasant surprise has been the hitting of Josh Willingham,” said Gilmore. ” The Twins brought him in as a fill-in for Michael Cuddyer, but he has been even better than advertised. On Sunday he had three hits to raise his average to .353.”

Match-ups to watch for:

Outside of watching Weaver and Wilson go after the Twins lineup in this series, Tyler is excited to see what Pujols can do now that he’s already seen the Minnesota staff earlier in the year, as well as the emergence of Mike Trout. “On the offensive side, this will be the first time that Pujols gets to see a pitching staff a second time. One of the reasons he’s struggled, according to some, is a lack of familiarity with AL pitchers, so it will be interesting to see if seeing the Twins pitchers a second time will give him any more success. There’s also the continuing debut of Angels super-prospect Mike Trout, who’s getting his first real shot against big league pitching this year, and the Angels are hoping he can continue his hot start from AAA and be a spark to this offense.”

Nathaniel is interested to see if Liriano will be able to turn the table with an effective start this week, something that’s hard to come by so far this year. “I cannot say I’m looking forward to seeing any Twins pitchers face any Angel hitters, though it will be interesting to watch Francisco Liriano pitch on Tuesday. He has made four of the worst starts the Twins have had all season, and that’s saying something! The team gave Liriano a forced vacation last week, so we’re all hoping he has recovered from his Steve Blass Disease.”

Prediction:

Not surprising, but both of these writers have chosen their respective teams to win this week’s series. I mean, what type of fans would they be if they didn’t do that? Nathaniel took the point of view that the Twins were able to beat the Angels earlier in the year, so there is no reason why they can’t do it one more time. Tyler feels that the Angels will win the series because it looks like LAA is starting to settle everything in their rotation and their lineup, and only a couple bad innings stood between the Angels sweeping Minnesota the first time they met.

Personally, I think that the Angels will win this series because they have the upper hand when it comes to the pitching match-ups. The Angels are fortunate enough to have Wilson and Weaver sandwiching the first and last games of the series, primed to shut down the Twins offense in front of the home crowd. This will prove to be an interesting series; tune in to see if Albert Pujols starts to show his value.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @mmusico8 to stay updated on my posts at Rising Apple, a New York Mets fan site.

Topics: Albert Pujols, Bobby Abreu, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Los Angeles Angels, Matt Musico, Mike Trout, Minnesota Twins, Series Of The Week

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