Minnesota Twins Host Boston Red Sox in Weekend Series

Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston: The prospect of Boston being one of the two teams fighting it out this October was nearly a foregone conclusion after they added one of the league’s best pitchers in Chris Sale.

A rotation of A.L. Cy Young-winner, Rick Porcello, former winner, David Price, Sale, knuckle-baller Stephen Wright, and young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez would prove too formidable over the long haul.

Shortening it up for the playoffs to just Price, Sale, Porcello sounds ridiculous – something one would cook up in MLB The Show perchance.

But, alas Boston fans, it wasn’t meant to be. Elbow problems shelved Price to begin the season. While he may join the team sometime this Summer, it will not be with Wright, who Thursday was ruled out for the rest of the season with a chondral defect – a hole in the cartilage in his left knee.

Meanwhile, the Twins will face the best of what is left of their starting rotation this weekend, including a clash of two of baseball’s best – at least for the first six weeks – on Sunday when Sale squares off against Ervin Santana.

Pitching: With the loss of Wright, Boston will look to possibly make a trade with some of the teams who are in the same boat the Twins were last season at this time – theoretically out of it one week into May.

But the Royals and Blue Jays will not just give the Red Sox a starter, knowing their situation as it is. Especially Toronto, who is in the same division. More likely, Boston will try to deal for lower-tier starters while also auditioning some of their not-ready-for-prime-time minor leaguers.

One pitcher to monitor this season is Drew Pomeranz. A converted starter to reliever, now a starter again, Pomeranz has allowed two runs or less in four of his five starts this season. His only problem is his control – high pitch counts have him out of the game too early, too often.

Player to Watch: Chris Sale. Once again, the hard-throwing lefty is on a roll coming into Target Field. This time, he’s struck out 10 or more batters in his previous five starts – his 63 K’s in six starts overall lead all of baseball.

Putting aside any issue of fitting into a new clubhouse, in a new city – Buster Olney from ESPN drops this nugget on Sale’s start on Twitter:

Again, it’s 1:10 Sunday afternoon when Sale and Santana hope to put on a show at Target Field. Brian Dozier has as many hits (11) as he does strikeouts against Sale, with a team-leading three home runs and 11 RBI in 38 at-bats.

Hitting: The Red Sox may be a M*A*S*H unit on the pitching side, but their hitters have been relatively healthy all year. As a team, their fourth in MLB with a .267 batting average. But strangely, this hasn’t led to runs on the scoreboard.

After leading the league in runs scored last season, the Red Sox languish in 27th with only 104 runs scored so far. The lack of runs has hurt their starting staff’s stats, hard to believe Sale is but 2-2 when he’s never allowed more than two runs in any start.

It’s not that they are hitting in the clutch, their team average is actually highers (.284) with runners in scoring position. It’s the fact they’ve become a singles-hitting team.

Boston ranks 28th in extra base hits (64) above only the Marlins and the anemic Royals. Worse yet, in run-scoring opportunities (252), Boston has just 16 extra base hits in those moments, versus 29 walks and 36 strikeouts.

Boiled down, there are very few moments of bases-clearing doubles, three-run homers, and the like. Think they miss Big Papi?

Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports /

Player to Watch: Not so much one player, more like the modern version of the Killer B’s, the three-headed monster of Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts.

Not since the halcyon days of Bagwell, Biggio, and Bell in Houston in the last 1990’s, has a team had such a collection of young talent able to play multiple positions and bat anywhere in the lineup.

These new “B’s” are interchangeable at the top of the order – all of them quite capable of handling the lead-off spot or batting cleanup, or turning over the lineup from the bottom of the order.

While Benintendi will be making his first appearance against the Twins, the other two wreaked havoc against Minnesota pitching last year.

Xander Bogaerts had 10 hits as Boston took two of three in Minnesota, then had 11 more as they split four games in Boston later in the season. Look for Minnesota to tear up whatever scouting report they had last year and start from scratch.

Minnesota: Finally on a roll once again after a slight dip on their last homestand, the Twins nevertheless punted the final game of a series once again on Thursday. After clean, tight, games to start the series, the Twins turned in a sorry effort losing 8-5 to Oakland.

Twins did have a chance after a comeback had them three runs down in the bottom of the ninth inning, with bases loaded and one out. But a flyout, and a strikeout (one of 12 on the day) by Miguel Sano, left the Twins on the short end.

Much like the 13-4 loss to Detroit and the 14-3 loss to Texas in those series’ finales, the Twins suffered a short start from their starting pitcher. This time, Kyle Gibson failed to more than four innings.

It was the third time in six starts, and in none of those starts has Gibson gone at least six innings, the minimum a manager is looking for from a starter. Consequently, Gibson was optioned to AAA Rochester after Thursday’s game.

It’s actually a surprise, given how sharp he looked in Spring Training. Some have posited a theory that Gibson likes the heat – like that provided in Grapefruit League play and during the Summer months.

But statistics only bear out that he starts slow, with a 4-10 record and 5.72 ERA in March and April. While he does best in May and June, his worst month is August, with its 5.91 ERA. Either way, heat or cold weather, Gibson needs to pitch much better to see a big league mound once again.

Nick Tepesch will make the start this Saturday, and with off days, another starter won’t be needed until next Saturday. Either a reliever or Ehire Adrianza is expected to be called up to replace Gibson.

Next: Interview With Former Twins GM Bill Smith

Notes: Sano was named player of the week for last week’s effort. In five games (four Twins wins), Sano slashed .524 avg / 4 R / 3 HR / 11 RBI. He kicked off his new week Tuesday against Oakland with a 452′ home run in his second at-bat. Was only the second homer to ever reach the restaurant above the batter’s eye in center field. Byungho Park did it last year.