The Twins opened their season by sweeping the Orioles at home. This has probably induced too much excitement among some fans. In my mind, the Twins just took care of business this week. It was a well-played series and I'm happy about it, but I don't think the Orioles are a good team. In fact, when doing my American League predictions a couple weeks ago, I picked them to finish last in the AL East, behind even the Devil Rays. I think all three pitching match-ups in the Baltimore series were advantageous for the Twins, and the Orioles were missing one of their better players in Ramon Hernandez. With all that in mind, I think that playing the White Sox in Chicago this weekend will be a much better test for the Twins.
That's not to say I think the White Sox are a spectacular team. I've ranked them as the fourth-best team in the AL Central, which of course is far from an insult. The Sox still have some guys in their lineup that can hit, but their pitching staff isn't overly impressive. With that said, the middle of the Chicago lineup could cause major trouble for the back-end of the Twins' rotation.
Here's a breakdown of the three pitching match-ups for the series:
Tonight: RH Carlos Silva vs. RH Javier Vazquez
Who knows what to expect from Silva. He was generally terrible in spring training, but he finished on a high note with a good outing. I don't expect big things from Carlos this year, but he could really help change my outlook with a solid outing against this tough White Sox lineup. If he can handle guys like Jim Thome and Paul Konerko without too much damage, I'll be impressed. Vazquez is fairly mediocre, and last year he went 0-4 with a 6.83 ERA in five starts against the Twins. This looks like a winnable game, but of course much will depend on Silva.
Saturday: RH Sidney Ponson vs. LH John Danks
Ponson will make his Twins debut against a player making his major-league debut. Danks was the centerpiece prospect in an offseason trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers. It's interesting that Chicago is already slotting Danks in their major-league rotation, as he's just 22 years old and pitched poorly in spring training (5.91 ERA in 21 1/3 IP). The reason is that Gavin Floyd and Charlie Haeger, who were the other two starters competing for the final spot in the Sox' rotation, were considerably worse this spring. To his credit, Danks pitched fairly well in a half-season at Triple-A last year, averaging over a strikeout per inning, and he's a left-hander with good stuff (his curveball is apparently quite nasty) who could cause the Twins' southpaw-heavy lineup some trouble. Ponson has a lot to prove, and unfortunately this is not an ideal opposing lineup or ballpark to try and accomplish that.
Sunday: LH Johan Santana vs. RH Jose Contreras
Contreras was absolutely hammered by the Indians in his first start, giving up eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits in just one inning of work. His ERA after that outing sits at 63.00. While I certainly don't expect him to be that bad going forward, I also don't expect him to pitch anywhere close to his 2005 form. He was quite awful in the second half last year and I would not be surprised if that carried over into this season -- so far, it looks like it as. As for Santana, he has dominated the White Sox throughout his career. Ozzie Guillen has hinted that he may load his lineup with lefties on Sunday after seeing the success some of the Orioles' left-handed hitters had against Santana on Monday. There might be something to that idea. Last year, opposing left-handed hitters posted a .738 OPS against Santana, as opposed to .618 for righties. In addition, Santana struck out just 22 percent of opposing lefties while he struck out 30 percent of opposing righties. Those numbers seem backwards for a left-handed pitcher, but there is little doubt that Santana's changeup is more effective against right-handed hitters. If Guillen follows through on his plan, look for Santana to rely more on his fastball and slider on Sunday.
As a final reminder, tomorrow afternoon is the Twins fan/blogger get-together at Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal. The specific address is 5590 West Broadway (here's a map) and game-time is 2:55 pm. Popular bloggers in attendance will include Aaron Gleeman, Howard Sinker, John Bonnes, Will Young, Trevor Born, and SBG. It should be a great afternoon of baseball, beer, socializing and saucy chicken wings. Plus you can meet me, and my much more attractive girlfriend.