Friday, June 22, 2007

Series Preview: Twins/Marlins

Coming off a strong finish in New York, the Twins now head south to take on the Florida Marlins in a three-game series. The Twins/Marlins match-up is an interesting one in that both are perceived as scrappy small-market teams that are able to compete thanks to young talent and smart management. The reality is that Minnesota is essentially a mid-market team at this point, boasting a team payroll of about $71 million that ranks them 19th in the major leagues. The Marlins' team payroll is much lower at around $30.5 million, ranking them 29th, and they have only five players on their roster making over $1 million this season (the Twins have 14).

And yet, those Marlins continue to compete. They are in fourth place in the NL East, but they sit just 4.5 games behind the division-leading Mets with a 35-38 record. The Marlins are able to accomplish this thanks to a dazzling collection of young talent. Hanley Ramirez, whom the Marlins acquired from the Red Sox in the Josh Beckett trade, is following up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006 with another fine season in '07. Through 70 games, Ramirez is batting .321/.381/.497 with 18 doubles, three triples and nine homers to go along with 22 stolen bases. Second baseman Dan Uggla, who is also coming off an outstanding rookie season, is hitting for big power with 28 doubles and 13 home runs, but he's batting just .261 and has been strikeout-prone. Miguel Cabrera has been spectacular as usual, posting a .994 OPS with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. Third baseman Aaron Boone is a guy who has been mentioned in some Twins' trade rumors; he is having a resurgent season with a .286/.390/.427 line.

This series will match up a couple very good young teams, but the Twins have a more talented roster and they have some favorable pitching match-ups. This could be a good opportunity for the Twins to pick up a sweep on the road and pick up some steam in the AL Central as we head toward the All-Star break.

A breakdown of the pitching match-ups this weekend:

Tonight: Boof Bonser (5-3, 4.33) vs. Scott Olsen (5-6, 4.89)
The Twins can't seem to escape facing these tricky left-handers. Olsen is a better pitcher than his numbers show, but he's been very up-and-down for the Marlins this season. The 23-year-old has struggled with his control, issuing three or more walks in nine of his 15 starts. If the Twins can show the same type of patience against him that they did against Oliver Perez on Wednesday, they should be able to wear him down and get to the Marlins' mediocre bullpen early. The key for Bonser will be to attack opposing hitters and try to get through at least the sixth inning.

Saturday: Carlos Silva (4-8, 4.20) vs. Josh Johnson (0-1, 9.82)
Silva has gotten the worst run support of any pitcher in the major leagues so far this season. The Twins offense needs to step up and score some runs behind him. Don't be deceived by Johnson's inflated ERA; he just made his first start of the season against the White Sox on Monday and had to shake off some rust as he was knocked around for eight runs (four earned) over 3 1/3 innings. Don't forget that Johnson was a strong RotY candidate last year, when he went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA and .236 BAA. As for Silva, if his recent pattern means anything, he's due for a good game. His last four starts:
6/2 @ Athletics: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
6/8 vs. Nationals: 3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
6/13 vs. Braves: 9 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
6/18 @ Mets: 6 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

Sunday: Johan Santana (7-6, 2.91) vs. Dontrelle Willis (7-6, 4.90)
Santana and Willis are both left-handed aces who have posted a 7-6 record on the season, but that's about where the similarities end between these two. Santana is on top of his game and coming off a complete-game shutout against the Mets on Tuesday. Willis lasted just one inning in his last start against the White Sox, and his numbers on the season are far from overwhelming. Since going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA as a 23-year-old back in 2005, things have gone steadily downhill for Dontrelle. In '05, Willis threw 236 1/3 innings with 170 strikeouts and 55 walks. In '06, he threw 223 1/3 innings with 160 strikeouts and 83 walks. This season, he's on pace for 215 innings with 149 strikeouts and 98 walks. His batting average against has gone up from .243 in '05, to .274 in '06, to .285 so far this year. Perhaps the rest of the league has adjusted to that funky delivery? For what it's worth, the Twins have never faced him before.