Red Sox-Twins series preview

May 13, 2014 - 11:10 am
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The well-rested Red Sox, a team that'€™s enjoyed three off days in the last week, will head to Minnesota to take on the Twins for a three-game set starting Tuesday. The Red Sox finally have gotten over the .500 hump, owning a winning record for the first time since April 3. After coming within an out of being no-hit for the first time since 1993 on Friday night, the Red Sox recovered to take two of three from the Rangers, and have now won their last three series. Back-to-back quality outings from Jon Lester and John Lackey helped seal the series victory for the Red Sox. "When a guy goes to the mound and pitches well, particularly in a series, it gives some confidence to the guy that follows," manager John Farrell told MLB.com. "Whether or not we're seeing some internal competition and one guy trying to keep his end of the bargain and continue a streak -- knowing how tight these starters are, as teammates, I know that exists. We're going to point to the starting rotation as a main component, and that's showing right now." While the Red Sox have enjoyed solid and consistent pitching from at least three of their starters, the Twins haven'€™t been as fortunate. The Twins revamped their starting rotation this offseason, adding the likes of free agents Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey. The new additions haven'€™t helped much, though, and Twins pitching ranks at or near the bottom of many categories, as has been the case for the past couple of years as well. As a whole, Minnesota's staff ranks second worst in the American League with a 4.66 ERA, while the rotation's 5.36 mark is good for dead last in the AL. It's the offense that had been keeping the Twins afloat and hovering around the .500 mark for the first month of the season. In April manager Ron Gardenhire's club boasted the fourth-best OPS in the AL but since has fallen off and now ranks last with a .598 OPS in the month of May. Despite the offense coming down to earth, the Twins remain close to the .500 mark at 17-19, though they occupy the cellar of the AL Central. One thing these two clubs have in common is their patience at the plate. The Twins have adopted a new philosophy and are seeing more pitches than they have in the past, leading the majors with 4.16 pitches per plate appearance. The Red Sox are a close second at 4.07. Here are the pitching matchups for the three games. Tuesday: Jake Peavy (1-1, 3.09) vs. Ricky Nolasco (2-3, 5.64) Wednesday: Felix Doubront (1-3, 5.09) vs. Kevin Correia (1-4, 6.34) Thursday: Clay Buchholz (2-3, 6.44) vs. Phil Hughes (4-1, 3.92) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- Dustin Pedroia had a big game on Sunday, smacking his second home run of the season and adding a double in a 2-for-4 showing. The second baseman has really begun to get hot this month, batting .341/.449/.610 with seven extra-base hits, six RBIs, eight walks and just seven strikeouts in 49 plate appearances in May. He'€™s been a solid presence at the top of the order, posting a .385 OBP out of the leadoff slot. -- The Red Sox have enjoyed getting Shane Victorino back in the lineup on a regular basis. The right fielder is hitting .273/.323/.364 in 13 games since coming off the disabled list and has been having some big games. He went 3-for-4 with four RBIs on Saturday, bringing his total to eight runs driven in on the season. -- David Ortiz has hit safely in five straight, which includes his hit with two outs in the ninth inning against Yu Darvish, who was tossing a no-hitter. If Ortiz wins his appeal of the ball that was ruled an error earlier in that same game, he'€™ll have multiple hits in four of his last five games. Ortiz has been heating up, batting .308/.413/.564 with two home runs and four doubles over his last 10 games. WHO'S HOT: TWINS -- Brian Dozier does not fit the profile of a prototypical leadoff hitter. Regardless, he'€™s been a force at the top of the Twins lineup, and with his nine home runs and 12 stolen bases on the season, he has a very realistic chance of having a 20-20 season. Dozier has never been one to hit for a high average in his three major league seasons, and 2014 is no different, as he'€™s batting just .238. But he'€™s taken well to the new approach employed by the Twins and has almost doubled his walk rate from 2013, drawing free passes at a 16 percent clip this season and posting a .366 OBP. He'€™s been especially productive as of late, batting .283/.404/.435 with six stolen bases and just six strikeouts to his nine walks over his last 12 games. -- The Twins spent their offseason adding plenty of starting pitching, but their most productive acquisition (at least so far) probably has been Kurt Suzuki. The catcher has been swinging a hot bat all season, especially as of late, hitting .326 with 10 RBIs and four doubles in his last 13 games. Also impressive is the fact that Suzuki has fanned just eight times in 119 plate appearances this season. Most of Suzuki'€™s value has come on offense, however. The catcher is a poor pitch framer and has thrown out just 15 percent of runners (well below the league average of 26 percent). He'€™s yet to allow a passed ball, but it'€™s worth noting that he'€™s been behind the plate for seven wild pitches. -- Though not a household name, reliever Caleb Thielbar has been very effective for the Twins. After posting a 1.76 ERA in 49 games last season, he'€™s been proving that last season was no fluke. The 27-year-old lefty hasn't allowed a run in his last 11 appearances (8 2/3 innings) while hitters are batting just 185/.219/.185 over that span. He doesn't strike out many (just six in 10 2/3 innings) but he'€™s been taking on more responsibility as a seventh- or eighth-inning set-up man. WHO'€™S NOT: RED SOX -- Mike Napoli has reached base in the last 22 games he's started, but lately the hits haven'€™t been coming as frequently as they were in the early going for the first baseman. He'€™s batting just .172 with two extra-base hits in 41 plate appearances this May. With that being said, Napoli has been drawing a ton of walks. In fact, he'€™s tallied more walks (12) than strikeouts (10) this month. Despite collecting just five hits in his last 10 games, his OBP is .415 over that span. -- Will Middlebrooks' bat has been quiet since a big series in Toronto at the end of April. In 40 plate appearances since leaving the Rogers Centre, Middlebrooks is batting .182 with just one extra-base hit (a double). But what might be more worrisome for the third baseman is the status of his right hand, which was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning of Saturday's contest. Middlebrooks was scratched for precautionary reasons on Sunday. -- Xander Bogaerts has been scuffling at the plate and is mired in the first big slump of his major league career. Prior to a single in Sunday'€™s win, the young shortstop had been hitless in his previous 12 at-bats. Even more surprising is the fact that Bogaerts has fanned 12 times while drawing just three walks over his last 34 plate appearances. Through the first few weeks of the season, the 21-year-old's strikeout and walk numbers were fairly equal, but the small gap has widened, and he's striking out twice as much as he'€™s walking. His line is down to .252/.361/.333 through 35 games. WHO'S NOT: TWINS -- Framingham native Chris Colabello is one of the most interesting stories to come out of the first month of 2014. A graduate of Milford High School and Assumption College, Colabello played parts of seven season with the Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League. He reached the majors at the age of 29 last season and started off 2014 by batting .346/.386/.577 with 26 RBIs through his first 20 games, earning him the AL Player of the Week honor in the first week of the season. Colabello has slumped lately, however, batting .129/.194/.194 with just two extra-base hits and four RBIs in his last 15 contests -- Though he provides value on defense and can steal the occasional base, Aaron Hicks' poor performance at the plate may mean he sees a decrease in playing time in the near future. Hicks has hit just .160/.303/.235 through 99 plate appearances, with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs. One notable improvement for Hicks likely comes as a result of the Twins' new patient approach; he'€™s walked in 17.2 percent of plate appearances, a huge increase from his 7.2 percent mark before. Granted, like many of his teammates, he's striking out at a higher clip, but the uptick in strikeouts is rather insignificant compared to his ability to draw more walks. -- Third baseman Trevor Plouffe is in the midst of an ugly stretch in which he's gone 0-for-20 with six strikeouts in his last five games. The 27-year-old had been one of Minnesota's hottest hitters in the first month of the season, but has fallen off recently and is just 5-for-46 with 17 strikeouts and just two walks in 48 plate appearances this month.

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