Weaver gets another shot at the team he no-hit just five days ago (Image: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

Series Preview: Angels @ Twins

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The Los Angeles Angels (12-17) have already won half as many games through the first week of May as they did all of April. The team will look to continue improving as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Twins (7-20) in a series for the third time this year after playing them just five days ago in Angels Stadium.

Previous Series

Angels vs Blue Jays (L 0-5, L 0-4, W 6-2, W 4-3)

The Angels came off their first sweep of the season against Minnesota after some stellar pitching performances (including Jered Weaver‘s no-hitter) looking to stay hot in a four game series against Toronto. For the series opener, the Angels sent Dan Haren to the mound to try for a third straight complete-game shutout for the Angels. They ended up being only half disappointed. Haren went 7.0 innings, giving up three earned runs off a J.P. Arencibia blast in the third inning as part of a five hit, five strikeout effort. However, Brandon Morrow picked up where Weaver had left off the night before, and went the distance with a three hit shutout of the Angels, leading Toronto to an easy 5-0 win.

Can the Angels score any runs for Santana? (Image: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE)

For Game 2, the Angels put Ervin Santana on the hill still looking for his first win of the season. He pitched strong, going 8.0 innings, giving up three earned runs on three hits and tallying an impressive 10 strikeouts. However, he was once again let down by the team behind him, who had two errors on defense and were shut down completely yet again on offense. Henderson Alvarez pitched his first complete-game shutout of his young career as he needed just 97 pitches to go the distance, scattering six hits, striking out three and walking one. It was the fourth straight complete-game shutout by a pitcher in Angels Stadium, and the sixth time this season that the Angels have been held without a run.

In Game 3, the offense, minus Albert Pujols, finally came back to life behind C.J. Wilson to put an end to their mini-slide against Toronto. Mike Trout his his first home run of the season as part of a two RBI, two run day, and Mark Trumbo launched his fourth home run of the season. Wilson, meanwhile, put together his sixth straight quality start to open the season, going 8.0 innings, striking out nine while giving up just two runs on six hits. The Halos were able to get to Kyle Drabek, who surrendered five runs on eight hits through just 5.0 innings. The loss is Drabek’s third straight after starting the season 2-0.

In the series finale, Pujols returned to the lineup and provided some long awaited offensive support for Jerome Williams. In the fifth inning, Pujols connected for his first home run of the season after 110 homerless at-bats. The two run shot put the Halos up 4-1, which was enough for Williams, who went 6.2 innings with four strikeouts surrendering two runs on eight hits, to get his third win of the year. While the Angels earned the split and Pujols finally went yard, it was not all good news for Los Angeles. Scott Downs, one of the only consistent bullpen contributors this season, tweaked his knee attempting to save the game and had to leave, and his replacement, LaTroy Hawkins, who came in and closed out the game, is also hurt with a fractured finger.

Twins @ Mariners (W 3-2, L 0-7, L 2-5)

The Twins left Orange County after getting swept by the Angels and headed north to Seattle to take on the Mariners in a three-game series to try and salvage their road trip. In the opener, Carl Pavano went to the hill and pitched well through 6.0 innings, giving up just two runs on eight hits while striking out a pair. The Twins offense finally got on the board in the seventh inning, snapping a 25-inning scoreless streak, on a fielder’s choice from Denard Span scored Chris Parmelee. Later in the inning, Joe Mauer hit a two-out RBI single to score Trevor Plouffe with the go-ahead run. The three-run seventh helped the Twins avoid getting shut out for the third straight game and sent the Mariners to their seventh straight loss.

For Game 2, the Twins reverted back to their hitless ways as they got dominated by Felix Hernandez, who allowed just one hit through 8.0 innings while striking out nine. Jason Marquis pitched well for Minnesota, going 6.0 innings striking out one and giving up just two runs on four hits, but walked six and couldn’t match the near-perfection of Hernandez. The Mariners exploded for five runs in the seventh after loading the bases off two walks and a bunt single off reliever Anthony Swarzak, who was pulled after giving up a sac-fly to Brendan Ryan. The loss was the third shutout in four games for the Twins, whose offense will be further limited after the team placed Justin Morneau on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 1.

Nick Blackburn went to the hill for the Twins in the series finale, and put Minnesota in a hole early. Blackburn gave up a two-run double to Jesus Montero and an RBI single to Kyle Seager in the bottom of the first to give Seattle all the runs they needed to cruise past the Twins. Blackburn finished the day giving up five runs on seven hits while striking out four through 6.0 innings of work. The only Twins player to muster any offense was Ryan Doumit, who hit a pair of solo home runs late in the game. It proved to be too little too late to spark a Twins rally, and Minnesota dropped another series after going just 1-5 on their six game road trip.

Pitching Matchups

May 7: Jered Weaver (4-0, 1.61 ERA) vs Francisco Liriano (0-4, 9.97)

Weaver takes the hill for the Angels in his first start since pitching a no-hitter against the Twins to get another shot at the Twins. This will be his third start against Minnesota this season and second at Target Field. Back on April 11, Weaver made his second start of the season in Minnesota and had his worst outing of the season so far. He went 6.0 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits, striking out seven and walking one. He was in control for most of the game but got into trouble in the fourth and left the game with no outs in the seventh and earned a no-decision when the bullpen couldn’t keep Weaver’s base-runners from scoring. Weaver got another shot at Minnesota five days ago in Los Angeles and was near perfect on the night. He allowed just two base runners (one on a passed ball third strike and one on a walk), struck out nine and walked one as he pitched his first no-hitter in his career. Weaver has been dominant this season, putting up Cy Young numbers, with just a 1.61 ERA and 0.78 WHIP with a 45:7 K:BB ratio holding hitters to an average of just .178. In short, the Twins are in trouble.

Compounding Minnesota’s trouble in the opener is their starter, Liriano, has been the anti-Weaver this season. He’s given up 24 runs in five starts this season, surrendering five home runs and has nearly walked as many hitters as he’s struck out (17:16 K:BB). Opposing teams are teeing off on Liriano with a .360 batting average against, which has ballooned his WHIP up to 2.22. His last outing came against these Angels, and he had one of his less disastrous outings, only giving up four runs (down from his usual five) on seven hits, surrendering a pair of home runs and walking three while fanning five. Liriano continues to be a thorn in Rod Gardenhire’s side as he makes it more and more difficult to justify leaving him in the rotation (though other options are severely limited). The one saving grace for Liriano is that the Angels still aren’t really clicking offensively, so he could catch them on an off night.

May 8: Dan Haren (1-2, 3.43 ERA) vs Scott Diamond (0-0)

Haren has had an up and down start to his season, and his last outing was a bit of a down. Against Toronto, Haren went 7.0 innings, giving up five runs (three earned) on five hits with five strikeouts and two walks. It didn’t help matters that he was on the wrong side of Brandon Morrow’s complete game shutout of the Halos. This will be Haren’s second start at Target field. The last time he was here, he left with a no-decision after going 5.0 innings, surrendering three runs, striking out seven and walking one. The bullpen promptly fumbled away that game, which became a common thing for Haren in April, and Haren had to wait for his first win of the season. Haren will look to have another strong showing against the Twins, but maybe this time he’ll get a little more help from his friends in relief.

Scott Diamond is making his first start of the season after getting called up from Triple-A on Saturday. He replaces the struggling Liam Hendriks, who had an ERA of 9.00 through four starts this season. Diamond is a 25-year old lefty who has made seven career starts in the big leagues, compiling a 1-5 record with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP. There are some control issues to worry about as well, as he’s issued 17 walks in 39.0 innings of work, but will try to be an upgrade in a terribly deficient Twins rotation.

May 9: Ervin Santana (0-6, 5.59 ERA) vs Carl Pavano (2-2, 4.62 ERA)

Call me an optimist, but Santana has been looking better lately. After giving up an average of five runs per start over his first four outings, he’s given up five total runs in his last two starts combined. In his last outing, Santana was strong through 8.0 innings, giving up three runs (including yet another home run), but he struck out 10 and walked just two against the Blue Jays. He continues to be hurt most by a severe lack of run support. The Angels have been shutout in six games this season…Santana has been on the mound for five of them. He’s been getting his command back and is hitting spots more consistently, but can’t score any runs for himself (at least, not until interleague play). He’ll need help from the offense if he’s going to find win number one.

Carl Pavano has been the best starting pitcher for the Twins this season, leading the team in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and wins. The fact that he has a 4.62 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 19 strikeouts, and just two wins is more a commentary on the current state of pitching in Minnesota. In his last outing, he looked solid, going 6.0 innings, allowing just two runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and no walks in the Twins’ only win over their last six games. He threw less than 70 pitches in the game, however, so there are questions about how much tread is left on the 36-year old righty. In his last start against Los Angeles at home last month, Pavano went 6.2 innings and gave up five runs on seven hits but got the no-decision as the Twins rallied to win. He isn’t going to blow anyone away with his stuff, but he’s still a solid option for a staff that has been reeling to start 2012.

Storylines to Watch

For the Angels, Pujols-Watch can finally wind down. With the first home run of Albert’s Angels tenure in the books, now the focus won’t be so hot on him, and maybe he can get back to relaxing at the plate and try raising that still terrible slash line of .196/.237/.295. Now, the rage of fans can turn to Ervin Santana and we can all shout “WHEN WILL HE WIN A GAME??” Weaver pitching against the same team he no-hit in the opener will be intriguing to see, and you can expect the twitter-verse to explode with “There goes the no-hit” tweets if the Twins are able to get on base tonight. Prepare your feeds accordingly.

For the Twins, things have spiraled out of control and they are really struggling to win games right now. They have the worst pitching in baseball, and their offense isn’t good enough to make up for it, so the story for them becomes “Can they stop this terrible terrible bleeding?” Right now, at 7-20, they are the worst team in baseball, a game back of San Diego for that dubious honor. Their season is about to go down one of two roads: they rally and become just a regularly bad team, OR they head even further south and make a run at historical terribleness.

Season Implications

The Angels are 4-2 in May so far and just half a game back of Seattle for third place in the division. That’s not the team everyone thought they’d be chasing in May (if they were going to chase anyone at all) but that’s what we got. They’ve also closed down the gap between them and division leading Texas to 6.5, but first things first: GET OUT OF THE CELLAR. The Angels need to pick up some more wins from lesser opponents before heading down to Texas for their next series to get some postive momentum flowing.

The Twins are just playing for pride out there at this point, and trying their best to keep pace with Kansas City for the race for fourth place in the AL Central. It’s going to be a long season in Minnesota, unfortunately, as they’re boasting a -59 run differential (worst in baseball), have won just 2 of their last ten, and now face life without one of their best hitters for the near future. Any postivity that could help them stay within striking distance of “not last place” will be a good thing.

The Hangout View

The Angels are putting together a nice little May so far, and look to keep it going against the only team they’ve swept this season. The Halo bats went silent against Toronto for two games as they came up against a couple of stellar pitcher that got hot. Luckily for Los Angeles, Minnesota doesn’t have any of those. The starting pitching will carry the Halos in this series and the offense will finally score a couple runs for Ervin as the Angels get their second sweep of Minnesota. I mean, it’s not like Santana can lose every game, right?

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