Series Preview: Angels vs Twins


The Angels (7-15) finish their six-game road trip with a measly 1-5 record and now limp home to take on the Minnesota Twins (6-15) for the second time this season in a re-match from their earlier series in Minnesota where the Twins won two of three.

Previous Series

Angels @ Indians (L 2-3, W 2-1, L 0-4)

The Angels headed to Cleveland on a four-game losing streak, coming off a three-game sweep in Tampa Bay. Jered Weaver took the hill in the series opener, and continued his strong start to the season. Weaver went six scoreless innings, striking out eight, walking four, and giving up seven hits. Weaver worked himself out of some trouble, including a first inning jam, where he gave up two hits and two walks, but escaped surrendering any runs when he struck out Jack Hannahan with the bases loaded. However, the bullpen failed to hold another lead, as Kevin Jepsen gave up the game tying run on a single to Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera eventually hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to extend the Angels losing streak to five. After the game, the Angels released Bobby Abreu and called up Mike Trout to try and spark the anemic offense.

In the second game, Dan Haren took to the hill to try and get his first win of the season. After watching the bullpen blow leads in his last three starts, Haren went 8.0 strong inning, striking out seven, walking two, and giving up just one run while scattering four hits. The Angels turned to new closer Scott Downs, who worked  a perfect ninth to record his first save of 2012 and only his second in the last three seasons. Trout, who had been called up on Friday, went 0-for-4 in his season debut and Torii Hunter hit his second solo home run in as many days and the Angels won their first game since April 21.

For the series finale, Ervin Santana looked to find his first quality start of the season and get off the losing streak he’s started 2012 on. He once again failed to get much help from his team, with the Indians scoring three of their runs off errors and the offense getting shut out for the fourth straight Santana start. Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, lost a fly ball in the sun which resulted in two runs, and the offense managed just a meager three hits on the day. Mike Trout was hitless for a second straight game and Albert Pujols remains without a home run (I’m sure tired of writing that).

Twins vs Royals (L 6-7, W 7-4)

The Twins had their three game homestand against Kansas City when their game on Saturday was called due to rain. Carl Pavano started in the series opener, and went 6.1 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits, walking one without a strikeout. He left the game with the game tied 5-5, but the bullpen eventually gave up the winning run in the eighth inning and the Twins dropped their sixth straight game.

After the day off from the rain, Jason Marquis took the hill and went six strong innings, giving up three runs on six hits, striking out one and walking none in the win. He was helped by the offense of Josh Willingham, who was playing in his first game since taking paternity leave a week ago. Willingham picked up his hitting right where he left off and finished just a home run away from the cycle. The Twins also got help from a pair of RBI from Ryan Doumit and Danny Valencia. The win was just the first for Minnesota in seven games and only the second win for a Twins starting pitcher.

Pitching Matchup

April 30: C.J. Wilson (2-2, 2.42 ERA) vs Nick Blackburn (0-2, 7.53 ERA)

Wilson has been as strong a starter as the Angels were hoping for when they signed the lefty in free agency. He has posted an impressive 2.42 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and opponents are hitting just .175 against him. He’s kept his control issues to a minimum, posting a 26:11 K:BB, including 19 strikeouts in his last two starts. However, Wilson has lost his last two starts, despite only giving up five runs combined, and no more than three earned runs in any start, but has been hurt by a lack of offensive support. In his last start against Minnesota, his first of the season, Wilson was dominant going 7.0 innings and giving up just one run on three hits, striking out five while walking four. He was able to keep the Twins lineup off-balance, getting Minnesota to hit 15 of the 17 balls put into play on the ground. He’ll look to repeat that performance and get his first win at home.

Blackburn has struggled so far this season, giving up five runs in two of his three starts and spending some time on the injured list with a shoulder injury. His last start lasted just 3.0 innings and he got roughed up pretty good, giving up five runs on eight hits, including home run against Boston. Blackburn doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and relies heavily on location and deception to get hitters out. He’s had neither working for him so far this season, and his performance has reflected it. Blackburn has historically struggled, posting a career 4.56 ERA and a WHIP of 1.44, but his 2012 stat lines (7.53 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) aren’t painting a terribly optimistic picture of improving those numbers. Opposing teams have been teeing off on him with a .323 BAA, and could be the cure for the Angels hitting woes.

May 1: Jerome Williams (1-1, 5.51 ERA) vs Francisco Liriano (0-3, 11.02 ERA)

Williams has bounced back nicely after his disastrous debut in the Bronx, posting back-to-back quality starts against Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Against the Rays, Williams went 7.0 strong innings, giving up two runs on five hits, striking out six and walking three. He left in line for the win, but got stuck with a no-decision when Jordan Walden gave up a walk-off home run which cost Walden the job as closer as finished off the sweep in Tampa. There’s been talk of young Garrett Richards, who’s been strong in triple-A so far this season, replacing Williams as the fifth starter if he struggled, but with two straight strong showings, Williams has really strengthened his hold on the spot.

Liriano has been a nightmare for the Twins this year. He’s given up 20 runs in his four starts (five in each) and has a monstrous ERA at 11.02 and a ridiculous WHIP of 2.33. Opposing lineups are hitting .368 against him, and he hasn’t helped himself with control issues. So far this season, Liriano has issued 13 walks and struck out just 12. The Twins are perplexed on what to do with their Dominican lefty, as a stint in the minors or a change to the bullpen are unlikely options, but having him get shelled every fifth day isn’t helping the Twins avoid having the worst record in baseball.

May 2: Jered Weaver (3-0, 2.02 ERA) vs Liam Hendriks (0-1, 6.89 ERA)

Jered Weaver has picked up where he left off in 2011 and is putting together a pretty strong candidacy for the Cy Young in 2012. Weaver leads the American League with 36 strikeouts in five starts, posting an elite 2.02 ERA and miniscule 0.98 WHIP. He’s held opponents scoreless in three of his five starts and given up just eight runs on the season. In his last start, Weaver went 6.0 innings against Cleveland, giving up no runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking a season high four. Weaver left with the lead, but the bullpen broke and gave up the win, giving Weaver his second no-decision of the season. His worst outing came in Minnesota, where he gave up five runs on seven hits, striking out seven and walking one. Weaver came away with the no-decision after he got hit in one bad inning and will look to have a much better outing this time around. Having the friendly confines of Angels Stadium at his back will help him continue his strong start and give the Angels an excellent shot at the win…provided the bullpen doesn’t have to do too much.

Hendriks is yet another Twins pitcher who hasn’t won a game yet this year and who is getting hit hard by opponents with a BAA of .333. In his last start, he failed to make it out of the fifth inning, giving up seven runs and nine hits over just 4.0 innings, striking out three and walking two. Hendriks has been hurt by the long ball, giving up four home runs in three starts. To his credit, Hendriks is getting twice as many strikeouts as walks (8:4), but has shown a decreasing ability to keep runs off the scoreboard, giving up one run in his first start, four in his second, and seven in his more recent start. If he can’t turn that trend around, things will get uglier and uglier before he loses his spot in the rotation all together.

Storylines to Watch

The Angels are officially in “uh-oh” territory. They’re eight games under .500 and nine back of Texas in the West, and are still 3.5 games deep in the cellar behind Seattle and Oakland. They’ve initiated the “Mike Trout” protocol to try and turn things around and parted ways with Bobby Abreu to make room for him. Things need to pick up in a hurry, which includes a certain first baseman (looking you Albert) finally getting one over the outfield fence. The team currently ranks 23rd in runs scored, 25th in on-base percentage, and 24th in slugging percentage. They’ve lost six of seven and failed to score more than three runs during that run. Finishing the road trip 1-5 is really not the way they were hoping to come back home, and they need to start taking advantage of a relatively easy early season schedule and start beating teams they’re supposed to beat.

The Twins have been a mess in their starting rotation. As a group, the Twins starters have just two wins this season, and the pitching ranks worst in the league in ERA, quality starts, and batting average against, and ranks 26th in WHIP. The offense, outside of Willingham, has had trouble finding consistent production, but no matter how many hits they get, the lineup just can’t seem to keep up with the amount of hits their pitchers are giving up. Can the Twins find someone to give them a reasonable chance to stay in a game on a consistent basis?

Season Implications

For the Angels, the expectations were sky-high and well known coming out of the spring: Contend for the AL West and be among the best teams in baseball. So far, they’ve failed to live up to that, and with a full month in the books, are one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. They need to start making up ground in the division and catch Seattle and Oakland to start with. Maybe once that happens, they can think about the Rangers. This team shouldn’t have spent any length of time in the cellar this season, but are now going on a month at the bottom of the West. To make up ground, they need to start a winning streak, and the beginning of a homestand is as good a place as any after a disappointing road trip.

The Twins didn’t have too many expectations attached to their 2012 season, but they’ve failed to live up to even those. Their pitching is dreadful, their offense has struggled to produce runs, and they are putting in a good effort to have the worst record in baseball this year. The Twins have taken one series against the paper-giants of Los Angeles, and would love to make it two series wins against the Angels. This season will be all about the moral victories, after all.

The Hangout View

The Angels starting pitching has started to come into form, with Haren finally getting his first win and Williams putting up back-to-back quality starts. The exception has obviously been Santana, but luckily the Angels won’t have to see him this series. Getting Wilson and Weaver in this series should give the Angels the advantage in this series, and the struggling Twins starters may be hittable enough even for this lineup right now. It’s time for the Halos to start turning things around, and *bold prediction alert* sweep the Twins to kick off their homestand.