Ten days ago, as the Minnesota Twins stumbled home from a difficult road trip, they could take solace that they were going to face a team they have traditionally beaten up: the Chicago White Sox. Whatís more, they werenít going to face the White Sox ace, Chris Sale. If you bought Twins tickets for that home stand you enjoyed yourself as the Twins swept a four-game series from the Pale Hose.
Today, the Twins are again stumbling back from a tough road trip and again get to face a team against whom they have traditionally had success. Indeed, the Twins swept the Royals in Target Field earlier this year. The difference is that there are no weak spots in the Royals rotation, and the Twins get to face the heart of it this week.
On Monday the Twins face the Royals ERA leader, Danny Duffy, who enters the series with a 2.69 ERA. Duffy is a left-hander who underwent Tommy John surgery early in 2012. He came back to pitch a little last year, but experienced forearm tightness and was shut down again.
Heís making up for lost time this year, especially lately. While the 25-year-old has just four wins, heís had four quality starts in his last five outings, and seems to have tightened his control, which has been an issue for him in the past. Heís always been considered a solid pitching prospect, but to bounce back this fast and this strong after Tommy John is a pleasant surprise for the Royals.
Heíll be facing the Twins own pleasant surprise Ė Yohan Pino, the 30-year-old rookie who will be making his third start for the Twins. The first one was excellent, the second was eminently forgettable. Weíll see how he bounces back.
The teams match their ďacesĒ or at least those pitchers who were supposed to fill those roles. Itís gone according to plan for the Royals. James Shields is 8-3 with a 3.79 ERA and on pace for another 200-inning season. He was acquired from the Rays in a blockbuster prospect-for-veteran trade before last year and has been a big part of the Royals ascension to relevance. Whether he will remain so is unknown; heís a free agent at the end of the year.
Heíll face the Twins Opening Day starter, Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco, like Shields, has one of the worst ERAs on his teamís staff Ė except that Nolascoís is 5.74. Heís also on pace to throw close to 200 innings, except thatís not a good thing. He had taken steps towards mediocre for most of the month of June, but was shelled for 11 hits and 6 runs in six innings versus the Angels last Thursday. If the Twins are going to compete this year, they need to get him turned around; cutting bait isnít an option on a 4-year, $49 million contract.
The Royals send 31-year-old veteran southpaw Jason Vargas to the mound and the good news is that he got beat up pretty good in his last outing, surrendering six runs and nine hits in four innings versus the Angels the day after Nolasco was pounded by the same team. Maybe the Angels (who swept the Twins in that series) are just that hot right now.
Heíll be facing, dare I say, the second best Twins starting pitcher for the month of June: Kevin Correia. Donít laugh. Correia threw 29 innings in 5 starts with a 3.41 ERA in June, tying him with Kyle Gibson for the best ERA on the staff for the month. He was brutal in April (7.33 ERA), tolerable in May (4.72 ERA) and has been downright good in June.
Of course, the calendar page turns again prior to this start. Things are certainly trending the right way. But he remains a low-strikeout pitcher that has given up 111 hits in 90.1 innings.
Thatís The Ticket
If Iíve got to pick just one game, Iíll go with Monday over Tuesday. Iím very curious to see if Nolasco makes progress Ė it might be the single thing this Twins team needs most. Plus, itís always interesting to watch Shields pitch; heís just such a professional. So Tuesday nightís game is an awfully good one.
But I havenít seen Pino pitch live and most of us havenít; his only home start was rain delayed by two hours. Duffy, Iíll admit, wasnít even on my radar as the year started, so itíll be interesting to see what this big lefty is doing that has made him potentially a big part of the Royals future. So Iíll choose Mondayís matchup and hope for a solid start to a homestand that is looking increasingly critical if the Twins want to stay relevant into the All-Star break.
You can see Pino up close on Monday as there are seats right behind the Twins dugout available. I donít know if people are sick of watching Nolasco pitch or what, but I canít believe how many lower level tickets down Target Fieldís first base line are available for Tuesdayís game. And Wednesday is supposed to be gorgeous so grab a client and write off tickets for Wednesdayís nooner. All are an even better deal if you use the promo code DAILYDOUBLE, which will get you 10% off and supports Twins Daily. Whatever your needs, your local ticket supplier,Ticket King, can help.