After starting the season 1-6, the Twins have had plenty of reasons to celebrate as they’ve gone 24-12, including Sunday’s 8-2 victory over the White Sox that had (from left) Shane Robinson, Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks floating on air. (Jon Durr/Getty Images)
After taking two out of three from the Angels over the weekend, the Red Sox leave the friendly confines to begin a three-game set with the Twins on Monday in Minneapolis.
The Red Sox are 5-5 over their last 10 games, and they sit at 21-23 on the season, good for third place in the cluttered AL East. They are 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Rays.
On the other hand, the surprise Twins are 25-18 and reside in second place in the AL Central, behind the Royals. They are 7-3 in their last 10 and 24-12 since their 1-6 start to the campaign.
The Twins are coming off of a five-game stretch in which they swept a two-game series from the Pirates and took two out of three from the division rival White Sox. Against Chicago, the Twins offense proved itself, beating last year’s AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale for the second time this season Saturday, this time 4-3.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in here,” Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson said after the series-clinching 8-1 win Sunday. “We have been saying that even after the 1-6 start that we like our team and we like the leaders in here. And we fight. It’s what we do.”
With a largely young and unproven lineup, first-year manager and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor has molded the Twins into a potent run-scoring machine. Though they do not hit many home runs, they are the fifth-highest-scoring team in baseball this year, logging 4.58 runs per game. Meanwhile, the Red Sox score just 4.00 runs per game, the 21st-best mark in the majors.
The Twins pitching is not magnificent, however it is good enough to succeed alongside a competent offense. The Twins own an unspectacular 4.05 team ERA. And though much has been made about their inability to get strikeouts as they fan just 5.8 batters per nine, they hold an advantage in a far more important category, runners stranded, where they rank fifth in the majors with 309.
On offense, the Twins are paced by 19-year veteran Torii Hunter, who leads the team with 26 RBIs and a .281 average. Though their starting rotation does not hold any household names, the Twins have a quality bunch, led by Gibson, who has a 2.72 ERA.
Here are the pitching matchups for the series:
Joe Kelly (1-3, 5.13 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-1, 6.00 ERA)
Clay Buchholz (2-5, 4.58 ERA) vs. Mike Pelfrey (3-1, 3.00 ERA)
Rick Porcello (4-3, 5.07 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.50 ERA)
WHO’S HOT: RED SOX
— Though first baseman Mike Napoli has struggled this season, he had an amazing series against his former team this weekend. Against the Angels, Napoli went 5-for-9 with four home runs, eight RBIs and three walks. These numbers produced a slash line of .556/.667/2.000.
— Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has continued his solid hitting, as he has slashed .440/.462/.640 over his last seven games. This stretch has included two doubles and a home run.
— With a 5.13 ERA on the campaign, Joe Kelly has certainly faced his share of roadblocks. However, he has turned it on during his last two starts, logging 13 1/3 innings pitched with a 2.03 ERA while allowing just two extra-base hits.
WHO’S HOT: TWINS
— Second baseman Brian Dozier made himself the Twins’ team leader in home runs Sunday when he clobbered two during the team’s 8-1 win.
— Former first-round pick Mike Pelfrey is coming off of one of the best starts of his season. Facing the Pirates on the road last Wednesday, Pelfrey hurled six innings of one-run ball to go along with five punchouts in the Twins’ 4-3 victory.
— Though often overlooked as the stopper at the back end of a solid bullpen, Twins closer Glen Perkins has been stellar of late. With a 1.33 ERA for the season, Perkins has picked it up even more in his last eight appearances, notching 10 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings while allowing one earned run.
WHO’S NOT: RED SOX
— Slumping throughout the season, designated hitter David Ortiz had a regrettable five-game stretch through Sunday. During this span, he slashed a meager .105/.227/.158 with five strikeouts.
— When the Red Sox signed Rick Porcello to his four-year, $82.5 million deal, they were hoping for more than his atrocious start against the Angels last Friday. On this day, Porcello waded through 4 1/3 innings, giving up seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks en route to a 12-5 drubbing at Fenway.
— Unfortunately for the Red Sox, both of their catchers have hit slumps at the same time. Top prospect Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon are a combined 4-for-20 over their last seven games with four strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
WHO’S NOT: TWINS
— Though commonly known as a free swinger, second baseman Danny Santana has taken his hacking to a new level over the last week. During this stretch, he is 1-for 16 with five strikeouts and no walks. On the season, Santana has walked just twice in 157 plate appearances.
— Like his teammate Santana, outfielder Aaron Hicks has been prone to the punchout lately. In his last four contests, Hicks has whiffed five times in 17 plate appearances. He has slashed .118/.118/.118 during this span.
— Left-handed reliever Aaron Thompson has not pitched his best this month. In 11 May appearances, Thompson has given up 12 hits and five earned runs.