Battle vs the Bottom: Twins Series Preview

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Minnesota Twins

August 26th – August 28th

Written by Eric Mercer and Gideon Turk

The Blue Jays are a good team, which means they are supposed to beat bad teams. That wasn’t the case earlier in the week when they lost two of three to the lowly Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the Blue Jays and their fans will be hoping it is this weekend as the Minnesota Twins come to town for a three game set. The Twins, once filled with promise that maybe this season would be different than their recent history, have now faded into the abyss that is cellar in the AL Central, and enter this series with a 49-78 record, or a winning percentage of .386. The Blue Jays should take this series with ease, like they did when they beat Minnesota in three out of their four matches in May, but with the offense scuffling and the pitching suddenly not getting batters out, anything could happen.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday, August 26th – 7:07 PM ET

Francisco Liriano (LHP, 6-12, 5.21 ERA)  vs. Pat Dean (LHP, 1-3, 5.48 ERA)

Liriano gets a crack at facing the team that first gave him his MLB shot. Liriano was a member of the Twins from 2005 until 2012 until he was traded within the division to the White Sox. I’m sure he would love to replicate his most recent performance against his old club. In his last start, Liriano spun his best game in a Jays uniform, going six complete innings and allowing eight hits but only one run. He was able to strike out seven while walking two. The Jays have had some trouble winning the first games of series and Liriano will look to change that on Friday. He is catching a team that is lacking anything special from an offensive standpoint. The 6-man rotation will be questioned throughout the remainder of the season, but Liriano can quell the dissent with back-to-back impressive starts.

Pat Dean is a 27 year old rookie who will be making his seventh start of the season on Friday. He has done nothing to impress thus far in the season, allowing 28 runs in 46.0 innings pitched. This will be Dean’s first start since June 17 as he is merely making a spot start for Hector Santiago who has a bruised thumb. A major reason why Dean hasn’t seen success is because he relies heavily on a fastball; 75 percent of his pitches thrown this season have been either a fourseam fastball or a cutter. His repertoire does not match up well against the Jays, who traditionally feast on fastball pitchers. The Blue Jays right-handed dominant lineup also likes left handed pitchers…so this matchup doesn’t look good for the rookie. That being said, he did hold the Jays to two runs in six innings back in May, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Saturday, August 27th – 1:07 PM ET

Marcus Stroman (RHP, 9-5, 4.47 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (RHP, 6-10, 3.33 ERA)

Marcus Stroman has had a tumultuous season thus far, but seems to have steadied the ship in the beginning of July. Since that time, he has been one of the Jays best pitchers, accumulating a 3.02 ERA in nine starts. Marco Estrada has been dealing with a sore back for the majority of the season and his last few starts have been shaky, so one of the Jays under-performing pitchers needed to step up. Stroman has done just that. Look for Stroman to keep the offensive-riddled Twins lineup pounding the ball into the dirt. That has been the recipe for success with Stroman throughout his career.

Former Blue Jay Ervin Santana will take the mound for the Twins on Saturday. He has been the Twins most reliable starter this season, posting a 3.33 ERA and is near his career-best for walks per nine. Santana has pounded the zone frequently which is rare for a pitcher that throws their slider 37 percent of the time. It is unquestionably his most reliable pitch and shows a tremendous amount of break. The movement on the slider causes opposing batters to whiff 17 percent of the time they swing at the pitch. When hitters aren’t missing, they tend to bury the ball into the ground, resulting in a grounder 46 percent of the time. The Jays are going to have to be patient and hope Santana leaves some of these pitches up.

Sunday, August 28th– 1:07 PM ET

R.A. Dickey (RHP, 9-13, 4.43 ERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (RHP, 5-8, 5.09 ERA)

The Jays knuckleballer has been fairly consistent in the month of August so far. He has pitched to the tune of 3.31 ERA while striking out 14 in 16.1 innings. The achilles heel for Dickey, as it always has been in a Blue Jays uniform, is the number of free passes he has given up. This season he has given up 58 walks in his 154.1 innings. The game plan for Dickey is pretty straightforward, but much harder to execute; if he can keep the ball in the zone, his knuckler’s movement will cause batters fits. If he can’t find the zone and issues some walks, expect the quick hook from manager John Gibbons.

Gibson is in his fourth season in the league, all with Minnesota, and he has seen some backwards regression from his 2015 campaign. Gibson has never been a strikeout pitcher – his main pitch is the sinker – so he relies on getting ground balls for outs. That strategy can breed success, but you can hurt yourself as a pitcher by walking too many batters. One of the most valuable attributes of sinkerballers is their ability to get quick outs, thus going deeper into games. Gibson hasn’t been able to display that effectiveness this season, keeping too many balls up in the zone or out of the zone entirely. If the sinker is flat on Sunday, look for the Jays to put a few of them in the air, which is not where the baseball wants to be when a sinker is thrown.

Additions and Subtractions

The Blue Jays welcomed Jose Bautista back into their lineup on Thursday as the designated hitter, a role he will keep for the foreseeable future until he is 100% healed from his injury. However, the team did not start their all-healthy lineup in Thursday’s game, as Devon Travis continued to sit with an injury in his hand. Toronto has downplayed the injury for the most part, but as the days continue to go by while Travis sits, one wonders if it may be more serious than first imagined. Hopefully it is not and Travis will be back in the lineup throughout the weekend. Ryan Goins was sent out to make room for Bautista, but will be back soon.

The Twins did a bit of a shake up to their pitching staff on Thursday, sending RHP Jose Berrios and RHP Tyler Duffey down to AAA Rochester. They have only announced one corresponding move so far, and coming up will be former Blue Jays pitcher and Canadian southpaw Andrew Albers. He has made one appearance for the Twins in 2016, pitching six innings and giving up three runs on 11 hits and a walk.

Keep an Eye On

Another Entertaining Second Baseman

The Blue Jays saw the league’s best second baseman a couple of weeks ago when they faced the Houston Astros and ran into Jose Altuve, and they’ll see another top keystone sacker this weekend when Brian Dozier comes to town. Dozier has lit up the league this season with 30 home runs and a .302 TAv, and will be a tough out for the homer prone R.A. Dickey on Sunday afternoon.

Balls in Play or Strikeouts? 

Last week, the Blue Jays’ problem was their inability to make contact with the ball as they struck out in virtually every big moment. This week against the Angels, they struck out just 13 times in the entire series. However, their BABIP in their two losses was only .254, a clear indication that even when they were putting the bat on the ball, it just wasn’t finding holes and leading to runs. Hopefully against the worst team in the American League that will change and the balls that are hit hard start to go around the fielders, instead of right at them.

Pennant Chase Info 

The Blue Jays find themselves tied with the Boston Red Sox for the lead of the AL East and only one game up on the third place Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox are facing the Kansas City Royals this weekend. A couple of weeks ago that would have been an easy assignment for them, but Kansas City has won nine of their last ten to get back into the playoff race. The Orioles, meanwhile, will be facing the New York Yankees, who are riding uber-prospect Gary Sanchez and have been hot of late. If Sanchez and Co. can hit like they have recently, the Orioles won’t have such an easy weekend as well.

Probable Lineups

Minnesota Twins

Toronto Blue Jays

Brian Dozier-2B Devon Travis-2B
Jorge Polanco-SS Jose Bautista-RF
Joe Mauer-1B Josh Donaldson-3B
Trevor Plouffe-3B Edwin Encarnacion-DH
Max Kepler-RF Russell Martin-C
Miguel Sano-DH Troy Tulowitzki-SS
Eddie Rosario-CF Michal Saunders-LF
Kurt Susuki-C Justin Smoak-1B
Robbie Grossman-LF Kevin Pillar-CF

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

Things aren’t as bad as they seem right now in Blue Jays land. Yes, they have lost four of their last six games, two of those to the terrible Angels, but teams go through stretches like this all the time. The Blue Jays just happen to be going through a rough patch in the middle of a pennant race. Against the Twins, the Blue Jays have a great chance to win the series, or even sweep it. If they do, nobody will remember anything about this past week. If they don’t, let’s just hope Boston and Baltimore don’t have such great weekends themselves either.

Lead Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

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