Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Minnesota Twins


Phil Hughes at Target Field (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

The second leg of the Red Sox’ midcontinental road trip takes them to Target Field in Minneapolis for a three-game matchup with the Minnesota Twins (17-19). This is Boston’s first series with the Twins this year.

The team went 4-3 last year against Minnesota, including a three-game sweep at Target Field in mid-May. The Red Sox are 958-925 all time against the Twins, including 422-524 on the road.

The Twins were the Washington Nationals/Senators from 1905-1955. The franchise has three World Series championships (1924, 1987 and 1991), six pennants and 14 playoff appearances.

Minnesota ranks 24th of 30 MLB teams with a 2014 opening day player payroll of $85,776,500. Boston ranks fourth at nearly double the figure: $162,817,411.

The Twins are managed by Ron Gardenhire, a former infielder for the New York Mets (1981-85). He is in his 13th year at the helm of the Twins, with a record 1015-966. Gardenhire earned AL Manager of the Year honors in 2010 and has finished second in the balloting on five other occasions.

The Twins enter the series in fifth place in AL Central division.

They are batting .242/.331/.365/.697 as a team with 25 HRs, 150 RBI and 25 SBs. They have a team ERA of 4.06 with 310 strikeouts and 92 walks.

The Red Sox are at .267/.330/.423/.753 with 41 HRs, 184 RBI and 22 SBs. Their team ERA is 3.72 with 305 strikeouts and 111 walks.

The probable pitching matchups are as follows:

Tuesday, 5/13, 8:10 p.m. (NESN, MLB.TV) – Felix Doubront (1-3, 5.09) vs. Ricky Nolasco (2-3, 5.64)

Wednesday, 5/14, 8:10 p.m. (NESN, MLB.TV) – Jake Peavy (1-1, 3.09) vs. Kevin Correia (1-4, 6.34)

Thursday, 5/15, 1:10 p.m. (NESN, MLB.TV) – Clay Buchholz (2-3, 6.44) vs. Phil Hughes (4-1, 3.92)

For a look at the team, I interviewed Collin Kottke, editor of Puckett’s Pond, FanSided’s Minnestota Twins site.

The Twins are in a tightly-jammed cluster of AL Central teams, including the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians, hovering around the .500 mark. The Detroit Tigers are well out in front of the division race. Is this where Twins’ fans expected the team to be in mid-May … and what do they expect the standings to look like at the end of the season?

This is pretty much exactly where Twins fans thought they would be. Expectations got a little higher after the fairly positive April, but the Twins are coming back to Earth. I expect the Twins to finish around .500 this season. It’s hard to know where that will be in the division since everyone not named Detroit is in the same boat.

A lot has been made in the media of the Twins’ new “patient” approach to hitting. Batters are supposed to be more selective with pitches. What led to this team-wide strategy and what have been the results so far? Should Red Sox’ fans expect their starters will see a lot of deep counts?

The Twins are being more selective yes, but the Twins are striking out way more than they should, so it’s really a double-edged sword. Some deep counts might occur, but the series should help the BoSox strikeout numbers.

Ron Gardenhire is in his 13th season as Twins manager having been hired in 2002. Though Mike Scioscia is the only MLB manager with a longer tenure, Gardenhire has actually been on the team’s coaching staff since 1991. How effective is his leadership, and what is his management style?

Well, getting in the mind of Ron Gardenhire could be a 10-part series. Let’s just say that he currently has 13 pitchers, because the bullpen gets “overworked.” This drives baseball minds in the Twin Cities batty, but that’s what we’re dealing with. Gardenhire’s leadership has been a major question mark in recent years with players seemingly to miss about five more games that they should (Mauer just did this last week). Gardenhire is a fairly good manager, but probably just a place holder until Paul Molitor or Single-A Fort Myers Manager and former Twin and Red Sox Doug Mientkiewicz takes over.

Justin Morneau has moved on to the Colorado Rockies and Joe Mauer has moved permanently from catcher to first baseman as Morneau’s defensive replacement. After his season ended with a concussion late last year, how is Mauer’s health and how has the transition been at both positions?

The transition at catcher has been fantastic. Kurt Suzuki was a wonderful pickup for the Twins and has a real shot at being the Twins All-Star representative. Josmil Pinto has been DH-ing most of the year and eventually be the full-time catcher, but Suzuki’s good play is blocking that. It’s a good problem to have.

Mauer started off the year fairly slow and striking out a lot. He finally started picking it up, but then missed five days with back spasms. Mauer has been doing fine and will be fine, but I think fans are really getting sick of him always being hurt. It’s not the being hurt, but it looked like Mauer was going to come back on Tuesday and he didn’t come back until Saturday. It’s extremely frustrating.

One of the biggest changes to the Minnesota roster over the off-season was a revamped rotation. How have the starters pitched so far and what should Sox fans expect from the three they’ll see in the upcoming series?

The start of the season it was quite weird in Minnesota. We were all convinced that the Twins wouldn’t be able to score runs, but that they could pitch. The exact opposite occurred. That’s all equaling out now. The Twins will throw the two big additions in this series, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Both have been coming on as the season progresses, but especially Hughes. Hughes is on a streak of some really well-pitched games right now. Thursday’s Hughes-Buchholz matchup should be a lot of fun.

The Twins have one of the best minor league rosters in baseball. Who are some of the players we’ll see on the roster later this year or next season and at what point do you see the Twins becoming a legitimate contender?

The Twins will be contending for division titles starting next year. In all honesty, they should be competing for World Series berths in 2016 and beyond. The Twins have two monster prospects that will be up next year in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Sano is out this season after Tommy John surgery, but he looks to be a power hitting third baseman. Buxton is a five-tool player who compares to Mike Trout for current major leaguers. One legitimate baseball writer said that he thinks that Buxton has the floor of Torii Hunter and the ceiling of Willie Mays, so he’s probably going to be pretty damn good.