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Series Preview: 4/27-4/29 Tampa Bay Rays @ Minnesota Twins

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4/27: Jeff Niemann vs. Scott Baker (8:10 FSF)

4/28: James Shields vs. Francisco Liriano (8:10 SS)

4/29: Scott Kazmir vs. Nick Blackburn (8:10 SS)

The ALDS match-up that never happened.

I’m a big fan of Scott Baker (He's the guy I really, really wanted for Ty Wigginton), which means most of the population thinks the guy is far too hittable and should be demoted to Rochester immediately. Baker’s thrown eight and two-thirds innings this year and has allowed seven homeruns. Not the best of starts for someone signed to an extension during the off-season. FanGraphs has him near 30% line drives allowed, given his history I highly doubt Baker is going to continue to pitch like that for much longer. He sits 91-92 with a slider, curve, and change, all of which he throws in the zone. You’re going to see a ton of the Rays hitters down 0-1 tonight, don’t panic and hopefully they won’t either. Baker can definitely be roughed up if the Rays can exercise some discipline and take advantage of opportunities.

Another tough assignment for Shields, this time it’s Liriano. I remember when Liriano was the envy of the league’s collective eye a few years ago, and this is hardly the same Liriano. His swinging strike rate is still good – a tick above 9% -- but comes nowhere close when compared to his 2005/2006 numbers. 91-93 MPH fastball, 84-86 slider, and a change-up. Expect Liriano to start the at-bat with a strike then make the hitters chase out of the zone.

Finally, Blackburn. I’m always reminded of former New York Rangers goalie Dan Blackburn when I think of Nick. Blackburn is sort of like Lance Cormier. His fastball sits 90-91, has a cutter, a curve, a change, he strikes next to nobody out but doesn’t walk too many either. His stuff isn’t going to create many whiffs or groundballs either. Losing to him will be an honor.

C Mike Redmond

1B Justin Morneau

2B Alexei Casilla

3B Joe Crede

SS Nick Punto

LF Delmon Young/Denard Span

CF Carlos Gomez

RF Michael Cuddyer

DH Jason Kubel

No Joe Mauer makes this lineup lackluster. Justin Morneau finishing with more MVP votes than Mauer last year is a disservice to Mauer and the interest of baseball intelligence around the league.  Catchers who hit .328/.413/.451 are far more valuable than first basemen who hit .300/.374/.499. That’s 0.009 OPS points offensively, and the difference between the most difficult position on the field and the least difficult position on the field (I said on the field, DH doesn’t count, sillies.)