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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Minnesota Twins

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The Rays enter this homestand on a two game winning streak and with a 3-8 record, while the Twins split a two game series with the Royals and enter with a 4-7 record.

Thursday, 6:40 PM: Carl Pavano vs. James Shields
Friday, 7:10 PM: Nick Blackburn vs. Wade Davis
Saturday, 4:10 PM: Scott Baker vs. Jeff Niemann
Sunday, 1:40 PM: Brian Duensing vs. Jeremy Hellickson

Lost in the shuffle of the Red Sox's slump is the fact that there are other good teams in the majors that are starting off this season much worse than you'd expect. The Cardinals were projected before the season to win around 83-85 games, yet they're currently at 5-7 and in fifth place in the NL Central. And the Minnesota Twins, who were widely predicted to win around 85 games and take first place in the AL Central, are currently at 4-7 and in dead last in their division. This is most likely just an easy season slump, as the Twins are still a very good ballclub and should be a challenge to the Rays this weekend.

This is tough to believe, but the Twins have actually been worse on offense than the Rays have this season, posting a .267 team wOBA (Rays are at .271). They're only reaching base in 28% of their plate appearances, and their slugging percentage is hovering right around .300. Their big offensive weapons in Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, and Justin Morneau are all slumping, with Mauer and Morneau both posting wOBAs down in the .250 range. This slump obviously won't continue forever; this is a team full of talented hitters, so it's only a batter of time before they burst out and turn things around.

Having a slumping offense is one thing, but you'd at least hope that your pitching staff would be able to hold down the fort for you. The Twins' pitchers have been pretty bad, though, posting a 4.64 ERA / 4.93 FIP while having the second-worst K/BB ratio in the majors (1.53, falling only behind the Pirates). Check out the numbers on their starters so far this season:

  • Francisco Liriano: 9.42 ERA / 5.32 FIP
  • Carl Pavano: 6.00 ERA / 6.67 FIP
  • Nick Blackburn: 0.77 ERA / 4.55 FIP
  • Scott Baker: 6.55 ERA / 8.09 FIP
  • Brian Duensing: 4.15 ERA / 4.63 FIP
Ouch. Of course, as with their offense, the Twins' pitchers are all much better than their current performances. They could turn it around any day and begin to pitch better, so let's just hope it's not against the Rays. With the Twins currently slumping so hard and the Rays' offense seemingly on the rebound, this could be a perfect opportunity to increase the record and work back up toward .500. 

  • Good news for James Shields: the Twins have hit only three homeruns this entire season, by far the fewest team total in the majors. Along those same lines, their current team .070 ISO is actually lower than Elliot Johnson's current ISO (.071).
  • The Rays can at least claim their offense has gotten "unlucky" to a degree, since their .241 team BABIP is waaay below what you'd expect a team to produce over a season. The Twins have had an even worse offense than the Rays, but their .286 BABIP suggests their hits are actually falling in.