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Twins, Brewers fighting to end slumps

FOX's Twins and Brewers beat writers break down the upcoming four-game interleague series.

The Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins are not happy with the way their seasons have started. Both teams have struggled get good starting pitching, while the offenses haven't consistently scored runs.


The two used to meet twice a year with at least three games at Miller Park and three more at Target Field. With the format of Interleague play changing this season, the two I-94 rivals play just four times this season, with two games in Milwaukee on Monday and Tuesday and two more in Minneapolis on Wednesday and Thursday.


Both teams hit Memorial Day without sparkling records and near the bottom of their respective divisions. FOXSportsWisconsin.com's Brewers writer Andrew Gruman and FOXSportsNorth.com's Twins writer Tyler Mason cover these teams and can separate fact from folklore in a five-question point-counterpoint.


1. Both teams have been struggling as they enter these two series. What's been the biggest reason for your team's slump?


GRUMAN: There's quite a few reasons why the Brewers have struggled this season, but the starting pitching has had the biggest impact on the team as a whole. It's hard to believe there's four teams that have gotten fewer innings from their starters than the Brewers, but Milwaukee is 26th in baseball in innings from its rotation. The Brewers' rotation sports a National League-worst 5.29 ERA and a .290 batting average against.


Yovani Gallardo hasn't been himself, key acquisition Kyle Lohse is battling elbow irritation, while Marco Estrada is trying to get back on track. Those three were expected to carry the weight while Wily Peralta, Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers went through growing pains. It hasn't happened. The rotation has not only struggled, but put a tremendous amount of weight on what has turned out to be a solid bullpen.


Against the Twins, Milwaukee will run Peralta out Monday after two straight slow starters, while the Brewers have yet to announce a starter for Tuesday's game. It's likely to be reliever Alfredo Figaro and a bullpen day, only adding to the issues facing this pitching staff.


MASON: The biggest reason for Minnesota's slump is the main reason why the Twins struggled last year: starting pitching. The Twins' rotation boasted the worst ERA in the American League last year. As of Sunday, Minnesota's starters ranked second-worst in the AL with a 5.70 ERA, better than only Houston. The Twins' starters (especially as of late) have failed to go deep into games, taxing the bullpen. Furthermore, opponents are batting .334 against Minnesota's starters, the worst of any rotation in baseball.


The Twins acquired three veteran starters this offseason — Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Vance Worley — but that trio hasn't panned out quite like Minnesota had hoped. While Correia has been solid, Pelfrey is 3-5 with a 6.85 ERA and Worley was optioned to Triple-A Rochester within the last week.


Minnesota's 197 runs scored rank 17th in all of baseball, although Twins batters are hitting just .244 (24th in the majors). Still, the pitching woes have been the biggest cause for concern through the first two months.


2. Who has been your team's most valuable player through the first two months?


GRUMAN: It's still hard to differentiate this distinction between Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. If you believe in the Wins Above Replacement stat, Gomez has been Milwaukee's best player this season.


Gomez is fourth in baseball with a 3.0 WAR, finally putting his vast potential together for an extended period of time. Hitting .331 with eight home runs, 22 RBI and nine stolen bases, Gomez enters the series against his former team playing the best baseball of his career. Armed with a contract extension that's given him security, Gomez is playing relaxed. Milwaukee's approach of letting Gomez be himself and just letting him play has paid off.


The key piece of the Zack Greinke trade last July, Segura is shining in his first full season in the big leagues. Just like Gomez, Segura is playing outstanding defense while tearing it up at the plate. After winning the batting title in the Dominican winter league, Segura is second in the National League with a .341 batting average to go along with seven home runs, 20 RBI and 14 stolen base. Defensively, Segura has shown a cannon of an arm with very good range. He's well on his way to becoming one of the best shortstops in baseball, if he isn't there already.


MASON: No player on the Twins has been more consistent this season than catcher Joe Mauer, who is batting .330 with 15 RBI and three home runs. Mauer, a three-time batting champion and former MVP, is on a tear in May. Through Sunday, Mauer is hitting .415 with seven RBI and a league-leading 12 doubles in the month of May.


Perhaps just as importantly, Mauer has remained healthy so far this season. He's played in 44 games and has caught 31 of them. Mauer was injured for a good part of 2011 but bounced back to have a solid 2012. He's again showing in 2013 that he is one of baseball's best hitters as he's currently third in the American League in batting average.


Mauer's 17 doubles are easily a team high. He's seventh on the Twins with 15 RBI and tied for fifth with three home runs. In a year where many position players are struggling to stay consistent, Mauer has been a model of consistency from Day 1.


3. These two teams are playing back-to-back series in the middle of the week. Does not playing on the weekend take away from the rivalry?


GRUMAN: It's a weird format and one nobody really is a fan of. If the Brewers were just going up to play four games in Minneapolis, they could send down a pitcher and call up a bat from the minor leagues to help fill the designated hitter role. It's hard to do that just for four games.


As for the rivalry, not having a weekend will hurt that some. The start times of each game makes i nearly impossible to travel for opposing fans. A 1:10 p.m. start on Memorial Day followed by a 7:10 p.m. start Tuesday makes it hard for Twins fans to come down to Milwaukee. Two weekday night games in Minneapolis will make it hard for Brewers fans to make the drive up I-94. While there are Twins fans in Wisconsin and Brewers fans in the Twin Cities, these rivalry series should be played on the weekends, or at least when school is out.


MASON: Part of the fun of the Twins/Brewers series is playing on the weekend. It allows fans to drive down I94 into their rival team's state and spend a few days taking in the sights and sounds of this rivalry. Minnesota fans who drive to Milwaukee get to experience tailgating at Miller Park, while Brewers fans who drive to Minneapolis get to soak in the beauty of Target Field.


Playing these games on weekdays — Monday and Tuesday in Milwaukee and Wednesday and Thursday in Minneapolis — definitely takes away from the natural border battle rivalry. Fans have to work during the week and aren't able to spend a few days traveling to watch baseball. Still, there's a good chance this Wednesday and Thursday's games at Target Field may be among the most highly-attended this season. And while the players enjoy the rivalry, they likely won't be affected by the drop-off in visiting fans because of the weekday series.


4. How will these four games play out? (How many games will your team win, and why?)


GRUMAN: Since the Brewers haven't won a series in a month, it's hard to pick them to win three of the four or sweep the series. But this is when they need to start making some hay if they want to right the ship. The Brewers have played the toughest schedule in baseball this season and have taken care of business against teams with losing records.


These four games match the worst starting rotation in the National League against the worst starting rotation in the American League. Has to come down to who pitches better, right? The match-ups in Milwaukee actually favor Minnesota. Kevin Correia has been Minnesota's best pitcher, while Peralta has struggled. The Brewers are going to have a bullpen day Tuesday.


Because it's hard to pick either of these teams to win a series right now, I'm going to say they split.


MASON: Both teams enter this series desperate for wins. The Twins recently snapped a 10-game losing streak with a win Saturday in Detroit. Still, after a loss Sunday, Minnesota has lost 11 of its last 12 and needs to get things on track. Four games against the struggling Brewers could do the trick.


As bad as the Twins' rotation has been, Milwaukee's has struggled just as much. The Brewers' starters have a 5.23 ERA entering Monday's game. Because both teams have been so erratic this year, I'll guess that they'll both split each of the two-game series, winning one each at home and one on the road.


5. What does your team need to do to turn things around the rest of the year?


GRUMAN: The Brewers face a long road back to contention. If it's going to happen, they need to get hot and rattle off a stretch of 20 wins in 22 games or something similar. In order for that to happen, Milwaukee needs to get better starting pitching.


The backend of the rotation is going to be inconsistent, but Gallardo and Estrada need to pitch to their ability, while Lohse must stay healthy.


Pitching isn't the only concern, however. The offense has good individual numbers but has been unable to consistently score runs. This lineup is too talented to not score. Sure Corey Hart is still missing, but the Brewers led the National League in runs scored last season without Gomez and Segura hitting like they have this season.


Fixing the rotation and getting the offense to be consistent are tall tasks. As Memorial Day hits, the Brewers are running out of time to show signs of a turnaround.


MASON: For the Twins, the biggest key to turning things around will be shoring up the starting pitching. That sounds like it could have been a key from last year's team, but the rotation is once again a weak spot. Minnesota recently shook up the rotation by calling up Samuel Deduno and P.J. Walters from Triple-A Rochester. Regardless of whether they stick in the majors, the Twins will need to find some sort of consistency in the rotation.


And as much as the pitching has struggled, the offense hasn't been without its setbacks. In order to turn things around offensively, the Twins will need to see more production from the likes of Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Trevor Plouffe. Willingham had a career year last year, belting 35 home runs and driving in XXX runs. But he's struggled in the first two months. Really, outside of Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Twins' offense has lacked consistency.


Minnesota suffered back-to-back 90-loss seasons the past two years. In order to avoid a third straight year of 90 or more losses, the Twins have plenty of work to do. It begins with the starting pitching — and getting the rotation deeper into games — but the Twins also need to put more runs on the board on a daily basis.



Follow Tyler Mason and Andrew Gruman on Twitter.