JUN 02, 2014 12:35p ET
It's time for the annual border battle between the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers, who begin a stretch of four games starting Monday with a two-game series at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The two teams will then head west across the border for two more games at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It was a similar scenario last year when the Twins and Brewers played a home-and-home series last May. Minnesota swept the season series against Milwaukee last year. The Brewers enter this year's matchup with the third-most wins in baseball, while the Twins are hoping to get back to .500.
FOX Sports North's Twins writer Tyler Mason and FOX Sports Wisconsin's Brewers writer Andrew Gruman cover these teams and offer their take on the game in a five-question point-counterpoint.
1. Who is your team's MVP this season?
MASON: Brian Dozier emerged as the team's everyday second baseman last year after transitioning from shortstop. His 18 home runs in 2013 were tops on the team and the most in team history for a second baseman. Already through 54 games, Dozier has a team-high 11 homers, and his 27 RBI are fourth on the team. Dozier has not only solidified the Twins' leadoff spot in the lineup, but he has yet to miss a game -- he's the team's the only position player who has played in all 54 games this year. On top of what he's done offensively at the top of Minnesota's lineup, Dozier has turned in a handful of highlight reel plays at second base as he's transformed himself into the Twins' second baseman of the future.
GRUMAN: Carlos Gomez. While the Brewers have had many players contribute to their 34-23 record, Gomez has been one of the best players in baseball. The center fielder is hitting .313 with 11 home runs, 15 doubles, two triples and 31 RBI and has stolen 11 bases. Gomez is also becoming much more patient at the plate and has already drawn 19 walks. He was successful hitting leadoff and has continued to thrive after being moved to the cleanup spot. Aside from his big offensive numbers, Gomez continues to play center field as well or better than anyone in baseball. He'll likely be amped up to face his former team this week.
2. Why should the Twins scare the Brewers?
MASON: Minnesota's offense was clicking in April but started to cool off in May. However, over the last week or so, the Twins saw the returns of outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia to the lineup. Both sluggers missed significant time this season with injuries, and Arcia also spent time in Triple-A Rochester after he was reinstated from the disabled list. In the seven games since his return, Arcia is batting .367 (11-for-30) with two home runs and four RBI. Willingham has been equally impressive in his returning, hitting three home runs with six RBI in his seven games since returning. With those two bats back in the heart of the batting order, Minnesota's offense looks more formidable than it did two weeks ago. Willingham has hit well at Miller Park during his career, too: .308 with six homers and 17 RBI in 21 games at the Brewers' home stadium.
Why should the Brewers scare the Twins?
GRUMAN: Milwaukee comes into the series with the third-best record in baseball, and the Brewers seem to be hitting their offensive groove. The starting pitching carried the Brewers through a 20-8 April and certainly wasn't bad in May, but the bats are averaging 6.2 runs over the last 11 games. The offense will receive a nice boost when Aramis Ramirez likely returns to the lineup Wednesday in Minnesota. Milwaukee has also taken care of business against the American League this season, going 7-2 and winning series from the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles.
3. What weakness of the Twins could the Brewers expose?
MASON: Minnesota's starting rotation was the worst in all of baseball last year in terms of ERA, and things haven't improved much through two months of the 2014 season. The Twins' starters have a collective ERA of 4.86, second-worst in the majors. While Minnesota's rotation hasn't served up many home runs -- 30 in 54 games -- the Brewers' offense has been one of the highest-scoring in baseball. The 240 runs Milwaukee has scored are 11th in baseball, while its .414 slugging percentage is the eighth-best in the majors. If the Brewers jump on Minnesota's starting pitching early, it could spell trouble for the Twins.
What weakness of the Brewers could the Twins expose?
GRUMAN: The Brewers don't have any glaring weaknesses, as they are in the top half of baseball in runs scored, team ERA and fewest errors committed. That makes it hard to point to one thing the Twins can expose. Matt Garza goes against his former team Monday, and the right-hander has yet to get on track for the Brewers. He's pitched well in outings of late but has been hurt by a couple of bad innings. Minnesota will then see Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada on Tuesday and Wednesday, two pitchers who haven't been bad but also haven't been sharp.
4. Is Minnesota coming into the four-game set hot, cold or treading water?
MASON: At this point, the Twins continue to tread water as they're attempting to get back to the .500 mark. Minnesota has stayed right around .500 all season, never falling more than three games below it or climbing more than two games above that mark. The Twins have had a few four-game losing streaks, but unlike last year, they've avoided a skid longer than that. On the flip side, though, Minnesota hasn't put together anything more than a three-game winning streak. After winning two of three against the Yankees in New York, Minnesota does enter this week's four-game series with a bit of momentum.
Is Milwaukee coming into the four-game set hot, cold or treading water?
GRUMAN: The Brewers have won six of their last nine games since hitting a bit of a lull in mid-May. While they aren't as hot as they were in April, the Brewers are playing good baseball and are starting to click up and down the lineup offensively. Ever since manager Ron Roenicke mixed up the lineup, the top five have been all hitting well.
5. Compare the pitching matchups
Monday: RHP Matt Garza (2-4, 4.83 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (4-4, 4.18)
Tuesday: RHP Yovani Gallardo (3-3, 3.56) vs. RHP Samuel Deduno (1-3, 3.86)
Wednesday: RHP Marco Estrada (5-2, 4.03) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (3-5, 5.70)
Thursday: RHP Wily Peralta (4-5, 2.73) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (2-6, 5.87)
MASON: The series opener Monday pits an inexperienced Kyle Gibson against a former Twin and nine-year big league veteran Matt Garza. This will be Gibson's 21st career major league start, while Garza will be starting his 203rd career game. Garza spent his first two seasons with Minnesota in 2006 and 2007 and then bounced around the league with several other teams before landing in Milwaukee. Despite the discrepancy in experience, Gibson appears to have the edge in this matchup. He's pitched relatively well this season, as he enters with a 4-4 record and 4.18 ERA. However, Gibson has failed to put together back-to-back quality starts since mid-April. He pitched six scoreless innings in his last start and will look to follow that up with another strong outing.
Tuesday's matchup could go either way, as Minnesota's Samuel Deduno and Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo face off at Miller Park. It's just Deduno's sixth start of the season after beginning the year in the bullpen. In his five starts, Deduno is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA, striking out 17 batters and walking nine in 28 innings. Given his wildly effective nature, Deduno continues to remain a bit of a mystery every time he takes the mound. Gallardo has been better at home (2-1, 3.11 ERA) than he's been on the road this year (1-2, 4.18 ERA).
Minnesota's starters will have a more veteran presence for the Twins' two games against Milwaukee at Target Field. Ricky Nolasco (3-5, 5.70 ERA) spent eight years in the National League and has plenty of experience against the Brewers -- although he hasn't fared well against them. Nolasco is 2-3 with a 7.58 ERA in eight career starts against Milwaukee. He'll face off against Marco Estrada, who enters with a 5-2 record and 4.03 ERA.
Meanwhile, Kevin Correia pitches in the series finale on Thursday for Minnesota. He's been better over his last three starts, lowering his ERA from 6.80 to 5.87 during that stretch. Correia has faced the Brewers 21 times (12 starts) in his career, the fifth-most appearances against any team. He's 5-6 with a 4.57 ERA lifetime against Milwaukee.
GRUMAN: Garza has thrown the ball better than his numbers show, as the right-hander has pitched well in stretches lately. He went through a period of a couple of starts in which he gave up runs early and then settled in. Lately, Garza has been marred by a big inning late. It feels like it is only a matter of time before he puts a complete effort together. The Brewers have never faced Gibson, as Lyle Overbay is the only one on the roster with at-bats against the 26-year-old (1-for-3). Gibson has alternated his good starts with a bad one in May, and the Brewers are hoping the trend continues.
Gallardo has had a lot of success against the Twins in his career, posting a 2.63 ERA in six career starts against Minnesota. The right-hander had a very good April but struggled a bit in May. He bounced back from a sprained ankle suffered in Atlanta on May 20 to allow three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings against Baltimore in his last start. The Brewers were shut down by Deduno at Miller Park last May, as they managed just one run in seven innings in the only time they've faced the right-hander.
Like Gallardo, May wasn't too kind to Estrada. His ERA has jumped from 2.87 to 4.03 over his six starts, as allowing home runs has hurt Estrada. He's allowed 17 long balls this season, by far the most in the major leagues. 21 of the 30 earned runs given up by Estrada have come via the home run, meaning he'll usually pitch well if he keeps the ball in the yard. Estrada has a 6.11 ERA in five career outings against Minnesota, including allowing four earned runs over seven innings in a start last season. Milwaukee has had great success against Nolasco over his time with the Marlins and Dodgers. The Brewers have scored 32 earned runs in 38 innings (7.58 ERA) against the veteran, as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks are a combined 16-of-35 against Nolasco in their careers.
A couple of two-run home runs sent Peralta to his worst start of the season Saturday, but the young right-hander has been one of the best pitchers in the National League early on. He's allowed more than two earned runs in a start just twice this season but hasn't had a lot of run support. Peralta allowed three earned runs in five innings in a start against the Twins last season, but he's a much better pitcher in his second full season than he was at that time. The Brewers have seen plenty of Correia in his career, as he has 82 2/3 career innings against Milwaukee. Correia has a 4.57 career ERA against the Brewers, as a good portion of the current lineup has plenty of experience facing the veteran.
6. Give an "edge" at each position
MASON: Even though Joe Mauer is slumping for the Twins (.267 with two homers and 15 RBI), he's still a three-time batting champion and six-time All-Star. Lyle Overbay has held down the first base job for the Brewers, but he enters this series hitting just .211 with a pair of home runs and 11 RBI in 42 games.
GRUMAN: Mauer isn't hitting like he usually does, making this a closer matchup than one would think. Both teams are getting similar run production out of first base, as Reynolds has 12 home runs and 25 RBI. He'll play third base for most of this series with Aramis Ramirez likely to DH when he returns in Minnesota. That and the fact Mauer's historically better than what he's producing gives the Twins the edge.
Second base: Scooter Gennett/Rickie Weeks vs. Brian Dozier
MASON: Brian Dozier has been perhaps Minnesota's best and most consistent player this season. He leads the Twins with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases, and his 45 runs scored are tied for second-most in the majors. Scooter Gennett has been solid for Milwaukee and is batting .281 in 53 games, but his power numbers don't compare to what Dozier has produced.
GRUMAN: The second-base platoon has worked quite well for the Brewers, as both Gennett and Weeks are hitting the ball well. Gennett and Weeks have combined to hit .294 with five home runs and 25 RBI. Depending on whether Ramirez serves as the designated hitter in Minnesota, Weeks would be another option with the Twins throwing all right-handed pitchers this series. Dozier has 11 home runs and has driven in 27. He's only hitting .231 but gets on base at a .333 clip thanks to 32 walks.
Shortstop: Jean Segura vs. Eduardo Escobar
MASON: Minnesota played Pedro Florimon at shortstop for the first month of the season before demoting him to Triple-A Rochester. Since then, it's been a combination of Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana. While Escobar has been impressive offensively, Milwaukee's Jean Segura has the slight edge as he's started 51 games at shortstop.
GRUMAN: Segura is heating up after a slow start and is hitting .333 since moving to the leadoff spot nine games ago. The All-Star shortstop has played a big role in Milwaukee's offense taking off of late and is starting to hit like he did during the first half of 2013. The Twins finally stopped trotting Pedro Florimon out at shortstop. Escobar has hit well since being given the job, but his offensive track record isn't good.
Third base: Mark Reynolds/Aramis Ramirez vs. Trevor Plouffe
MASON: While Dozier has perhaps been the Twins' best player this year, Plouffe hasn't been far behind. He's played much better defensively than he has in years past, and his 34 RBI and 20 doubles lead the team (and the doubles are tops in the league). Mark Reynolds has taken over at third base for Milwaukee. Despite his 12 home runs, Reynolds is batting just .205 in 46 games.
GRUMAN: Reynolds will start at third base in Milwaukee and could shift over to first base for the two games in Minnesota if Ramirez returns Wednesday and wants to play the field in his first game back from the disabled list. Reynolds has given the Brewers just what was to be expected -- a low batting average with a lot of power. It's hard to know how Ramirez will be when he returns, making this hard to call. A healthy Ramirez would give the Brewers an unquestioned advantage at third base. Plouffe has a similar style to Reynolds at the plate -- a power bat who is prone to strikeout. He has not hit well in May and hasn't provided the pop Reynolds has.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy vs. Kurt Suzuki
MASON: This is another category that could go either way, as Minnesota's Kurt Suzuki and Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy have both been solid for their respective teams. Suzuki was signed this offseason and wasn't viewed as an offensive weapon, but he's hitting .297 with 28 RBI. However, Lucroy has been a tad better offensively for the Brewers, batting .317 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .850.
GRUMAN: Suzuki has had a nice start to his first season with the Twins, but Lucroy has emerged as one of the best catchers in baseball. Lucroy is hitting .317 and could be headed to his first All-Star appearance. While Lucroy has just two home runs -- he hit 18 last season -- Milwaukee's backstop is on pace to break the franchise record for doubles.
Left field: Khris Davis vs. Josh Willingham/Jason Kubel
MASON: Minnesota hasn't had much consistency in left field this season thanks to the early-season injury to Josh Willingham. Jason Kubel played 35 games in left but hasn't been able to hit over the last month. Meanwhile, Milwaukee's Khris Davis is slugging .485 with nine homers and 22 RBI in 51 games.
GRUMAN: The Twins haven't received much production out of left field, as Kubel is hitting .232 with no power and Willingham just returned from the disabled list. Davis started the season slow but has been red-hot at the plate of late, hitting .378 with five home runs in his last 12 games. Despite Davis not hitting well at first, the Brewers have gotten quite a bit more out of the position than the Twins have.
Center field: Carlos Gomez vs. Aaron Hicks
MASON: This might be the most obvious edge of any position. Aaron Hicks is struggling offensively (.190 with eight RBI in 43 games) for the Twins, while Carlos Gomez -- a former Twin -- has transformed himself into one of the best players in baseball. The free-swinging Gomez is batting .311 with 11 homers and 31 RBI in 51 games.
GRUMAN: Not many words are needed to explain this one. Gomez has been one of the best players in baseball while Hicks is again hitting under .200.
Right field: Ryan Braun vs. Oswaldo Arcia
MASON: Suspended last season for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Ryan Braun has returned to form so far this season for Milwaukee, as is evident by his .327 average and nine homers. Meanwhile, the Twins have used seven different players in right field this year, with Chris Colabello -- now in Triple-A Rochester -- getting the most starts at that spot.
GRUMAN: Arcia had a nice few games at the plate over the last week and is a tremendous talent. He's likely going to have a very good career, but Braun is the better player. Milwaukee's right fielder appears to be over a strained oblique and has been driving the ball all over the field.
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