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Oakland A's at Minnesota Twins: Series preview

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The Athletics arrive in the Twin Cities to face a Minnesota squad fresh off a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. Here's a preview of what to expect from the Twins.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Oakland Athletics (11-15) visit Target Field in Minneapolis for a four-game set against a Minnesota Twins squad that followed their 1-6 start with a 12-6 run to take their record to 13-12. While .500 seems to be a magnificent accomplishment in the AL West, the Twins' record merely puts them in third place, trailing the Tigers by 3½ and the Royals by three.

The A's enter this contest in third place after taking two of three from the Texas Rangers over the weekend, trailing the Houston Astros by 7½ games and the Los Angeles Angels by ½ game. The Twins completed a four-game sweep over the Chicago White Sox.

Starting pitchers

The A's will not face Tommy Milone this week, whether it's from the rotation or the bullpen. Milone was moved into the bullpen on Thursday in anticipation of Ricky Nolasco returning to the rotation. On Saturday, Milone was optioned to Triple-A with Caleb Thielbar to make room for Nolasco and Brian Duensing. The A's will instead face four right-handed pitchers in a row.

Monday

Monday
Jesse Hahn vs. Phil Hughes
2.86 ERA 4.55
3.69 FIP 4.15
4.01 xFIP 3.51
12.6% K% 19.7%
2.47 GB/FB 0.74

The Twins will start Phil Hughes on Monday against Jesse Hahn. Hughes was Minnesota's opening day starter and continues to show he's generally a fly ball pitcher, his 0.74 GB/FB ratio is 5th least among 49 qualifying American League starters. The fly balls come from a five pitch repertoire that comes from a 92 mph fastball, cutter, sinker, occasional knuckle curve, and rarely thrown changeup, according to Brooks Baseball.

Against right-handed batters, Hughes this year is showing a strong bias favoring his fastball, throwing it 71% of the time as opposed to the 59% of the time he tosses it against left-handed batters.

Hughes almost exclusively uses his cutter as a two strike pitch this year. 67 of 78 cutters he's thrown have been with two strikes on the batter. Outside of two strikes, it seems like batters can generally sit on either a fastball or sinker. With two strikes, sit on the fastball or cutter, though he has mixed in the knuckle curve against right-handed batters.

Matt Goldman at Beyond the Box Score attributes his success in a 2014 when he produced 6.1 fWAR to moving out of the Yankee Stadium bandbox into the somewhat friendlier Target Field, and "ditch[ing] his offspeed pitches entirely, focusing on variations of his fastball."

Tuesday

Tuesday
Jesse Chavez vs. Trevor May
2.55 ERA 4.43
3.20 FIP 2.55
4.14 xFIP 3.56
24.3% K% 19.3%
0.77 GB/FB 1.00

Game Two features Trevor May against Jesse Chavez. May's 1.00 GB/FB ratio would be tied for 12th least out of 49 if he qualified for pitching awards. He does not because he was not in the rotation coming out of spring training, but was called up once Ricky Nolasco was placed on the disabled list with an elbow issue.

May's repertoire includes a 93 mph fastball, sinker, change, curve, and slider, according to Brooks Baseball, and batters have to be on the lookout for all of them. May has yet to throw a slider to a left-handed batter this year, and has only done it nine times in the 607 pitches he's thrown to left-handed batters recorded by Pitch F/X. That change he floats in at 85 mph is such a weapon, inducing a whiff 22% of the time this year and 21% since his 2014 debut.

Wednesday

Wednesday
Scott Kazmir vs. Kyle Gibson
1.62 ERA 3.56
3.23 FIP 4.82
3.27 xFIP 5.12
27.3% K% 7.6%
1.20 GB/FB 2.04

The third game puts Scott Kazmir up against Kyle Gibson. His 2.04 GB/FB ratio makes Gibson the most ground balliest starting pitcher of the series. It ranks 9th most among qualified American League starters, and his 7.6% K rate is about half his career norm of 13.0%. Gibson right now is your quintessential pitch-to-contact guy, throwing a 93 mph fastball, 92 mph two-seamer, slider, change, and rare curve. The two-seamer is his main pitch, he throws it about 44% of the time.

At Beyond the Box Score, Ryan Romano points out that not only does Gibson induce lots of ground balls, he's had the "rare, valuable talent" that many of the fly balls he does give up are infield fly balls.

Thursday

Thursday
Drew Pomeranz vs. Ricky Nolasco
4.61 ERA 10.13
3.87 FIP 3.89
3.64 xFIP 5.40
21.6% K% 15.0%
0.88 GB/FB 1.22

To close up the series, Ricky Nolasco pitches against Drew Pomeranz. Nolasco recently returned from the disabled list and has made only two starts so far. In the first, before beingp laced on the DL, he gave up six runs and failed to record an out in the fourth inning on the way to Minnesota's 0-11 loss to the Detroit Tigers. He fared somewhat better, but not great, in his return, giving up three runs in five innings to the Chicago White Sox, winning the game 5-3.

Nolasco is throwing a 91 mph fastball, slider, sinker, knuckle curve and splitter. Nolasco's out pitch is his slider, which has drawn a whiff 17% of the time since 2014.

At the plate and in the field

A's AL Ranks Twins
4th (5.04) RS/G 10th (4.20)
6th (107) wRC+ 12th (86)
8th (23) HR 14th (16)
4th (.266) AVG 5th (.256)
6th (.326) OBP 10th (.312)
7th (.407) SLG 12th (.363)
8th (.141) ISO 14th (.106)
7th (14) SB 14th (7)
7th (-3) DRS 7th (-3)

While the Twins aren't an offensive juggernaut, they do have a little bit of pop in the lineup. Trevor Plouffe leads their club with five home runs while Eduardo Nunez, acquired from the New York Yankees at the start of 2014, is off to a hot start in limited action (192 wRC+, .409/.458/.591) moving around between third base, left field, and the designated hitter's spot.

The Twins have given just 195 (21%) of 938 plate appearances to batters hitting below the Eric Sogard line (63 wRC+), those appearances belonging to Kenny Vargas (58 wRC+), Jordan Schafer (22), and Eduardo Escobar (21). Four players are performing better than average in creating runs on the scale: Nunez, Plouffe, Shane Robinson, and Joe Mauer represent 30% of the team's trips to the plate.

Bullpen

A's AL Ranks Twins
7th (81.0) IP 9th (80.2)
15th (4.89) ERA 6th (3.57)
11th (4.18) FIP 13th (4.23)
13th (4.29) xFIP 15th (4.71)

The Twins will be without relievers Casey Fien and Tim Stauffer, who were both placed on the disabled list at the end of April. Fien has a right shoulder strain and Stauffer has an intercostal strain, the same injury that affected Sean Doolittle late in 2014. Duensing himself is recently returned from an intercostal strain.

Closer Glen Perkins is 8-for-8 in save opportunities this year, having struck out nine and walked none, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of infinity. Last year's was 66-to-11 (6-to-1).

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA K% GB% FB% 3-May 2-May 1-May 30-Apr 29-Apr 28-Apr 27-Apr
Glen Perkins L 11.0 0.82 22.5% 36.7% 46.7% 10 17 10
Blaine Boyer R 12.2 3.55 11.5% 46.5% 25.6% 3 6 29
Michael Tonkin R 0.2 0.00 0.0% 0.0% 100.0% 7 1
Ryan Pressly R 2.2 0.00 37.5% 80.0% 20.0% 32
J.R. Graham R 7.2 2.35 13.2% 40.7% 40.7% 25 14
Brien Duensing L 4.2 5.79 5.0% 25.0% 56.3% 17 6
Aaron Thompson L 16.1 2.20 13.1% 38.3% 44.7% 28 10

The games

Seven games remain on the present three-city trip. They head to Seattle for a Friday-Sunday series.

Time (PT) Probable starters Television
Monday 5:10 PM Jesse Hahn vs. Phil Hughes CSN California
Tuesday 5:10 PM Jesse Chavez vs. Trevor May CSN California
Wednesday 5:10 PM Scott Kazmir vs. Kyle Gibson CSN California
Thursday 10:10 AM Drew Pomeranz vs. Ricky Nolasco MLB Network radio simulcast