The Red Sox will return to Boston for a short 2-game homestand against the Twins in the midst of 10 road games. With a .615 winning percentage, the Twins have so far lived up to expectations this season, sitting atop the AL Central with a 2 game lead.
Nothing is likely to come easy for the Red Sox in this series, as they will be taking on a top offense and pitching staff, including the ace in Francisco Liriano. After struggling some with his control last year, Liriano has limited the free passes so far, and is seeing a great deal of success as a result. He gets ahead in counts early and often, throwing first pitch strikes in over 60% of all plate appearances, and forcing batters to swing at pitches outside of the zone as they get behind in the count. He shut down the Sox earlier this year, holding them scoreless for 7 innings.
Tonight, the Red Sox have a slightly easier task in Scott Baker, though the righty has no been nearly as bad as his ERA might suggest. A high BABIP (despite the positive defense) and low strand rate belie solid strikeout and walk rates. He dos allow a good few fly balls, though, which could hurt him in Fenway's small confines.
Despite the loss of Joe Nathan, the Twins' bullpen has produced. Jon Rauch has effectively filled in for the injured closer, while a team effort by Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, Ron Mahay, and Alex Burnett has filled in the middle innings nicely--albeit with a bit of fly ball luck that the homer hitting Red Sox might be able to take advantage of.
The Twins offense is lead by three very big bats in Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Jim Thome, with Thome's resurgent .393 wOBA being the lowest of the 3. The rest of the lineup is filled out by a bunch of guys having mostly down years, such as Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. As much as Mauer and Morneau might be expected to decline sometime soon as their BABIPs return to earth, it's just as likely the rest of the lineup picks it up.
The Sox do have the right guys on the mound, if there are right guys to be found in this rotation. Clay Buchholz, still sporting the lowest ERA of the rotation despite struggling in his last few starts. If Clay wants to see success against this very patient Twins lineup (2nd in BB%), he's going to have to locate his pitches, and get his off-speed pitches in and near the zone. Jon Lester, meanwhile, has found his form again, and despite giving up 4 walks and 4 runs last time out, is easilly the best option the Sox have at the moment. It should be a battle of the aces when he takes on Francisco Liriano on Thursday.