Friday, May 22, 2015

New Opportunities Await Twins In Chicago

The Minnesota Twins are set to kick off a three game series with the Southsiders over the weekend. With the White Sox welcoming the Twins into town, Minnesota is set to do battle with an AL Central opponent for the first time in just over a week. On the season, the Twins are 5-2 against Chicago, including a four game sweep. This time around however, a few key opportunities will present themselves.

As things stand currently, the Twins are 23-17 holding down the third spot in the AL Central. They are looking up at the Royals (3.0 games back) and the Tigers (2.0 games back). Both Chicago (4.0 games ahead) and Cleveland (6.0 games ahead) are trailing the Twins. Herein lies what may be the biggest opportunity the Twins have in the early going.

Often times over the course of the first few months of the season, the Twins record has quickly been followed by a statement questioning how long the success will last. Despite a relatively average pitching staff, and an offense getting a fair bit of luck to go their way, the Twins continue to get it done. Sustenance doesn't need to remain at the same clip all season, but taking advantage while momentum is there remains huge. This weekend in Chicago, the Twins need to do exactly that.

In the month of April, the Twins played to a .500 record while facing off against nearly all AL Central division opponents. Now with the White Sox looking to right the ship (6-4 in their last 10), Minnesota has a chance to stop the run. Ahead of the division rival by just four games, another sweep, or at worst a series win, would distance Minnesota further from the doldrums of the central. Putting games in between both themselves and the White Sox or Indians early, will prove beneficial as the season draws on and continues to take shape.

Despite wins remaining the ultimate goal, pitching will also take center stage over the weekend. With Phil Hughes taking the ball in game one, the Twins will be hoping he can get the roll going. After being below average in the beginning month during 2014, Hughes got hot as May rolled around. In 2015, he's struggled to get his dominance going, and doing so against Jeff Samardzija would be a great start.

Aside from Hughes however, it's the middle matchup that may provide the most intrigue. Trevor May has looked better in his second year in the big leagues. Despite the improvement, his recent run has seen some regression. Owning a 6.06 ERA across his past three starts, May will be looking to get back on track. It was on April 30 that May last faced the White Sox (also going against Chris Sale that day), and he led the Twins to victory. Minnesota got to Sale for eight earned runs, but May danced around 10 hits in 5.2 IP and gave up just two earned. Sale hasn't been the same pitcher in 2015 (4.36 ERA in seven starts), but the Twins will still have their work cut out for them.

Finally, the Twins can spoil one of their biggest rivals big days. Paul Konerko retired from Major League Baseball following the 2014 season, and is having his jersey retired on Saturday. If May can best Sale, and the Twins offense shows up again, Minnesota could claim the final blow against a player that so often tortured them.

There's no doubt that you can't win a pennant in May, but you're kidding yourself if you don't believe you can lose one. If the Twins want to further distance themselves from the questions as to how long the hot streak can last, it will be in handling series like this one against the White Sox that will provide the answers.