Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins have been on one heck of a roll. They have won 12 of their last 15 games and have put themselves back into the race for the AL Central.

Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Record: 22-18, .550, 2.5 GB (AL Central)
Place: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Time & TV: Game 1: 7:05 pm (FSN); Game 2: 6:05 pm (WGN); Game 3: 1:05 pm (FSN)
2002 Record vs Sox: 11-8
2003 Record vs Sox: 1-2

The Twins have been unstoppable at the plate, bringing to this series a team batting average of .272, while the pitching staff holds the opposition to a .241 average. They are led by Jacque Jones and his .338 batting average, but he is nursing a quadricep injury, leaving him questionable. The bats have also been red-hot this last week with an average over .300, while the staff has a combined ERA of 4.03. Twins pitcher Kyle Lohse is the only starter with an ERA under 4.50. The bullpen has been near the top of the American League and the Majors with an ERA of 2.65.

WHO'S HOT (Last 7 days)
Todd Sears, 1B: .333, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .833 SLG
--A left-handed rookie with fewer than 20 games under his belt has exploded with a dynamite week, hitting two homers, including a walk-off homer against the AL Central leading Kansas City Royals.

WHO'S NOT (Last 7 days)
Torii Hunter, CF: .160, 4 hits in 25 at-bats, 2 CS, 2 GIDP
--Hunter has been underachieving this year, with an average struggling to stay over .200. This trend has continued as Hunter has been disappearing at the plate, and when he gets on base. However, he has managed to score three of the seven times he's been on base in the last seven days.

Game #1:
Mark Buehrle (2-6, 3.86, 25 K) vs. Brad Radke (4-3, 5.85, 27 K)
--Brad Radke has been up and down so far this year. While usually one of Minnesota's more dependable starters, he has given up 11 homers so far, with an equal number of walks. However, Radke has settled down as of late, winning his last three starts.

Game #2:
Jon Garland (2-3, 6.88, 18 K) vs. Joe Mays (3-3, 5.83, 23 K)
--Joe Mays has also had an up-and-down year, but was lights out against the Sox in his only start against them this year. He pitched seven strong innings, only giving up four hits, of which one was a homer.

Game #3:
Esteban Loaiza (7-1, 2.05, 45 K) vs. Kyle Lohse (3-3, 3.27, 40 K)
--Kyle Lohse has been the Twins ace so far this year. In his eight starts, he's held opponents to two or fewer earned runs six times. He also has the highest strikeout numbers of the Minnesota starters in this series. Opponents are only batting .219 off of Lohse.

#1 - Get an early lead. For the most part this year, when the Twins starters have been scored on early in the game, it leads to more runs the rest of the way. Plus, the Twins bullpen has been masterful so far this year.

#2 - Quiet the Twins' bats. If starter Mark Buehrle can get out of the first three innings of his start without any damage, the Sox should be in a good position to win. With Jacque Jones possibly out with an injury, it hinders Minnesota somewhat at the plate, so the Sox starters need to take advantage of this.

#3 - A steady bullpen. The Sox need to get quality work out of the bullpen like they did in the Baltimore series. Minnesota is hitting at a .328 clip in close and late situations, so scoreless relief from Gordon, Koch, White and company is important to keep the Twins from coming back when the game is on the line.

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