Tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium, the Twins will face their first true must-win game of the season. It doesn’t matter what the pundits said during the regular season; it doesn’t matter who wrote an alarmist column after a losing streak. In the regular season, there was always a next game for the Minnesota Twins. If they come up short in New York on Saturday night, the next game for the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club will be on April 1st, 2011, and that will surely be a different team, with certain moving parts shuffled out and new acquisitions inserted. This is not a “must-win” game in terms of some sort of abstract momentum or for team morale. No, this is about survival, about an entity that will cease to exist if the game is lost.
The Twins will send relatively unknown lefty Brian Duensing to the mound. Despite a lack of exposure, Duensing has had a solid season. In only 130 innings, Duensing picked up 1.7 WAR, mostly thanks to great control but also an ability to keep the ball on the ground. Duensing doesn’t strike out many batters – only 5.4 per nine innings – but he walks fewer than 2.5 per nine and his 53% ground ball rate keeps the ball in the yard. Duensing has a pretty basic repertoire, using a low-90s fastball, a slider, a changeup, and, sparingly, a curveball, and according to our pitch type values, they were all relatively successful, at or above league average. Particularly deadly was the slider, which came in at a whopping 14.3 runs above average for the whole season and +3.9 runs per 100 thrown. The raw total is 13th among all MLB pitchers; among starters, only Mark Buehrle tops Duensing’s per-pitch mark.
The slider is typically a powerful pitch against same handed hitters, and so, unsurprisingly, Duensing does exhibit a marked platoon split. Lefties have only a .231 wOBA against a .327 wOBA for righties. This comes in only 243 and 651 batters faced respectively, and so we should expect a platoon split somewhere between the league average of 20 points and the nearly 100 points observed so far. Still, Duensing’s reliance on a nasty slider does suggest that he may be a lefty killer, and the fact that his slider wouldn’t work as well against right handed batters would support a large platoon split.
With that kind of lineup, even though Duensing is talented, the Twins will have to score some runs. They finally will get a game against a right handed pitcher in Phil Hughes, which should help Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel. Of course, Hughes is a good pitcher himself, but the Twins lineup is designed to hit right handed pitchers, and at the New Yankees Stadium, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a home run or two from the Twins powerful lefties, particularly Thome.
The bullpen for Minnesota should be well rested. Nobody threw multiple innings on Thursday, and Brian Fuentes, who threw 1.2 IP on Wednesday, will have two full days of rest. Jon Rauch, Matt Capps, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and Fuentes – the key pieces of this Twins bullpen – should all be good to go tomorrow.