Braves vs. Twins: Battle for the bottom?

 

MINNEAPOLIS – The Braves are playing way up here in Minnesota for the first time since 2010, when they took two of three games in a June series in the Twins’ first season in their splendid ballpark, Target Field, an upgrade from the Metrodome even greater than the Mets’ move up from Shea to Citi Field.

Target Field, Minneapolis. (AP photo)

Target Field, Minneapolis. (AP photo)

Anyway, the wins in that went to Jonny Venters and Kris Medlen, the loss to Tim Hudson.

The Braves will try to extend a five-game winning streak against Minnesota – they swept three from them in a 2013 series in Atlanta – when they face the Twins in a two-game series tonight and Wednesday night, with Lucas Harrell facing a familiar face, Ervin Santana, in the series opener.

Mike Foltynewicz will go against Twins righty Tyler Duffey (5-7, 5.71 ERA) on Wednesday before we take this enterprise back to Atlanta.

At until a few weeks ago it looked like this series would be a battle for the bottom, so to speak, as the two teams have the worst records in the majors. But the Twins have been playing so much better lately that even a two-game sweep by the Braves (33-66) would leave them with two fewer wins than the Twins (37-61).

Minnesota is 12-7 with a .276 batting average, 24 homers and 116 runs in its past 19 games, the offensive uptick explaining how they’re five games over .500 despite a 4.05 ERA in that stretch.

While the Braves were being swept in a four-game series at Colorado, the Twins were splitting a four-game series at Boston through Sunday despite posting a 7.15 and allowing 31 runs. They won two games by scores of 2-1 and 11-9, and lost by scores of 13-2 and 8-7.

Speaking of the Braves getting swept again at Coors Field, they’re now mired in a five-game losing streak in which they’ve posted a 6.75 ERA and hit .241 while totaling 15 runs and three homers in arguably the best two hitters’ parks in the majos, at Cincinnati and Colorado.

The Braves are 24-37 under Brian Snitker, including 5-13 with a 5.08 ERA, .231 BA and 57 runs in their past 18 games. They’ve scored more than four runs twice in that period after scoring 8, 5 and 9 runs in their last three games before that 18-game stretch. Those three games were against the Marlins June 30-July 2, the last a 9-1 win in Harrell’s Braves debut and the worst start of Jose Fernandez’s career.

Which brings us back to tonight’s game and the Harrell matchup with former Brave Santana.

So, what has Mr. “Smell Baseball” been up to since leaving as a free agent after one season with the Braves? Santana signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the Twins after that 2014 season, then spent his first half-season with Minnesota serving an 80-game PED suspension. He went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 17 starts in the second half of that 2015 season, and he’s 3-8 with a 3.93 ERA in 18 starts this season.

Santana, 33, has been impressive lately. He is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past six starts, with 26 strikeouts, eight walks and two homers allowed in 40 innings. The Twins scored one or no runs while he was in the three games in which he got no decision in that span, and two runs while he was in the loss.

He’s made four home starts in that period and gone 2-1 with a  2.25 ERA and .173 opponents’ average in those games with one homer allowed in 28 innings. Santana is 2-5 with a 4.22 ERA in 10 home starts, and 1-3 with a 3.48 ERA in eight road starts. This despite having a .238 opponents’ average and .377 opponents’ slugging percentage at home compared to .301/.460 on the road.

Against Santana, Nick Markakis is 12-for-40 (.300) with three home runs and a .650 slugging percentage, A.J. Pierzynski (who began his career with the Twins) is 8-for-38 (.211) with two homers, Beckham is 5-for-26 (.192) with three homers, Jeff Francoeur is 2-for-15 and Freddie Freeman is 0-for-5.

This will be the fifth start of the season for Harrell, who’s 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA and .341 opponents’ average in his past two after going 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA and .156 OA in his first two. In his past two outings – at home vs. the Rockies and on the road at Cincy — he’s been charged with 14 hits, 11 runs (nine earned) and six walks with seven strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings.

The Braves scored nine runs while Harrell was in the game in his first start, a July 2 win against the Marlins and Fernandez. They’ve scored a total of four runs while he’s been in the game in his three starts since then.

I was thinking this afternoon how much incredible rock, folk and funk music has come out of Minnesota. I mean, four acts at or near the top of my all-time favorites list are from this state – Prince, Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Husker Du – and all but Dylan came from the Twin Cities.

Let’s close with this one from the mighty, ‘Mats, off their album Tim. God, they were great.

“LEFT OF THE DIAL” by The Replacements (Westerberg)

The Replacements

The Replacements

Read about your band in some local page
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name
Sweet Georgia breezes, safe, cool and warm
I headed up north, you headed north

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on
What side are you on?

Weary voice that’s laughin’, on the radio once
We sounded drunk, never made it on
Passin’ through and it’s late, the station started to fade
Picked another one up in the very next state

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on and…

Pretty girl keep growin’ up, playin’ make-up, wearin’ guitar
Growin’ old in a bar, ya grow old in a bar
Headed out to San Francisco, definitely not L.A.
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name

And if I don’t see ya, in a long, long while
I’ll try to find you
Left of the dial

 

 


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