Opposite dugout: Struggling Twins return to D.C. for real

TwinsLogo.jpgManager: Paul Molitor (2nd season)

Record: 5-11

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: 1B Joe Mauer (.339/.472/.482 with 5 RBIs), 3B Tevor Plouffe (.302/.333/.535 with 6 RBIs), DH/1B Byung Ho Park (4 HR, 5 RBIs), RHP Ervin Santana (0-1, 3.15 ERA, 18 K)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (1-2 in 2013)

Pitching probables:

April 22: RHP Kyle Gibson vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 23: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 1:05 p.m., MASN
April 24: RHP Ervin Santana vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Twins:

The Twins had a rough start to the season, plain and simple. There's no real other way to describe an 0-9 start. It got to a point where I even saw a photoshopped Twins logo on Twitter with the middle three letters removed. But it's baseball and all streaks come to an end (yes, I'm still holding out hope for the Cubs, but that discussion is for another time).

The Twins have won five of their last seven entering their return to the Mid-Atlantic region. They went 0-1-1 in two exhibition games at Nats Park on the first weekend of April right before opening day. Then they opened the regular season up I-95 North at Camden Yards, where they were walked off on a rain-delayed opening day and lost a lead late in the finale to the Orioles. Win or lose, the Twins are getting used to playing one-run games: six of their games have been decided by a run, with Minnesota only winning two of them.

Enter closer Kevin Jepsen, who leads the staff with three loses already this season. The right-hander, who came to Minnesota at last year's trade deadline from Tampa Bay, has given up seven hits and four runs (three earned) in just 6 2/3 innings. He also already has a blown save to go with a hold and two saves. No lead is entirely safe in the later innings for the Twins.

A plus for the Twins so far has been the solid start of former All-Star Joe Mauer. After a few recent subpar seasons, the first baseman now ranks eighth in the American League batting .339. But here is where manager Paul Molitor will run into a problem this weekend: Korean designated hitter Byung Ho Park leads the team with four homers and has only played first base defensively in his first season in Major League Baseball (all teams in the KBO use the DH). Park did not play in Minnesota's first away interleague series in Milwaukee the past two days. It will be interesting to see how Molitor handles his two first basemen at Nats Park.

Otherwise offensively for the Twins, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who leads the team with six RBIs while batting .302, went on the disabled list on Wednesday with a right intercostal strain. Meanwhile, shortstop Eduardo Escobar is hitting .283, whille the rest of the lineup is struggling, with young outfielders Byron Buxton (.162) and Miguel Sano (.245) off to slow starts.

The Twins' three right-handed starters this weekend only have a combined 10 appearances (nine starts) against the Nationals, mostly thanks to Ervin Santana's season with the Braves in 2014. Kyle Gibson gets the ball in tonight's opener following his first solid outing of the season. After losing his first two starts, Gibson pitched seven innings of two-run ball against the Angels despite getting the no-decision in the Twins' win. Phil Hughes will make his third appearance (second start) against the Nats in tomorrow's matinee. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA over eight innings in those outings. And Santana brings his 1-3 record and 4.50 ERA against the Nationals to Sunday's finale. But he is just 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA at Nats Park.

Before the two-game exhibition series in the nation's capitol, the Twins and Nationals last played in the regular season in June 2013, when the first scheduled game was postponed, the Twins won the next day in 11 innings and the Nationals won the doubleheader the following day. The Twins are 6-7 against the Nationals since 2007, with the 2013 series being the only one in D.C. The two teams were both 8-12 in interleague play last year.

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