Simply put, if the Twins or Braves are really going to seriously contend this season, both Liriano and Jurrjens are going to have to perform up to snuff. We'll begin with Liriano and the Twins since he's up first on Sunday in a 1:40 p.m. (ET) contest inside Tropicana Field against Joe Maddon's Rays who are playing .585 ball there since the start of the 2008 schedule (168-119).
Liriano struggled in 2011 to continue his on-off seasonal offerings. He was third behind Justin Verlander and Jonathan Papelbon for the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year award, missed all of '07 following surgery, made a brief but successful return in '08, stunk it up in '09, solid again in 2010 and a bit stinky last year.
Everything pointed to that continuing after Liriano enjoyed a very good spring – 7 starts, 33:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 2.33 ERA. But it didn't carry over, to put it mildly, with the southpaw sporting an ERA close to 12 after allowing five earned runs in each of his three starts to begin the regular season, lasting only into the third inning of the most recent outing at the Yankees. Minnesota has come out on top in just one of Liriano's last five starts vs. Tampa Bay, his lone game at The Trop in that span ending after just 12 outs and four Rays runs already across.
Niemann isn't off to a good beginning to 2012 himself; Tampa Bay has dropped both of the big righty's efforts, though Evan Longoria's hat trick in the 'E' column the last time out played a big part in that defeat. The Rays are a perfect 5-0 in Niemann's career assignments vs. Minnesota with his ERA under 3.00.
Dodgers Look To Continue Perfect Start In LA
Jurrjens not only has to end his struggles, he has to do it at Chavez Ravine where the Dodgers are 6-0 to begin the season.
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez keeps saying Jurrjens' troubles are not related to the knee injuries that have shortened each of his past two seasons and his place in the Braves rotation is secure. We'll see how long that remains the case with batters slugging .690 against the right-hander to go with nine walks against just eight strikeouts in his first 13+ innings.
The good news is Braves batters have come alive in each of Jurrjens' last two starts with 24 runs combined, and his lone assignment against LA a year ago was a fine outing at Dodger Stadium (6 IP, 1 ER), though Atlanta couldn't capitalize with the dubya.
The bad news is Braves hitters have not had much success recently when facing Capuano. The lefty beat Atlanta twice last season while pitching in a Mets jersey, including a 2-hit, 13-K shutout at Citi Field.
The Dodgers won three of the four games played in LA last season; Monday's first pitch is 10:10 p.m. (ET).
Meanwhile Down In Texas...
No rest for the weary as the Rangers come off a 9-game road trip to begin a series in Arlington against the New York Yankees on Monday. ESPN will have the first pitch a little after 7:00 p.m. (ET). Complicating the trip for Ron Washington's club was Friday's contest in Detroit being rained out, forcing the Rangers and Tigers to play two on Saturday.
New York will be jetting into the Lone Star State after Sunday night's matchup in Boston. Joe Girardi has yet to officially announce his Monday hurler, though it is Hiroki Kuroda's turn in the order. The former Dodger has sandwiched two poor outings around one very good effort to begin his Yankees career with a 1-2 record and 5.00 ERA. He's seen the Rangers just once before, a 2009 start in Arlington that didn't go too well -- 5-1/3 IP, 4 ER -- in a 6-0 defeat.
Derek Holland heads to the mound for Texas looking for his third consecutive victory. He limited the Red Sox to just four hits and two runs over the course of seven innings his last time out, but has not had much success in the regular season vs. the Yanks. Texas is 1-4 in his five starts against New York while Holland's ERA is a bloated 9.00.
Holland did grab a dubya out of the 'pen vs. the Yankees during the 2010 ALCS when he tossed 5-2/3 scoreless innings of relief in that series. Former Ranger Mark Teixeira has given the left-hander the most trouble, banging three homers among his seven career hits off Holland (15 AB).
New York won seven of the nine meetings between the two clubs a year ago, including two of three in Texas.