Friday Night Picks: Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays

The Minnesota Twins kick off the regular season north of the border against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre

Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays kick off the 2011 season by hosting the Minnesota Twins

Minnesota definitely has many reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2011 season and none are more important than the return of All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau to the lineup.  The Twins have been very cautious in bringing their star back from a concussion and he managed to hit just .152 in 10 spring training games.  “He’ll tell you that he’s getting closer,” said manager Ron Gardenhire.  “There’s been a couple times he really looked like he was on the ball.”  Another return from injury could prove even more important for this club, as closer Joe Nathan has made a healthy return from Tommy John surgery, but many experts found his fastball velocity to be down.  Minnesota is 79-86 on the road the past two years.

Twins starting pitcher Carl Pavano will be making his second career Opening Day start tonight and is looking to move past his first experience that came with the Yankees in 2007.  He lasted just 4 2/3 innings in that particular contest and made just one other start before being shut down for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  “It’s nice to get a chance to redeem yourself and get a chance to relive it and make good of that experience,” Pavano said.  The veteran right-hander is 3-5 with a 5.91 ERA in 12 career starts versus the Blue Jays, surrendering 15 home runs in 64 innings of work.

Toronto enters the season looking to recapture the power it showed during the 2010 campaign that allowed the club to win 10 more games than the previous season.  The Blue Jays relied heavily on the home run and the exploits of outfielder Jose Bautista, who hit a franchise record 54 long balls and signed a new multi-million dollar contract during the offseason.  “He’ll have down months,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos.  “But you’re buying into this for the long term and you have reason to believe he’s going to be great.”  The offense will need to be great in order to make waves in the American League East with a pitching staff touting four starters 26 years old or younger.  Toronto is 90-72 at home over the past two seasons.

Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero is coming off a solid 2010 season that saw him post a 14-9 record and 3.73 ERA in 32 starts.  The left-hander is a perfect 2-0 with a 2.78 ERA in three career starts versus the Twins, giving up just a single home run in 22.2 innings of work.  He was solid in 14 starts inside the Rogers Centre last year, compiling a 6-4 mark and 3.27 ERA, allowing hitters to hit just .221 against him in the process.

Bettors will be interested in backing the Blue Jays due to their 10-1 record versus right-handed starters, while the Twins are 1-5 in their last six games on turf.

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