Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez renew Dominican duel

Even with the backdrop of the World Cup, the planet's most beautiful game Thursday may occur amidst the international flair of the nooner set at Target Field.  For the series closer, arms Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez face off in a Dominican duel that serves as one of the season's most anticipated pitching matchups to date.

Born just three months and 120 miles apart, Liriano and Jimenez may be meeting in their first MLB showdown but the two are no strangers to battle. 

Readers may recall a late-April piece herein that lauded Liriano's stellar spring segue from a saucy winter in the Liga Dominicana de Béisbol (LIDOM), where the lefty led his Leones del Escogido club to their first league title since 1992.  Also noted in the piece was the Rockies' Jimenez, who at the time was 4-0, that mark that including his 4/17 no-hitter versus the Braves.  The week ensuing, both hurlers received April "Pitcher of the Month" nods in their respective leagues.  Yet while Liriano found some early-to-mid May lilt to his campaign before a sizzling turnaround in his last four starts, Jimenez has never taken his foot off the gas. 

A May "Pitcher of the Month" honor ensued and now, through 13 starts, Jimenez is tossing at a temp hotter than any Dominican summer.  At 12-1 with a razor-thin 1.16 ERA, Jimenez is off to the finest pitching start since 1920.  Should he continue his present pace over the course of the season, the Colorado righty would be the first pitcher to accrue 25+ wins since the A's Bob Welch (27) in 1990 and would sport the first

sub-1.50 ERA for a starter since Bob Gibson in 1968.

But that doesn't mean Liriano doesn't have his number.

In the four team, round-robin playoffs for LIDOM back in January, Liriano's "Lions of the Chosen" club faced off against Jimenez' Tigres de Licey bunch on six occasions, with the teams splitting at three wins apiece.  On two of those meets (January 2 and January 13), the starting pitchers were the same two fellas we'll see at Target Field on Thursday.  And Twins fans will hope past performance proves indicative of future result.

Liriano took down Jimenez in both of those postseason games, earning the Win in each affair with Jimenez absorbing the loss.  At the time (and throughout those LIDOM playoffs), Liriano was displaying the kind of dominance that we're now seeing via Jimenez in the '10 MLB campaign.  In the midst of what would ultimately prove a 40-inning scoreless streak, Liriano crafted a combined line in those two games of: 11 IP, 7 Hits, 1 BB, 13 K and 0 Earned Runs.  Per the pedestrian Jimenez: 10.2 IP, 9 Hits, 6 BB, 11 K, and 5 Earned Runs.

And just to further amp our chances of taking down baseball's best pitcher this season, it's also well-worthy of note that, for his career, Liriano owns a nasty 8-1 mark (with 2.47 ERA) all-time in Interleague play.  Despite his brilliant 2010 complimenting a lifetime line of 43-29, Jimenez' record in Interleague play stands at just 3-4, with an ERA of 4.24.

Target Field may be sporting fewer flags than Johannesburg, but you can bet your left arm that there will be no shortage of national pride riding that mound as two of baseball's hottest hurlers look to settle a winter score in the midst of a Minneapolis summer.

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