Monday, June 16, 2008

Go Young

Twins 10, Brewers 2
Twins 9, Brewers 4 (12 innings)
Brewers 4, Twins 2

The road trip that began with a 4-game sweep in the unquenchable hell-fires of the South Side ended rather well this weekend with a series win vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. After being absolutely immolated by the Sox (12.12 ERA, 4.1 IP/start) to culminate a string of 11 games without a quality start, the starters have been quality in 5 of the last 6 games, including all three this weekend. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the pitcher who failed to deliver a quality start was none other than veteran "innings-eater" Livan Hernandez. Kevin Slowey (age 24), Glen Perkins (25) and Scott Baker (26) all did what Livan could not - they went at least 6 IP while keeping the team in the game.

Slowey was brilliant on Friday night, facing just one hitter over the minimum through 6 innings. 4 of the 5 hits he allowed were for extra bases, so eventually he gave up some runs, but he finished 8 IP with only 2 ER allowed. I hope this illustrates that Slowey is an actual Major League pitcher: in his last 7 starts, he's gone 5.2, 5.2, 6, 9, 6, 3 and 8 IP. Which game doesn't belong? Of the 8 starts in which he didn't get hurt, he's come within 1 IP or 1 ER of a quality start in 7 of them. His WHIP is at 1.14, tops among Twins starters with at least 8 starts. His K/BB ratio is 35/7. He's allowed 9 HR, most of them in his final inning of work, so he has an important adjustment to make in order to survive his 3rd trip through the order. But it's a relatively minor one for the International League's best pitcher of 2007. He'll be one of the steadiest members of this rotation for the remainder of 2008 and years to follow.

Perkins backed up his solid outing on Monday with another on Saturday. He got touched for 3 ER on 8 H (including a tremendous HR from Ryan Braun - but there's really no shame in that), but walked only one while striking out 6. I feel pretty comfortable for the most part when I see that he's going to start a game. He should get better as the year goes along.

Scott Baker looked solid in his two starts on the road trip. The 2-run HR by Mike Cameron spoiled his afternoon yesterday, but he tied his career high in Ks (4 in one inning!) and otherwise matched Perkins' line against a team that had been swinging the bats very well coming into the series. I'm even more confident when he's on the mound than Perkins.

Nick Blackburn, age 26, not seen in this series, is averaging 6.1 IP over the 13 starts in which he wasn't hit in the face with a line drive. I'm feeling pretty good about him, too, though he's the true rookie in the rotation. So it does not please me to see that he will skip his turn in order to rest some sore muscles. I was rather hoping they'd be skipping the old man, Livan, age 33 (or so). Though his former team, the Washington Nationals, are dead last in the Majors in runs and OPS, I don't know that Hernandez will be able to stop them. Please, Bill Smith, get him off the team soon!

The Nats aren't a great pitching team either, so hopefully the offense will be able to keep Livan in the game. I'm definitely looking forward to having the team back home, where they are above .500, and where Joe Mauer has an OPS about .200 points higher. Throw that in with the steady hitting of Justin Morneau and some occasional table-setting wonders from Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla and things could get interesting. It was great to see Delmon Young go 6 for 10 over the weekend, though he still needs to calm down a bit out there. Brain Buscher had a terrific re-introduction at 3B - I wonder if Lamb's job is in trouble?

The best part of the weekend for me, other than the pitching, was the performance of Jason Kubel. He went 5 for 13 with 1 walk, and 2 of his hits were HR, giving him 4 on the road trip. He looks fantastic at the plate, showing no inclination to chase bad pitches early in the count. Basically, he looks like the guy who was the Twins' best hitter during the second half of last season. Through the first half of June, he's hitting .325/.426/.700 with a 6/7 K/BB ratio. Yummy!

The Twins weren't playing particularly well when the road trip began, but the White Sox would have beaten just about anybody the way there were playing a week ago. Having weathered what will likely prove the most brutal stretch of games this year, the Twins are still in second place, just 4.5 games back. As the GM continues to trim the under- and non-performers from the roster, I feel good about where the Twins are right now. They have an excellent chance of being a better team in the second half.

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