Saturday, July 24, 2010

6th Split: 7-9

Overall Record: 51-46
2nd in AL Central by 3 games

Other splits: 11-5, 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, 7-10

Another fairly disappointing stretch for the Twins. They continued to get inconsistent starting pitching, including 5 more terrible starts (more ER than IP) and a few others that were merely not very good. They only managed to win 4 of 8 games at Target Field, where they had been winning about 2 out of every 3 earlier in the year. Perhaps most disappointingly, they lost 2 series against divisional opponents, including a home series against the last place Indians.

One explanation is the loss of Justin Morneau to a concussion on July 7th. He missed 13 of the 16 games in this split, and obviously would have been a huge asset to have in the middle of the lineup, particularly during any of the 4 1-run losses that occurred after his injury. Still, the offense held up pretty well in his absence, scoring 4.6 R/G - a decent improvement over recent weeks. JJ Hardy is heating up, giving the Twins an extra threat from the bottom of the lineup to help offset the loss in the middle.

The starting pitching was the biggest reason for the poor recent performance. Every starter but Carl Pavano was terrible at least once. Nick Blackburn was bad enough to finally lose his spot in the rotation to Brian Duensing. Alex Burnett went into a nosedive, earning a demotion to Rochester in favor of Anthony Slama. But I'll hang the largest portion of the blame upon Kevin Slowey. Though he didn't factor in any decisions in this split, he had to be removed in the middle of an inning each time out. Baserunners he allowed in those partial innings came in to score, and the Twins wound up losing each of those 3 games by 1 run. If Slowey had been just a little bit better, had he been able to complete those innings harmlessly, the Twins might have had a couple more wins to show for themselves. What a difference one player can make.

At least the defense got back to catching the ball. They committed just 3 errors during this split, their best showing since May, and allowed 0 unearned runs, bringing their season totals in those categories to 34 and 16. Certainly, some of the trouble the pitching staff endured can be attributed to less than stellar defense (the inside-the-park HR in Toronto comes to mind). But so much of the run prevention problem is coming from poorly located pitches getting whacked all over the field, I have a hard time cracking down too much on the defense. And it's been a treat to have Hardy back in the field every day, consistently making tough plays in the hole and up the middle.

I'm hopeful that this split will turn out to be a transition between two larger periods: the Pre-All-Star Break collapse, and the correction to follow. The Twins are 5-3 over their last 8 games, and still have a week and a half against bottom feeders in which to bring their record back up where it belongs. With Blackburn no longer taking the ball every 5th day, the Twins should have enough pitching to keep themselves in the game even without making a splashy trade. But if they fail to produce during this coming stretch, they're really going to lengthen the odds of overtaking the White Sox, something I wouldn't have dreamed could have befallen this team a couple months ago.

Bold prediction: The Twins' starters will accumulate double-digit QS over the next 16 games.

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