Francisco Liriano, as discussed across the Twins blogsphere, desperately needs a catchy nickname, because that's just what the dominant pitchers have. The Rocket? Big Unit? The Big Train? Apparently, "The Franchise" is being floated around by Liriano's teammates, but I think way too many players have had that name. Regardless, it was absolutely great to watch this 22-year-old kid with amazing stuff go up against perhaps the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time in 43-year-old Roger Clemens and thoroughly dominate the competition.
Liriano's line: eight innings, four hits, seven strikouts, two earned runs, and two walks. Jason Lane's two-run dinger in the eighth as he tired was the only really blotch Liriano ran into. He, of course, had support from the ever-consistent young core of the Twins' offense.
Justin Morneau, despite Wednesday's 0-for-4 game against lefty Wandy Rodriguez, came back with authority last night. He went 3-for-3 with a solo shot in the sixth, a double off Clemens, a single, and a walk. His line now sits at .275/.331/.549, awfully impressive considering that there were loud rumors of banishment to Triple-A in late May. Since reaching a season-low .202 average on May 6th (and earning the nickname Justin Mendoza from this blog), Justin is hitting .320 with 12 HRs and 42 RBI in those 40 games. At this point, it's getting hard to really call this just a hot streak and it feels safer to say Justin is finally showing us what he is capable of doing. I think Justin can arrive at the end of year with a .265 average, 36 homers and 125 RBI. Those would be numbers to be proud of and I think right now, it's very possible.
Beyond the two obvious stars, it was nice to see Jason Kubel in number two spot. In yesterday's comments, I wrote that I couldn't figure out why Gardy keeps putting guys like Punto there when Kubel is much better suited for it. Lo and behold, there was Kubel for last night's game (Gardy also put Cuddyer in the cleanup spot a day after I suggested it, so he really must read this blog...). Kubel's response was a 2-for-5 night with a big RBI double off Clemens to get the scoring started.
But of course, even though I'm not huge on the other options and he got an RBI on the night, I couldn't figure out why Torii Hunter was in last night's lineup. I get it. He's the "face of the franchise" or whatever and he needs to play in front of his family. But after last night, Torii was 0-for-24 in his career against the Rocket, including the postseason, with way too many Ks to stomach. Why bother putting him out there? It's not like you can't pinch-hit him (and predictably get that same RBI single after Clemens is out..) and that Lew Ford may have had a chance against Clemens. With Clemens on the mound and Morneau getting on base plenty, it would have been nice to have some extra cushion with someone capable of hitting the guy in the sixth spot.
The bottom line, though, sadly is that the Twins just don't have enough bats and in some ways, Hunter has to play. Ford in the sixth spot? He's barely worth starting ever with his hitting woes. Terry Tiffee? The light-hitting utility guy who somehow is still around probably doesn't need to be anywhere near RBI situations. At this point, this run of success is lying squarely on the shoulders of Morneau, Mauer, Liriano, Santana, Nathan, Kubel, and reliable bullpen guys like Rincon. (Not Kyle Lohse, Gardy. Ever.)
Tonight, luckily for fans, promises another good matchup, though nothing near last night's. Mark Prior will be taking on Johan Santana. It's too bad Prior is so awful right now and can barely throw 90. Even though its nice we can take advantage of the lowly Cubs, I would love to see a Santana-Prior matchup when the guy could still bring it. I can hear the Steve Bartman hate mail resonating in my ears just about now...