Monday, June 19, 2006

Brooms for the Bucs

For the first time this year, the Twins swept an opponent on the road this weekend. Granted, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't exactly baseball's best team, but this is a Twins team that couldn't sweep the hapless Royals. The great part is that they did it with some authority and yesterday even without the bats of Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel. They also, most notably, finally got back to .500.

With 11 hits and eight runs all coming on two-out hits, the Twins offense looked a lot more impressive. Just as they did on Friday night, they initially didn't show a lot of life against starter Oliver Perez, who has struggled the last two years since a breakout 2004 season in which he went 12-10 with a 2.99 ERA and 239 strikeouts, second in the Majors that year to the Twins' own Johan Santana. But, just as they did against Ian Snell Friday, the Twins seemed to figure Perez out in the later innings, got a break (with an error by Perez), and got some clutch hits.

The breakout hit came from Justin Morneau again. Saturday night, after going hitless in his first three at-bats, he got a tie-breaking home run against lefty Damarso Marte. Yesterday, after going hitless in his first three at-bats, he came up with the bases loaded, worked the count, and drove a pitch to the opposite field for a bases-clearing double. Justin now has 56 RBI to go with 16 home runs, quite impressive considering its June 19. Morneau is starting to show that he can have good at-bats and consistently drive in runners. Those 56 RBI now trail leader David Ortiz by only three.

Johan Santana, of course, pitched another great game. He wasn't close to being as dominating as he was his last outing against the Red Sox, but he still managed to keep the Pirates at bay. In seven innings, he allowed only five hits and a run and struck out five. Most impressively, he didn't walk a batter. In his last four starts and 28 innings, he has walked only one and has 16 on the year. That puts him on pace for 38 walks and 260 strikeouts, an amazing 6.81 Ks/BB ratio. Keep in mind, the record was set at 9.58 by Curt Schilling in 2002.

Now with a 7-4 record, 109 K to lead the Majors, and a 2.87 ERA, Johan looks poised to make another great run at his second Cy Young and he should be a lock for the All-Star Game. That would have him returning to Pittsburgh in a few weeks with hopefully Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan. Of course, guys like Nathan may not have a chance with low save numbers, but he should be there.

Today is an off day and tomorrow the Twins start a series in Houston. Thursday's matchup of Francisco Liriano and Roger Clemens easily has to be one of the most exciting games of the year. Can't wait to see the New Kid take on one of the greatest pitchers ever.