Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Notes

* The Metrodome should fill up nicely this weekend for what should be a terrific series between the Twins and Tigers. It should be interesting to see how these red-hot Twins play against another team that is actually playing well. As impressive as the Twins' play has been over the past month-plus, the competition has not exactly been top-notch. You probably know that the Twins' record since June 8 is 34-8, but what you might not realize is that the only teams with a record currently above .500 that the Twins have played during that span are the Red Sox and the White Sox. Now, the Twins did complete sweeps in both of those series, but they got Chicago during a major post-break slump. The Tigers have been nearly as hot as the Twins over the past 40 games, so it should be fun to see these two winning machines face off.

Fortunately, the pitching match-ups this weekend would seem to favor the Twins pretty nicely. Minnesota will be starting their three best pitchers while avoiding Detroit's rookie phenom Justin Verlander

Unfortunately, the Twins will not have a chance to face Kenny Rogers. In my mid-season breakdown of the Cy Young race back in June, I ranked Rogers pretty low, commending his performance over the first couple of months but noting, "with the knowledge of his tendency to collapse in the second half of the season, I'm holding my reservations about his ability to continue to pitch like he is now." Lo and behold, the American League All-Star team's starter has posted an obscene 9.37 ERA in four July starts, including an outing in Cleveland on Tuesday night where he was pummeled for seven runs without escaping the first inning.

* Carlos Silva surprised me by piecing together a decent outing in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, holding the White Sox to three runs over five innings before giving way to the automatic bullpen. Nevertheless, Silva looked shaky and continued to get the majority of his outs through the air rather than on the ground, a troubling trend which he has been unable to buck this season.

In order to keep up in the Wild Card race over the next two months, the Twins will need to solidify the back end of their rotation so they can occasionally win when someone other than the three-headed monster I like to call Liriantanke is starting. The answer just may come in the form of Matt Garza, a pitching prospect who I have raved about quite a bit on this blog over the course of the season. Garza, a 2005 draft pick who started the year in Single-A but has rocketed his way up to the highest level of the minor leagues, tossed a complete-game shutout Tuesday night against the Charlotte Knights, who happen to be the only team in the International League with a better record than Garza's own Rochester Red Wings. He allowed just three hits and two walks over nine scoreless frames while striking out eight. Garza posted a 1.42 ERA in eight starts in Single-A, a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts in Double-A, and now holds a 2.05 ERA in three Triple-A starts. During that entire span, he has amassed an incredible 142:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

It's always a bit of a risky move bringing a guy up too early, and Garza is just 22 years old and in his first full year of professional baseball. With that said, this kid has pitched so well that he just looks out of place in the minor leagues. It would probably be a mistake for the Twins to trade something of value for a veteran starting pitcher before the deadline when Garza could conceivably come up and pitch considerably better than Silva or Scott Baker have.

* This is fun to see. Three of the six players pictured on the league leader page on MLB.com are currently Twins. Joe Mauer leads the majors in batting average, while Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano top the lists for strikeouts and ERA, respectively.

* Barring injury, it's pretty clear that Justin Morneau is going to break the dreaded 30-HR curse for the Minnesota Twins this year, but a more interesting question is whether or not he will become the first Twin since Harmon Killebrew to smack out 40. In the months of June and July, Morneau has homered about once every 11 at-bats. He has averaged 89 at-bats per month so far this season. If he gets about that many ABs in both August and September and continues to homer at the aforementioned rate, he would finish the season with 43 home runs (and that's not counting the last few days of July).

* Even though they almost surely won't, it sure would be nice if the Twins could acquire a left-fielder by the trading deadline. For those who believe that Rondell White truly is the answer out there, please note that since his 4-hit outburst against Cleveland on Friday night, White has reverted to his old ways and gone 3-for-19 (.158) without an RBI.

* The Twins made news yesterday by extending the contract of backup catcher Mike Redmond. While the financial terms were not announced, the extension locks up Redmond through 2008 with a club option for 2009. The move is a little odd in that, while Redmond has been a solid player offensively and defensively in his two years as Mauer's backup, he is 35 years old and he'll be 37 by the time the club option comes up following the 2008 season. Then again, Redmond's ability to rip lefties complements Mauer very nicely and he is a positive clubhouse presence, which are probably the reasons Terry Ryan saw fit to lock him up. His age is a concern, but since he's never really been a regular player, Redmond has less wear-and-tear than many catchers in their mid-30s.

* One final thought to leave you with. If things continue at their current pace, the Twins could end the year with two 20-game winners, the major league batting champion, the American League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young award winners, the best bullpen in the majors, and a first baseman who could make a run at the AL MVP. Oh, and they're the second-youngest team in baseball.

Sometimes, it just feels good to be a Twins fan. Have a great weekend and enjoy the series.