Monday, July 03, 2006

The True All-Stars

After an "incident" at a game against Seattle a few weeks ago, the Twins office gave my family some pretty good tickets to the game yesterday. In fact, I was sitting right in front of the press box, as Jack Morris stood there watching. I'm sure his look of amazement was due to the same things I was seeing: an incredible pitcher. Francisco Liriano certainly outdid himself, striking out 12 in eight innings, with only three singles and a walk to go with them.

In the first inning, the fans were already given a treat. After hitting Rickie Weeks and giving up a single to Jeff Cirillo to start the game and a scary balk that allowed the runners to advance, Liriano proceeded to strike out Corey Hart and Carlos Lee before getting Prince Fielder on a ground out. That kind of pitching I've seen from only one other Twin and that's Johan Santana.

Jason Williams was of the opinion that Liriano wouldn't make it to the All-Star game. The travesty is that this actually happened. With only nine starts under his belt in 21 appearances this year, Liriano has notched 94 Ks in 81 innings. Thats good for 6th in the AL. That goes along with a 1.99 ERA, a .97 WHIP, a .203 BAA, and a 9-1 record.

According to Williams, "Liriano doesn't even have enough innings to qualify for the league leaders. It would be really easy to leave him out, especially as a rookie." To me, it would seem the opposite, since many heralded rookies fail when they make it to the show. (This year, see Chad Billingsley. In recent years, everyone from Dewon Brazelton to Adam Johnson.) Liriano's numbers this year are amazing regardless and using that excuse would be pitiful. Along with Johan and Joe Mauer, Liriano should have been a no-brainer for the All Star game.

The only Twins who would be on the cusp because of other circumstances are Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Morneau because there is no DH in this All-Star game, so he has to contend with stars like Hafner, Thome, and Ortiz; and Nathan, because his 14 "saves" will make him less valuable than Bobby Jenks or other favored Guillen players. Sorry, but Jenks' 2.41 ERA and 1.04 WHIP don't compare to Nathan's dazzling numbers, with a 1.93 ERA, a .79 WHIP, and a 47:4 K/BB ratio. Who cares about 11 more saves if you are effective?

The good news for the Twins fans here is that Liriano probably will still have a good chance to make catch on with the AL All Star roster. This is due to the so-called "31st man" ballot. ESPN's Keith Law and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal have already written about the ridiculousness of the choices. (Namely, no Nomar, no Liriano, no Giambi, no Hafner, no Oswalt, no Smoltz, no Mussina, no Schilling, no Verlander, yet the appearences of guys like Mark Buerhle, Freddy Sanchez, and *gulp* Mark Redman. As Rosenthal put it, "The Tigers, the team with the best record in the majors, had four fewer than the team they lead in the A.L. Central, the defending World Series champion White Sox.")

As for yesterday's game, it was another dazzling display of the pitching, as mentioned, and the continued offense. Justin Morneau with 2-for-4 and hit an absolute blast off lefty Zach Jackson for his 21st home run. He now has those 21 homers, 68 RBI, and a .572 slugging percentage. Simply awesome. Otherwise the scoring came on some hard hits, such as Cuddyer's RBI single in the first or Kubel's in the fifth, or bloopers, like Shannon Stewart's two-run double, or even errors, like Weeks' terrible on a Morneau grounder early in the game.

Regardless, the Twins bagged their 10th straight victory. We might as well be saying 11th though, because tonight Johan Santana takes on the pathetic Royals.