Sometimes it's scary to think about where the Twins' offense would be without Justin Morneau. Yesterday, as the team toiled away unsuccessfully against Blue Jays starter A.J. Burnett, Morneau was the sole offensive star and he pretty much single-handedly willed the team to victory. I'd say those are the defining characteristics of an MVP.
Burnett, who possesses some devastating stuff, was baffling the Twins' hitters yesterday. The 30-year-old righthander allowed four runs (three earned) while pitching all eight innings in a loss against the Twins. He struck out eight and walked three. Burnett gave up just three hits, but two of them came off the bat of Morneau, who was also responsible for all the Twins' scoring in the game. In the third inning, Morneau came up with the bases loaded and hit a high chopper to the pitcher's mound. Even if Burnett had fielded the ball cleanly and made an accurate throw to first, Morneau probably would have beaten out the play and driven in a run. However, Burnett rushed his throw and it sailed over the first baseman's head, allowing Morneau to move to second and allowing another run to score. This gave the Twins a 2-1 lead. Morneau later extended that lead to 4-1 when he hit a towering two-run homer into the upper-deck in the sixth inning. That was it for the Twins' offense.
Fortunately, thanks to a great pitching performance from Carlos Silva, four runs would be plenty in this game. The Twins really needed Silva to step up and pitch deep into yesterday's game after Saturday night's 13-inning marathon had depleted most of the bullpen. Silva answered the call, pitching into the eighth inning while allowing just two runs. After he left the game to a standing ovation, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan came in to take care of the final five outs and the Twins got their victory. The series win was the Twins' first at home since their season-opening sweep of the Orioles.
The Twins seem to be coming out of their funk and are playing more like the team I expected them to be this season. The offense has gained some consistency (they've scored 4+ runs in each of their past nine games) and should only get better once Joe Mauer returns, which could take place this week. Meanwhile, the rotation is looking pretty good. Johan Santana has been dominant, Boof Bonser has been impressive, Scott Baker has looked good in his two starts, and Silva made a big statement with his much-needed outstanding performance yesterday. Of course, the major weakness remains Ramon Ortiz, but it sounds like he's headed for the bullpen. The Twins don't need the guy who comes up and replaces him (likely Kevin Slowey) to step in and start pitching like Liriano, but if that player is able to pitch relatively well, this could become a very strong rotation.
In my mind, there are two major things that the Twins need to start doing consistently in order to work their way into contention: win at home, and win against divisional opponents. They haven't been doing either of those things very well this year, but the Toronto series was a step in the right direction toward the first goal and they can take another big step toward both goals by winning their series against the White Sox which kicks off at the Metrodome this afternoon.