Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Luck of the Twins

The Twins have won their last three games and it's safe to say that two elements have been mainly involved: great pitching and luck. What's missing? Offense of course. Luck might come in the form of a Josh Barfield error or it might mean that the wind blows just hard enough for Jason Tyner to get his first ever home run. Last night's victory wasn't totally attributable to luck, but the song and dance didn't really change much besides the fact that for once in the past three days, the starter managed to get a win.

Scott Baker's performance was a natural highlight for the Twins. He displays in all facets the new and improved pitcher that we have seen for most of his recent starts. Granted, Kansas City isn't a great offense, but eight innings of two-hit ball with no walks and seven strikeouts is impressive against any team. Baker threw 71 of 99 pitches (71.7%) for strikes and subdued a Royals team that really hasn't been a bad team this year and in fact, has the best record amongst teams in the AL Central over the past month. I'm sure Terry Ryan is somewhere patting himself on the back for not trading Baker for Hank Blalock or some other rent-a-player over the last few years. Baker's record and ERA remain relatively unimpressed at 5-4 and 4.88, but the 59/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio is excellent and the 1.22 WHIP is a very impressive marker that suggests Baker has in fact been quite good and that his ERA has obscured that somewhat.

If you combine Baker's dazzling start with Matt Garza's impressive domination of the Indians on Sunday with yet another great Johan Santana start on Saturday, the starters have combined to go 21 innings, allowing just 11 hits and three runs while walking four and striking out an outstanding 30 hitters. These three pitchers could possibly lead the Twins rotation down the stretch could give the Twins a devastating rotation next year if Francisco Liriano can come back strong. Add in the hope that Boof Bonser will return to form and the future starts to look fairly bright.

Of course, luck tends to even out, so unless the Twins get jump-start their offense, their winning streak will likely be coming to and end soon. Jason Tyner had another good game last night, going 3-f0r-4 in the leadoff spot (replacing the departed Luis Castillo) with a double, a triple, and two runs scored, improving his batting line to a respectable .291/.333/.374. This, like the Twins' luck right now, simply will not last and it would be a mistake for Ron Gardenhire to keep him in the leadoff spot. Of course, it wouldn't be quite the sin as the one he made this weekend by putting Nick "The Black Hole" Punto in the second spot to produce outs and unsually spotty defense. Punto went 0-for-3 last night by fouling out, grounding into a double play, and striking out, leaving him with a horrific .211/.301/.275 line.

Naturally, Punto isn't the Twins only out machine. Rondell White is hitting .138/.219/.172 and is only adding to the idea that his bat can't hack it in the majors anymore, Jason Kubel continues to frustrate with his "two-good-games-ten-awful-games" approach to hitting, and Torii Hunter is regressing towards the mean in July. So how did the Twins win another close game that involved another ugly offensive performance last night? Not another Tyner home run, right?

No, but he did come awful close with a hit off the baggie. Instead, the Twins got great pitching from Baker and closer Joe Nathan along with Joe Mauer having a 2-for-4 night with 3 RBI, with MVP Justin Morneau sitting right behind him with a 2-for-3 night with a walk. This kind of run won't be maintainable unless the Twins offense can find a way to replace the out machines Gardenhire continues to run out there. Of course, an addition before three o'clock this afternoon wouldn't hurt.