There was nothing particularly astonishing about the two-game sweep that the Twins completed against the White Sox in a midweek series concluding yesterday at the Metrodome. The Twins did not dominate the games and they did not win either contest in a flashy manner. They didn't bust out of the prolonged offensive slump which has held them down all season. Instead, they got strong starting pitching, timely hitting, and lights-out performances from their bullpen. The result was a pair of wins that brings the Twins back within a game of .500. And I'm on record as saying that the longer the Twins can stick around .500 early in the season the better off they'll be, because -- at least in my mind -- this young team figures to get better as the year progresses.
Here are a few notes on the short series and on some other topics:
* In Tuesday night's game, the Twins got seven strong innings from Boof Bonser, and used a combination of Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes and Joe Nathan to get the last six outs in the game. Yesterday, starter Nick Blackburn delivered seven frames, and the same trio of relievers protected a one-run lead in the last two innings to seal the Twins' 13th victory of the season. I was glad to see Ron Gardenhire utilize these relievers in both games -- it was a short two-game series sandwiched by off-days, so there was no real concern with using any of the pitchers two games in a row, and these three have easily been the team's best arms out of the bullpen this season. Nathan is now 9-for-9 in save opportunities with a 0.82 ERA. Reyes has allowed just four hits and zero runs over 9 1/3 innings this season. And Neshek, after a rough start, has now recorded seven straight scoreless outings and has brought his once-inflated ERA down to 3.75.
* White Sox leadoff hitter Nick Swisher is hitting only .226 this season, but his .381 on-base percentage is 21 points higher than that of the Twins' leader in that category, Joe Mauer.
* After striking out three times in yesterday's game, Jason Kubel has now fanned 20 times this season while drawing just three walks. His horrendous plate discipline has been perplexing, as it seemed he had turned a corner in the second half last season. Whatever the case, here's hoping he can turn things around, because there is little question that his terrible K/BB ratio has been the chief contributor to his disappointing .237 batting average and .257 OBP.
* Here's a note that I know at least one reader of this blog will be delighted to see:
Twins right-hander Scott Baker threw a bullpen session Wednesday morning and felt no soreness in his strained groin muscle, keeping him in line to start Saturday's game against Detroit.
"He ran as hard as he could run, threw as hard as he could throw and he feels nothing," Gardenhire said. "So I can't argue with that. He's ready to go for Saturday and that's great news."
Aside from being a heart-throb in some circles (and looking like he's about 16), Baker is an extremely important piece of the Twins' rotation puzzle this season. If he can settle in and stay healthy from here on out, I fully expect him to post an ERA around 4 and become a leader on this staff.
* In a bit of not-so-good news, the line from Francisco Liriano's start for Rochester yesterday looked a lot like the types of lines he posted during his short stint with the Twins: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 K. Liriano threw only 51 of his 94 pitches for strikes.