At the end of last week, things seemed pretty down for the Twins. After a brutal three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, things started out poorly against the Indians in Cleveland on Friday, when the Twins lost a close game 5-4. For starting pitcher Livan Hernandez, it wasn't exactly a case of bad luck, as he allowed 15 baserunners in eight innings, including 12 hits, four of which went for extra-bases. For the Twins hitters, until Justin Morneau's ninth-inning. two-run homer, swung with futility against lefty Cliff Lee, striking out 10 times and walking no times, managing only two runs against the Cy Young contender.
However, luck did turn around the last two games. The Twins greeted Fausto Carmona's return to the mound with a fervant onslaught, eviscerating Carmona's pitching for 9 runs in just 2 2/3 innings, with seven hits and three walks, including a Brian Buscher three-run blast to knock Carmona out of the game. In total, the Twins offense managed 15 hits and four walks Saturday night, the stars being Buscher, with his 3-for-5 night and five RBI, Delmon Young, who went 3-for-5 with two RBI, and Justin Morneau, who went 2-for-3 with a double, two walks, and two runs scored.
Yesterday, the Twins offense didn't blow anyone out of the water, but they did rally in a very encouraging way. With the game tied in the ninth and lefty closer Rafael Perez on the mound, Morneau, who came into the game 1-for-8 against Perez, belted a game-winning double to center. Jason Kubel followed up with his own RBI single off the lefty. Anytime the Twins lefties hitters are doing that well against a tough lefty pitcher, then you know that things are looking up for the team. Here are a few other notes on the weekend:
* Yesterday's game also featured plenty of good pitching. Nick Blackburn bounced back from a rough start against the Yankees that featured some ugly defense by getting the opposite play behind him. Blackburn went seven innings, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out three, lowering his ERA to 3.68. Of course, the two amazing catches by Denard Span certainly helped things. Span had quite the weekend in center field filling in for Carlos Gomez, who hurt himself Friday night making his own spectacular, athletic catch before hurting a disk in his back when he collided with the wall.
* Beyond the great starting pitching and the stellar defense of Span, one depressing statistic still lurks. Joe Nathan picked up his 28th save yesterday and with a scoreless inninig, dropped his ERA to a eye-popping 1.05. That goes along with a 0.91 WHIP and a 47/11 K/BB ratio in 42 2/3 innings. What is the problem? The continued underuse of Nathan, who has only three appearances in nine games since the return from the All-Star game. Nathan remains on pace for only 65 innings, so it is about time that Gardy starts to get slightly more flexible in his use, as Nathan could easily survive 70 or even a few more innings just fine, while increasing the Twins chances of winning in any close game.
* Lost in the 11-4 offensive shelling of Saturday night was good pitching from both Scott Baker and most of the Twins bullpen. Any improvement in the bullpen is good news for Twins fan, though its not all that meaningful that Brian Bass or Craig Breslow had solid scoreless innings in low-pressure situations. That is in fact the only places they have had much success this year. Baker, on the other hand, continues to show up as the Twins ace. Baker only pitched five innings Saturday, but he did manage to dominate many Indians hitters, striking out five. Overall, his numbers look impressive across the board, with a 3.38 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, a .242 BAA, and a 81/18 B/KK ratio in 96 innings. Easily, the B/KK ratio is the most impressive statistic for a young pitcher, as it bodes very well for his future.
Today, the Twins will start an important four-game series against the White Sox at the Metrodome, starting with a matchup of Kevin Slowey and Mark Buerhle tonight. Hopefully, the Twins bats keep up some success against lefties and that may well happen, since the Twins have hit Buerhle well this year, with 16 hits and two homers in 13 2/3 innings against him this year, giving him a 5.27 ERA against the Twins so far in 2008.