The Yankees completed their domination of the Twins yesterday, notching a 6-4 victory to complete a seven-game season sweep of the hometown nine. Most of the games played between these two teams have been close, so I don't know if I'm willing to buy into the notion that the Twins were cowering with fear, but it did seem clear over the span of these seven games that the Yankees were the better team and that the Twins have some clear weaknesses that any good team can exploit.
Somewhat surprisingly, one of those weaknesses was not the bullpen, and has not been for some time. If you take away Brian Duensing's dud performance in long relief during the first game of the series, Twins relievers allowed only one run in 11 1/3 innings this weekend. In general, the unit has been performing better than expected. So that's good.
What's not good is the state of the starting rotation. Francisco Liriano became the latest to be victimized by the Yankees yesterday, as he surrendered six runs (only three earned) over 5 1/3 innings before being forced out at 105 pitches. The Twins' rotation has been wildly inconsistent this year, and for the most part these starters have looked overmatched against quality lineups. Out of the five starters, only Nick Blackburn has really met or exceeded expectations (one could make an argument for Glen Perkins, but he's been hurt quite a bit). The rotation was expected by many to be this team's biggest strength and the one factor that would set them apart from their divisional rivals this season; instead, it has been a massive disappointment.
While the starters have struggled, it's not an area the Twins are likely to seek outside help as the deadline nears. The Twins are going to have to ride these guys down the stretch and hope that Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey can find some consistency and start stringing together quality starts. There's no star pitcher in the minors ready to step in and dominate, and looking for outside help would be costly and somewhat illogical.
One other glaring weakness that was on display this weekend can and should be addressed, though, and that's the No. 2 spot in this lineup. Brendan Harris went 1-for-8 in the spot on Friday and Saturday, and so yesterday Ron Gardenhire astonishingly elected to stick Matt Tolbert and his .183/.273/.230 hitting line in there. Tolbert unsurprisingly did not collect a hit in the spot.
Twins hitters in the two-hole not named Joe Mauer have hit .190/.235/.237 this season. That type of absolutely despicable production decreases the value of Denard Span's great on-base percentage and limits what the 3-5 hitters are able to do, and the fact that Gardenhire's answer to the issue is tossing Tolbert into the spot is incredibly frustrating. Something needs to be done.
Of course, moving Mauer back into the No. 2 spot would be a logical solution, but moving pieces around just creates more holes at the bottom of the lineup. Simply put, the Twins need to find a competent hitter to fill at least one of their middle infield positions. Whether that comes in the form of a prospect like Steve Tolleson or Luke Hughes, or in the form of an external acquisition, it needs to happen. This is becoming intolerable.
Now back at .500, the Twins will try to avoid limping into the All-Star break by putting something together this weekend against the White Sox.