A few weeks ago, fans were in desperation for the addition of a starting pitcher to Minnesota's struggling rotation. However, with the two most enticing pieces off the board now that Cliff Lee is in Texas and Dan Haren is in Anaheim, it's starting to appear as though the Twins might be better served holding off on the starting pitcher market as the deadline approaches.
Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both reminded us of what they're capable of over the weekend. Granted, it was against the lowly Orioles, but both hurlers snapped trends of poor road performance by dominating the Birds and picking up much-needed victories. Despite their poor overall numbers, Baker has a 3.77 xFIP and Slowey is at 4.56. Those figures would be perfectly acceptable for mid- to bottom-of-the-rotation starters, which is what both Baker and Slowey have become while Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano have clearly established themselves as the team's top starters. I see no reason why Baker and Slowey shouldn't be able to match -- or even exceed -- those xFIP numbers during the final two months of the season.
The only pitcher who very clearly needed to be replaced in the Twins' rotation was Nick Blackburn, and that's happened. Given his mediocre track record in the minors and his low strikeout rate, I have no illusions of Brian Duensing taking the world by storm and single-handedly turning around the fortunes of this rotation. However, it can't be ignored that Duensing has accumulated a 2.93 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 132 big-league innings -- including a 2.65 ERA in 10 starts -- and he looked outstanding while pitching five innings of one-run ball against the Orioles on Friday night.
Surely Duensing will hit his bumps and one can hardly expect that quality outings against the league's worst team will set both Baker and Slowey straight. But these three have all demonstrated in the past that they are very capable major-league pitchers and if they all pitch to their level of ability while Pavano and Liriano continue their fine work, the Twins can boast a perfectly competent rotation over the final months capable of carrying the club to October.
Relying on Baker and Slowey to get things ironed out may not strike people as an ideal situation considering how terribly inconsistent they've both been this season, but none of the available trade targets represent a surefire upgrade. Haren and Lee are gone, and I'm guessing that the Twins (perhaps wisely) are unwilling to do what it takes to acquire Roy Oswalt. While it's possible that someone like Ted Lilly or Brett Myers might be a superior option to Slowey or Duensing over the remainder of the season, to me the upgrade is not likely or substantial enough to merit the prospects and financial resources that would be required to make a deal.
Instead of focusing on starting pitching, Bill Smith and the Twins should shift their focus to other areas of growing concern. One is the bullpen. Duensing has been one of the team's best relievers all year long, so his removal from the 'pen creates a hole in the middle innings. The Twins might want to seek a mid-tier relief option (since front-line relievers like Scott Downs will likely prove too costly), although they could just as easily call up Kyle Waldrop since they have two lefties in the bullpen as is. There's also the matter of Jon Rauch, who owns a 7.11 ERA and 2.69 WHIP in seven July appearances, but if anyone is going to be replacing him in the closer spot I'd guess it would be Jesse Crain.
Bullpen issues aside, it's seeming more and more like the Twins might have to look at adding another bat within the next week, something that wouldn't have seemed like a possible consideration a few weeks ago. Justin Morneau remains out of the lineup indefinitely due to a concussion and now Orlando Hudson has joined him on the shelf due to a strained oblique. Given the ambiguous nature of both injuries, it's tough to gauge when either crucial contributor might return, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that both could be lost for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer is clearly banged up, as he has caught only two of the team's past five games and it's no coincidence that a third catcher was called up to join the roster yesterday.
With a number of key hitters going at less than 100 percent and two others out of the lineup completely, one has to wonder how the offense will hold up. Despite his heralded game-calling ability, Drew Butera severely weakens the Twins lineup every time he starts, and Alexi Casilla will most likely prove to be a liability in the No. 2 spot. Fans groaned when they saw Sunday's makeshift lineup, but we're likely to see more of where that came from in the coming weeks if these nagging injuries persist.
I'm not saying the Twins should go out and get Adam Dunn, but if they deem the injuries to Morneau and/or Hudson to be long-term concerns, they'd be wise to kick the tires on a few available hitters.