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The three American League Central contenders all made trade-deadline deals Friday, but the Twins were the only one that didn't trade for pitching, and it's a good bet that Friday's moves by the Tigers and White Sox cost the Twins any chance they had to make the playoffs.
While Detroit acquired Jarrod Washburn from Seattle and Chicago traded for Jake Peavy from San Diego, the Twins improved their infield by getting shortstop Orlando Cabrera from Oakland. But they didn't do anything to help their rotation, even though they found out this past week that they lost maybe their best starting pitcher in Kevin Slowey.
Then you have concerns over Francisco Liriano, who was the first AL pitcher to reach 10 losses and missed his last start because of a sore forearm.
Then you have the problem that even if the rotation of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, Liriano and rookie Anthony Swarzak holds up, the Twins have concerns in the bullpen, and they showed up again Friday when the Angels scored six 11th-inning runs.
Washburn, 34, is 8-6 with an impressive 2.64 ERA in 20 starts this season, and the Twins tried to get him not only this year but last year as well; instead, he will be pitching for the first-place Tigers. The veteran lefthander is a free agent after the season, but the Twins might have been able to sign him to a contract because he is from nearby Webster, Wis.
Peavy, 28, is a different story. The 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner is injured, but he is expected to be available for the White Sox for the stretch drive in September. He has a no-trade clause and vetoed a trade to Chicago earlier this season. But now, the Twins will have to deal with him for years to come. He is signed through 2012, and the White Sox have an option for 2013, although the team would have to pay him a total of $70 million if it keeps him for all of the next four years. He is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA in 13 starts this year.
Starting pitching was supposed to carry the Twins, but on their recent 10-game road trip, the starters had a lot of problems. Even though the rotation improved in the first four games of the homestand, it has not been as strong as expected. Manager Ron Gardenhire said pitchers sent down to the minors in spring training were told they would be given a chance in the majors if they pitched well, but of all the recalled pitchers this year, only Swarzak and reliever Jose Mijares have been reliable, and Swarzak didn't look good Saturday.Inconsistency an issue
The Twins last year were able to stay in contention in part because they led the majors in batting with runners in scoring position at .305; they entered Saturday hitting .270 this year, seventh in the majors, and their average of .242 with two out and runners in scoring position was only 14th. Though the Twins already have surpassed last year's home run total with two months left in this season, they were on pace to score 788 runs, compared to the 829 runs they scored last year, fourth-best in the majors.
Helped by a 10-game winning streak in June, the 2008 Twins were able to reach as many as 20 games above .500 before falling off at the end of the year. This year's team has not managed a winning streak of more than four games and has only managed to get to three games above .500, even though the Twins have most of the same roster back.
But they remain in contention for the playoffs, and Gardenhire is optimistic that the Twins will stay in the race.
"This club is battling," he said. "We have been hovering around the .500 mark, and that's just because we are battling, we have had injuries and inconsistent performances. But when we get home in front of our fans, we seem to pick up the energy a little bit. We've got to figure out a way to do that consistently on the road."No focus on fumbles
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was asked what he focused on in the offseason. "Working on discipline, adding a couple of pounds and putting them in the right spot, my legs, my arms and upper body," he said. "I was able to do a good job. I worked on some minor things, I looked [at film] from last season, things I can correct and improve on."
Asked if he was putting extra effort into protecting the ball this year after having some fumbling issues in 2008, Peterson said: "No, I really haven't. In running back drills, you work on ball security. It really isn't something I worry about.
"Thinking about it too much really became my problem last year. I got caught up in it. It's not something I focus on. I've been doing this since I was 7. I know how to hang on to the ball."Jottings
Twins General Manager Bill Smith said he is comfortable with landing Cabrera instead of All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who was dealt from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. "Sanchez may be a better hitter than Cabrera, but we needed a shortstop, and Cabrera will prove to be a better all-around player," Smith said. ... On July 31, 2004, the Twins were part of a four-team trade that brought Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox, while the Cubs got Nomar Garciaparra and the Expos got a group of players from the Cubs that included Brendan Harris. Five years later, Cabrera is leaving the A's, the team he and Garciaparra signed with on the same day in March, and joining the Twins, essentially taking over at shortstop for Harris. The player the Twins received in that 2004 deal was Justin Jones, a lefthanded pitcher who never has made it to the majors and now is at Class AA Harrisburg, an affiliate of the Nationals.
The word in NBA circles is that Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis will be the next Timberwolves coach and Mychal Thompson, the former Gophers star and Lakers teammate of Rambis' who now is a radio broadcaster for the Lakers, has made a strong recommendation. "I talked to David [Kahn] personally and told him you have to go after a guy like Rambis who knows what it takes to win in this league," Thompson said. "He would take the job if it was offered to him. I know that. He would be a great teacher to guys like Al Jefferson and Kevin Love." ... Thompson's youngest son, 18-year-old Trayce, just signed with the White Sox after being drafted in the second round of the baseball draft. A 6-4, 200-pound outfielder, Trayce Thompson had committed to UCLA, but after getting a $625,000 bonus, he reported to Bristol of the rookie Appalachian League this past week. Thompson's other sons play college basketball: Mychel is a junior at Pepperdine and Klay is a sophomore at Washington State.
Eddie Bane, a first-round draft choice for the Twins in 1973 who was given a chance as a rookie to pitch before a sellout crowd at Met Stadium, is now the Angels scouting director.