Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
The Twins have done exactly what they needed to do over the last couple of weeks -- knocking around weak teams during a soft spot in their schedule. Sweeps against the Mariners and Royals, three of four in Baltimore, eight in a row all told. The streak will be put to severe test starting tonight with four games at Tampa Bay, but the Twins are coming into the series with a both a winning streak and while playing solid baseball.
It's possible to do one without the other, which is what happens when a good team beats a weaker one while struggling significantly to do so. The Twins haven't been throwing the ball away and, with the exception of Denard Span's baserunning adventures between first and second base, the problems have been a few -- the nervous Guerrier/Mijares bullpen effort in Kansas City last Wednesday and Scott Baker's inability to cruise with the five run lead he was handed on Friday are the main ones that come to mind.
So this is really an appropriate time to step back and focus on the positive things that have been in play during the last few weeks. When Delmon Young started crushing the ball, his work amounted to carrying the team on his shoulders. But he has since been joined by others who have stepped up to share the load.
*Since the Night of the Bunt (TM), Joe Mauer has an OPS of 1.399 wrapped around offensive numbers of .484 average/.528 on-base percentage/.871 slugging percentage. There have been 12 RBI in the eight games that he's played while battling the shoulder soreness that led to Sunday's cortisone shot. He didn't look half-bad nailing Chone Figgins when he tried stealing second on Friday, either.
*Michael Cuddyer has again stepped up his game in Justin Morneau's absence, which is exactly what he did during the September 2009 rally. In those 21 games, his offensive numbers are .329/.400/.529
.341/.407/.549, with a 15-game hitting streak that just ended. 17-game hitting streak in progress. (Nice catch, commenter Petey.) That compares to .261/.327/.403 before Morneau got kicked. (Cuddyer's fill-in numbers in 2009 were .325/.398/.675.)
*Francisco Liriano isn't the franchise, but I think we should settle for mainstay. Some of us -- myself included -- were a bit harsh on him during his mid June-to-early July troubles that took the Twins out of a couple games in the early innings. But almost all pitchers go through some kind of tough phase, and there isn't a full-season measure I can find in which Liriano is lacking. Last three starts: 21 scoreless, 25 strikeouts, 18 runners, three victories. Favorite stats: Against 111 lefties, 37 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hit batsman.
*Alexi Casilla is playing like he wants to be the Twins second baseman in 2011 -- and like a man who knows that he gave away the position with lousy play in 2009 and doesn't want to repeat that mistake. If his assumption -- rightly or wrongly -- is that Orlando Hudson is on the one-year plan, that's a pretty good carrot for Casilla to be chasing.
*Danny Valencia is laying solid claim to third base with a small-sample size OPS+ of 154 and defense that's good enough to keep others (Nick Punto ... Cuddyer ... Brendan Harris ... Joe Crede ... Tony Batista) away from the position. Obviously, the offensive numbers will tumble at some point, but he showed the ability to hang in against all kinds of pitching. Whatever the reason for the Twins not to call him up last season -- when most people assumed it would happen -- Valencia has played like someone who never, ever wants to get slighted again.
*Jesse Crain hasn't given up an earned run since June 5. That's 19 appearances covering 18 2/3 innings in which opponents have a .250 on-base percentage against him. The most interesting number during that spell is the strikeout-per-inning ratio Crain's maintained, compared with a career statistic of 6 strikeouts per nine innings. The weirdest Crain stat is that in his rookie season (2005), Crain had only 25 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings. Figure that one.
*Matt Capps hasn't messed up yet. No, seriously, the value of the Capps trade is that it deepens the bullpen, which should allow Gardy to give quicker hooks to struggling starters. He currently has three reliable right-handers (Crain, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch) before getting to the closer and Jose Mijares as a left-handed option. I won't be surprised if another lefty gets through waivers at some point this month and joins the group in the role where Ron Mahay has struggled.
*Not writing anything about Carl Pavano because I don't want to have to repeat myself tomorrow.
*Not writing anything about Delmon because I've already said it so many times.
*Not writing about anyone else because this is already long and I'm sure other people have stuff to add.
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