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Updated: September 29th, 2010 12:20am
Mackey: Put down your sharp objects, the Twins will be fine

Mackey: Put down your sharp objects, the Twins will be fine

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

With a 10-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night the Minnesota Twins -- losers of a season-high five straight games -- proved that a hangover can indeed last one full week.

Since clinching the American League Central title one week ago on September 21, the Twins are 1-5, and in those five losses Twins pitchers have allowed 46 runs (9.14 ERA), 65 hits and 13 home runs allowed.

To make matters worse, the offense has been depleted by injuries.

This isn't exactly how the Twins envisioned building momentum toward the playoffs, which begin one week from Wednesday at Target Field (the Twins clinched home-field in the first round with a Rangers loss on Tuesday night).

After Monday night's 10-8 loss that saw Kevin Slowey allow six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, manager Ron Gardenhire's words were stern:

"We didn't pitch worth a crap. We haven't pitched worth a crap this whole trip. It's not acceptable.

"You can't lose the edge, and it starts with the pitching."

The Twins clearly didn't regain that edge on Tuesday night either, because Nick Blackburn suffered his worst beat-down since mid-June.

Five losses in a row. Two in a row to the lowly Royals.

Not good.

But let me provide the voice of reason here.

There is no reason to panic. Absolutely none.

From a health standpoint, since clinching the division last week, the Twins have played all but one game without Joe Mauer (knee), Jim Thome (back) and J.J. Hardy (knee). Over that stretch, Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, Drew Butera, Jose Morales and Alexi Casilla have seen regular at bats -- none of whom will see meaningful action in the postseason.

Hardy's knee is no longer swollen. He is expected to return before the end of the week.

Mauer has been taking batting practice all week, and he might be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday.

Thome has been cleared to take batting practice later this week. He has dealt with back issues for the last several years. This most recent flare-up is nothing out of the ordinary.

As for getting shellacked by the Tigers and the Royals, it's simply not that big of a deal. Coupled with the fact that these games are essentially meaningless (home-field advantage is on the line, but that doesn't always light a fire under players after a six-month grind), the majority of runs allowed over the past few games have been served up by pitchers who will play no role in October.

All 10 of the Royals' runs on Tuesday night were scored off Glen Perkins, who won't make the postseason roster, and Nick Blackburn, who won't start until Game 4, unless Scott Baker takes his place.

Meanwhile, closer Matt Capps came in and quietly struck out the side in the eighth inning.

On Monday night, the Royals scored 10 runs off Slowey (not likely to play a key role on the playoff roster), Jeff Manship (will not be on the postseason roster) and Randy Flores (ditto).

After the smoke cleared, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

Last Friday, Francisco Liriano left with a stomach illness -- an ailment that generally doesn't require Tommy John surgery. After he left, it was Manship and Alex Burnett (again, not likely to be on the postseason roster) who gave up eight earned runs.

Sure, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing were roughed up for a combined 12 earned runs against Detroit over the weekend, but in those games the Twins' primary bullpen bridge (Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Mijares, Guerrier and Crain) allowed only one earned run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out four.

The box scores look bad on the surface, and losing five consecutive games is not the ideal playoff tune-up

But does it really matter if Jeff Manship and Alex Burnett are giving up crooked numbers?

Baseball is meant to be judged over a large sample size. That's why teams play 162 games. The Twins, when healthy, have proven over the last six months that they are one of the best teams in baseball.

To think that one bad stretch of hangover-baseball should wipe away six months of equity is irresponsible.

If the Twins are still without Mauer, Hardy and Thome midway through this weekend's Target Field finale against Toronto, then feel free to hover over the panic button again.

Until then, don't worry. The Twins will be fine. They may not win the World Series, and they may even lose in the first round, but compared to what we've seen over the last week, they'll be fine.

Step away from the ledge.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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