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Updated: May 5th, 2011 12:20am
Mackey: Sweep of Sox is positive step, but imperfections still linger

Mackey: Sweep of Sox is positive step, but imperfections still linger

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- In Tuesday's matinee against the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins issued five free passes, plunked three batters, had two rogue base stealers thrown out at inopportune times, and saw a baserunner get picked off.

On top of that, Twins bats produced only three runs, marking the 28th time in 29 games they have scored five runs or fewer.

But ...

They won -- a 3-2 victory over left-hander John Danks that, combined with Tuesday night's improbable no-hitter by Francisco Liriano, gave the Twins a two-game sweep of their biggest rival.

That said, forget beating the White Sox -- an accomplishment that would usually have a considerably inflated level of importance if the Sox weren't currently the worst team in baseball.

The Twins just needed to beat anybody, short series or not, after the brutal showing against Tampa Bay and Kansas City last week.

"Maybe we're starting to get some stuff going our way," said Nick Blackburn, who held the Sox to one earned run over 6 2/3 innings on Wednesday. "There's been quite a few breaks that we haven't caught this first month of the season, so hopefully we start being on the good end of all those breaks and start limiting our mistakes and actually making positives out of other teams' mistakes."

As sweeps go, this one left some residue and dust on the floor. Even the no-hitter had several imperfections. You might say the bristles on the Twins' broom were frayed.

"I don't care," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "Whatever happens right now, (if) it works, it works."

"We didn't score a lot of runs, but I thought we were pretty decent out there. Just bad decisions. That's not, per se, misreading balls or anything like that. That's bad decisions."

An understandable stance taken by a skipper who has witnessed perhaps the worst stretch of baseball he has ever seen in his 10-year managerial career. A team with 11 wins in 29 games can't be too picky.

After all, the Twins entered this week's mini series ranked 29th in runs, 29th in on-base percentage, last in home runs, last in team ERA, and last in run differential. They simply haven't done a whole lot right through the first five weeks.

Even when the Twins have tallied victories they've looked sloppy, disjointed and meek, and they make mistakes that contending teams simply shouldn't make.

Take Wednesday, for example.

In a two-run game with two outs in the eighth, Michael Cuddyer laced a single off John Danks and was promptly picked off to end the inning.

With two outs in the fifth inning, Alexi Casilla ended the frame by getting picked off and tagged out at second base.

And in the seventh, with runners on first and second, two outs and Justin Morneau batting, Denard Span was gunned down while attempting to steal third base. Even if successful, Span's advancing to third base really does no good unless Danks throws a pitch to the backstop.

"I don't know what happened there," Garenhire said. "Justin Morneau at the plate, there's no reason to run. I'm looking for Morenau to hit a homer or a double, and (Span) just took off ... We have to be better than that. You can't give away outs with your three, four, five hitters coming up. You can't do that.

"Alexi, two balls no strikes, just takes off out of the blue. No reason. Span's at the plate, great eye, chance to go 3-0, maybe walk him and he's going to get in run scoring position anyway. That's silly stuff that you just can't afford, can't keep doing."

But again, the Twins won. And Gardenhire had the luxury of smoking a victory cigar -- figuratively -- while expressing his frustration on Wednesday.

"I just think right now it's magnified a little bit in my mind, because I want us to really get back to really being a solid, fundamental team," Gardenhire said. "When you're missing a lot of your middle-order guys, you really can't afford to make all those silly mistakes, as I've said a thousand times. We just can't afford to give away people out there right now, and because of that we're not scoring enough runs."

Not to mention the team's 0-for-18 skid with runners in scoring position that was finally snapped by godsend Jason Kubel on Wednesday. And the inconsistent defense that caused Gardenhire to shuffle his infield on Tuesday.

"Going into Boston I guarantee you can't afford to do that," Gardenhire said. "They'll kill you. They'll absolutely kill you."

Still, back-to-back wins, regardless of the mistakes, is all that matters for a Twins team in full scramble mode -- nine, and soon to be 10, players called up from Triple-A Rochester already, and key players Jim Thome, Delmon Young, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Kevin Slowey and Joe Mauer all sidelined with injuries.

"There's a little confidence out there," Gardenhire said. "Franky gave us a good effort, Blacky did, but we're getting some big hits and you can see the confidence start build a little bit again by getting those hits.

"You can't knock it down by not playing smart baseball. That's what we have to stay away from. We talk about it, hopefully we'll be better next time out."

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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