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Updated: July 4th, 2010 5:40pm
State of the Twins, Week 13: Despite recent struggles, 'we can make a run'

State of the Twins, Week 13: Despite recent struggles, 'we can make a run'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Sitting in his office hours before Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked for an assessment of the season through 81 games.

"I think it's been a good first half," Gardenhire said. "Our schedule's been a grind -- a rough schedule, tough schedule, especially the past month. We've played a lot of really good baseball teams, and we've had to battle a lot. We went through this stretch where our pitching got beat around a little bit, and we had to fight through that and not murder our bullpen, and a few injuries here and there have kind of slowed the process down.

"But the first half is basically one of those grind-it-out, get-to-All-Star break and have a chance and not bury yourselves (situations), and that's kind of what we've done."

One game past the season's midpoint, the Twins are 44-38 -- the lowest winning percentage (.537) of any division leader, but good enough to stay tied with Detroit atop the American League Central.

"You would like to get on a run and take off and leave people behind," Gardenhire said. "But our division looks like it's going to be one of those divisions where everybody's going to be battling each other, like it always is. Detroit's come on strong. Chicago's made one hell of a run."

The Twins have played extended stretches without catcher Joe Mauer (heel), second baseman Orlando Hudson (wrist), shortstop J.J. Hardy (wrist) and infielder Nick Punto (groin), among others. And that has Gardenhire speaking highly of the Twins' chances now that he finally has all hands on deck -- even though, after dropping three of four to Tampa Bay, they're just 13-18 since June 1.

"There's always going to be bumps in the road," Gardenhire said, "and hopefully, you can stay healthy for the second half, because this ballclub -- we can make a run. We can make a real good run. This team could be one of those teams that could run off quite a few wins in a row if we get really swinging like we can."

Here's where things stand through 13 weeks:

WHO'S HOT
DH Jim Thome: The Twins lose defense with Michael Cuddyer at third base, but Thome's bat is too hot to remove it from the batting order. During the seven-game homestand that ended on Sunday, Thome hit .400 (8-for-20) with four home runs, two doubles, a triple, eight runs scored and seven RBIs. That was in spite of 0-for-3 performances on consecutive days that confirmed Thome, who turns 40 next month, needs the rest Gardenhire will give him against left-handed pitchers.

1B Justin Morneau and C Joe Mauer: Continuing his MVP-caliber campaign, Morneau finished the homestand 9-for-26 (.346) with two home runs, three doubles and six RBIs. Mauer -- who hit an un-Mauer-like .271/.349/.396 in June -- got off to a better start to July, with five hits in 16 at-bats (.313) and two doubles against the Rays. The latter represents an extremely small sample size, but if the Twins' offense is to turn around, it has to start with one of their All-Star starters catching up with the other.

WHO'S NOT
Twins bullpen: The Rays series was a disaster for the Twins' relievers. On Thursday, closer Jon Rauch blew a save and RHP Matt Guerrier took the loss in the 10th. After holding a lead for two innings on Friday, the bullpen choked away a three-run lead in a seven-run eighth inning on Saturday, with Guerrier allowing a go-ahead grand slam. And then on Sunday, Gardenhire hesitated to yank Nick Blackburn with the bases loaded and Evan Longoria at the plate in the seventh -- Longoria ripped Blackburn's first pitch up the middle for a two-run single -- before LHP Brian Duensing came on and allowed a two-run double to pinch hitter Gabe Kapler. In all, Twins relievers made 18 appearances in the series for a total of 10 1/3 innings and gave up nine earned runs -- a 7.83 ERA that doesn't account for three inherited runners who scored, too. Gardenhire mentioned multiple times over the weekend he'd like to see Class-AAA standouts Anthony Slama and Kyle Waldrop get a shot against big-league hitters, but no move seems imminent. LHP Ron Mahay (6.58 ERA since May 15) and RHP Alex Burnett (12.46 ERA in his past eight appearances) probably are on the shakiest ground.

2B Orlando Hudson: The veteran singled in the third inning Sunday to snap an 0-for-14 skid. But he finished 1-for-4, grounded out with two runners in scoring position to end the seventh and, since returning from a wrist injury on June 18, is hitting .182 with three extra-base hits, a .247 on-base percentage and 14 strikeouts. With Gardenhire hoping to keep getting Danny Valencia time at third base against left-handers, it's worth wondering whether Punto might get the occasional start at second.

NUMBERS GAME
The series loss to Tampa Bay was only the third for the Twins at Target Field. The others were May 26 and 27 against the New York Yankees and June 11 to 13 against Atlanta -- both in three-game sets.

HOW THEY STAND
1. Twins (44-38) --
1. Detroit (44-38) --
3. Chicago (41-38)* 1.5 GB
4. Kansas City (36-45) 7.5 GB
5. Cleveland (32-49) 11.5 GB
* Entering Sunday night

HEALTH REPORT
• Hardy (wrist) returned from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday and went 2-for-4 in his first game back before an 0-for-4 showing on Sunday.

• Backup IF Matt Tolbert replaced Hardy on the 15-day DL because of a bone bruise in the middle finger on his throwing hand.

• RP Clay Condrey (elbow) pitched three scoreless innings on Friday for Class-A For Myers, allowing three hits and striking out one, and will continue his rehabilitation assignment at Class-AAA Rochester.

ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES
OF Delmon Young has a chance to be voted to the final spot on the AL All-Star roster.

Morneau said he intends to decline an invitation to participate in the home-run derby but hasn't made a final decision.

Class-A RHP Liam Hendriks, an Australia native, is off the World team for the Futures Game after undergoing an emergency appendectomy that will keep him out four to six weeks. Class-AA OF Ben Revere will represent the Twins on the U.S. team.

THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday: Off.
Tuesday: at Toronto, 6:07 p.m. Probable starters: RHP Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.30 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Litsch (0-3, 6.98).
Wednesday: at Toronto, 6:07 p.m. RHP Kevin Slowey (8-5, 4.57) vs. Marc Rzepczynski (LHP, season debut).
Thursday: at Toronto, 6:07 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (7-7, 4.72) vs. LHP Brett Cecil (7-5, 4.19).
Friday: at Detroit, 6:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.32) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (10-5, 3.85).
Saturday: at Detroit, 3:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (7-6, 6.00) vs. RHP Jeremy Bonderman (4-6, 4.81).
Sunday: at Detroit, 12:05 p.m. Pavano vs. LHP Andrew Oliver (0-2, 3.00).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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