State of the Twins, Week 4: Hudson, Morneau keep on hitting
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Now Detroit, which has won five straight to pull within a half-game, comes to Target Field for a three-game set beginning Monday night as the Twins start a nine-game homestand.
Here's how things stand through four weeks:
* 2B Orlando Hudson and 1B Justin Morneau: C Joe Mauer is out indefinitely with a sore heel, but the hitters on either side of him continue to produce. Hudson homered in the first inning on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to nine games -- a span in which he's 17-for-44 (.386) and has scored nine runs. Since a 4-for-23 start in which he failed to draw a walk and struck out three times, Hudson is hitting .346 with 11 walks and 10 strikeouts. Morneau missed two games last week with a stiff back but has homered in four of the past six games he's played and narrowly missed two more on Sunday. His .349 average, .663 slugging percentage and .477 on-base percentage all rank first among the Twins' regulars.
* LHP Francisco Liriano: There's no question who has emerged as the Twins' ace. Liriano's 23-inning shutout streak ended Sunday in a gong-show first inning featuring a two-base throwing error and a balk. But he settled down from there, striking out nine over seven innings on a career-high 123 pitches (78 strikes) to earn a fourth consecutive win. Liriano's 1.50 earned-run average is by far the best among the Twins' starters -- RHP Carl Pavano ranks second at 3.73 -- and he's averaging a strikeout per inning. He's now thrown 235 pitches combined over his past two outings, so manager Ron Gardenhire might try to limit him Friday against Baltimore.
* Bases-loaded hitting: The numbers here should even out at some point, given the caliber of hitters in the Twins' lineup, but for now, their struggles continue to prove costly. 3B Nick Punto did deliver a two-run single on Sunday -- and that was the Twins' only bases-loaded hit in nine chances, dropping them to 7-for-43 (.163) on the season. They're also among baseball's worst in driving in runners who reach third base with less than two outs (42 percent entering Sunday) and stranded 16 runners on Sunday.
* RP Jesse Crain: About the only thing Crain has going for him at this point is his health. Since opening the season with three scoreless outings, Crain has allowed eight earned runs on 13 hits in nine innings. He's throwing strikes, with only three walks and 10 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. But he's also getting far fewer ground balls (27 percent, compared to 46.2 percent for his career), and that's contributing to his struggles. It's worth wondering how many chances he'd be getting if the bullpen weren't so thinned by injuries.
* Mauer's status is up in the air, with manager Ron Gardenhire suggesting on Sunday the MVP could miss a week or more if his heel doesn't improve. Top prospect Wilson Ramos went 4-for-5 in his major-league debut on Sunday and would become the every-day catcher if Mauer misses an extended period. C Jose Morales (right wrist surgery) has been DHing at extended spring training but is expected to get behind the plate for a full game as soon as Monday.
* Punto (hip flexor) was activated from the DL on Saturday.
* RP Pat Neshek was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in the middle finger on his right hand, which has bothered him much of the season. The move was retroactive to Thursday (April 29).
HOW THEY STAND
1. Twins (16-9)
2. Detroit (16-10)
3. Cleveland (10-14)
4. Chicago (10-15)
5. Kansas City (10-15)
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday: vs. Detroit, 7:10 p.m. Probable starters: RHP Scott Baker (2-2, 5.72 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (1-1, 4.23).
Tuesday: vs. Detroit, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-2, 3.73) vs. LHP Dontrelle Willis (1-1, 3.75).
Wednesday: vs. Detroit, 12:10 p.m. RHP Kevin Slowey (3-2, 3.77) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (2-2, 8.03).
Thursday: vs. Baltimore, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (1-1, 6.85) vs. RHP Brad Bergesen (1-2, 10.57).
Friday: vs. Baltimore, 7:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (4-0, 1.50) vs. RHP Kevin Milwood (0-3, 3.15).
Saturday: vs. Baltimore, 12:10 p.m. Baker vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (0-3, 4.70).
Sunday: vs. Baltimore, 1:10 p.m. Pavano vs. LHP Brian Matusz (2-1, 4.40).
* All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities