State of the Twins, week 14: Pavano helps Twins show pulse before break
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Sunday's win kept the Twins within three games of Detroit and 3 1/2 games of Chicago, who now leads the American League Central heading into the All-Star break.
With the Twins jumping out to a 31-20 record after the first two months, it was difficult to envision them tripping on the track and crashing into the hurdles like they have. The offense has been sporadic, the bullpen bridge shaky, and the pitching staff wildly inconsistent, and in many cases completely ineffective.
The problems are plentiful, but in some cases fixable. Manager Ron Gardenhire said on his weekly 1500 ESPN radio show Sunday that he foresees a roster change or two on the other side of the All-Star break. That could mean an appearance by Triple-A relievers Kyle Waldrop and/or Anthony Slama.
It does not appear that the roster change will involve Nick Blackburn, who, per MLB.com, sat down for a meeting with Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson after allowing four homers and seven earned runs on Saturday. Blackburn, who has been shelled more than any starting pitcher in baseball, will remain in the starting rotation.
On the bright side, the Twins come out of the break with an extremely favorable schedule. After four games with the White Sox -- and a chance to gain ground in the American League Central -- the Twins play three against the Indians (34-54), four against the Orioles (28-59), three against the Royals (39-49), and three against the Cliff Lee-less Mariners (35-52).
Here's where things stand through 14 weeks:
• OF/DH Jason Kubel: Since stumbling mightily out of the gate in April, Kubel has quietly become one of the Twins' hottest hitters over the last six weeks. Since May 27, Kubel is hitting .301/.342/.552 with eight home runs in 155 plate appearances (and that doesn't count his 2-for-4 performance on Sunday), raising his season line to .264/.345/.442.
• Pavano against Detroit: With the Twins pitching staff throwing mostly batting practice these days, Pavano stepped up and twirled a much-needed gem against the Tigers on Sunday. Sure, he gave up six earned runs against Toronto earlier in the road trip, but Pavano has been masterful all season, and he has generally owned the Tigers since the beginning of 2009. Pavano has faced Detroit eight times since April of last season, and with the exception of a seven-run clunker last September, he has allowed three earned runs or fewer while throwing at least seven in seven of those eight games (three of which came as a member of the Indians).
• C Joe Mauer: This is more of a "first half achievement" award for Mauer, who is having his worst offensive season since 2005. For a number three hitter who hit .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs in 2009, Mauer's 2010 numbers -- .293/.368/.424 with four home runs -- aren't getting the job done. Sure, he's dealing with a sore shoulder and likely some other undisclosed dings, but he is apparently healthy enough to play every day (or almost every day). To dig deeper, Mauer has seen dramatic drop-offs in isolated power (.222 in 2009 vs. .131 in 2010), home runs per fly ball (20% in 2009 vs. 5% in 2010), and even swinging percentage on pitches outside the strike zone (20% in 2009 vs. 23% in 2010). Target Field has certainly prevented Mauer from hitting as many home runs, but he must find a way to re-emerge in the second half of the season.
• Starting pitchers not named Pavano: Over the last 30 days, Pavano is the only Twins starting pitcher with an ERA south of 5.00. Scott Baker (5.04) and Francisco Liriano (5.45) have been inconsistent at best, but they look like Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum compared to Kevin Slowey (8.39) and Nick Blackburn (9.10), who have been bludgeoned repeatedly since the beginning of June. Since June 17, the Twins pitching staff as a whole (including relievers) has allowed at least five earned runs in 15 of 23 games, including six of the last eight.
The Twins are 19-39 when the offense scores fewer than six runs. When the offense does score six, the Twins are 27-3.
The Twins didn't land Cliff Lee.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Chicago (49-38)
2. Detroit (48-38) -- .5 GB
3. Twins (46-42) -- 3.5 GB
4. Kansas City (39-49) 10.5 GB
5. Cleveland (34-54) 15.5 GB
• Mauer sat out Sunday with a sore shoulder. According to the Star Tribune, Mauer has taken a series of foul tips off the same spot on his right shoulder.
• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) missed the entire Tigers series, and a Detroit team doctor recommended rest, which means he will also miss the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
• Baker has tendonitis in his pitching elbow and will be pushed to the back of the rotation next week after receiving a cortisone shot.
• IF Matt Tolbert remains on the 15-day DL with a bone bruise in the middle finger of his throwing hand. Tolbert is eligible to come off the DL on Thursday.
• RP Clay Condrey (elbow) was shut down yet again following another setback. He previously worked his way up from extended spring training to Class-AAA Rochester. The timetable for his return is currently unknown.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: Off.
• Tuesday: All-Star Game.
• Wednesday: Off.
• Thursday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Pitching match-ups TBD.
• Friday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Pitching match-ups TBD.
• Saturday: vs. White Sox, 6:10 p.m. Pitching match-ups TBD.
• Sunday: vs. White Sox, 1:10 p.m. Pitching match-ups TBD.