State of the Twins, week 16: Back on track, or just a mirage?
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Without Joe Mauer (rest), Denard Span (sick), Orlando Hudson (oblique), Justin Morneau (concussion) and J.J. Hardy (rest), the Minnesota Twins' B-squad lineup went crazy in a 10-4 win over the Orioles on Sunday, hammering out 19 hits and four home runs.
Over the four-game series -- in which they took three out of four -- the Twins tallied 50 hits against a floundering Orioles pitching staff. And that's precisely what the Twins should be doing during a stretch where they play four of the worst teams in baseball -- Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City and Seattle.
Most importantly, however, Kevin Slowey gritted his way through insufferable heat on Sunday to throw six solid innings, allowing only one earned run and six baserunners.
A case could be made that the Twins haven't played a lengthy stretch of solid baseball since May. Taking three out of four from the lowly Orioles is a good start, albeit not unexpected, and it's encouraging to see Slowey, Scott Baker and Brian Duensing string together solid starts at the bottom of the rotation.
Now let's see if the Twins can build off this momentum.
Here's how things stand through 16 weeks:
• LF Delmon Young: We try to mix it up from week-to-week in this space, but Young's continued hot streak is impossible to ignore. The home run he hit on Sunday ties a career high (13), and heading into Sunday Young was hitting .382/.402/.600 with seven home runs and 46 RBI since June 4, yet he still finds himself batting near the bottom of the order. Manager Ron Gardenhire would argue that Young feels comfortable hitting seventh, so why shuffle the deck? This scribe would argue that Young is among the hottest hitters in baseball, and moving him up to fourth or fifth will help the offense score more runs in the long-term. Oh, and per Aaron Gleeman, Young's .881 OPS is the highest mark for a Twins outfielder since Kirby Puckett in 1995 (.894).
• C Drew Butera: Is it possible for a catcher to have a defensive hot streak? If so, Butera might be the hottest catcher in baseball. After catching back-to-back scoreless games on Wednesday and Thursday, Butera guided Slowey to a potential job-saving performance on Sunday. Not to mention, he ripped a triple to the gap in right-center and later blooped an RBI single into left. With Butera behind the plate, Twins pitchers have posted a 3.67 ERA with 125 strikeouts and only 42 walks in 176 2/3 innings this season. The overall team ERA heading into Sunday was 4.07.
• Duensing: Taking over Nick Blackburn's spot in the starting rotation on Friday night, Duensing threw five innings and allowed only one earned run and four baserunners. He is scheduled to start again on Wednesday in Kansas City, and it's likely the left-hander will remain in the starting rotation until he sputters. Over the long haul, Duensing likely projects as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter, but for right now he is a welcome change of pace from the struggling Blackburn.
• 3B Danny Valencia: With three more hits on Sunday, Valencia is now hitting .350/.402/.400 since his call-up on June 3. And now that Orlando Hudson could miss time with an oblique injury, Valencia may find himself starting at third base on a regular basis. While it's nice to see Valencia hitting the ball hard, the next step is to add more power. He has yet to hit a home run at any level this season, but he does have three doubles in his last six starts.
• LHP Jose Mijares: Now that Duensing has temporarily moved to the starting rotation, Mijares' role as a left-handed reliever is magnified even more. However, Mijares has allowed a run in three of his last six appearances, and lefties are slugging .485 off him this season.
• Blackburn: In his first relief appearance since being removed from the starting rotation earlier in the week, Blackburn pitched a clean eighth inning on Sunday before allowing five hits and three earned runs in the ninth, bloating his ERA to 6.66 on the season. The demotion -- or is it an exorcism? -- likely came as no surprise to Blackburn, who has allowed at least four earned runs in eight of his nine starts since May (9.88 ERA).
As a staff, Twins pitchers throw more first-pitch strikes (62.4%) than any team in baseball.
Dan Haren was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Joe Saunders and three prospects. So cross him off the list.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Chicago (53-44)
3. Twins (53-46) 1 GB
2. Detroit (50-46) 2.5 GB*
4. Kansas City (42-56) 11.5 GB
5. Cleveland (41-57) 13 GB
* Game still in progress at time of this post
• Hudson (oblique) was placed on the disabled list Sunday, retroactive to July 23.
• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) remains sidelined with no timetable for a return. Morneau did not travel with the team to Baltimore, and he has not played since July 7, but he did work out in Minnesota on Friday.
• RP Clay Condrey (elbow) is scheduled to undergo Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment on his right elbow on Tuesday. Estimated recovery time is approximately three months.
• IF Matt Tolbert (finger) has yet to be sent on a rehab assignment, so he is unlikely to return before the end of the month.
• RP Joe Nathan (elbow) played catch for the first time this past week since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. Probable pitchers -- LHP Francisco Liriano (8-7, 3.54 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (6-9, 3.59).
• Tuesday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (12-6, 3.26) vs. LHP Bruce Chen (5-4, 4.38).
• Wednesday: @ Kansas City, 1:10 p.m. Duensing (3-1, 1.69) vs. RHP Brian Bannister (7-9, 5.73).
• Thursday: off day
• Friday: vs. Seattle, 7:10 p.m. Baker (8-9, 5.00) vs. RHP Doug Fister (3-6, 3.56).
• Saturday: vs. Seattle, 6:10 p.m. Slowey (9-5, 4.76) vs. RHP Felix Hernandez (7-6, 2.75).
• Sunday: vs. Seattle, 1:10 p.m. Liriano vs. LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-9, 6.27).
All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.