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Updated: August 1st, 2010 5:37pm
State of the Twins, week 17: Feasting on the weak, as they should

State of the Twins, week 17: Feasting on the weak, as they should

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins are on fire right now.

Of course, they just finished playing the Orioles, Royals and Mariners -- three of the worst teams in baseball -- so a lengthy winning stretch isn't exactly shocking, but the eight-game streak is a season high. The Twins (59-46) also sit a season-high 13 games over .500.

"You have to go on some runs," manager Ron Gardenhire said after Sunday's 4-0 victory over Seattle. "We said after the All-Star break, go out there and grind it out, keep playing, and hopefully you get on these streaks. We keep talking about the starting pitchers. They're giving us a chance and that's why we're on this streak."

We'll see if the Twins can stay hot as they head to Tampa Bay for a four-game series against the Rays.

Here's how things stand through 17 weeks:

WHO'S HOT
LHP Francisco Liriano: Who needs Cliff Lee or Dan Haren? Liriano hasn't allowed a run since July 16 against the White Sox, a stretch that spans 21 innings. Over that period, Liriano has struck out 25 while allowing only four walks and 11 hits. Heading into Sunday, Liriano's 2.14 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) led the majors, and his 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth. It's not a stretch to call Liriano one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball this season.

Shorstop J.J. Hardy: Because he's hidden at the bottom of the lineup, it might be easy to overlook the fact that Hardy came into Sunday hitting .351/.377/.486 with seven extra-base hits in 78 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list on July 3. If we take away the 12-game stretch in late-May and early-June when Hardy tried to play through a wrist injury, he's hitting .293/.328/.437 in 186 plate appearances. That's a .764 OPS, which would rank Hardy fifth among MLB shortstops. Oh, and he plays amazing defense.

RHP Kevin Slowey: For all the talk about the Twins potentially (still) searching for starting pitching help via trade, the best option for improvement might be Slowey, who allowed only one run in two starts this past week. On Saturday night, Slowey pitched eight scoreless innings against the Mariners, striking out five and allowing only three baserunners.

3B Danny Valencia: Although he cooled off slightly at the end of the week, Valencia became just the 10th player since 1993 to tally three or more hits in four consecutive games, between July 24-27. Only three hitters have tallied more hits in a four-game span than Valencia (14) -- Johnny Damon in 2000 (15), Mike Benjamin in 1995 (15) and Brett Butler in 1995 (15). With Nick Punto on the disabled list nursing a pulled hamstring, Valencia will have a chance to be the everyday third baseman. Maybe for good.

INF Alexi Casilla: Since returning to the team on July 23 after a two-month absence (elbow surgery), Casilla is hitting .312/.333/.468, which provides a huge boost in the number two hole with Orlando Hudson temporarily sidelined.

C Joe Mauer: For those who freaked out over Mauer's slow start, fear not. Since the All-Star break, Mauer is 24-for-58 (.414) since the All-Star break, and he has raised his batting line from .293/.368/.424 to .313/.382/.468.

WHO'S NOT
RHP Scott Baker: As mentioned previously with Slowey, if Baker would simply pitch to the level he's capable of pitching at, the Twins probably wouldn't be kicking the tires on starting pitching help. But Baker labored his way through another underwhelming start on Friday night, allowing three earned runs and 11 baserunners in 5 1/3 innings, and he hasn't posted back-to-back quality starts since May 3 and May 8.

NUMBERS GAME
In 74 career plate appearances with the bases loaded -- including his bases-clearing double on Sunday -- Jason Kubel is hitting .410/.392/.852 with seven grand slams and six doubles.

TRADE DEADLINE FODDER
• The Twins acquired closer Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals on Thursday in exchange for top catching prospect Wilson Ramos. General manager Bill Smith said the Twins "really never replaced Joe Nathan" until trading for Capps, but he also praised the job Jon Rauch did. The Twins viewed Capps as the best bullpen arm available and thought he added more value to the team than a second-tier starting pitcher.

• The White Sox acquired starting pitcher Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks on Friday, and reportedly thought they could spin him to the Nationals for OF Adam Dunn, but those talks apparently hit a snag. As it stands, the White Sox -- who were also reportedly in discussions to land Lance Berkman and/or Manny Ramirez -- came up short in their quest to land a big bat.

HOW THEY STAND
1. Chicago (59-45)
3. Twins (59-46) 1 GB
2. Detroit (52-52) 7 GB
4. Kansas City (45-60) 14.5 GB
5. Cleveland (44-61) 15.5 GB

HEALTH REPORT
• Mauer received a cortisone shot on Saturday to help calm tendinitis in his right shoulder. He might be able to DH on Monday, but isn't likely to catch until at least Tuesday.
• Punto went down with a pulled hamstring on July 28 in Kansas City, and he was placed on the disabled list two days later.
• Hudson (oblique) is expected to take left-handed swings on Monday for the first time since landing on the disabled list on July 25. He will travel with the team to Tampa Bay, but isn't eligible to be activated until August 8.
• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) continues his daily, light workouts, and he has also begun swinging in the batting cage. Morneau is expected to take more extensive batting practice this week, but he will not travel with the team to Tampa Bay. A time table for his return is still unknown.
• IF Matt Tolbert (finger) was taking groundballs at second base before Saturday's game, but he still struggles to throw the ball long distances. Gardenhire mentioned sending Tolbert on a rehab assignment soon, but the utility man is still a ways away from being able to rejoin the 25-man roster.

THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: @ Tampa Bay, 6:10 p.m. Probable pitchers -- RHP Carl Pavano (13-6, 3.21 ERA) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (MLB debut).
• Tuesday: @ Tampa Bay, 6:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (4-1, 1.83) vs. RHP Jeff Niemann (9-3, 3.08).
• Wednesday: @ Tampa Bay, 6:10 p.m. Baker (9-9, 5.00) vs. LHP David Price (14-5, 2.90).
• Thursday: @ Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m. Slowey (10-5, 4.44) vs. RHP Wade Davis (9-9, 4.21).
• Friday: @ Cleveland, 6:05 p.m. Liriano (10-7, 3.18) vs. RHP Jeanmar Gomez (1-0, 0.00).
• Saturday: @ Cleveland, 6:05 p.m. Pavano vs. RHP Fausto Carmona (10-8, 3.92).
• Sunday: @ Cleveland, 12:05 p.m. Duensing vs. TBD

All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

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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