State of the Twins, week 18: Offense mashing
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The offense looked sluggish for a few innings against Indians starter David Huff on Sunday, but a mammoth blast by Jim Thome sparked a five-run fifth inning, vaulting the Minnesota Twins to a 5-4 victory.
The win moves the Twins (63-49) a season-high 14 games over .500 heading into a three-game series against the first-place Chicago White Sox (63-48), where Glen Perkins could make his first start of the season.
Over the last 30 days, the Twins offense has flat-out mashed unlike any other team in baseball.
Since July 8, the Twins lead the majors in batting average (.316, which is 18 points higher than the second-place White Sox) and on-base percentage (.374 -- 27 points higher than the Cardinals), and they rank third in slugging percentage (.475). Over that same period, the Twins also lead the majors in runs (152), doubles (69), triples (7) and hits (301).
Here's how things stand through 18 weeks:
• OF Jason Kubel: So far in the month of August, Kubel is hitting .440/.481/.880 with three home runs, 10 RBI and five multi-hit games. Two months ago Sunday, Kubel was hitting just .225/.338/.367 with six home runs and 12 extra-base hits. Since that point, however, Kubel is hitting .307/.352/.526 with nine home runs and 22 extra-base hits, raising his season batting line to .269/.345/.452. Yet, Kubel has still sort of just blended in...
• RHP Kevin Slowey: It's unfortunate Slowey will miss his next scheduled start with soreness behind his pitching elbow, because it appeared as if he was beginning to find a groove. Slowey has strung together three straight solid starts, including a stretch where he threw 20 consecutive scoreless innings. Over those three starts, Slowey posted a 2.08 ERA with 16 strikeouts, two walks and only one home run allowed in 21 2/3 innings.
• INF Alexi Casilla: Much like with Slowey, Casilla's tweaked ankle comes at an inopportune time. The utility infielder tallied multiple hits in three consecutive games, and he was hitting .309/.350/.491 since taking over for the injured Orlando Hudson on July 23. When Casilla returns -- and the Twins are hopeful he won't miss more than a couple games -- he will go back to being a backup infielder, providing rest to Danny Valencia at third base, J.J. Hardy at shortstop, and Hudson at second.
• C Joe Mauer: He's back. It seems as if taking a break from catching duties has helped keep Mauer's bat fresh over the past couple weeks. Since the All-Star break, Mauer is hitting .425/.489/.650 with 14 extra-base hits and 24 RBI. Expect to see Drew Butera behind the plate once or twice per week to give Mauer adequate rest.
• OF Jason Repko: Hitting .314/.386/.608 since being called up from Class-AAA Rochester five weeks ago, Repko is bound to come back to earth at some point, but his productivity off the bench has been a welcome and much-needed surprise. Manager Ron Gardenhire will likely continue to use Repko as a late-inning defensive replacement, and as a spot starter for Span and others, specifically against left-handed pitching.
• OF Denard Span: Something seems just a bit off with Span these days. On top of his pesky pickoff problem (picked off eight times, which is the third-most in baseball), Span seems somewhat lost at the plate. His .269/.338/.357 batting line isn't embarrassingly bad or anything, but it's a far cry from the .305/.390/.422 line he posted between 2008-2009.
• RHP Matt Guerrier: In theory, the acquisition of Matt Capps was supposed to lengthen and strengthen the entire bullpen bridge, because Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares would all be interchangeable between the sixth and eighth innings. Of course, that theory flies out the window with how Guerrier has pitched lately, allowing 13 earned runs in his last 16 1/3 innings. Guerrier also gave up the walkoff home run to Matt Laporta in the bottom of the ninth at Cleveland on Friday night.
• Span's batting average on groundballs this season is only .217, which is low compared to his career average (.255) and the league average (.233). Considering Span hits more groundballs (57%) than all but five other players, we're talking about eight extra hits between a .217 average and a .255 average.
Those eight extra groundball hits would bring Span's batting average to .287 for the season. Of course, it's possible, if not highly likely, that Span simply isn't hitting as many hard groundballs. Or maybe he's just unlucky.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Chicago (63-48)
3. Twins (63-49) .5 GB
2. Detroit (54-57) 9 GB
4. Kansas City (47-63) 15.5 GB*
5. Cleveland (47-65) 16.5 GB
*Game still in progress at time of this post
• Slowey will miss his next scheduled start on Wednesday with soreness behind his pitching elbow. LHP Glen Perkins is likely to be called up from Class-AAA Rochester to fill in.
• Casilla tweaked his ankle sliding into home plate on Saturday night, but an MRI showed no serious damage. Casilla will miss at least a day or two.
• Morneau (concussion) is expected to take batting practice with the team in Chicago on Tuesday and Wednesday before possibly starting a rehab assignment on Thursday.
• Rauch battled blisters earlier in the week, but he has since returned to late-inning duty.
• INF Nick Punto remains on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.
• Hudson (oblique) returned from the disabled list on Sunday, going 1-for-3 with a game-tying two-RBI single.
• IF Matt Tolbert (finger) will begin a rehab assignment with the rookie league GCL Twins on Monday.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: Off day
• Tuesday: @ White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (9-9, 4.70) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia (10-4, 4.54).
• Wednesday: @ White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Perkins (4-9, 6.08 at Class-AAA Rochester) vs. LHP John Danks (11-8, 3.30).
• Thursday: @ White Sox, 7:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (10-7, 3.33) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (8-8, 3.49).
• Friday: vs. Oakland, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (14-7, 3.28) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.51).
• Saturday: vs. Oakland, 6:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (5-1, 2.27) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (11-4, 2.72).
• Sunday: vs. Oakland, 1:10 p.m. Baker vs. RHP Vin Mazzaro (6-3, 3.86)
All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.