State of the Twins, week 19: The climb continues; Twins lead Sox by three
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Sunday's 4-2 win by the Minnesota Twins over the Oakland A's will be a popular talker in the time leading up to Tuesday's series opener against the Chicago White Sox, as Kevin Slowey was taken out of a game in which he had not allowed a hit through seven innings.
This would have been baseball sacrilege in most cases, and fans let manager Ron Gardenhire hear it in the heat of the moment, booing him when reliever Jon Rauch took the mound in the eighth, and booing him when Rauch allowed a double to Cliff Pennington.
But Gardenhire's decision was correct, and his intentions were based on the long-term projections of his pitcher and his team.
"It's sad, because I'd be booing too," Gardenhire said. "I wanted to see a no-hitter myself, but I also know that I'm responsible for this young man's arm... We're going to protect him no matter what.
"You just can't risk a guy's career. I'm not going to do it."
Potentially lost on the excitement and emotion -- both negative and positive -- of Sunday's game is the fact that the Twins (68-50) just completed their fifth sweep of the year, moving a season-high 18 games over .500. They now lead the White Sox by three games in the American League Central.
And Slowey lives to pitch another day.
Here's how things stand through 19 weeks:
• C Joe Mauer: Remember when Mauer's batting average dipped to .295 on July 24? Well, after a 2-for-3 performance with two walks on Sunday, he's now hitting .516/.588/.750 with 11 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 17 games since his valley. All of the sudden, Mauer's .331 batting average ranks third in baseball.
• LHP Brian Duensing: With left-hander Jose Mijares going down with a torn meniscus, it made sense to wonder if Duensing would eventually move back to the bullpen, but he put those questions to bed with a three-hit, complete-game shutout of the A's on Saturday night. Sure, Duensing is probably the Twins' best left-handed bullpen option, but he's also the third or fourth-best starter in the rotation right now as well.
• Heck, the entire Twins pitching staff: Sure, there have been hiccups -- Glen Perkins' start in Chicago, for instance -- but since July 20 the Twins pitching staff has been very good, allowing only 60 earned runs in 206 innings over 23 games (2.62 ERA). Over that same stretch, Twins pitchers have struck out 153, walked 63, and allowed only 10 home runs.
Individually, Kevin Slowey has thrown at least seven innings in three straight starts. Prior to that, he had only done it three times in 20 starts. Francisco Liriano has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his last eight starts, and he currently leads the majors in Fielding Independent Pitching, thus meaning his 3.26 ERA is deceptively high. Pavano continues to be solid and consistent as well, allowing four earned runs or fewer in 21 of his 24 starts.
• OF Delmon Young: From May 21 to August 1, Young hit a ridiculous .375/.398/.604 with 10 home runs, 65 RBI and 23 doubles in just 256 plate appearances. If he would have continued that pace for a 162-game season (which is obviously unrealistic) he would have finished with 26 home runs, 168 RBIs and 60 doubles. The cooling-off period was bound to happen at some point, just by nature of the game. Since August 1, Young is hitting just .189/.204/.245 with three extra-base hits and three RBIs. He has also misplayed and/or come up empty on a handful of fly balls in the outfield over that stretch, most notably in the ninth inning at Tampa Bay on August 4.
• Kevin Slowey may have missed out on a no-hitter Sunday, but the Twins did throw a hidden no-hitter against the A's over the weekend. After Steve Tolleson singled with one out in the top of the third inning on Saturday night, the A's went 14 consecutive innings without a hit, including the 7 1/3 combined no-hit innings on Sunday between Slowey and Rauch (emphasis on Slowey).
• With LHP Jose Mijares going down with a torn meniscus, the Twins are temporarily left with two left-handed relievers -- Ron Mahay and Glen Perkins. Mahay has actually held left-handed batters to a .226/.246/.290 hitting line, which is very solid. Perkins, on the other hand, has not fared well against like-handed hitters. Lefties hit .327/.402/.455 off Perkins throughout his career, as opposed to righties, who hit.283/.320/.467.
• Thanks to HardballTalk's Aaron Gleeman for the assist on this one -- Mauer is now hitting .331/.404/.486 on the season, for a .890 OPS. His career mark is .327/.407/.484 for a .891 OPS.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Twins (68-50)
2. Chicago (65-53) 3 GB
3. Detroit (57-60) 10.5 GB
4. Kansas City (49-69) 19 GB
5. Cleveland (49-69) 19 GB
• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) has yet to make it through a day symptom-free since taking a knee to the head on July 7. The Twins have taken away all timetables and will allow Morneau to continue working out at whatever pace he feels comfortable. He could be out another week, he could be out much longer. Nobody knows.
• Mijares tore his meniscus in Chicago and will miss approximately four weeks following surgery.
• INF Nick Punto (hamstring) is expected to be activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday.
• RHP Nick Blackburn spent some time in the hospital this weekend, but for good reason; he and his wife Alicia celebrated the birth of their first child -- baby-girl, Payton.
• SS J.J. Hardy missed four games with a strained left wrist, but he is likely to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday.
• Slowey missed a start with soreness behind his pitching elbow, but that clearly wasn't a problem on Sunday.
• IF Matt Tolbert (finger) was activated from the disabled list on Sunday, and the Twins optioned him to Class-AAA Rochester.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: Off day
• Tuesday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Baker (10-9, 4.76) vs. LHP John Danks (12-8, 3.19).
• Wednesday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Liriano (11-7, 3.26) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (8-9, 3.70).
• Thursday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. Pavano (15-7, 3.27) vs. LHP Mark Buerhle (11-9, 4.05).
• Friday: vs. LA Angels, 7:10 p.m. Duensing (6-1, 2.00) vs. RHP Dan Haren (8-10, 4.34).
• Saturday: vs. LA Angels, 3:10 p.m. Slowey (11-5, 4.22) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (11-7, 2.87).
• Sunday: vs. LA Angels, 7:00 p.m. Baker vs. TBD
All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.