State of the Twins, week 26: Ramping up for the playoffs
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The team that lost 5-1 to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday wasn't exactly the same team the Minnesota Twins will throw at either the Rays or Yankees when the American League Division Series begins in a little more than a week.
At least, they hope.
The Twins' trainers room is busy these days. Joe Mauer is sidelined with a sore knee, Jason Kubel battled a sore wrist last week, J.J. Hardy now has a swollen knee, Denard Span has a bum shoulder and a sore foot, and Jim Thome hasn't played in nearly a week because of back troubles.
It's a good thing the Twins -- losers of three in a row and five of nine -- clinched the American League Central last Tuesday night.
They now have one more week to rest up and prepare for the playoffs.
Here's how things stand through 26 weeks:
• 3B Danny Valencia's bat: On Saturday night in Detroit, Valencia blasted two home runs in a game for the first time in his major league career. He now has seven home runs in 291 plate appearances with the Twins, which sounds somewhat modest, except for the fact that he hit zero in 202 Triple-A plate appearances earlier in the year. Five of those home runs have come since September 12, and despite an 0-for-3 performance on Sunday, Valencia is hitting .324/.364/.471 on the season.
With Austin Jackson (.298/.350/.407, 101 runs, 26 steals) and Neftali Feliz (2.85 ERA, 38 saves) leading the charge, it will be difficult for Valencia to win American League Rookie of the Year, but solidifying himself as the Twins' starting third baseman for 2011 is a nice consolation prize.
• OF Denard Span: In 8 games since September 14, Span is hitting .378/.395/.514 with nine RBIs. He also finished Saturday night's game with a .271 batting average -- the first time his average has risen above .270 since August. Considering he hit .305/.390/.422 in 1,087 plate appearances over his first two seasons, a WHAT season line this year is fairly disappointing, but in fairness, Span has battled through shoulder troubles since early June.
• LHP Brian Duensing: A speed bump was bound to pop up at some point, and that's not a slight to Duensing, who has been phenomenal for the Twins all season. But over his past two starts, Duensing has issued eight walks in 12 2/3 innings, which is more free passes than he issued in his previous eight starts combined. Over that stretch, Duensing has also allowed eight earned runs (5.68 ERA) and 13 hits.
After gritting his way through six innings last Monday, Duensing said, "It's disappointing, because usually you think when you feel good, your stuff's going to be good. The better I feel, the worse it gets. So I think I'm better off feeling terrible, and knowing I'm going to have to battle and focus, as opposed to feel like I have good stuff and kind of losing focus."
Duensing is still slated to be the Twins' Game 3 starter in the ALDS, deservedly so.
• OF Jason Kubel: Yes, he hit his 20th home run of the season on Saturday night, but over the last three weeks Kubel is hitting just .161/.175/.304 with 14 strikeouts and just one walk in 57 plate appearances.
• Twins pitchers have issued more than 100 fewer walks (386) than all but three teams (Phillies - 389, Mariners - 427, Cardinals - 446).
It should also come as no surprise that Twins pitchers throw more first-pitch strikes (62%) than any other team.
• With a come-from-behind victory over Cleveland and a loss by the White Sox in Oakland on Tuesday night last week, the Twins clinched their sixth American League Central title since 2002 under manager Ron Gardenhire.
PLAYOFF ROTATION SET
• Manager Ron Gardenhire revealed his rotation for the ALDS last week. Francisco Liriano will start Game 1, and he will be followed by Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and if necessary, Nick Blackburn.
Regarding any possible changes to that rotation in the week leading up to the playoffs, Gardenhire said, "If a guy goes out and gets whacked a couple times in a row, it might make you think twice about it. But I look for guys to step up and keep doing what they're doing."
HOW THEY STAND
AL best record
1. Rays (93-62)
2. Yankees (92-63) 1 GB *
3. Twins (92-63) 1 GB
4. Rangers (87-68) 6 GB
* Game still in progress at time of this post
• An MRI on Span's sore right shoulder revealed no significant damage. He initially injured the shoulder while diving in Oakland in early June. Span also has a sore right foot.
• Mauer remains sidelined with a sore left knee. An MRI revealed some tissue inflammation, but nothing serious. He's expected to return sometime during the Kansas City series, or if the Twins decide to play it conservative, sometime during the Toronto series.
• 1B Justin Morneau celebrated the birth of his first child earlier in the week, but his status for a return to the baseball field remains uncertain. Gardenhire said, "I don't see how (a return) can possibly happen for him."
• Hardy has a swollen left knee. He's considered day-to-day.
• Thome has been sidelined since Tuesday with back soreness.
• Liriano left Friday night's game in the fourth inning with a stomach ailment. He's expected to be fine. Alexi Casilla left in the same inning with a similar ailment.
• Kubel missed nearly a week with a sore wrist, but he is back in the lineup.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Kevin Slowey (13-6, 4.18) vs. RHP Kyle Davies (8-11, 5.05).
• Tuesday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. Blackburn (10-10, 5.23) vs. RHP Sean O'Sullivan (3-6, 6.28).
• Wednesday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (12-9, 4.52) vs. RHP Luke Hochevar (6-6, 4.92).
• Thursday: vs. Toronto, 7:10 p.m. Liriano (14-9, 3.48) vs. LHP Brett Cecil (14-7, 4.20).
• Friday: vs. Toronto, 7:10 p.m. Pavano (17-11, 3.83) vs. LHP Ricky Romero (13-9, 3.79).
• Saturday: vs. Toronto, 1:10 p.m. Duensing (10-3, 2.44) vs. RHP Shaun Marcum (12-8, 3.77).
• Sunday: vs. Toronto, 2:10 p.m. Blackburn vs. LHP Marc Rzepczynski (2-4, 5.75).
All games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.