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Updated: September 15th, 2010 11:06pm
Twins wax White Sox again; Duensing making strong case for playoff rotation

Twins wax White Sox again; Duensing making strong case for playoff rotation

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Jesse Crain provided the knockout blow on Tuesday night, which means Wednesday night's 9-3 victory by the Minnesota Twins over the Chicago White Sox was nothing more than a handful of salt in an already open wound.

The Twins (87-58) strung together three consecutive three-run innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh, with the initial jolt coming off the bat of Joe Mauer, who roped a three-run homer to put the Twins up 3-0.

There likely isn't a hotter team in baseball. The Twins -- now 41-16 since the All-Star break -- have clinched nothing yet, but the magic number is now 10, and the division lead is eight with 17 games to play.

Folks, it's over.

Time to start looking ahead.

Perhaps the most intriguing subplot throughout the last month is the continued successes of Brian Duensing, who allowed only two earned runs in six innings on Wednesday night, and Nick Blackburn.

Duensing ran into trouble early, loading the bases with one out in the second inning and allowing runners to reach scoring position with fewer than two outs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. But the lefty pitched out of all four of those jams, showing solid poise, command and control, just as he has all season.

Coincidentally, Duensing replaced a struggling Blackburn in the rotation on July 23, and he was viewed at the time as a stop-gap. Instead, Duensing has refused to give up that rotation spot, posting a 2.25 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 10 walks in 68 innings over 10 starts.

He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine of those 10 starts.

Over that stretch, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker have both suffered through stretches of injuries and ineffectiveness -- Baker threw a bullpen session Wednesday and is likely headed for the 'pen when ready to return -- which opened up a spot once again for Blackburn.

Like Duensing, Blackburn has forced manager Ron Gardenhire to leave him in the rotation, posting a 1.47 ERA in 30 2/3 innings since rejoining the rotation on August 23. Blackburn is has also induced 58% groundballs over those four starts, which would put him among the league's elite if duplicated over the course of a full season.

If the playoffs started today, it's likely Duensing and Blackburn would be the Twins' third and fourth starters, behind Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano.

Who would have guessed such a scenario in June when Duensing was pitching out of the bullpen and Blackburn was consistently getting shelled for five-plus earned runs every night?

By the way, this tune fits the vibe from Wednesday night:

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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