Minnesota Twins Rewind, Week 8: Slip Slidin' Away
"You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away.''
Paul Simon was not singing about the 2012 Minnesota Twins in "Slip Slidin' Away," but the somber lyrics could very well have described the past week of baseball.
Just when Twins fans had reason to believe this season was starting to turn itself around, a new problem crept up—the bullpen.
While the starting rotation has been the object of Twins Territory's justified anger so far this season, the bullpen turned in one of its worst weeks of the season, culminating in Matt Capps' blown save in Sunday's game versus the Tigers.
The starting pitchers logged 34 innings this week and gave up 21 earned runs (5.56 earned run average), but the relievers were equally as bad, pitching 18 innings and giving up 12 earned runs (6.00 ERA).
While these numbers are skewed by a few terrible outings, Anthony Swarzak and Carl Pavano for the starters and Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing for the relievers, they highlight the most consistent theme for the Twins this season—inconsistency.
This inconsistency is even more maddening when the Twins' hitters had their best week of the season, going 54-for-207 (.261 batting average).
Add in that 21 of the 54 hits went for extra bases and the offense averaged nearly five runs a game. With that kind of production, one would think the Twins would be 3-3 at the worst.
Instead, the team is headed toward the worst record in the American League and as the song said, "You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away."
All was not doom and gloom for the Twins, however. Let's now look back and recap the past week in Twins' baseball.
Hitter of the Week: Denard Span
While choosing a hitter of the week seemed like a tough choice, once I tallied up the final stats, the choice was obvious—Denard Span.
Span went 11-for-28 (.393 BA) with five runs scored, two runs batted in, one home run, five doubles and two stolen bases, leading the Twins in at-bats, hits, doubles and stolen bases.
Denard only went hitless in Wednesday's 6-0 loss to the White Sox and had at least two hits in the other five games this week.
With his season batting average up to .307, Span is certainly showing that he has fully come back from the concussion problems that plagued him for most of 2011.
If there could be any criticism of Denard's season, it would be that he does not take many walks (he did not walk once this week). But as long as he keeps racking up hits, most of the critics should stay silent.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau
I think we should get this out of the way right now. The only reason the Twins should trade Morneau is if they feel he is not free of his concussion issues or if someone blows them away with a trade offer.
Twins fans have already seen what this lineup looks like without the slugger. Trading him away for anything less than a major league-ready starting pitcher would be the ultimate insult to ticket-buying fans.
Luckily for us, it is unlikely that such an offer is on the table, which means we will get to see Justin continue to mash through the summer months.
Morneau went 6-for-25 (.240 BA) with seven runs scored, eight RBI, four home runs, one double and one walk this past week, leading the Twins in runs scored, RBI and home runs.
While Morneau's batting average was not as high as Joe Mauer's or even Jamey Carroll's this week, his run-producing power is becoming more important as the pitchers continue to let in runs.
Pitcher of the Week: P.J. Walters
P.J. Walters is the Twins pitcher of the week and it wasn't even close.
Walters started the week by throwing a complete game in a win against the White Sox. He allowed two earned runs, five hits, two walks and struck out eight.
He then went six innings in Sunday's game versus the Tigers, allowing two earned runs, seven hits, five walks and striking out four in gaining a no-decision in the 4-3 loss.
While Tuesday's outing against the White Sox was more impressive, the guts he showed in Sunday's loss had to have given P.J. and the rest of the Twins tons of confidence going forward.
I think most Twins' fans became aware this week that Walters writes AFW on the back of the mound before he pitches to honor the memory of his infant daughter Annabelle who died two months after she was born in 2010. But if you are unaware, I suggest doing a little reading about P.J. and what he has gone through to get to this point in his life and career.
Honorable Mention: Glen Perkins
Another week, another three outings without giving up a run.
For the second week in a row, Perkins took the mound three times and did his job to perfection.
The only difference is that last week all three appearances were in Twins' wins, while this week he pitched in three losses.
Perkins only allowed one baserunner in three innings pitched, a hit in Sunday's game, and recorded five of his nine outs this week via strikeout.
It will be interesting to see if the Twins decide to trade Matt Capps before the trade deadline and if Perkins is the closer in waiting, or if Ron Gardenhire prefers Perkins in the set-up role.
Francisco Liriano Award for Baseball Non-Excellence: Francisco Liriano
Francisco Liriano never seems to disappoint me.
I was fully prepared, and am still fully prepared, to write an apology to him for pitching so well the past two weeks. Then he showed up in relief of Anthony Swarzak on Friday night.
Let it be known that he pitched well in Wednesday's 6-0 loss to Chicago, going one inning and allowing no hits, no runs, one walk and striking out two batters.
Friday was a different story.
Liriano came into the game in the 4th inning and pitched 2.2 innings, allowing four earned runs, five hits, two walks and striking out three.
After an outing like that, I thought the Twins would finally cut Frankie loose, but no.
In fact, Liriano is starting Wednesday's game against the Athletics!
I think I have this figured out, however.
First, the Twins "took a step back" with Liriano and skipped a start so he could figure some things out.
Next, they removed him from the starting rotation and allowed him to flounder in the bullpen.
Now, he is back in the rotation, even though he did not improve pitching situationally out of the bullpen.
Putting Liriano back in the rotation is not a reward for any sort of improvements he may have made, it is a punishment.
Gardy is basically saying to Francisco that they are not going to baby him any longer.
This start on Wednesday is Frankie's last chance with the Twins, whether they will come out and say it or not.
Fortunately for us, Liriano will probably pitch five innings, throw 120 pitches, walk six guys and somehow only give up four runs: giving us all an opportunity to see the gift that keeps on giving even longer—Francisco Liriano.
Honorable Mention: Josh Willingham
I made mention the last time I wrote that Josh Willingham was not the Twins MVP so far this season, but had no real conviction over naming an MVP for a last-place team.
Well, I still have no conviction over naming an MVP, but Willingham probably isn't that guy either.
For as good as the Twins' offense was this week, Willingham was equally as bad going 3-for-22 (.136 BA) with two runs scored, three RBI, one double, five walks and 11 strikeouts.
Yup, that's correct: half of Willingham's at-bats this week ended in him walking back to the dugout with his head down.
In fairness, Willingham did have the potential game-winning RBI single in Sunday's game and also led the team in walks this week.
I know Gardy likes the idea of having a right-handed batter between Mauer and Morneau. But just as with Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer in the past, it only works when the right-handed batter is hitting as well as Mauer and Morneau.
I would be shocked if Willingham and Morneau don't flip-flop in the batting order this week and stay that way until Josh regains his stroke.
The Week Ahead
The Twins once again play six games this upcoming week: three at home against the Oakland Athletics starting Monday and three on the road against the Cleveland Indians starting Friday.
The series against Oakland starts with a pitching matchup of Scott Diamond versus left-hander Travis Blackley on Monday and ends on Wednesday with the possibility of Manny Ramirez making his A's debut.
If everything stays as planned, the starting pitching should go Diamond, Cole De Vries and Francisco Liriano against the A's and Carl Pavano, P.J. Walters and Diamond once again against the Indians.
Will the Twins' hot hitting be enough to outscore an Oakland team that is last in the American League in runs scored or will the pitching give the A's offense the boost they have been looking for?
Can Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters continue their outstanding pitching or will the Indians continue to widen the gap between themselves and the Twins?
These questions and many more will be answered in next week's edition of Twins Rewind.