Minnesota Twins Rewind, Week 9: Hammer Time

Mikael Wiitala@@MikaelWiitalaContributor IIIJune 4, 2012

Minnesota Twins Rewind, Week 9: Hammer Time

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    Tuesday night's celebration of Josh Willingham's walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Oakland Athletics was probably a bit too much.

    The mob scene at home plate and the Gatorade shower should probably be saved for a more special occasion, but this is baseball and the Twins have been yearning for a moment like this all season long.

    Truthfully, I am surprised there wasn't a pie in the face or a champagne celebration. But no matter how the team handled the situation—it was a welcome sight to be sure.

    There were plenty of welcome sights this past week in Twins Territory. Our  favorite team played its best week of baseball yet, sweeping a three-game series from the A's and taking two-of-three from the Cleveland Indians.

    Riding a five-game losing streak, the Athletics' arrival at Target Field could have not have come at a better time. Their anemic offense proved to be the difference in the Twins snapping their own five-game losing streak.

    Neither team played particularly well, but Willingham's offense carried the Twins to their first three-game series sweep of the season.

    Hammer's heroics in Tuesday's game were probably more coincidence than anything else. But the Twins rode that momentum into Cleveland, where they met an injury-ravaged Indians club and gained a game in the standings.

    It remains to be seen if the Twins will continue to trend upward as the season inches closer to the midway point. But Ron Gardenhire seems to have finally pieced together a competitive roster.

    In hindsight, the Twins' celebration Tuesday was much more than a goofy ritual performed by every baseball team from Little League to the major leagues. It was the release of all of their early frustrations and a glimpse at what could lie ahead in the summer months.

Hitter of the Week: Josh Willingham

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    It should come as a surprise to no one that Josh Willingham was the Twins hitter of the week.

    No one was more clutch than Hammer this week. Over the last six games, Willingham was 8-for-23 (.348 batting average) with five runs scored, eight runs batted in, two home runs, three doubles, three walks and seven strikeouts.

    Willingham led the Twins in all offensive categories except runs scored and walks.

    While Willingham made honorable mention for the Liriano Award last week for his incredible strikeout rate, he actually cut down on the whiffs this week to less than a third of his at-bats, which is another step in the right direction.

    Ultimately, Willingham's heroics earned him this spot because the most important number is the one in the win column, and he was an overwhelming factor in four of the team's five wins.

    Honorable Mention: Trevor Plouffe

    Trevor Plouffe is slowly but surely earning himself an everyday spot in the Twins lineup with his run production at the bottom of the order.

    While the middle of the Twins' lineup has been productive, Gardy has been searching for someone to provide some pop at the back-end. Plouffe seems to be that guy.

    He played in four games this past week, going 7-for-16 (.438 BA) with three runs scored, four RBI, two home runs, one double and three strikeouts.

    Even more important, Plouffe started all of these games at third base and did a satisfactory job in the field, something that bodes well for him.

    It is hard to get a good read on Plouffe. He has shown that he is capable of being a force on offense, but has yet to show this consistently at the major league level.

    The plan for now seems to be to ride him while he is hot and hope that he works out the flaws in his overall game.

Pitcher of the Week: Scott Diamond

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    Scott Diamond earned top pitcher honors for his two starts that ended in Twins' victories.

    Diamond's first start came Monday against the Athletics. He pitched 6.1 innings, allowing nine hits, three earned runs, two home runs, one walk and striking out four.

    While Scott was not involved in the decision, his performance was good enough to keep the team in the game and allow the comeback win Monday night.

    Diamond pitched again Sunday afternoon, throwing seven innings against the Indians, allowing seven hits, three runs (zero earned runs), no walks and striking out two en route to victory.

    It is strange to say that Diamond may have not been at his best in these past two outings. But whether the league is catching on to him or he is simply not as sharp lately, it was a good thing he pitched against the A's and Indians and not the Yankees and Rangers.

    Honorable Mention: Francisco Liriano

    Ever since Wednesday's game against the Athletics, I have been struggling with how to deal with Francisco Liriano's excellent performance that day.

    At first, I thought that I should apologize and eat a little crow for all of the unkind words I have written about him so far this season.

    However, I soon came to realize that I was not the one who should apologize (not yet anyway). I think Frankie is the one who should be saying sorry.

    After his six-inning, three-hit, two-walk, no-run and nine-strikeout performance, Liriano should have told the media he is sorry for causing endless headaches for fans and fuel for mindless speculation for writers about his final destination.

    So as many were quick to point to this performance as a reason Liriano should be traded as soon as possible or held onto with the hope of him reaching his full potential, it is just another reminder to me of the enigma that is Liriano.

    (And if he ever wants that apology from me, he will have to continue to pitch this way for about another month or be traded to the Yankees so he can ruin their season. Nothing else will do.)

Francisco Liriano Award for Baseball Non-Excellence: Carl Pavano

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    I really do feel sorry for Carl Pavano.

    He has been nothing but a professional since he joined the Twins and continues to try to be a leader and role model for the young pitchers on the staff. But there is clearly something wrong with him.

    Whether it actually is his shoulder, old age finally catching up to him or mental fatigue from his off-the-field problems, a trip to the disabled list is in Pavano's future.

    In a perfect world, Pavano would be pitching through the pain. But the reality of the situation needs to become perfectly clear for both Carl and the Twins. He needs to be healthy and pitching well by the trade deadline, so both he and the Twins can get what they deserve.

    Pavano labored through 3.2 innings on Friday, allowing nine hits and six earned runs before exiting the 7-1 loss to the Indians.

    All indications are that he will finally end up on the 15-day disabled list this week. Hopefully, Carl can put all of this unpleasantness behind him.

    Dishonorable Mention: Jamey Carroll

    I really am not trying to pick on the senior members of the Twins' roster this week. It just happens they performed worse than everyone else.

    Jamey Carroll started four games this past week, hitting 1-for-13 (.077 BA) with one run scored and three strikeouts.

    I don't want to be too criticial of Carroll's efforts this week. As the utility infielder who plays great defense and handles the ball well enough to move runners along, he is finally in the role he should have been in since his signing.

    Twins fans should continue to see Carroll primarily splitting time with Alexi Casilla at second base and filling in for Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe occasionally.

    We should all be fine with Carroll playing four games a week. But just as with Nick Punto in the past, no one wants to see them everyday, no matter how well they are playing in the field.

The Week Ahead

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    The Twins enter Week 10 of the regular season 20-33, 10.5 games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox in the American League Central Division.

    It seems that the schedule is once again on their side. The Twins conclude their road trip with three games against the Kansas City Royals, the second-worst team in the Central Division, before returning home for a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs, the worst team in baseball so far.

    The pitching is a little unsettled. The health of Pavano and whether he will make his next start is weighing Gardy's mind. But Cole De Vries will start Monday in Kansas City and should be followed by Liriano, Pavano if healthy, P.J. Walters, Diamond and then De Vries again Sunday afternoon versus the Cubs.

    Monday also marks the start of the amateur draft, and the Twins are sure to get a lot of press with the No. 2 selection more than likely being high school outfielder Byron Buxton.

    Let's hope the Twins can keep up their winning ways against the Royals and Cubs and move themselves out of last place and closer to .500 as the All-Star break approaches.

    Make sure to come back next week and relive the best and worst moments of Week 10 for the Twins and see if this past week was a trend or a mirage.