Twins-Blue Jays: Time To Worry?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IApril 17, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 6: Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Seattle Mariners at the Metrodome on opening day, April 6, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

Tuesday night saw the Twins break their losing streak against the Jays, which had stretched over three seasons. The curse, however, seems firmly intact.

The Twins got beaten out of the park in Scott Baker's return on Wednesday, 12-2, on the back of four home runs.

Thursday looked much better, Francisco Liriano had his first good start of the season: 6IP, 7H, 2R, ER, BB, 5K. The seven hits aren't ideal, but he gave up no home runs and kept the Twins in a position to win the game despite a strong outing from Jays' ace Roy Halladay.

Had the bullpen locked down the 2-1 deficit they inherited when Liriano left, the Twins likely would have faced another extra inning showdown. Sadly, the Twins simply could not find the man to stop the bleeding.

Matt Guerrier regained his 2008 form, giving up four runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

Craig Breslow walked two and threw two wild pitches resulting in two earned runs.

R.A. Dickey couldn't toss more than one pitch before giving up his runs. His hanging knuckleball was deposited in the left field seats for the game-sealing grand slam by Kevin Milar.

The Twins gave up seven runs in the seventh before Luis Ayala, Monday's goat, mercifully ended the Jays' outburst.

There isn't much to say about the last two games.

The offense was stymied once again, though they did manage eight hits off of Halladay. Michael Cuddyer added a meaningless home run in the eighth, after the bullpen broken the game wide open.

The pitching has been inconsistent at best. Nights when the starter puts the team in a position to win, the bullpen can't hold it, but a quality start is far from assured. The Twins have gotten just four quality starts from their starters so far, two from Glen Perkins.

The bullpen's travails in this series are the perfect microcosm for the Twins season so far. On any given night, the best option of the 'pen could be Bobby Ayala, Craig Breslow, or Jesse Crain. However, on any given night, each of those guys could melt down and put the game out of reach. 

The Twins can play with anyone in the league, of this I have no doubt, but consistency is going to be an issue, especially until Joe Mauer returns at the end of the month. If the Twins can find the weak link and replace them, they'll be fine.

The problem seems to be finding which link will fail when the chain is actually put under stress. Wednesday, it was the starting pitching, Thursday, the bullpen failed, and the offense hasn't exactly been inspiring in any game this series.

Now would be the ideal time for a day off to rest the overused bullpen and refocus the team. The Twins have no such luck.

Tomorrow begins a three game series with the "California" Angels. Nick Blackburn, owner of one of the Twins' quality starts, faces off against Dustin Mosley. 

Is it time to worry about the Twins? Yes. Is it time to panic? Not even close.

The Twins need to get better relief work from their bullpen and more consistent run-production. They average over 3.5 runs per game, but that tends to look more like 12-0-0-2 over a four game series than a consistent three-to-four production night in and night out.

If they can't right the ship soon, the Twins could find themselves fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the season. 2008 was the same way, so were 2006 and 2003. The Twins are consistently better in the second half of the season, so the first half is all about placement.

No one in the AL Central is pulling away, which is why it is far too early to panic. Granted, everyone would like to see the Twins playing better, including manager Ron Gardenhire, but making massive changes this early in the season sends the wrong messages to the team.