The Twins have long been a team that prides itself on pitching, defense, and fundamentals, but there were a lot of questions about the rotation heading into the season.
The Twins' rotation bears almost no similarity to the one that finished last year. They lost Johan Santana, Matt Garza, and Carlos Silva in the offseason, and Boof Bonser was moved into the 'pen. Only Scott Baker remained.
Who could blame the pundits, then, for writing off the Twins' young crop of arms?
Anyone who follows the Twins, that's who.
The Twins have a knack for producing good young pitchers, and this year is no different. Once Liriano gets back into the swing of things at the big-league level, the Twins will have one of the most dangerous top-to-bottom rotations in baseball.
Until then, here is a look at the starters who carried the Twins to their current heights.
Scott Baker had a number of rough call-ups before finally pitching well last season. He burst into the eyes of Twins’ fans during his near perfect game against the Royals.
He missed part of this year with an injury, but since his return on June 5, he has just one non-quality start. Until Liriano comes back, he is as close as anyone to claiming the ace role for the Twins.
Slowey is the Twins' all-or-nothing pitcher. He has given up two runs or fewer six times, but he’s also given up four or more runs four times. His 6-6 record is deserved in that regard, but Slowey has pitched well in games where he did not get the decision.
Slowey is still very young, even in this youthful rotation, so he still has growing to do. He needs to limit the big-inning damage and his home runs, but he has certainly shown a lot of promise in this first half.
Without question, Nick Blackburn has been the surprise of this rotation. Like Baker, he struggled in his first call-up, but pitched exceptionally well in the Arizona Fall League and has extended that success into the regular season.
He has the second best ERA of Twins’ starters, and his 18 walks place him third in the majors among players with at least 100 IP. He also trails veteran innings-eater Livan Hernandez by just two innings in one fewer start.
Like Joe Mauer, Perkins is a local boy who has made good. While he hasn’t been as good as Mauer, he has been a pleasant surprise this year. He took over when Scott Baker went down and ended up pitching so well it was Boof Bonser who fell back to the bullpen once Baker returned.
Perkins is Mr. Consistent. He's Jekyll to Slowey’s Hyde, giving up almost exactly three runs in his last eight outings. Sadly, he will likely be the victim when Liriano comes back, unless Livan Hernandez gets sold to a glue factory.
Grade: B +
Whew, where to begin?
At the start of the year, Hernandez was pitching out of his mind. He was 6-1, had thrown just one bad outing, and was eating innings like they were free. Since then, he’s 3-5, on pace to give up 300+ hits, allows nearly two batters per inning, and hasn’t thrown more than seven innings since May.
He was, contrary to popular belief, not brought in to replace Johan Santana as the Twins' ace. Rather, he was supposed to replace Carlos Silva as the Twins’ innings specialist. As with Silva, he’s been rendered useless and needs to be cut loose.
He’d grade lower, but the offense has hoisted him to nine wins, which is a terrible measure of his quality, but is the best on the squad.
Grade: C -
Livan is clearly the dunce of this class, so hopefully the Twins can find a willing buyer and move Liriano into the rotation without disrupting the rest of the starters.