With the All-Star break not getting here fast enough, the Twins have fallen from decent to mediocrity. Their once potent lineup has now proven to have many more holes then it let on and has given the Twins a lot to gather in their three days off.
An optimist would say the Twins play better in the second half. However, one shouldn't bank on such thoughts because the pure fact that Minnesota's starting rotation has fallen to an atrocious level.
A Rotation in Decline
Right-handed starter Scott Baker has been nothing short of pedestrian this season going 7-8 in the first half with a 4.78 ERA with a 5:1 strikeout to walks ratio (95/19). His lone high note has been his ability to go deep into games, but not necessarily keep his team in it.
In June, Baker only managed one victory in five starts. Despite going at least seven innings in two of those starts, his 2-1 victory over Colorado remains his only high point on the past month and a half.
Nick Blackburn has been an interesting afterthought to his astounding May winning five games in as many starts. His ERA was also a respectable 4.28 after May. The Twins were 8-1 with him on the mound and his record to that point was 6-1. However, as the calender turned, so did Nick's numbers.
Since June 1st, Nick has only won once and has been nothing short of atrocious. His 6.40 ERA is the worst of all the starters. He's also only struck out 34 to 27 walks for the year. For also being an inning-eater, his lack of ability to get deep into games the past month or so has been a bit disturbing. He now sits at a disappointing 7-7 with little to show for his month of June and July.
As we look down the rotation, Kevin Slowey has been a quiet and inconsistent, but still has shown at times that he can fight for a spot in the rotation. Despite his short comings, he did start the season at 7-3 while his current 8-5 record hides his flaws. His ERA has ballooned since his June 8th start with 3.45 to a now a mediocre 4.74.
His ability to keep the Twins in games for at least six innings and up until his most recent start (July 7) he's never allowed more then 9 hits. By this, he still has a spot on the rotation until he's either traded for a bigger arm or he begins to show a reason to keep tabs on him.
Francisco Liriano is probably the biggest case of unfortunates. His 3.9/1 strikeout to walk ratio is decent (especially when its 117/30). At the current rate, Liriano would be on track for a 200 strikeout season, something he could tab to his career of a comeback since his Tommy John surgery back in 2006.
Records don't mean squat when measuring most pitchers. Just as Slowey's 8-5 doesn't measure him well, Liriano's 6-7 record doesn't represent him to good as well. His 3.86 ERA (largely due to his past performance against the Detroit Tigers, before of which his ERA was 3.32) shows that his efficiency is ace worthy if he can remain consistent and receive run support.
Although he's 0-4 in his last 5 starts, he's shown a resurgence this season that can possibly turn around a rough first half. Beyond Carl Pavano, Liriano is probably the most trusted pitcher to send to the hill.
Rick Anderson said it best,"He struggles when he's not under control. You can see it early in the game; he's rushing and falling all over the place. His biggest thing is giving up those runs early in the game, and then he'll settle down for three, four, five innings. He can do it because of (his) stuff. Again, if you get away from the first couple of innings, when he's given up most of his runs, he's pitched pretty good. If he puts up zeros early, and he's in control from the start, he's got a chance for a good one. But if he's falling all over and not throwing, he's got to make a quick adjustment or he'll be three or four runs behind."
Pavano is the lone exception to the decline in the rotation. After a disappointing May, his June was uncharacteristic of the Twins rotation winning four of five starts including two complete game victories over two National League East aces in Roy Halladay and former Twin Johan Santana (back-to-back starts). With a 9-6 record and no loss since June 3rd, he's been the lone anchor to the rotation and certainly isn't part of the problem at the moment.
An ace is a primary need as the Twins are now fielding the options of a possible trades before the tradeline, now that Cliff Lee has been landed by the Texas Rangers. Several options exist in second-tier pitchers available on the trading market. Houston's Roy Oswalt, Arizona's Dan Haren, Chicago Cubs Ted Lilly, Oakland's Ben Sheets, as well as Cleveland's Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona.
Lilly seems destined for the New York Mets and Oswalt's price might be too high for what he'd be worth. Sheets lacks the dominance the Twins would like and might even be a step down from the rotation they already wield. Westbrook, Carmona and Haren seem like decent options with the likely move being made towards Dan Haren. His numbers suggest the best upgrade this side of Cliff Lee and would offer a good one-two punch with Pavano and Liriano. However, it remains to be seen what Haren's cost would be.
Another possible option is bring up from within. Kyle Gibson has been ripping through AA New Britain with a 5-3 record in 10 starts, winning his last three and only allowing two runs in that three game stretch. With a 3.56 ERA and 3:1 strikeout/walk ratio (51/17), his numbers suggest a boost to AAA some time in the near future.
He also tore through A league with the Fort Myers Miracle with a 4-1 record and winning the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week the first week of May. With that tallied, Gibson leads the Twins minor-league system with 9 wins so far this season. If the Washington Nationals can pull up the likes Stephen Strasburg, why not Kyle Gibson?
Another option lies in long-reliever Brian Duensing being converted back to a starter. His 1.62 ERA in 39 innings of work over 38 appearances is mighty impressive for his role.
Last season, Duensing had 8 starts and went 5-1 in that stretch and once in the playoffs in which he lost that outing against the New York Yankees.
This spring, there was little doubt that Liriano would find his way on the rotation, but Duensing hadn't pitched that bad, so he found his way to the bullpen in long relief. He would likely replace Blackburn, however, they would likely send him down versus switching him to the pen.
The bullpen has proven to be stable point for the most part for the Twins so far this season. However, certain aspects have proven quite ineffective. The likes of Jose Mijares, Ron Mahay, and Jon Rauch (in his current role) are the more mentionable pieces.
Mijares has yet to prove to have the command he was known for last season and his off the field attitude screams "trade." His control of pitches has resulted in late game collapses of games that are well in check. A trip to the minors might be a big reality check to his lagging game of late.
Matt Guerrier, although attributable to late inning collapses in proving to look more like a slump then anything else. In past years this has happened and Matt has pulled through as the great set-up pitcher he's been known for.
Ron Mahay has been used to scarcely and has proven to be a waste of roster space. His poor performances when he has been called in have been embarrassing. Mahay should be cut or at least sent down. There's a reason the Twins signed him to a minor league deal and no one else did.
Twins closer, Jon Rauch, has done a little better then most thought, but has proven to be not effective enough to shut the door for a team that is known for close contests. Jon is 19 of 23 in save opportunities which is by no means bad, however, his best role is suited as a set-up guy, especially when the middle-relief is hurting.
Possible options are currently sitting in AAA in closer Anthony Slama and reliever Kyle Waldrop (disregarding his recent outing) have been nothing short of amazing. Slama is 16 for 16 in save opportunities and will be a part of the AAA All-Star game. Waldrop has been shut down for the most part and flashed a 1.11 ERA as Slama has shown a strong 1.28 ERA. Both seem ready as Gardy has even endorsed Slama has having been quite formidable this year.
With Mauer now underachieving, Morneau with a concussion and half the lineup searching for their swing, it's no surprise how the Twins have struggled to remain in games.
The Twins NEED a third basemen. Nick Punto does not count. Danny Valencia needs growth still and the Twins would be wise to invest in the likes of a Joe Crede who currently resides in free agency waiting to be picked up. True, he has had injury issues, although, he also could prove to be not that big a risk at half a season price.
His bat could put a legitimate threat in the lineup and for the most part, keep everyone comfortable. Cuddyer doesn't belong at third. There's a reason it didn't work the first time. With a partial deafness in his left ear (the one facing the rest of the infield) he faces a big disadvantage playing the 'hot corner.'
Danny either needs to start full-time or the Twins need to find a way to get Mr. Crede to sign on the dotted line.