Minnesota Twins Are Back in First Place

KP WeeSenior Writer IAugust 3, 2008

The Minnesota Twins are back in first place.

The surging Twins, following their 6-2 victory on Sunday over the Cleveland Indians, improved to 62-49, a half-game in front of the Chicago White Sox.

Chicago, which made news a few days earlier with the pickup of Ken Griffey Jr. before the trade deadline, lost 14-3 in Kansas City, in a game that featured a benches-clearing brawl and five ejections.

However, the story belonged to the Twins, who had designated opening-day starter Livan Hernandez for assignment two days earlier, a move that puzzled me.

On Sunday, the Twins proved they knew what they were doing, as Hernandez's replacement, Francisco Liriano, threw six shutout innings against Cleveland in his return from AAA, for his first major-league victory in more than two years (July 23, 2006).

The 24-year-old left-handed Liriano had gone 10-0 in 11 starts in AAA Rochester before finally getting the call-up. Prior to that, Liriano had been lit up in the majors this April: 0-3 with an ERA over 11.00. One of those losses had come against the Indians.

But in his return on Sunday, Liriano showed the form he exhibited in his rookie year in 2006, when he went 12-3 with an ERA of 2.16 and 144 K's in 121 innings.

Liriano's line: 96 pitches, 5 K's, 3 BB's, 3 hits in the six innings.

The question now is: Can Liriano and the rest of the Twins starters continue this good pitching?

The danger for the Twins, of course, is the fact that they're going with five young pitchers for the stretch drive.

Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Liriano are all 26 years of age or younger. Boof Bonser, who has started a dozen games this year, is 26 as well.

Was it really necessary to dump Hernandez, a former World Series MVP (1997) and the Twins' only 10-game winner this season?

Sure, after a quick 3-0 and 6-1 beginning, Hernandez had been slumping and has a 5.48 ERA. And he'd given up 199 hits already in just under 140 innings.

True, ugly numbers.

But wouldn't Hernandez's experience have helped out the Twins?

Time will tell.

But for now, the Twins are back in first place.