The Minnesota Twins appear to be on their way to winning back-to-back division titles and for the first time in two years, not having to go to a game 163. With the Twins sitting comfortably in front of the Chicago White Sox they will have the opportunity to rest pitchers down the stretch and set their rotation however they would like for the postseason.
There's a good chance Francisco Liriano will be thrown out in Game 1 against either the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees. The other option would be Carl Pavano, who has been a godsend for the Twins' rotation with the way he eats up innings.
The postseason is creeping up closer and closer, which means it's time to grade the pitching staff up to this point.
It was a tough choice not to give Liriano an A especially seeing how well he's pitched since the All-Star break. While he's had a very good season, he hasn't pitched like a staff ace consistently enough. Consistency is something the promising lefty is going to have to work on if he ever wants to be considered an elite pitcher.
Right now, Liriano is having a good stretch, but as many Twins fans know, he is just as capable to fall into a three- or four-start funk.
He always seems to give Minnesota seven or eight quality innings every start and more importantly, a chance to win. When Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn were struggling, it was Liriano and Pavano who kept the Twins afloat.
Over June and July, Pavano compiled an 8-1 record, lowering his ERA to 3.21 at one point, which put him in the Cy Young conversation for a brief stint. Since then he has come back to Earth a bit, but without that remarkable stretch earlier in the season. the Twins wouldn't be where they are today.
"Moonshot Scott" is by far one of the more overvalued players in baseball.
For some reason Minnesota believes that Baker is an above-average pitcher, even though he hasn't produced like it on the mound. Baker will sucker you in with a dazzling performance making you think that he's turned a corner, only to break your heart with a subsequent poor outing. One complaint about Baker is his consistency.
That's not the case this year as he has been consistently bad.
Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn—C
Slowey gets a C because he simply is an average starting pitcher who is having an average season.
Blackburn is different. He was so bad at one point during the season that he was sent down to the Minors to try to rediscover his sinker ball. In May, he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, which he followed up with two disastrous months leading to his demotion. Since being called back up, he has pitched very well and would most likely be the fourth starter in a seven game series.
Since joining the rotation, Duensing has posted a 5-1 mark to go with a 3.06 ERA. Not to mention that he was a key member of the bullpen for the majority of the season before he was summoned to be a starter.
It's clear that he has become the No. 3 guy behind Liriano and Pavano surpassing Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. For the second-straight season, Duensing has stepped into the rotation in a pennant race and delivered. His stellar pitching helped the Twins surge past the White Sox into first place.
Capps was acquired from the Washington Nationals in exchange for highly touted catching prospect, Wilson Ramos. While Capps's numbers with Minnesota may not look all that bad, they aren't much better than the man he replaced, Jon Rauch. He's blown two save opportunities in 11 chances, but has routinely given up base runners and made the game much more interesting.
That's never a good thing if you are supposed to be a shut down closer. The complaint about Rauch was that he didn't have overpowering stuff and gave up too many hits. Capps has come in and thrown the ball harder than Rauch, but not necessarily more effectively.
In 19 innings, the former National has given up 20 hits, while striking out 13 batters. The jury is still out on Capps as his so-so regular season performance with the Twins will definitely be erased if he is able to get the job done in October.
Something not even former All-Star Joe Nathan could do.