This past off-season with the departure of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, both having been the heart and soul of the Minnesota Twins ball club, my roommate, a big LA Dodger fan was mourning my loss, and sending hes condolences for the Twins chances of making the playoffs.
I am a very optimistic guy, and have a lot of confidence in the Twins farm system. Throughout the years, I have seen guys develop and become big contributors for the Twins and their playoff push. However, I did not expect the Twins to have to tap into their AAA affiliate for so many players this season.
The Twins biggest strength has always been their ability to develop good starting pitching. They looked to a veteran in Livan Hernandez to solidify a rotation of young, unproven arms. Despite winning 10 games early, Livan became a liability, and his role to eat up innings turned into bullpen taxing outings.
Livan Hernandez turned out to be the same type of acquisitions as Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson of last season. Having failed for two straight seasons in trying to find veterans to fill in holes in the rotation, The Twins finally made the most surprising and probably smartest decision: turn to the rookies.
Here's a breakdown of the young rotation.
Nick Blackburn 9-8- 3.75 ERA- 163.0 IP- 186 H- 82 R- 68 ER- 15 HR- 30 BB- 80 SO
Blackburn has been a nice surprise to the Twins young rotation. He possesses great stuff, with a fastball topping out at 94, but has yet to develop the same composure as others on the staff. Blackburn is not an overpowering pitcher by any means he puts the ball in play, and lets the defense do the majority of the work. His good health has made him the workhorse of the staff, having been able to stay off the DL so far, decreasing the pressure put on the bullpen. He has gone 5+ innings in 21 of his 27 starts, but his record doesn't reflect how well he has actually pitched. The defense has failed him in several starts having given up 14 unearned runs. Blackburn has also been a victim of poor run support at times, which is a common theme among Twins pitcher. In 12 of his starts, aside from the start against the Yankees where he left after being struck in the face by a line drive, he gave up 3 earned runs or less and was tagged with a loss, or a no-decision. If Blackburn learns to become more consistent, and keeps the ball in the ballpark, he can easily become a number 2 or 3 starter.
Scott Baker 8-4- 3.66 ERA- 140.1 IP- 138 H- 57 R- 57 ER- 18 HR- 32 BB- 114 SO
Scott Baker may very well have emerged as the staff Ace that he was asked to become. Before Livan was added to the roster, Baker was asked if he was ready to make the opening day start, solidifying his title as the Ace. However, the start was given to Hernandez when Baker caught the flu. Baker struggled early in his career, bouncing back and forth between AAA and the bigs, but really arrived and showed his potential when he took a no-hitter into the ninth last season against KC. He had some big shoes to fill in the Ace spot, following Santana and Radke who previously held that spot. But he has filled those cleats well, posting dominating performances striking out 7 or more batters in 9 of his 23 starts and going fewer than 5 innings in only 2 starts, both of which he left because of injury. Baker too has been a victim of lack of run support. In his 11 no-decisions and his 4 losses, he gave up 3 earned runs or less in 10 of those starts. He has learned to accept the fate and responsibilities that comes with the title of a staff Ace. To keep your team in the game and have your own statistics come second. He may be the oldest in the rotation by only a few months but his maturity, composure, and the ability to adjust or know whats wrong with his mechanics makes it seem like hes a 10-year veteran.
Kevin Slowey 11-8- 3.70 ERA- 133.2 IP- 126 H- 56 R- 55 ER- 18 HR- 18 BB- 106 SO
Before Slowey was even called up to the majors, he was being compared to Brad Radke for his control, composure, form, and style of pitching. He tops out at only 91-92 mph, but his impeccable control, ability to work either side of the plate, and hit his spots has has helped him become an ideal Twins pitcher. One that works fast, has great control, attacks hitters with deceptive speed, and gets a strikeout when he needs to. Although he is not overpowering, he posted a career high 12 strikeouts against Oakland and backed that up his next start against the A's with a 10 K outing. He leads the staff in complete games and shutouts, maturing substantially from last season. Despite going 4-1 in 2007 in 11 starts, he has posted an ERA over a run lower, and has only given up only 2 more HR in twice as many starts as last season. If he remains healthy and matures even more so Slowey could possibly become the staff strikeout guy like Santana, and the old Liriano were.
Glen Perkins 12-3- 3.96 ERA- 131.2 IP- 150 H- 60 R- 58 ER- 33 BB- 63 SO
Glen Perkins has been the biggest surprise of the Twins rotation. After questions about whether Glen should start or be in the bullpen during spring training. He answered those questions by giving the Twins the best record on the staff. The southpaw pitched well out of the pen in 07, but emerged as a go-to guy in 08, solidifying the rotation. Although Perkins is hot and cold, giving up zero runs and then 5 in his next start or something of the sorts, and despite having the highest ERA in the rotation, he has been helped out by ample run support. Perkins changes speeds very well and keeps hitters off balance. Even though he is the least dominant pitcher in the rotation, he puts the ball in play and magic happens. He fields his position well to boot.
Francisco Liriano 4-3- 3.45 ERA- 47 IP- 41 H- 21 R- 18 ER- 2 HR- 24 BB- 36 SO
The "Franchise" of the Minnesota Twins is back for good. After getting roughed up in his first three starts after a 15-month layoff, giving up 13 earned runs in just 10.1 innings pitched. Liriano's time in the minors helped him find his groove once again. Although Liriano's fastball is topping out at 94-95, losing about 3-4 mph from his electric 97-98 of 2006. He also lost the electric slider that caused the tear in his throwing elbow, but now possesses a mid to high 80's, more of a slower rainbow breaking ball, instead of late breaking filth. He has been on a tear as of late winning 4 of his first 6 starts since being recalled, giving up just 5 ER in that stretch, posting a minuscule 1.23 ERA. He may not have the stuff that he once possessed, but he maintains the same demeanor and confidence. The kind of confidence that was like, "how dare you get a hit off of me" and comes back to strike the guy out the next time up. His control was still a little erratic, throwing a lot of pitches early in the game. Also, with his velocity being down, it is harder for Liriano to finish off hitters, throwing a lot of 2-strike fouls, elevating his pitch count as well. The "Franchise" is well on his way to regaining his past success.
Considered the weak link of the Twins ball club coming out of spring training. A team that was supposed to be in the rebuilding phase, the rotation has become its strong suit, helping a team that does not score a lot of runs in contention.
Disclaimer: I am a die hard Minnesota Twins fan. You may perceive my article as biased or something of the sort, but rather I am just reporting what I see. I have criticized the Twins just as much as I have praised them, so my bias is more focused on the game itself. I am a fan of the Twins, but I am a fan of the game of Baseball period. I was born and raised in Minnesota and didn't just buy the hat after they had a taste of success like bandwagon fans.