The Twins return to Target Field with an overhauled bullpen that has been replenished with southpaws and a four game lead in the AL Central division, but there are still plenty of doubts surrounding the team mostly because of the Justin Morneau saga and the disappearance of the team's bats during the last road trip.
The Twins lineup averaged just 2.9 runs during the seven-game road trip to Texas and Seattle. Thanks to good pitching they were able to salvage a 3-4 record during the trip and didn't lose any ground on the division. But three of the four losses were by one run, and the Twins demonstrated a lack of clutch hitting on the road, again. The opportunities were there, the Twins just whiffed at them. That will need to be fixed as the games get more and more serious.
The Twins do have a good lineup without Morneau, but with him they are great. And that is exactly what they are going to need to make noise in the playoffs this season. The Yankees, Rangers and Rays all have great pitching, and the only way to beat that is to have a great lineup. The Twins NEED Morneau back or their chances of moving on past the first round are slim. We all saw it last week in Texas, and believe me the Yankees and Rays are even better.
The current status of Morneau is up in the air, but as the days pass with still no word on his return, the chances of him returning this season look bleak. The team has shown that they can play well without him, but when it comes to crunch time they will NEED him without a doubt.
On the bright side, the Twins pitching appears grand. Brian Fuentes through a trade, and Randy Flores through waivers were added to the team during the last road trip to replace lefty relievers Jose Mijares and Ron Mahay, who went down earlier this month with injuries.
Between Matt Capps, Jon Rauch and Fuentes the Twins now have three pitchers who at one point were all closing for their respective ball clubs and boast a combined 77 saves this season. It's hard to pinpoint a weakness in the Twins suddenly elite bullpen.
The starters have been strong too and Kevin Slowey is expected to return soon to add further depth to the Twins pitching staff. Nick Blackburn replaced Slowey when he went on the DL earlier this month and pitched marvelous during the Twins road trip, especially last Sunday when he tossed 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball to get his first win in a Twins uniform since June 29. And it was how he did it that was so impressive. He was efficient and effective, needing just 98 pitches to get the games first 26 outs. He is 1-1 with a 1.72 ERA in two starts since rejoining the rotation.
The Twins brass has to be giddy about the depth in their pitching staff right now. The return of Slowey and Mijares will make them even deeper. Slowey can spot start when he comes back to rest tired arms in preparation for the playoffs, because right now their isn't anyone that the Twins want to take out of the starting rotation. Slowey was pitching great before he got hurt, but how can they justify sitting any of the other guys with the way they have been pitching. Scott Baker, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano are permanent fixtures unless of course there is an injury and Brian Duensing is 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA since becoming a starter and he's a lefty, which gives him a bit of an edge.
The series with the Tigers was supposed to be a pivotal set between the division foes, but a second half collapse has all but eliminated the Tigers from contention now. They will be looking to play the role of spoiler as the season winds down. And they definitely have payback on their mind after what happened in game 163 last season.
Duensing will start the home set opposite the Tigers Armando Galarraga tonight at 7 pm on FSN.
It would be nice to see the Twins bats get on the same page as the pitching for once. It seems like all season its either one or the other clicking, but never both at the same time. The team has 31 games to put it all together and hopefully at some point we all receive the wonderful news that Morneau is set to make his return, but don't count on it.