Friday, July 24, 2009

Kind of a Rough Week

The Twins have been battered since this past Sunday, giving up an amazing 43 runs in five games, including 32 in a three-game series with Oakland. Not only were the starting pitchers remarkably terrible (aside from Liriano/Swarzak on Sunday/Tuesday), the bullpen sported a 12.55 ERA in the four losses. The hitting has really be fine - we're scoring runs at a decent clip, so that's not really to blame. So it looks like we're left with starting pitching as the major problem, if only because the 'pen only just faltered over the past seven days. Let's dive in and dissect this mother.

Kevin Slowey (DL - Back next week to start for Perk) - After a dismal start to the year where he was shelled for five runs in consecutive starts, Slowey calmed down and was pretty much the Ace of the staff. From April 18-June 19, he struck out 60 batters in 73 innings while limiting the opposition to a .280 BAA and posting a 3.44 ERA. Then the wheels fell off in his two most recent starts, presumably because of the wrist soreness he was experiencing. We hope. This, however, is a guy I trust.

Francisco Liriano - In June, a better version of F-Bomb showed up, and that's exactly who we need the rest of the way. His full-season stats may not recover from the terrible start to
2009, but from June 5 to July 19, he shaved off 1.27 runs off his ERA, and struck out 49 batters in 49 innings. Couple that with a nice little .238 BAA, and we're cookin' with gas. As a matter of fact, Liriano has gone less than six innings just twice in his past eight starts. I won't hide the truth though - he's walking WAY too many batters, a problem that has led to short outings and unnecessary runs. The thing with Liriano is that the strikeouts mask his control issues, and that's something most guys on the staff can't do.

Scott Baker - For Baker, there was a clear turning point in June. He had just come off three consecutive starts where the opposing team blasted two home runs, and was facing Cleveland. Bake proceeded to strike out ten Indians in seven innings of two-run ball. Next game? He struck out eight in eight innings in
that super-weird game in Oakland when the team went into the ninth up 10-0, then won 10-5 in scary fashion. Fast forward, and Baker - despite two straight games where he gave up five earned runs (CHW/NYY on July 7/12) - has a 3.94 ERA and 57 strikeouts in his past 61 innings. He's also consistently giving the team a chance to win.

Nick Blackburn - It's been documented elsewhere, but Nick Blackburn is getting VERY lucky as
a ground ball pitcher this season, and it's a major reason for why he's been so good thus far. His strikeouts are down from a year ago, yet his ERA and WHIP are much better than 2008. The answer? His BABIP is almost 30 points less than last year. The same balls simply aren't finding holes. The defense is better with Crede manning third base, and that probably helps a bit, but not that much. Thus, he'll get hammered on occasion like he did Monday. Of course, if any pitcher left that many balls up in the zone, they'd get pounded too. All that said, you gotta love his stats from May 10-July 5… a 1.98 ERA in 81 innings. Without Blacky, the Twins would be at least 7-8 games behind in the division. Instead, they remain just 2.5 out.

Glen Perkins (Shoulder injury, might be placed on DL) - It's hard to hammer Perkins right now because of his shoulder injury. It's possible the malady led to some ugly performances, but either he's got some MAJOR issues, or he's just been bad since that early-season hot streak. When you look through his post-April outings, you can only point to one that was a legitimately dominant start - June 26 at St. Louis. Since April 26, he has an embarrassing 7.16 ERA in 60 innings pitched. Clearly not the guy he was last year, or people have figured him out. If you're looking for a guy to send to the bullpen when Slowey gets back, this is your man.

Anthony Swarzak - Our up-and-down rookie has flashed enough talent for me to believe he deserves to stay in the rotation when Slowey gets back. He's only made seven starts, but has better strikeout potential than Perkins and seems to have a better plan of attack. One flaw is that he has a much shorter leash… the managment must be babying him a bit still, as he's been pulled at 4-1/3 innings or less three different times. Overall, he seems to AT LEAST not get smoked by lower-echelon teams, and gives us a chance against the better ones.

So after all that, I contend that Perkins needs to leave the rotation in lieu of Swarzak for the balance of the season. But honestly, there isn't a whole hell of a lot of difference between he and Perkins right now. Let's hope for a solid weekend of baseball as we march toward the top of the Central division!

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