Sunday, June 27, 2010

3 Up, 3 Down: 6/27/10


Carl Pavano is quickly becoming the 'stached savior of your slumping Minnesota Twins. While his soup-strainer is all the rage amongst Hennepin Ave. hipsters, it's his right arm that's
kept the sinking ship afloat in recent weeks. In his last two outings, Pavano has spun complete game gems, outdueling aces Roy Halladay and Johan Santana. With the Tigers lurking and the White Sox surging, Pavano gave up just one earned run in those 18 invaluable innings, keeping the bullpen fresh and the Twins in first place. His brilliance prevented a bad (3-6) road trip from turning disastrous. It's remarkable to think that, coming into the season, Pavano was the biggest question mark in the rotation. Closing in on the All Star break, Pavano has been the clear-cut MVP of the starting staff. He leads Twins' starters in Wins, Innings Pitched, Quality Starts, and WHIP. There's no glitz, just a rock steady 3.33 ERA and an appetite for innings. He's pitching deep into games, which is reflected in his unbelievable 15 decisions in 15 starts. In fact, he's gone at least seven innings in nine of his last ten starts. At 34, Pavano is having his best season since his 2004 breakout with the Marlins. That season set him up for his big payday with the Yankees, before injuries and a Tommy John surgery derailed his career. Finally healthy, Pavano is back on track and appears to have found a home in Minnesota. He's pitching on a one-year deal, and extending his contract has to be a growing priority for the Twins.

Justin Morneau is heating up again. No lengthy introduction necessary here. The perennial AL MVP candidate batted .412 on the 8-game road trip, including his first two home runs since June 4. Morneau can carry this team for weeks at a time, and getting him dialed in could be just what the doctor ordered for this slumping squad.

Between his own horrid start, and the emergence of fellow corner outfielder Delmon Young, Jason Kubel has flown under the radar. Slowly but surely, Kubel's finally hitting his stride. His June .542 Slugging Pct. leads the team, and he's hit .313 with 4 home runs for the month. Now that interleague play is over and the DH is back in play, expect even more at-bats for the Yankee killer.

Orlando Hudson's return to the lineup was supposed to reignite the offense. Batting .308 from the two-hole prior to his wrist injury, Hudson has been ice cold since his return from the Disabled List. The hope amongst Twins fans is that his .147 Batting Average and 11 strikeouts in the eight games since his return are a product of rust, not lingering injury. 

I featured Nick Blackburn in my 6/15/10 report, and while I'd prefer to see fresh blood with each installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, he's earned the dishonor of a repeat appearance. Blackburn's June has gone from putrid to downright unacceptable in his last two starts, where he's been shelled for 13 earned runs in just 5.1 innings. Where Pavano has saved the bullpen, Blackburn continues to deplete it. Trade speculation previously reserved for a closer or a third basemen is now focused squarely on Cliff Lee, or another starter, to replace Blackburn in the rotation. He's averaged just three innings in his five June starts, and his ERA for the month has climbed to over a dozen. 

Coming into the season, the Twins had three corner outfielders for two spots, and had signed Jim Thome for platoon DH work. Of the group, Michael Cuddyer was thought to be the only one who could expect regular at-bats. Fast forward to late June, and Cuddyer may now be an infielder. This is not a demotion, and to be fair, Cuddyer deserves a ton of credit for his willingness to help the team out by moving to third base. Nick Punto is terrible offensively, Brendan Harris is terrible in general, and Danny Valencia is terribly overhyped, so Cuddyer's selflessness in an era of Albert Haynesworth's is refreshing. With that said, Cuddyer continues to have an uninspiring year at the plate. Batting .259, he's well off last year's pace with just 7 Home Runs and 33 RBI's. I've been openly critical of Ron Gardenhire's insistence on keeping Cuddyer planted in the heart of the order as the right handed threat, seeing as how he isn't really a threat, and how Delmon Young has vastly outperformed him all season. It's becoming increasingly obvious that Gardenhire's insufferable loyalty to "his guys" is costing this team runs. At this point, I'm not overly concerned by Cuddyer's offensive performance, as much as I am annoyed.

Unfortunately, I had a much easier time finding "Downers" than "Uppers" this time around. That will happen after a .333 road trip. So 3 Down Honorable Mentions go out to Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Ron Gardenhire, and Joe Mauer. With an important 7-game home stand against Detroit and Tampa starting tomorrow, I'm hoping my next report will be more enjoyable.

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