The Twins hit the All-Star break in a bit of a slide. They lost four games in a row before their series-salvaging win yesterday against Detroit and enter the break in third place. Of course it was none other than Carl Pavano who stepped up and pitched an excellent game to put the Twins in position to win. That followed terrible outings from the Twins' previous two starters, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn. Blackburn has been nothing short of horrendous the entire year, which is unfortunate considering a) the Twins signed him to a 4-year deal in the offseason, and b) he's been in the starting rotation the entire year!
I continue to have faith in Liriano, despite some struggles over his last couple of starts. Maybe that's just the fantasy owner in me--since I own him in both of my leagues--but his FIP is still a dazzling 2.19, even after Friday's meltdown, and his xFIP is just 2.97. Blackburn, however, has no such redeeming features. Since the beginning of June, he's lasted more than four innings in just three of his eight starts. Not coincidentally, those three starts are the only ones in that span in which he's walked more batters than he's struck out. In total, he's walked 14 batters against just 17 strikeouts and allowed 43 runs (40 earned) in 36 innings. Yes, his ERA is over nine during that period, which is pretty easy to do when you've surrendered at least 4 runs in all but one start.
Scott Baker is another guy who I have a fantasy investment in, and a lot of patience with. The cortisone shot he had this past weekend is a little worrisome, but hopefully the extra rest will solve that problem. Otherwise, I am very confident in Baker. It's just maddening how poorly he's doing considering his peripheral stats. He's walking a career low number of batters, and he's striking them out at a career-high rate. His K:BB ratio on the season is an even 5.00, good for third in the Majors, and he still continues to be battered around on the mound.
That number ranks behind only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and just ahead of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, and Josh Johnson. That sounds like some pretty good company to me. Incidentally, the Twins have 4 of the top 16 pitchers in K:BB ratio, with Liriano placing 12th (3.90), Pavano 13th (3.82), and Kevin Slowey 16th (3.58). The one starter not ranked near the top is, of course, Blackburn, who ranks in the bottom ten with his typically embarrassing mark of 1.26.
Back to Baker, though. His recent run has been particularly frustrating. Even though he has struck out 25 batters in his last four starts (23.1 innings) and walked ZERO, he's managed to give up 17 runs. If you go back one more start, he's struck out 37 batters and walked one over his last 30.1 innings, so suffice to say, I just don't understand how he can possibly continue putting up those ugly surface numbers.
The MVPs are both banged up now, with Justin Morneau suffering from a blow to the head and Joe Mauer dealing with general catcher fatigue. Generally I think baseball players are pretty much wimps, but anything involving a head injury or the soreness from catching have my sympathy. (A quick aside: physical exhaustion from DHing a few days in a row certainly qualifies as one of the things that gives me that impression. I'm looking at you, Jim Thome.) With Morneau, I think back to the time when he was hit in the head with a pitch all the way back in 2005. He never seemed to fully recover during the season, and struggled to his worst statistical year by far. This, however, seems much less serious--and Morneau has said it doesn't feel anything like that time--but I still keep that in the back of my mind.
While Morneau's injury will prevent him from starting or playing in the All-Star game on Tuesday, all indications are that Mauer will play. If he was sore enough that he couldn't play yesterday, I'd like to see him sit it out, but then again I would be disappointed if neither Mauer nor Morneau were able to play since it would also mean the Twins would not be represented on the playing field.
Just as I have faith in Liriano and Baker, I have faith in the Twins as a whole. I still think they are the best team in the division, and I think they will prove it in the second half.