Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

Bullpen.jpgAfter managing to take the series from Oakland at the Metrodome, the Twins embarked on the longest road trip (two weeks) in perhaps team history.  The first opponent on the docket was Anaheim, who just happened to have the best record in the American League.  Remarkably, however, two games into the “open road” that Twins have reclaimed first place in the AL Central, due primarily to their dominant pitching.

On Thursday night, both teams scratched out single runs in the early innings, then the pitchers started shutting the door.  For the Twins, Baker went eight innings and allowed the one earned run before being pulled in favor of the lately shaky (yet now at least somewhat rested) bullpen.  Boy, did the ‘pen ever respond!  Matt Guerrier pitched two scoreless innings, while Crain threw perhaps his most impressive inning all season, retiring Mark Texiera, Vlad Guerrero, and Torii Hunter on just six pitches.  Then, after Hunter dropped a ball in center that Nick Punto turned into a triple and eventually scored on, Joe Nathan slammed the door closed (two Ks) and lowered his ERA to 0.98, or Dennis Eckersley-like numbers.

Last night, the mound presence came from starter Glen Perkins, who shut out the powerful Angels through eight innings on just five hits.  As a result of that great pitching, the Twins’ bats were able to get comfortable against lefty Joe Saunders to the tune of nine runs.  Denard Span (3-4, HR, 4 RBI, 1 R) and Delmon Young (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) led the charge.

Thus, with those two victories (coupled with a ChiSox loss Friday) the Twins moved into first place in their division by half a game.

Notes:

-At the risk of being redundant, or sounding too much like Bert Blyleven (!), the rest of the Twins’ season WILL be determined by the strength of their starting pitching.  If the starters can regularly pitch deep into games and keep the bullpen fresh, I think the Twins are the favorites to win the division (as good pitching beats good hitting).  However, the concern is that not one Twins starter has ever pitched 200 innings in the major leagues, so they are all big question marks come September.

-Also, the mark of a good offensive team is the ability of different players to step up and produced on any given night.  Right now, Morneau is struggling at the plate, but guys like Span, Young, and Kubel are picking the team up.  Eventually, Morneau will come back around and someone else will struggle.

Preview (74-54, 1st, 0.5 GA CWS): Nick Blackburn (9-7, 3.71) vs. Jon Garland (11-8, 4.33).  A split on the road is great, but an early series win would be heaven!

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