Monday, June 27, 2011

Eight Steps Forward, Five Steps Back

After ripping off eight straight wins to climb back into the thick of the division race, the Twins lost the remaining two games in San Francisco and got swept at Miller Park (which, to be fair, has been the hardest place in baseball for road teams this season, with the Brewers owning a 29-11 record there). The previously sparkling pitching was nowhere to be found, by both the starters and the bullpen, and after scoring nine runs against the Giants last Tuesday night, the Twins proceeded to score that exact same number in the following five games. Frankly, they're lucky that the division deficit remains at nine games, as Cleveland and Detroit went 4-6 and 5-5 in their last ten, respectively.

The merry-go-round of injuries continues to spin as well, the latest casualty being Justin Morneau. To be honest, I think many of us thought he just had a minor wrist injury, and the fact that he was going to have neck surgery to fix a herniated disc caught me by surprise. Much like 2009 and 2010, it once again appears that Morneau is going to be on the DL for more time than he spends on the field. In addition, Delmon Young went to the DL with an ankle injury after getting it caught underneath the fence in left field, meaning that Rene Tosoni's latest stint at Rochester was a short-lived one. Denard Span is still having post-concussion symptoms that are eerily similar to Morneau's lingering problems, and there's no idea when he might be back, while Jason Kubel could return within a week. Jim Thome was back and contributed an RBI single in yesterday's game, but Mauer and Nishioka continue to struggle mightly after their return.

The Twins will limp back to Target Field for a series with the Dodgers, who haven't visited Minnesota since 2006. Off the field, the Dodgers are even more of a mess than they are on the field, having just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, so hopefully that will have a demoralizing (rather than galvanizing) affect. Tonight's matchup will feature Nick Blackburn for the Twins, proud owner of a 3.15 ERA who has given up two earned runs or less in nine of his last ten starts. As odd as it sounds, Blackburn may be the pitcher the Twins would count on the most to right the ship at this point. Los Doyers counter with Chad Billingsley, who bounced back from a string of ugly outings with a one-run, six K performance against the Tigers in his last start. Billingsley can rack up the strikeouts at times but is also prone to issuing walks, so the Twins would be wise to adopt a patient approach. Tuesday's game will see Brian Duensing take on Ted Lilly in a lefty matchup, and Wednesday will feature Scott Baker, who took a step back in Milwaukee after his 10-strikeout gem versus the Rangers, and Dodgers rookie Rubby De La Rosa, who has a cannon for an arm but seems to have trouble finding the strike zone at points. Following the Dodgers series, the Twins will see the Brewers again, this time at Target Field.

This season has been quite the roller coaster, and although many fans aren't quite back to saying the Twins are out of it, the recent stretch of play has taken some of the luster out of what appeared to be a miraculous run back into the thick of the division race. Is "it" still "happening"? Is the glass half empty or half full? Nine games back with 86 to play looks more daunting than six or seven, but it's certainly better than 16.5. The Twins can no longer get back to .500 by the All-Star break, but this team has proven before that it truly isn't over until it's over and, at least eight steps forward and five steps back still equals three steps forward. The first step in going to be to snapping this five-game skid, and let's hope Blackburn is up to the task.

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