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Pitching propels Twins to winning week

By Josh Newman
The writers at twinsbaseball.com have claimed that the Twins tend to get better as the season goes on.

I say they’re right, as long as the team has something to play for.

And last week, they finally got what they were looking for from their bullpen: stout performances all around.

Except that they had to sacrifice two things for this: good starting pitching and good hitting.

This formula is not going to work all season, you know. But for one week, anyway, the team rode a less-than-spectacular .256 team batting average and sub-par starting pitching to a 4-2 record in interleague play last week to raise their June record to 14-11.

Okay, so 14-11 is not eye-poppingly spectacular. But calculated over a full season, this would be about 91 victories. I’ll take that. Now if the offense can resume their normal ways next week, I’ll really be satisfied.

I’ll admit I was impressed with R.A. Dickey. The righthander made four appearances out of the bullpen last week and neutralized almost every hitter he faced. In the four games he pitched, he allowed just three hits. More important, not a single runner crossed the plate, lowering his ERA to 2.30 for the season.

Righthander Bob Keppel also made a solid contribution from the bullpen. He only made one appearance last week, but it helped settle a rough start by Slowey. He lasted four innings in that game, allowing just two hits with three walks and three strikeouts. He neutralized the Cardinals upon his entrance, but the Twins were denied any chance of a comeback as they were neutralized themselves.

Offensively, there was not much to talk about. Other than Brendan Harris, Jason Kubel and Joe Crede, the wood didn’t catch fire. The trio combined to go 22-for-69 with 16 RBI, eight of which came from Harris. Impressive indeed. Take away those three, however, and you have a quiet lineup.

Having said all of this, I still must say that I was very pleased by what I saw from the relievers. They had to pick up the slack because the starting pitching was not always there this time. In his only start, even the reliable Kevin Slowey got rocked around. In an attempt to go for his league-leading 11th victory, Slowey yielded a pair of home runs to Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols as Minnesota fell 5-3 at Busch Stadium Saturday night.

This is not to say that every starter who took the mound for the Twins endured struggles. Francisco Liriano picked up a pair of desperately needed victories. He needed 117 pitches just to get through five innings against Milwaukee June 23, but the southpaw still managed to give up just one run as the Twins defeated the Brewers 7-3. For Liriano, it was his first victory in five weeks, and he even followed it up with another good outing later in the week. Sunday in St. Louis, he made his second start, and if it was any indication, he may have finally found his stride. Liriano did not allow a hit until the fifth inning. At that point, Minnesota already had a 4-0 lead, thanks in part to a three-run homer by Justin Morneau in the top of the first inning.

Scott Baker and Glen Perkins also picked up victories last week for the Twins, and the ever-reliable Joe Nathan converted all three of his save opportunities.

The bottom line is simple: the Twins won last week because of pitching. Without it, they would not have gotten anywhere.

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