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Week 2 passes: Twins still winning

By Josh Newman
Even though they have not played any of the other top three teams on the American League yet, the Twins last week provided more proof that they are definitely a force to be reckoned with in 2010.

Target Field seems to be looking more like home every week to the Twins. Following a 4-2 record last week – taking two out of three from Boston and Kansas City, all games at home – Minnesota continued their success from the first week of the regular season and continued to earn their keep among the elite.

However, I will be really satisfied when they play – and beat – teams like the Yankees, the Rays, the Blue Jays, and the Athletics. But it is still early in the year, and at this stage in the season, every team needs to take what they can get.

Adjusting to the new stadium is no longer among my concerns. Neither is playing without Joe Nathan – Jon Rauch has continued to do a good job filling the closer role, slamming the door two more times. And the offense? The Twins hit .316 last week as a team, so if there are ever any signs of a slump, I’ll let you know.

As I have stated many times before, it is pitching and defense that separates the good teams from the great teams. Even the best offenses can’t score a ton of runs every night, and should the offense endure a struggle, pitching must step up.

There is no reason to worry, but as a whole, the pitching struggled last week. Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano (he’s back!) both thrived in their only starts. Liriano allowed just four hits over seven innings and struck out eight in an easy 8-0 victory over the Red Sox April 15. It should also be noted that the offense made short work of Boston starter Tim Wakefield. Remember the days when the knuckleballer routinely dominated the Twins? Well, Minnesota pounded the veteran for six runs on 10 hits on 5.1 innings.

In Baker’s only start against the Royals April 16, the righthander allowed just two runs on seven hits over seven innings, with no walks and six strikeouts. The offense did not hit a single home run, instead getting a total of 11 hits and taking nine walks from the Royals pitching staff.

But even great teams have bad days. For example, take the way the Twins closed out the week in the third and final game against Kansas City. I think the Twins should easily have swept this series. But the Royals dealt Twins starter Carl Pavano his first loss of the season, and in fine fashion. Pavano surrendered seven runs on 11 hits in 3.1 innings. The Royals served up a total of 16 hits, including a pair of three-run home runs by Royals infielder Alberto Callaspo.

The Royals won by a final score of 10-3 to deny Minnesota the sweep.

Right now, I am about as confident as I’ve ever been about this team. If the Twins have a bad game, I will be anti-Minnesotan and not worry. So they lose a game, so what? They have nothing to lose right now. Remember everyone: there are 162 games in a year, and there is enough depth on this team where somebody will pick up the slack if somebody struggles offensively. As for the pitching staff, last week they walked just 14 batters and struck out 47 over 54 innings. But Jesse Crain needs to rebound from his outing: 1.2 innings, five hits, six runs. That is an ERA of 32.40. He’s much better than that.
The team resumes action next week with an important pair of three-game road series against Detroit and Cleveland. This is a real chance to put some distance between themselves and their division rivals. They simply must capitalize to put themselves in any sort of a comfortable position.

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