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Blackburn, Baker shine

By Josh Newman
The first sweep of the season could not have come at a better time. Prior to the series, only half a game separated the Twins and Tigers. Afterward, the Twins had a little bit more breathing room.

It would have been better had the team been able to sweep the lowly Orioles on top of that. But after coming up short in the first two games, the team caught fire and pounded Baltimore in the final two games to salvage a split.

As far as I am concerned, a tie is a loss, especially against bottom feeders. The split against Baltimore should have been a sweep, of course. Sure, 5-2 is not 7-0. But the Twins were finally able to punch out some clutch hits in the final two games to go with the outstanding pitching that has become the team’s trademark. It should have been a perfect week, but winning five out of seven games last week is okay.

But see if you can detect a pattern here: in the five victories, the Twins were a combined 19-for-46 with runners in scoring position. In the two losses, they were a combined 0-for-8 in such circumstances. It is simple: you must be able to hit in the clutch in order to score runs. Unless you always expect home runs with the bases empty or runners to score from first base every single time, you must be able to hit with runners in scoring position.

Something else happened, too. What, you ask? Remember how everybody – myself included – had been continuously ripping on the Twins’ mysteriously absent offense? Well, Minnesota was finally able to manage some extra base hits in addition to push some runners across the plate. In the sweep of Detroit, the Twins hit .278 as a team, and went 11-for-29 with runners in scoring position.

Let’s not forget about that pitching staff, which has carried this team since the beginning of the season. At the beginning of the season, I had pegged Scott Baker as the ace of the staff. Well, he finally pitched like one last week as he won both of his starts and compiled a 2.40 ERA in a total of 15 innings. He also displayed impeccable control, walking just two and striking out 14. Nick Blackburn contributed two wins of his own with a 1.69 ERA to complement his teammate.
Not much to say this week, folks, except that it is very hard not to have high expectations for a team like this. The sweep thrilled me, but this early in the season, a sweep against anyone in our division would thrill me. But it is also important to win the games we are supposed to win, especially when they are at home. It will only be a matter of time before this team becomes more acclimated to its new home and playing in chilly weather early in the year.


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