That was quite a week! The trade deadline came and went with no further activity by the Twins, but that didn’t stop them from trading third baseman Danny Valencia. On the field, Minnesota lost a well-fought series against the White Sox, but they beat the other-colored Sox quite handily in three of four games. For a team that has had a boatload of trouble against AL East teams, the Red Sox series was a welcome turn of events.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka returns for this week’s games, during which the Twins will face the slumping Cleveland Indians on the road and the Wild Card hopeful Rays at Target Field. It is to be hoped that Trevor Plouffe will return as well, but he will not be present for the Cleveland series. In between the two series, the Twins have a Thursday off day that might allow Plouffe extra time to heal.
Two things to look forward to in the coming week are Scott Diamond and Samuel Deduno’s starts against Cleveland. Both pitchers shut the Indians down a week ago; Diamond hurled a three hit shutout, and Deduno surrendered just two hits in seven innings. They’ll start back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, so be sure to tune in for those games. On the other hand, you might want to miss Saturday’s game, in which Nick Blackburn is the likely starter against Tampa. In six career starts, Blackburn is 2-4 with a 7.20 ERA and 1.97 WHIP against the Rays. Those ERA and WHIP totals are his worst against any American League team.
Twins Goals for the Week Ahead:
1. Catch the Indians! Not long ago, the Twins were stuck in last place in the American League. But thanks to some key wins and a long Indians’ losing streak, Minnesota starts this week a mere three games behind the third place Indians. With a series sweep, the Twins could find themselves tied for third in the Central Division. Respectability is not far off.
2. Win another series against the East. Was that series win at Fenway a fluke? Or is it a sign that the Twins are no longer helpless against the AL East’s premier clubs? We’ll find out a little more when the Rays come to town. Tampa is fighting for a playoff slot, but the Twins are playing for pride.
3. More strong starts. It remains to be seen whether Diamond, Deduno, and Cole DeVries are for real, but they’ve been pitching quite well lately. Since the All Star break, this trio has a 5-3 record and a 3.56 ERA in 81 innings. It’s just the kind of competent starting pitching the Twins craved all season long.
Casey Fien. The latest in a long line of minor league free agents to contribute to the 2012 Twins, Fien has been providing excellent late-inning relief. Last week he made it into three games, tossed three innings of scoreless relief, and notched three strikeouts. Fien is fast becoming a reliable complement to Jared Burton and Glen Perkins at the back end of the ‘pen.
Justin Morneau. At one point in late June, Morneau’s batting average was a pitiful .229. Now it’s a respectable .270. Morneau was one of the heroes of the Boston series, rapping eight hits in the first three games, the majority of them against left-handers.
Ben Revere. The hits keep on coming, and now Revere owns a 19 game hitting streak. He went 11 for 27 last week (.407 average), and he’s becoming a threat for the American League batting title. L.A.’s Mike Trout is still 23 batting points ahead of Revere, but Revere’s average is climbing fast, and he should accumulate enough plate appearances to finally qualify for the leaderboard late this week.
Danny Valencia. Valencia did not have a terrible week at the plate – he went 5 for 18 with a home run – but he makes this list because he left Minnesota on a down note. After a promising rookie year, Valencia slumped along with the rest of the team in 2011. Unlike many of his teammates, he did not snap out of it this year, instead posting his worst numbers as a pro. He leaves Minnesota with a .198 batting average.
Jeff Gray. It was actually a good week for the Twins, so it was pretty tough to find contenders for the Weekly Worst list. Gray lands on the list because he gave up a game-losing home run to A.J. Pierzynski on Tuesday. Giving up a homer to Pierzynski always stings for the Twins, and when that homer costs a game against the division-rival Sox, it’s even worse. Fortunately, Gray redeemed himself later in the week by pitching well and earning a win at Boston.
Alexi Casilla. Playing time continues to be scarce for Casilla, and he is not making the most of it, at least not at the plate. He had just one hit in nine at bats last week.