by, 05-17-2012 at 05:44 PM (1856 Views)
Back in February, I framed the Twins' rotation as a series of five coin flips. Looking back, it's funny how the worst case scenario seems to have struck in every single situation:
Carl Pavano … Heads, he remembers how to miss a few extra bats and returns to the form he showed while winning 17 games two years ago. Tails, his performance continues to descend as he ages into his late 30s.Francisco Liriano … Heads, he regains his fastball command and helps power the top of a solid rotation. Tails, the problems that haunted him in 2011 remain present, leading to continued inconsistency and frustration before the non-competitive Twins trade him for peanuts at the deadline.Scott Baker … Heads, Baker finally shrugs off the arm troubles that have plagued him intermittently throughout the past two seasons to pile up 200 frames for the first time since 2009. Tails, his elbow keeps on barking and limits him once again, perhaps leading to surgery.Nick Blackburn … Heads, Blackburn overcomes his flaws and serves as an average, yet valuable, anchor in the No. 4 spot. Tails, the hits keep on coming and he struggles to another shortened and substandard campaign.The Twins seem to have flipped tails five times in a row. Ouch. Granted, there were a number of warning signs attached to each of these guys, which is why I dubbed them "dangerous gambles," but it would have taken an unruly pessimist to predict that things would go so horribly awry for the rotation.Jason Marquis … Heads, Marquis proves to be a serviceable piece at the end of the rotation, perhaps until a better option emerges in the minors. Tails, he follows the path of former bargain bin veterans like Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson and Livan Hernandez, dropping before the season's halfway through.
Fans are rightfully frustrated with the lackluster outings delivered by Twins starters on an almost nightly basis, and much of the heat is being directed toward the front office. I think this is a little unfair.
Blackburn and Liriano were both on fire in spring training, so their quick descents into the regular season have been surprising. Baker's elbow couldn't have been handled much differently. Marquis has at least been serviceable when healthy for the majority of his career – this is likely the worst he's ever pitched. And Liam Hendriks looked like a solid enough fallback, given his domination of the minor leagues.
Nothing has worked, for any of those guys. Front to back, the starting corps has been a catastrophe. Baker had a cascade of bad news regarding his elbow, resulting in the likely end to his Twins career. Liriano has been demoted to the bullpen, Hendriks to the minors. Blackburn has been placed on the disabled list for reasons that may have as much to do with performance as health. Marquis may be on the verge of getting cut.
The only member of the rotation that has performed about as you'd expect is Pavano, and he's done so while throwing 85 MPH with a sore shoulder.
Altogether, the Twins' starters have been getting battered around like a bunch of marginal minor-leaguers. Ironically, the only guys who have been able to break the spell of ineptitude are a couple of marginal minor-leaguers.
Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters are not noteworthy prospects. They were pretty far back in line to receive major-league starts back when camp broke, but things have spiraled so quickly it took them only until mid-May to get a shot. And to their credit, both have taken advantage in a way that nobody in front of them on the depth chart has been able to.
Diamond blanked opponents for seven innings in two consecutive outings after being called up last week. Walters tossed six innings of one-run ball on Saturday and took a tough loss, then beat the Tigers in their own park with 6 1/3 strong innings on Thursday. Together, the two have combined for four quality starts in four turns; the rest of the Twins' starters have produced seven quality starts in 34 tries.
I've never seen anything quite like it. An entire stable of veteran starters with track records of major-league success pitching abysmally, and then two guys from the bottom of the depth chart coming up and setting the example.
To what can we attribute this strange turn of events? Opponents haven't had the chance to fully scout Diamond and Walters – that might be part of it. But mostly I think it's just the law of averages. The Twins have had so many bad breaks, so many awful performances, so many inexplicable miscues, that eventually a few things had to start going their way.
I believe what we've seen in the Twins' respectable 5-5 run over the past 10 games is a team's luck finally – FINALLY – starting to swing. Rather than getting dud outings from guys with high expectations, they're getting great outings from guys with no expectations. Rather than folding in tough spots, the relievers are coming through (Glen Perkins in the eighth Thursday serving as a prime example). Rather than continuing to struggle in his return from injury, Justin Morneau is swatting the ball. Rather than being placed on the DL at the last second, Ryan Doumit is being pulled off it at the last second.
And rather than losing night after night, the Twins are starting to win a few. Let's hope it keeps up.