Pitching Leading The Way Once Again

Liriano was the start of the Twins' turnaround.

The Twins are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now, and the recent winning streak can be attributed to an old friend: starting pitching. Read about how the pitching staff is righting the ship, and how a few moves have turned around the Twins seemingly lost season.

The Twins' rise from the depths of the American League Central in mid-May to sea level (.500) by late June is largely the result of the same thing that was supposed to make the Twins a division contender from the start: their starting pitching.

The Twins were 17-24 with a major-league worst starting-rotation ERA of 6.43 after May 18.

Then rookie Francisco Liriano made his first major league start, the first of several dominoes to fall in a weeklong sequence, and the Twins began to right their season.

Liriano moved from the bullpen to take the place of Carlos Silva (then-ERA of 8.80), who went to the bullpen. One day after that move was made, Kyle Lohse (then-ERA of 8.92) was demoted to Triple-A Rochester, and Boof Bonser was recalled from Rochester to make his major league debut in the rotation.

Since then, Liriano has been lights-out, Bonser has been OK, Lohse has returned to the majors, but in the bullpen, and Silva has improved enough to return to the rotation (at the expense of Scott Baker, who was demoted to Triple-A). Along the way, veteran Brad Radke has rebounded from the worst seven-week start of his career to look effective again over the past three weeks.

The result: The team is 17-10 since Liriano's first start, and the starting pitchers have an ERA of 3.63 -- the starters peaking, so far, with a 5-0 record and 1.62 ERA during the team's current seven-game winning streak.

The team's overall 3.09 ERA in June ranks fourth in the majors and has pushed their season mark down to 4.62, 10th in the A.L.

"We were going nowhere fast," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "At least now we've got a pretty good handle on what to do ourselves. The White Sox and the Tigers are playing great baseball. We can't control that. But if our starters keep doing what they're doing, that will carry us."

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • The Twins have the best-hitting catching corps in the majors. C Joe Mauer leads the majors with a .380 average. His backup, C Mike Redmond, is hitting .377 and has been so reliable game-to-game that manager Ron Gardenhire has taken to putting him in Mauer's No. 3 spot in the order when he gives Mauer a day off -- as he did Sunday. And Gardenhire also has used the DH spot to get both in the lineup eight times, risking the loss of the DH if the catcher that day gets hurt. Combined, they have 25 doubles, five homers and 43 RBIs.

  • The Twins open a three-game series at Houston on Wednesday, their first series against the Astros since 2001, and the first in Houston since 2000. They're 3-3 all-time in Houston, 8-6 all-time against the Astros (1997-2001).

  • The Twins' seven-game winning streak is their longest since a nine-game streak Sept. 7-16, 2004.

  • 3B Tony Batista was released by the Twins on Monday, six days after he was designated for assignment by the team. In 50 games, he hit just .236 with five homers, showed very little range in the field, and ran the bases poorly.

  • LF Shannon Stewart (left foot) showed progress running the bases Sunday before the game and could begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment by midweek. He said his pain has subsided and he no longer limps while running. He has missed 24 games since going on the DL.

  • The Twins are 5-1 in interleague play this season with all six games so far coming on the road.
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