Twins fans were thrilled during the 2006 season when the Twins overcame a huge deficit, not to mention some key injuries to win their fourth division title in five years.
There were a lot of reasons for the incredible surge and, perhaps, the best regular season baseball this area has ever seen. Justin Morneau’s MVP performance in the second half…Joe Mauer’s historic batting title…Torii Hunter’s return to health and the electrifying three months that Francisco Liriano gave the Twins. Critically important to the turnaround was the decision to get younger and more athletic on the left side of the infield. By trading Juan Castro and calling up Jason Bartlett and releasing Tony Batista and giving Nick Punto third base, the Twins committed themselves to speed, youth and quickness on the left side of the diamond.
Twins fans…get ready…we might be seeing a similar transformation this summer, this time, on the pitching staff.
The Twins started the year with newcomers Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson in the rotation. While Ortiz was brilliant in April, both veterans now find themselves out of the rotation…Ponson released and Ortiz send to the bullpen. The door is wide open for Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza to do for the pitching staff what Bartlett and Punto did for the left side of the infield.
Baker is already here and has given the Twins a magnificent start and another decent one. Slowey has been nothing short of superb in Rochester. He simply doesn’t have anything more to prove at triple-A without a chance to prove it up here. Garza has butted heads with some folks in the Twins organization, but his live fastball and improving off-speed stuff will probably make its’ way to the majors sooner rather than later. In his most recent start, Garza threw ten off-speed pitches(5 for strikes, 5 for balls). That’s enough for Twins’ management to consider bringing him up this summer.
Obviously, the hope is that the extra seasoning the first two months has provided the talented young pitchers will ease the transition to the major leagues, Slowey in particular. Remember, he’s never pitched up here. Both Garza and Slowey were in class A ball a year ago.
While the Twins took a flier on Ponson and aren’t ready to give up on Ortiz yet, it’s clear that the time has come for the young guys to get their chance. Add Glen Perkins to the mix when he returns from his, thankfully, relatively minor shoulder injury and the Twins have the makings of an extremely talented yet inexperienced pitching staff. Oh, and did I mention that the Twins are encouraged that next year Francisco Liriano will return to his dominating self of 2006?