Liriano less of a concern for Twins than their sputtering offense

Posted on April 25th, 2008 – 12:00 PM
By Joe Christensen

Star Tribune baseball editor Dennis Brackin greeted me yesterday by saying, “So, who are you trying to send to the minors today?”

A few minutes later, a slew of us tracking the Twins on the Internet were cracking up when Carlos Gomez went deep to start the game. Put that in your Around the Majors pipe and smoke it!

Looks like a day off did the young man some good. Let’s see how that home run swing and subsequent bunt single translate into his attempts to get on base this weekend in Texas.

But then … yes, about The Franchise?

The season outlook darkened considerably for the Twins, when Francisco Liriano fell apart. Some in the office were in full doom-and-gloom mode. The concerns I kept hearing were pitching, pitching, pitching.

Here’s what I say: Pitching isn’t this team’s main concern. It’s still the offense.

Liriano might look lost, but the Twins have enough depth to keep their starting pitching engine churning. Kevin Slowey is on the mend. Brian Duensing (2-3, 2.40 ERA) and Kevin Mulvey (2-1, 1.16) are knocking on the door at Class AAA Rochester.

Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker have settled in nicely. Boof Bonser and Livan Hernandez — a combined 62 innings pitched and 7-for-10 in quality starts — have been OK.

Take away Liriano’s three games, and Twins starters have combined to go 7-6 with a 3.64 ERA. That ERA would rank third among American League starting staffs.

Let’s face it, the Twins rushed Liriano. They had reports that he wasn’t ready following his April 8 start for Rochester and called him up anyway. It was a reasonable gamble, considering Liriano’s pre-surgery talent, but it backfired.

Now, assuming Liriano is headed back to the minors, they must keep him focused. He must keep himself focused no matter the weather conditions or defense behind him. Forget the slider. Forget the change-up. He has to command the fastball, or none of it matters.

Meanwhile, the Twins get Michael Cuddyer back from the DL tonight. This is no small thing. He is their No. 3 hitter. He had a great spring batting between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

After a shaky first series against the Angels, Cuddyer was 2-for-2 against Kansas City and looked like a machine on the basepaths that night before he dislocated his right index finger.

It might take Cuddyer a while to regain his timing, but his mere presence should make the lineup better.

Listen, the offense has to get better. The Twins are averaging 3.6 runs per game, second worst in the league. If that doesn’t improve, the rest is irrelevant. You could turn back time to 2006, bring back Johan and the rookie Liriano, and the Twins would be in a heap of trouble with run production like that.

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