With Joe Mauer going 2-4 with two RBI and an outstanding performance on the mound from a guy named Johan Yohan last night, I’m sure more than a few Twins fans (myself included) were imitating Robin Williams’ character in Jumanji, yelling "What year is it!?" much to the chagrin to those in close proximity.
The year is 2014, and by all accounts their questioning is somewhat justified. The Royals are coming off a ten game winning streak and atop the AL Central, the Tigers are treading water while Justin Verlander’s ERA approaches 5.00, and the Twins are only five and a half games out of first place halfway through June. No, I promise the date on your watch/phone/newspaper is correct.
Did I mention the Twins starting rotation has posted four quality starts in a row.
Yes, that includes Kevin Correia.
In fact, it was Correia’s start on Monday in Boston that got the train rolling. He pitched six innings giving up just one run and one walk while allowing five hits, the least he’s given up since May 20th against the Padres. While his strikeout count leaves a little to be desired (40 over 78.1 innings) he does have a K/BB ratio over two and has only allowed eight HRs tying him with the likes of Gerrit Cole and Doug Fister. His last few starts are evidence that he’s getting his act together, lowering his ERA month by month and seems to be returning to his 4.23 ERA back of the rotation self from yesteryear.
Next up was Phil Hughes. Do we really need to talk about Phil Hughes? The dude has been lights out for most of the season. He leads the majors in walks per 9 IP (0.797), he’s ninth in WAR (2.5) and sixth in WHIP (1.10) in the AL plus he already has 64% of his strike out total from last year (78/121) in less than half the games pitched. Since April 20th Hughes hasn’t pitched less than six innings in any of his starts nor has he let up more than four runs more than once. His win percentage is higher than it’s been since 2009 and if he had any run support on Tuesday in Boston where he tossed another impressive game (8 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K) he would be tied for fourth in wins in the MLB.
The Twins concluded the series in Boston on Wednesday by losing in extra innings, cinching the sweep for the Red Sox. The offense was stagnant as it was all series notching a total of two runs on eleven hits thus wasting a brilliant start by Kyle Gibson.
Earlier in the season there were some question marks surrounding Gibson but he seems to have called Stella (or ran into Aaron Gleeman at Stella's) and gotten his groove back. In his last three starts Gibby has been downright dominant, not allowing a run (21 IP) while giving up just nine hits and five walks while striking out sixteen in that span including a career high eight punch outs Wednesday in Boston. You can almost hear the raspy, metallic voice of Darth Vader uttering "Impressive…" Gibson’s 1.74 K/BB is a little concerning but he also has the tenth best batting average against in the American League at .228, right behind Sonny Gray, so whatever he’s been doing let’s hope he keeps it up.
Continuing the Twins quality start streak on Thursday night was Yohan Pino, a thirty-year-old (don’t scoff, he’s about six months younger than Samuel Deduno) career minor leaguer making his major league debut. If you have been paying any attention the Twins minor league system this year you are probably aware of Pino’s exploits at AAA Rochester. In fourteen appearances, (including seven starts as Scott Diamond floats away on his ballooning 6.68 ERA) Yohan has a 9-1 record, 1.93 ERA, 0.934 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 61:16. While some argue that Trevor May deserved the call up it’s hard to argue with those numbers and even harder to argue with the numbers he put up Thursday night against the White Sox in Target Field. Pino started off his major league career with back-to-back strikeouts of Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham and cruised for most of the night aside from a two run hiccup in the third inning on his way to an exceptional first impression in a Twins uniform going seven innings giving up five hits, two earned runs and one walk while striking out seven.
Optimism is at an all time high for the newest addition to the rotation but expectations do need to be held in check however. After all, there was another pitcher sporting the number 63 on the mound last year for the Twins who had fantastic starts in his first two outings that now pitches in Korea.
With Hughes and Gibson looking like long terms options in the starting rotation and a AAA affiliate brimming with skillful prospect arms chomping at the bit to make it to "the show" it’s hard not to feel good about the future of this club, especially when pitching has been the main problem during a streak of ninety loss seasons.
(Originally posted at twinsandlosses.com)