Thursday, July 14, 2011

Twins players to watch in the second half

Tonight the Twins will start a stretch of games that could very well be the deciding factor in their chase for a third straight Central Division title. The Twins will start a tumultuous stretch of twelve games in eleven days in front of their hometown crowd at Target Field.

There have been many players that have spurred the recent run that the Twins have been on as they climbed out of the cellar. For their run to continue, there are going to need to be a variety of players to step up their game for the stretch run. Now is the time to separate the men from the boys as the teams race for supremacy in the Central.

Here are three players to watch in the second half for the Twins. There is one starting pitcher, one position player, and one relief pitcher that could have a large role in the success of the Twins in the second half.

Francisco Liriano
The early months of the season were rough on Liriano and the Minnesota Twins team. He struggled out of the gate by losing four of his first five starts with a 9.13 ERA. Since his no-hit game at the beginning of May, there have been signs of Liriano improving. In that stretch of time, he has six starts that he went at least six innings and allowed three earned runs or less.

Just a season ago the Twins relied on big wins from Liriano to power them to the postseason. Following the All-Star break last season, Liriano did not lose a game until September 19th. A remarkable stretch that saw him win eight straight games in which he was given a decision. In the eleven starts he made in that stretch, the Twins only lost one of the games he started. The Twins need another fantastic stretch run like that from Liriano.

Joe Mauer
In Spring Training 2010, the Twins made Mr. Joseph Patrick Mauer a very wealthy man by giving him a mega contract to be the face of the franchise. This is his first season under that mega contract and he has struggled through injuries during the first half of the year. The beginning of the year was full of ground balls and weak swings as Mauer tried to play through his issues. 

Now there have been 22 games that Mauer has played in since he returned from injury and it looks as if his swing is finally starting to make a return. Looking at the last ten games, Mauer has an average of .306 with a .724 OPS. This is a far cry from the .235 BA and .554 OPS he averaged before heading to the DL. With Justin Morneau out of the line-up for the third straight year, the Twins will turn to their hometown star to power them offensively. Look for Mauer to show fans that he deserves all of the money he is making. 

Joe Nathan
The Twins did the right thing coming out of Spring Training by giving Nathan the opportunity to be the closer for the team. He deserved the chance to show the team if he could still handle the role and the job was his to lose. The beginning of the year was rough for Nathan as he adjusted to life without the dominating fastball he had possessed before Tommy John surgery. His ERA climbed as high as 11.37 and he eventually need to spend some time on the DL.

Nathan returned at the end of June and has looked increasingly better in his appearances. He has been used as the set-up man for Matt Capps (and/or Glen Perkins) and he has recorded five holds while only allowing one earned run since he returned. His location has been better and the movement on his pitches has been much improved. The Twins will need reliable options to get some tough outs in the late innings of games. As Nathan's confidence and pitching continue to improve, he will have an increasingly more important role in the second half. 

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