Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Liriano's struggles loom large for Twins in AL Central Race

When looking at the Minnesota Twins, there are a lot of interesting story lines. There is the amazing home/road record split (22-13 at home, 11-21 on the road), the emergence of Joe Mauer as maybe the best player in the game and the rise of Kevin Slowey. They are trying valiantly to contend for a playoff spot in a very weak AL Central, but one player in particular seems to be holding them back. That player is Francisco Liriano and he is having a terrible season. After allowing 4 runs in 7 innings tonight, he is 2-8 with an ERA of 5.91. He not only leads the AL in losses, he has one of the worst ERAs as well.

When he debuted in 2006, the results were electric. It looked like Santana and Liriano were a 1-2 punch like Schilling/Johnson that could lead the Twins to the World Series. Unfortunately, Liriano got hurt that season, had Tommy John Surgery and missed 2007. After a very rocky start this year, he won his last two starts and had respectable outings in each. That is the best he can do right now: respectable, but not dominant.

It seems the Twins are in somewhat of a similar situation to the Red Sox with David Ortiz. Ortiz has a much longer track record, but anyone else with numbers this bad would have been benched. They are not ready to give up yet because they know the talent is there. Just like with the Red Sox, the Twins cannot afford to have someone with these numbers playing such a key role on the team.

If the Twins want inspiration for this situation, they can look at the Tigers' Justin Verlander, who lost 17 games last year before coming back strong this year. On the other hand, they can also look at Dontrelle Willis, former phenom, who has fallen off a cliff since arriving in Detroit. Neither of them had to deal with recovering from Tommy John surgery, either. Liriano isn't the only former young standout facing monumental struggles, either. Fausto Carmona might be having an even worse season for the Indians, although the Indians are further out of the race than the Twins.

If Liriano continues to pitch the way he has in his last three starts, with an ERA of 3.78, the Twins can probably live with that and it might not sink them in the playoff race. In the long run, they would have to decide if he can ever come back to form and whether it is worth their trouble to find out. If he pitches like he did in May, when he was 2-4 with a 7.12 ERA, then they will have a tough decision to make. The Twins have a good organization and they probably have several minor league pitchers who could get better results immediately. He is young and hopefully will regain his form someday, but the Twins need consistent pitching this year and he is not providing it.

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