Weekend Observations: Twins Gain From Losses

TwinCitiesDugout.com takes a look at this past weekend and explains why losing two of three from the Yankees should be viewed as more of a positive than a negative. Matt Garza got a great learning experience, Scott Baker looked great, and Francisco Liriano looks ready for his return.

In what was their first real test of the month of September, the Twins walked into Yankee Stadium with a new swagger about themselves. They have played themselves into contention for not only the Wild Card, but also the division title. Here was their chance to perform on the biggest stage in professional sports, and although they lost two of three to the Bronx Bombers, the weekend was not a total failure.

Scott Baker took the ball on Saturday after the Twins took a drubbing on Friday night. And while the 2006 season has not been what Scott had expected, he looked like a veteran in the rain at the Stadium, and gave the Twins a much needed win in Game two. This is a great sign for the Twins, who are definitely going to need Baker down the stretch.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend would have to be Carlos Silva, who continues to be victimized by the long ball. He is no longer good for the Twins in the role of starting pitcher, and should be put into the bullpen, where he had success earlier in the year. He just does not have that great sink on his sinker anymore, and the home runs continue to pile up.

On Sunday, Matt Garza took the hill, and although his stat line would not reflect it, he did not pitch terribly. Sure he was off with his control all day, but even some of the Yankee players could not believe that a kid with his makeup began the season in High-A. Even after being battered in the third inning, Garza sat in the dugout with a determined look on his face to right the ship.

That is the kind of thing a manager looks for in a young pitcher, and Garza should be able to shake off this outing. He is a huge part of the Twins future, and getting hit in Yankee Stadium may have been the best thing for him at this point in his career. If he can spot his breaking pitches better, and incorporate them well with his plus-fastball, starts like Sunday should be few and far between.

And then there is Francisco Liriano, the "Franchise", who pitched a successful 12-minute bullpen session over the weekend. The young left-hander is scheduled to throw batting practice in Tampa Bay before possibly making a start for the playoff-bound Rochester Red Wings this weekend. If all goes well, the Twins should have a loaded gun going into the stretch run.

One glaring piece of the puzzle that was missing was Luis Castillo, as the Twins offense looked almost lost without their clutch top-of-the order bat. Castillo was also missed in the field, where Nick Punto looked uncomfortable at second base at certain points in the series. That is not a knock on Punto, who has been unbelievable for the Twins this season at third base.

Overall, this was a series that the Twins can take a lot from. This is the make-or-break point in the season, and they should use the Tampa Bay series to get back on track, maybe even get sweep the upstart D-Rays. With some great play, and a little luck, the Twins could join their four affiliate teams in making the playoffs.

From there, with their pitching, it is anybody's ballgame.

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