COMMENTARY | The biggest weakness all season for the Minnesota Twins has been pitching, especially starting pitching. The Twins have been at or near the bottom of the American League in ERA most of the season, but they are starting to trend up.
After a very good run of pitching over their last 13 games, the Twins have moved up to 12th in the AL in ERA after barely avoiding last place in ERA in 2012. Their ERA has improved by nearly half a run per game.
Over the last 13 games, including 10 on the road, the Twins have a 2.97 ERA and, not coincidentally, have gone 8-5. This started with the final series before the All-Star break when the Twins won their first road series against the New York Yankees since 2001.
The Twins have needed great pitching because the offense is missing Josh Willingham, who has been on the disabled list since July 1 because of knee surgery, and Joe Mauer, who missed six games to be with his wife and newborn twin daughters.
The Twins' pitching has shown improvement for even longer than just these 13 games. The Twins' ERA has been as high as 4.71 on May 24, which was when Samuel Deduno's first start after coming off the disabled list. He gave up six earned runs in a loss to the Detroit Tigers in that start, but since then he is 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA to anchor the staff.
Mike Pelfrey also has been improving since May. The Twins gave Pelfrey a one-year deal after he had Tommy John surgery on his elbow last year. They knew he was likely to struggle early in the season, but that patience is starting to pay off.
On May 26, Pelfrey gave up five earned runs in a loss to the Tigers, but since then has an ERA of 3.54 in eight starts. He averaged just over six innings in those starts.
Scott Diamond has been trending the wrong direction, although not severely. He gave up three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Tigers on May 23. Since then, he has a 5.49 ERA in his last 11 starts.
With Andrew Albers pitching will at Class AAA Rochester, Diamond may have saved his spot in the Twins' rotation by allowing just one run in 6 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Friday.
Kevin Correia was signed to a two-year deal by the Twins in the hopes that he would be the veteran leader of the starting staff. After a very good April, Correia has a 5.60 ERA in his last 15 starts. After being lit up for six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings on Thursday, Correia's ERA for the season stands at a season-high 4.56.
Kyle Gibson made his long-anticipated major-league debut on June 29 and gave up just two runs in six innings of a win over the Kansas City Royals. However, since then he has struggled with a 6.91 ERA in five starts.
He has shown good stuff. His problem has been controlling his pitches, which has led to too many walks and falling behind batters too much.
The real strength of the pitching staff is the bullpen, especially the back end of it. Closer Glen Perkins was a deserving All-Star, and Casey Fien, Jared Burton and Caleb Thielbar give him three dominant setup men. Perkins and Thielbar are both left-handed, and all four relievers are signed or under team control through at least 2015.
Other teams have shown interest in trading for Perkins and possibly Burton, but there is no reason to if the Twins truly believe they will be contenders by 2015.
Burton had been struggling for a while after dealing with a groin injury, and had been passed by Fien in the bullpen pecking order. However, Burton has not been scored on in his last 11 appearances, and opponents are batting .156 against him in that stretch.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the starters in the final two months. Is Deduno for real? Does Gibson need more time in the minors? Is Pelfrey worthy of a contract extension? Can Diamond return to his 2012 form? Can the Twins count on Correia to be a veteran leader in 2014?
Hopefully, most of the answers will become clear before the offseason to help guide the Twins as they look to get the Twins back to contention.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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