Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'The Franchise' Appears to be Back



Francisco Liriano was considered the potential X-Factor this year for the Twins chances to not only win another AL Central division title, but also to finally get out of the first round. After an exceptional winter ball and an impressive Spring, I was cautiously optimistic that Liriano could become a very good starter again. Of course, performing well against lesser players in both winter ball and spring training is nowhere close to actually going out and getting it done. That's why watching Liriano over the first month of the season has been so much fun.

After allowing three runs over six innings in his first start of the year, Liriano has been as close to untouchable as you could imagine. He's now gone three consecutive starts without allowing a run, 23 straight innings, and he's had a video game like 24:5 K/BB ratio over that time. Last night though seemed to be the surest sign yet that Liriano is back. His slider was absolutely sensational, his control was exceptional, and he allowed just four hits over eight shutout innings with ten strikeouts and just one walk.

Many fans will be talking about Liriano consistently lighting up the Radar Gun at 95-96 MPH, but that's probably a bit misleading as Detroit is well known for juicing up the gun by 2 or 3 MPH. For example, Rauch sits around 89-90 MPH consistently, but tonight his fastball was being clocked at 91-92 MPH for the most part. More impressive than the 'possible' return of Liriano's mid 90's fastball was the control and movement he had with the slider, undoubtedly his 'out' pitch during that magical 2006 run and when it's working like it was tonight Liriano is virtually unhittable.

Liriano is now 3-0 in four starts with a 0.93 ERA in 29 innings, 0.97 WHIP and a 27:10 K:BB ratio for the season. If he continues to pitch like the Liriano of old, and don't kid yourself, over his last three starts he has been just as dominant as he was in 2006, the Twins may be the World Series favorites. As crazy as that sounds, putting a clear ace at the top of this rotation with how deep the lineup is and the track record of Scott Baker, the Twins would be among the most dangerous teams in a short series playoff setup.

It'd be foolish to expect Liriano to pitch this well all season, obviously, but he's been even better than the most optimistic Twins fans would have hoped for and an eighteen to twenty win season with a sub 3.00 ERA doesn't only seem possible, it seems likely. That's how good 'The Franchise' has been, and as a Twins fan it is a treat to watch him dominate a Detroit lineup that has a lot of good offensive players in it. Enjoy the ride, Twins fans.