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Twins pummel the Cubs

By La Velle E. Neal III, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s warm outside. There’s a National League team in town. It must be time for the Twins to get hot.

The Twins are playing their best baseball of the season, finally following the script that manager Ron Gardenhire hoped they would follow a few more times this year. On Saturday, they pounded an unimpressive Cubs team 11-3 for their ninth victory in their past 11 games and have a chance to sweep them in this three-game series Sunday.

(PHOTO: The Minnesota Twins’ Ryan Doumit drives in Joe Mauer with a fourth-inning hit against the Chicago Cubs at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Saturday, June 9, 2012. The Twins routed the Cubs, 11-3. )

The Twins were in a similar situation a year ago. In the middle of a 99-loss season, the Twins tore off 15 victories in 17 games in June over the Royals, Indians, Rangers, White Sox, Padres and Giants. That got them within seven games of .500. They inched to six under before falling apart the rest of the season.

This year’s Twins team must prove that it won’t head down the same path. But that will play out over the next several weeks. Right now, the Twins are seeing that they can hit a little bit, the defense is better than last year and the starting rotation is showing some signs of reliability.

“There is a bunch of confidence in here,” Gardenhire said. “We have said it starts with our starting pitcher. If our starting pitcher is getting us deep into the game it gives us a chance.

“You can tell they are relaxed. We feel like we are going to score some runs. We feel like we are going to win games. It’s just how and who’s going to come up with a big hit.”

Several players came through on Saturday as Trevor Plouffe was 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBI and Joe Mauer had two hits in the fourth inning as the Twins batted around and scored six runs to break the game open.

Twins lefthander Scott Diamond, who pitched six shutout innings Saturday, saw a large group of reporters at his stall after the game as he walked over and joked, “Why do you guys want to talk to me? We scored 11 runs today.”

The Twins have the makings of a good offense with speed at the top and bottom and a core of professional hitters in the middle of the order — Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit — that should be productive. They just have to stay on the field, which has happened more often lately.

“Everyone has confidence here,” Plouffe said. “It’s not about one person. It’s not about if you hit .300. It’s about getting victories. That’s kind of our attitude in here, and that’s an attitude that’s contagious.”

As promising as the offense has been, it can’t outhit bad pitching. Twins starters have a 3.79 ERA over their past 11 games, and they still entered Saturday with the worst starter’s ERA in the American League.

That’s why they looked like they didn’t have a chance over the first several weeks of the season. The additions of Diamond, who won Saturday, and righthander P.J. Walters from Class AAA Rochester have been a boost. Walters, however, has struggled in his past two starts.

Nick Blackburn returned from the disabled list with an encouraging outing Wednesday. Francisco Liriano, who will start Sunday, is coming off two encouraging starts.

This, apparently, is the time of year when the Twins put it all together. They have 13 more interleague games this month, and they are 152-117 all-time against the National League. How far can they ride the interleague wave this season?

Although they can feel good about their recent play, Gardenhire looks at the standings and doesn’t get too excited.

“We’re 10 games under .500, and we have been playing pretty good baseball,” Gardenhire said, “and tells you how far we dug ourselves a hole.”

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