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Hayden Goethe, Published September 25 2009

Goethe column: Unlikely help keeping Twins’ hopes afloat

As the Minnesota Twins keep finding ways to win, I keep having flashbacks to Sunday, Sept. 13.

I was at the Metrodome to watch the Twins face the Oakland Athletics, with no illusions at all of this team making up – at the time – a 5½-game deficit in the AL Central race.

On that Sunday:

Justin Morneau, the American League’s MVP in 2006, was not in the Twins’ lineup that day for the first time in the month of September, which saw the slugger go just 3-for-39 at the plate. Little did I know, he was done for the season with a back injury.

Joe Crede, the third baseman with the steady glove, on that Sunday posted a “golden sombrero,” a term used when a player strikes out four times in a single game. That game was the last Crede would play this season, also due to back problems.

And making the start for the Twins was left-hander Brian Duensing, forced into the rotation due to injuries to Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, and due to the ineffectiveness of Francisco Liriano. A rookie making just his sixth major league start, Duensing tossed seven shutout innings in an 8-0 win over the A’s.

Fast forward to today. The Twins enter a three-game series at Kansas City just three games behind Detroit in the division race. They’ve won 9 of their last 10 games since that Sunday afternoon, despite having to replace 60 percent of their rotation and playing without Crede, Morneau, and their recently injured leadoff hitter, Denard Span.

How have the Twins managed to stay in contention? By filling holes in their everyday lineup with unheralded minor leaguers.

No Morneau? No problem. Simply move Michael Cuddyer to first base and give more at-bats to Jose Morales, who is hitting .354 this season.

Crede’s out? In steps Matt Tolbert, who is hitting .363 this month after hitting just .178 prior to a demotion in July.

Slowey and Perkins are out, and the ineffective Francisco Liriano is going to the bullpen? No sweat. Along with the surprisingly effective Carl Pavano – who was acquired in a trade last month – the Twins have turned to Duensing.

In his last seven starts since moving from the bullpen, he is 5-0 with a sparkling 1.88 ERA.

The Twins have done little to bolster their farm system by trading away commodities like Matt Garza and Johan Santana in recent seasons. But the emphasis on developing major league ready players – regardless of talent – is the reason the Twins remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor

Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558

or hgoethe@forumcomm.com