Nick Blackburn had the textbook Nick Blackburn start on Thursday: Seven innings, nine hits, zero walks, two strikeouts. And the payoff stats — two runs and credit for the win.
One of my Free Press colleagues — a guy who likes to rattle cages and yank on chains, so I'm not sure how seriously he takes his own argument — tells me that Blackburn is the Twins best starter. Paraphrasing him from Thursday: Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano may have better stuff, but Blackburn is mentally tough, which is why he wins.
Blackburn is 6-1 now. He also has (in 61 innings) just 17 strikeouts and 13 walks allowed. That's just 2.5 K/9, and it is simply not possible to have sustained success in the major leagues with that K rate. (The BB/K ratio is equally bad, but the problem there, again, is that Blackburn's strikeout rate this season is so abysmal that it's impossible to have a good ratio.) The Yankees on Thursday had one —ONE — swing-and-a-miss against Blackburn.
This is not to ignore Blackburn's pluses. He has been Minnesota's most durable starter since Johan Santana left. There is value in 200 innings a year. Back-of-the-rotation value, not best- starter-on-the-staff value.
Baker didn't allow a run in the first game of the series (start shortened by rain) but didn't get the win because his teammates didn't score. Liriano, like Blackburn, allowed two runs in seven innings; he also got a no decision. Blackburn happened to pitch on a night when the Twins scored eight runs, so he gets a "W" in the box score.
That's not the result of mental toughness. That's the result of circumstance.