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Column - Twins need Cliff Lee

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That collective groan you hear around Minnesota these days is coming from the 40,000-plus fans that pack Target Field every night who expect this to be the year the Twins do more than just win the Central Division.

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The Twins are in the midst of a rough stretch of play that saw them drop out of first place after a 7-5 loss to Detroit on Monday night. They rebounded nicely with two straight wins to salvage the series and regain the division lead. It is a lead that has shrunk from 4.5 games in early June to just 1.5 after Wednesday afternoon's win.

That the Twins finished 12-15 in June and watched the Central Division become a three-team race with Chicago's resurgence is not the problem. Every team goes through rough stretches in a 162-game season. It is how the Twins have lost that has raised some red flags.

The biggest question mark coming into the season was the starting rotation. The lack of a true ace was something many thought would keep them from advancing past the first round of the playoffs. It is beginning to look more and more like it may prevent them from even winning the AL Central.

Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are supposed to be steady if not spectacular. Instead, the three have been up and down all season, combining to allow 332 hits in 271 1/3 innings.

All three have teased the organization with stretches of strong play. Blackburn has pitched great in big games. Baker has looked the part of a No. 2 starter and Slowey has painted corners so precisely that his control has been compared to that of Tom Glavine.

The problem has been consistency. All three pitchers have had plenty of time in the Big Leagues to establish themselves. Maybe it is time to acknowledge them by what their body of work suggests they are - No. 3 or 4 starters with an ERA that will always be between 4 and 5.

That might be good enough to win the Central Division, but it will not get the Twins out of the first round against one of the giants of the East.

That leaves the Twins in a precarious position leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Should they go against everything they have ever stood for and trade promising prospects for a front-line starter?

Many names have been thrown out there - Fausto Carmona, Brian Bannister, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt - but only one of those names makes sense. Lee is the only available starter who offers the Twins a legitimate chance of competing with the likes of New York or Boston in the playoffs. Anyone else would just be more of what the Twins already have.

Lee is available and the Twins have the assets to get him. Wilson Ramos will never be an ideal fit in Minnesota because he plays the same position as the guy they just signed to a $184 million contract. A package of Ramos, any major-league ready starter not named Francisco Liriano or Carl Pavano and a lower-level prospect or two should get the job done.

Lee has proven in the past to be well worth the gamble. Philadelphia acquired him near the trade deadline last year from Cleveland for four prospects. Lee went on to dominate the 2010 playoffs with a 4-0 record and a 1.56 ERA. He picked up the only two wins the Phillies had against the Yankees in the World Series. That should be incentive enough for the Twins to make a move for him.

When Ron Gardenhire was recruiting Orlando Hudson in the off-season, he assured the second baseman that the Twins were not looking to win division titles, they were looking to win a World Series. This is the team's best chance to prove that to the fans that have already bought more than 3 million tickets at Target Field this season.

A rotation of Lee, Liriano and Pavano to throw at the Yankees in October? I think Gardenhire would take his chances with those three. History says it won't happen. Present circumstances say it needs to happen.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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