Did you see what I did there?
“The simple fact is, that if the Twins don’t win more than three of the
four games upcoming at Comerica Park between Monday and Thursday, they
can pretty much kiss their play-off hopes goodbye.”
Of course, I was utterly wrong as usual. Instead, with just a single game to go tomorrow the Twins and the Tigers are tied in the AL Central. If one team wins and the other loses, it’s game over for the team that goes down. If both win or both lose, we’ll be, ahem, “enjoying” yet another game #163 at the Metrodome on Tuesday.
I’m stunned the season has ended like this. I admit I was guilty of writing off the Twins a couple of weeks ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find any fans out there who were still optimistic. Sure, we all knew mathematically that Minnesota could still reach the play-offs, but also, a few days ago, after splitting that four game series with Detroit, the Twins’ chances of reaching the post-season had dwindled to about 7% or something absurdly low.
Instead, somehow, the Twins staved off a valiant Kansas City fightback on Friday night (squandering a ten run lead as usual). Then, on Saturday, Minnesota managed the impossible by scoring four runs off Zack Greinke, and seemed to be coasting, but the bullpen once again screwed up Nick Blackburn’s incredible pitching effort as the Royals tied it up at 4-4 before “Mr September” Michael Cuddyer (.342 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games at first base since taking over there from injured Justin Morneau) hit his 31st home run of the year and Joe Nathan closed out the Royals again.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have been floundering against the White Sox who are “playing loose” with no pressure on them, and have already taken two out of three at Comerica Park. An epic choke for sure, but tomorrow could be a different matter for Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound for them.
The Twins will bring back Carl Pavano on three-days rest to pitch against Luke Hochevar. It’s going to be a crazy final game at the Metrodome, how ever things pan out for the Twins, and it’s been a thoroughly exciting way to end the season.
Of course it’ll be saddening if the Twins don’t make it, but unlike last year, where they squandered their lead and could have clinched things sooner, this time they’ve been battling all the way from behind, and it’s been a fantastic effort regardless of the outcome tomorrow.
Seriously, you read that correctly. Minnesota is finally two games over the .500 mark for the first time this season thanks to a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals. After playing terribly in the first game, the Twins played moderately better yesterday to beat the Royals 2-1, but that was mainly down to the increasingly error-prone Kansas City line-up. Today, the Twins were a little more convincing and came out on top, with Joe Mauer going 3-for-3 and Glen Perkins largely untroubled by the Royals’ bats. Minnesota has now gone 10-6 on the road since June 8.
With a day off tomorrow, the Twins will just have to hope that the injuries sustained to Justin Morneau, Mike Redmond, and Nick Punto aren’t too severe. All three left the game at some point today because they were hurt. Justin left because of a ‘tight left groin’, and the Twins would definitely miss his presence terribly if his injury is severe. Nick Punto continues to get hurt so often, it’s getting beyond a joke, especially because he’s been wholly unconvincing with the bat all season long. Maybe Ron Gardenhire will put him on the DL or finally bench him for a longer stint so someone more worthy can get a chance in the line-up. Right now, the bottom of the Twins order continues to perform woefully compared to the guys at the top.
Next up, the Detroit Tigers visit Minnesota for a series that could really make a difference to the AL Central standings. Detroit lost a series to the A’s today, so are three games ahead of the Twins, with three games to play at the Metrodome this weekend.
I’m guessing the Royals love playing the Twins. They always seem to make us look like complete amateurs out there, and play their best baseball against Minnesota, despite struggling in recent weeks. Then again, when you put up Brian Buscher, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto in the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots, you’re hardly going to put the fear of god in opposing pitchers. Kansas City won 4-2 this evening.
Nick Blackburn didn’t pitch too badly at first, but the Twins never really got going until the eighth inning, when Justin Morneau’s two-run homer made the scoreline seem a little more respectable, but it was too little too late. The best moment of the game was probably Ron Gardenhire’s temper tantrum that got him ejected. A pitch that Jason Kubel clearly batted onto his foot bounced to Billy Butler who tagged first base and it was called an out. Gardy (rightly) got super-pissed when the home-plate umpire refused to ask the third-base umpire for his view on the play so he got ejected for the third time this year.
Minnesota continued their successful interleague form (12-6 for the season) by taking two out of three from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Twins are now 39-38, still four games back from the Tigers. Another series victory on the road is definitely good news for the Twins who had struggled earlier in the season when playing away from the Metrodome.
The Twins won the first game 3-1 on a balmy Friday evening in St. Louis. Glen Perkins pitched admirably and kept the Cardinals at bay as they only managed one run across the plate the entire game. Keeping Albert Pujols quiet was essential, and the great man went 1-for-4 that evening, including a strike-out by the mighty Joe Nathan in the ninth, who closed the game for his 18th save of the year.
Saturday was a different story entirely. Kevin Slowey, searching for his 11th win of the season, came unstuck early, and gave up a couple of two-run shots to Albert Pujols, who once again proved why he’s the best in the league. Pujols is positively scary at the plate, putting the fear into even the best pitchers, and he increased his home run count to a magnificent 28 for the season so far. The Twins had a few chances to fight back, but didn’t look particularly convincing, and a base-running decision not to send Michael Cuddyer home in the third turned out to be quite costly when he got thrown out at home later that inning. In the end, Tony La Russa used seven different pitchers to complete the 5-3 win, and Bobby Keppel made his first Twins relief debut, tossing four shutout innings.
On Sunday, Francisco Liriano, who’d had a few troubled starts of late, truly stepped up his game and pitched very well. This time round he went seven innings throwing 97 pitches with four hits and two earned runs, six strike-outs and two walks. Fortunately, he got some great run support. Justin Morneau cracked a crucial three-run homer in the first inning, and the Twins put addtional runs on the board in the third, seventh, and ninth. Though St. Louis threatened in the later innings, a terrible base-running error in the ninth probably cost them a chance to make it close, but Minnesota still sent Joe Nathan in to get the final out as the Twins wrapped up a series victory with a 6-2 win.
Now the Twins get their first taste of the recently renovated Kauffman Stadium with three games against the struggling Kansas City Royals. The Royals have only won twice in their last ten games, but as ever, they’ll no doubt put up a good fight as the Twins look to get some momentum behind them before their extended home stand where they’ll face the Tigers, the Yankees, and the White Sox before the All-Star Break.
With the home series tied at one apiece, Cleveland and Minnesota face off today in the rubber match. Scott Baker (2-6) will be up against Fausto Carmino (2-5), both of whom have had less than stellar starts to the season, so it’s really anyone’s game.
Game one saw the Twins earning a 4-3 victory, but it was a closely contested affair, despite the home team being 4-0 up at one point. Joe Mauer was the big hero again going 3-3 with yet another home run in the fifth inning, but the Indians fought back valiantly, and it took Joe Nathan actually being allowed by Gardy to pitch in the eighth to get an out, before closing the ninth completely to secure the win.
Notable from this particular game were two excellent defensive plays which probably saved runs from scoring. In the top of the third with two outs and a man at first, Victor Martinez hit a huge fly ball to center, and Carlos Gomez completed an incredibly athletic catch to end the inning. To me, this just shows that even a poor-hitting Carlos Gomez is much less of a liability than a poor-hitting Delmon Young, and probably why the former should be playing more regularly than the latter. There’s very few folks in the Twins line-up who could make that catch, let alone the league! Earlier that same inning, Brendan Harris and Justin Morneau also combined for a great play that saved a probable hit. I’m sure Nick Punto might have got that one too, but while Harris has shown to still be a little nervy playing short-stop, he looks to be improving, and offensively he’s certainly more productive than Nick Punto.
Game two wasn’t such a good one for the Twins though, losing 10-1. Anthony Swarzak, after making two great starts, was humbly brought back down to earth with a thud. I think we all knew this was likely to happen eventually. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher by any means, but it does mean he’ll learn that leaving the ball up in the strike zone in the Majors is going to be trouble. I think he’ll rebound just fine because in baseball there’s just some days when things work out, and others where it seems everything sucks.
RA Dickey had to come in again for some relief pitching, while the comedy bullpen clowns of Ayala and Crain later gave up four runs. When are you going to do something about this pitiful pen, Gardy?
Minnesota’s bats barely even got started against Cliff Lee last night, and there was some silly tiff between him and Carlos Gomez which barely warrants discussion, but I think I know who would win in a fist-fight, what with Carlos once being a boxer back home in the Dominican Republic! Thankfully, Victor Martinez did a good job playing peacemaker.
Minnesota went 0-6 before I went on vacation to Hawaii. By the time I got back, they’d gone 6-1. I think that’s a message that I need to live on Oahu for the rest of my life, so if anyone’s up for paying me my current salary, buying me a house there, and setting me up with a decent pension, I’d be happy to make the move.
Apart from the 20-1 drubbing of the White Sox, the Twins still lost that series to Chicago, but swept the Brewers in the first interleague weekend of the year. They’ve won two out of four against Boston so far, but it’ll be tough to make it a series win with Josh Beckett on the mound for the Red Sox today.
Evidently, the Twins have been hitting well lately, but they’ll still have to improve their form away from home to be truly competitive. But I’m happy to have returned from vacation to find Minnesota back at the .500 mark and leap-frogging the Royals in the AL Central as I get back to studying baseball again after a week or so ‘off duty’.
Snappy blog title post, huh? Shame the Twins weren’t so snappy this weekend.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, by all accounts) I didn’t catch much of Saturday’s game after the 6th inning, but it did sound like a comedy of errors, full of mishaps in the field, crappy base-running mistakes, and other such tomfoolery (by both teams), which ended with the Royals persevering for an 11th inning victory. Sounded ugly, so to be honest I was quite glad we elected to hang out with some friends at the pub drinking beer instead.
Sunday was also quite annoying. Scott Baker looked like he was on his way to a no-hitter until a fateful 7th inning saw him give up a heap of hits, and before you know it the 4-0 up Twins were 5-4 down. Heads dropped, and the Twins lost again, handing the Royals a 2-1 series victory. Should Gardy have taken Baker out as soon as he gave up some hits? Probably. It was telling that even though he was on a no-hitter through six, most of his outs came from fly balls, which makes me think the Royals still found him to be very hittable on Sunday, but they just weren’t connecting like Boston and Toronto did last time around.
But man, how about those Royals huh? There’s many questions about whether they’re the ‘real thing’ after their good start to the season, but they do look the part, continually coming back from being down, and hitting the ball well. To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for numerous defensive miscues which gifted the Twins the odd hit/run here and there, it could have been a lot worse for Minnesota this weekend. The Royals should definitely be contenders, but they really need to sort out the fielding gaffes, and if they were not playing in a very tight AL central, their recent form might not look so outstanding.
Any good things to come from this weekend of baseball? Sure! Both Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young are hitting better, Joe Mauer is swinging the bat well, and the Twins are scoring more runs than they were. It should be an interesting week with two games at Detroit and two games at Baltimore. More on those games later, perhaps.