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.
The Twins redeemed themselves somewhat after their pitiful display against New York by taking two out of three against the Chicago White Sox this weekend. Minnesota is still four games out of first place though because the Tigers keep winning, but at least they showed a little more spunk this time round and didn’t just lay down and die.
To be honest, I was quite impressed by the Twins on Friday night, which is unusual seeing as I’m finding myself lapsing into the perennially grumpy and curmudgeonly kind of fan the longer I follow this team. However, Minnesota produced the kind of gutsy performance they’re known for, but have rarely demonstrated so far this season. Despite being 0-4 down after the first inning, the White Sox constantly chipped away at the Twins’ lead before tying it up. But Joe Mauer’s RBI single in the seventh, topped off by a clever two-out RBI bunt by Carlos Gomez which scored Matt Tolbert in the eighth, secured a 6-4 victory.
The scoreline of Saturday’s 8-7 loss may have given casual observers the impression of a roller coaster, see-saw, fun kind of game with various lead changes and other high-jinx. Far from it. The White Sox punished the ineffectual and pasty-looking Glen Perkins from the get-go and ran out to an 8-3 lead, the only effective Twins offense coming from the bat of Joe Crede who hit a three-run homer, then followed that up with a solo shot later. Minnesota’s late rally was too little too late once again, and if anything, the scoreline was far too flattering to the Twins who pretty much looked like buffoons out there for most of the game.
Fortunately, there was little buffoonery on display by the Twins in their 13-7 victory on Sunday. The Minnesota bats truly came alive for a change against an unusually ineffective Mark Buehrle. Carlos Gomez was the hero today, with a career-high five-RBI game which included a three-run homer in the second, and both Denard Span and Brendan Harris also went deep. Surprisingly enough, Joe Mauer was probably the team’s most ineffective player on Sunday, going 0-for-5 with an amazing four strike-outs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him strike-out so many times in a single game to be honest, but he’s probably just preparing his swing for the Home Run Derby tomorrow. Here’s a nice picture of Brendan Harris smacking a good one.
It’s tough for Twins fans to view games against the New York Yankees without some sort of trepidation, after all, Minnesota’s record against the Bronx Bombers has hardly been favorable in the Ron Gardenhire era, with the Twins being stomped by the Yankees more often than not.
However, now is as good a time as any to break that run of disappointing results, and I’m sure the Twins will be looking for payback after New York swept Minnesota four games to nothing earlier this year at the new Yankee Stadium, even if three of those victories were closely contested walk-off wins.
The Twins are playing better recently, or at least, getting better results and series victories, however the Yankees have been on a hot streak and their line-up is very competent and dangerous as ever. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the 0-8 deficit the Yankees have had against the Red Sox so far this year, they’d probably be topping the AL East, and their powerful batting prowess is equally matched by their pitching abilities. With CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett going for the Yankees in two of the games this series, the Twins better be on top of their game, or they’ll be facing another sweep.
Still, positive news for the Twins organization yesterday was that Kevin Slowey is not seriously hurt and will return soon enough. Justin Morneau won the AL Player of the Week due to his excellent performances against the Royals and the Tigers last week, so Twins fans will be hoping he can keep that up. Joe Nathan was just named Delivery Man of the Month, an award I can’t say I’ve actually ever heard of previously, but nevertheless, his recent performances closing out games have been nothing less than stellar.
The weekend series against the White Sox should be interesting too. There’s another team that has also been performing much better of late, and despite some struggles at the Metrodome last season, I doubt the Sox will roll over so easily this year. If the Tigers eventually lose their claws, it’ll probably be the Twins and White Sox contending for the AL Central top spot again until the bitter end.
Looking forward to the six games ahead between now and Sunday, if Minnesota can come through with even a 3-3 record, I think they’ll have done very well. Of course, anything better than that would be a nice fillip with which to enter the All Star Break.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the USA. For some reason, that statistic always surprises me. It’s also home to the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center, and of course, the Houston Astros who are in Minneapolis today for a three game series against the Twins. The Astros played for 30+ years in a dome too. Maybe back in the sixties and seventies that was considered “cool”.
The last time the two teams met was 2006. The previous year, the Astros had their only World Series appearance when they lost to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. Back then, they had Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens among their pitching staff, but now, only Roy Oswalt remains. He’s still a great pitcher of course, so tonight’s showdown between him and Kevin Slowey should be a good one. If Slowey gets the win tonight, he’ll join the elite club of ten-game winners so far this year.
Though the Astros have been struggling lately, they certainly have some talent in their ranks. Miguel Tejada currently has a .341 average and recently achieved his 2000th big league hit last week. They also have that perennial favorite Pudge Rodriguez, who achieved a major milestone this week by setting the record for most games played as a catcher. Minnesota will probably seem like favorites on paper, taking their record at the Metrodome into account, but hopefully they’ll not take anything for granted this weekend.
Elsewhere in the AL Central, interleague play continues. The Tigers find themselves entertaining the Milwaukee Brewers, the White Sox are at Cincinnati for three games against the Reds, Cleveland gets to play at Wrigley Field against the Cubs this weekend, and Kansas City remain at home to face the mighty St. Louis Cardinals.
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’.
Before I go on vacation, some interesting news just emerged. Left handed bullpen pitcher Craig Breslow was just claimed off waivers by the Oakland A’s. To be honest, they’re welcome to him. He hadn’t done much in a Twins uniform, going 1-2 with a 6.28 ERA in 17 games, but I thought he’d be the more likely to ‘come around’ than useless righty Louis Ayala, who pretty much makes me cower under the blanket in fear every time he steps up on the mound to pitch. I’m wondering how much longer Ayala is going to last.
In Breslow’s place, the Twins have called up right hander Anthony Swarzak who’ll probably be the starting pitcher for Saturday’s interleague match-up against the Brewers. Glen Perkins will be back soon enough though, but I wonder if he’ll re-join the starting line-up or be expected to take up a relief spot for a while?
Minnesota has now lost their last five in a row, so it’ll be up to Francisco Liriano to step-up against Chicago and stop the losing streak. But to be honest, I’m taking a few days off from rigorously following the Twins. We definitely need some time apart.