Posted at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2008
by Than Tibbetts
It's appearing more and more likely that the American League Central Division title will be decided in the Metrodome when the Twins host the White Sox for three games in the final week of the season. As much as it pains me to write it, my money is on the Pale Hose.
The Twins have surprised me all season long and far exceeded anyone's (especially the front office's) expectations. However, there are three areas of concern that are likely to become even more apparent in the final month.
(1) The Twins young stars, particularly the rookies, are the reason the Twins are still in the race. But it's a lot easier to perform when you're playing loose and in the underdog role. As each game and each at bat gets more important, players like Span, Casilla, Buscher and Gomez will feel the pressure and see their averages drop.
(2) The Twins don't have reliable setup men to get the game from the young starters to Joe Nathan. The failure of the starters to work deep into games early in the year caught up with the Twins bullpen. Guerrier, Reyes and Crain all are among the league leaders in appearance and are three all now struggling down the stretch. Coincidence? I think not. Guardado will help some, but don't forget he's pitched nearly as many games as the other three this season.
(3) Look at nearly every championship team in recent history and you'll find a clear ace of the staff. The guy you give the ball to in the big game knowing that he'll give you seven or eight inning and keep you in it. The guy who breaks a losing streak. The guy that picks his team up when the bats are quiet. Who is that pitcher on the Twins? One may emerge in future years but it won't happen this year.
While they may come up a bit short this year, the experience gained from this next month will pay off for years to come.
Today we find the Twins
2.5 2 games behind the White Sox, with 19 games left to play. It's shaping up to be deja vu all over again, if deja vu was 2006.
In 2006, the Twins backed into a division title after the Detriot Tigers inexplicably melted down over the last week of the season, losing three straight against the Royals, a team that lost 100 games.
This year, the Twins' single best chance to clinch a postseason berth boils down to Domefield advantage.
The Twins begin a three-game series against the Sox at home Sept. 23rd. While the Twins are 7-8 against the Sox this year, they're 5-1 against the Sox at home in the Metrodome. Gleeman's tea leaves tell us that both teams' schedules are essentially a wash, meaning the three-game home stand against the White Sox is either team's best chance to seal — or steal &mdash the deal.
(And, by the way, this holds true even if the Twins are still 2, even 3, games back come Darth Vader Day.)
Neither team has been playing inspired baseball of late, meaning the race to the division title will be a race to 90 wins, and not much more, in a division where three teams figure to finish below the .500 mark. It's very plausible that that Twins won't have to play much better than .500 baseball to make it in.
As for the team's young talent, a high-pressure series or two might just be the cure to the team's West Coast blues. The dugout is no doubt anxious to make up for the lackluster performances during the 14-game road trip out west. What better time to have a little extra motivation and a day of rest at home?
On balance, look for the bullpen to be sharper, the at-bats to be smarter and the crowd to be louder as the Twins slip by the White Sox for their fifth Central Division title this decade.
Well it certainly doesnt hurt when the Twins can make up 1.5 games in a day! Thank you Blue Jays!!
Despite the results of last night, I think I agree with Steve here,,, the bullpen just is not ready for prime time. If the twins bats stay alive, maybe then.