Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Chi-Town Sweep

Earlier today, I made a somewhat negative post discussing the negative factors that will likely keep the Twins from being able to reach the post-season for a fourth straight year. However, after watching tonight's game, a 5-1 victory over the division-leading White Sox which completed a series sweep, I am in a much better mood. Now, I'm not going to sit here and say that this one victory is going to propel them into the post-season (although the prospect does seem a lot more realistic considering the Twins are now 4 games out and essentially every team ahead of them in the standings lost tonight), but the most important thing is that they have returned to respectability and have been fun to watch. All the 2-1 and 3-2 losses during the Twins' massive slump were not only frustrating for Twins fans to see, but boring. However, over the past week, the players seem to have started to loosen up and play their game rather than press so damn much all the time. The result has been play very similar to the play that won them three division championships. Over those three years, the Twins never had big power hitters, and never had guys hitting .320, but managed to find ways to score runs and win games. And that's what they're doing. Tonight was one of the best games I've seen the Twins play all year.

Johan Santana, for the second consecutive start, was absolutely phenomenal. After rough first where he hit a man, walked a man, and threw a total of 26 pitches before escaping undamaged, Johan carried a no-hitter bid into the seventh inning. It was broken up by a couple of wimpy bloop singles into right, but it was still clear that Santana was dominating much like he did in the second half of last year. Then Johan was sent out in the 9th to attempt to complete his second straight complete game shutout, a move that I'm not sure whether I agree with considering he had already thrown over 100 pitches and was clearly losing steam. He gave up a home run to Paul Konerko and then a double before being pulled for Joe Nathan to come in and finish the game. That's okay though, since I suppose with the 5-0 lead the Twins had it was worth the risk of giving up a run or two to see if Santana could complete another shutout. Johan has to be one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now. His ERA since the break is below 2, and his last two starts have been amazing. If he can toss a couple more like this, Santana has to enter the Cy Young conversation again. And that's something I don't think anyone saw as a remote possibility a few weeks ago.

The five runs the Twins collected were scored in interesting ways. The first two came on solo home runs in each of Matt LeCroy's first at-bats. The unlikely hero has clearly proven that he can hit left-handed pitching, and you'll hear no complaints here if he's in the lineup vs. southpaws, I just think he needs to prove he can hit righties more consistently before he can be considered as a full-time DH. The Twins added three more runs in the fifth, thanks in large part to a balk that scored a run and then a Konerko error that scored another. The big cushion would easily be all Santana would need as he cruised to his 12th victory.

The Twins' lineup tonight was perhaps the most bizarre it has been all season. Brent Abernathy, an inexperienced second baseman who was just called up over the weekend, hit third in the lineup and played left field. Despite having no Major League experience in the outfield, Abernathy played well defensively. And while I don't think he's necessarily a number 3 hitter, I really like Brent's approach at the plate, his discipline stands out among the bunch of wild hackers that comprise the Twins lineup for the most part.

The starting outfield itself was one that I don't think many would've expected to see at the beginning of the season. The trio, comprised of Abernathy, Lew Ford, and Michael Cuddyer, was playfully referred to as the "Polka Patrol" by the FSN broadcast, contrasting with the "Soul Patrol" nickname for the trio of Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, and Jacque Jones.

The Twins tomorrow open a crucial four-game series with the Mariners, and a series win could bring them even closer to that coveted wild card spot. They're still very much the underdogs, but the excellent performances that Twins have had on the road in Oakland and Chicago, beating up on two of the league's very best teams, have given Twins fans reason to hope. And at the very least, it's been fun to watch.