With the recent win streak and three straight series in their pockets, the Twins have certainly had a great week to look at. The bats have come alive and the pitching has stayed strong and steady. So, do they have a real shoot at the playoffs? Yes, because they are now only 2 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. That's still going to be their only shot at the playoffs, because catching up to Chicago (despite their recent seven-game losing streak that ended yesterday) is still going to be very difficult. Just as important as winning the games we have left against Chicago will be the games against Cleveland, who are the big competition in the Wild Card for the Twins. Oakland is falling slowly behind and New York has been inconsistent all year. Every game the Twins win against the Indians will give them considerable ground. They also have a short series against Oakland left in late September that could be huge. So what, beyond those series, is neccessary to get into the playoffs for the Twins. Here's three issues I think will be prominent:
1) September Call-ups - I've been touting and complaining about not having the likes of Scott Baker, Fransisco Liriano, and Travis Bowyer in the Majors most of the summer, especially during our dog days. That's mainly because these guys have shown they are ready, especially Baker, who's already had a few starts for the Twins. Liriano has simply dominated Triple-A pitching, going 8-1 with a 1.59 ERA. What's even more impressive is that he has allowed only allowed 43 hits in 79 innings to go with 93 Ks. Liriano can hit 97 on the radar as a left-hander and has often been called a bigger Johan Santana. His presence and a few starts from him in September could be huge since, like Felix Hernandez, teams will have no idea whats coming. Baker has already shown good presence on the mound, a good 94-mph fastball, control, and the ability to work both sides. I see lots of upside in his presence to give the staff a rest and a boost. Bowyer is the wild-card, as he is still working on mixing his breaking ball in more, but he does throw up 99 and has also dominated the International League, leading them in saves. He can give Rincon and Crain a rest and hopefully help in the push as well. The position players won't be as interesting to watch, but maybe more important. Expect Rivas back up, but he may not do much at all. He has only hit .250 at Rochester with no home runs. The lack of power and patience is just as evident there as it was up here earlier this year. Rob Bowen will likely be recalled as well at catcher, but he has never done too much at the bigs. He is hitting a decent .271 with 6 HRs at Triple-A, but I dont see that translated up to the bigs and since Mauer and Redmond have done so much, I'm not sure I see it being such a great idea. The sixth call-up will be a outfielder, likely Jason Tyner, who has major league experience and has hit well in the minors all year. He'll be much more important since the Twins are hurting in the outfield big time with the injuries to Jones and Hunter. Expect great pitching to watch, but not too much from the hitting call-ups.
2) Ford, LeCroy: Will this continue? - I have to beg this question unfortunately. Ford has had an inconsistent year, but has shown huge leaps this week in breaking out back into 2004 form. I don't doubt all that this can continue through September. My only fear is that Gardy will be foolish with him and try to bench him in a key role, like he did last year in the playoffs. (Kubel, Rivera anyone?) That cannot happen again. I just hope Gardy finally has confidence in this guy. LeCroy is a bigger wild-card because he has never really had a full-year of at-bats or been consistent all year with what at-bats he has had. There is no way to tell if he'll continue to be hot. But if he shows more patience like he has, he'll do fine and he'll provide a good model for younger sluggers like Morneau to follow.
3) Lohse, Mays: What will we get from them? - Mays won't be traded for Soriano. Sorry guys, but the Rangers don't want another sinkerballer who gives up homers in a home-run park. (Cough* Cough* Chan Ho Park anyone?) It just won't happen. So what can we do? Lohse deserves a spot for now because he's pitched very well his last few starts and gave Hernandez a run for his money both times. That's really impressive and shows what kind of talent Lohse has. On the other hand, Mays needs to be removed from the rotation so that our call-ups like Liriano and Baker can be given a chance. Long relief is a fine role for him to get his stuff back or he can just be benched if the Twins have now decided not to keep him next year. Lohse could be expedited to long relief as well so that Baker and Liriano get their chances, but we want him confident for the playoffs and in the rotation. Can't have mistakes like Gardy did in 2002. I just want Mulholland to pitch less and less and less. If that means more Mays, so be it. Better than Old Man Mulholland. So I conclude, why is he still on the team? They need to get serious there at least.