In their final road game of the regular season, the Twins downed the Orioles 6-3. The victory pushes the Twins' road record to 42-39, which is fairly impressive considering how horribly they struggled away from the Dome early in the season. The Twins' much improved play away from home has been a major factor in their rise to contention and an almost certain post-season berth, since they've continued to be one of the toughest teams in the league to beat at home.
The win in Baltimore brings the Twins' magic number down to two, so they will have a chance to clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win over the Royals coupled with a White Sox loss in Cleveland. Some various notes:
* The race for the AL batting title should be a fun one to follow over the final week of the season. After going 3-for-5 at the plate yesterday, Joe Mauer increased his average to .347, giving him an eight-point lead over Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano, who is hitting .341 on the year, is just a few plate appearances short of the requirement and will probably have his name entered into the race by the end of today's action.
* After nearly hitting a grand slam in his second at-bat, Phil Nevin ripped a two-run homer to right-center field in the eighth inning off Russ Ortiz, increasing the Twins' lead from one to three and essentially sealing the victory. Nevin has played sparingly since being acquired from the Cubs, but when he's been in the lineup he's shown the ability to hit the ball pretty hard (and also the ability to miss pretty hard).
* Ron Gardenhire used seven pitchers in yesterday's game. After Matt Garza was pulled with two outs in the sixth inning, Gardy used nearly his entire bullpen, sending in Juan Rincon for one out, Dennys Reyes for another one, Pat Neshek for two, and then Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan for an inning each. Glen Perkins came in to pitch to Jay Gibbons in the eighth, but was pulled immediately after giving up a single to him.
Some have criticized Gardy for his trigger-happy bullpen management in the second half of the season, but it's hard to argue with the results. Yesterday, the six Twins relievers held the Orioles scoreless for 3 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out three. Furthermore, no reliever threw more than 12 pitches in the game.
* The Twins were pretty active on the basepaths in this series. In their three games with Baltimore, the Twins attempted nine steals, which is somewhat surprising considering the Orioles' catcher (Ramon Hernandez) is one of the few in the league that might have a better arm than Mauer. The Twins went 5/9 on SB attempts.
* SBG says he doesn't care about baseball's post-season awards anymore, citing Chicago skipper Ozzie Guillen's comment that he might vote Tony Batista for 3B Gold Glove as evidence the awards have lost any validity they might have once had.
I'm afraid I can't agree with that sentiment. While I often disagree vehemently with the way the voting turns out, I can't help but care quite a bit about who the awards go to. It's tempting to stop giving a hoot when you see a guy like Bartolo Colon win a Cy Young over a Johan Santana, but the fact is that the nation's perception of baseball's player are greatly shaped by the awards they win. After Santana retires and is being considered for the Hall of Fame, one of the main things voters will look at is how many times he won a Cy Young award. (Santana might be a bad example, since he'll be a shoe-in if he continues to pitch like he has so far; however, this is the case with fringe players. Look at Bert Blyleven... you think he'd have any trouble breaking the barrier if he had a couple Cy's on his shelf?) The same goes for position players with Gold Gloves, MVP's, etc. These awards are an integral part of Major League Baseball, and that's what makes it all the more frustrating when you have a debacle like the one that occurred in the AL Cy Young race last year, and what's likely to happen in the MVP race this year with Jeter a clear favorite.
What's your opinion on post-season awards? Do you care anymore?