Just two days ago, I wrote some fairly cynical predictions on this blog about the playoff chances of the Twins. As I wrote in the comments, I felt that the team still might go to the playoffs, but there looked like little hope they could advance. Last night, a few things changed that outlook, but not offensively.
The offense of the Twins still looks sluggish, despite the nine runs they scored in Friday night's victory. To be fair, Detroit starter Nate Robertson looked pretty good against the Twins, with a good breaking ball and plenty of inside fastballs right on the corner. Joel Zumaya came in to replace him, once again throwing 100 mph fastballs with ease. There are a lot offenses that have and would struggle against that.
Still, leaving the bases full twice with one out is just poor execution. The only reason the Twins scored period is a good batch of luck and some good hustle. In the second inning, Michael Cuddyer singled. Justin Morneau followed up with a hard chopper to second that almost had a chance for an infield hit. Instead, Omar Infante missed the ball completely and it rolled into right field. Magglio Ordonez took some time getting to it and by the time he did, Cuddyer had scored and Morneau hustled into third. Torii Hunter quickly followed up with an RBI single.
There was nothing after that, but thanks to Boof Bonser and the bullpen they still managed to win the game and at least ensure a tie in the series. However, with Johan Santana on the mound today, a series victory is quite possible. Bonser threw seven innings, gave up only one run and five hits, walked two, and struck out five. Overall, he pitched an incredible game against a good offense.
He too managed to get the Tigers offense to look pathetic, forcing them to leave the bases loaded as well. And after he left, the bullpen had no problems closing the door. Both Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan were their usual dominant selves. Essentially, great pitching, luck, and a little hitting won the game.
Sadly, if the offense continues this way, it's still difficult to see success in the playoff future. Morneau has remained hot in September, hitting .379/.455/.655 so far. However, Joe Mauer, Cuddyer, Hunter, Luis Castillo and those infamous "piranhas" along with new guy Phil Nevin need to help out as well. Morneau does his best work with runners on, but that won't matter much if no one is getting on in front of him consistently.
Tomorrow, with Santana on the mound, the Twins could end up only two games behind Detroit and remain in the wild-card lead, with Francisco Liriano's return around the corner (Liriano pitched well in a rehab start at Triple-A last night, tossing three hitless innings while striking out four and walking one). That would give the Twins their two dominating pitchers, as well as one rookie who continues to advance (Bonser), another one the right track (Garza), and two who hopefully won't even appear in the postseason (Silva and Baker).
Now, if the offense can just come alive consistently, with series against the A's, Cleveland, and Boston right around the corner, it would be time to really get excited about the postseason.