Last week Ron Gardenhire made it clear that, even after locking up a playoff spot, his team would not let up in its pursuit of a division title. That does not appear to be the case. Since clinching a postseason berth with an 8-1 victory over the Royals on Monday, the Twins offense has looked completely worn down.
Tuesday they barely slipped past Kansas City, scraping together a couple late runs to give Johan Santana his 19th victory of the season. Wednesday the Twins lost 6-4 against the Royals, scoring in the first inning but failing to score again until they were already down 6-1. Thursday night the Twins came within one out of being shut out by the Royals before Joe Mauer hit a solo home run to send the game into extra innings where the Twins eventually won. Friday night was another tough one, with the Twins failing to score in the game's first six innings before putting together a late rally attempt that came up short.
Yesterday's game was more of the same. The White Sox put out a lineup that did not include Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski or Joe Crede... and they still scored six runs and defeated the Twins handily. Once again the Twins narrowly avoided being shut out, with Michael Cuddyer hitting a three-run homer in the ninth to put the Twins on the board but not back in the game.
It appears the Twins offense is going to sputter into the playoffs, which is a little unsettling because in order to beat the Yankees you need to score some runs, regardless of who you have on the mound. I'm not accusing the Twins of not trying; the team's effort has not really struck me as lethargic. Instead, it seems to me like the players are physically and mentally drained after a very long season and a difficult uphill claim to the playoffs.
The Tigers once lost to the Royals once agains last night, leaving a chance that the Twins can still win the AL Central. In order for that to happen, the Royals need to complete a sweep in Detroit and the Twins need to win today's game. Regardless of who the Twins end up playing, there are some reasons for concern going into the opening round of the playoffs aside from the offense's recent struggles.
One is Matt Garza's performance yesterday. He did not look good at all against Chicago, getting knocked out in third inning after allowing four runs on eight hits and two walks. This is a guy that the Twins will likely be counting on as their Game 3 or Game 4 starter, and he needs to step up.
Another area of concern is Luis Castillo's health. Castillo, who has been a major factor in the Twins' comeback by hitting .311/.371/.385 with 16 stolen bases since the All-Star break, has now sat out four straight games. Gardenhire has stated that he hopes to get him back in the lineup for today's season finale. The general consensus is that Castillo's just been resting up for the playoffs, and hopefully that's the case. The Twins will need him at second base and running at full-speed.
In any event, Carlos Silva will make his final start in what has been a highly disappointing 2006 campaign today. It would be nice for him, and the Twins, to go out on a good note so they can carry a little steam into the postseason.