The Twins have been playing some good ball lately. After beating the Marlins 7-4 yesterday to capture their second consecutive series victory, the Twins have won nine of their last 13 games. They managed to amass 18 runs between Saturday and Sunday's games without Justin Morneau even in the lineup. Yet, despite all this, they still sit 6.5 games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
The Tigers have been playing incredibly well lately. They are clicking on all cylinders. Yesterday, 22-year-old right-hander Andrew Miller delivered six shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the Braves. The victory was the Tigers' seventh straight and it completed a sweep in which Detroit pitching allowed just one run over three games. In the month of June, the Tigers have gone 15-5 while averaging 7.7 runs per game. With the recent return of Kenny Rogers and the emergence of the outstanding rookie Miller, the Tigers have a scary good rotation to complement a stellar offense. This is a very strong team and at this rate they'll be almost impossible to catch.
Catching the second-place Indians and competing for the Wild Card may be a more realistic goal. After losing yesterday to drop their weekend series against the Nationals, Cleveland fell two games behind Detroit for the division lead and are now 4.5 games ahead of the Twins in the division standings. The Indians are a good team and they're not spiraling by any means, but they also don't have the juggernaut roster that the Tigers have. The hope is that by the time the Twins play the Indians again in late July, they will be able to pick up some meaningful victories.
And then there are the White Sox, whose fifth straight loss at the hands of the Cubs yesterday provoked their general manager, Kenny Williams, to say, "Something's got to happen. I'm tired of watching this ... Change needs to happen and change is going to happen. When that happens, I don't know." The Sox have lost 17 of their last 21 games and now find themselves 14.5 games out of first place. The Twins might be sitting pretty far behind the first-place slot in the division, but at least they've given themselves a comfortable lead over the two bottom teams. There has been some talk that the White Sox, now dangerously close to falling behind the Royals and into last place, may become sellers around the trading deadline.
Anyway, a few notes on yesterday's win over the Marlins:
* There's been a lot of talk about the Twins making a move to bring in a power hitter. Now it's starting to look like the answer to their slugging woes may be right under their noses in the form of ace pitcher Johan Santana. After tripling in yesterday's game, Santana now sports a .714 slugging percentage for the season. Minuscule sample size be damned, this guy can rake!
* Of course, despite driving in a run with his first career three-bagger, Santana did more damage with his arm than with his bat. Following up a complete-game shutout against the Mets in his last outing, Santana delivered six strong innings against the Marlins, surrendering just one earned run on five hits and a walk while striking out eight. Could Santana be settling into his typical mid-season groove?
* Not to be outdone by Santana's power display, Joe Mauer ripped two homers in yesterday's game. The bad news is that they came against Byung-Hyun Kim, who generally serves up a lot of homers to left-handed hitters. The good news is that Mauer pulled both home runs over the right field wall. He also very nearly hit a home run in Saturday night's ballgame, so there is definitely some evidence that his power stroke is starting to come around. It's good to see Mauer heating up after slumping in the first few weeks after his return from the disabled list. Since his hot hitting has coincided somewhat with his return to the No. 3 spot in the batting order, don't be surprised if Ron Gardenhire keeps him there once Morneau returns.
* Jason Kubel doubled in yesterday's game and is now slugging .545 this month.
* Pat Neshek allowed a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera in the eighth inning. It was the first run Neshek has allowed since May 26. Prior to that, he had not allowed one since April 19. If he gives up one run per month for the rest of the season, I'll be happy.
* Next up: a four-game homestand against the Blue Jays.