Friday, July 13, 2007

Break Time's Over

Back in 2003, the Twins came out of the All-Star break with a 44-49 record and a 7.5 game deficit in the AL Central standings. Their first post-break series was a four-game set at home against the A's, and they opened it with a 6-2 Thursday night victory before going on to sweep Oakland and begin a marvelous second half that ended with a second consecutive Central Division crown.

Flash forward to 2007. These Twins find themselves with a better record than the 2003 version, but in a similar position -- needing victories to start making up ground in the standings. Last night, they opened their own four-game home set against the A's in similar fashion, picking up a 6-2 victory. Of course, almost all the faces have changed since '03. In that 6-2 victory four years ago, it was 38-year-old Rick Reed who picked up the win; last night it was 25-year-old Scott Baker. Four years ago, Shannon Stewart was batting lead-off for the Twins, whom he had just recently joined to help with the playoff push. Last night, Stewart was batting lead-off for the A's, whom he signed with in the offseason. After struggling through his last couple seasons with the Twins, Stewart is having a bit of a comeback year with the A's, and I'm happy for him.

The Twins drew four walks against Oakland starter Chad Gaudin in the first inning and scored twice in each of the first two frames, building a four-run lead that would be plenty for Baker, who controlled the Athletics over six innings to pick up his fourth win of the season. Amazingly, he got 14 outs through the air and just one on the ground.

Baker really seems to be pulling things together -- even with the ugly outing in Chicago last Friday in which he allowed seven runs over five innings, he holds a 3.77 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over his last five starts. Baker could be a big key to the Twins' success in the second half.

Meanwhile, Michael Cuddyer was the star on offense, going 4-for-4 with a double and a triple. Joe Mauer went 0-for-2, but walked twice and came around to score both times. Torii Hunter drove in a pair of runs and Justin Morneau chipped in with a bloop RBI single. Morneau is now tied with Vladimir Guerrero for second in the American League in RBI at 75, while Hunter ranks fourth with 71. Back in that 2003 season, only one Twin finished the season with more than 75 RBI (it was Hunter, with 102).

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the contributions of one Garrett Jones. In his first game back with the Twins after being recalled from Rochester, Jones went 2-for-4 with a double off the top of the baggy in right field. Jones is far from a solution at DH, but he's a better option than Jason Tyner. Neither one of the two really belongs in the major leagues, but Jones at least has the potential to hit the ball over the fence. And, being that he struck out in over a quarter of his at-bats in the minors, it's nice to see that he's fanned just once so far in 12 big-league at-bats.

Tonight, Johan Santana toes the rubber for the Twins against Lenny DiNardo, who has been solid for the A's this year. Here's hoping the Twins can continue to do their best impression of the '03 squad and work toward a big four-game sweep. In 2003, the Twins won two-thirds of their games after the All-Star break -- if they managed to do that this year, they would finish with a 94-68 record. Of course, this year's team doesn't have the luxury of a mid-season Shannon Stewart addition... but who needs him when you've got Garrett Jones?