It's been mentioned on this site a few times over the four-game series against the Oakland A's that ended yesterday in a Twins' sweep, but it is awfully reminiscent of the way things went in 2003. Just as in that case, the Twins came out of the break well behind in the standings and have started off the second half with a bang. Of course, unlike in 2003 when they traded for Shannon Stewart, no big trade of any kind has been pulled off to help the Twins out. And as Patrick Reusse points out, the mighty Tigers and Indians don't exactly resemble the Royals of 2003.
The final game of the series yesterday resembled the one on Saturday. Both games were won 4-3, with each contest coming close due to the mistakes of a reliever that allowed two more runs to be charged to a starter that had pitched into the seventh effectively. In Saturday's case, it was Dennys Reyes giving up the hit and yesterday, it was surprisingly Matt Guerrier who ended up blowing a 2-1 lead by allowing a two-run single to Travis Buck.
Luckily for the Twins, two of their biggest bats came up huge in the clutch. Those bats belonged to Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Morneau tied the game in the eighth with his only hit of the game -- a solo blast into the upper deck off of Santiago Casilla for his 25th homer of the season. Up until that point, Morneau had been very ineffective, leaving a total of five runners in scoring position. With the game tied in the ninth, Mauer gave the Metrodome crowd a walk-off hit -- a slow roller up the middle that got just sneaked through the infield. Naturally, it helped that Mauer's game-winner was set up by Luis Castillo's triple and Jason Bartlett's walk, but Mauer had a great offensive day overall, going 3-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base while raising his average to .312. On the contrary, Jason Kubel, who had been doing well in the month of June, spent the series doing absolutely nothing offensively and is now hitless in his past 14 at-bats with only one walk in that time.
As mentioned earlier, another starter, in this case Boof Bonser, completed six effective innings before getting charged with a few extra runs thanks to the ineffectiveness of a bullpen member. Bonser in total threw 6 1/3 innings, giving up five hits, three earned runs, and three walks while striking out six. Bonser was effective through six, giving up only the solo home run to Eric Chavez and completing two consecutive 1-2-3 innings before the unraveling in the seventh. Bonser wasn't fantastic overall, but he looked much better than he had throughout July, striking out plenty of batters while showing a good curveball and notably tossing his second quality start in a row. For Twins fans who recently watched Bonser's ERA balloon from 3.61 to 4.76, the last two starts have been very encouraging.
While the four-game sweep over the A's was both impressive and wonderful to watch, the next series is a far bigger test for the Twins. After a day off today, the Twins will open a series against the Tigers this week at the Metrodome. With the Twins currently six games behind the Tigers in the standings, this will be a huge set of games. Thankfully, Matt Garza looked good in his first start, Johan Santana is on a surge, and Scott Baker has looked a lot better in his recent starts. The Tigers will pose a much larger challenge than the A's from a pitching standpoint; let us hope for a repeat of past success again.