... To quote a memorably delivered line from the Joker, Heath Ledger's brilliantly portrayed character from the recent Batman flick. It seems Major League Baseball had their own cruel joke in mind when designing the Twins' 2008 schedule.
By defeating the A's 3-1 yesterday afternoon, the Twins polished off another series victory at the Metrodome. Their play at home has been nothing short of sterling, as they've won 30 of their past 39 games there and haven't lost a series in the Dome since the first week of June. The Twins continue to look much sharper at home than on the road, and that is going to make the upcoming 30-game stretch crucial.
The White Sox once against defeated the pathetic Mariners yesterday to maintain a one-game lead in the AL Central. Now the Twins embark on a 14-game road trip which will kick off in Los Angeles tonight. After finishing up that tough stretch, the Twins will return home for six games before hitting the road for 10 more. That's 24 away games compared to six home games over the next month. Oh, and they'll get only two days off during that entire span. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that this stretch could easily make or break the Twins' 2008 season.
On the surface, this doesn't bode well. The Twins have played a lot of sloppy baseball on the road. And, certainly, they'll have a tough task right out of the gate with the road-trip-opening four-game set against the Angels, who happen to own the best record in baseball. But the Twins do have a number of things working in their favor as they set forth on this critical trip.
For one thing, they have momentum. They've won six of their last seven and are 12-6 overall in the month of August. This consistent winning has come about largely thanks to some strong hitting -- they've averaged 5.8 runs per game this month and have failed to score at least four in only three of their 18 games. They have also gotten some pretty good starting pitching lately, but of course that will be put to the test as they venture into hostile ballparks. Perhaps the most intriguing performer to follow will be Francisco Liriano. He picked up his fourth consecutive win yesterday while once again allowing zero earned runs, but he wasn't exactly sharp. He had trouble finding the strike zone, as he often has this year, and got as many outs in the air as on the ground, reversing an encouraging trend I hoped he'd started with his previous outing. If he can get locked in and start showing better command, he can be a crucial weapon for the Twins during this difficult stretch.
Of course, the Twins' biggest weakness this year has been their bullpen and it has been especially vulnerable on the road. But, things seem to be headed in the right direction in that area as well. Boof Bonser seems to be settling in, with a 2.79 ERA in his past seven appearances. He's proven himself to be a clearly better option than Brian Bass, and there was really never much utility in having both pitchers on the roster, so it made sense when the Twins demoted Bass to the minors yesterday to make room for Alexi Casilla. It had become quite clear that Bass had lost favor with his manager, as he'd found his way into only five of the team's 18 August games after making 12 appearances in June and 10 in July.
Taking away a reliever from an already depleted bullpen in order to create a logjam in the middle infield does seem a bit puzzling, and I was a bit surprised that Adam Everett was not the odd man out. My guess it that the Twins are waiting to see how Casilla's thumb reacts to everyday play, and that if he's able to handle everything, Everett will be let go shortly to make room for Matt Tolbert, who is expected back on September 1.
Even with the roster adjustments that have already taken place and the ones that are expected over the next couple weeks, it will be up to the current core players to carry the team through this tough stretch. And make no mistake, will be a tough one. But, to stick with the Dark Knight theme and quote Aaron Eckart's Harvey Dent, "the night is always darkest before the dawn." After finishing up this brutal string of 30 games, the Twins will return home to finish up their season with three-game series against the White Sox and Royals.
Let's hope that those games are meaningful, and that the Twins are in position to vanquish their divisional nemesis and take a shot at putting together their own blockbuster sequel in October.