The Twins took an early 3-0 lead last night, but the Blue Jays rallied back with six runs in the sixth inning to win and prevent the Twins from gaining any ground on the Tigers, who fell the Royals in Kansas City. If it hadn't already, the time has come for any realist to stick a fork in these 2009 Minnesota Twins.
I actually give this team some credit. They have played a lot better over the past few weeks than I suspected they would with three-fifths of their expected rotation on the shelf and guys like Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship becoming fixtures on the pitching staff. Yet, despite their improved play, the Twins haven't been able to make the slightest dent in their deficit in the standings. It was August 18 when the Twins began their current successful stretch -- going 13-7 in 20 games -- and on that date they trailed the Tigers by 6 1/2 games, which is exactly the same deficit they face today.
The Twins have played well enough to have eaten into Detroit's lead if the division leaders had faltered, but these Tigers have not faltered -- far from it. I think they made a resounding statement over the weekend by going into Tampa Bay and sweeping a Rays team that had been extremely tough to beat at home all season. In one fell swoop, the Tigers effectively suffocated the postseason hopes for two teams -- the Twins and Rays -- while making a strong case that they deserve to be playing in October, and not only because they play in a laughably bad division.
The Twins remain mathematical contenders for the division title, but with 24 games left, the hill is looking too steep to climb, even with seven head-to-head match-ups with the Tigers remaining. Even if the Twins' postseason window is all but closed, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to follow here in the final weeks of the season. Joe Mauer will continue his quest for a third batting title and an MVP award, Justin Morneau will try to avoid slumping into the finish line for a third straight year, Duensing and Manship and other youngsters will make cases for next year, and the Twins will look to fend off the White Sox for second place while closing out their tenture in the Metrodome.