The past couple days have been tough for Twins fans. Just as the team was starting to build steam and make believers out of skeptical fans (such as myself), they watched a seemingly safe ninth-inning lead slip away at the hands of their usually reliable closer on Wednesday afternoon. The Tigers defeated the Indians later that night and then proceeded to complete a sweep over the Tribe on Thursday to widen their lead in the AL Central to a full five games. A 3 1/2 game deficit with 31 games left to play seems a whole lot more surmountable than a 5 game deficit with 29 left to play. The Twins still aren't out of it, but this 1.5-game swing hurts, bad.
The Twins will try to regroup and pick up some ground on the Tigers this weekend. It's a prime opportunity, as the Twins head to Cleveland to take on a downtrodden Indians club coming off a sweep in Detroit while the Tigers head to Tampa Bay for a three-game set against a quality Rays club that doesn't lose much at home. If the Twins can't take advantage of this opportunity and make up a game or two this weekend, they might be toast.
Here are a few notes to take you into the long weekend:
* Justin Morneau has four hits in his past 37 at-bats and is stuck in the middle of one of his all-too-typical late-season swoons. He's hitless in two September games after hitting .220/.319/.390 with only three homers and 13 RBI in 22 August contests.
Last year, Morneau entered the month of August with a .320/.394/.532 hitting line, but hit just .263/.335/.437 over the final two months and went 3-for-26 during the Twins' crucial final two series at home against the White Sox and Royals and the one-game playoff in Chicago.
In 2007, Morneau entered August with a .297/.363/.574 hitting line along with 28 homers and 89 RBI. In the final two months of the season, he hit .222/.305/.335 with three home runs and 22 RBI as the Twins faded from contention.
Now it looks like he's going through yet another late-season slump. This is getting a little ridiculous. I'm tempted to overlook Morneau's tendency to tail off late in the year because of all the great things he's done outside of that window -- much the same reason that I've given Joe Nathan a pass for his recent hiccups -- but the fact of the matter is that the Twins are paying this guy too much money to buckle every year while they're fighting for their playoff lives.
* There's been a fair amount of widespread debate regarding the actual usefulness of Twitter, and I've doubted the social network's utility myself on occasion. But I was swayed a bit by what transpired on Tuesday. I posted an afternoon tweet directing people to an article on reputed sportswriter Jonah Keri's blog, in which Keri made a case for Zack Greinke as AL MVP. In my tweet, I pleaded that Keri change the color layout of his blog. I enjoy Keri's work but rarely visited his blog because reading white text against a black background for any prolonged period of time makes my eyes hurt and gives me a headache. Keri must have noticed my plea, because moments later he posted his own tweet polling his followers on whether or not he should junk the white text/black background design. Apparently the majority of responders sided with me, because yesterday Keri introduced a new site layout with a traditional white background and it is much easier on my eyes. His site design wasn't something that bothered me so much that I'd have gone out of my way to email him and complain, but just a quick tweet appeal got the gears in motion and now allows me to visit his site and read his fine work without reservation. Thanks Jonah, and thanks Twitter!
By the way, make sure you do read his column propping up Greinke's MVP case. I still back Joe Mauer, but there's a pretty decent argument to be made for Greinke. I'd also recommend that folks check out Keri's recounting of a recent near-death experience he had after falling asleep at the wheel. Really helps put things in perspective.
* Last Wednesday, after the Twins defeated the Orioles to extend their winning streak to five and draw within 4 1/2 games of the division-leading Tigers, I wrote up a post entitled "Not So Fast" in which I cautioned against becoming overly excited about the Twins' run of strong play and their resulting climb in the standings. My basic argument was that the Twins didn't have the pitching to continue winning games at a steady pace. Since that point, the Twins have gone 4-2 and allowed an average of 2.67 runs per game. Twins starters -- including Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship, who I singled out as minor-league caliber pitchers -- have pitched well in each of those games and the bullpen has mostly been very solid. Shows what I know.
Yet, the Twins now still sit a half-game further back in the standings than they did that day. That's one of the main reasons I was curbing my enthusiasm* over the Twins' winning streak, and it's why I said "that 4 1/2 game gap in the standings is a lot bigger than it looks." The Twins have seemingly gotten back on track and are playing some good ball right now, but it may have come too late. Five games is a tough deficit to overcome, and while many would counter that point by noting that the Twins do face the Tigers seven more times, I'd note that the Tigers are a pretty decent team that won't be easy to beat, especially the five or six times the Twins will need.
* Speaking of that term, is anyone other than me incredibly excited for the upcoming Seinfeld reunion story arc on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm? That is going to be some epic television.