Monday, August 09, 2010

Let the Stretch Run Begin

All teams, even the very good ones, go through ups and downs over the course of a major-league season. The 2010 Twins have been a model for this truism; they came out of the gates fast with a blistering hot start, fell into a lull of mediocrity in the middle months, and now seem to be regaining momentum here after the All-Star break.

The Twins limped into the baseball season's unofficial midpoint, having lost six of their last eight while dropping into third place in the AL Central. They went on to lose their first game after the break at home against the White Sox, but since then they have gone 17-6, keeping pace with the similarly scalding South-Siders and claiming their stake in what is shaping up to be an intense two-team race over the final eight weeks of the season.

Sometimes you can learn more about the state of a team from their losses than their wins. It's important to note that of the Twins' six losses during the aforementioned span, five of them have been decided by two runs or less. Even when they're coming out on the short end, the Twins are playing well and forcing close games. You can't ask for much more.

It's not hard to see why the Twins have been able to right the ship so abruptly. Their schedule has been exceedingly easy over the past few weeks, with a four-game series in Tampa representing their only break in a parade of last and second-to-last place teams. But in the past the Twins have been accused of letting up against lesser opponents (late September series against the Royals come to mind) and the impressive stretch also includes three wins against the White Sox and a hotly contested split against the Rays. They've also been doing it all without the services of their best hitter, and with injuries forcing Drew Butera and Alexi Casilla into the lineup far more than expected.

With the White Sox losing to the Orioles yesterday, the Twins drew to within a half-game of first place. By the time the Sox and Twins square off at U.S. Cellular Field tomorrow night, the two teams could be knotted atop the division.

Sure, the Twins haven't always played up to their level of ability this year and the rough patches have been frustrating. But there's hardly anything better than a bunch of meaningful baseball games in September with playoff-like intensity. That's what we seem headed for.

Should be fun.


Matt said...

Reason for optimism: Twins are getting healthy. The soft spot in the schedule came at the right time, allowing Mauer to sit a little and not having Hudson in there didn't kill us like before, and Hardy seems to be rounded into form. When Morneau comes back, hopefully soon, we should be a pretty tough team again like back in April.

Nick N. said...

Good point, Matt. If you have to lose Morneau, Hudson and Mauer (sort of) for any portion of the season, this has been a good time for it. Really hoping Morneau can make it back by September.

Randy said...

Thinking good thoughts for the Twins offense (particularly with the return of Justin) but, truth be told, it IS going to come down to pitching. Can Liriano hold up with the number of innings pitched? Are Slowey and Baker going to shake their inconsistency? Is Guerrier going to return to more usual form in the bullpen? Can we find a long reliever (and keep Slama in Rochester for the rest of the year, thank you very much)?

Still lots of questions . . .

Ed Bast said...

It's nice the Twins are gearing up for another Game 163 stretch run here, but let's not forget the Twins could have buried Chicago in May/June, and didn't. Quite honestly they could have a 10-game lead right now, and some of the dead arm guys can rest without terrible consequence; instead we have to throw Perkins in a key game vs. the division leaders on the road. There would be no pressure to get Morneau back ASAP, etc.

Meaningful September games are fun; meaningful October games are tremendous, and also actually meaningful. Past history under Gardy tells us September scramble = October embarrasment. Sorry, I just don't share the optimism that this year will be any different.

Anonymous said...

ed the twins are currently 14 games over .500 that's pretty good. yes we had a bad couple of months but chicago is only 6.5 games behind new york who have the best record in baseball so it unrealistic to expect us to be 10 games up on them. my point is chicago has been playing very good baseball and even though we should probably be a game or two ahead of them rather than back we are well situated to go on a stretch run like nick says while chicago is likely to come down to earth a little. there is still a good chance that we could finish 5-6 games up in the division and have a chance to prepare our selves for the playoffs.

Ed Bast said...


I realize we're in decent shape, I'm just saying we sort of let off the gas back when the Sox were weeks or even days away from imploding.

Who knows, maybe it's better this way than running away with the division. Gardy clearly loves the come-from-behind motivational chip and doesn't do well with high expectations.

I just worry that everyone will focus on what a fun exciting stretch run it was yet again, and not their inevitable playoff failure, and deem the year a success, and nothing will change next year when we go through it all over again.

Nick N. said...

Ed, the Twins have basically done the same thing as the Sox -- played good against bad teams, and mediocre/bad against good teams. I'd hardly say the Twins have done anything to let the White Sox off the hook, though; they've beaten them six times in nine contests and have played better against common AL Central opponents.

Rob said...

Yes, I'll agree that Hudson and Morneau are injuries that came at inopportune times. However - Mauer? This guy is a wimp behind the plate. Man up and maybe Butera doesn't have to be another automatic out (like Cuddyer and Span). And all this talk about Mauer moving from catcher? Seriously? Well, then let's tear up his contract and pay him $8m/year WITH a trade clause.

The bottom line is that the Twins lack leadership. I hear it all the time ... Cuddyer is a leader. At what? How to get paid $10m/year and absolutely SUCK with RISP and ground into double plays? No thanks. I expect leaders to lead by example.

There is good with bad, however. It's too easy to point out the negative. The positives this season (and like others - I am fully prepared to win the central to just get slapped in the div series) are Pavano, Liriano, Young, Valencia, Hardy (when healthy), Hudson (when healthy), Crain (after his horrible start), Duensing, Morneau (just think what his numbers could have been like). This is a good ball club, but managed just "ok" and void of leadership. I don't think Mauer could lead himself out of a wet paperbag.