On June 1st, the Tigers completed a sweep of the Twins at Comerica Park. After that loss, Minnesota sat 16.5 games out of first place with a miserable 17-37 record.
Since then, they have gone 24-11 and gained 10 games on Detroit in the standings. While a 6.5-game deficit at the All-Star break is daunting, it's not insurmountable. Ron Gardenhire has been there before.
In 2003, the Twins lost 12 of 13 games heading into the break and sat 7.5 out when the Midsummer Classic rolled around. Coincidentally, it was at that very point that their season turned around completely.
Over that All-Star break, Terry Ryan traded for Shannon Stewart, who assumed lead-off duties for a team that suddenly became the hottest in baseball. The Twins went 45-23 the rest of the way, finishing with 90 wins and taking the division handily.
If this year's Twins could match the .660 post-break winning percentage achieved by that '03 club, they would finish with 89 wins, which could very well be enough to come out on top.
The second-half surge in '03 was made possible by strong starting pitching, a capable lineup and a crummy division. All those factors would seem to be in place at present. The missing ingredient, though, is an external jolt.
While it makes for a tidy storyline to claim that Stewart came aboard and single-handedly carried the club to the playoffs, it wasn't that simple. Many other players contributed heavily in the comeback, including some kid named Santana who (finally) got a shot in the rotation. But Stewart did address a significant weakness on the roster, and his arrival did send a signal to fans and players alike that the front office was in it to win it despite the sizable deficit.
I don't think we'll see any players brought in via trade during this year's All-Star break, but the Twins must be considered buyers at this point and already are making moves to strengthen their roster by adding Trevor Plouffe and Delmon Young. These moves will be the subject of the next post here.