Missed Demeanor

Johan Santana: Strikeout king with nasty stuff
Craig Lassig

I can tell you unequivocally that it's hard as hell to watch a baseball game when you're either nodding off or blue in the face from alternately holding your breath and howling streams of profanity.

I've spent years bitching about the explosion of offense in the Major Leagues and bemoaning the bloated length of games due largely to all those runs and pitching changes, but there's definitely a happy medium somewhere, and I wish the Twins could somehow find a way to settle into it and stay there for a couple of months. Because the pathetic truth is that this is a team that too often lately would have a hard time squeaking out a win in a World Cup soccer match, and I'm sorry, but I'd rather sell a kidney on eBay than sit through a soccer match. I can live with a nice two-hour-and-twenty-minute 3-1 baseball game once in a while--win or lose--but the difficulty the Twins have had scoring runs for huge blocks of this season has made them a hard team to love.

That's a rotten shame, because the Twins have spent most of the year alternately teasing and torturing their fans, and there really has been plenty to love. There's been the utterly surprising performance of the team's pitching, for instance. In Johan Santana and Joe Nathan the Twins have two of the nastiest, most dominating pitchers in team history, and Brad Radke has been quietly masterful despite being obviously and increasingly unhappy about his lack of run support. Shannon Stewart has come back from his foot injury and done everything the team could have hoped for short of single-handedly carrying the offense. Lew Ford has been a riot and a godsend, and Justin Morneau has already generated more excitement than any Twins cleanup hitter in recent memory.

And yet, despite all those positives, I honestly can't think of a season that has been so infuriating. But, no, infuriating isn't quite the word I'm looking for. Infuriating can at least be compelling. Or teams that lose and underachieve consistently can be infuriating, as can clubs with no clear identity or chemistry. The Twins have had their share of losing and underachieving in their recent history, and they've done a bit of both thus far this season. But their cardinal sin this year, really, has been that they have too often been merely boring.

Maybe you can blame that on chemistry or identity, but that always seems like a copout coming from even the most dysfunctional and dispiriting teams. And that description doesn't yet seem to truly fit this year's version of the Twins. That could certainly change in a hurry, of course, if the Twins don't once again win the Central Division.

The Twins weren't truly a great team in either 2002 or '03, yet they were, when all was said and done, never seriously challenged in the division. Those teams went about their business in entirely different ways. The Twins ran away with the Central Division in '02, and last year they didn't really respond until desperation kicked in at the All Star break, at which point, with their backs against the wall, they played their best baseball and buried Chicago in September.

It was supposed to be Chicago and Minnesota going toe to toe for the division title again this year. But every year the White Sox muster all sorts of bash and swagger, and every year it's all for naught. You're starting to get the feeling that Chicago might eventually find a way to trade away an entire roster of players for Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar and still never manage to win the Central.

It's been apparent for a while now that Cleveland was on its way to building a team to make things difficult for Central foes for years to come, but few people expected they could ramp up their timetable to actually compete this season. Yet the Indians' second-half surge has revealed a team that has been as exciting as the Twins have been boring. This is a Cleveland club that has been built on the cheap, full of quickening young talent and a couple of Twins castoffs (Matt Lawton and Casey Blake, whose surprising performance has been particularly painful given the struggles of Corey Koskie).

As fun and interesting as the Indians have been, however, they also, at least on paper, shouldn't be within spitting distance of the Twins. Cleveland's bullpen has an earned run average of 5.23, and 24 blown saves, compared with the 23 saves they've divvied up among 6 different relievers. That's not going to matter much, of course, if the Twins can't find a way to score some runs and get into that shaky bullpen in the 10 remaining games between the two clubs.

I suppose in fairness it should be pointed out that the soporific nature of the season to date has been largely the product of inflated expectations that come with winning back-to-back division titles. The pitching was definitely a question mark back in April, but I hoped this was going to be a breakout year for the team's offense, the year when the combination of veterans who had been through a couple of playoff runs finally jelled with some of the organization's promising prospects and became...well, the Texas Rangers, maybe, or the Cleveland Indians.

That hasn't happened, unfortunately. Maybe the Twins simply haven't snapped out of snooze-alarm mode yet, and after winning Sunday and escaping Cleveland with a two-game lead, maybe they'll come back home and start their kick.

I'm hoping so, at any rate, because right now I'm feeling light-headed and hoarse, and my jaw hurts from yawning.

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