Twins now powering through weak AL Central
Five games under, five games back. On June 1, when they were 20 games under and 16.5 behind of the Cleveland Indians, would you have thought it possible the Twins could close the gap this much?
I certainly didn't, though I was having a blast trying to figure out a way to conveniently pigeonhole this bizarre club. Were they another incarnation of the '63 Mets? Or the unbelievably resurgent 1913 "Miracle" Braves? Were the Skippys, the Twins light-hitting replacements, going to carry this club? Or the big bats of Thome, Young, Mauer, and Cuddyer, all of whom have been certified gimps all season?
What makes this story so intriguing is the genuine politeness of the AL Central. With the Twins struggling, the Indians in over their head, and Kansas City just plain being Kansas City, it seems as though the Tigers and White Sox ought to be in a heated battle for the division crown. Instead, it's like a group of people standing at a door to a fancy restaurant, each one stepping aside and bowing and saying, "after you," "no, after you," "oh, please, after you."
Honestly, if they didn't play each other as often as they did, I'd almost peg the AL Central to field the first playoff team in history with a losing record.
But that's half the fun of divisional play--mediocre clubs get to shine, and often win. (And make no mistake, without the East/Divisions that began in 1969, the Twins would have only one World Championship under their belts.)
Enjoy it while you can: If the news is to be believed, next season baseball will see some fairly drastic changes, with a realignment sending Houston (according to most reports) to the AL, and the divisions gone. Just two leagues of 15 teams each, with the top five teams advancing to the playoffs.
As of this writing, that would mean the 2011 playoff picture would see Boston, New York, Texas, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay playing deep into October. Ouch.
So I'll enjoy this crazy club for now, because if Selig gets his way, it might be forever and a day before we, or any of the other Central division teams, taste playoff champagne.
But I digress. The Twins have put together a string of great baseball, winning their fifth straight series yesterday with a 4-3 win over Kansas City, courtesy of Jim Thome's lumber. Tied 1-1 in the 6th, Big Jim destroyed a fastball, sending home run number 596 almost five hundred feet into the centerfield seats, the longest four-bagger in Target Field's brief history.
But the Twins continue to keep things close, getting few men on base (they stranded but three men, and hit into two double plays yesterday), and winning their 20th one-run game, second only to San Francisco's 25. They've lost 21 of these as well... which is a hell of a lot of one-run games. They had 53 the whole of last year.
And as of last week, they were on pace to hit fewer than 100 home runs in a season (and thank you for that statistical heads-up, Nick Nelson.) As Mr. Nelson points out, the last team to hit fewer than a century were the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, who, uh, won the World Series.
But with Thome's fireworks, the hot return of Delmon Young, and the hopefully hot bat of Trevor Plouffe (who ripped through AAA with 15 homers and a 1.019 OPS), the Twins may be starting to show some real power for a change, and will hopefully eclipse that 100 HR mark. And on the mound, Joe Nathan seems to be his old self, the starters are competent behind new ace Scott Baker, and Glen Perkins has been lights out in the middle of the pack. That's all great.
My rambling point is that there's lots of promise in Twins Territory. We're almost at full power, and only a handful of games back. As I said, enjoy it, because 2011, perhaps the final year of divisions, could be the last hurrah for a long, long time.
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