The Final Countdown: 70 Games

When we started this “Final Countdown” series, the Twins had 100 games remaining in their regular season schedule.

Our premise is simple… The Cleveland Indians will not win the AL Central Division Championship. That honor, from the outset of the season, has been predestined to go to the Tigers, the White Sox, or the Twins. Based on that reality, we created the REAL AL Central Standings, measuring how the Twins were doing against the BitchSox and Tigers only.

With 100 games left, the Twins trailed the Tigers by 10 games, meaning they would need to gain an average of 1 game on the leader in the REAL AL Central Standings every 10 games in order to catch up by game 162.

So here we are with 70 games left… let’s check in and see how our guys are doing.

TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 70

TEAM RECORD GB
Tigers 49-45 -
BitchSox 46-48 3
TWINS 43-49 5

Not bad. They would need to be no more than 7 games behind the leader to be on track and after Saturday evening’s games, they trail the Tigers by 5 games and the BitchSox by 3.

The next 10 games will certainly be interesting, as they lead us up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Keep up the good work, guys!

- JC

Eleven Days In July

When I’m getting ready to draft a new post, I often do a quick check of what other Twins bloggers are writing about so I can avoid doing nothing more than adding one more post on the same subject others are already covering (and likely covering much better than I would, anyway). I did the same thing this morning and obviously there’s no shortage of material in the Twins blogdom about the upcoming series with the Royals, Indians and Tigers. So I should have come up with another subject to write about.

But I didn’t.

The Twins play twelve games over the next eleven days (thanks to a make-up game that turns next Monday’s scheduled game with Cleveland in to a doubleheader). All three series are against AL Central Division teams and two of those series are against the virtual co-leaders of the Division… teams that the Twins trail by about half a dozen games in the standings.

With the non-waiver trade deadline looming a week after the Twins wrap up this intra-divisional stretch, it’s certainly possible to conclude that by the time the Twins finish up their July 24 game with the Tigers, we’ll all know how the rest of the season will play out. We’ll know whether GM Bill Smith will spend the last week of July looking for bullpen help or whether he’ll be fielding offers for some of the higher-paid Twins that are free-agency bound at the end of the season. After all of the trials and tribulations of April and May and after the turnaround in June and, thus far, July, it all comes down to these eleven days.

Or does it?

It’s fun to think of it that way. It certainly generates excitement and enthusiasm among the fan base. It may even be healthy for the players if thinking along those lines helps them focus and give just that little bit of an extra effort. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s still only 12 games… just under 7.5% of the season’s schedule.

Hey, the Twins certainly don’t want to lose 2/3 of these games and it’s always particularly helpful to beat the team’s you are trying to catch when you face them one-on-one. But this is hardly the last time our guys will be going head-to-head with their divisional competition. Even after they wrap up the next twelve games, they will have ANOTHER NINE GAMES EACH against the Tigers, Indians and White Sox during the final two months of the season.

My point is… yes, these three series are important and it would certainly be helpful to keep the momentum going and cut a bit more in to the deficits the Twins face behind the Tribe and Tigers. But if it turns out that they don’t… if it turns out they’re still a handful of games behind at the end of all this… it would still be premature to start writing obituaries for this team, as long as neither of the co-leaders rattles off about 15 straight wins to leave everyone in the dust.

Those of us who held off on declaring the season a lost cause at the end of May have been rewarded for our patience. The Twins are definitely still playing meaningful baseball.

Delmon Young rejoins the line up tonight

They have steadily improved. They are getting healthier and that means their bench is getting deeper (which has been so thin recently as to almost make one yearn for the days when the “bats on the bench” consisted of some combination of Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Rondell White, Luis Rodriguez and Brian Buscher). And keep in mind that the teams the Twins are chasing are not exactly the 1927 Yankees… or even the 2011 Yankees, for that matter. The three teams ahead of the Twins have some flaws and those franchises don’t exactly have a recent history of strong second half finishes.

So… enjoy the next eleven days and let’s hope the Twins keep closing on the leaders, but let’s try to retain some perspective. There’s going to be a lot of baseball to be played in August and September, regardless of how these games shake out.

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #2, 7:10pm

All three blog hosts are otherwise committed tonight (probably rightfully so) but we’re hoping you guys have been doing this long enough to know how to chat & cheer on your own!

Minnesota

@

Chi White Sox
Revere, CF Pierre, LF
Casilla, A, 2B Ramirez, Al, SS
Mauer, C Konerko, 1B
Cuddyer, RF Dunn, A, DH
Valencia, DH Quentin, RF
Tosoni, LF Rios, CF
Hughes, L, 1B Pierzynski, C
Nishioka, SS Beckham, 2B
Tolbert, 3B Morel, 3B
  Blackburn, P   Floyd, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 0 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 8 14 0
Chi White Sox 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 11 0

I didn’t get to actually SEE any of this game and all of the scoring was done before I even got to listen to any of it. From what I can tell, however, kudos are due to several players.

Working backwards from the finish, both Joe Nathan and Matt Capps pitched perfect innings of relief. That’s exactly what we envisioned getting out of those guys when the season started. In fact, Alex Burnett managed a similar inning and Phil Dumatrait looked good, too. And while starter Nick Blackburn obviously got off to a horid start and didn’t have a sharp game, you have to give a guy credit for fighting his way through five innings even when he clearly wasn’t at the top of his game.

On the offensive side, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Rene Tosoni all contributed a pair of hits, but it was Luke Hughes’ 3-run home run that provided the winning margin. His 3 hits in 5 AB and 3 RBI earned him a consensus Boyfriend of the Day award from the GameChat folks! – JC

Luke Hughes

 

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox, 7:10

Make no mistake, this is a big series.

It’s preposterous to call any game or even any series a “must win” at this point in the season. Still, you don’t have to spend much time perusing the standings before coming to the conclusion that the pre-AllStar Break series that begins tonight against the White Sox is huge.

It’s easy to focus on the number of games the Twins trail the AL Central Division leaders, if for no other reason than those are the numbers we see published every day in the media. The Twins have been bouncing around between 7-9 games behind whichever team, the Indians or Tigers, might happen to be leading the division on a particular date. In fact, some writers (including myself) have pointed to the week of July 18-24, when the Twins are scheduled to play eight games against the Indians and Tigers in a span of seven days as the stretch during which the Twins’ destiny will be determined.

But, as we all know, the Twins don’t just trail Cleveland and Detroit. If the Twins are truly going to pull themselves up in to contention, they’re going to have to step over the cold, dead body of the BitchSox, as well. The Sox haven’t found a way to win even a single game over the Twins so far, with our guys going 2-0 both on their last trip to Chicago, in May, and also on the Sox’ return trip in June. That’s a trend that needs to continue.

The Sox enjoy a 3.5 game lead over the Twins as the series begins. A Twins sweep would propel them in to third place at the AllStar Break. Getting swept by the Sox would mean a 7.5 game deficit and we’ll probably start reading a lot more articles about other teams contacting the Twins about trades, like this one from the Denver Post, as it would seem all but impossible to catch and pass three teams from that far back at the Break.

As for tonight’s game… it’s the long-awaited (and much too ballyhooed) debut of Joe Mauer at first base for the Twins.

Joe and the Twins will be facing off against former Twin Phil Humber. Joe Christensen at the Strib wrote a nice piece on Humber that’s worth a read.

Finally, congratulations to Sox 1B Paul Konerko on winning the fan vote for the final spot on the AL AllStar team. Personally, I thought it was stupid that he had to go through that process, rather than just being named on his own merits. Konerko is one of those guys I can’t help but respect, even when he plays for a rival.

TWINS

@

WHITE SOX
Revere, CF Pierre, LF
Casilla, A, 2B Vizquel, 3B
Mauer, 1B Konerko, 1B
Cuddyer, RF Dunn, A, DH
Thome, DH Rios, CF
Valencia, 3B Pierzynski, C
Tosoni, LF Ramirez, Al, SS
Nishioka, SS Teahen, RF
Butera, C Beckham, 2B
  _Pavano, P   _Humber,P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 2 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 6 13 0
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 6 1

Didn’t tonight just remind you how much fun it is to beat the BitchSox?

Carl Pavano wasn’t terrificly sharp, but he still got through 7 innings while giving up only 2 runs, so you have to happily take that. Glen Perkins and Matt Capps… yes, Matt Capps… each contributed a scoreless inning of relief work.

Ben Revere had a really nice night, going 3 for 5 with a couple of runs scored and Tsuyoshi Nishioka contributed with the bat and the glove.

But tonight’s BOD was pretty clearly Joe Mauer. The Chairman had 3 hits and 2 RBI, and also looked like he had been playing 1B most of his career. Ground balls, line drives, scooping balls in the dirt, soft-tossing to the pitcher covering… he had to do it all and did just fine. Good work Joe!

Joe Mauer (and 1B coach Jerry White)

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The Final Countdown: 80 Games

We knew it was too good to last, of course. You simply don’t continue to gain several games on your competition every week the way the Twins had been closing in on the teams above them in the standings. It’s actually a bit surprising that they didn’t lose any more ground than they did, considering the competition they faced over the past 10 games.

We here at Knuckleballs started this little “Countdown” exercise a few weeks ago when the Twins had played 62 games, leaving 100 remaining, and we’re continuing to check in every 10 games to see what sort of progress the team is making. With 100 games remaining, the Twins trailed the Tigers by exactly 10 games. A little quick math revealed that they needed to gain one game in the standigns on the Tigers for every 10 games played to catch up to them by the end of the season.

We’re also keeping track of where our guys stand in comparison to the BitchSox, since we’ve pretty much assumed from the start of the season that Ozzie’s Southsiders will be in the race until the end.

While I’m still not willing to add them to the REAL AL Central Standings, for our purposes, I do have to give Cleveland credit for not folding as quickly as I thought they would. I still don’t think they’ll be contending by the end of the season, but they sure seem to continue to think otherwise.

Anyway, here are the REAL AL Central Standings at this particular checkpoint, with the Twins having exactly 80 more ballgames left to play:

TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 80

TEAM RECORD GB
Tigers 45-40 -
BitchSox 42-43 3
TWINS 36-46 7.5

With the All-Star break this week, it will be two more weeks before the Twins get another 10 games under their belts. Four of those games will be on the road at Chicago, but the other six will be at home against the Rays and Royals. During the same period of time, the Tigers will play seven of nine games on the road, while the BitchSox play seven of their next ten games against either the Twins or Tigers.

In other words, the Twins have an excellent opportunity to make up more ground before we check in again at the 70-game mark!

- JC

 

The Final Countdown: 90 Games

Ten games ago, I wrote about how the Twins had pulled within 10 games of the Detroit Tigers with 100 games left on their schedule. The symmetry of that was too much to resist.

Since I just can’t get my mind to accept the possibility that the Indians could possibly be in the race for the long haul, I’ve been standing by my preseason contention that the AL Central would come down to the Twins, Tigers and White Sox. Based on this, we’re going to check in with the Twins’ progress every 10 games (if I remember to do so) in relation to where their real division rivals sit.

Trailing the Tigers by 10 games with 100 to play meant all they had to do was trim one game off that lead every 10 games in order to catch the Tigers by the end of the season. So today, as the countdown reaches 90 remaining games on the Twins schedule, where are things sitting?

Let’s just say there’s been some progress… and that’s putting it mildly… even after that clunker Wednesday night in San Francisco. Here are the REAL AL Central Division Standings with 90 games to play:

TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 90

TEAM RECORD GB
Tigers 40-35 -
BitchSox 37-39 3.5
TWINS 32-40 6.5

I don’t think any of us expected to see the Twins close this gap this fast. Yes, the BitchSox are sneaking up on the Tigers, too, but I think our guys proved they own the southsiders last week, didn’t they? We’ll keep them listed in the REAL AL Central Division Standings just because it looks tacky to only list one team other than the Twins, but if this race comes down to Twins and BitchSox, I like the Twins’ chances.

On the other hand, the Twins haven’t had any luck against the Tigers yet at all, so I like watching them lose to anyone who can step up and do the job. 

- JC

 

Movin’ On Up! 1 Down, 3 To Go!

The Twins’ dramatic win today over the Padres, combined with the Royals’ 5-4 loss to St. Louis, moves the Twins out of the AL Central cellar and up in to fourth place in the Division for the first time since May 8.

Our guys didn’t gain on the Indians, who outlasted the Pirates in an extra-inning game to gain a sweep of their own, or the Tigers, who slapped the Rockies around, or even the White Sox, who beat the D-Backs again. The Tigers remain 1 game behind Cleveland and the Bitch Sox are 5.5 games back of the leaders (just 2.5 games ahead of the Twins). The Twins have Monday off, while all three of the teams ahead of them start new interleague series on Monday.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Twins to continue winning games at the pace they’ve been on as they not only go on the road, but do so against the defending World Series Champion (and current NL West leader) San Francisco Giants and the current NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.

But a 9-1 home stand is nothing to sneeze at and after this 6-game road trip, they’ll come back home for another nice long home stand.

Five weeks ago, the Twins trailed the Royals by 7.5 games in the standings. Today, they passed the Royals and are taking aim on the team ahead of them, the White Sox, and there’s no sign of any “quit” in this team.

I’m already on record as saying the Indians simply don’t matter and I stand by that. Take a look at their schedule between now and the All-Star break and tell me they won’t be lucky just to stay in the top three of the standings. They get the Rox, the Giants, the D-Backs, and the Reds before hosting the Yankees and Blue Jays just ahead of the break.

The White Sox will very possibly be looking up at the Twins in the standings by the break, but the Tigers will be a lot tougher to close the gap on. Their schedule is softer and I’m betting they’ve got a three game lead in the division by the break.

It’s too early to know whether the Twins will use this stretch of success to springboard them up in to serious contention as the summer goes on, but a while back I wrote that I would be happy if they’d just show the kind of effort and skill that would make it fun to watch them again… and they’ve certainly done that.

Whether or not the Twins WILL turn themselves in to legitimate contenders remains to be seen, but I think we’ve reached the point where nobody should dare tell them that they CAN’T do exactly that.

- JC

The Final Countdown – 100 Games

Entering Friday night’s game against the Texas Rangers, the Twins are carrying a record of 24-38. You know what that means, don’t you? No… not that they’ve pretty much sucked all year (well, OK, it kind of does mean that, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now).

It means they’ve played 62 games. And you know what that means, don’t you? (Stick with me here… I’ll get to the point eventually.)

It means there are exactly 100 games left in the Twins’ regular season.

That works out really well for my purposes because the Twins are also 10 games behind the AL Central Division leaders. (What’s that? You say the Twins are 11.5 games out of first place? Well, technically, yes… but as I pointed out in early May, in the REAL AL Central Standings, the Twins only have to care about how far they trail the Tigers and White Sox.)

Being 10 games behind the Tigers with 100 games to play makes it easy enough to figure out what the Twins need to do to not only get back in this race, but win it. They need to make up 1 game in the REAL standings every 10 games they play. (Yeah, I know… they’ll need to do SLIGHTLY better than that if they want to avoid another Game 163 showdown.)

That’s not so tough, right?

Well… yeah it is, actually.

We’re all pretty thrilled that our guys have trimmed something like 5.5 games off their deficit to the Cleveland Indians in the past week or so, but even with the success the Twins have had lately, the Twins have actually DROPPED a game further behind the Tigers in the REAL AL Central Standings over the course of the past 10 games and have just kept pace with the White Sox.

So, before we celebrate too much, let’s keep our focus where it belongs. Cleveland and Kansas City have some good, young talent and down the road, they’re going to contend for playoff spots. But that road extends in to the future beyond this season. This year, it will not matter how the Twins measure up to the Indians and Royals. What will matter, as it has over the past few seasons, is where they finish in relation to the Tigers and White Sox.

Let’s keep track, shall we?

Every ten games, for as long as it matters, we’ll bring everyone up to date on what the REAL AL Central Standings look like and we can measure whether the Twins are making the necessary ground up on the Tigers and BitchSox.

TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 100

TEAM RECORD GB
Tigers 34-28 -
BitchSox 31-34 4.5
TWINS 24-38 10

We’ll update these standings every 10 games (or as often as we remember to do it).

And what, you may ask, happens if I’m wrong about the whole “Indians and Royals don’t matter” thing? Well… you’d be surprised how quickly all evidence of a blog post can be erased.

- JC

Looking For Distractions

I’m in the middle of a three-week period where I’m traveling to different parts of the country every week for work, so it’s not that I have nothing going on to occupy my mind, but since March I’ve focused much of my “spare time” on what’s going on with the Twins. I’ve blogged about the Twins. I went to Spring Training to hang out for a week watching the Twins. I’ve ranted about the blackout rules that keep me from being able to watch Twins games.

I’ve watched as one Twins player after another has fallen to injury, illness, or both. I’m not sure which team has been hurt more by injury/illness… the Twins or my Fantasy teams. But as Strib  beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III pointed out in a recent post, the problem isn’t JUST the guys who aren’t available to play… most of the guys who ARE playing are simply not playing well. And there’s really no excuse for that.

I’m not jumping on the “fire, trade and release everyone” bandwagon that Seth Stohs did a great job of debunking in his recent post over at SethSpeaks.net. As miserable as the month of April has been for the Twins, it is after all just one of six months that make up the MLB regular season. Some of these guys are going to get it figured out and start being much more productive. Some may not. And it’s not like there’s much of anyone hitting down on the farm at Rochester, anyway (with Trevor Plouffe being one possible exception… at least until he, too, began a recent slump at the plate).

But I’m really not sure how much more of this ineptitude I can keep watching, right now. That Royals game Friday night was just downright painful to see unfold. So, I’m looking for other things to focus some attention on. Here are just a couple of things that I’ve found.

Ozzie and the White Sox: This group sucks just as much as the Twins lately (if not more). All things considered, I would much rather watch good baseball than bad baseball. The two Orioles/Red Sox games I attended this week in Baltimore were fun to watch because I saw good pitching, timely hitting, and some good defensive plays. That’s what I LIKE to see when I watch professional ballplayers. But if I have to watch bad baseball, I get a lot more enjoyment out of watching bad baseball being played by players wearing White Sox uniforms than Twins uniforms and fortunately, the current group of BitchSox are accommodating me.

Maybe Ozzie could give Gardy Tweeting lessons

And did you see that Ozzie immediately went to tweeting about an umpire that had just ejected him from a game this week? Now THAT’S the kind of “firing it through the internet” you won’t see Gardy doing! Of course, I would probably enjoy the Sox struggles even more if I didn’t have Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn on one of my already-doomed Fantasy teams.

The NFL Draft: I haven’t watched a lot of the NFL draft this week, but I hoped following it a bit would be a nice distraction from what’s happening with the Twins. Sounded good, in theory. Then the Vikings used the 12th pick of the draft to pick up a QB that I really don’t see as being any better than many of the QBs still on the board going in to Saturday’s fourth round… and a tight end in the second round… seriously? The Vikings have enormous needs on both the offensive and defensive lines, not to mention the defensive secondary. And there were some terrific options available at those positions when their turn came in the first round, but they decided to pick a QB that either won’t play this season or will get killed if he does play, because they have nobody who can protect him.

Twins fans… those of you who like to call for the firing of everyone who is responsible for filling out the Twins’ roster, let this serve as a warning… having different decision makers is not the same as having good decision makers. You could end up with a front office like the Vikings have and the Twins could very quickly become the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On the other hand, Hawkeye defensive end Adrian Clayborn was selected by Tampa Bay in the first round of the draft, so that was nice to see. There are probably 7-8 other former Hawkeyes that have some chance of getting drafted in the later rounds this weekend, so I’ll keep an eye on that.

UPDATE: The Vikings picked Hawkeye DT Christian Ballard in the 4th round… so I’m a bit excited about that. It will be great to have another Hawkeye joining LB Chad Greenway on the Vikings’ defense for me to cheer for!

Minor League Baseball: I really wish the Cedar Rapids Kernels were in town this weekend. I wanted badly to just go spend my Friday night and Saturday at the ballpark watching them play. Alas, they were on the road. But in checking their schedule, I was reminded that a week from today, the Kernels will be hosting the first game of a three-game series with the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate, the Beloit Snappers. That’s at least something to look forward to next weekend!

The Snappers visit the Kernels next weekend

Both the Snappers and Kernels are off to pretty good starts, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of the kids I watched on the minor league spring training complex in Ft. Myers take on the local club. They play a night game Saturday, a 2:00 game Sunday afternoon and a noon game on getaway day, Monday. I’m thinking that may be a good day to take a vacation day before I have to get on a plane for Florida the next day. It will also give me an opportunity to get the camera out and provide material for at least a couple of posts here at Knuckleballs.

What about you? Are you finding something to focus your free time on to take your mind off the Twins’ struggles? Let us know if you’ve got any great ideas to share!

- JC