Episode 73: Kyle Knudson’s Non-Roster Invite

This week on the podcast we struggle through a couple of technical difficulties, and lament the loss of Miguel Sano for the season. This week we take a look in on the Cleveland Indians. We are joined on the podcast by Jason Lukehart (@JasonLukehart) of Let’s Go Tribe to discuss comings and goings for the Indians and what Twins fans can expect from the Tribe in 2014. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

tribe

In this week’s Down on the Pond segment we take a closer look at Twins minor league pitcher David Hurlbut who pitched in Cedar Rapids and Ft Myers last season. Paul commits a beer drinking sin and admits to in on air and is mocked by all. The Twins say goodbye to any hope of signing Johan Santana and there are several jokes made at Delmon Young‘s expense.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews increase the number of underscores in Jay Corn’s twitter handle.

A Tale of Two (AL Central) Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

OK, not so much the former, but 2012 certainly would have to be considered among the worst of recent times for the fan bases of both the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians.

Progressive Field, ClevelandThe Tribe lost 94 games in 2012, which was just good enough to allow them to finish two games ahead of the Twins in the final AL Central Division standings. It was a disappointing season after Cleveland came within a couple of games of .500 in 2011. That had given fans some cause for optimism (or at least hope) as it came after a two-year stretch in 2009-2010 in which the Indians lost a total of 190 games.

So, as the Cleveland brass sat down after last season to plot out their offseason strategy, they faced these stark realities: Their team had lost over 90 games in three of the past four seasons, with only the 82-loss season of 2011 breaking up the string. Attendance at Progressive Field was 29th in Major League Baseball, drawing in just 19,797 fans per game.  More fans showed up for Astros games than in Cleveland (not by much, but still). Only the Rays got worse fan support.

In setting their payroll budget over the previous several seasons, Cleveland’s front office had followed a pattern that should sound familiar to Twins fans. After winning the AL Central in 2007 with 96 wins, payroll jumped about 27% heading in to 2008. That season, the Tribe was just a .500 ballclub, but management stayed the course and, in fact, even increased payroll slightly in 2009, when it reached $81,579,166.

But in 2009, Cleveland lost 97 games and attendance dropped by about 18.5%. Of course, conventional small-market (or is that small-minded?) wisdom called for a corresponding slashing of payroll for 2010. In fact, the Indians cut payroll closer to 25%. Despite the payroll cut, the Indians actually improved on the field. Instead of losing 97 games, they only lost 93. Naturally, a second 90+ loss season called for an even greater reduction in payroll (is ANY of this starting to sound familiar to you, Twins fans?) and in 2011, the Tribe opened with a payroll below $50 million.

The 2011 bargain-basement Indians arguably surprised fans on the field, falling just short of reaching the .500 mark. The fans didn’t exactly flock to Progressive Field, but they showed up in enough numbers to result in an attendance increase of over 30% above 2010. That got the front office’s attention and in 2012, they committed to an Opening Day payroll also more than 30% higher than in 2011. As we now know, they were rewarded for their generosity with a 94-loss season, which was witnessed in person by just over 1.6 million Cleveland fans.

Target Field, Minneapolis

You could argue that the Twins are following a similar franchise arc to that which the Indians have been on, just a year or two behind them. Of course, they also have a much newer ballpark (can you believe that 2013 will be the Indians 20th season in their “new” park?!) so the raw dollar amounts they’re dealing with are higher than what the Tribe’s front office has been working with.

But while they may be in slightly different spots on their shared arc, these two organizations found themselves entering this past offseason in very similar positions. They both compete (if you can call 94 and 96 losses “competing”) in one of the weakest divisions in Major League Baseball. Only the Tigers can even be considered anything close to being at the same level as the top teams in other divisions. They were both seeing home attendance sag. Both teams had little for elite prospects ready to bring up and play meaningful Big League roles.

With that in mind, let’s compare the moves the two teams’ front offices have made since the end of last season.

Field Staffs:

Cleveland started making moves even before the end of the 2012 season. On September 27, they fired manager Manny Acta. A couple of weeks later, they made a splash by hiring Terry Francona to manage the team in 2013.

The Twins retained manager Ron Gardenhire, but did not extend his contract beyond the upcoming season. They parted ways with three coaches and reassigned duties of some of the holdovers, while adding Tom Brunansky, Bobby Cuellar and Terry Steinbach.

Player moves:

The first major move by the Twins was to trade highly regarded outfielder Denard Span to the Nationals for highly regarded starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer.

Without Meyer, the Twins’ sole “top 30” prospect this offseason would have been an infielder (3B Miguel Sano) who had not played above Class A yet.

Less than two weeks later, the Indians made their first major move. They participated in a three-team, multi-player trade that saw them saying good-bye to highly regarded outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, in return for highly regarded starting pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (yes, there were other lesser pieces involved, too).

 Without Bauer, the tribe’s sole “top 30” prospect this offseason would have been an infielder (SS Francisco Lindor) who had not played above Class A yet.

Both teams had made a clear signal with their initial deals that they were heading toward an offseason of rebuilding for the future. The Twins took that signal to another level by also trading outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies for pitcher Vance Worley (who won’t be arbitration eligible until 2014) and pitching prospect Trevor May.

Before the end of the year, however, both teams made moves that could arguably be viewed as efforts to pacify their fan bases by showing they weren’t totally giving up on 2013. The Indians signed Mark Reynolds in December, while the Twins inked veteran pitchers Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden before year-end.

Still, as 2013 dawned, it was apparent to most of us that both teams were more interested in setting themselves up to compete a couple of years in the future than in 2013.

Well, we were half right anyway. The Twins front office took a few weeks off, apparently, and made no moves of any significance until signing pitcher Rafael Perez to a minor league contract last week.

The Indians, however, have continued to stay busy… and not just with tweaking their roster around the edges on minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training.

On January 4, they signed Nick Swisher to a four year contract, plus an option, and just for good measure, also inked pitcher Brett Myers to a one year contract.

Over the following couple of weeks, they signed minor league deals with a number of players, such as pitchers Scott Kazmir and Matt Capps.

Then they added pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Finally, they added outfielder Michael Bourn on another four year contract, plus an option.

In all, Cleveland committed to $117 million of guaranteed money to free agents during the offseason.

One could easily argue that the Indians have done pretty much exactly what many of us hoped the Twins would do… make some trades and free agent signings that would make them stronger immediately AND add a pitching prospect that has the potential to grow in to someone that could head a rotation in the future.

As these two teams prepare for 2013 to open, the Twins have the deeper minor league organization, while the Indians have done more to improve the product on their Major League field in 2013.

As a Cedar Rapids Kernels fan, I’m thrilled with the depth of the Twins’ farm system right now. However, as a Twins fan, I’m disappointed that the front office did so little to follow through on their pledge to improve the current Major League product.

I have a difficult time understanding any of the arguments made that the Twins had to choose to either compete now or in the future… that they couldn’t do both… that good players won’t sign with losing teams.

It’s especially difficult to accept that argument when Cleveland did exactly that. Miraculously, the Tribe managed to not only trade for an excellent young starting pitching prospect, but also get some veteran free agents to sign with their 94-loss team! Those free agent signings came with a price, of course. The Indians lost some draft picks, although their first round pick this June was protected. Was that too much to give up in order to try to be more competitive with the Tigers in 2013? None of us can know that, yet.

In fact, it’s impossible to judge right this minute whether the Indians or the Twins had the better offseason. We can’t yet know whether the Tribe’s focus on improving this season will help them compete or bring more fans to their ballpark. Nor can we say, yet, whether the Twins’ actually did fail to improve their current roster. It will also be years before we know whether the prospects that the two teams acquired in trades will make them better teams 3, 4 or 5 years down the road.

What I do know is that, right now, both the Cleveland and Minnesota front offices are claiming that they have improved their current rosters enough to be more competitive this season than last, while acquiring needed young pitching talent for the future.

Right now, I agree with the claims of one of the two teams. I wish it were the other one.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 21

Episode 21 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

The OTHER (cooler?) Greg Gagne

Once again the Pleiss brothers get together to talk Twins baseball. Continuing their look around the AL Central division they are joined by Lewie Pollis (@LewsOnFirst) from Wahoos On First and Beyond The Box Score to talk about what’s been happening with the Cleveland Indians since the end of their season and what we can expect from the Tribe in 2013. Later in the podcast Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) joins the podcast to talk about the recent release of his Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013. By the end of the podcast you will have learned something about the Heart of Darkness, Greg Gagne, Josmil Pinto and a whole slough of other Twins news and notes.

 

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become more like the Red Power Ranger.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3 – 11:05 am Central Time

Panic!  Last ditch effort to get this up before first pitch.  Pretend like there is some insightful commentary up here.

 Minnesota Twins

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 Span, CF  Rottino, RF
 Revere, RF  Kipnis, 2B
 Mauer, 1B  Santana, C, DH
 Willingham, LF  Brantley, CF
 Doumit, C  Kotchman, 1B
 Plouffe, 3B  Lillibridge, SS
 Herrmann, DH  Hannahan, 3B
 Escobar, 2B  Neal, LF
 Florimon, SS  Marson, C
 _Vasquez, P  _Kluber, P

 

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gah.

That was frustrating just because I think we really had a chance to actually GET this sweep in Cleveland… and then Swarzak just didn’t have it in the 10th… again. And they had him intentionally walk Santana and Brantley to LOAD THE BASES with one out.. seriously? well, you see how that turned out.

But before that it was basically a fairly even match-up back and forth with some interesting moves and some sloppy play on both sides. It’s really not a surprise we’re now tied for last place in the division. When Cowboy Joe West can’t help laughing his butt off on the field, you know that you didn’t play defense at 2B very well… *snort*

Highlights for me were the spectacular catch by Denard Span – another web gem style clip – and the hilarious home run by Plouffe in which he was on his way back to the dugout before he realized that he needed to actually go RUN the BASES because the hit had gone OVER THE WALL. So funny. – CB

Looking at the American League Central Division

There are six teams in the American League with losing records, and three of those teams are in the American League Central.  In fact, the three teams with the worst records in the AL are all in the Central, the Indians 54-65, the Royals 52-66, and the Twins bringing up the rear at 50-68.  While none of the other AL division races are particularly close (Yankees lead the Rays and Orioles by 6 and 7 games respectively, and the Rangers lead the Athletics and Angels by 5 and 7 games respectively), the top two teams in the Central are separated by just a game and a half.  The White Sox are 65-53 while the Tigers 64-55 (and tied with the Orioles for the 2nd Wild Card spot).

Overall the standings in the AL Central look like this:

Chicago White Sox 65-53, 5-5 in their last 10, +72 run differential, 92% chance to make the postseason

The White Sox lead the Central on the strength of their pitchers.  They lead the Central in runs against per game at 4.12 (more than a full run per game ahead of the Twins 5.19) and are the only team in the division with an ERA under 4, despite playing half of their games in the homer-friendly environment at US Cellular Field.

Detroit Tigers 64-55, 1.5 GB, 5-5 in their last 10, +27 run differential, 64.5% chance to make the postseason

Despite having Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer (who are 1-2 in the AL in Strikeouts (180 and 178), the rest of the Tigers pitching staff, combined with a terrible defensive lineup are making it too easy for their opponents to put runs on the board.  Detroit is winning despite their pitching and defense thanks in large part to their offensive performances.  The Tigers lead the AL Central in batting average (.270), On Base Percentage (.338) and Slugging (.428).

Cleveland Indians, 54-65, 11.5 GB, 4-6 in their last 10, -113 run differential, 0.1% chance to make the postseason

The Tribe again started off the 2012 season playing good baseball (44-41 in the first half) as they had a year ago, but just like in 2011, the wheels have fallen off for the Indians are the All-Star Break (10-24).  Cleveland has given up as many runs per game as the Twins (5.19), and they’ve been pretty bad offensively as well, leading to a division and American League worst -113 run differential (in all of baseball, only the Rockies, -114, and the Astros, -154 are worse).

Kansas City Royals, 52-66, 13 GB, 7-3 in their last 10, -51 run differential, 0.1% chance to make the postseason

2012 was supposed to be the year the Royals starting putting everything together, right?  Most of the talent from their loaded farm system was going to making the transition to Major League Baseball and the team was a popular preseason pick to surprise.  Maybe the baby-Royals are still adjusting, they’re one of the worst fielding teams in the American League in terms of Fielding% and have committed to most errors in the Central.  The Royals have struggled to produce front of the rotation starters and once again Royals fans must endure another year of failure and hope for the best in 2013.

Minnesota Twins, 50-68, 15 GB, 3-7 in their last 10, -86 run differential, 0.1% chance to make the postseason

And then there are the Twins.  You know all about their struggles in 2012.  Poor starting pitching, streaky offense, mediocre defense, and the Twins’ 7-8-9 hitters are batting a combined .235.  September is coming, and with the turn of the calendar will come plenty of Minor League prospects hoping to impress down the stretch and captivate Twins fans while the season continues to spiral down the tubes.

The White Sox and the Tigers can realistically both make the playoffs and should still be playing meaningful baseball into the last week of the season.  For the rest of the division, it is time to start looking to the future.

-ERolfPleiss

Pull the Plug? Not… Quite… Yet

A 10-24 record. Ouch.

That’s the worst record in baseball. All of the hopes that Twinsville had for this team to at least be competitive coming in to the season have pretty much been flushed down the drain. I don’t think you’ll find any writer or fan holding on to the, “we’ll be fine if we can just turn this thing around,” lifeline at this point. Everyone seems to want GM Terry Ryan to just blow this thing up and start rebuilding for 2014 and beyond, right?

Well… maybe not quite everyone. At least not quite yet.

I’m as frustrated as anyone, especially with some of the flat out ugly baseball being played by the Twins. I’ve seen and heard enough of the Target Field Circus, thank you very much. For that reason alone, I’m on board with many of the roster moves that the Twins have made recently.

But before we completely write off this season, I think we need to ask ourselves two questions.

First… has anything gone right?

The reason you ask that question is to attempt to identify what’s gone wrong. If you can’t identify anything that’s gone right, then fine… blow up the roster and start over. But I don’t think that’s really the case.

Going in to the season, there were a handful of things that I felt needed to fall in to place for the Twins to be anything remotely resembling a contending baseball team:

  1. Mauer, Morneau and Span needed to be healthy and productive;
  2. They needed Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit to adequately replace the bats lost in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel;
  3. They needed improved defense, especially up the middle of the infield and in at least one corner outfield spot;
  4. They needed to hope they could find enough arms to piece together a bullpen that would be able to hold leads and keep games from getting out of hand late; and
  5. They needed improved starting pitching.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Justin Morneau, but I have to admit that if you had told me going in to the season that Mauer and Span would be putting up the numbers they’re putting up while playing almost every game, I’d have been happy to take those results. I’m also quite satisfied with Willingham and Doumit, at this point. The middle infield play has been far better than it was a year ago and while the outfield hasn’t been spectacular, I don’t hold my breath every time a ball is hit to one of the corner OF spots, so that’s a step up. The bullpen has actually been a pleasant surprise. (Be honest… how many people would have been willing to bet Matt Capps would not have blown a save yet at this point in the season?)

Frankly, while you can certainly improve other things here or there, it has been the rotation that has been almost exclusively responsible for where this team is sitting in the standings right now.

The second question we need to ask ourselves pertains to our expectations. How far behind the Division leaders did you think the Twins might possibly be by this point in the season?

When I looked at the goofy schedule that MLB put together for the Twins’ first six weeks, there was little doubt in my mind that they’d be at least 6-7 games out of first place at this point. True, I would have predicted that the Detoit Tigers would be at least six games over .500, while I don’t think anyone would have looked at the scheduled opponents for the Twins’ first 34 games and predicted a .500 record. Instead, the Tigers are right at .500 with a 17-17 record, while the Division-leading Cleveland Indians are just one game better at 18-16.

The Twins have faced AL East teams 17 times already. The Tribe: 7 games against the East. Detroit just nine games. At the same time, Cleveland has already accumulated an 8-7 record against other AL Central teams and Detroit is 7-4 within the Division. The White Sox, sitting in 3rd place in the Division at the moment, have already faced Divisional foes 18 times, putting up a 9-9 record. None of those intradivisional records include any games with the Twins, yet, as Minnesota’s played just two games within the Division, splitting a pair against the Royals.

So, what’s my point?

That’s a fair question.

My point is not to say that this is a Twins team destined to bring home a Championship. It’s not even to say that this team looks like it has the potential to be a very good team. But then, I didn’t believe this team would fall in to either of those categories when they broke camp in Fort Myers.

What I believed then was that, if things fell in to place and management was willing/able to make key adjustments when necessary, this team could be competitive within their Division (at least competitive enough to make them remain fun to watch)… provided that the Tigers didn’t run away and hide from everyone (which I really didn’t expect them to do).

So I guess my point is that I still believe that’s possible.

The Tigers have certainly done their part by underperforming against expectations and nobody else in the AL Central is very good.

If the Twins can get more performances out of their rotation like they’ve gotten out of Scott Diamond and PJ Walters, and fewer like they’ve gotten out of Francisco Liriano, the next couple of months could be very interesting to watch.

The Twins spend the next eight weeks playing games within their division and interleague games. Of their six interleague series opponents, only the Reds (17-16) have won more games than they’ve lost. Meanwhile, Cleveland will spend the last week of June and most of July facing AL East teams and interleague games include series against the NL Central leading Cardinals, as well as two other teams with winning records (two series with the Reds and one vs. the Marlins). The Tigers spend the end of May and first few days of June matched up with the Red Sox and Yankees and after interleague play (which also includes a series against the Cardinals) finish the month of June by spending a week visiting the Rangers and Rays. Their July is sprinkled liberally with other AL East teams, as well as the Angels. Meanwhile, the only series the Twins have with an AL East team between now and August is a mid-July series in Target Field against the Orioles.

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

- JC

AL Central Preview: Cleveland Indians

UPDATE: (2/13/2012) The Indians have signed Jon Garland to a minor league contract. If Cleveland feels Garland has recovered enough from shoulder surgery to return to his innings-eating level shown over the past decade, he could certainly give their rotation a boost. It also would make you have to wonder whether it means Kevin Slowey could find himself on his fourth team in as many months. They certainly can’t be thinking they could push Slowey to the bullpen, right? – JC

Let’s knock off one more preview post before the weekend, shall we? Maybe by next week, I’ll have generated the energy and interest level to look in to the remaining Division rivals. Yesterday, we looked at the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL Central champions, the Detroit Tigers. For today, we’ll take a little peak at the Cleveland Indians.

If you had said before the 2011 season that the Indians would finish 15 games out of first place in the AL Central Division, not many people would have argued the point. But if you’d have predicted that would be good enough for second place in the Division, you’d have drawn more than a few chuckles.

Yes, the AL Central, outside of the Tigers, really was that bad.

Last Year:

Record: 80-82

Standings: 2nd place AL Central by 15 games behind Tigers

Playoffs: Not even close. Their last playoff appearance was in 2007

Players of Note Lost: OF Austin Kearns, DH Jim Thome, OF Kosuke Fukudome

Players of Note Added: P Derek Lowe, P Kevin Slowey, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Dan Wheeler, P Jon Garland (see UPDATE at top)

M*A*S*H unit: OF Grady Sizemore, OF Shin-Soo Chu and DH Travis Haefner all missed over two months’ worth of games in 2011. And those are just the “headliners” that pretty much lived on the Disabled List in 2011. If the Indians are going to even sniff .500 again in 2012, much less improve on their record, they’re going to need to do a better job of keeping their best players healthy. (Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it Twins fans?)

Outlook: The Indians are likely to field a team with a payroll just a bit over half of what the Twins will be shelling out in 2012. Not coincidentally, they drew just over half the number of fans that the Twins did last season. Odd how that works out, isn’t it?

Justin Masterson was perhaps the sole bright spot for the Tribe in 2011. His W-L record was a pedestrian 12-10, but his 3.21 ERA opened some eyes. They’re really counting on Ubaldo Jimenez to live up to the expectations they had for him when they sent several prospects to the Rockies to get him at mid-season last year. It just seems that nobody really knows whether Jimenez is the top of the rotation guy he has looked like when he’s been on top of his game or the struggling pitcher he’s looked like most recently. (Again, this may sound pretty familiar to Twins fans.)

Of course, Twins fans will be paying some attention to another recent addition to the Tribe’s pitching staff. Former Twin Kevin Slowey has found his way to Cleveland, by way of Colorado.

Cleveland fans are hoping that Haefner, Choo, Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana can generate some offense, but obviously the front office felt the need to shore up the line up a little bit when they signed Casey Kotchman.

It’s hard for me to envision the Indians seriously contending for anything in 2012. In fact, their second place finish last year said more about just how bad the Twins and White Sox were, rather than anything terribly positive about the Tribe. I do give them credit for doing a much better job of fighting through their injury issues than the Twins did, however.

If they can stay healthy, Cleveland could contend with the other also-rans of the Division for runner-up status, but I don’t really expect that to happen. I think the Tribe will fight with the White Sox to stay out of the AL Central cellar this season.

I will say this much… as I look over the prospects for the rest of the AL Central teams that don’t play in Michigan, I’m starting to feel much better about the Twins’ chances.

Next up: Chicago White Sox

-  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