The Rangers are one of the hottest teams in baseball; they fought well against the Red Sox for the Wild Card, which was a feat that was almost unthinkable at season's start. Given the Twins' struggles on the road, the Ranger's recent performance, and the fact that 3/5's of the Twins' ideal rotation is currently is on the DL, a split isn't half bad.
How the Twins got there is even more impressive; they overcame deficits of five and four runs to eek out wins, before getting blown out in the series finale. Joe Mauer led the charge, even as Justin Morneau became the second Twin to miss time due to an inner ear infection.
I'll grant you that the Twins' preponderance of ear issues is preferable to, say, the Rangers' team-wide breakout of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. But no injury is a good one. When that injury occurs to your second best player, during the same game in which the team's third best player also goes down with an injury, well, it makes winning just a lot more difficult.
So, hey, two wins out of four, given the circumstances, is not a bad outcome at all.
What this series showed is not that the Twins are ill-prepared for a playoff chase, indeed they are not, but even a team playing well could have produced a similar outcome. Rather, what this series puts into sharp focus is how critical the prior two series were.
Coming down the stretch, the Twins will play both the Sox (six games) and the Tigers (seven times) to swing the division race. However, if they don't start beating Cleveland (six games) and KC (six games), then those games against their peer competitors become irrelevant matches for nothing more than pride.
Think of it this way: the Twins sit 6.5 games out of first place and four games behind the White Sox. If they had won their last two series, one each with KC and Cleveland, they'd instead be just 4.5 and two back, respectively.
A massive difference? No, but the Twins lost the division by one game last year. Had they been even 1/2 game ahead when the regular season ended, they'd have been in the playoffs. The difference need not be big to be meaningful.
I really expected the Sox to rise up and take the division by force (indeed, I bet the Twins MVB a guest strip on it). Instead, they've played just one game better than the Twins have over their last 10, and dead even with the Tigers.
No team in the Central has a winning record over their last 10, which is just about all that's giving the Twins a lifeline.
What this all means is that the Twins are simply running out of time. They aren't being pushed out of the race; they aren't even taking themselves out of it. The line is just coming too quickly for them to pass the Sox and Tigers.
As great as it would have been for Anthony Swarzak to give the Twins a quality start, and for the offense to give him the runs he needed, it won't be this series that the Twins will look back and rue their missed chances. It will be the games against the weaker competition they just couldn't win.
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