A Cupcake Schedule and M&Ms: Why Minnesota's the Tasty Pick To Win the A.L. Central
Not many teams at the record of 61-63 and third place in their division can say they're "still in the hunt" in late August. The Minnesota Twins however, may have the upper hand in what is arguably 2009's weakest division.
It is true that the Twins are below .500 and that there are several reasons for that happening. Those reasons can't be ignored heading into September and as the season winds down.
Then again, despite the fact they've been inconsistent and sometimes troubling, the Twins have many things going their way as they ride the coat tails of a series sweep in Kansas City. Lets take a look.
The Twins are going to be heading into an easier schedule down the stretch. After just completing a seven-game road trip against Texas and Kansas City and finishing with great 5-2 record away from the Dome, the Twins return to the sweet confines of the Teflon Sky. The Twins are 33-27 at home versus 28-36 away from the Dome.
The schedule also is giving the Twins a friendly advantage. Despite being under .500 themselves, they play 21 of their 38 remaining games against teams that are under .500.
With that in account, the Twins will play 25 of those 38 remaining games against AL Central division teams with six of those against the current division-leading Detroit Tigers.
The big key part will be however, that 21 of the 38 games are in the Dome. To make things a bit more interesting, the Twins are 10-2 against the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers at home.
On top of that, the next nine games will give the Twins a great chance to strike on the division with the only series that will become trouble is against Texas.
Morneau also will return Monday, August 24 in the series opener against Baltimore.
New Pitcher on the Horizon
Okay, maybe Ben Sheets is a stretch. Then again... maybe not.
Purchasing the eight-year vet might be the only option worth pursuing if the Twins want to take a shot at the playoffs and to potentially go deep.
Don't let the issues he had in Milwaukee fool you. He was an all-star in 2007 and 2008 for a reason. He has the ability and the veteran leadership the Twins rotation desires to compliment Pavano.
Let's not forget that in due to injury and money issues (much like current Twins starting third baseman Joe Crede), Sheets' career is in doubt. Much the same, the veteran might consider the thought for three key reasons.
3. To get back in the game. The guy is a talent and wants to play and the Twins need a "real" arm in the starting rotation.
2. Signing with the cross border team in spite. Much like the Brett Favre situation is to football, Sheets could be that next player to cross the border and play in the land of lakes.
1. Redemption. He'll want to get something he has yet to get in his eight years of playing. Ironically, the Twins need someone to carry them there.
Then again, Sheets may not be the next big thing Minnesota strives for, knowing the Twins front office.
Let's not forget, Boof Bonser is returning from rehab earlier then expected. He also could be the one to come in and save the Twins from spoiling their last season in the Metrodome.
Players (Not Named Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau) Are Batting Very Well
Some who've recently been tracking the Twins may have noticed someone with a last name that doesn't start with the letter 'M' jacking homers over the wall. That player being Michael Cuddyer, the Twins lone true veteran on the squad.
In his ninth year of action, Cuddyer is having a career season proving that his 2006 year that seemed to be his lone year of accomplishment wasn't a fluke. He currently has 22 home runs, two shy of his career mark of 24 in 2006.
It's player like Cuddy that have taken the Twins as far as they've gone. With Mauer out the first month of the year and Morneau sometimes falling off or as the case was this past week with an inner ear infection, the Twins have needed run support to cover for their top two players not always being available.
The Twins are currently averaging 5.4 runs per game this season. That's second in the American League only to that of the Los Angeles Angels.
The likes of Jason Kubel, Joe Crede and Denard Span along with the traditional "Twins ballers" have kept the Twins in games that in recent years they would have been written off.
On top of that, the Twins currently have four players over 20 home runs this season with new Twins third basemen Joe Crede only five homers away from becoming the fifth.
Pitching is Settling Down and Becoming Consistent
Let's just understand that in retrospect, the Twins pitching has settled down. With the addition of Carl Pavano (11-9) and the resurgence of Scott Baker (11-7) the Twins have been able to string some wins together.
Pavano has only started four games as a Twin, but has been a smooth and veteran force on an otherwise young starting rotation. With two victories, a loss and a no decision many would say he's done little to to help the rotation. His ERA hovering at 5.20 doesn't really say it either, but with him averaging just under 7 innings a game and keeping Minnesota in it however, speaks volumes.
Baker has seen everything it seems this season. After losing his first four games of the season in 6 innings or less, Baker has been surging of late with five wins in his last eight starts and no losses. With that said, he hasn't lost a game since July 7.
Nick Blackburn (8-8) is also showing signs of life after his recent start produced his 15th quality start of the season, the most of any of the Twins rotation. Although, with that victory he snapped a five game losing streak and only his next start will really show if he's out of the woods yet.
Boof Bonser may also be returning to action in September once he can get approval to begin a rehab assignment.
Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau Having Career Seasons
If anything will be a bigger disappointment then the Twins missing the playoffs, Joe Mauer's run for MVP falling short would certainly top the list.
Joe has been setting the tone for the American League like no one else as he climbs the RBI totals, is ninth in home runs with 25 and boasts an insane .378 batting average as he climbs and battles his way to become the .400 hitter of our generation.
Justin has also been making noise similar to that of his 2006 season when claimed the MVP crown in a year that some how seems familiar to the Twins current situation.
Morneau, despite being out with an ear infection for the past six games remains the RBI leader of the American League with 94, fifth in the league for home runs with 28 and has been (barring his recent six games out) the most consistent and every day player the Twins have had all season.
Of the 138 home runs hit by the Twins this season, 53 of them are the property of the M&M Boys. With 590 RBI, Joe and Justin are responsible for 172 of them. It's easy to see they are the main reason that Minnesota's offense has be surging.