The Twins have seven games remaining against Detroit, meaning they have control over their own destiny. It's a legitimate race. If the Twins match Detroit's record through the end of the season and somehow manage to take five of seven games in the two remaining series against Detriot—and maybe pick up a win or two after—the Twins would find themselves in the playoffs.
This would be a remarkable achievement considering just how much the Twins have struggled and how bad the pitching has been this year.
The Twins rank 24th in majors and 10th in the American League in ERA. Three of the original five starting pitchers are on the DL. The Twins broke a franchise record when Jon Rauch became the 24th pitcher to throw this season.
Looking at the various stats of the some of the Twins pitchers this year has been a lesson in understanding the difference between "replacement-level" and "really bad."
In a word, it's been a mess.
Some of us, in fact, may have been guilty of prematurely giving up on the Twins.
Really, it's a miracle the Twins are in this situation. It's pure dumb luck.
But the Twins need to take advantage of any luck they can find. In any lifetime there is a finite number of opportunities to make the playoffs. Because of the way the playoffs are structured, the World Championship is simply a crap-shoot. The responsibility of team management is to do their best to increase their chances to make the playoffs and hope for the best from there, or else they are failing the fanbase.
In this light, the Twins front office deserves some credit. Bill Smith has been very conservative in his moves, but consistently made slow and steady progress on improving the team.
Carl Pavano has provided stability to the rotation. Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay will fill important bullpen roles. When Liriano and Perkins come off the DL, the Twins have the option to either shut them down for the year, throw them back into the rotation or limit their playing time in the bullpen. Expanded rosters will allow the Twins to not worry about making room for them in any case. September call-ups will help fill gaps and provide Ron Gardenhire more options during the playoff run.
Not great accomplishments, but good enough.
Smith deserves some criticism too. The bullpen has been a weakness for the last season and a half since Pat Neshek went down with an injury. Taking as long as he did to fix the problem and not taking advantage of big opportunities (like possibly picking up Chad Bradford, among many others) is a huge strike against Smith. He has also been excruciatingly slow in trying to fill gaps in his roster. The Twins are still in need of a second baseman and a shortstop.
He also has been slow in promoting certain players through the farm system. Danny Valencia should be with the Twins right now. Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama should be with the team in September. Steve Tolleson is another player who should have been given a chance this season to hold down the second base spot.
(Smith would reply that his organization feels these players are not "mentally ready" for a playoff race. Of course one could easily point out how Jeff Manship, Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing are somehow mentally ready despite being rookies about the same ages as Delaney, Slama, Tolleson and Valencia.)
These criticisms are important to note and detract from Smith's positives. But, by not abandoning the season when things looked bleak and by making moves that improved the team, he put the Twins in a situation where his team could go to the playoffs.
And, to top it off, Smith did this without gutting his farm system (pitcher Yohan Pino, shortstop Tyler Ladendorf and a player to be named later are so far the only losses).
That's an achievement.
Could it have been better? Yes.
Could all the effort be in vain? Sure.
Am I biting my tongue as I write this? Oh yeah.
But with a month left in the season, Twins fans have a reason to pay attention.
Good work, Bill Smith.