When the Twins struggled their way into the All-Star break, going 8-13 and falling to third place in the American League Central division, things were looking pretty bleak.
All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau hasn't played a game since July 8 after suffering a concussion.
Currently infielder Nick Punto and Gold-Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson are on the disabled list.
Compound that with Joe Mauer sitting out a couple of games, and then limited to the DH role the next two with a sore throwing shoulder, and you might think things could not get any worse.
The Minnesota Twins have been a different team since the All-Star Break.
Patching together makeshift lineup after makeshift lineup, Manager Ron Gardenhire has the Twins playing the best baseball since the All-Star break.
After splitting a four game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Twins are 15-6, the best record in the American League among playoff contending teams.
Currently one and a half games behind the Chicago White Sox, it appears the division is the Twins for the taking.
Here are five reasons the Twins will overtake the White Sox:
No. 1—Strong Starting Pitching:
Once maligned, the starters have gotten their act together and are once again pitching with purpose.
Nick Blackburn has been jettisoned from the majors, and the rest of the rotation has picked up their performance.
Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey have been told to quicken their pace and to trust their catcher calling the game.
In the just concluded four game series with Tampa Bay the starters had a combined 2.93 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.01 WHIP; all better than the staff averages.
No. 2—Solid Team Defense:
The Twins continue to lead the Majors in defense with a .991 fielding percentage.
They have committed the fewest errors with only 38 this season—almost 38 percent fewer than the White Sox' 61 errors.
No. 3—Strong Offense:
Along with the best defense in baseball, currently hitting .282, the Twins also have the best batting average.
They are near the top in the American League in strike outs (currently third), walks (fourth), and runs scored (fifth).
The White Sox are seventh in the league in average (.264) and runs scored.
Chicago does hold the edge in home runs over Minnesota at 125 to 96.
No. 4—Hot start to the second half:
Everyone knows the Twins tend to be a second half team.
While the Twins have the best record in the American League since the All-Star break at 15-6, the White Sox have gone 12-8, and the Twins have been as close as a half game behind the White Sox.
Comparing the last 21 games before the break to the first 21 after, the Twins' bats have come alive, increasing their scoring from 4.57 runs per game to 6.00.
At the same time, their strong pitching and solid defense has decreased the runs allowed by almost two per game, from 5.24 to 3.33.
Along with the strong start to the second half, add the fact the Twins have a better divisional record than the White Sox.
Since Gardenhire took over in Twins 2002, their winning percentage in the division is .570, while over the same time frame Chicago's has been slightly lower at .551.
No. 5—Healthy Roster:
As stated above, the Twins have been winning with the likes of Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, and Jason Repko.
Butera, backing up Mauer, has caught five straight games. He went two for two with a game-tying home run in the first game of the Tampa Bay series, and had an RBI double in the series final. As Gardenhire has indicated, any offense from Butera is a bonus.
Repko has been getting time in center and right field. In 15 games he's batting .310 with two home runs, just one less than that of Denard Span.
Valencia has been red hot, batting .362 in 36 games with 13 RBI—only seven less than Punto has in 80 games.
Mauer appears to be coming out of his slump and has his average up to .317, after slumping to the break at .299.
With Mauer healthy, and hitting again, the return of Morneau and his .345 batting average and 18 home runs will surely be a boost to the best offense in the league.
With Detroit in free-fall mode, going 5-17 since the All-Star break, what once looked to be a three-team race, is now a race between Minnesota and Chicago.
With nine games remaining between the White Sox and Twins, this race could go down to the wire, just like in 2008 and 2009, when the division was decided by game 163.
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