Twins in The 2008 Playoff Hunt
It is nearing the end of the Major League Baseball season and once again our Minnesota Twins are in a tight race to the finish. So what is it going to take for our ballclub to haul in an American League Central Division title and reach the playoffs? I will break down my analysis of the race and what must happen for the Twins to make the postseason.
Before the season started, very few people imagined the Twins still being in contention in September, especially with Cleveland and Detroit looking to be powerhouses in the AL. The Twins are an extremely young team, and it feels like they feed off of people’s doubts of their abilities. People have been raving about the pitching staff because none of them are over the age of 26. One thing that must happen for the Twins to reach the playoffs is for their starters to take a load off of the struggling bullpen and pitch deeper into games. The turning point in the season was dumping the most hittable pitcher known to man, Livan Hernandez, and bringing back a healthy Francisco Liriano. He has gone 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA since coming back, which has been huge for the Twins.
In the bullpen, someone needs to step up and be a go to reliever in close games. Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain have been solid all year but neither has been the reliable reliever Pat Neshek was in 2007. Joe Nathan continues to be one of the best closers in the game but the bullpen needs to get back to form after blowing away too many games in the last month.
The Twins are flirting with a MLB record when it comes to batting average with runners in scoring position. They are hitting .312 which is a big reason why they have been successful this year as a small ball team. Denard Span and Alexi Casilla have been pleasant surprises this year and need to keep getting on base in front of All Stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who are both in the running for AL Most Valuable Player honors. Nick Punto has bounced back from a dreadful year which has been amazing with backup shortstop Adam Everett being an automatic out every time he steps into the batter’s box. One player I would like to see step up his game is Jason Kubel. I believe he has a ton of talent and has the power to be a game-changer, especially when facing right-handed pitching. Brian Buscher’s performance ultimately kicked Mike Lamb off the team, which has worked out nicely because playing the former left side of the the Houston Astros B squad infield (Everett and Lamb) was not a good idea to start out with. If he can start hitting lefties, he will develop into a well- rounded player. Carlos Gomez was a solid acquisition in the off season that doomed Johan Santana to the frustration that is the New York Met’s bullpen. Gomez needs to continue playing solid defense because he is not exactly working the count by swinging on every pitch. If the hitters start giving the young pitchers more run support, it would take a load off everyone.
As for the rival Chicago White Sox, overrated is the only word I can describe them with. The rotation of the Sox is held together by Jon Danks and Gavin Floyd. Mark Buehrle and Javier Vasquez are going downhill fast and they have a different fifth starter every week. Bobby Jenks is solid in the closer’s role, but the rest of their bullpen is extremely average. Many analysts keep saying the White Sox will win the division because of the rotation’s experience. I do not care how many seasons Buehrle has pitched, it does not necessarily mean it will save him from giving up seven plus runs any given outing, which he has managed to do six times this year.
When MVP candidate and current AL home run leader Carlos Quentin went down with a broken wrist, it was a huge loss for Chicago. The team is built on the long ball as they lead the AL with 209 on the season. They now turn to their second best hitter this year to lead the team, Jermaine Dye. However, I do not see him being much of a factor the rest of the year because he is on my fantasy team. Once players fall on that roster, everything falls apart for them.
With the wild card playoff spot looking as if it will go to the runner up in the AL East, the Twins need to start winning games again to bring down the White Sox and silence the critics. The bats need to liven up, the starters need to keep pitching well, and Boof Bonser absolutely cannot go in without a ten run lead. It would be exciting if it came down to the series against the White Sox on the September 23, but let’s just hope the Twinkies have it wrapped up by then.
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