Minnesota Twins Approach The Best Record in Baseball, But Does It Feel Right?
For Minnesota, the magic number for clinching the American League Central title (8) is smaller than the Twins' lead in the division (9).
Since the All-Star break no one has been better than the Twins this year—and over the past 50 years there are only two teams that have been this good.
At 88-58, they are but one half-game from the best record in all of baseball and home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series.
The Twins are near the top of the team leader boards for defense, offense and pitching.
Their .278 batting average is tied with the Rangers for tops in the league.
They have the second-best fielding percentage of .988, behind the Yankees' .989.
Their team ERA is 3.77, second only to the Oakland A's at 3.59.
Include the inaugural season of Target Field, and all of this points to a potential third World Series championship for the Minnesota Nine.
Yet something just doesn't feel right.
Here's my look at five things that just "feel" wrong, and an attempt to change that—in my own mind, at least.
Pitching Aces—Who's No. 1?
There has been a lot of talk about who is the Twins' best starter.
Carl Pavano leads the team with 17 wins, tied for second in the AL. His seven complete games currently leads the American League. However, his 11 losses is the most among the top 10 starters with at least 14 wins.
Second on the team with 14 wins is Francisco Liriano. His 3.28 ERA leads all starters for Minnesota, and his 189 strikeouts is fifth best in the American league. His WHIP of 1.24 ranks ninth out of the top 12 starters in the AL.
Since joining the rotation in July, Brian Duensing is 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA. Ron Gardenhire has confirmed that Duensing has solidified his position in the starting rotation.
This trio makes up a very formidable playoff pitching rotation. The only problem may be the lack of playoff experience for Liriano and Duensing.
However, when you look at the other playoff-bound teams, there is one clear ace.
The Yankees have C.C. Sabathia, who currently leads the league with a 19-6 record.
The Rays have David Price and his 17-6 record and 2.75 ERA.
And even though Cliff Lee has not been great in Texas with a 3-5 record, once the playoffs start I can't think of any other pitcher you would want on the mound. Last year in the playoffs he went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
In 1987 the Twins relied on Frank Viola, and in 1991 they had Jack Morris. Can Pavano, Liriano or Duensing rise to the occasion and carry the Twins to a third World Series?
Is There a Power Shortage in Minnesota?
When Jim Thome signed with the Twins, there was an understanding that his role was going to be limited.
When Justin Morneau when down in early July, the dominoes fell so that Thome would get more playing time as the Twins' designated hitter.
He currently leads the team with 23 home runs, and his pace of 11.2 at-bats per home run is second in the league.
However, as a team, the Twins' 127 home runs ranks ninth in the American League and is the fewest among the four playoff bound teams.
If the Twins can earn home-field advantage for the playoffs, perhaps this won't matter. Target Field has established itself as a place where home-run shots go and fall in the gloves of outfielders.
If the playoffs were to start today the Twins would host New York, which currently leads the league in runs scored and is third in the league (and third in the AL East) in home runs.
They have four players with 20 or more home runs and a fifth currently with 18.
The Twins have Thome with 23, and Jason Kubel and Delmon Young at 18.
Compare that to their championship year in 1987, when they had three players with more than 30 home runs.
If Morneau can make a return in time for the playoffs, this will help to bring some fear into the lineup.
Can They Beat The Yankees?
No matter how this shakes out, it appears the Twins will most likely have to beat the New York Yankees if they aspire to reach the World Series.
If New York wins the AL East, New York would host the Rangers—yielding a great C.C. Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee matchup. I like the Yankees in this series, especially if Josh Hamilton is not at full strength.
The Twins, in return, would play the Tampa Bay Rays—a team they have a 3-5 record against this year.
If Tampa Bay wins the East, then the Twins get to host the Yankees in the first round.
In Ron Gardenhire's tenure as Twins' manager, he has a 2-9 record in the playoffs against New York.
In 2009 they failed to win a single game in 10 attempts vs. New York.
This year they have two wins—one at Target Field and one at Yankee Stadium—but will that be enough to stem the tide?
Can The Twins Close The Deal?
When Joe Nathan was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, the hopes of a championship were dampened.
Then came Jon Rauch, who started the season as the Twins' closer and racked up eight saves in the first 34 games.
Since then the Twins have added All-Star closer Matt Capps in a trade with the Washington Nationals and claimed Brian Fuentes off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels.
That gives the team three pitchers that have acted as their team's closer.
The Twins plan to use Capps as the closer, and Rauch and Fuentes as set-up men.
The problem is Capps has pitched in zero postseason games.
Perhaps that will not matter. Joe Nathan, in eight postseason innings, has an ERA of 7.88.
Compare that to the standard—Mariano Rivera. He has 39 saves in 88 postseason appearances with a 0.74 ERA.
With a 1.36 WHIP with the Twins, Capps has made saving a game an adventure.
Will he be able to settle down and pitch effectively in the playoffs?
Is Winning at Home And Going .500 on The Road Enough?
With a 48-32 record at Target Field, the Twins currently have the best home winning percentage of all four playoff teams.
However, their .533 winning percent on the road is third, beating only Texas.
Having the best record in the American League and home-field advantage for the divisional playoff series would be huge for the Twins.
Once the Twins wrap up the AL Central, will they play for the best record or rest key players and set their rotation for the playoffs?
Looking at their remaining schedule, I think they can do both. The final four games against the Blue Jays could be the key. Will Target Field be able to contain the best home-run hitting team in the American League? It could make a good preview if Minnesota hosts the Yankees.
Numbers Don't Lie ... Do They?
All the numbers point to a promising finish to what has been a tremendous year for the Minnesota Twins.
To quote Mark Twain: "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics!"
Here's to the promise that these stats point to a third World Series championship.