Monday, June 23, 2008

Have Some

“I ask him, ‘Who own the Chiefs?’
‘What did he say?’
‘Owns, owns...’”

That classic exchange comes from the movie Slap Shot and with a slight alteration, could aptly summarize the Twins during interleague play. The reason? We absolutely own the National League. Every year at this time, we come into series’ against the Senior Circuit playing below average to terrible baseball. And every year we dominate whoever the NL throws at us and we get right back in the hunt for a division title. In fact, the Twins have the third most wins all time in interleague play, with 116 (the Yankees and A’s both have 119). So it should be no surprise that the Twins have won 8 of their past 9 games, including 6 in a row against NL teams.

Who's the sucker that's going to trade for this guy?

Everything always starts with pitching, and the Twins have been getting some quality outings from their starters and the bullpen. Prior to this winning streak, both groups of pitchers had been having their struggles. The starters were inconsistent at best and the pen was allowing the opposition to come back and/or extend leads—very odd since that is usually such a strong part of our team. All of that has changed over the last couple weeks as the Twins have gotten very strong outings from all of their starters, including two quality starts from Livan Hernandez during this run. This could lead to some team actually believing that Livan could help them down the stretch and we would be able to unload him before he completely blows up (which will inevitably happen). Another guy who has been surprisingly good of late is Jesse Crain. Personally, I have always disliked Crain, mostly because he has only one pitch: 93 mph down the middle of the plate. But he’s been spotting his fastball more, getting some movement on his pitches, and even throwing something other than a fastball occasionally. All of which has led to him and Matt Guerrier being our most consistent late inning pitchers who have been getting the ball to Joe Nathan in the 9th with the lead.

Proving the doubters (like me) very wrong so far...

The team has also been scoring runs in bunches. Big innings have been a critical part of the roll the Twins are on, and it’s usually starting with the top of the lineup. As much as I rip Gardy, it’s only fair to give him credit on using Alexi Casilla in the 2 hole. I thought this was a terrible idea at first, given Casilla’s track record of not hitting in the majors, but he’s been thriving. With leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez only hitting about .270 (still good for a 22 year old), Alexi has stepped up big time and has consistently been on base for Joe Mauer (now leading the AL in average) and Justin Morneau (currently boasting an 11 game hitting streak) to drive him in. But it’s not just the top getting things done. Currently, the Twins have the highest batting average in baseball with runners in scoring position. If we can continue to get guys on, the team will surely continue to succeed.

That's our boy...

Another hitting star during this hot streak is new third baseman, and TKOT’s boy, Brian Buscher. The kid is a straight masher and is coming up with big hits seemingly every night. In his last 10 games, Busch is hitting .353 with 12 RBI and the team is 7-3 in those games. I know it’s a very small sample size, but given the Twins extreme lack of production from the third base position over the last number of years, it’s hard not to get too excited. Granted, the kid is still shaky with the glove, but if he’s going to hit like this, who cares?

Nicky assuming Gardy's favorite position...

Some things never change, and this apparently includes Ron Gardenhire’s love affair with Nick Punto. The cute couple has had a strong bond with each other for many years now and I think it might be getting serious. How else could you possibly explain sending down Matt Macri (hitting .367 while he was up with the big club—or roughly twice what Punto usually hits) to activate Tricky Nicky? And on top of that, Gardy has pretty much handed him the starting shortstop job. Look, I know that shortstop hasn’t been a solid position for us this year. Adam Everett was just plain terrible and Brendan Harris has been unspectacular. Nevertheless, to just give that job to a guy who can’t stay healthy this year and flirted with the Punto Line (it’s time for Mendoza to lose this title, who better to take the crown than Nick?) while playing every day last year is odd, even for Gardy. But then again, you can’t deny true love.

With the Twins only 1 ½ games behind the AL Central leading White Sox, this could be a big week for the team. They have three games coming up in San Diego against a Padres team that has been playing quite poorly of late, and then come back home for a three game set against the Milwaukee Brewers. Given the difficulty of our July schedule (Detroit twice, Cleveland twice, Chicago, Boston and New York), it is absolutely crucial that we dominate the next week. If the Twins keep getting quality outings from their starters and some clutch hitting, there’s no reason why they can’t take at least 4 of 6 and possibly be back in first place come next Monday.

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