Twins sweep Padres, are literally best team in the Majors ...
On May 31, we were 17-36 and a seemingly insurmountable 15.5 games behind. Today? Still 8 games under .500, but in only 17 contests the Twins have shaved 7.5 games from behind the division-leading Indians.
Considering they've done this with a half team of sub-Mendoza "midgets", to use Ozzie Guillen's colorful phrasing, is impressive.
True, it's early to start thinking this team's playoff bound: after all, they're still tied with the fewest wins in the American League. And, as various bloggers have pointed out, the august Baseball Prospectus site has handicapped the team as having but a 4.7% chance to make the playoffs. (Somehow, they give the Twins a 4.4% chance to take the division, which guarantees a playoff spot. If anyone understands this, let me know.)
Thing is, this is one of the weakest divisions in both leagues. The Indians, whom the Twins trail by 8 games, have begun to slip as has Kansas City. And as I've said before, the Tigers are a club that can't seem to win in the second half.
Now parse this one: the same Baseball Prospectus gave the World Champion San Francisco Giants a 6.3% chance to win their division as late as July of last year. Similar thing: that team got hot, was in a weak division, made it to the playoffs, won the Fall Classic.
And right now, it seems that luck is going the Twins' way. Sunday's nail-biter saw a fairly dominant Francisco Liriano, who struck out 8 free swinging Padres. Dude was touched for a pair of runs in the 5th, on three infield squibblers. Three infield hits and the Padres lead 3-1!
For the first two months, this would have spelled doom, wrecking a decent pitching performance and sending the club tumbling farther down the basement steps. Instead, the Twins fought back in the 7th, when the piranhas, sardines, midgets, or, as my pals dubbed them, the "skippys", turned on the power.
Look, the Twins were down 3-1 with 1 out. Cuddyer's on second after having cracked a double to open the inning. Delmon flied out. Suddenly, lady luck gives the Twins a kiss.
Luke Hughes grounds to the third baseman, who proceeds to throw a pretty routine ball clear over the head of the Padres first baseman Jesus Guzman. So now it's up to the next three batters, none of whom is hitting over .200. These are the small fish, the midgets, the skippys. We'll call them Skippys for now, since I don't think it's cool to call a lousy hitter a midget, and this fish thing is getting as old as, well, as two-day old fish.
Well, "Skippy" Nishioka grounds out, but sends in Cuddyer. That's 3-2. Then Rene "Skippy" Tosoni, inexplicably pinch-hitting for catcher Rene "Skippy" Rivera, cracks a double to right field. Up to the plate steps Matt "Skippy" Tolbert, with his shitty sub-.200 batting average. Just like all the other names in that paragraph.
The Twins nearly gave the fucking thing away the very next frame. With two outs, bases loaded, the Padres Will Venable hits a hard one to first baseman Hughes. He grabs turns to throw to first... and Glen Perkins didn't bother to cover. Now it's a tie game.
Had this been April or May, that would've ended it. The Twins would have found a way to lose in the 9th, or in more heartbreaking fashion in the late innings.
Instead, in the bottom of the 9th Delmon beat out a hit to the shortstop, Nishioka walks, and then Drew "Skippy" Butera, in for Tosoni, who was in for Rivera in the first place, pushes a base hit through to center. Delmon powered home, and that's all she wrote.
That's the fun thing about this club: it's a roller-coaster. Imagine if the Twins 31-39 record wasn't the result of a 17-36 April and May and a 14-3 June, the wins and losses spread out more evenly? It'd be dull and boring, that's for sure.
Instead we thought they were the worst club in team history, another New York Mets, reporters desperately trying to lay the blame on Mauer, Slowey, Nathan, you name it. Panic ensued.
And then, the sun shined upon Target Field, at least for these last three weeks. Who is this team now? A reincarnation of the 1914 Miracle Braves? A flash in the pan? Whoever or whomever they are, they sure are exciting. And with Thome, Kubel, Morneau set to return over the next two weeks, things could get even hotter.
This is fun baseball, ladies and gents. Different heroes emerge in different games, and it makes even baseball dilettantes, like Renaissance pal Andy Sturdevant find heroes in unlikely places. Like center fielder Matt Tolbin in his imagination, or third baseman Matt Tolbert in real life.
Now we just need a nickname for the club. Skippys anyone?
Around the horn...
Despite the Twins resurgence, there's still talk about which player's head will go on the trading block. I'm still thinking it'll be Delmon Young, but CBS Sports is reporting that Michael Cuddyer is willing to waive his no-trade clause for the good of the club. "I care so deeply about this team, that if it helps the organization...," Cuddyer told CBS' Scott Miller.
Granted, Cuddyer's blocked Toronto, Oakland, and a team he "can't remember", and I can't think of what they'd offer (maybe the A's starting pitching.) Still, this might not bode well for one of our most popular players. After all, to be good trade bait you have to be playing at least somewhat well, or at least have decent potential. Since this is the last year of his contract, it might be wise to part company.
Apropos of last week's "It Gets Better" article, here's the Cubs' version. Looking forward to seeing what the Twins can do with this thing: