Saturday, September 19, 2009
Of course. The Twins really needed to seep the Tigers and they came up a little bit short. On paper, this looked like the most favorable matchup of the entire series, with reliever Nate Robertson making a spot start against default ace Scott Baker. The Twins handled Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, the toughest starters in the Tigers' rotation, and they have owned Roberston throughout his career. But, as has often been the case this season, the Twins lost a game they really needed to win and probably should have won. Robertson stifled the overly-aggressive offense for five innings, scattering five hits while allowing only two runs. Baker, on the other hand, cruised along until the fifth, when he was tagged for three runs on four hits and just couldn't seem to get anyone out (as much as I love Scotty, he does tend to fall apart pretty quickly as soon as he hits a wall). The Tigers tacked on a couple more runs in the eighth just to put the game, and likely the division title, out of reach.
The Twins were seven games back as recently as two weeks ago, and I doubt anyone thought they would be playing meaningful games this late in the season. But here we are, just three games back with thirteen left to play. I am still skeptical that this team will actually catch the Tigers and win the division, but having something to play for is definitely more fun than playing out the string. Ten of their last thirteen games will be on the road and all of those games will be against AL Central foes. The Twins have three games in Chicago (where they play about as well as the Pale Hose play at the Dome), three games in Kansas City (the Royals are riding a ridiculous hot streak and I am terrified of them), and a four-game series in Detroit that will likely settle the division once and for all. The Tigers seem to be in a bit of a tailspin, but the Twins haven't played well on the road all season long and there isn't much reason to think they will start now. Once again, the division will come down to which mediocre team can play the least uninspiring ball down the stretch.
Honestly, though, none of these these teams would be postseason contenders if it weren't for divisional play. The Tigers are leading the Central despite posting a negative run differential (it's only -3, but still). The Orioles are the only team in the AL East with a negative run differential. In the West, only the Mariners and Athletics post negative run differentials, and both teams fell out of contention sometime before the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Twins are the only team in the division to post a positive run differential (+20) and yet remain firmly in second place (for now). If I felt inclined to do so (i. e., $$$$$), I would look it up and find out how often something like this happens now compared to the era before divisional play, but I really don't care that much. A team that cannot outscore its opponents has no business contending for a postseason berth, period. But here we are.
Injury news: Joe Crede has been shut down for the season and will face yet another operation on his back. This news isn't terribly surprising, as Crede has put up poor numbers since the All-Star break and looked especially lost at the plate during his last game, when he struck out swinging four times. Despite playing only 90 games, Crede has been worth every penny of the $4 million the Twins will end up paying him this season. His defense alone has been invaluable, and it's likely that his bat would have been more than adequate had he been able to stay healthy.
Glen Perkins is scheduled to meet again with Dr. Lewis Yocum. Perkins isn't happy with the way the team has handled his return from the DL, being optioned to AAA instead of the major-league club, and thinks the team is trying to screw him out of service time to keep him from reaching super-two status and earning a bigger paycheck in arbitration this year (they probably are, the move does seem odd). He could have made an extra $2 million or so in arbitration, which a lot of money for a guy with a wife and two young kids (and whose major-league career is far from a sure thing, since mediocre lefties aren't exactly in short supply). However, it's also a lot of money for the Twins to spend on a barely replacement-level starter, especially since they have other, bigger issues to address in the offseason. Brian Duensing probably isn't as good as his 3.22 ERA suggests, but his emergence as a starter has likely made Perkins expendable. I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins dangled Perk as trade bait for a middle infielder.
Oh, yeah, there's also some sort of scheduling conflict with the Vikings should the Twins need to play a tiebreaking game against the Tigers. MLB says the Twins should have priority, but the NFL refuses to budge. I don't think it will end up being much of a problem, though.