The Minnesota Twins have gotten off to a great start after the All-Star break, as they begin their quest for an AL Central crown by taking 3 out of 4 from the division leading Chicago White Sox over the weekend, including a four run come-from-behind victory last night that has their confidence brimming with possibilities. The victory could be a turning point in the season as the Twins find ways every year to catapult themselves for division contention with a memorable and improbable win. Delmon Young’s two-run RBI in the ninth gave the Twins the 7-6 win and escalated the Delmania that is sweeping through Twins nation after his homer, 3 RBI’s and game-winning hit yesterday. The Twins win was huge as they could be 3.5 games behind the Sox if they would have lost, but are now only 1.5 games behind as they begin a series with the Cleveland Indians tonight.
“That’s a big game,” infielder Nick Punto said. “We’re playing against the guys in front of us. It’s July, but the difference between 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 back is huge. We obviously have to play better in the second half and this is a good start.”
As Scott Baker takes the hill tonight against the Tribe, hoping to use the Twins revitalization to spur on his own subpar efforts as of late, let’s take a look at five keys for the Twins in the second half as they look to make the playoffs and go deep this time, after not reaching the ACLS since 2003.
1. Getting the M & M boys healthy and their minds right
With Justin Morneau recently being put on the DL with a concussion and with Joe Mauer’s continuing decline after a career year, getting the M & M boys healthy is paramount. Maybe it’s Morneau and his Canadian hockey roots, but the concussions he is piling up is getting scary. He needs the proper amount of rest and has to be 100%, which is always hard to tell with brain injuries, to come back. Let’s just hope this doesn’t develop into a Pierre-Marc Bouchard like thing with the Wild keeping him out indefinitely. Mauer has gotten hit by a rash of nicks, bruises to his shoulders, knees and leg and he has to change his approach at the plate as pitchers have learned how to pitch to him and there has been a constant supply of hard hit balls to shortstop and left field. It is absolutely essential to the Twins title hopes that he starts pulling the ball again. He needs to be a complete hitter, not just an opposite-field hitter. Mauer needs a fresh approach in dealing with this new-found scrutiny and needs to find his inner Pujols in dealing with adjustments.
2. Getting consistency out of the Big 3 question marks
The struggles of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn over the last six weeks have been well-documented, and the Twins are going to need some consistency from them over the last two plus months if they want to make an impact in the AL Central and beyond. An occasional bad outing is okay, as long as the much-maligned three can put up some quality starts more often than not. Blackburn didn’t fare so well yesterday giving up nine hits and five runs in five innings…which leads me to my third key…
3. We need an ace!
After losing out on Cliff Lee, after GM Bill Smith had dived into the deep end in trying to extract the talented left-hander, we are back to square one. Getting a Roy Oswalt will be next to impossible with his salary to take onto next year (and maybe 2012 with a player option), his trade veto and injury history. It will take 4 out of our top 10 minor league prospects to pry Dan Haren out of Arizona. The problem is with our tradeable parts. They are not performing. Any of our talented, but wildly inconsistent troika of Slowey, Blackburn or Baker would have been semi-coveted last winter in a deal but their struggles this year has really take the luster off. Same with C Wilson Ramos troubles in AAA. OF Ben Revere has been revealed to be a one-dimensional player (albeit a very talented one), OF Aaron Hicks is still very raw and unproven. Our minor league pitchers are very up and down. Overall, our farm system isn’t what it once was. Regardless, drastic times require drastic measures. I have said it since day one of this season. I have been saying it since we lost Johan Santana. To win in the postseason…you need an ace. Maybe it’s time we took a chance. Either by trying to recruit Oswalt to come here or giving up the farm for Haren. Why not? What has the status quo ever done for our chances in the postseason?
4. Getting more production out of our complementary stars
Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel have been decent so far, but they are not in the top 25 in the AL in any batting categories. After big season from them last year, expectations were raised, especially for Kubel who has long had greatness thrust upon him. A big second half push from the duo would be key for their divisional chances. Delmon Young has been our catalyst and MVP, but we need more from these two if we are going anywhere this year.
5. The Target Field factor
The Twins new park has been an overwhelming success both for the fans and the Twins owners and front office. Now that the honeymoon is subsiding, we need to see if the decided home-field advantages of the Metrodome can be replicated in Target Field. The games I’ve attended have had a wine and cheese type atmosphere as new fans and old ones try to soak in all the amenities and splendor, but sometimes neglect the action on the field. We need our fans to turn Target Field into an unfriendly place to play for the opposition. Also, the place has been murder on the Twins long-balls. The Twins hitters need to find a way to bang the ball out of the yard. Their has been far too many balls hit to the warning track. Twins hitters need to find a way to crack the code on hitting home runs at home. Being at the bottom of home run hitting clubs at home is embarrassing. The Twins need to bunker down like MIT mathmeticians to figure out a way to solve the Rubiks’ Cube that is their home field.