Monday, August 23, 2004

(Twins Edition)

Even though the Twins may not be mentioned alongside Britney Spears, Bobby Brown, and Paris Hilton on the VH1 hit show “The Best Week Ever”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had a better seven days than our very own Minnesota Twins. Last Saturday, the Indians had trounced the Twins for the second consecutive day and looked poised to completely erase what was once a six or seven game lead in the AL Central. But Terry Mulholland came through with eight strong innings and Corey Koskie broke out of his season-long slump in a big way as the Twins won 4-2 in 10 innings. From last Sunday through yesterday, here is what the Twins have done:

Win-Loss Record: 6-1
Team ERA: 2.81
Team Batting Average: .308
Team OPS: .918
Runs: 49 total (avg. 7 per game)
Stolen Bases: 10 in 12 attempts (83%)
Lead in Division: 7 games (previously 1 game)

However, the Twins dominance goes beyond mere statistics. To fill out this post, I’d like to draw your attention to what I consider the five most important developments to have taken place during the week that was:

1. Kyle Lohse pitches seven strong innings to defeat Cleveland 5-1 on Friday.
We all know that, come October, Brad Radke and Johan Santana will be ready to against the Yankees, Athletics, Angels, or whomever else the Twins may find themselves up against in the ALDS. But one of the key weaknesses on this team (besides an inconsistent lineup) is its lack of a true #3 starter. As I’ve stated on numerous occasions in this space, Carlos Silva has performed admirably in his first full year as a starting pitcher, but he should not be counted on as more than a slightly above-average #4 guy. He’s simply doesn’t have the stuff to beat a good team come crunch time. Lohse, on the other hand, has that ability. He’s shown flashes of brilliance the past two seasons, but those flashes have been few and far between thus far in 2004. A 5.26 ERA on August 22 doesn’t lie: Lohse has been pretty bad overall. That’s why Friday’s performance was so encouraging—Lohse allowed just three hits and one run to one of the game’s most potent lineups. The Twins were four games up at the time, but still needed to get out to a good start and squash those young upstarts from Ohio. Lohse wasn’t perfect by any means; the Indians missed more than their fair share of hittable pitches early in the game. But Kyle did pitch much better as the game went on, and hopefully that start was the turning point for the young righthander. His team’s playoff fortunes may rest upon his shoulders.

2. Corey Koskie hits a game-winning two-run home run off Rick White the 10th inning last Sunday
You could make a very valid argument that this was the play that made “The Best Week Ever” even possible, and you’d probably be right. The full story has now become a part of Twins lore: Koskie commits an error and strands five baserunners by striking out twice in clutch situations, all in the game’s first five innings. He vents his frustrations on a chair in the clubhouse and promptly collects three hits in his next three at-bats, including the game-winning homer in the 10th. The Twins escape Cleveland with a much needed win and are still alone in first place. And so on. But the fact remains that incident, Koskie is hitting .462 with 5 homers, 9 RBIs, and has a mind-boggling 1.506 OPS. He’s been the team’s best hitter during that span (obviously) and is a big reason why the offense has experienced its recent renaissance. Maybe the Twins should re-sign Koskie after all…

3. Brad Radke pitches seven tremendous innings as the Twins beat the Yankees 8-2 on Tuesday
Although this game didn’t hold as much significance in the division race as any of the games against the Indians did, it was a HUGE win for the Twins. Seemingly every news outlet in the country was broadcasting the fact that the Twins hadn’t beaten the Bombers in the regular season since 2001, and with the team having lost six of its last eight, it didn’t appear that the streak would end anytime soon. But Radke was truly vintage Brad Radke that night. He located his fastball impeccably, fooled the A-Rod-less but still-powerful Yankee lineup with his devastating change-up, and got the big outs when he needed them most. Koskie and Morneau hit two mammoth homers and Shannon Stewart went 3-4 as the offense finally burst out its self-imposed protective bubble. With that monkey off their backs, the Twins could focus on doing something else they hadn’t done in 3 ½ years: take a series from the Yanks.

4. Shannon Stewart leads off with a home run and the Twins never look back in a 7-2 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday
“Okay,” you tell yourself, “The Twins beat the Yankees once. Big deal. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” Well anyway, it was the Yankees and their fans who were shamed on Wednesday, as Johan Santana checked off yet another team on his “To Dominate” list. Stewart’s homer set the pace for another laugher. Guzman had a clutch double and Koskie continued his hot hitting. I cheered my head off along with almost 42,000 other people as the Twins beat the Yanks for the second straight day.

5. Torii Hunter caps off a 10-pitch at-bat with a three-run double against C.C. Sabathia as the Twins complete their sweep of the Indians at home
There is no doubt in my mind that Hunter’s at-bat against Sabathia in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game was the BEST at-bat any Twin has had all season long. Up 4-2, Hunter comes to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Lew Ford had just popped up on the first pitch (the antithesis of a good at-bat) and the Indians were on the verge of escaping a very dangerous situation. Hunter quickly fell behind 0-2 but was able to lay off the next three pitches, working the count to 3-2. He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive 95-97 mph fastballs from Sabathia, no small feat in itself. But on the 10th pitch of the at-bat Hunter crushed an outside fastball and barely missed a grand slam, settling instead for a three-run double high off the baggie in right. That hit put the Twins up 7-2 and essentially dashed any comeback hopes the Tribe may have held. Sunday’s game was as important for the Indians as last Sunday’s game was for the Twins: Cleveland desperately needed to win one of three to stay within striking distance in the division. Instead, the Indians are riding a seven-game losing streak and stand seven games out. To make things even worse, the Yankees are coming to town and they will be out for blood. The Indians most definitely have their work cut out for them.

Well, there you have it: the top five moments of “The Best Week Ever” as chosen by yours truly. It certainly was a great week to be a Twins fan, but as Master Yoda once said, “Mindful of the future, you must be.” The Twins need to parlay their recent successes into road victories against Texas and Anaheim or all will have been for naught. It’s gonna be a tough upcoming week for the Twins, but I’m confident that they can handle it.

Thanks for stopping by the site today, and I hope you enjoyed this column. If you’re in the mood for some more Twins chatter, check out the running game summary below that John posted yesterday in his triumphant return. Also, if you have any other favorite moments from “The Best Week Ever” feel free to share them with the rest of us in the comments section. Take care, everybody.

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