Talk about making a statement. Your Minnesota Twins marched down to the South Side of Chicago this week with a negligible 1/2 game lead over the Sox, and marched right back out a mere two and a half days later with a 3 1/2 game lead in the division. Today's game was very exciting to watch, for those of you who had the opportunity, and I think that it captured the fundamental differences between these two teams beautifully. Let me count the ways:
-The Sox committed two key errors that lead to two Minnesota runs, including the game winning run in the tenth. Even though the Sox defense may look better than the Twins' on paper, let's face it: it isn't, and it probably will not be for quite a while. The fact that the White Sox have to play Jose Valentin at shortstop is proof positive that this team has never placed the correct amount of emphasis on defense, and it killed them today. Even without Dougie Baseball, the Twins have a better defensive player than the White Sox at almost every spot on the diamond. Hunter's catch in the bottom of the tenth only puts an exclamation point on that statement.
-The Twins ran wild on the White Sox this weekend, and that doesn't include Torii's (clean) collision at the plate on Monday. The Twins stole five bases in the three game series, a pretty big total for a team that had stolen 70 in the 98 games previous. If I remember correctly, two or three of those steals didn't even warrant an attempt from the White Sox catchers. Ben Davis was particularly inept, as the Twins were 4-4 in stolen base attempts off the new acquired backstop. On the other side of the spectrum, the White Sox managed to run themselves out of a potentially big seventh inning yesterday when the had two runners caught stealing, one of them on a particularly bone-headed play by Valentin.
-Without Mags and Thomas, the ChiSox offense is very unbalanced. Sure, they still have the power threats of Lee, Valentin, and Konerko, but unless someone gets on base ahead of those guys, this team will struggle to score that many runs. Uribe is in a deep slump right now, and Wille Harris and/or Timo Perez are not very good options for the top of the lineup either. The White Sox hit six homers in this series, but all of them were solo shots. As we've heard Bert Blyleven say countless times, there isn' much harm in giving up homers as long as they're solo homers.
All told, it was a very impressive three-game sweep for the Twins. As deflating as getting swept by the Sox at home was at the end of June, this sweep has finally erased any doubts I had about the quality of the 2004 Twins. The team we have seen over the past 10 days is the team that we were all so excited about this spring. The rotation has been solid, with Radke and Johan on lead vocals. The offense has been scoring runs in bunches, even manufacturing runs against tough competition. And the bullpen has almost fulfilled its full potential, with Nathan, Rincon, Balfour, and Romero (today's outing notwithstanding) emerging as solid contributors. The Twins are surging. The Sox are bumbling. The galaxy's natural balance has once again been restored.
Some other thoughts
The trade market is very slow right now, but there have been a few new developments from a Twins perspective. Doug Mientkiewicz was originally scheduled to be in the starting lineup for Tuesday's (and possibly Wednesday's) games against Chicago, but was scratched after meeting with Gardenhire. I realize that Dougie is distraught over the fact that he will probably be traded, but come on! You are still a professional baseball player on a major league baseball team and getting paid. If the team wants you to play, you play! Handle the rumors like a professional and just go about your business. I see absolutely no way that the Twins could NOT trade Mientkiewicz now, despite the fact that he might actually serve a purpose as an (albeit overpriced) defensive replacement/pinch hitter for the final two months of the season. However, Pittsburgh recently eliminated themselves, understandably, as a possible destination for Mientkiewicz on Tuesday. They are in no need of a relatively expensive veteran first baseman, as one of the reasons they are sellers in the trade market is to dump salary.
One proposed deal in the Strib today would have the Red Sox sending Kevin Youkillis to the Pirates, Mientkiewicz going to Boston, and Kris Benson coming here. An interesting proposal, no doubt, but I think that Youkillis is a steep price to pay for Mientkiewicz. Dave Littlefield is also said to be asking for Jason Kubel in a trade, which I hope TR is not seriously considering (I strongly doubt he is). It has always been the Twins mantra never to mortgage the future for the present, and I wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy right here. A Benson rental is worth nowhere near a top prospect like Kubel; Littlefield needs to go get his head examined if he thinks the Twins are that stupid. The franchise didn't climb out from the depths of ineptitude by making shortsighted trades. Such tactics are better left to the dregs of major league baseball. A certain team in Pennsylvania that has endured 12 (almost 13) straight losing seasons comes immediately to mind.