Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Cause for Concern? Not Quite Yet

While yesterday’s ninth-inning 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers was indeed disappointing, Twins fans everywhere (including myself) must fight the urge to panic. Just keep reminding yourself that it was only one game, only one loss. The Twins’ lead in the AL Central didn’t even go down, as the Indians lost their 9th game in a row (though the White Sox won). Both the Tribe and the Sox are tied for second place, a whole eight games behind our Twins.

Tuesday’s game was only one loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a rather disappointing loss for a variety of reasons. First of all, Carlos Silva pitched much better than he has in quite some time, shutting out the AL’s top offenses for six innings. It’s a shame he couldn’t pick up a win. In the seventh, some kind of shoulder ailment (allegedly) caused him to inexplicably groove a few pitches to the bottom of the Texas order, loading the bases with one out. Juan Rincon, who hasn’t been particularly sharp of late (seems to be a common theme in our bullpen right now) pitched decently in getting out of that jam, but imploded in the eighth. It was a very uncharacteristic outing for Rincon: I’m pretty sure he hasn’t blown a three-run lead all season long.

It has been well-publicized that J.C. Romero hasn’t given up a run since his return from Rochester, but Dick and Bert never mention the fact that opponents are hitting .317 off J.C. this season with runners in scoring position (compared to just .178 with the bases empty). But J.C. performed the unlikely last night (barely) and the game remained tied.

This is where the game really got weird. The Twins staged a nice little rally against Francisco Cordero in the top of the ninth, which is no small feat. The Good Doctor Morneau came through in the clutch with a big RBI double on a tough breaking pitch—anyone else notice how much better he looks against curveballs this year compared to last?

The only real negative note during “The Best Week Ever” was the Yankees’ shattering of Super Joe’s protective bubble. I would like to think that he is able to get past that fluke outing, but it sure hasn’t looked like it his last two innings. Joe once again was not locating his pitches nearly as well as he has the entire season, evidenced by the leadoff walk and the terrible pitch to Michael Young (a high fastball right over the plate). That last pitch to Texiera wasn’t so bad, but the curveball still got too much of the plate in my opinion. Whatever is wrong with Joe, let’s hope he gets it figured out sooner rather than later. Every pitcher has rough stretches, even Eric Gagne, so Nathan’s last three outings are no reason to panic. Yet.

Just how safe is it, anyway?
Many of the national baseball experts and writers have pretty much conceded the Central division crown to the Twins for the third consecutive year. On the outside, it appears they have good reason to do so. The Twins are eight games ahead in the division with 37 left to play. The two teams chasing them are currently sub-.500 clubs. One is in the midst of a nine game losing streak; the other has lost its two best players for the season and is in disarray. However, no self-respecting Twins fan is going to call this race over just yet (at least not out loud). Let’s take a look at all three teams’ remaining schedules.

The Indians seem to have faded for good this time, and even if they weren’t in the middle of a long losing streak they would still have their work cut out for them. The combined winning percentage of the Indians’ remaining opponents is .503, but if you look deeper, it is actually worse than that. The Tribe still must play the Yankees four times, the Athletics three times, the Angels three times, and the Twins seven times. They do get to beat up on the hapless Royals six more times, but even those games aren’t gimmes considering how poorly this team has played of late. Given their strength of schedule, I’d say that its very unlikely (albeit not impossible) that the Tribe makes a serious run on the Twins in 2004.

Chicago, on the other hand, seems to have a slightly easier road to climb. The combined winning percentage of their upcoming opponents is only .488, although they will still face the Twins (6), Rangers (4), A’s (3), and Angels (3). The ChiSox also have the good fortune of playing the Royals and Mariners a whopping 11 times. If they can take five of six from the Twins (heaven forbid) and pound the dregs like they’re supposed to, this could become a real race once again.

The Twins, unfortunately, have the toughest remaining schedule as their upcoming opponents sport a nifty .506 winning percentage. Minnesota still has about 17 games remaining with possible contenders, including the Yankees (3), Texas (5), Angels (3), and White Sox (6, if you can count them as “contenders” still). However, that’s the beauty of a big lead: you control your own destiny. If the Twins can go 6-7 in their remaining 13 games with Cleveland and Chicago, they will be just fine. It should be no problem for this team to play .500 ball for the rest of the year. If they can do that, they’ll still finish with about 90 wins and easily claim a playoff spot. The only thing that can stop the Minnesota Twins right now is the Minnesota Twins.

There you have it, folks. Despite yesterday’s loss, the only way the Twins can blow this thing is if they totally implode. Given the streaky nature of this team such a scenario is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, but it still highly unlikely to me.

Thanks for checking out Twins Chatter again today. We’re closing in on 10,000 visitors, and most of those hits aren’t either me or John! How amazing is that? Anyway, thank you for your continued support. If you have anything so say about today’s entry or just something about the Twins in general, feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll respond in timely manner if that comment warrants a response. Have a good one and I’ll see you all again tomorrow.