Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Weekend in Review and Looking Ahead

The Twins began their weekend like a lamb and went out like a lion. In a sense they failed to get the job done and clinch in front of the hometown fans. The first two games against the Orioles were a let down following the absolute shellacking of the White Sox last week. First, the Twins lost Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter to injuries and then Brad Radke had a poor outing for the first time in months. Then came Sunday and all was not lost. With every pitch Johan Santana erased the poor memories of the last two games. Tossing strikeout after strikeout and ending 7 out of 8 innings with one in dramatic fashion. Johan reminded everyone that the real prize was yet to come. He created hope for something so big that it has not been seen around here in nearly 15 years.

Johan, as he has been since early June, was, “the man”. When he is on the mound it is alright to expect to win. He is the closest thing to certain in baseball. Early on it looked like maybe he would follow suit and this would be the day a team would finally get to him. He uncharacteristically allowed a few hits and was saved by a couple of close calls by the umpires. Then it all came into perspective. Santana was so on that it didn’t matter. He induced double plays and he got every strikeout he needed as he toyed with the Oriole lineup. The result, a career high of 14 K's for the game. Santana is no longer just making his case for the Cy Young, he is now throwing his hat in for the MVP. It will be interesting to see if his own local writer votes for a pitcher, since La Velle E. Neal was the man who cost Pedro Martinez the award in 2000.

It is true that the Twins lost Stewart and Hunter in Friday night’s game. Luckily neither injury was serious. They are both day to day along with Justin Morneau. The Twins instead took a step toward getting healthy during the weekend. Both Corey Koskie and Luis Rivas returned to the lineup with a bang; hitting homeruns in their first games back. Koskie still holds the team lead in homers with 23 and is a big piece to the postseason puzzle. Rivas’s place on the team is less certain. Usually players don’t lose their spots to injury. As bad as Rivas played before getting hurt and as well as Michael Cuddyer has played in his place it would seem hard for Luis to regain his spot. There are players who can handle the utility role better in Augie Ojeda and Nick Punto when he returns. Rivas’s homerun on Sunday may have earned him a brief reprieve and the Twins likely will field a combination of him and Cuddyer through the playoffs. That just seems to be in line with the way the team does things even if it does not make sense.

The Twins did fail to clinch this weekend but they did lower their magic number to 2 meaning that the first game they win against Chicago this week will do it. It will be fitting if it comes tomorrow night against Mark Buehrle who was one of the Sox players to blast the Twins last week. It may not be a big deal for the White Sox to play an extra week but they’ll have to at least be envious of the party the Twins will be throwing in their house.

All that talk about clinching brings up another point. The Twins have really hesitated on playing their younger guys until they actually clinch. This is paying the White Sox more respect then they deserve. There were instances last week where Juan Rincon and JC Romero were used in games where the Twins had big leads. With all the help available out of the pen there is no reason for this. Plus, some of the guys who have been under-worked may just end up on the postseason roster. If the Twins feel like they can’t trust them now, how they can possibly think about putting them in a postseason game? More players were able to get into this weekend's games when the Twins fell behind early and when the outfield injuries left them no other choice. It is time to start preparing for the “real season” where the team has a legitimate chance of going somewhere this year. This means resting players while at the same time getting them enough action to keep them sharp. There is no need to misuse anybody at this point. Also, players like Jason Bartlett and Mike Restovich are going to have roles to play next year. The amount of playing time they get now could influence how smooth that transition is. Don’t wait until the last week to get them a few token at-bats. Jason Kubel is eligible for the postseason roster and the team has barely even seen what he could do. They need to let him get his feet wet or else it is unlikely that he will have role come October.

Usually Twins Chatter sticks to topics that are completely Twins related. However, during Football season we will briefly discuss our thoughts on the Vikings since they are the next biggest thing in this town next to the Twins (Well maybe it is flip-flopped but we can all dream). Tonight’s match up is going to be a lot of fun to watch. The Eagles are a Super Bowl caliber team and while the Vikings won last week they looked a little porous in doing so. Tonight will be a true test of where the team stands. Randy Moss usually puts up huge numbers on Monday night and he will play even better with Terrell Owens on the opposite sideline. There is no question Moss is the best receiver in football and the Vikings offense has so far looked pretty much unstoppable. As usual it is a question of whether the defense can do enough to stop the Eagles offense. Terrell will not have the production he had last week but it will be a high scoring game. The Vikings could come up big in this one but it would be safer to pick the Eagles.
Prediction: Vikings 35 Eagles 31

John Have a great Monday everybody.