Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your 2010 AL Central Champs



Last night was a microcosm of both the Twins and White Sox second halves. Trailing 4-2 in the 8th, the Twins scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning against Indians reliever Justin Masterson, followed by a 1-2-3 Matt Capps save that cut the Twins magic number to one. During that twenty minute span in which the Twins came back to defeat Cleveland, Chicago gave up four runs in two innings to Oakland to fall behind 5-1 on their way to a 7-2 loss that officially clinched the American League Central Division in favor of our Twins. Down the stretch the Twins simply blew past the White Sox. On July 22, the Twins were 3.5 games behind the then first place White Sox, and now two months later they've clinched the American League Central with a mind-boggling 12-game lead over those same White Sox.

A lot of people deserve a lot of credit for the success of this team. Joe Mauer, despite playing most of the year with several ailments, including a fairly serious shoulder injury, has been his usual fantastic self posting a .331/.407/.473 line, which is first among catchers who qualify for the batting title. Delmon Young's improvement, while not quite as impressive as some people seem to believe, has still been a good sign and there's no doubt Young has been an above average overall left fielder for the first time in his career. Jim Thome has been Babe Ruth-like in just under 300 at bats, and his game-winning, walk-off home run against Matt Thornton will undoubtedly go down as the most important hit of the year, as that game seemed to send both teams in entirely different directions.

Bill Smith deserves an awful lot of credit for keeping Pavano on a one-year deal, getting Hudson and Thome signed to well below market one-year deals, and having the foresight to go out and acquire Matt Capps with how poorly Rauch has pitched since mid-July. Wilson Ramos was a hefty price to pay, but Capps has been good since coming over and he gives the team a reliable closer, and they have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball now. Ron Gardenhire is still apt to make questionable strategic decisions, but he's done a fantastic job with this team and winning six division titles in nine years is a fantastic accomplishment regardless if you're pro-Gardy or anti-Gardy. The Twins ownership group also deserves a ton of credit, for finally getting a new stadium built and then showing their gratitude to the tax payers that helped them get it by spending over $100MM on payroll to put together a team that has a very good chance of finishing this season with the best record in all of baseball.

This team has been a lot of fun to watch for most of the year, and with how well they've been playing lately there's a lot of World Series hype not only in Minnesota but around the country for our beloved Minnesota Twins. At a time when Gopher football is at probably an all-time low, the Timberwolves are coming off their worst season in over a decade, and the Vikings haven't won a game in almost eight months, it's wonderful to have this Twins team garnering so much hype. I have no idea what will happen in the post-season; it's such a small sample size that literally catching one or two breaks can be the difference between a first round sweep and a World Series Championship.

The Twins are in much better shape this season to make a run, though, than they have been in years past. If the Twins so choose they could realistically have Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano pitch in four of the five games in the first round, if it gets that far. Both have been great all year, and if they continue to pitch well it seems unlikely that the series would in fact actually go to five games. I have no idea who I'd rather have the Twins face in round 1 between the Rays or Yankees, but with the news today that Josh Hamilton isn't expected to be healthy in time for the playoffs, it would appear the Twins are going to need to beat both David and Goliath to get to the World Series, so for that reason I'm not going to spend too much time analyzing who gives the Twins a better match-up.

For now, let's just enjoy the Twins sixth division title in nine years, and hopefully over the next month or so this team will fill the Twin Cities with something magical. As someone who loves the Twins more than any other sports team and wasn't yet 3-years-old the last time this team won a World Series, watching this team take home a Championship would be simply wonderful. Congratulations to the entire Twins organization, and I couldn't be more excited for Wednesday October 6, when I'll be watching the Twins open up the playoffs at the beautiful Target Field.