Confused about your team? Me too, or at least a little. I was the optimistic one, but even I expected them to struggle in the first half of the season. But even at eight games over .500, there are still a bunch of question that have yet to be answered. For some fans, that's disconcerting. For me, it's like a cold beer on a summer patio - ignoring it wouldn't just be stupid, it would be sinful.
And there are some that I'm looking at especially close this week. Starting with:
Q: Is Detroit a contender?
I know, I know, it's supposed to be Twins questions, right? Well, I'm cheating a little, but not in the way you think. This is a question about the Twins, because the Twins will be facing the Tigers seven more times in the next two (that's the cheat) weeks. In fact, they'll only have one more series against them after the all-star break, and it will be at home in September. If the Twins smack down the Tigers by taking five of the seven games, the Tigers are going to have a fairly tough time making up the ground.
That's not unreasonable, because so far this season, the Twins are 5-3 versus the Tigers, but what's been striking is how one team has clearly dominated the other in almost each game. Early in the season the Twins bullpen blew two opportunities and let the Tigers regain a little swagger from their horrid start. In a three game series at the Metrodome the Tigers looked slow, old and a little indifferent. And in the last series in Detroit the Twins sandwiched two steady but solid victories around a 19-3 shellacking.
All year the Tigers have looked like a talented, but inconsistent, team. They can explode one night and implode (or maybe more disconcerting, fail to ignite) the next two nights. But they have won seventeen of their last twenty-one games making them one of the few teams that can claim to be hotter than the Twins right now. This week (and next weekend) we'll get to see firsthand if the team has changed, or if they've just been exploding a little more often.
Q: Can Denard Span help the club this year?
Be careful what you ask for - you just might get it. Last week I tried to find room for Span on the Twins roster, and today he'll find his way into the lineup at the expense of Michael Cuddyer, who will make his second appearance on the disabled list with a finger problem.
Span certainly profiles as someone who can eventually be a benefit to this team. In particular, since last last year he looks like someone who has gained an awareness that there is this imaginary box around home plate called "the strike zone", and that he isn't required to swing at pitches that are not in that imaginary box.
That mystical realization has led to an on-base percentage of .431 in Rochester. It's also correlated with a 60 point leap in batting average. But maybe most amazing is that it has led to a substantial spike in power, as he's sporting a .471 slugging percentage in AAA right now. That's over 100 points higher than he's ever had in a minor league season.
Q: Speaking of ever, will Ron Gardenhire ever let Span bat leadoff?
OK, "ever" is a strong word. After all, Gardy did allow Span to bat leadoff when he was here last time. Once. In twelve games. When Gomez didn't play. So Span may get a turn sometime when Gomez doesn't play. But will he ever get to bat leadoff and move Gomez to ninth in the order?
The initial answer will almost surely be "no", and Gardy will explain it thusly:
1. He doesn't want to put too much pressure on Span.
2. He wants Gomez to see as many pitches as he can.
3. He enjoys the challenge of fighting off that pulmonary embolism as he watches Gomez chase that eighth consecutive low-and-away slider.
Alright, I made that last one up. He would never say that. He probably wouldn't even say "That which does not kill me, makes me stronger." But he must be thinking it, because I know that Gomez has struck out on that pitch in 3/4 of his at-bats. So I guess #2 is taking care of itself - he's certainly getting to see plenty of that pitch. But I suspect he will in the #9 spot, too.
Q: Will Glen Perkins be in this rotation after the all-star break?
His manager barely disguised his disappointment after his last start. Four of his last six starts haven't been quality starts. He gets two starts this week. And finally, his start tonight is against the Tigers, against whom he had his most impressive performance of the season.
Why is that significant? Becuase they'll be gunning for him. He won't sneak up on them like he did after that 19-3 game. With Francisco Liriano toiling and waiting in AAA, this week could go a long way towards indicating if Perkins spends the end of July in Minneapolis or Rochester.