So the Twins come within a couple of bone-headed extra-innings plays of sweeping the Tigers at the Metrodome for the second time this year. And again I walk away wondering exactly how this Tigers team is leading the AL Central.
Which we'll talk about in a minute, but first, let's talk a little about the games.
Friday, the Twins:
1. started a guy (Slowey) who was put on the DL immediately afterwards,
2. watched their team leader (Morneau) ill-advisedly run like a berserker into third base in the fourteenth inning and
3. watched a another team leader (Cuddyer) have one of the most bone-headed plate appearances you'll see all year in the twelfth inning.
#2 has been talked about a lot, but #3 was far less forgivable. In the twelfth inning, Cuddyer strode to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded, and was facing Joel Zumaya who had thrown 342 pitches. OK, it was really just 50, but the point is that he was gassed, and when Zumaya gets that gassed he loses his control. Which he spent the last half of the inning demonstrating.
Patience was required, because the odds of Zumaya successfully throwing three balls into the strike zone (even the ridiculously large one that night) versus four outside of it was (at best) 50/50. And so Cuddyer correctly made sure Zumaya threw a strike before taking the bat off his shoulder. Which Zumaya barely did.
At which point Cuddyer seemingly panicked. The next two pitches were not close, with a high fastball and then another fastball that was at least a foot outside the plate, and Cuddy was hacking at them both. I get that Zumaya is humping the ball up there at triple-digits, but good golly. It looked like an at-bat by someone in the midst of some sort of physical shock.
Saturday - There was some more shaky baserunning in this game, this time by Mauer who didn't take third base in a ground ball to right field and nearly cost the Twins the game. But I really want to talk about Francisco Liriano.
Can we start a rooting section for this guy? In St. Louis last week we got some killer seats and literally pumped him full of happy thoughts for seven innings. Every inning it was "Great job Frankie!" or "Way to battle Frankie" or "You've got it today big fella!" I gotta say, I think it helped. And as we're watching the game yesterday, and as he's working into trouble and then giving up that home run, the person next to me, who doesn't watch baseball is saying "He struggles with his confidence, doesn't he?" Geez, you think?
The thing is, there is a whole state that is on this guy's side, and a state should be able to pump a guy up a bit. For whatever reason, that encouragement doesn't seem to be coming from the dugout. But that's what home-field advantage is for.
Sunday - There is no question that Nick Blackburn is the ace of this staff right now, and it's backed by more than numbers. It's backed by the fact that I feel more comfortable with him toeing the hill than any other pitcher. I don't give a damn how many people he isn't striking out. He's conditioned me now. I expect him to do a great job.
In the middle of today's start, I started wondering what the Twins do with him this offseason. Just based on results, he's a prime candidate to get a long term deal, ala Scott Baker. But the Baker contract hasn't gone so well. And it didn't go well the last time the Twins offered a long-term deal to a low-strikeout starting pitcher. That was Joe Mays.
So I love the guy, but the idea of giving him a Baker-like contract is an idea I'm going to need some time to get used to.
And we need to talk just a bit about Justin Morneau. I swear to gawd that we're overlooking this guy right now. In my mind he is still the most indispensable guy on this roster. I likely know the metrics and what they mean better than you do. I'm just saying - I think this team is worse without him than without Mauer. And that's not a knock on Mauer.
Detroit - So the Twins are 5-1 against the Tigers in the Metrodome and 1-1 on the road. And I gotta say, this Tigers team just doesn't scare me. These division races are usually decided in the 18 head-to-head matches teams play, and I can see the Twins ending up the season with a 12-6 record. And the Tigers aren't going to overcome that.
In fact, for the second time, I came away wondering just how this Tigers team leads the division. And I may have an answer.
Today, Brian Pietrzak of Examiner.com pointed out that the following this Yankees series, the Twins will be completely done with the Yankees, Red Sox and Devil Rays, and have just seven games left against the AL East.
The Tigers have a much harder road later, and had a much easier road so far. They start the second half with three games against at the Yankees, visit Fenway for four games the next month, and still have seven games versus the Rays and four against Toronto. The Twins have just seven games left against the AL East. The Tigers still have 21.
So I wonder if the difference here isn't strength of schedule. In any case, this Tigers team either needs to go on a big time run or play a lot better at home against the Twins. Or this division race is going to turn from a three-team race to a two-team race.