The baseball season spans half a year. Old timers will tell you how teams need to use that time: Two months to figure out what's wrong, two months to fix it, and two months to make a run for the top of the standings.
For the Twins this season, it didn't take long to assess the problem -- the clubhouse was as much emergency room as dressing room, and player after player was shuttling back and forth between the active roster and the disabled list. Morneau, Mauer, Span, Thome, Young, Baker, Slowey, Nishioka, Kubel, Casilla, Nathan -- all spent time on the DL, seriously testing the depth of the Twins organization.
This time of year has always been difficult for some Twins fans. We have to sit on the sidelines as other teams shift into intense horse trading mode. For years I decried the Twins' inactivity around the trade deadline, but I've come to realize it isn't timidity but trust that makes them spectators to deadline deals instead of participants. The Twins trust their own organization to provide whatever spare part they need to keep the car on the road and in the race. They trust their scouting and their coaching. And they believe the organization is strong and deep enough to be a contender year after year, without having to sell the farm at the end of July for a shot at the postseason. Seven trips to the playoffs in ten years speaks for itself.
The Twins' trust got it's most difficult test this year, and while it looked in April and May like the boys just weren't going to be up to the task, they turned things around in June and July. And they did it thanks as much to the efforts and performances of their replacement players as their front line starters. Two months to fix it, and that faith in the organization seems to have paid off once again for Billy Smith and Gardy.
The Twins flew into Oakland needing a tonic after a tough split of a four-game series with the Rangers that could/should have been a 3-1 series win. They got just what they needed by the bay, a big dose of Cornelius McGillicuddy's Pachyderm Potion. Francisco Liriano was on the hill for the Twins, facing off against Gio Gonzales who sported the sixth-lowest ERA in the AL coming into the game.
The Twins got the scoring off to a hot start on a cool night when Jason Kubel, swinging a mean stick since his return to the lineup, drove a two-out double to the wall to score Plouffe! and Mauer. Unfortunately, the F-Bomb followed up the bottom half of the inning with a dud, serving up a tater to Josh Willingham, who promptly mashed it into the seats, scoring Coco Crisp and himself. But it was the only two runs that Liriano would allow on the night.
The scoring continued in the third with the Twins scratching out an ugly run when Cuddyer drove in Mauer from third on a double play grounder. They put another straight number on the board when Plouffe! drove in Revere from second with a base hit to center. Gonzalez struggled with his control in the sixth, giving up a pair of singles to Young and Tolbert before giving up back-to-back walks to Butera and Revere for another Twins run.
The visiting team finally blew the game open in the eighth, when Butera scored on a Plouffe! singe, and Cuddy went boom for an Earl Weaver Special, driving in Plouffe! and Mauer. On the other side of the ball, Liriano settled into a state of semi-control after the first and managed to blank the A's through the next six innings. He gave up two runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts, throwing only about half his pitches for strikes.
The bullpen was the bullpen once again -- effective despite the obvious symptoms of schizophrenia. Mijares, who I trust about as far as I can carry him, gave up a three-run bomb, the second round-tripper of the night for Josh Willingham. Then Burnett gave up walk and notched a strikeout to start the bottom of the ninth, and Perkins struck out the only two batters he faced to finish the game.
Two months ago, two months into the season, the Twins were 16.5 games out of first place and twenty games under .500. With two months left to play, they stand just six games behind the division leading Tigers and six games under even. Time to make a run for the top of the standings.