Win Probability: 37.7%
Enjoy the view today, citizens. This is what the world looks like when you're sitting, albeit precariously, in the catbird's seat. After one of the more eventful doubleheaders I've had the pleasure to see (especially the Sano salami that had everyone at Buffalo Wild Wings cheering), the Twins find themselves with a not-all-that-comfortable 5.5 game lead on Cleveland with just 14 games left to play. Even assuming a loss today, and Fangraphs makes it pretty clear who the underdog is, the Twins would still lead the division by 4.5 games with just two weeks to go. Over that span the Twins have a steady diet of Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City while the Cleveland squad still has to tangle with the Nationals and the Phillies. I like to think of the Twins as an old-time army that marched out of the city almost six months ago. Over the course of the summer campaign they battled with many other armies, collecting wins as their booty and hoisting home runs as their trophies. There were many triumphs and some difficult defeats. Now, with their spoils in tow, the weary army is marching home. The healthy do their best to carry the injured, and the walking wounded do what they can to stay on the march and in the fight. Up ahead, the city gates have come into view. All General Baldelli has to do is fight a rearguard action of daily skirmishes and get his men inside the walls before the army that's been in hot pursuit for weeks and weeks can overtake them. Do that and you get to keep the spoils and bear the title division champions. But if you fail, then all of the triumphs turn to dust and ash, your army is decimated, and your city is sacked and burned by the barbarian horde.
The Twins enter play today with their magic number at nine and an improbable chance to sweep Cleveland and pound a few nails into the coffin set aside for their playoff hopes. Baldelli is relying once again on the bullpen and call-ups to pitch the entire game, opening with Randy Dobnak who will give way to Kohl Stewart. The Indians delve into their embarrassment of starting pitching riches and trot out Not Justin Bieber, who has not given up more than three earned runs in any of his last 11 starts. The days are getting shorter, there's a chill in the air of a morning, and football is trying to infringe on pennant races. It's time to get this done. Play ball!
Win Probability: 48.9%
When this baseball season started, I was in a world of pain. Recovery from coronary bypass surgery is not a pleasant experience. Having the Twins play the winning kind of baseball they did back in April was a huge comfort to me. Sure, I couldn't get out of bed without help and I could barely lift a gallon of milk to pour on my cereal, but the Twins were winning almost every day so dammit, all was right with the world. Today, six months on from the surgery, I feel pretty darn good. And when you feel pretty darn good and your favorite baseball team is locking horns with a strong division rival in a September pennant race, what else is there to do but jump on the train to Target Field for a Sunday matinee?
With the series on the line, the Twins appear to be using Randy Dobnak as an opening pitcher, followed by Devin Smeltzer. The Lakesiders are sending Mike Clevinger (insert crazy good stats here) to try to seal the series and steal a game in the standings from the Twins. Take me out to the ballgame...
Win Probability: 58.5%
Welcome to September baseball. Here's to the Twins playing through October as well. Yesterday the Twins passed the team single season home run record. I missed it live since the wife and I were at the fair, but everywhere we went people were talking about the Twins and checking their phones to see if they broke the record. I got into several nice baseball conversations while standing in lines waiting for food, beverages, bathrooms, etc. Of course, if the Twins don't hold on and outpace the Yankees to maintain their lead in dingers then the record could belong to the Bronx Bombers, not the Minnesota Bomba Squad, by the end of the year. And that would be a crying shame. I don't have to tell anyone that the days are getting shorter and we're flat out of summer, or that games are becoming a dwindling resource.
Big Mike on the mound for the Twins today. He's been our best starter over the past several weeks and after yesterday's hurling debacle the team needs him to step up and deliver once again. The Fighting Tigers counter with Spencer Turnbull (3-13, 4.18 ERA, 112 K). Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend, and thank a union member for your day off tomorrow. Play ball!
Win Probability: 61.7%
There's been a decided turn in the weather the past week - cooler and drier, almost autumnal. It's the kind of weather that prompts one's mind to pivot towards fall. The leaves changing colors. A touch of frost on the grass of a morning. And my favorite team battling a worthy rival in a close-fought pennant race. Never mind that the Twins followed up their most recent butt-kicking road trip by coming home and screwing the pooch against the Pale Hose. Today is ripe for a little redemption. Here's hoping they win this game and series and salvage a split on the home stand.
Martin Perez starts for the Twins today. He's had some ups and downs this season, but a cursory glance at this BBR.com page will show that for the most part, we got what we paid for. In most major stat categories, Perez's performance metrics for the year are all closely aligned with his career averages. Taking the ball for the Motor City today is lefty Matthew Boyd (6-9, 4.24 ERA, 201 K) in his first start since coming off paternity leave. He was oh-fer in his three starts at Target Field last year. Play ball!
Win Probability: 48.1%
As much as my blood pressure would appreciate having a ten game lead on Cleveland, I do love a pennant race that goes down to the wire. Why? I don't know. Maybe we just crave the drama. I know when kids fantasize about playing in the major leagues, it's always World Series game seven, bottom of the ninth inning down by three with the bases loaded and two outs. You just never hear a kid saying, "It's the top of the fourth inning and bases are empty in a meaningless spring training game as I step up to the plate..."
The Twins enter play today with the opportunity to sweep this four-game series with Tejas and at the least maintain their 2.5 game division lead. Martin Perez takes the hill for the good guys, Lance Lynn goes for the home team. Play ball!
Wait, where does the water go in this thing? Alrighty. And you put the coffee where? In this whatchamacallit? And push that button. Well, okay then. It'll take a minute or two, give it time.
I'm going with Kepler today.
Win Probability: 59.9%
The Twins pumped the brakes on their four-game skid with a rain-delayed win over Cleveland last night. Jake Odorizzi stepped up as the stopper, tossing five and two-thirds scoreless innings. Even the bullpen got into the act, giving up just one run over the remainder of the game. I have to say that while it's been hard to watch the team play what we now consider sub-par baseball for the past month, and especially hard to watch Cleveland loom larger and larger in the rearview mirror, I still think this team is fundamentally sound. Yes, the offense needs to be more productive in the early innings and more clutch with RISP in the late innings. The starting rotation needs to be more efficient and go an inning or so deeper into games to take pressure off the bullpen. And the bullpen itself needs a zero tolerance policy - we will only tolerate putting zeros on the board.
We have Berrios starting today, Cleveland has recent AAA call-up Aaron Civale taking the ball. That and home field advantage probably account for our high win probability. Play ball!
Win Probability: 60.5%
Twins Hall of Fame weekend wraps up today with the team holding a chance to sweep the Kansas City Royals. Even though the rain delayed last night's game and ceremony, and the speeches were pretty bad, it sure was fun seeing that panoply of former Twins stars lined up on the field.
Jake Odorizzi was scheduled to start for the Twins but he's been scratched from the lineup. Instead we'll get another outing from Devin Smeltzer (0-1, 2.91 ERA) and the Bomba Squad will face Brad Keller (7-10, 4.01 ERA). Play ball!
Win Probability: 59%
The ten game lead on Cleveland that the Twins enjoyed two months ago had been whittled down to eight games just one month ago. In the past month of games, Cleveland has slashed that lead to just one game. The Twins vaunted offense remains potent (despite last night's ass-battery), the starting pitching remains mostly competent if no longer outstanding, but the bullpen continues to vex. I mean, when Taylor Rogers breaks your heart twice in one week, it might be time to re-evaluate your emotional entanglements. If nothing else, the worrisome collapse of a double digit divisional lead down to a single game helped spur the front office into action and pick up Sergio Romo from the Marlins. Carlos Torres was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Romo. So long, Carlos, we hardly knew ye. The brain trust has until Wednesday afternoon to make any additional moves that could impact the roster for the playoffs. Now, I keep hearing from the mouthpieces that the Twins, despite their precipitous fall in the standings, are playing with a lot of confidence right now. That's good. But maybe it's time to also play with a little bit of fear and loathing, and more competence than the Twins have shown in recent days. Were I Jonathan Schoop, for instance, I think I would have burned that glove with the hole in it and gotten myself a new one by now.
So, cue the Mighty Mouse theme song, because today the Twins have Kyle Gibson (9-4, 4.24 ERA, 109 K) on the mound to start the game. The Nibbler is our last best hope for maintaining sole possession of first place in the AL Central by the end of the day. Him and the offense, which went MIA on the south side last night. Oh, and the Kansas City Royals. But that's it, just Kyle Gibson, the Twins offense, and the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox send right-hander Dylan Covey (1-6, 6.04 ERA, 31 K) to the hill today. In short sample size theater, Schoop is two for three and hitting .667 against Covey, Garver (not in the lineup) hits him at a .500 clip, and Max Kepler averages .444 against him in nine at bats. So, 58 games to go and Cleveland is hot on our heels and breathing down our necks. Hold onto your butts, citizens, this ride might get a little rough. Play ball!
Win Probability: 54.2%
Around the eighth inning last night I thought I'd be writing about how the Twins have a chance to win this four-game series with Oakland today. Instead, because Taylor Rogers chose an inopportune time to have a very rare bad outing, we're hoping to salvage a split and maybe get a game back in the standings from Cleveland. Such are the vagaries of baseball. I can't say that I've been overly impressed with the Twins' overall performance since the All-Star break. They've been adequate at best. But then again, they spent the first half of the season setting very high expectations for the second half that they just haven't managed to equal yet. In some ways, I think a hard-fought race for the division title would be good for this team, a crucible in which they temper their skill and desire into hardened competitive advantage for the postseason. On the other hand, I'd be fine with the Twins going on a month-long winning streak and putting another ten games or so between their tail feathers and Cleveland's beak.
The Twins commence today's contest with Big Mike Pineda on the mound for the 19th time this year. While I wouldn't say I'm a fan yet, he is working hard to win me over and has shown considerable improvement over his last several starts. His ERA is down to 4.38 (104 ERA+) and in four of his last five outings he allowed just one earned run. A 4.18 FIP would suggest he's doing all that while not being especially lucky. In 98.2 innings pitched he's given up 99 hits, 16 walks, and 51 runs for a 1.166 WHIP. He's compiled 87 strikeouts and whiffs more than five batters for every free pass he hands out. Not shabby for a back of the rotation arm, I guess. But despite all the favorable numbers you can find for Pineda, he's still only managed a 0.7 WAR and -0.2 WAA for the season. Cornelius McGillicuddy's legacy counters Pineda today with Daniel Mengden's moustache (4.21 ERA). The Twins touched the right-hander for five runs over 5.2 innings just a few weeks ago. Hopefully they can improve on that today. Play ball!