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Middle of the pack at the half

by Josh Newman
Two weeks ago, the Twins discovered the importance of winning within their division when they won four out of six against Detroit and Kansas City: it pushes you closer to the top quickly.

Their next step will get them more national attention and, more importantly, respect from their peers and the “experts”: beating the big boys.

In this case, the big boy is the New York Yankees.

First of all, I must say that I hate the Yankees with a passion. I can’t stand them. Even though Major League Baseball has their current collective bargaining agreement (why can’t they just implement a salary cap already?) going, the Yankees have a recent history of being successful. Success is wonderful and richly deserved – as long as you work your butt off and sweat blood and guts for it. The Yankees? Before the collective bargaining agreement, and still today even, they won simply because they had the funds to buy success. Money is power, and when you have a lot of it without restrictions, you could own anybody you wanted.

The Yankees don’t really own anybody in particular, but they played the Twins like a fiddle last week. They demolished every starter Minnesota put out on the mound and improved to 7-0 against the Twins this season. If you recall, the Twins got swept in New York back in May, including three disappointing walk-off losses.

Their worst game of the week came in the opener of this series. Scott Baker was sent to the showers in the fourth inning and the Twins were held to just four hits in a 10-2 loss.

Ironically, the real unraveling did not even begin until after Baker’s departure. They tagged Twins relievers Brian Duensing and R.A. Dickey for five runs in the sixth inning to break the game open. They managed 16 hits for the game.

That was the low point of the week, so things could only get better, right? Maybe, if you want to talk about being more competitive. That the Twins were, but they dropped the final two games against New York to complete the sweep.

Up next were the Chicago White Sox for a three-game weekend series. It made a little bit of a difference, but unfortunately, their pitching was even worse than it was against the Yankees. Fortunately, their offense broke out the lumber for this series. They hit five home runs and hit .314 in the three games as the Twins took two out of three.

The Twins wasted no time, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning after making Chicago starter John Danks throw 40 pitches in the first inning. Danks walked the first four hitters he faced, forcing in a run before Minnesota even recorded a hit. Jason Kubel then doubled to right-center to score two more runs, and Michael Cuddyer hit a single that drove in Morneau to give the Twins the big lead.

After getting on the board in the second, the White Sox scored two runs in the third inning to close the gap. They then evened the score at 4 apiece in the sixth inning. Overall, it was a sub-par outing for Twins starter Nick Blackburn, who might have given up yet another run if Cuddyer not robbed Chicago second baseman Chris Getz of an extra-base hit with a jumping catch at the wall in the sixth.
Mauer’s RBI single in the seventh, which scored Nick Punto, proved to be the game-winning hit.

Games 2 and 3 featured all offense and no defense. Joe Crede hit a pair of homers in the second game, but it was not enough to overcome a rocky start by Glen Perkins. The Minnesota lefthander allowed five runs on eight hits in a little over four innings. A late rally by the Twins was thwarted as Minnesota lost a heartbreaker, 8-7.

Trailing 8-3 after six innings, Minnesota hung in there. They scored one run in the seventh inning and another one in the eighth to close to within three runs. Two more in the bottom of the ninth came on a two-out single by Jose Morales with only one out in the ninth inning to make it 8-7. However, Denard Span grounded into a double play to end the game.

Like I said, all offense and no defense. The series finale featured homers from three unlikely sources – Span, Carlos Gomez, and Brendan Harris – and no hits from Mauer and Morneau to coast to a 13-7 victory to take the series.
Baker made up for his last start – sort of. He got the win, but gave up five runs in 6.1 innings of work. The bullpen gave up two runs over the final three innings, but the Twins pulled it out to go into the All-Star break with a record of 45-44, just four game back from first-place Detroit.

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