Thursday, the Twins will begin the second half of their season with a four game set at the Metrodome against the Cleveland Indians. The Twins had a great June but stumbled into the All-Star break by losing four of their final six games. They are 47-39 and 11 games out of first place. The Indians were supposed to challenge the White Sox for the AL Central title this year, but instead they are 40-47 and 18.5 games out of first place. Whether the Twins compete for a playoff spot or not, there are several Twins stories worth following in the season's nominal second half. Here are what I believe to be the Top 5 Stories for Twins Fans to Follow:
#5 - A Playoff Run?
That is one good question. Can the Twins still make the playoffs? Right now, they are eleven games behind the Detroit Tigers and nine behind the Chicago White Sox. With 76 games remaining, if the Tigers play just .500 ball the rest of the season (and the White Sox are no better), the Twins would have to go 51-25 (.671) in the second half to win the AL Central. In other words, a division title would be pretty difficult to attain. So, what about the Wild Card? The White Sox currently hold a six game lead over the Yankees, an eight game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and a nine game lead over the Twins. Again, if the White Sox were to play just .500 ball the rest of the season, the Twins would have to go 48-28 (.632) and hope that the Yankees and Blue Jays don't play well either. Do the Twins have a shot at the playoffs? Sure they do... in theory! The Twins still have ten games against the White Sox and twelve against the Tigers. The Tigers and White Sox play each other 13 more times. What the Twins need is for one of those two teams to completely tank.
#4 - Who Starts?
The Twins went into the All Star break without a 5th starter. Then Carlos Silva hurt his knee again. Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke are locks, but who will the other two starters be? Well, we can probably assume that Silva will not be out for long, if at all, so he can be penciled in to the fourth spot, at least for a while. So, who will take over that fifth starter spot? Kyle Lohse probably could, but Ron Gardenhire has said that he will stay in the bullpen for now. We also have to wonder how much longer Lohse will remain in a Twins uniform. Scott Baker held it for the season's first six weeks. He has gone down to Rochester to try to get his pitches down. In seven starts in Rochester, Baker is 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA. JD Durbin was an option until a biceps injury curtailed his season. Boof Bonser could wind up coming back to the Twins rotation. Two non-40 man roster guys are also worth consideration. Glen Perkins was the Twins top pick in 2004 out of the University of Minnesota. He is considered a top prospect in the system and would need to be added to the 40 man roster after the season anyway. However, he is just 2-10 with a 4.05 ERA at AA New Britain. What about 2005 first round pick Matt Garza? He has done well both in High-A Ft. Myers and at AA New Britain. He has posted good strikeout totals, low hit and walk numbers and a great ERA. He also has the "stuff" that makes him worthy of top prospect status. Not to get Twins fans too excited, but what Garza is doing in 2005 is almost identical to what Justin Verlander was doing in the Tigers farm system last year.
#3 - It's Been 19 Years Already!?
The Twins have not had a 30 home run hitter since 1987 when Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek each surpassed that plateau. That is one of those annoying stats that just keeps showing up. Well, this season Justin Morneau became the first Twins hitter to surpass 20 home runs by the All-Star break since that season. With 23 homers and 73 RBI heading into the break, Morneau is on pace for 43 home runs and 137 RBI. So, barring an injury, Morneau should fly past the 30 home run mark. Can he be the first Twins player to hit 40 or more home runs in a season since Harmon Killebrew hit 41 in 1970? Do we dare to dream that he could become the first Twins player to hit 45 home runs since Killebrew hit 49 in 1969?
#2 - What's the Deal?
The non-waiver trade deadline is annually on July 31. It is a day of excitement for playoff contenders looking to add one final piece that they feel they need to make their playoff push. Where the Twins are in the standings on July 20th will factor heavily on whether they consider themselves a contender or a "rebuilder." If General Manager Terry Ryan believes that the deficit to reach the playoffs is too large, then several Twins veterans could be moved. Torii Hunter is obviously the big chip in the Twins arsenal. The veteran centerfielder is making $10 million this year and will make about $12 million in 2007 unless his contract is bought out for $2 million. If the Twins want a couple of nearly big league ready prospects, they need to be talking to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or the Los Angeles Dodgers as both have several prospects that the Twins should have interest in. The New York Yankees could be a player for Hunter or OF Shannon Stewart, whose three year, $18 million contract expires after this season. Stewart could fetch a mid-level prospect. Other veterans, such as Kyle Lohse, Luis Castillo, Mike Redmond and Rondell White could get the Twins a few lower level prospects. That may not sound much, but don't forget that the Twins have two All-Star pitchers that they acquired in "minor" deals too.
# 1 - The Battle for Cy
The Twins currently have two of the best pitchers in the American League in lefties Johan Santana, the 2004 Cy Young Award Winner and rookie Francisco Liriano. Since Liriano was added to the rotation, he has gone 9-1 with a 1.36 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His ERA (1.83) is a full run less than John Lackey of the Angels (2.88) who is in second place. Lets just do some thinking here. Let's just say that he gets 15 more starts this season. What if he pitched as well in those 15 starts as he has in his ten starts to this point? Well, some baseball math tells us that he would end the season with a 23-3 record. He would have an ERA of 1.58, a WHIP of 0.90 and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Those are definitely Cy Young caliber. But Johan Santana is far from a slouch. He currently is 9-5 with a 2.95 ERA. Very solid, right? Well, consider that at the All-Star break in 2004, he was just 7-6 with a 3.78 ERA. After the break, he went 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA on his way to the Cy Young Award. In 2005, he was just 7-5 with a 3.98 ERA before the break. In the second half, he went 9-2 with a 1.59 ERA. In other words, Santana has not been this good in the first half yet as a starter. He has always been tremendous after the break. Over the past three years, Santana has gone 30-3 with a 1.90 ERA after the All-Star break. If he could keep that average and go 10-1, he could end the season with a 19-6 record and an ERA of 2.39. Those numbers are also quite Cy-worthy! It will definitely be fun for Twins fans to watch these two dynamic lefties compete in the season's second half.
I am sure there are other things that you will want to watch over the season's second half. Please feel free to email me at SethSpeaksnet@hotmail.com.