Thursday, July 29, 2004
The Big SighWell, the Twins completed their three-game sweep of the White Sox yesterday in less than spectacular fashion. Jose Valentin and Juan Uribe both got caught stealing to make the first two outs of the 7th inning, meaning that despite the fact that the first 6 batters of that inning reached base for the Sox, they scored but one run. In the 9th, Joe Borchard hits a first-pitch double play to kill a man-on-third-one-out rally that could have ended the game. In the 10th, Jose Valentin drops a pop up in foul territory for what would have been the 3rd out. The Twins promptly score a run. Ugly, all around. Meaningwhile, Torii Hunter got out of town unscathed. Sticks and stones may break Torii's bones, but boos from the US Cellular Crowd can never hurt him.
But there is a deeper truth to the Sox-Twins series. In all respects, the Twins are a better team than the Sox now that Ordonez and Thomas are effectively out for the season. Assuming as you must that the two teams were relatively close in talent last year, comparing the two teams shows the difference. The Twins lost A.J. Pierzynski, but replaced him with Joe Mauer (who's mostly been beat up), meaning the Twins have lost only a little bit of production from the catcher position. In all other respects, the Twins team is the same with the exception of Carlos Silva taking the place of Kenny Rogers. They've had similar performances, so that's been a wash. Now add Lew Ford and Justin Morneau to the mix. This Twins team is the same, if not a shade better than last year.
On the contrary, the Sox are not as good a team as the one put together for the stretch drive last year. Freddy Garcia is a marginal improvement over Bartolo Colon, and Scott Schoeneweis is better than whatever 5th starter was in place last year. The bullpen is about the same, thanks to the fact that Shingo Takatsu has replaced Tom Gordon very nicely. On offense, Magglio has been replaced by Timo Perez/Ross Gload, and Frank Thomas has been replaced by Carl Everett. Those are two huge down grades. So no one should be surprised that the Twins have taken the lead and will probably keep the lead for the rest of the year (due to the last 8 games, the schedule tool now predicts the Twins winning the division by at least 2 games).
I forecast only a glimmer of hope. At any time, someone like Brad Radke or Johan Santana could go down, changing the Twins' fortunes dramatically. Similarly, Justin Morneau might get figured out by AL pitchers quickly - he is just a rookie after all. Joe Nathan has been hot all year, and he could blow a couple of saves down the stretch. Joe Crede could have a hot second half, and Juan Uribe (July version) may give way to Juan Uribe (April version) in August. Who knows, there's a lot of baseball to be played. But the breaks would have to start going the Sox's way for them to win the division. (On another note, I do take some solace from the fact that last july, the Sox swept the Twins in US Cellular, only to have the Twins win the division after winning the September match-up 5 games to 2. If the Sox go 4-2 against the Twins in September, that changes the equation somewhat).