The Baseball Notebook

July 19, 2010 7:30 AM

Minnesota Fights Back Into The Race

TwinsCelebrate.jpgThe Minnesota Twins took full advantage of the opportunity that presented itself right out of the All-Star break. In a slump as they ended the first half, getting word that Justin Morneau was out indefinitely with a concussion, the circumstances were ripe for the Twins to play themselves out of the race and leave the AL Central to Detroit and Chicago. But in taking three of four from the White Sox this weekend, the Twins sent a clear signal that they're not going any quieter than they did last year, when they rallied from seven games down in September to steal the division title in an epic one-game playoff against Detroit.

Yesterday's game was a case in point. Trailing 6-3 and with Chicago closer Bobby Jenks on the mound, everything was all set for the visitors to get out of town with a split. Five hitters and five hits later, the Twins were celebrating. The bottom of the order came up big. Delmon Young, Danny Valencia and J.J. Hardy had two hits apiece, while Young both homered and drove in the tying run--a hit in which the winning run scored on an error.

Of clear concern to Minnesota is the performance of Nick Blackburn. The starter gave up five runs in five innings, and it was left to outstanding middle man Brian Duensing to save the day with four frames of one-run ball. With his ERA sitting in the 6ts, Blackburn may lose his job in the rotation to Duensing. Which is yet another depletion in the bullpen, an area that's long been Minnesota's hallmark. But those are problems for tomorrow. Today, the Twin Cities can celebrate they're still in the race.


San Francisco was another team that seized the moment right out of the All-Star break. They lost yesterday to the Mets, but still got three of four from a fellow wild-card contender. San Fran got its trademark strong starting pitching each night and has Andres Torres back producing at the top of the lineup. The Mets meanwhile, saw K-Rod blow his fifth save of the year yesterday, before rallying to win in extra innings and have to be concerned about their closer.

The LA Angels did their level best to come strong out of the gate. Another team that lost yesterday, but took 3 of 4 for the weekend over the Mariners, LAA now has more reason to dislike its longtime playoff nemesis in Boston. The Red Sox dropped another one to Texas yesterday, meaning the Angels gained no ground for their trouble these past four days.

As we round into Week 16, it seems clear that the Angels and Red Sox are still the teams with the most pressure on them. Both look like they have only avenue to the playoffs. LAA's not going to get the wild-card, Boston's now 6 ½ back of New York, who won its weekend series with Tampa. Both are at critical points in the schedule. The Angels go to the Bronx on Tuesday to set the stage for a showdown with Texas over the weekend. Boston starts a 10-game West Coast swing, still playing with a partial lineup. There's a window of opportunity here for Tampa Bay to blow open the wild-card race and Texas to blow open the AL West.

In the National League, the contenders generally have both the division and the wild-card still in grasp, but the Dodgers, Giants, Phillies and Mets don't have a ton of breathing room. They are squarely in the middle of the wild-card race, but have dropped anywhere from 4 ½ to 5 ½ off the division lead. In the case of Frisco, it's an upgrade, as they were teetering in the wild-card race itself when we started play on Thursday. They go to Los Angeles in one of the best matchups of the early part of the week. Philadelphia and NYM have let Atlanta get a good cushion in the East, and the Phillies have the Cardinals & Rockies up this week. The Mets stay out West, going first to Arizona, then to Dodger Stadium on the weekend. Let's see if they can make a push back in the direction this week.

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