It's hard to call it a "fresh start" since the Twins have only had 3 days off, but I at least hope the guys got a chance to get away from the game a bit and recharge. They start the '2nd half' in 3rd place, 2.5 games behind the Tigers and 3.5 games out of 1st place. Fortunately for the Twins, they start with a nice little 7-game home-stand followed by what should be a winnable road-trip to Baltimore and Kansas City. Here are the steps to getting back to 1st place.
BEAT THE WHITE SOX. A split is not good enough, you have to win at least 3 out of 4. It won't be easy, but winning at home against the White Sox is something this team has done a good job of for the past couple of years. Winning 3 of 4 would leave the Twins 1.5 games out, but more than that, it would be a solid post-break start and set this team back on the winning track.
Trade for a competent and consistent starting pitcher and demote Nick Blackburn to Triple-A....preferably before his next start on Sunday. Blackburn hasn't been the only Twins pitcher to perform poorly in the past month and a half, but he's been the worst performer and when hitters are making contact with 91%+ of your pitches, you don't deserve a spot on a major-league roster. With Wilson Ramos as a trade-chip, the Twins outta be able to land a solid mid-rotation starter like Ted Lilly or Fausto Carmona, and possibly even a front-line guy like Roy Oswalt. For more on Lilly and Carmona, read here.
Win the games you should win. Aside from the White Sox to start the 2nd half, the Twins have a pretty cake schedule from now until the 1st week in August when they play at the Tampa Bay Rays for a 4-game set. They should be able to win series against the Indians, Orioles, Royals, and Mariners (at home).
Maybe this is step 3, but the bottom-line for 2nd half success is learning how to pitch well on the road. Every Twins starter (as of July 1st) has a sub-4 ERA at home. On the road, it's a different story. Maybe every Twins starter should grow a mustache because right now, the guy to emulate is Carl Pavano. He's consistent and right now, that's what this team needs from the starters.
Shake up the bullpen a little and call-up Anthony Slama. I can't take full credit for this and I defer to Gleeman's comments on the matter:
"I've been banging the Slama drum for a while now and at this point I'm not sure what else the guy can do to get a shot in Minnesota. His numbers in the minors have been ridiculously good at every stop and he now has a 1.80 ERA, .152 opponents' batting average, and 79 strikeouts in 65 innings at Triple-A. His control is shaky and his raw stuff isn't overpowering, but so what? He's dominated at every level and is already 26 years old. Why not at least give him a chance?"
When a team's been going in the wrong direction for over a month, you can't just expect that things are going to turn around on their own. They won't. People will say, "well, what about the White Sox?" Their talent was there, it just wasn't performing. For the Twins, I feel like they've been hanging on to some dead weight, particularly in Blackburn, just waiting for things to turn, but they aren't. Now it's time to mix it up a bit.
This kinda goes along with Step 1, but WIN THE DIVISION GAMES. The Twins have actually done a very good job of this so far this season going 20-12 against the AL Central, by far the best out of the AL Central teams. In fact, no other division opponent is over .500 against the rest of the division. The Twins have 40 more games against AL Central teams this season, and if they duplicated their success from the first half, that would equal another 25 division wins. As the last two seasons have proven, division wins are precious commodities.
In my opinion, these are the keys to 2nd half success for the Twins. Clearly the offense needs to be a little better than it has been, but that is much less of a concern overall than the pitching, which has been the true 'achilles heel' of this team so far. I'm hopeful for the Twins and I'm really looking forward to seeing how they do this weekend in what is about as crucial of a series as you can have in mid-July.
**Puckett Image for good luck.