When you're a baseball fan and your team is "in it," this is the 2nd best time of the year. Whether your team is solidly in 1st, or a couple of games out, or in the hunt for the wild card, it's exciting. Every game, no matter the opponent feels like a 'must-win' and for the Twins, this is what it has felt like for the past month or so. Yesterday the Twins won in come-back fashion and the White Sox lost to the recently rejuvenated Baltimore Orioles, leaving only 1/2 game between the Twins and Sox for 1st place in the AL Central. The Sox have another game today, but there's a slim possibility that the Sox & Twins could be tied atop the AL Central heading into their 3-game series together starting tomorrow. In anticipation of that series, let's look at some numbers...
Record Since the All-Star Break: (17-7)
Runs scored over those games: 144
Runs given up over those games: 83 (+61 run diff.)
Division Record over that time: (9-4)
Chicago White Sox:
Record Since the All-Star Break: (14-10)
Runs scored over those games: 117
Runs given up over those games: 85 (+32 run diff.)
Division Record over that time: (4-4)
The Twins and Sox have had similarly easy schedules since the all-star break, up to this point, and by easy I mean about as easy as it can get. Consulting ESPN's handy "Hunt for October" feature on the Standings page, we see that both teams have fairly easy schedules in the final 50 games (Sox future opponents have a .486 winning %, Twins future opponents have a .496 winning %) and both teams play more games at home than away. The biggest factor, in my opinion, that will decide the outcome of the AL Central will be the 9 games that the Twins and Sox have remaining against one another. The Twins own the series edge so far this year with 6 victories against 3 defeats, but then again, 6 of those 9 games have been played in Minnesota.
When you look at W-L records within the division, a different picture starts to emerge. The Twins have a stellar 29-16 record against AL Central opponents whereas the White Sox have a very pedestrian 20-21 record. Many of those division losses for the White Sox came in the first couple of months so the numbers are a bit misleading, but the Twins have done extremely well all season against division foes.
With today's news that Kevin Slowey is going to miss a start, the Twins will likely have to do some rotation shuffling but right now, at least on paper anyway, the Twins have some favorable matchups upcoming. Tuesday night features Scott Baker v. Freddy Garcia. In his last 20.1 innings, Baker has only given up 5 runs including 8 innings of shutout baseball against Tampa Bay in his last start. In his only other start against the Sox this year, Baker pitched 7 strong innings, giving up only 1 run while striking out 3 and walking 1. For his career, Baker has held the Sox lineup to a puny .570 OPS. Meanwhile his counterpart, Freddy Garcia, has been quite good of late as well giving up only 1 run in his last start against Detroit (6.2 innings). Garcia has given up a career .814 OPS against the Twins and two Twins players in particular, Joe Mauer (11 for 29) and Jason Kubel (6 for 10), have owned Garcia.
Wednesday's Twins starter is up in the air due to Slowey's back. Unfortunately it looks like they'll be calling on the services of one Glen Perkins (but to his credit, Perkins has been throwing well at Triple-A of late, read that linked article above for more scary tidbits). They can't throw Liriano on short-rest because Gardenhire described his problem as "tired arm" which suggests to me that they'll give him as much rest as they can give him in between starts. Regardless, the opposing pitcher for the Sox is John Danks who has easily been the White Sox most consistent starter all year. The last time he faced the Twins, he was roughed up for 6 runs in 6 innings, and over his career he has given up a .330/.386/.516 line against Twins hitters. That, of course, means nothing though because he owns a 2.86 ERA at home this season. Expect to see a lefty-heavy Twins lineup on Wednesday night.
The final game of the series is easily the best pitching matchup as the Twins cart out Francisco Liriano to counter the White Sox hottest pitcher, Gavin Floyd. Floyd owned a 7.00 ERA on May 16th and has lowered it down to 3.49 in the intervening 3 months. In 5 July starts, his ERA was 0.80. He has slowed up a bit of late, but is still dominating. He has given up a mediocre .323/.364/.496 triple-slash against Twins hitters in his career but again, that means next to nothing because of how well he has pitched over the last 2 months. His last start against the Twins was a good one and White Sox won the game 7-4.
So there it is, a big series during a crucial part of the season. What, you ask, is the best part of the season? That would be the playoffs (if your team is lucky/good enough to make it), and right now, I think the Twins are good enough. Just please, wrap it up in 162, my heart can't take another Game 163...