Ok, so it doesn't exactly involve the Twins, but any excuse to post this picture is a good one.I'm almost not sure if I should even be writing about this, so let me just knock on wood right now and get it out of the way. The last time we spoke of the proverbial nail in the coffin of the White Sox, it almost directly coincided with their blazing-hot streak leading up to the All-Star game. For as badly as they started the season and as hot as they were in June and July, the White Sox have cooled as of late, going 7-8 in August compared to the Twins' 10-4. The last time the White Sox came to Target Field in the middle of July, after the Twins had limped into the All-Star break, a seemingly rejuvenated Twins team took three of four to kick off their most recent run of success. Last week in Chicago, the Twins took two of three, pounding out seven home runs during the course of the series. With the Twins' sweep of the A's and the White Sox stumbling late in two weekend games versus the Tigers, the Twins now hold on to a three game lead in the division, with the potential to increase that lead even further with a series win. After this series, the Twins and Sox will only play three more times, in Chicago Sept 14-16, so each head-to-head game takes on increasing importance.
Justin Morneau remains out with concussion symptoms, but the Twins will get Nick Punto and J.J. Hardy back from injuries for tonight's game, at least bolstering infield defensive options (and Hardy's bat will be welcome back as well, as he had been mashing in July and August, posting an impressive .863 OPS in July).
Game 1: Scott Baker vs John Danks
Although Baker picked up the win in last Tuesday's game at US Cellular thanks to the Twins' five-homer explosion, he wasn't all that impressive, going six innings and giving up four runs on eight hits. He did strike out five while walking only one, however, improving his excellent (compared to everyone else not named Cliff Lee) K/BB ratio on the season to 4.07. That mark is good for third among AL starters, behind only Lee and Jered Weaver. Opposing Baker will be John Danks, who held the Twins to only one run on Wednesday over eight strong innings. Delmon Young will be back in the lineup, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jason Repko gets another start in right field to keep as many right-handed bats in the lineup as possible.
Game 2: Francisco Liriano vs Gavin Floyd
The second game of the series will feature an exact rematch of last week's series finale. To borrow from the inimitable Joe Morgan, Liriano turned in a gutsy effort in Thursday's game on a day where he appeared not to have his best stuff. He worked out of a number of jams and got strikeouts in some key spots, even though he only totaled four punchouts on the night. The Twins also seemed to catch Floyd, who has been solid this year, on an off-night, touching him up for six runs. It's always fun to see two talented young pitchers duke it out, and something tells me this may be more of a defensive struggle.
Game 3: Carl Pavano vs Mark Buerhle
If game two features the youngsters, the rubber match will showcase the crafty veterans. The last time these two faced each other, the results were somewhat epic - both pitchers threw complete games (Buerhle for only 8 innings) but Pavano out-dueled Buerhle in Minnesota on July 17th for the 3-2 win, striking out six and walking none. Since then, Pavano has been stellar, winning four of five starts and allowing two runs or less in each. His K/BB ratio hasn't been great at 20:11 over that period, but he's (to borrow from Morgan again) just going out there and getting wins, which is what it's all about, right? Right??
For this crucial series, the Twins and White Sox are both sending out their three best starters, with a great deal riding on the results. With at least a series win, the Twins can further extend their division lead and make it that much more difficult for the White Sox to climb back in the race. I'd hesitate to call a sweep a knockout punch per se, especially given the results of the last two years, but it would certainly send them staggering into the ropes. Save for Morneau, the Twins are looking healthy and well-rested, and they're simply playing some good baseball right now. Let's hope that continues.