The Twins had a rare nationally televised game last night, which meant that I was able to enjoy a relaxing Sunday evening with my wife watching my favorite team. They played it pretty close to the vest until the 5th inning when Danny Valencia absolutely killed a fastball from Jared Weaver, crushing into the 2nd deck in left field. Then with two outs in the same inning, O-Dogg tripled, Mauer and Kubes drew walks and after a lengthy battle with Weaver, Cuddyer lined a double into the gap in left center clearing the bases. The 4 runs was all they needed as Baker, Crain and Capps combined on the shutout.
Some of you out there might be nervous about a 5 game lead, some of you may be thinking it doesn't feel safe, especially considering the White Sox were 9 back at one point and in only a month were in the process of taking over the division lead. One thing to remember in baseball though is that it gets late, early... The Twins and White Sox both have 38 games left, the Twins opponents at this point have a .477 winning % and the White Sox opponents have a .492 winning %. Here is what a 5 game lead means: if the Twins were to finish the season playing .500 ball the rest of the way (19-19), the White Sox would have to play at a .631 clip to tie and at a .658 clip to overtake the Twins. If the Twins play to their current winning percentage the rest of the way (.581), which would equate to a 22-16 record, the White Sox would have to win 27 out of their next 38 games (.710 winning %) to tie the Twins for the division lead. When you take into account that 10 of the White Sox remaining 38 games are against the Red Sox and Yankees and then take into account that they have 3 remaining against the Twins, the picture looks even better.
Have solid division leads been blown in the last month of the season? Sure. Just look at the Mets over the last 5 years. The point is, it's going to be very difficult for the White Sox to catch the Twins at this point as long as the Twins continue to win division games and continue to beat the teams they should beat. The Twins are embarking on a fairly difficult roadtrip this week with 4 at Texas and then 3 at Seattle but are fortunately going to miss Felix Hernandez on the back end of the trip. Nick Blackburn makes his return to the starting lineup tonight and even though he's been pitching well at Triple-A, I'm not sold that the results tonight will be good. The Rangers have a loaded lineup and unless Blackburn can keep them off balance by changing speeds and inducing more than his fair share of ground-balls, it will be a tough night for the Twins.
One last thing before I close, I wanted to mention Lou Pinella who retired yesterday. If you haven't watched his press conference after the game last night, it's pretty compelling stuff. For me, it only solidified in my mind what a great person Lou is. I was listening to ESPN1000 here in Chicago while running errands yesterday and some caller said, "there's no crying in baseball." I think there is crying in baseball when it's been your life for 40 some years and that comes to end. He's a pretty sure bet for the Hall of Fame, he's one of only two managers in the history of baseball to have 1,700+ hits as a player and 1,700+ wins as a manager, and he was good for the game of baseball. I suspect we'll see him in some sort of broadcasting capacity in the near future since he seemed to have such a good time with it prior to coming to the Cubs. One thing is for sure, Lou was one of the great managers in baseball history and with Cox, LaRussa and Torre also nearing retirement, we are seeing the changing of the guard.
Matchups for the 4-game series @ the Ballpark in Arlington:
(8/23): Nick Blackburn v. Rich Harden
(8/24): Carl Pavano v. Colby Lewis
(8/25): Brian Duensing v. CJ Wilson
(8/26): Francisco Liriano v. Cliff Lee