Thanks to great performances by Ervin Santana, John Danks and Brian Duensing yesterday, the Twins find themselves 6 games behind 1st place with only 4 days remaining till the trade deadline...what is Bill Smith gonna do? So far I've heard rumors involving Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer, hopefully they are just that because the type of rumors I've heard (Span for Drew Storen/Ian Desmond) do not sound favorable for the Twins. As for me, I honestly do not care whether the Twins are sellers or not in the next few days. My only hope is that if they do move a few pieces, they get good value in return.
I think this past week has highlighted just how tall a task it is to gain ground in a division when there are three teams ahead of you. With the White Sox, Tigers and Indians all seemingly playing one another, there have been more than a few nights where at least one of those teams is guaranteed to win which puts pressure on the the Twins to win or fall even further behind. Fortunately the White Sox have put away division-leading Detroit the past couple of nights, but if they (the White Sox) get into the mix at the top, that will only further complicate the Twins struggle to get to the top.
We've been seeing some really positive things from Joe Mauer these past couple of days. Two nights ago Mauer hit a pinch-hit double in a come-from-behind Twins victory. Last night Mauer went 2-for-4 with his first homerun of the year and, not only that, his single was to the opposite field, a good sign that he is seeing the ball well. My dream scenario would be Mauer finding his power stroke while continuing to hit for average - and then Morneau returns in mid-August and immediately starts hitting...ok, maybe it's far-fetched, but if it happens it could make September pretty interesting.
Focusing the microscope a little on the Twins pitching staff...after going 17-9 with a 3.08/1.26 ERA/WHIP in June, the pitching staff as a whole has come back to earth in July, going 15-10 with a 4.47/1.36 ERA/WHIP. I'd love to try and spin this by saying something like, "but their xFIP this month is 2.50" but that is sadly untrue. The 4.47 ERA looks a lot more like April (4.88) and May's (4.87) than it does June which suggests to me that June was probably a little flukey. The Twins starters, in particular, are going to need to be a lot more consistent if they have any hope of reaching the playoffs. Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing have been the most inconsistent over the past few weeks, to the point where it almost impossible to predict how any one of the aforementioned pitchers is going to fare in any given start. To highlight that a bit, Twins starters had a 3.00 ERA in June and so far in July they have a 4.44 ERA...that's not going to cut it when you're chasing down 3 teams in your own division.
I guess I feel a little silly saying things like "if the Twins have any hope of winning the division". Realistically, they don't stand much of a chance. Baseball Prospectus publishes a playoff odds report every day and it is based off statistics that they run through simulator 1,000,000 times and today they have the Twins playoff chances at 5.0%. By comparison, the Tigers have a 62.4% chance and the White Sox have a 23.8% chance of making the playoff. So, like I said, unlikely...but hey, this season has been all about trying to keep the hope alive, so why stop now right?