Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Twins are making up ground

Who put a quarter in the Twins? No, seriously. What can explain this amazing turnaround from the team that was the worst in baseball not too long ago? Well, things have improved. Clearly.

The Twins are riding an eight-game winning streak, have gone 15-3 in the month of June, swept the San Diego Padres in interleague play and have won 10 of their last 11 games. Oh, and they put up eight runs in the first inning in San Francisco against the defending World Series Champions Tuesday night.

I'd say that's a pretty decent stretch of baseball. Plus, you know something is up when Alexi Casilla homers for the second consecutive game. He hit one out in the ninth inning Tuesday, to seal the 9-2 win.

Making their way back
The Twins have crawled out of the AL Central basement and are now 6.5 games behind the leading Cleveland Indians. The Tigers are right with the Indians, but the Twins only trail the Chicago White Sox by a couple games, meaning a jump into third isn't that far out of reach.

How big of a leap in the standings has the Minnesota club made? Well, it was 16.5 games out of first place on June 1. So the players have rallied together to make up 10 games of the deficit in less than a month. Not too shabby.

Negatives have turned to positives as of late. Pitching and hitting have improved, which should go hand in hand with improving your ball club.

Shaking off the injuries
Also, it's helped that some players have returned from the injury line, most notably Joe "Mr. Minnesota" Mauer and the Japanese player Tsuyoshi Nishioka who hasn't played enough with the team for anyone to make a strong evaluation of him yet. The lineup has been almost unrecognizable at times; I can't keep up with who's in, who's been called up or sent down and who's hurt.

Veteran slugger Jim Thome is down with an injury right now. He's the guy I'm willing to give a pass to though, because he's 40 years old. However, I'm not too excited about Justin Morneau being banged up with multiple ailments, landing on the disabled list, like it's mid-September. He's definitely a missed bat in the lineup.

Jason Kubel and Denard Span are also ailing, hence the need for all the AAA players called up to the bigs. But Delmon Young is still around; you need someone to be out there making fans nervous as he plays left field.

Stepping it up
Michael Cuddyer has certainly turned up his offense. He has 10 home runs and 29 RBI. While I appreciate his willingness to be a "gamer" and play whatever position is needed, I still prefer him and his strong throwing arm in right field. Cuddyer's name is being thrown around for the Twins representative in the All-Star game.

I'm really warming up to outfielder Ben Revere. He reminds me of Jacque Jones, and no, it's not just because they share the No. 11 jersey. I like Revere's effort in the field and at the plate. I also like Danny Valencia, providing some much-needed consistency at third base. But he's also been hit with a small injury bug lately.

As I mentioned, pitching is also better. The Twins went into the top of the ninth inning with a one-run lead on both Friday and Saturday. Manager Ron Gardenhire handed the ball to Matt Capps for the save attempt. I write "attempt" because he's 11-for-16 in save opportunities with a 4.06 ERA. He got the job done on those two occasions.

Division title? Let's slow down a little.
A friend asked me last Friday if the Twins were going to win the division. I said no. They've been playing better lately, but they also dug themselves a large hole to start the season, and keeping pace with 15-3 ball is tough to do over a longer span of time.

It's just turning around and going the Twins' way right now. We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. Now, could the Twins come back and win the division? Well, stranger things have happened. They are a second-half team and have made comebacks before in recent memory.

I will say this: If the Twins do manage to come back and win the AL Central, it will prove once and for all how extremely weak the division is.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Videos: 2011 Indianapolis 500

A few of my videos from the turn four stands of the Indianapolis 500.

Parade lap

Green flag racing

Under caution