As recently as two and a half weeks ago we checked in on a surging Twins squad but surmised at the time that it was very much a case of too little, too late. But now, suddenly, Minnesota is riding another hot streak, one that has pulled it within a mere six games of the Wild Card lead. A scant couple of weeks down the road and a playoff spot doesn’t seem quite as farfetched.
Tuesday’s victim was the Devil Rays, specifically their young ace Scott Kazmir. The Twinkies, backed by yeoman’s work from one of their own young aces (Francisco Liriano), laid a beating on Kazmir, 8-1, for their fifth straight win.
Don’t look now, but everything is just rolling for this club.
Canadian slugger Justin Morneau has finally avoided the injury bug and he’s showing us what he can do when fully healthy. Minnesota’s win streak coincides with a five-game hit streak by Morneau during which he’s gone 10-for-19. Tonight he reached the 25-homer mark for the first time, and suddenly he’s on pace for 45 homers and 141 RBI. Did we mention his .311 BA? That big-time power hitter that the Twins have desperately tried to develop since Kent Hrbek rode off into the sunset? Uh, he’s arrived, baby.
Joe Mauer, who had been cooling off and dropped under .375 recently (what’s wrong with him? Cut the stiff!), looks to be back in a groove with back-to-back multi-hit efforts.
Scott Baker, handed the fifth rotation spot out of Spring Training, but slapped around and farmed out, is back. And this time he’s ready to stick as evidenced by a strong six-inning effort on Monday. Adding depth to this staff behind Liriano, Johan Santana and an improving Brad Radke, will really help drive the Twins’ second-half surge.
Joe Nathan continues to deal. He’s thrown nine straight scoreless outings and in 39 innings has 55 Ks and five walks. Are you kidding me? Oh, and his save on Monday gave him 104 with the Twins, tying him with Jeff Reardon for fourth place on the club’s list. Jeez, he’s been Minny’s closer for what, maybe five minutes?
Luis Castillo is providing a spark at the top of the lineup, riding a 12-game hit streak and actually showing some pop (for him). He’s headed for his first ever 40-extra base hit season, and is on pace for a career high in runs. And Castillo is even running again, having already matched his total of steals (10) from last season.
Nick Punto of all people has been getting a chance to play and delivering to the tune of an 11-game hitting streak that’s raised his BA almost 40 points. You know things are cooking when Nick Punto is batting almost .320 through 195 at-bats.
Michael Cuddyer has slumped a bit recently, but he’s improving his on-base skills (.355 OBP). In fact, he’s just four walks shy of matching his career best set last year (41) and we’re still in July.
Damn, things are going so well that even Rondell White has driven in four runs in his last two games. Man, the last time he was producing runs like that, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still best-known as a cheesy movie rather than a hit TV show.
Suddenly, the series in Chicago next week looks huge, and sets up some great action down the stretch as the two teams square off six times next month and wrap up the season together with a three-game set.