Saturday, July 4, 2009

5th Split: 9-8

First Half Record: 41-40
3rd in AL Central 4 games back

Other splits: 7-9, 8-8, 9-7, 8-8

One of the reasons I started keeping track of splits years ago was that, at 16-17 games, they're long enough to give you perspective, but still short enough that one game can make a big difference. When a team comes into the final game of a split at 8-7, that last game is the difference between being on pace for 91 wins and a playoff spot, or 81 wins and mediocrity.

The Twins, sadly, have been firmly in the latter category this first half. Wednesday was the first time in 8 tries that they won a game after starting the day one game over .500. Having finally reached the 2 games over plateau, they lost Friday night's marathon in 16 innings. Had they won, I'd be writing about a satisfactory split of 10-7. Because Kevin Slowey's wrist acted up and RA Dickey allowed more damage in 3 innings (4 ER on 9 H) than he did in all of June (2 ER on 8 H in 13.2 IP), the Twins finish the first half essentially on pace to be a .500 team, surely not good enough to win even the middling AL Central.

The team generally did a terrific job of preventing runs, allowing fewer than 4 runs per game thanks to strong starting pitching and a defense that committed just 8 errors and 17 games and has risen to 5th in baseball in defensive efficiency. However, 2 of those errors occurred on the same critical play with 2 out in the 8th innings of a 1-run game, costing the Twins a victory. How many times have we seen a Twins pitcher cruise into the late innings of a game, only to allow a succession of hits that undermine with shocking quickness the gem we thought we were watching develop?

This team should have at least a couple more wins than it does, based on its overall quality of play, and the 2nd half schedule won't be as tough as what's come up to now. But I can't help getting the sort of downer vibe I had by the middle of 2005 and 2007, when the Twins kept finding ways to lose close, well-played games. At just 4 games out of first, trailing the at least equally flawed Tigers and White Sox, it's hardly time to write this season off. In fact, if the Twins can come back and win this series with Detroit, they will have won 6 out of 7 series for a record of 13-8 in their last 21. That's going to get it done over the long haul.

Bold Prediction: The Twins will still be over .500 at the end of the next split.

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