Another road trip in which the Twins forgot to put their bats on the plane. Fausto Carmona has been much better this year, and was dominant in 2007, so for him to deal a 3-H shutout is as palatable as such a thing can be. But how does it take the Twins 21 innings to get a run against an Indians pitching staff that has allowed the 3rd most runs in the league? Yikes, that was a horrifying display of futility. I feel like Twins' fans are saying this almost daily now, but I'll say it again: Thank goodness for Jim Thome.
And thank goodness for Carl Pavano and good Nick Blackburn. The pitching staff kept the team in the game for every one of those dreadful scoreless innings. (No thanks to Randy Flores, who allowed both lefties he faced to reach.) As depressing as it is to allow only 2 ER in 29 innings over 3 games and lose one, it's incredibly fortunate to score just once in 2 games and come away with a W.
The offense was bound to go off on Sunday, and they did, with a bat-around, 5-R top of the 1st. The Tribe gave the Twins at least one extra out in the frame. We'll take it. The game was never really close after that. Cleveland's runs came on the heels of an extra out given by the Twins, but Kevin Slowey and 4 relievers had things in hand all day.
Kansas City had a great chance to steal a series from the Sox, but they gave them an extra out in the bottom of the 8th (thanks, Yunieski Betancourt) that led to 3 unearned runs. Why Joakim Soria doesn't come in to face the middle of the Sox lineup there, I do not understand. It's not like he got tired out facing the Twins during the week. But whatever. The Twins kept pace with the Sox, maintaining their 6 game lead in the standings and reducing the Magic Number to 14.
This sets up the final showdown with the White Sox in Chicago this week. It is an absolute must-sweep situation for the Sox, and even that would leave them 3 games back with 16 to play. Their remaining schedule includes 4 games against the Red Sox and a west coast trip with a stop in Oakland, where they have struggled in recent years as much as the Twins have in Toronto. If the Twins win even one game, the Sox will have at least 5 games to make up. If the Twins win the series, as they have won every head-to-head series so far this year, the deficit will be at least 7 games, and the dirt will start landing on the Sox' coffin.
The Sox have lined up their best starters to pitch this series, but so have the Twins. Francisco Liriano and Pavano have labored at times against the Sox, so they'll need to have their best stuff. The Sox have been making a living off of late-inning comebacks in recent weeks, so the bullpen needs to be at its best. It comes into the series fairly well rested, and Brian Fuentes and Jose Mijares are available again, meaning Flores will be the 3rd (at least) option against lefties.
We know Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome are going to hit - they've been doing it all year. The big key for me is the righties in the Twins' lineup. Michael Cuddyer has owned John Danks throughout his career - we'll need another big hit or two out of him. Delmon Young has been slumping since the beginning of August - he needs to finish as strongly as he did last September. JJ Hardy and Danny Valencia need to keep producing at the bottom of the lineup.
Times are already desperate for the White Sox. The Twins don't need to place any special urgency on any of the games, but it would be great for them to win the opener. Their work would be immediately done, and they could relax for the rest of the series and just have fun. The Sox, meanwhile, would go from desperate to dire, and they may even lose heart if they fail in their mission to sweep. A leisurely last couple of weeks would mean a lot to a Twins team that was badly undermanned just a couple of weeks ago. I'm hoping for a conclusive showing this week in Chicago. The Twins have proven all year that they're the best team in the Central. After Thursday, there should be very little reason to doubt it.