Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Crunch Time

As many of you have probably noticed, posting has been a bit thin around here as of late. Mr. Mosvick has been dealing with interviews and all sorts of other law school related stuff down in Virginia. Meanwhile, I've been handling a move into a new place (which left me without Internet for a while) and have also been dealing with a heavier workload than ever over at Rotoworld as many of the site's baseball writers switch over to football coverage. Things have been hectic.

Of course, the Twins' play has not exactly inspired me to go out of my way and write about them. After a poor road trip in which the team blew lead after lead and failed to gain ground on the White Sox, the Twins dropped two more winnable games at home against the Tigers this weekend, losing another game in the standings and falling to 2.5 games out with 19 left to play.

They Twins have their work cut out for them. They're not closing out games and the White Sox keep pulling off these improbable victories (thank you K-Rod, for choosing such an appropriate time to blow a save on Saturday). Yet, all is not terribly grim. The Twins open a three-game series against the Royals tonight, while the White Sox battle through a four-game set in Toronto against a hot Blue Jays team. The Twins MUST take care of business in this series against KC, because afterward they launch another difficult road trip -- this time a 10-gamer that will take them through Baltimore, Cleveland and Tampa Bay -- and if things don't go well during this stretch the much-hyped series against the White Sox on September 23-25 might not end up carrying a whole lot of meaning.

Here are some notes as we enter this intense final stretch...

* For a second consecutive start on Sunday, Glen Perkins was staked a relatively comfortable lead only to watch it disappear in the middle innings. In his previous start, Perkins allowed the Blue Jays to close a four-run gap to one by surrendering back-to-back homers in the fifth inning. On Sunday, he coughed up a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning by allowing the Tigers to go homer-double-single-double-flyout-walk before being removed with one out and the go-ahead run on second. Craig Breslow entered and immediately allowed that runner from second to score, giving the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish.

We have long expressed concern on this blog that Perkins seemed like the most likely among the Twins' group of young starters to see some regression as the season went on. He has now surrendered four-plus earned runs in six of his past nine appearances (though he has sprinkled a pair of eight-inning shutout performances in there), and has given up 11 home runs during that span. His issues seem especially prominent in the later innings. This may be a result of opposing lineups adjusting to Perkins the second or third time through the order, or it may be a result of Perkins wearing down as the game goes on. The latter explanation wouldn't be terribly surprising, since Perkins has now totaled 175 2/3 innings between Triple-A and the majors this year, which is foreign territory as he's never come anywhere close to throwing that many innings in a pro season before.

* Bobby Korecky, Philip Humber and Jose Mijares are up to help the Twins bullpen, but they haven't been called on much up to this point. Korecky and Humber have each made on appearance (and neither were impressive) while Mijares has yet to take the hill for the Twins.

With nearly every reliever in the Twins' bullpen struggling, one might suggest that the team might as well hand the ball to these inexperienced hurlers, each of whom finished strong in their respective minor-league campaigns. Yet, as Korecky and Humber displayed when they were both shelled in Thursday night's game against the Blue Jays, these guys are just as capable of getting knocked around as any of the veterans in the pen. What this team needs is for Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes to buckle down and start reliably getting some outs.

* American League MVP candidates have been dropping like flies. With potential front-runners Ian Kinsler and now Carlos Quentin likely to miss the rest of the season, Justin Morneau's chances at capturing the award for a second time in three seasons greatly improve. While his home run total isn't terribly impressive, Morneau is hitting for a very good average and has been a run-producing machine, as indicated by the three four-RBI efforts in his past seven games. If the Twins can rally and win the division while Morneau continues to do his thing over the final three weeks of the season, I think Morneau's chances of winning the MVP are very, very good. Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton have both had a tremendous offensive seasons but may see their consideration wane due to the Rangers' unimpressive placement in the standings. Dustin Pedroia, who leads the league in hitting, should also be a top contender. Cliff Lee, a shoe-in for the Cy Young, should also get some MVP votes. The fact that the Indians have been disappointing certainly has nothing to do with him.

* On a final note, I'll mention that last Thursday's column was the 1,000th post on this blog. Hooray us!