The Twins won the American League Central Division Championship last Tuesday, almost two weeks before the end of the season! How did this happen?
We lost Joe Nathan before the season started and ended up with three closers on the team who each have at least 20 saves. Justin Morneau has not played a game since taking a knee to the head while trying to slide into base in early July. He suffered a concussion and has not recovered enough to return to the game. Michael Cuddyer moved to first base and has been a respectable replacement there. This has also allowed Jim Thome to be in the lineup as the designated hitter on a regular basis. He has surprised everyone by hitting 25 home runs, passing Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGuire, and Frank Robinson this year in the home run leaders list. Brendan Harris, our starting third baseman, struggled from the beginning and ended the season in AAA. This opened the door for Danny Valencia to come up from the minor leagues and become our daily third baseman. Not only has he played his position well, he has become a powerhouse at the plate, hitting .324 with seven home runs—including his first grand slam on Saturday.
All of this really speaks to the fact that the Twins win because for everyone it is a team effort. The Twins do not have any egos on the roster. Every player, from top to bottom, realizes that they need everyone to contribute to come out on the top at the end of the season. After two seasons that ended with a Game 163 we certainly know that every hit, every pitch, every fielding play has the potential to be the difference between a win and a loss.
So as improbable as it seems, the Twins are Central Division champions with time to spare. As a matter of fact, they were the first team to claim their division and a place in the playoffs. And now they are in a race for the best record in the American League, which would give them home field advantage for both playoff series. Remember that all teams win a third of their games, all teams lose a third of their games, and it is what they do with the other third that makes the difference.
The Twins will play the wild card team in the first playoff series: either the Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays. What team do we want to play first? It seems people I asked are divided on this. Tampa Bay seems to have the better team this year, but there is a definite paranoia among many of us about the ability of the Twins to beat the Yankees. My thought is that we have to beat two teams to get to the World Series…so bring it on.