Over the course of the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season, several moments tend to stand out as “defining.” Whether they’re good or bad, these moments tend to help us put the entire season into a proper perspective once it’s all said and done. Last night may have been one of those moments.
You see, the Indians didn’t just come back to beat the Tigers and the best pitcher in baseball. They did it in dramatic fashion that served as a statement. As Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner watched their back to back homers sail off into the night sky to lead off the bottom of the seventh it came across as the Indians screaming in defiance, “We sure as hell aren’t going anywhere!”
Now the Tribe has a chance to get on a serious roll. They outlasted Detroit by taking two of three in spectacular fashion and now they embark on a nine-game road trip that will see them make stops in Minneapolis and Kansas City before setting up a three-game rematch with the Tigers. If they play well over the course of the next week, that final series versus the Tigers could ultimately make or break the 2012 season. Of course, they have to take things one step at a time and that means not getting ahead of themselves and focusing on the task at hand: the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins come into this weekend’s series having lost three games in a row. They’re 4-6 over the course of their past 10 games and seem to have found a home in the AL Central cellar. That’s not to say the Twins can’t cause issues for their opposition. Depsite what their record states at 40-58, Ron Gardenhire makes sure his team competes each and every single day. They may not have the necessary amount of talent to be a top-rate MLB team, but he does the best he can with what he has to work with. Anyone who doesn’t think Gardenhire is one of the elite managers in the game is crazy.
Meanwhile, Joe Mauer is having a sensational season after an incredibly disappointing 2011. While he’s not hitting for the same power numbers that he did back in the days of the Metrodome, Mauer is doing a phenomenal job of not making outs as his .420 OBP attests (fourth-best in baseball). In the grand scheme of things, isn’t that the ultimate goal when it comes to playing baseball? So who cares if Mauer only has 6 home runs? His current slash line sits at a more than healthy .328/.420/.452. I think it’s safe to say that Mauer has his mojo back.
Mauer isn’t the only Twin putting up great numbers. Josh Willingham, once an offseason target of the Indians, is having a sensational season, having belted 25 home runs to go along with 75 RBI and a .947 OPS. I hate to beat a dead horse, but Willingham would have been a great addition to the Tribe’s current lineup as the everyday left fielder. You can’t help but feel like they swung and missed on that one.
Rounding out the Twins offensive arsenal is former MVP Justin Morneau—not quite the player he used to be, but still dangerous. Ryan Doumit is enjoying his best season in four years. Budding star in the making Trevor Plouffe has come out of nowhere to supply serious power (though he may be headed for the DL). Then there is a trio of speedsters in Denard Span, Ben Revere, and Alexi Casilla that can reek havoc on the base paths. Again, this is not a team completely deprived of offensive weaponry and the Indians shouldn’t take them lightly.
However, pitching has been the Achilles heel for the Twins all season long. Between a lack of experience and lackluster performances from their few key veterans, the Twins just haven’t been able to hold opposing offenses at bay. They rank near the bottom of almost every major pitching category with little, if any hope for the future. When you take into consideration that they also play half of their games in one of the most spacious stadiums in all of baseball, the problem becomes that much more alarming.
So, with where the Indians currently find themselves in the race to make the postseason, this weekend’s series against the Twins could be an opportunity to jump-start an offense that has had its share of struggles. We’ve seen signs over the past week that Santana and Hafner might be ready to break out and three games against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball could be the confidence booster they need. If they can find their groove, things will become that much more interesting heading down the home stretch.