The Indians are red-hot and doing exactly what they needed to do – win baseball games. As a result of their six game winning streak, the Indians have leap frogged the Texas Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot and are showing no signs of letting it go anytime soon. Of course, with the Rangers only one game back with four games still left to be played there is still plenty of time for something crazy to happen. And, if something crazy is going to happen you best believe the Minnesota Twins are bound to be involved.
The Indians travel to Minnesota to begin their final series of the season. A four game war with the intradivision rival Twins is all that stands in their way of making the postseason for the first time since that almost magical 2007 season that saw them lose to the Red Sox in the ALCS. The situation is as straight forward as they come. The Indians control their own destiny. If they keep on winning there is nothing the Ranges can do to keep them out of the one game Wild Card play in. But, should they falter it will open the door for the Rangers to slide on through.
This past week so much was made about the schedules heading down the home stretch and how it was apparently unfair. National pundits cited the Indians as the primary example of what is wrong with this so called system. Because the Indians have been fortunate enough to play the three worst teams in the league down the home stretch it is assumed they have been given an advantage above everyone else, particularly teams in the AL East. That may be so, but the fact of the matter is that the Indians still have to go out and play these games and they have to find a way to win them. As we saw early on against the Astros and on Tuesday against the White Sox, these teams aren’t just going to give it to the Indians. They will have to earn it.
That’s what makes the next for days so terrifying as a fan of the Indians. The Twins have just enough spunk to throw a monkey in the Indians wrench. While their record might not be all that great, there is still plenty of talent that can make things difficult for the Tribe. Not to mention, for reasons beyond comprehension, the Indians have struggled against the Twins at Target Field over the past two seasons. To assume that the Indians will simply be gifted for straight victories would be foolish.
The one positive for the Indians heading into this series is that the Twins best player has been shut down for the remainder of the season. About five weeks after suffering a concussion, the Twins brass decided that there was no point in forcing Joe Mauer back onto a baseball diamond in 2013. With the season lost, why risk further injury or complications for no good reason. After all, this is an organization that watch Justin Morneau struggle for years with post concussion syndrome.
Without his bat in the lineup the Twin offense goes from being just about average to significantly hindered. Who is the best remaining hitter in their lineup. Morneau is gone so he is out of the conversation. Josh Willingham is a possible option but his 2013 has been about as bad as his 2012 was good. Ryan Doumit is nothing more than a cog in the machine, spectacular beard aside. Trevor Plouffe can knock the ball out of the park on occasion, but we have learned over the course of last year’s second half and all of this season that he is nothing more than an average hitter. All you are left with beyond that is a bunch of Punch and Judy hitters and inexperienced youngsters trying to make a good impression.
As for the pitching, the Twins are an even bigger mess. As you can see from the pitching matchups below, the Twins are trotting out lambs to be slaughtered. Some of their pitchers have no business being on a major league mound. Naturally, we should all be terrified because these are the types of pitchers that typically shut the Indians down. But, with how this team is playing it feels like things are going to be different over this final week of the season. It’s just depends on how much the Twins youngsters want to cooperate with the narrative we are all envisioning.
And that my friends is where the trouble really lies with these next four games.
The Twins are clearly in the beginning stages of a massive overhaul. With rosters expanded and minor league players getting an opportunity to play for a spot on next year’s team, they aren’t going to lay down and die. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. These kids are playing for something. They are playing for their futures. That is a scary proposition. Yes, this team might be bad, but they don’t know any better than to go out, bust their butts and make life difficult on the Indians.
Hopefully the Indians come onto tonight’s game focused and ready for what is most likely to be the equivalent of twelve rounds of throw down. If they don’t, they risk opening the door for a Rangers team desperate to make it back to the playoffs and win that ever elusive championship.