An interesting weekend: Two runs in two games... One win and one loss... Nick Blackburn dazzles... Brian Fuentes arrives and throws four save-making pitches... Jim Thome's back goes creaky... Orlando Hudson has trouble with his ankle and then his grip... Delmon Young runs a route on a key fly ball that makes him look like Javon Walker... Manny Ramirez heads for Chicago.
And today we take a deep breath and pause: The Twins have a 4 1/2-game lead with five weeks before October baseball.
A year ago today, the Twins beat Texas 5-3 in Jon Rauch's Twins debut, which put them 4 1/2 games out of first and raised their record to 65-65. That deficit would grow to seven games before the mad rush that led to Game 163 and the AL Central title.
So the advice here is to keep from getting smug.
Yeah, the Twins should win the division. And with some luck, Boston will use its seven remaining games against the White Sox to create a three-game mash-up in the AL East that will (1) help the Twins and (2) force the battle for two playoff spots into the final weekend. (It's a lot easier for me to root on the side for the Red Sox than the Yankees, which we were forced to do this weekend as their B lineup took 2 of 3 from Chicago.)
That being said, I'd like to share the official (but subject to change) Section 219 goals for September, which La Velle wonderfully referred to over the weekend as OctoberQuest:
*Win the division with enough time to set up things for the postseason. That includes time to set the rotation and get adequate rest for the sore, weary and aging. Pavano, Liriano and Duensing feel like rotation locks -- leaving an interesting battle for the fourth spot among Baker, Blackburn and Slowey (if healthy). Or am I jumping to a conclusion that you want to dispute?
*Clinch the division like they own it. That means NOT running around Target Field slapping fives with the front-row fans and doing a champagne soak after the division clinching-game. (Clinch on the road, maybe?) Tip your caps, show some extra man-love on the field, toast each other in the clubhouse, order really good pizza and talk about (and believe) that the real challenge is ahead. We were too caught up in the moment of Game 163 last season to fully comprehend how the Twins pretty much partied themselves out of Game 1 against the Yankees (before hitting themselves out of Game 2 and running themselves out of Game 3).
*Get Justin Morneau healthy. That's a hope more than an expectation, unfortunately. As the victim of a lingering injury (foot, walking boot, too many visits to Dr. Felton) a few years back, I know too much about the frustration of doing all the right things and not having enough to show for it. Anyone who tells Morneau to "man up" is an idiot. Obviously, having Morneau's bat and glove at 100 percent would make a good team that much better.
*Get the other guys healthy too. I like the roster a lot more with Jose Mijares as the third bullpen lefty and Nick Punto as the fifth infielder than if the Twins have to count on them more heavily, as they have the past two seasons. And more than if they don't have 'em at all.
*Absolutely and completely make the White Sox' acquisition of Manny Ramirez totally irrelevant.
Is this too much to ask?