Hi guys, it's Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno here -- with Joe busy working on a plethora of exciting future Twins projects, he's given me the reins to take this blog for a spin some for this next series with the Royals ... and I'm more than happy to help drive this ship. Follow me on Twitter (@AmeliaRayno ) for more updates!!
Imagine your Late-March Self. The depression you felt over the sweep to the Yankees in the divisional round had lost some of its bite -- this was a new, promising year. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer would be together again, the lineup appeared stronger than ever, there was promising 8th-inning man to set up Joe Nathan in Matt Capps, and now this new hotshot from Japan to bolster the middle infield. Things looked pretty great -- or at least pretty good.
Now imagine your Angry June Self is kind of a jerk, and goes back and tells your Naive March Self this: "OK, Mauer's only going to be able to play nine games before leg weakness completely kicks him out of the game for more than two months. Then right around the time he comes back, Morneau's gonna hafta leave because of wrist problems and a herniated disc in his neck. That Nishioka guy? He'll be HUGELY ineffective for the first half of the season. Nathan will stop being solid, lose his closer role and then go down with a right flexor muscle strain. New closer Capps will implode when you need him most and you'll find you have a shaky-at-best bullpen around him. Oh yeah, and you'll also lose Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Jim Thome for significant stretches on top of all the other injuries ... leaving the team with a band of mostly rookies, call-ups and out-of-place pieces (Cuddyer playing every position he can find a glove for).
Death sentence, your poor Naive March Self thinks, right?
Given the facts, it surely looks like an on-paper meltdown. And for the first couple of months, it seemed to be just that. On June 1, the Twins had a record of 17-37, and were in the Central basement.
But coming into the post-ASB series against the woeful Kansas City Royals, your Tempered Mid-July Self instead finds the embattled Twins just 6.5 games out of the lead -- with a sure opportunity to shrink that number with the next 12 games against division rivals.
How have they done it? Well, they've gotten some unlikely production from inexperienced players. They've had some pretty good starting pitching -- good enough through June and early July to make the reaction to the bullpen issues a dull roar rather than a massive collective panic. The rest of the Central has been less-than-dominant. And the Twins have seen several key things (Mauer's offense, Nishi's O and D, Nathan's resurgence) start to click in early July.
The big question mark now is whether they can take this surprising flop of fate and turn it into a full-blown miracle. That test starts immediately. The Twins would need to make a big push in the next 12 games, when they could make up distance quickly.
They start off the second half perhaps stronger (again, on paper) already. Delmon Young is back after missing 14 games with his second injury of the year. Young was hitting .321 in the previous 21 games before he left, and has hit .290 with three doubles and two home runs in nine games at Rochester. Meanwhile, the Twins also called up hot-hitting Trevor Plouffe, who played all over the infield during his last minor-league stint, and is batting .313 with 15 homers and 33 RBI in 51 games with Rochester.
The Twins still have not addressed their bullpen needs, and it remains to be seen whether they will. Some are calling for Rochester's Chuck James, who has just given up one hit in five innings, but the organization is not giving any hints as to an immediate call-up -- perhaps they'd consider it if the bad gets worse in the first few games back.
One thing is for sure. Your Post-ASB Self is much more tested and mature than your Naive March Self, much less angry than your Bitter Early-June Self, if more constantly anxiety-ridden than any of your 2010 Selves. What will your August Self look like? You might have an idea after these next 12 games.