The ingredients required to get the Twins back into the AL Central race were not magical. Some key acquisitions to bolster the bullpen, rotation and lineup; much better starting pitching; hot hitting streaks, many from surprising sources; and a weak division that brought Detroit back to them. This thing isn't over yet -- it's close, but a win today still means an outside chance. And the Twins should make no apologies for the circumstances that allowed them to make September fun. But once the dust settles, they might look back on these last two games as a reminder of what they lack and what they perhaps need going forward: a true ace.
Justin Verlander wasn't flawless in game two of the doubleheader Tuesday night. But he was dominant early as his team built a lead, and he resolved to carry the water late, even as the Tigers' lead was dwindling. And, he never lost the lead. If not for a Dome double a couple of Saturdays ago, he probably would have done the same thing in Minnesota and perhaps slammed the door on this race two weeks ago.
The Twins clearly haven't had an ace since Johan Santana left and Francisco Liriano fell apart. They have a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 starters, which can work over the balance of a season but often comes up short in "must-win" situations like these last two games and the playoffs. They've had guys pitch very well over stretches -- Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn in particular. Carl Pavano, a nice pickup, was as close as they had this year to an ace. We would not at all be upset if the Twins tried to re-sign him. But while he might have the mentality, he doesn't have the stuff of an ace. And it showed Wednesday.
So what you wound up with is Detroit winning a must-have game with its ace on the mound, and the Twins losing a must-have game with their de-facto ace on the mound. Bottom line: the Twins need to explore all angles to get a true ace. Since they rarely outspend anyone -- Miguel Angel Sano, the youngster just inked for $3.15 million being an exception but not comparable to a $100 million free agent -- it will have to either come from within or via a trade. The optimistic route would be to hope Baker, Slowey or Blackburn grows into that role. Problem is, while all three are good rotation pitchers, none seems to have a ceiling that high. Hoping Liriano recaptures his magic is even more optimistic, as is thinking anyone currently in the minors could fill that role anytime soon.
So what about a trade? If it's with a team that hopes to contend, they will have to give up key players in return. Do you offer one of your outfielders, one of your starting pitchers and maybe -- dare we say it -- Joe Nathan? If it's a rebuilding team, they'll want prospects. Do the Twins have enough? If they do, would a trade leave the cupboard bare? There's no perfect solution because getting an ace and having one is special. It changes the landscape of your rotation and gives you a certain feeling going into all-important games.
Who would you want starting the first game at Target Field? You probably don't have a great answer; maybe there will be a better one in six months. Your thoughts in the comments.