Now that the Twins have your attention — thanks to a surprising first half of the season — they can turn their attention to a task that three months ago would have seemed improbable: running down the first-place Royals.
“It’s like they can’t lose right now,” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who himself can’t do anything wrong lately. “Looking at the their schedule after the break they have a lot of games — 31 in 31 days — that is going to take a toll on them. So that’s an opportunity right off the bat to try to catch them.”
A team that entered the season trying to prove it wouldn’t lose 90 games for a fifth consecutive season is now taking aim at the defending American League champions?
That’s what happens when a team wins six of seven before the All-Star break against teams considered to be playoff-worthy in Baltimore and Detroit. And that run came after the Twins split four tough games against the Royals in Kansas City. The Twins exit the break 4½ games behind the Royals in the AL Central while leading the wild-card standings by a game over Houston.
And Dozier is right. Kansas City comes out of the break with 31 games in 31 days, thanks to makeup games against the White Sox and Cardinals.
“It’s going to be a tough second half,” Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Minnesota has been playing outstanding baseball, and every time we play them I know it’s going to be tough.”
The Twins and Royals appear to be in position to break away from the rest of the division. The Tigers are nine games back, and the White Sox and Indians are 11 games out. But anything can happen, and every team is still in the wild-card race.
Keep an eye on …
Everyone seems to be nervous about Cleveland getting on a roll because its starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson. The offense, however, has sputtered. Look at Kluber, the defending Cy Young Award winner who has a 3.38 ERA but is 4-10.
That’s why second baseman Jason Kipnis wants his team to try a little small ball when the second half begins to jump-start the offense.
“We probably have guys who aren’t having the years they want to have and they might be pressing and pushing,” Kipnis said, “and that’s what we need to focus on, just playing for one run each inning.”
The Tigers, White Sox and Indians should start the second half with a sense of urgency, which could be an advantage.
“I think everybody on this team knows that we’re not a .500 ballclub, and we haven’t played our best baseball,” Tigers lefthander David Price said. “We need to be on to start the second half the way that we’re capable of playing. We all know that. Everybody’s going to have to do their part to make that happen.”
With the White Sox and Indians tied for last but just four games under .500, the argument can be made that the AL Central is one of the toughest divisions in baseball, top to bottom. And each team has gotten to this point while having to make adjustments on the fly.
The Twins began the season with Oswaldo Arica in left, Kennys Vargas the designated hitter, a platoon in center and Ervin Santana serving a PED suspension.
The Royals will miss All-Star Alex Gordon another month due to a groin strain and have needed Joe Blanton to make starts.
The Indians have replaced the starting left side of their infield, taken at-bats away from Michael Bourn and are waiting for Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana to start hitting.
And the Tigers have lost their closer in Joe Nathan (elbow) for the season, cut reliever Joba Chamberlain, sent down reliever Tom Gorzelanny and have watched Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander spend time on the disabled list. Cabrera joins the Royals’ Gordon as invaluable players who can’t help their teams right now.
The team — or teams — that rolls with the punches the best in this division will likely reach the postseason. And an impact trade could be a difference-maker.
The Twins have proved their resiliency by shaking off a poor month of June. Shortstop Danny Santana and outfielder Aaron Hicks have shown signs of life at the plate lately. And prospect Miguel Sano has brought a presence to the DH spot.
Now nine games over .500, the Twins feel they are a factor. And not just in the wild-card race.
“It’s going to be fun,” Twins closer Glen Perkins said. “It’s been a long while — four bad years — but we like where we are at. We are going to keep pushing. We had some good momentum going into the break and hopefully we’ll have some coming out.”