September 17, 2010
Two weeks can change a lot in baseball.
On Sept. 3, the Minnesota Twins were just coming off a frustrating 13-inning loss to the Tigers in which the bullpen had blown a late four-run lead. Their main concern was maintaining a 3.5-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. If they built on their lead a little, then maybe they could look toward beating the Texas Rangers for the second seed in the American League playoffs. Maybe.
But eleven victories and one loss later, their view from the standings on the morning of Sept. 17 is just a bit different for those titans of the Twin Cities. The White Sox are no longer a factor after the Twins drove their lawn mowers over them in a sweeping fashion that somehow also seemed surgical. The Rangers have stumbled, too, and find themselves 5 1/2 games behind their former running mates.
Minnesota's new company is now the two teams once thought to be too far ahead. At 88-58, the Twins have the same record as the New York Yankees and both are only half a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the AL.
So instead of keeping an eye on Chicago and Texas, the next two weeks will be spent watching the scores of Tampa Bay and New York while hoping the Twins can cement the top record in the league for the first time during this recent run of division titles. Not a bad sea change.
"It would be awesome to have home-field advantage (in the ALCS), not just the first round, especially the way we play at Target Field. It's something that I think we're going to try to do," reliever Jesse Crain(notes) said, adding that home field would be especially important against the Yankees. "Obviously, it'd be great to have home field against those guys. We've been there too many times and lost too many games in Yankee Stadium, old and new."
The schedule favors the Twins in a few ways. The Rays and Yankees still have four games against each other (starting on Monday) while the Yankees have six left against Boston.
Minnesota, meanwhile, won't play an over-.500 opponent for the rest of the way and are returning home for a six-game homestand against Oakland and Cleveland.
The Rays also finish with a relatively-easy 10-game slate against Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City, but I'm guessing the Twins won't mind homefield advantage being decided on the final weekend. Throw in the fact that they'll be able to set their pitching rotation just the way they want — a luxury they didn't have in 2009 — and things are looking great for the Twins a lot earlier than it seemed they would be.