September 22, 2010
If it sounds a bit familiar, it should. Gardy's group won the 2009 division title in the 163rd game of the season and now they've won six of the past nine flags.
Not bad for a franchise that was on the brink of contraction less than a decade ago. Instead of existing only in oblivion and the memory of Minnesotans, they're one of baseball's leading exhibits that you don't need to hail from Boston or New York or spend beaucoup bucks to build a team that's a consistent winner.
The only real surprise comes in the nitro-burst speed the Twins used to become the first team in baseball to clinch a specific playoff spot. After all, it was only last week when Minnesota traveled to Chicago with the White Sox still harboring dreams of screwing up the Twins' playoff rotation (at worst) or coming back from a six-game deficit to win the division (at best).
But the Twins stepped on Chicago's throats, sending the Sox into an eight-game belly-showing tailspin that continued on Tuesday night with a 7-2 loss in Oakland. Couple that with Minnesota's 6-4 comeback winner over Cleveland at Target Field and the Twins — who are 15-4 in September — were able to party with fans who stayed late to watch the outcome from out west. (As an aside, they were also able to celebrate other accomplishments. Tuesday's victory marked manager Ron Gardenhire's 800th career win and the crowd that witnessed sent the Twins' season attendance over three millions fans for only the second time in franchise history.)
The benefits of clinching in such fashion might not be readily apparent this morning as the Twins have to return bleary-eyed to the ballpark for an afternoon series-ender against the Indians. But once they get there, they'll have 11 games to do things like aim for homefield advantage and align their pitching rotation so they can get their first playoff victory in three postseason trips out of the way with Francisco Liriano's(notes) first start.
I've gone on record as saying I have a weird hunch about these Twins and it'll be interesting to see if they can break through to their first ALCS since 2002 and first World Series since 1991. We'll have plenty of more to come — our big playoff previews will start next week — but for now Twins fans should just savor the flavor of the champagne. It's a familiar taste.