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6/26/2007 10:58:00 AM

AL Central: A three-team race

By Joe Lemire

The Tigers roared through interleague play, winning eight of their last nine to take first place in the American League Central.

The Indians struggled mightily against the National League, losing a series to always woeful Washington and to suddenly woeful Atlanta.

The White Sox have lost 22 of 28, with general manager Kenny Williams promising that "change is going to happen," insinuating that a fire sale is imminent.

And the Royals still have that vote for a seventh-inning stretch song.

All kidding about Kansas City aside -- it does boast both Arthur Bryant's and Gates barbecue, after all -- it's the Twins, plodding along in third place with a 5-5 record in their last 10, who are the division's most interesting team.

Minnesota has certainly not been devoid of headlines. Reigning MVP first baseman Justin Morneau violently collided with Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo on Saturday. Morneau suffered a bruised lung, spat out blood and spent three days in a Florida hospital. Don't worry, though, he reportedly could play by Thursday.

Manager Ron Gardenhire offered catcher Joe Mauer a reprieve from playing behind the plate in the hot Florida sun to fill in for Morneau at first. Mauer's fantastic response? "Uhhhh. Uh, I'd rather catch." So he did. And then hit two home runs.

The timing is a little peculiar, but Mauer even gained ink in the New York Times this week, just a perspective piece of how Mauer could have played quarterback at Florida State and could be entering his second season of the NFL right now.

Then there's the not-so-little matter of Johan Santana. The familiar refrain this spring of "What's wrong with Johan" was sung all month. A traditionally slow starter to the season, he's 20-16 in his career in April and May but, entering this season, was a blistering 16-4 with a 2.76 ERA in June. Whispers of problems grew louder when he lost his first two starts of the month and received a no decision in his third, even though he yielded a very respectable seven earned runs in 20 innings during that stretch. The problem, you see, is that he wasn't dominating.

His last two starts, however, squelched that crazy talk. Santana needed just 92 pitches and one strikeout to toss a complete-game shutout over the Mets and then pitched another gem (6 IP, 1 ER, 8 K) against Florida. He also pounded a pair of extra-base hits in those wins.

Here's the bottom line: As noted Minnesota blogger Aaron Gleeman pointed out yesterday at the end of this post, the Twins were 38-35 record through 73 games -- the exact same record they were at the same juncture of last season. The difference is the play at the top: Minnesota is now only 6.5 games behind division leader Detroit, rather than the 11 games they trailed a season ago. The Twins lost last night to fall to 38-36 but remain only 6.5 back.

Because of that, the Twins need to think long and hard about Torii Hunter. Though I understand that "on pace" are famous last words, Minnesota's center fielder is on pace for the best offensive season of his career, with a .306 BA, .353 OBP, 15 HR and 57 RBIs and still seven games until the season’s midpoint.

In his contract year and likely to play elsewhere after the season, Hunter could command a huge premium at the trading deadline. And while the Twins have done well in the past trading more established players for young talent – most famously, the preposterous 2003 trade of A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser -- they'd be best served holding onto Hunter. As the Star-Tribune's Joe Christiansen argues, this is the time to get miserly owner Carl Pohlad to dip into his considerable savings and splurge on an extension for Hunter.

After all, Santana is dominating again and Minnesota is within striking distance of the top with half a season to play -- the Twins are right where they want to be.

  • The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers writes critically of the moves made by White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams.

  • Fire Joe Morgan points out that the White Sox skid was predicted by PECOTA, citing an original post dating back to March 11.

  • Though his RBIs are still there, Travis Hafner’s average and homers are down and some Indians fans are perhaps not worried, but at least concerned.

  • Three years later, Sam Mellinger of the K.C. Star says trading Carlos Beltran was good for the Royals. In return, they received Mark Teahen and John Buck, both having fine years in Kansas City. (The Royals also acquired Mike Wood, a pitcher now in the Rangers organization.)

  • As if the Royals needed an extra challenge to stay competitive: they now have eight players on the disabled list.

  • It's official: Rey Sanchez is the 99th greatest Royal of alltime, says Royals Review. Though I highly enjoy RR, compiling a list of the top 100 Royals seems a bit excessive, especially when No. 100 (Jay Bell) played exactly one season in K.C.

  • As if Hawk Harrelson weren't annoying enough already, he now apparently says "dadgummit" way too often.

  • (And, before I go for this week, I'd be remiss not to weigh-in on the eternal debate: 1. Arthur Bryant's. 2. Gates.)


    posted by SI.com | View comments |  


    Posted: June 26, 2007 3:04 PM   by Anonymous
    This is the first page that I have seen saying the Twins have a chace. Finally somebody realizes we are pretty good. GO TWINS!
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