Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Many observers are choosing to look at the 2008 Twins as a glass half-full, especially since they're currently leading what looks to be a surprisingly weak division. But there's an argument to be made that the glass is actually half-empty and likely to get more empty.

No less of authorities than the Twins Geek and Joe Christiansen have observed what might be called the 'glass half full' argument for the Twins in 2008: the club is barely over .500 despite all these problems - Delmon Young not yet hitting the way we'd hoped, Mike Lamb hasn't yet gotten on any kind of offensive roll, Francisco Liriano F-bombed out of his big-league return. Yet the Twins are still competing for the division lead -- heck, they own the division lead, and with an off-day today will own it for at least another day or two at worst.

Yet there are points in favor of the thesis that this is about the best baseball the Twins are capable of playing, and that it's folly to expect that they'll continue to play this well the rest of the way. (I'm not saying it's impossible -- 2006 wasn't so long ago that I've forgotten the difference between unlikely and impossible.)

- Individually, Twins hitters aren't playing so far above their heads that maintaining their current pace would be impossible -- Mauer has already spent an entire season hitting better than .333, and Morneau actually is on pace to hit a bit less than he did in his MVP season, even if he does wind up with more homers. About the only Twin you could say is hitting significantly better than expected would be Matt Tolbert, and even his production isn't so unreasonable that he couldn't end the season close to a 700 OPS even if his average drops from over .300.

Even with these performances, though, the club is still 13th in runs scored (though 11th in runs per game because they've played fewer games -- more on that later) and 14th in on-base percentage in the AL. Granted, the club could move up to 12th pretty easily, since they're just .001 behind both KC and Seattle, but the last time a club made the AL post-season with an OBP in the bottom three? The 2006 Detroit Tigers, who made up for it by being among the top three in homers and had the best pitching in the league.

- The success of the pitching staff thus far has been tremendously helped by three guys that few expected to be as good as they've been: Livan Hernandez, Brian Bass, and Nick Blackburn. Of the three, Hernandez easily has the longest track record, yet it's not impossible he could stay this good most of the year (Kenny Rogers, anyone?). Blackburn is making Baseball America look good, and it wouldn't even be the first time a young pitcher had a great season for the Twins after being thrown into the rotation (Allan Anderson, Scott Erickson, Johan Santana, etc., anyone?).

Nevertheless, thanks to a very generous schedule, the Twins have had enough rest days so that they've basically operated on a four-man rotation for the first six weeks of the season -- Hernandez, Bonser, Baker, and Blackburn have made 26 of the Twins 30 starts thus far, with three starts going to Liriano and one to Slowey.

Unfortunately, this can't continue -- today is the Twins last rest day until May 26th, and they don't get another day off after that until June 16th. And while I've never seen a study that posited a connection between long stretches without rest and poor team performance, there's enough anecdotal evidence over the past few seasons, just in the Central, to give any thinking fan pause:

- In 2006, the Detroit Tigers were up 8.5 games in the Central with 48 to play, having just completed a series with the Twins. The Tigers had a day off on August 10, then played 17 straight days, after which they'd fallen to just 5 games up. Then, after a pair of rest days, the Tigers played 13 games in 12 days, during which they lost another three games off their lead. We all know what happened after that, but once the Tigers reached the post-season, with its copious number of rest days, the Tigers rebounded and advanced all the way to the World Series.

- In 2005, the Chicago White Sox were up 7 games in the AL Central with 40 games to play. The White Sox had a day off on August 22, after which they finished the entire season with just one final rest day, on September 12. During this time, the Sox went from being up 9 games (shortly after the beginning of the run) to being up only a game and a half (on Sept 22, ten days after their last rest day and in the midst of playing 40 games in 41 days) before finally putting the division away. Again, once the team reached the post-season and copious rest, the club rebounded and advanced all the way to the World Series, winning it.

- In 2001, the Twins were leading the AL Central by 5 games at the All-Star break. Then they started the second half with a stretch of 18 straight games, during which the club lost their lead, falling into a fight for the division. A couple of rest days in late July and early August helped the Twins stay in the fight for the division -- they were either in the lead, tied, or no more than a game and a half out for nearly three weeks -- before another long stretch of 20 straight games in mid-to-late August dropped the team another five games in the standings, after which they were never again in contention.

Tomorrow's game in Chicago begins a stretch of 20 straight games before the Twins next rest day, then after that single day off the club plays another 20 straight.

If the glass is ever going to get more than half-full, maybe we'd better pray for rain.

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