The Minnesota Twins have just 14 games left in the Metrodome. Two of those 14 are against Chicago.
After yet another Twins win over the White Sox at the Dome, though, the visitors could be forgiven if they attempted to detonate the stadium ahead of its time. Chicago lost for the 15th time in its last 17 games in Minneapolis, 4-1 on Monday night - and with two more upcoming in this series, that's the first reason the Twins have to be optimistic.
Nick Blackburn looked great for the first time, well, in recent memory. Blackburn gave up just one solitary run and scattered six hits over seven innings, and tied a career high with seven strikeouts in picking up his first win since the All-Star break. If Minnesota is to contend in September, they'll need solid starts from someone other than Scott Baker or Carl Pavano, and for the first time in over a month, Blackburn looked like he could be that guy. That's the team's second reason to be optimistic.
A third cause for optimism: the continued presence of Joe Mauer. The Twins catcher hit a solo home run in the third, then singled, stole second, and scored on a Michael Cuddyer single in the eighth. He does it by hitting the ball into the upper deck, and he does it by getting on base and dashing around like a man half his size. He's the best.
Jason Kubel also homered, a towering shot to center that drove home two runs, and that's all the Twins pitching staff needed. It went down just like the manager draws it up: timely hitting, a great start from Blackburn, a scoreless eighth from Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier, and a perfect ninth (and two strikeouts) from Joe Nathan. That execution would make even the most cynical among us into optimists, at least briefly.
The win puts Minnesota above .500 for the first time since July 31, and with Detroit's loss on Monday, the Twins move just three and a half games back in the AL Central. When the home team was six games back, that was one thing, but at three and a half back - with seven games against the Tigers remaining - anything, anything could happen.
In just a few hours, the calendar will flip over to September. With fewer than three dozen games left, we're feeling - yes - optimistic. Minnesota's right in this thing.
Three Stars (for the reasons mentioned above):
3. Jason Kubel
2. Nick Blackburn
1. Joe Mauer