Are the Twins buyers or sellers? We’re about to find out

When you're a fan of a team having a bad season, you spend July contemplating which players your team will shed at the trade deadline, and which organizational needs your team should be trying to fill.

When you're a fan of a playoff-contending team, you spend July praying your team's GM will pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade that will not only propel you into the playoffs, but carry you through October as well.

So what the heck do you do when you're a fan of team like the 2011 Minnesota Twins, enduring a roller coaster season that has seen the team bottom out on June 1 (17-37, 16.5 games back), then rebound with 5- and 8-game win streaks to pull within 6.5 games of first on June 21, just to drop the next six games to fall 10 back on June 27?

As it stands, the team is now one blown save away from a seven-game win streak, and enter today's series finale against the Rays seven games behind the first place Indians, 5.5 games behind the second-place Tigers, and 3.5 games behind those pesky Pale Hose.

Given the wild swings we've witnessed this year, it's no wonder why we've spent so much time debating and speculating what the Twins should/will do leading up until the trade deadline. This season has been equal parts frustrating and confusing; every time we, as fans, have decided to get out, another win streak has pulled us right back in.

As tough as it has been to stomach the ups and downs of this season as a fan, it's had to be absolutely gut-wrenching for the Twins front office, knowing they will have to make some pretty major decisions before the July 31 trade deadline. With several key contributors about to enter free agency, Bill Smith will soon have to decide whether to risk losing players like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel for future draft picks, or whether to turn them into known prospects from teams looking to acquire talent for the stretch run.

Fortunately, the team's schedule may help make the decision for Smith. After wrapping up their series with Tampa Bay, the Twins will begin a stretch of 16 straight games against AL Central opponents. They'll play four on the road in Chicago, take a few days off for the All-Star Break, then return home for 4-game sets against the Royals, the Indians, and the Tigers.

The Twins will end July 24 having just spent three weeks playing each of their division rivals, and having just wrapped up four-game sets against the two teams currently sitting atop the Central. In effect, Bill Smith could hold tight through this entire post-All Star Break homestand before deciding whether to load up, sell off, or stand pat, and still have a full week before the deadline to make his move.

I don't think it's a stretch to say we've entered a potentially make-or-break part of the season. That is, if it's still possible to "make" the season.

Let's be clear: it would be a remarkable accomplishment for the Twins to make up substantial ground in the next few weeks. As you can see below, neither the Indians nor Tigers face particularly difficult schedules this month, and the White Sox will essentially play a carbon-copy of our schedule.

MIN

CLE

DET

CHI

Pre-ASB

CHIx4

TORx4

KCx4

MINx4

Post-ASB

KCx4

BALx4

CHIx3

DETx3

CLEx4

MINx4

OAKx2

KCx3

DETx4

CHIx3

MINx4

CLEx3

Add in the fact that we're still seven games out of first and would have to jump three teams that have each played better than our squad for the first half of the season, and it starts to make sense why coolstandings.com says there is just a 2.5% chance of the Twins making the postseason in 2011.

That being said, we all know it's the head-to-head match-ups that present the best opportunity to make up ground. And in the next few weeks, we'll get four chances to chip away at each of the three teams ahead of us in the standings. If the Twins, incredibly, were able to take three of four from each of those four teams, we'd end the run a game above or below .500, and will have put a serious dent in the lead of whoever was still above us in the standings.

None of this is meant to sound overly optimistic. It's still fairly likely that we'll find ourselves 6 to 10 games out of first on July 25, a position that would leave Smith choosing between the ugly option of selling good players to better teams, or the worse option of standing pat and watching the season disappear without getting maximum value for our expiring contracts.

But this is a very winnable division, even for a snake-bitten team like ours. It's very possible 82-85 wins could take the division crown, and if the Twins are just a few games out of first by July 25, we could see Smith take a stab at the pot.

Whatever the result, the Twins are about to embark on a pretty important stretch of games. And, considering where we stood June 1, I'm just thankful we still have meaningful baseball to watch in July.

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