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Living On Borrowed Time

Definition:  Living after the time you would have expected to have died.

This has been the definition of the Twins offense over recent weeks.  If somebody handed you a lineup card with the names Tyner, Rabe, Punto and Bartlett into your hands, told you that after 104 games your cleanup hitter would be hitting .267/.349/.489, and also informed you that your starting shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder and designated hitter would miss significant time at roughly the same time (or not be playing at all)...well, what would you think? On top of all this, throw in the idea that some of your starting pitching would be best.

The emergence of the Twins as a legitimate playoff hopeful over the last few weeks has been as much about an offense over-achieving as it has been great pitching and improved defense.  Having two young stars with breakout seasons means a lot, but it's the other guys, the ones playing above their heads, that have completed the current picture we see.  Jason Bartlett, who had a history of being a hitter in the minors, has been better than anyone could have hoped for.  Nick Punto is having a career year.  Jason Tyner, who couldn't hold down even a quasi-permanent job in the majors in his career, has been a singles machine.  Josh Rabe, another forced replacement and career minor-league player, has hit two homers on ten hits in 23 at-bats.  Rondell White, who couldn't hit a baseball if it stood still, had a hot week after being recalled due to other injuries.  A bench that consists of an over-the-hill catcher, a AAAA corner infielder, a light-hitting infielder, an aging non-prospect outfielder and, on any given day, an outfielder with a a limp.  These are the guys with whom the Minnesota Twins have realigned their 2006 destiny.

I'm not trying to be anybody's buzz kill.  In fact, I'm trying to be quite the opposite.  If a team can win with these kinds of players, especially over this long of a stretch, something somewhere is being done right.  You can call it chemistry, you can call it luck, you can call it whatever you like, but the bottom line is that this team has done more than turn itself around.  This is a brand new club.  We know a lot of the guys who deserve the credit:  Santana, Liriano, Nathan, Rincon, Mauer and Morneau.  Credit can be given to the players, they're first in line for the praise.  But credit also needs to be given to team management, including Ron Gardenhire.  Terry Ryan, as always, deserves his share of credit, too.

But once you get past the superstars and the manager, don't forget to give credit to the other players who deserve it.  Bartlett, Redmond, Rabe, White, Tyner and Punto; if these players hadn't been able to pull the weight they've pulled, the Twins would probably still be mired in the murky depths of the American League standings.

How much longer does a team with an offense like ours contend?  Luis Castillo, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau...these players will continue to deliver what they can.  But the law of averages says that at some point, the minor league callups and inexperienced players and over-achieving veterans will play back to their career averages.  We all saw the wheels fall off Jeremy Bonderman's cart on Sunday; perhaps the same future is in store for Minnesota's timely offense.

The return of Torii Hunter is more than a return of a fan favorite and recognizeable face.  Hunter's return injects another bat into the lineup, a bat that has a history of doing damage to opposing teams.  There will be hot streaks, and there will be cold streaks, but in the big picture you know what you'll get from Torii.  He's another bat behind Morneau that isn't hobbling, isn't in the twilight of its career, isn't a career backup or minor leaguer, and isn't in its first stint as an everyday player.  The return of Torii Hunter is the biggest deadline acquisition the Twins made, and it's a good one.

Relying on two or three players to over-achieve, instead of four or five, is going to add up to more wins.  In fact, with the additional punch in the order, those two or three players may not have to be quite as responsible for the larger-than-should-be-expected load they've had to carry.  With Torii Hunter back in uniform, the defense is better, the offense is more dangerous, the bench is deeper and the team is all of the above.

You can only live on borrowed time for so long, no matter who you are or what the circumstances.  The Twins will continue to need the services of the new and unexpected stars, but now there is someone else to help carry the load.  Welcome home, Torii Hunter.  It's good to have you back.