Ladies and gentlemen...Johan Santana.
That's better. For a while I was concerned! Well...no, not really. But the Twins needed a win last night, for numerous reasons, and it was nice to see Johan get back to those striking (pun intended) late-summer performances we've become accustomed to seeing.
The reason I saw the Twins "needed" a win, besides the fact that we entered the day 3.0 games behind the White Sox in the Wild Card race, is because those very same White Sox actually dropped a game to the Royals last night. I know, I know, it happens, but when you're trailing two teams when the sun rises and one of them LOSES to the Royals...it's a good day. In addition, the second team leading us this morning, Boston, dropped their second consecutive game, meaning that when the sun rises on us all later today, the Wild Card standings will look like this:
Team W L GB
Chicago 71 47 --
Minnesota 69 49 2.0
Boston 68 50 3.0
Toronto 64 55 7.5
Chicago has two more games against the Royals, against which I still assume they'll go 2-0. After that they have us, at the 'Dome, for three. Follow that up with another series with the Tigers, four games in Detroit. Then, the White Sox square up for three more against our Twins, this time in Chicago. That's a rough 10-game patch for the Sox, and if the Twins play as well as they're capable of playing, Chicago may be looking at a 4-6 stretch. My fingers are crossed.
Going back to tonight, Johan looked great. Over 8 innings he scattered 3 hits and a walk while striking out 9 (including Shoppach THREE TIMES). His fastball was back in effect, setting up his slider and change to be far more effective than they have been over the past couple of starts. Pitch locations were hit; stray changeups belt-high were kept to a minimum.
In case you were wondering just HOW great Mr. Santana has been in August, here are his numbers for the eighth month of the year dating back to 2003.
GS W L IP K BB H ER ERA K/9 H/9
21 16 1 152.2 164 31 97 29 1.71 9.67 5.72
So, basically, Santana has been pitching about 7.1 innings in August over this stretch, striking out almost 8 men per start, and allowing just a hair over 6 baserunners per start. That's really, REALLY bleeping good.
I has having a conversation with one of the guys from Battle Your Tail Off tonight, and we briefly talked about the Twins and how much of a shot they had at playing into October. While we didn't get into specifics, we agreed on three things. One, the Twins are a better team than the Red Sox. Two, Jesse is still scared of the big bad White Sox. Three, it would be a great year to take a World Series, even if we wouldn't know how to respond. Giving Radke a win on his way out is no less than he deserves; winning the World Series a few short months after Puck died would be all to fitting, and probably all too emotional as well.
Having some time to mull it over, I've narrowed the Twins' postseason chances down to the following IF's.
- Francisco Liriano's return: the sooner it happens, the better we're going to be. I don't want him rushed, I'd rather have him healthy and ready to go next spring than risk injury, but if he is ready, he's going to be swinging more than hope into the team.
- Luis Castillo and Nick Punto need to keep getting on base for Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau and Hunter. They're not the most fearsome foursome, but there's enough lumber to go around. Cuddyer came through again last night with a big hit. Castillo and Punto both sport OBP's of .343 and .398 respectively; they'll need to keep it going.
- Whether Liriano comes back or not, at least one more guy needs to step up in the rotation. Santana and Radke have proven they're ready to go. Who will join them? There are lots of candidates, and the most likely of them all is Carlos Silva. He has a track record, over the last two years, of being a decent middle-of-the-rotation type of pitcher, and that's exactly what we need him to be. We cannot keep going to the bullpen in the fourth and fifth inning three out of every five days.
- Jason Tyner, Jason Bartlett, Mike Redmond and Josh Rabe all need to continue to hit when given the opportunity. With so much of the rotation in jeopardy still, you never know when one of them will fall apart in the middle of the game and allow a big inning. The Twins will need offesive support from these players to continue to be competetive everyday.
- A little help goes a long way. While the Twins need to take care of their business in victorious fasion, some assistance wouldn't hurt. This includes Detroit pounding Chicago next week, and Chicago losing most of their remaining games to the Twins. Boston taking some losses from unexpected places would help. As far as I'm concerned, the Yankees and Tigers can run away with their divisions, because that leaves fewer teams for the Twins to worry about come that final push for the Wild Card. If it's just Chicago and Boston and things are tight going into the last couple of weeks, I like our chances.
See? I don't write for this GameDay, and the Twins take the first game. I'm telling you, I may not have placed a curse on the Twins, but I'm pretty sure I jinxed them.