It's strange, the things you remember about a season. Take 2006. Specifically, take this game, played July 30, perhaps one of the more memorable games of last season. To recap: the Twins had lost nine of eleven games to Detroit so far on the year, were 10.5 games behind the Tigers, and trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. What followed caused much consternation among the Tigers, especially pitcher Jeremy Bonderman: a Justin Morneau infield single with a throwing error that sent the Twins first baseman to second. An error by Chris Shelton on a Jason Kubel grounder, scoring Morneau. A Mike Redmond double, scoring Kubel. A Jason Tyner single to right, followed by a Jason Bartlett infield single, followed by a famous bases-loaded balk by Bonderman that tied the score. Luis Castillo grounded out, scoring Tyner, and after Joe Mauer was intentionally walked, Michael Cuddyer tripled both he and Bartlett home - and suddenly the Twins led 6-3.
The Tigers stood at 70-34 for the season after that game, the Twins at 60-43. The Twins would go 36-23 the rest of the year, the Tigers 25-34, and we all know that this spells division title for Minnesota.
But all that said: that's not the game I remember most. I can't forget the game the day before, an 8-6 Tigers win.
The Tigers got two in the first, one in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, and led 6-0. The Twins managed to claw back to 6-5 after seven, but the Tigers - almost to prove they could - scored again in the eighth and ninth innings to pull away and win.
What I remember most from that game was a simple, inescapable feeling: barring a fluke (like the next day's game), the Twins were never going to beat the Tigers. Detroit was simply too good, too strong from top to bottom, for the Twins to compete. And every time the Twins looked like they might come back or they might have a chance, the Tigers just seemed to come out and step on the Twins' neck and end all our hopes.
Here's the point: The Twins are now 31-31 on the year, not a heck of a lot better than last year's 28-34 mark on the same date. But the kicker is that, despite Minnesota's failings at the plate and on the mound and occasionally in the field, I've never once felt that the Twins weren't simply the victims of their own failings. Even the mid-May whomping the Indians put on Minnesota can be ascribed to horrible starts from Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva, followed by the Twins' inability to score a run against Fausto Carmona.
Perhaps you feel differently. Perhaps you feel that Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto's sub-.650 OPSs tell a different story, that the Twins' lack of a passable left side of the field or designated hitter is a sign that they will not be able to compete with the big guns of the league.
But I say the Twins have only been swept once this year. And, with the arguable exception of Cleveland, they haven't been outclassed by a single team they've played. And so I've yet to have that feeling that I got last year on July 29, when I thought the Twins couldn't possibly ever compete with the Tigers, because they just weren't good enough.
What do you think? Are the Twins not good enough? Or are they just playing badly, and on the verge of turning things around?