It's amazing how you play the Royals, put a couple of wins under your belt, and suddenly you start noticing the positives again.
Three consecutive wins, and once again our tease of a club has us thinking it's more than feasible to end the season with a winning record. I'm okay with that. I like a good tease. In baseball.
If you look down the seasonal stat sheet, there are a couple of slow starters who have begun to even some things out. Jason Bartlett has been productive, Justin Morneau has been hitting again since the most recent Cleveland series and Ramon Ortiz hasn't seen his ERA rise since appearing in a game on August 12. Here are a few bright things to focus on as 2007 winds down.
Patches is quietly raising his season line. In September he's batting .375/.467/.708, and when you throw in his .364/.438/.509 August, it's all coming up Milhouse. Bragging about a .768 OPS is like being happy driving 37 in a 40...just a bit more and I'll be happy. Promise. Tuesday night he was 1-for-3 with a pair of walks.
Kubel has had positive stretches before, but not over such a prolonged period this summer. It's important for Gardenhire to keep giving him time, to keep Jason seeing more and more pitches, to show Patches that yes, dammit, no matter how many times we've jerked you around, we do have confidence in you. All it took was for you to hit the snot out of the ball for about 40 days.
At 23, our future second baseman is a lot of fun to watch. He stole another base again last night, making him 11/12 in his attempts. If he can learn to lay off some pitches outside of the strike zone instead of fouling them off, he'll take more walks and get on base more often. If he gets on base more often, there's more reason to hit him first or second in the batting order. If Casilla were to get 600 plate appearances in 2008 I believe he'd be capable of 50 stolen bases.
First...we work on getting on base.
In the field he's getting better, although it seems his body is still moving too fast at times. His quickness is an asset, but when he rushes his mind and his body lose their connection somewhere and it leads to mental errors. He's athletic and acrobatic, so the sooner he learns to control his body and all that energy, the better he's going to be. Viva 2008.
It's true, in a Twins uniform his ERA hasn't risen since August 12. In Colorado his ERA is 9.58. So the good news here is that he's gone.
Daddy likes to let some runners on base every couple of starts, but he isn't letting many of them score. In his last 12 starts, he's allowed more than three runs twice. That's solid. In that stretch he's 6-3, tossed 80.2 innings with a 3.12 ERA and 54 strikeouts. Last night he went 5.2 innings for the win, sent down four Royals on strikes and was charged with three runs.
With career highs across the board personally and professionally, Baker is poised to finish strong and give the Twins another strong candidate to pitch along side Johan and Garza next spring. If Liriano comes back that's a very, very good front four with a plethora of arms in line for the fifth spot in the rotation. Viva Baker!
As unlikely as it is, he's not out of the Cy Young race. Checking out the leader boards, if he pitches well in his last three starts (four if they push it) there's an outside shot for a third trophy in four years.
He's currently tied for fourth in wins with 15 (two tied with 18 to lead the AL); his ERA is third (.06 behind the leader); he's fifth in innings pitched (6 innings out of third, 19 out of first); in strikeouts he's second behind the leader Erik Bedard who is now out for the season (trails by 8). His WHIP is the best in the American League and his opponent average is second best.
Obviously an outside shot (and in all honestly it might be better for the Twin--in regards to the dollar amount involved in what had better be the inevitable contract extension--if Johan didn't win the Cy Young this season), if he wins three games, goes 20 innings and strikes out another 25 without allowing a lot of runs, the opportunity is there.
Minnesota is 72-73, with 17 games remaining. There's one left at Kansas City, three against the Tigers, Rangers and White Sox, then back on the road for three in Motown and four in Boston. My personal goal which I have no say in: 10-7.
No matter what happens over the next two and a half weeks however, there's a lot to be excited about in 2008. It's going to be the biggest offseason the Twins have had in a long, long time, and no matter how we feel next April one thing is for sure: it'll be exciting to see what transpires.
I'd much rather be looking forward to October than the offseason, but you take the small victories when you can.