Last week at this time, the Twins and White Sox were tied for the division lead coming into a three game series in Chicago. After the Twins took two out of three and swept the Oakland Athletics upon returning home, and the White Sox lost two of three at home against the Detroit Tigers, the Twins now have a three game lead and are guaranteed (worst case) at least a share of the lead when the series is over. On the season, the Twins are 8-4 against Chicago, so since the series is at Target Field history would suggest winning two of three to extend the lead by another game. But the Twins need to guard against overconfidence and maintain the intensity they displayed last week on the south side of Chicago.
It may not be "do or die" quite yet, but a sweep one way or the other would greatly change the division dynamic as we enter the home stretch. After the jump, I'll highlight a few reasons both teams could sweep this critical three game series.
Why the Twins can sweep this series
- Target Field. At 36-20, the Twins have the best home record in the American League. Most every AL contender has dominated at home, but in the inaugural season of Target Field, the Twins have the third lowest home ERA (behind Oakland and Seattle) in the AL. And the Twins have given up the fewest home runs at home (36), helping to neutralize Paul Konerko and the other White Sox sluggers.
- Starting Rotation. Yes, Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey both pitched gems last weekend against Oakland. But if you had to choose three pitchers for a critical August series, the Twins couldn't do much better than Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. Combined over their last twelve starts (four each), the trio is 9-1, pitching 75.0 innings and giving up 23 earned runs (2.76 ERA), 72 hits, striking out 72 against 27 walks, and giving up only two home runs.
- Chicago's Bullpen. Right now, the White Sox bullpen is a mess. Over the last week, the Chicago relievers have given up 15 runs and 6 home runs in 18.2 innings (7.23 ERA). And Ozzie Guillen isn't quite sure who's the closer, as Bobby Jenks isn't 100% and hasn't saved a game in two weeks.
Why the White Sox can sweep this series
Starting Rotation. Chicago also has their rotation set up perfectly for this series, with John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle. If any White Sox trio can put up three straight gems, it's these guys. Plus, two left handers against the Twins lineup doesn't hurt.
- Karma. Over the past week, it seemed like the Twins caught all the breaks. How many bases loaded situations did Twins pitchers get out of in Chicago and against the A's? At some point, the luck will end.
- Twins Sloppiness. You have to give credit to the Oakland pitching staff, which is tops in the AL, but the Twins did not play good (or smart) offensive baseball over the weekend. Whether it was advancing to third on a ground ball hit in front of him (Denard Span), or multiple defensive miscues in left field (Delmon Young), it was the Twins starters who were responsible for the sweep, not the offense or defense.
While I wouldn't put money on either team sweeping this week, the Twins need to be careful. Sloppiness, combined with solid Chicago starts could put the Twins behind the eight ball come Thursday afternoon. But just as easily, the Twins could be looking at a five game lead. That's why the games are played...