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Twins entering crucial stretch in the schedule

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Results over the next ten days will show us what to expect from the Twins over the season's home stretch.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Up until this point it's been a whole lot of fun watching the Twins surprise everyone, from the pundits to their very own fans. Having been as many as 11 games over .500 on a couple of occasions in 2015, Minnesota currently finds themselves with a 50-42 record. That puts them 5.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central yet keeps them in the driver's seat for the Wild Card positions. The Twins are currently tied for the fourth-best record in the American League, sitting neck-and-neck with the Astros; Minnesota and Houston would play the Wild Card game if the season ended today.

But now we come to the nitty gritty. Over the next nine days the Twins have five games versus two clubs who were in the playoffs in 2014, as well as a three-game set against the Yankees. In 2015 those three teams currently boast an average record of 52-40. The Yankees and Angels each lead their respective division, and the Pirates lead the Wild Card competition in the National League by four and a half games.

Suffice it to say that the Twins have their work cut out for them. Everything we've been concerned about over the last few weeks (the offense, the bullpen) will be tested. The strengths of this team (starting pitching, competent play from unexpected corners) will be pushed to the breaking point if not beyond. If there were a stretch of games this season upon which you could hinge the fortunes of the entire 2015 campaign, this would be it.

Adding to the drama is the non-waiver trade deadline, looming ten days away like an ominous creature who will not be ignored. Making any kind of a move to bolster the team through this stretch might not just be a necessity of the yearly schedule, but it would be a fortuitous maneuver that could give the team the talent and the confidence needed to address the biggest challenges of the season.

Tonight's game kicks off a three-game set versus the 52-40 Angels, who will send Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson (unless he's traded), and Garrett Richards out to face our Twins, who will counter with Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, and Ervin Santana. Minnesota avoids Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago, who look to be the best of a pretty good rotation in Los Angeles.

After that the Twins are at home for a trio against the visiting Yankees before getting a day off and then getting the Pirates for a two-game, mid-week set. Ladies and gentlemen, I can not encourage you more strongly than I am right now to get out to Target Field from Friday. Go support this upstart team, and let's hope that we can turn the calendar to August and still see "Minnesota" emblazoned near the top of the American League standings.

As I said at the start, this season has been one hell of a lot of fun so far. But the real test starts tonight. When we come out on the other side of it ten days from now, we'll have a pretty good idea of just how August and September will look laid before us: the path of the contender, or the path of a team still one season away.

I'm so ready for this.