Last Page: Twins Win, Socks Loose

By Grant Maki

If you are a national baseball analyst, you have probably expressed one of the following sentiments about the Minnesota Twins:
“The Twins have to show that they can win games not started by Santana.”

“In games not started by Liriano or Santana, this team is very average.”

“Besides those two pitchers, we’re basically looking at the Blue Jays.”

In a the latest phase of what has become a perennial effort to befuddle baseball experts, the Twins have decided to play top-flight ball in every game that Santana does not start. The Piranhas & Co. went 10-4 over a two-week march to finally separate themselves from Chicago in the Wild Card chase. During that span, the team was only 1-3 in games started by Messrs, Santana and Liriano. This means that the back end of the rotation, dubbed “the Question Marks” by the Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal III, combined for a 9-1 record over what was arguably one of the team’s most difficult tests.

The test in question was a seven-game home stand against AL Central leading Tigers and AL West leading A’s, followed by an equally long road trip to face bitter rival Cleveland and a Boston team that feels slighted for not having made the playoffs. Let’s be perfectly clear: the Tigers at the time held the best record in the American League, the A’s were (and arguably still are) the hottest team in baseball, and the Indians and Red Sox were very eager and capable spoilers.

The Question Marks combined for a 3.59 ERA over this difficult stretch. For a somewhat unorthodox comparison, consider the following: if one starting pitcher had a 3.59 ERA for the season, he would have the sixth lowest ERA in the American League.
Since being anointed “The Question Marks,” the Twins’ back-four have been among the most reliable pitching staffs in baseball. Perhaps Neal, whose baseball insights I hold in very high regard, was a bit too hasty with this moniker. Frankly, the only Question Mark who has looked all that questionable has been Scott Baker. However, most teams have unreliable fifth starters. The name just doesn’t fit.

I think Jeff Dubay of KFAN hit the nail on the head when he referred to Minnesota’s team as the “Twinigmatics.” The Twins really are an enigma, not because they don’t know what they can do, but because baseball fans and experts alike just can’t figure them out. If someone had come up to me in June and said, “By the last week of the season, Nick Punto will be a solid everyday third baseman, Boof Bonser will look like a legitimate number 2 starter in the Major Leagues, and the Twins will clinch a playoff spot,” I would have laughed out loud.

Now that all of those things have come true, all I can do is smile with joy. These Twinigmatics may defy any and all forms of analysis not attributable to a Might Ducks movie, but one thing is certain: they can play ball.
As we go to print, the Twins sit one game behind Detroit in the AL Central standings. The division champion will likely enjoy home field advantage against the Oakland A’s in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild Card team will probably give up home field advantage to the New York Yankees.
If the Twins and Tigers finish the season with identical records, the divisional crown will be Detroit’s. Because both teams will make the playoffs (the second place team will be the Wild Card), the tie is broken by the two teams’ head-to-head record. The Tigers have won 11 of 19 games against the Twins, so the Twins would have to completely pass the Tigers in the standings in order to win the division.

One reason for hope: injured veteran starter Brad Radke makes his return on Thursday. The way this season has gone, I fully expect him to unveil a new, unhittable, made-up pitch called a “triple-change” that you can only throw while having fun.