Column: There’s still time to jump on the Twins’ bandwagon

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2006

Jon Laging, Talking Sports

When the Twins started their run of the past month it was interesting to follow. It seemed unlikely given their Batista-Castro start that they would have a shot at making the playoffs. But it was fun to watch the team and there were articles and discussions about their future and how the Twins were on their way to being a contending team. Probably not this year was the division title or even a wild card berth possible, just like the first &8220;Stars Wars” movie stated, “It was in a galaxy far far away.&8221;

However, the Twins kept winning and the Chicago White Sox, with Detroit to a lesser extent, have come back to earth. While the Twins as of this date, are still 9 1/2 games behind Detroit, they are only 5 1/2 behind the White Sox. Do you suppose? Granted, not only are they behind Chicago, they are 3 1/2 behind the Yankees and Toronto

in the wild card race. But what seemed well nigh impossible four weeks ago now seems doable.

Detroit’s fabulous play has stemmed from its pitching. They do have good hitting, but the key to their success, as with all teams, lies in their pitching. However, the bulwarks of the staff are two very young guys, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander and one very old guy, Kenny Rogers. When August hits and the pressure of the pennant race begins to mount, how will Detroit’s disparate pitching fare? Will the young guys and the old guy stand up to nationwide scrutiny when the team begins a slide downhill? It will happen, the Tigers will lose a series and the pressure will begin. Sometime in the next two months a bug will appear on the Tigers windshield. We will find out what the Tigers are made of in the heat of August.

With only 70 games left it would take a collapse by the Tigers for the Twins to catch them. They may go through some rough spells, but I don’t think a complete collapse is going to happen with Detroit’s venerable old pro manager Jim Leyland at the helm.

However, the White Sox are a different story. In my mind’s eye I see the Sox and their fans looking a little worried. Mostly about Detroit, but maybe the Twins are starting to appear on their horizon.

The White Sox did win the World Series and you can’t take that away from them. But, from a non-White Sox fan view a lot of things went right for them last year. Timely hitting played a large role and a few good pitchers became great pitchers. Perhaps another concern might be their volatile manager Ozzie Guillen. Can he keep the team together if they start to falter. He did last year when the Cleveland Indians made their move at them. But how much of that was Guillen’s leadership and how much was it the Indians choking? I don’t know and only hope that Guillen and Chicago will again be put to the test.

This optimistic thinking is based on the Twins continuing to play better than .600 baseball. Let’s assume the Twins’ hitting will continue at its present pace. Granted Hunter is gone, but he is not really more than a sixth place hitter, and most of the thumpers remain in the lineup. Besides, they don’t have to hit as well as Detroit or Chicago. Why? Santana and Liriano. The two best pitchers in the American League. That’s not only my opinion, but is based on statistics. The team should finish the season strongly.

If by a combination of events the Twins make the playoffs, they will be tough with Santana, Liriano, Rincon and Nathan. All this with a stadium coming! It’s a good time to be a Twins fan.