Answering Some Questions
1.) Can the Twins beat AL Central opponents on the road?
Well, the answer to this question is obviously a resounding yes. The Twins went 5-1 against Cleveland and Chicago at the start of the week, but over the next couple of weeks have 4 games at Kansas City and 3 at Detroit that will be vital to their push for a playoff spot. The question ended up not being whether the Twins could beat AL Central opponents on the road, but whether they could do so at home. Today's Tiger meltdown was a godsend, and hopefully can prevent the two losses that started the series from doing any lasting damage.
2.) Will there be any trade deadline activity?
It doesn't look like there is going to be anything major. The Twins are still in, sort of, the Soriano sweepstakes. However, the Nationals are asking for a major league level pitcher to go along with some prospects. The Twins aren't going to give up anyone in their bullpen or Matt Garza, but if the price comes down on Soriano anything is possible. For the record, I now think Soriano is going to stay in Washington, with the team making a heavy push to sign him long term.
With Lew Ford still MIA, he can't be traded. Neither can Shannon Stewart. And while Torii Hunter will probably come off the disabled list sometime tomorrow, there isn't any time to make a move involving him either. As a result, it looks an awful lot like there aren't a lot of obvious moves for the Twins to make at this point.
Everyone still expects Kyle Lohse to go somewhere, and I expect someone to take a flyer on him for a very low level prospect. A deal should happen sometime tomorrow. If there is no deal, I'm not sure what the Twins are going to do with Lohse for the rest of the year. There is virtually no chance that he will be kept with the team for next season, so it really makes sense for the Twins to unload him.
Are there any surprises awaiting Twins fans? It seems exceedingly unlikely. I can't imagine the Twins unloading anybody right now from the regular roster (other than Lohse), because this team has been so succesful. If there is anything surprising to come, it will be in the form of trading prospects for a name that hasn't been slung around too much, possibly a player like Craig Wilson of the Pirates who could be used in the outfield, at first if Morneau needed a day off, or as the DH. Not that I've heard a single rumor to this effect, but I think the Twins might make a play for someone who hasn't been mentioned.
3.) Are the White Sox really in trouble?
YES! The Twins swept them with relative ease in Chicago (although that 4-3 nailbiter was absolutely HORRIBLE to listen to on the radio). The Sox just took 2-of-3 from the Orioles, but they needed a couple of miracles in the form of terrible pitching from the O's to get it done. Today, Bobby Jenks finally lost it and blew his second save of the year. His numbers are hard to argue with (28-of-30 now), but many of his saves are somewhat shaky, and his ERA of 3.78 isn't bad, but it isn't Joe Nathan-esque either. In fact, other than Todd Jones (and how he hasn't been replaced yet is beyond me), Jenks ERA is amongst the worst of all closers in the MLB. Today's choke job neutralized any "turn around" the White Sox gained from their comeback in the first game of the Orioles series. Unless they start pitching better, they will fall in the standings.
4.) Can Pat Neshek and Rondell White continue to produce?
So far the answer has been yes. Neshek has finally given up a couple of runs, on 2 solo homers. However, he also is striking people out and not giving up many hits. He finally picked up first win of the season, and he appears to be a solid fixture in the bullpen. As for Rondell, he hasn't hit a homerun in awhile, but he's still pulling balls for hits and, remarkably, when he comes up to the plate, I actually expect good things to happen. Rondell's playing time will probably suffer from the return of Torii Hunter, since Jason Tyner has played well and adds speed to the team. Nevertheless, he's proven me and the other haters wrong, and can clearly still be a productive member of a Major League lineup. Meanwhile, on the Rondell White Option Watch, White needs 155 more plate appearances for his option to vest. With 59 games left to play, that's an average of 2.62 plate appearances per game. It's going to be hard with Torii Hunter's return for him to get a lot of action, but there is still a chance.
5.) Will the Starting Pitching continue to shine?
Umm...long term the answer is yes, but the last couple of games weren't fantastic. Liriano's start was fine once he got out of his 1st inning blues. Brad Radke's shoulder problem popped up again, and whether that shoulder can keep going for another 2 (and hopefully 3) months will be a major story line for the remainder of the season, and will go a long way towards determining whether the Twins make it to the playoffs. Johan Santana was tired today, but he has such a proven track record that it would be foolish to worry right now. Also, Carlos Silva and Scott Baker need to contribute, giving the Twins a chance to stay in ball games. I think the Twins will be OK, but they need to play .500 ball when the 4-and-5 guys are going, and .600 ball when the other three guys are pitching. It they can do that, a playoff spot will be forthcoming.