Twins expert Aaron Gleeman of NBC Hardball Talk was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the White Sox's arch rival before this week's three-game series begins at Target Field.
Beerleaguer: The Twins are 8-2 in their last 10 games but are still 13 games under .500. Will the slow start ultimately keep the Twins out of the playoffs, or is there still hope for a playoff run?
Aaron Gleeman: There's still some hope, but it might have more to do with the AL Central's mediocrity than the Twins' improved play. They still need to win at almost a 100-win pace from here on out just to get to 85 wins, but when 85 wins might actually be enough for the division title it's easy to remain somewhat hopeful. Their crazy comeback against the Tigers in 2006 also has a lot of fans refusing to give up on a season.
BL: Is there a team you're more confident in the Twins' ability to beat than the White Sox? Do you have an explanation for Minnesota's 56-38 record against the Sox since 2006?
AG: Well, the Royals are still the Royals for a while longer at least. But yeah, it's been pretty remarkable how well the Twins have handled the White Sox considering they've usually been pretty close in terms of overall team quality during that time. If you take out the games against each other, since 2006 the Twins are 414-369 and the White Sox are 413-372. I don't really have an explanation for it, although if it makes you feel any better the Twins are 12-33 against the Yankees over that same span.
BL: Of the three starters going for Minnesota against the White Sox—Pavano, Blackburn, Duensing—with whom should the Sox be the most concerned?
AG: None of the above? Francisco Liriano is really the only Twins starter capable of overpowering a lineup. Duensing has been shaky all season since moving into the rotation full time, and while Pavano and Blackburn are pitching pretty well lately they have two of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. Blackburn has typically fared well against the White Sox, so I'd probably pick him to have the best start of the three.
BL: At this point, are the Twins actually better off with Justin Morneau out of the lineup?
AG: Morneau has been terrible and the really frustrating thing is that it's tough to pinpoint exactly what his problem has been. It could be the nine months he missed with a concussion, obviously, but he's also had a shoulder injury that required a cortisone injection and now has a wrist injury. He's shown some flashes of his old self, but hasn't been able to sustain a hot streak and it's worrisome that his plate discipline has basically vanished as he's gotten more desperate. With that said, the Twins are so wrecked by injuries and so lacking in MLB-ready bats that they don't really have any strong hitters being blocked by Morneau anyway.
BL: How the hell did the Twins win a game last weekend with Rene Tosoni batting fifth as the designated hitter?
AG: I've been critical of Ron Gardenhire in the past and much of that has been about batting orders, but they've been forced to run out Triple-A caliber lineups so often this season that I've stopped even commenting on his decisions. Tosoni obviously shouldn't be hitting fifth or playing designated hitter in the majors, but Delmon Young refuses to be a regular DH and in that same game they also had Rene Rivera, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Brian Dinkelman, and a struggling Danny Valencia in the lineup. Tosoni was at worst the fourth-best hitter in the lineup that day, which is pretty gross.
BL: What's a Brian Dinkelman?
AG: Not to be confused with Brian Dunkelman or Peter Dinklage, a Brian Dinkelman is what happens when injuries force a team to use 40 players by mid-June. Amusingly, the crowd at Target Field has taken to chanting his name when he comes to the plate in a key spot. I'm not sure if they just think the name is funny or if they realize he's a 27-year-old with a .385 slugging percentage at Triple-A.
Thanks again to Aaron for providing his insight. Again, be sure to check out his work at NBC Hardball Talk. Also, if you're at Target Field for any of the next three games, pick up an official scorecard and check out my series preview inside.