Twins close in on title

Minnesota can wrap upCentral Division crown tonight

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins were in disarray at the All-Star break. Now it's their clubhouse at the Metrodome that's about to be messed up.

Thanks to a 43-20 second-half record, the best in the major leagues, the Twins can clinch their second consecutive AL Central title tonight against Cleveland.

"I'm going to wear my goggles," center fielder Torii Hunter said Sunday, anticipating a champagne shower sometime this week.


The Twins, who have won nine straight, lead Chicago and Kansas City by 5 games each after the White Sox beat the Yankees and the Royals defeated the Tigers on Monday night.

"Everybody is feeding off each other," said closer Eddie Guardado, who has converted 19 of 20 save chances in the second half.

It's a sharp contrast from July 13, when the Twins lost their final game of the first half -- their 22nd defeat out of 28 -- and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz criticized unidentified teammates for a lack of effort. The Twins were 44-49 at the break, 71⁄2; games out of first, in one of the worst divisions in the majors.

The second half hasn't been without bumps, including three straight losses at home to the Indians in mid-August that prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to say there were players on the team who didn't "have a clue." After dropping the first two of a four-game series at Chicago two weeks ago, the Twins were two games out of the lead.

But Minnesota has been a different team since the All-Star break.

The Twins have showed the quality starting pitching, reliable relief work, sound fielding and timely hitting that propelled them to the AL championship series last year after upsetting Oakland in the first round of the playoffs.

"They're having fun," Gardenhire said.

Statistics tell the story of the Twins' turnaround from one half to the next.


The Twins are averaging 5.4 runs per game, up from 4.6.

Leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart, acquired from Toronto during the All-Star break, is batting .324 with 41 runs, 21 doubles and 36 RBIs in 62 games with his new team.

Their ERA is 3.89, down from 4.74.

Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse are a combined 25-5 after going 15-19 before the break.

That's the biggest change.

"The way I looked at it was, 'Forget about that whole first half,"' Lohse said. "I was trying to throw the perfect pitch every time. I put a lot of pressure on myself."

Pressure remains in the Twins' rotation, but now it's a positive thing.

"Nobody wants to be the guy that stops the good roll that we're on," Lohse said.


Although attendance lagged early in the summer as the Twins stumbled toward the All-Star break, they've averaged 33,915 fans through the first six games of their final homestand to boost their season average to 23,790.

Large, loud crowds are expected tonight -- and Wednesday, should the anticipated celebration be delayed.

Fans clearly have appreciated the chance to watch a pennant race this year -- the Twins won the division by 131⁄2; games last year and practically had it wrapped up in July.

Now the team has a chance to give its customers something in return, a firsthand look at a playoff-clinching celebration at the Metrodome. Each of the last three, 1987, 1991 and 2002, occurred on the road.

"The ideal thing is to be able to do something like that," Gardenhire said. "That'd be great."

What To Read Next
Get Local