Minnesota Twins III: Back Where We Started Edition
by Cliff Corcoran
Three weeks ago, the Twins arrived in the Bronx holding a two-game lead over the Yankees for second place in the Wild Card race. The Yanks swept past Minnesota in that week's three game series, but have since fallen back into the back. As a result, the Yankees head into Minneapolis tonight once again trailing the Twins by two games for second place in the Wild Card race.
While the Yankees have been struggling to remain relevant to the Wild Card picture, the Twins have had bigger fish to fry. Three days after leaving New York, the Twins hosted the AL Central-leading White Sox and took three of four games to close the gap atop the central to a half a game. Since then, the Twins have twice slipped past the Pale Hose, only to slip back behind them the next day. They enter tonight's action trailing the Chisox by just a half game and the two teams have been within 1.5 games of one another for the past week.
The Twins have been hanging tight in the Central all year, and a week ago they finally brought rehabilitated lefty ace Francisco Liriano up to replace aged innings eater Livan Hernandez in the rotation. The Yankees are fortunate not to have to face Liriano (2-0, 2.31 since being recalled) this week, but given the Twins' spectacular record at home (.650 winning percentage), and the fact that Minnesota actually has something to fight for, they've got their work cut out for them anyway.
The Yanks split a four-game series in the Homer Dome as May turned into June, and will kick this week's three-game set off tonight by sending Sidney Ponson to the mound against Glen Perkins. Ponson has faced the Twins thrice already this year. He pitched 5 2/3 innings in the opening game of the Yankees' July sweep and picked up a win thanks to 12 runs of support. His first start of the season saw him pitch 5 1/3 innings against the Twins in Texas, give up four unearned runs, and take a no-decision. His one start at the Metrodome, however, was one to dream on, a 110-pitch complete game in which Sir Sidney allowed just one run on six hits and a walk while the Rangers cruised to a 10-1 victory. Perkins, meanwhile, has faced the Yankees twice, once in each location, both times coughing up five runs, which is exactly what he did against the Mariners in his last start as well.
The lefty Perkins won't have to deal with Jason Giambi or the hot-hitting Johnny Damon tonight, as Richie Sexson gets the start at first base and Justin Christian starts over Damon in left field with Xavier Nady DHing. Damon DHed in both weekend games after slamming his sore left shoulder into the wall on Friday night in pursuit of a rocket hit off Ian Kennedy, so it seems likely that Joe Girardi is simply using the opposting lefty as an excuse to give Damon a needed day off. Still, starting both Christian and Melky Cabrera over Damon hurts, as Damon has had two singles in each of the last five games, is hitting .370 over his active 11-game hitting streak, has hit .333/.413/.420 with five steals in as many tries since being activated from the DL after nursing that same sore shoulder back to relative health, and, if you hadn't noticed, is actually leading the league in batting average. Similarly, while Sexson has quietly hit .292/.400/.458 as a part-timer since joining the Yankees, the clean-shaven Giambi is hitting .313/.500/.875 with three home runs on the current road trip.