Running to stand still actually can work in baseball, but it isn’t too impressive in itself. The Twins finish their month of April at .500, which happens to be good enough to put them a half game out of first in the AL Central. Getting into the playoffs is really a matter of not losing too much. And so the Twins squeak on.
There are 12 teams in the majors with worse records, 2 with identical ones, and 15 with better ones. We’re so average we’re driving a Camry and listening to Coldplay. Suddenly I feel so beige.
It’s fair to say that we’re positioned favorably in the division because the division is, in a word, lousy. The Indians had a feel-good come from behind win against the Red Sox last night, but they’ve had little to cheer about this month, with an 8-14 record.
The Royals, White Sox, and Tigers all stand over the Twins at a less-than-lofty 11-10. Guys! Just play the missing game and we’ll all be even again.
But the Royals do have some things to be very happy about this April. Zack Greinke secured another win tonight, against the Blue Jays, making him 5-0. His scoreless streak ended, but it got to an otherworldly 43 innings. He has a near zero ERA and is at or near the AL top in strikeouts. Lots of good news for the Royals, and yet the Royals are only microscopically better than the Twins. It’s a 5-man rotation, and, um, Sidney Ponson is part of it.
Then come the White Sox and Tigers. Fun, tiny fact: the Tigers are the only team with a winning record within the division, and that’s a sterling 3-2. Everyone else is .500 except the Indians suffering at 4-5. Clearly, nothing much has been decided about the fortunes of the AL Central.
The Twins have completed only 8.3% of their games in the division, so April has been inconsequential divisionally. Instead, let’s look at the month series by series. There is a bit of an uptick if you wade all the way through.
We played seven series, split one, won three, and lost three. Are the team colors going to have to change to beige and tan? The hopeful note is a little trendline I could draw, starting in the middle of the month. We sweep the Angels, fall apart in that single day series against Boston, then go 2-1 against both the Indians and Rays. Not sure this truly qualifies as momentum, but in a world of .500 baseball I’m poking under every rock for a little energy.
In the division, we lose the White Sox series, 1-2, and make up for it by taking the one versus the Indians 2-1. The absence of especially bad news isn’t the presence of good news, but we have to build what we can on this bedrock of mediocrity.
Tonight’s game was an especially easy one. We played well, on offense and defense. The Rays played miserably, on offense and defense. Nick Blackburn went seven solid innings. He gave up two runs, and it would have been only one if he’d left a bit before that 100th pitch. Pitching for the Rays, Scott Kazmir had an uncharacteristically poor night. The strike zone eluded him, and the Twins were ready, notching nine hits and eight runs.
It began with a four-run first inning, in which the Rays gave more than the Twins took. The four hits were all singles, Jason Kubel’s a particularly bloopy one. Morneau and Morales walked as we sent nine men up. Kazmir tossed two wild pitches to allow two of the runs to score. Ugly, untidy baseball.
In the fourth, hapless Akiri Iwamura, the Rays second baseman, demonstrated the way to get two errors on one play. He bobbled a grounder to allow Kubel to reach first, then tried to make the throw to first, only to sail the ball well past Carlos Pena. Justin Morneau snuck home on the throwing error.
It wasn’t all bad baseball by the wretched Rays. Denard Span hit a triple, and the sight of him racing round the bases and sliding feet first, then popping right up, was a joy to behold. Brendan Harris used his spot at second in the batting order to smack three hits and score two runs. There were RBIs aplenty: one each for Harris, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Young.
Blackburn pitched well throughout. He gave up a run in the third, but ended that inning with a strikeout, and kept the Rays deathly quiet every other inning. Entering the seventh with a pitch count in the 80s, Blackburn finally ran into some trouble. The hits were innocuous enough, but Blackburn wasn’t hitting his spots. Only one run scored. Gabe Gross pecked out the RBI, taking advantage of two prior singles by Ben Zobrist and Dioneer Navarro. It was never a meltdown for Blackburn and he completed the inning, but it wasn’t a flourishing finale either.
The Twins had the game well in hand after the first inning, and won it 8-3. April’s over, and in one sense it’s as if we’ve gained no ground—you’re .500 on day one of the season, too. But we’ve won by not losing, and any minute now there could be a little streak of glory.