Forget the Vikings, the Twins are the ones to watch
The return of Brett Favre is supposed to have Minnesota fans frothing at the mouth but the Mississippi Marvel has not played enough football this year to regain his 2009 form.
Let's give Mr. Fantastic until January to have his team looking like a Super Bowl contender.
The Twins may not have the American League Central Division crown in their pocket but they sure have their rivals from the Windy City worried.
The Chicago White Sox had a 3 1/2 game lead on the Twins at the All-Star break in July. They went into the break riding an impressive eight-game winning streak. Have they played badly since the break? No. The Twins have just played better.
As of Sept. 15, the Twins had won 41 of their 57 games since the break and had a eight-game lead on Chicago. The smart money is now on the Twins to win their sixth division title in nine years.
The Twins have been out of their mid-season doldrums for a long time. They went 15-22 from June 1 through July 11 after a decent start in April.
On July 8 in Toronto, first baseman Justin Morneau suffered a concussion when he slid into second. For quite a spell it looked like Morneau might be able to return but now the 2008 American League MVP is on the 60-day disabled list.
The Twins have been scrambling all season to deal with injuries and unproductive players.
One good second half move by the Twins was giving Nick Blackburn a trip to the minors and putting lefty Brian Duensing in the starting rotation. Duensing is a starter and his record since the break has gone from 2-1 to 9-2.
They also made a good move before the 2010 season began when they sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee. This trade put Delmon Young in the outfield every day and the 25-year-old will finish the season with more than 100 RBIs -- a career first -- after being a part-time player that drove in 60 runs last year. Young has been attacking the ball this season and he has cut way down on his strikeouts. He fanned 105 times in his first season with the Twins in 2008 while hitting only 10 homers and a lot of fans were convinced that Minnesota had made a bad trade to land him from Tampa Bay. You probably have not heard any "trade Delmon" talk in 2010.
The Twins have also helped their ailing bullpen by signing up Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes. They brought up Jeff Manship and made Jon Rauch a set-up man for Capps. They have hung in there with Jesse Crain and have brought back Blackburn. Matt Guerrier has given them a reliable righty out of the pen.
The starting rotation has also been doing the job. Carl Pavano has thrown seven complete games in his first full season with Minny. Francisco Liriano, who was terrible last year, leads the team in ERA and strikeouts. Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are not Cy Young material but they have both done all right since the break. Slowey even flirted with a no-hitter in a Aug. 15 victory over Oakland.
Joe Mauer is having himself another good year at the plate. He was so tired at the break that he wanted to skip the All-Star game. His fatigue no doubt had a lot to do with his performance at the plate. He was hitting .293 with four homers and 35 ribbies. After Wednesday night's 9-3 victory over Chicago, in which he slugged a three-run dinger, Mauer was swinging a .330 bat with nine homers and 74 ribbies.
Jason Kubel and Jim Thome have stepped up since Morneau suffered his concussion July 9. Kubel was measured against his superb 2009 season when the season started and when his batting average dipped before the break he had a lot of people concerned. Kubel will not hit .300 and he may not equal his 103 RBIs but he has played a lot of outfield, freeing Michael Cuddyer to take over Morneau's first base position.
Thome is Minny's home run leader as a designated hitter. His 23rd round-tripper helped him pass the great Frank Robinson on the list of all-time home run leaders. He will end the year with Sammy Sosa's 609-home run mark in his sights. Going after Sosa will be big. Only seven players have hit more than 600 home runs in their career.
Bringing up Danny Valencia has put another .300 hitter in the Minnesota lineup. Now the only question is why it took the Twins so long to bring the young third baseman up to the majors?
Some of us recall hearing the 2010 season was going to be magical before Target Field was even built. The outdoor ballpark is a huge hit and the Twins have stocked it with a pretty good team.
How good are these guys? The answer to that is coming in October.