Something weird happened over the weekend. I Googled playoff odds for Major League Baseball, while scanning the remaining schedules for the Twins and Cleveland Indians to compare their respective paths, while pondering which prospects the Twins front office should be willing to give up in a trade for bullpen help, while wondering why Trevor May threw a curveball instead of a 98 miles-per-hour fastball on an 0-2 pitch.
So this is what a pennant race feels like.
This is what meaningful baseball in mid-July does to a person, to a community.
Usually, we’re knee-deep into projecting the Vikings’ two-deep by now. Psst, they open training camp next week, by the way.
The Vikings still will command our attention as the top draw, but for a change — a very nice change — the Twins have become appointment viewing in summer and likely fall, according to various playoff odds trackers, which forecast the Twins as a virtual lock to make the playoffs.
This, of course, causes panic. Calling anything Minnesota sports-related a lock makes people fill buckets with nervous sweat. Souls have been calloused by heartbreak and worst-case scenarios have come true. Nothing ever, ever, ever can be taken for granted.
Stats and more
2019 Twins statistics
May told reporters Sunday that he was “annoyed” by a pessimistic tone in social media interactions over the Twins’ division lead shrinking before the All-Star break. Sorry, Trevor. That’s the nature of fandom, especially within Minnesota’s borders. No one needs a history lesson to explain why.
This is fun, though. All of it. The swings of emotion from game to game. The overanalyzation of every game, every mistake, every missed opportunity at the plate. Is it a bit excessive? Maybe. But so what? Fans endured far too many summers of bad, boring baseball in order to finally experience this beautiful side.
The Twins own MLB’s third-best record at 58-34. They won two of three games in what felt like a statement series at Cleveland over the weekend, extending their division lead to 6 ½ games while halting the Indians’ momentum. A series victory on the road without two of their best hitters, Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron, reinforced belief that the Twins should be viewed as legitimate contenders.
If that series felt especially important, it’s only the beginning. The Twins open a nine-game homestand on Tuesday against the New York Mets. This next stretch also includes four games against the Oakland Athletics, one of the best teams in the American League, followed by three against the Yankees, owners of the AL’s best record.
Those are big series. Then the Atlanta Braves come to town in early August. That will be a big series. Then Cleveland visits Target Field for four games. That will be a big series.
The Twins provided a whiff of this intensity in 2017 when they earned a one-game wild-card berth. This feels nothing like that reward for overachieving. This season feels far more legitimate for obvious reasons.
That’s why the Twins brain trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need to do something bold at the trade deadline. Their team deserves it.
Not a tweak to the bullpen. Not a minor move involving a so-so reliever. Something major that instantly makes the team stronger. The bullpen hasn’t been a disaster, but the bar must be higher than that because expectations have changed. This is about what makes most sense for October.
A trade of that nature assuredly would cost a prospect that the organization would prefer not to lose. I’ve waffled on the risk-reward of giving up a top prospect, and the answer is not clear-cut, even if you don’t have skin in the game.
Waiting on prospects offers no guarantees either. Teams can talk themselves in circles debating what to do, but this feels like a moment to go for it. Imagine the message it would send if the front office trades for a proven closer.
This season has reminded us how different summer feels with a credible baseball team. When you care enough to invest time, energy, emotion and criticism. Every series the rest of the way will carry a distinctive tone. Everything feels magnified right now. And that’s a fun place to be.