Friday September 18th, 2009

1) The Twins have played the entire season in a narrow window of mediocrity. They never have been more than three games better than .500 and never worse than six games below .500. Their first baseman and their third baseman are hurt. But here they are with just 16 games left in the season and they still could be a division champion, especially with seven of those games against first-place Detroit, starting on Friday. Really, it's only by virtue of the lousy play of the Tigers that Minnesota has hung in the race.

The Tigers simply are not a very good team right now. With a chance to put away the division, they just went 3-7 in 10 games against the Blue Jays and Royals. They are 37-37 in their past 74 games. They have allowed exactly as many runs as they have scored for the entire season. And now the heat is on them to win at least one game this weekend at the Metrodome, where they are 1-5 this year while allowing an average of 7.5 runs per game. The AL Central has devolved into an honest-to-goodness race. That's bad news for the Tigers, but good news for the rest of us in an otherwise largely uninteresting September in baseball.

2) It's been a miserable season for Kansas City, which in recent years borrowed from the losing Pittsburgh model by stocking the team with questionable mid-level veterans who never won anywhere. Zack Greinke has been the obvious exception. But there is another bright spot for the Royals that has received little attention: the breakout year for first baseman Billy Butler. Remember, he's still only 23, and he needs just four more doubles for 50 on the season. Only seven players have ever hit 50 doubles at 23 or younger, and there is not a fluke in the club: Hank Greenberg, Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Grady Sizemore and Miguel Cabrera.

3) Assorted observations and thoughts:

• Something for the Cy Young Award voters to keep in mind when considering Greinke's low win total: He has a 1.95 ERA in his eight no-decisions.

• GM Brian Cashman's plan to remake the Yankees' rotation into more of a power staff has worked perfectly, and bodes well for October. In the five seasons since they last reached the World Series, the Yankees' ranks in strikeouts were 6, 6, 7, 12 and 5. This year? They are number one.

• Some of the best free-agent deals last winter didn't go down until February (Randy Wolf/Dodgers, Bobby Abreu/Angels, Orlando Hudson/Dodgers, Adam Dunn/Nationals). Some of the worst happened quickly (Edgar Renteria/Giants, Kerry Wood/Indians, Kyle Farnsworth/Royals). That may be a cautionary tale for GMs this winter to wait for the market to play out. Look for another long, slow winter.

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