The Twins' first move toward closing a nine-game gap on the first-place White Sox in the second half is a roster move before Thursday's first game back from the break.
The Twins found help on Monday when they signed Seattle Mariners second baseman Bret Boone. Boone brings a veteran bat to a lineup that has been riddled with injuries to this point this season. For Boone, the Twins recieved cash from the Mariners and will send a player to be named.
Dropped by Seattle eight days ago, the Twins ended a week of speculation when they signed the former All-Star. The Twins hope he can find his power stroke and be a key component in their charge towards the AL Central title.
Another player the Twins could nab is Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff, whose stock has risen with a recent hitting streak and who appears well regarded by the Twins. San Francisco INF Edgardo Alfonzo also would be a good fit if San Francisco picked up enough of his salary.
Owner Carl Pohlad has told Ryan he's willing to raise the current payroll to make a deal that can help put the Twins over the top and into the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Despite the nine-game gap between them and the Sox, the Twins went to the break leading the wild-card pack.
NOTES, QUOTESThe Twins got through an injury scare with a pitcher for the second night in a row Friday, easing health concerns as they near the All-Star break.
RHP Brad Radke, who had his regularly scheduled start backed up three days to Friday because of neck and shoulder pain he's endured for about a month, said he felt as pain-free during the victory over Kansas City as he has since his previous victory -- way back on June 1.
Radke has seen a chiropractor regularly since late June and said he'll continue. He still had some neck stiffness Friday, he said, but his fastball had life that hadn't been seen in several starts and he had no pain in the shoulder, he said.The biggest drama before Thursday's opener of a four-game series against the Royals had to do with which of two pitchers would emerge from the Twins' bullpen to make the start: RHP Kyle Lohse or RHP Matt Guerrier.
Because the stiff neck Lohse endured after waking in pain at the team hotel Wednesday was only marginally improved by Thursday afternoon, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire ordered Guerrier to prepare, alongside the scheduled starter, to start in case Lohse was unable to go.
Lohse was a go, but it turned into more of a green light for the Royals by the time they finished spraying the field with singles for five innings and circling the bases on Twins throws.
The good news for Lohse is that despite feeling some lingering stiffness, he said the neck didn't bother him, and he has six full days to rest before making the Twins' first start out of the break, next Thursday against Anaheim.
Guerrier replaced Lohse in the sixth and fared even worse, failing to get an out in the seventh inning as the Royals scored four more times to build a lead even their bullpen couldn't blow.The Twins' third straight loss Thursday night dropped them to a season-worst 11 games out of first place, their largest deficit in the division since they finished tied for the worst record in the AL in 2000.The Twins' 81-game record at the halfway point this season (46-35) was better than in any of their past three straight division-winning seasons. But they were 9 1/2 games out of first this year compared to leading the division at the midpoint each of the past three years.Even if 3B Michael Cuddyer is ready to return from the DL when he's eligible, the second game after the all-star break, manager Ron Gardenhire said he'd like see an infielder called up from the minors for the first day after the break so that his bench is at full strength until then. "We're not at the point where you can sit there and say we can get by for a day anymore," Gardenhire said. "You can't do that anymore."SS Juan Castro returned to the lineup Thursday as expected after sitting out the starting lineup Wednesday because of a sore hamstring. Castro, a career backup infielder whose career high in games played is 113 (in 2003), played in his 61st game Thursday, putting him on pace for 119 this season. He took over as the Twins' starting shortstop in May.All-Star LHP Johan Santana has almost exactly the same statistics at the all-star break this year as he did during his Cy Young season last year.
But he arrived at that same place from much different directions. Last year, he started slowly and caught fire in early June. This time around, he has been inconsistent at time with his mechanics and up-and-down with his results.
When he surrendered leads twice Wednesday in his final start before the all-star game, to lose to the Angels 7-6, it gave him his first three-game losing streak since early last season (May 18-June 4).
"One thing's for sure," he said. "I feel much better than what I felt last year to this point. But I still have to make some adjustments and put everything together and be more aggressive when I go out there.
"Even though I'm doing my job, I feel like I have to contribute (more) to the team to win because we're in a tough situation with the (first-place) White Sox. We want to stay close to them."
Santana, who said he feels a personal responsibility for helping lead the charge against the White Sox, improved to 7-2 with a 3.31 earned run average when he shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 8 for his last victory.
But in five starts since then, he's 0-3 with a 5.91 ERA, having allowed six earned runs in a start twice, including Wednesday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 37 -- Walks this season by RF Jacque Jones, including nine intentional walks, just three short of last year's career high. He had a streak of five straight games with a walk snapped on Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of sad. It's a worldwide sport that everybody plays. It was fun being part of the Olympic qualifying team. When you play for your country you have that USA on your jersey and you know you're playing for something. It's kind of higher than the big leagues because it's more patriotic." -- RHP Jesse Crain, the Twins rookie who was part of Team USA's 2004 Olympic team that was eliminated in the qualifying tournament by Mexico, on the IOC dropping baseball as an Olympic sport.