MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins are staring a 6½-game deficit and a crucial 12-game home stand right in the face as they prepare to come out of the All-Star break for a run at their third straight AL Central title.

They’ve been here before, which is perhaps the biggest reason why general manager Bill Smith didn’t hesitate when asked if this next stretch of home games would determine if the team is a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline.

“We’re in contention,” Smith said Wednesday. “Certainly on June 1 our goal was to chip away at the deficit and get ourselves into position to be contenders and we’re definitely in that mix.”

If Smith isn’t batting an eye at the Twins’ current predicament — in fourth place in the division behind Detroit, Cleveland and the White Sox — it may be because they are in great shape compared to where they were after the first two months of the season.

Beset by injuries and some uncharacteristically sloppy play, the Twins started the season 17-37, a miserable performance that put them 16½ games behind the Indians. With Joe Mauer on the disabled list with a leg problem, and Jim Thome, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Tsuyoshi Nishioka all spending considerable time there as well, there was little reason for optimism as they appeared to drift further out of contention.

As manager Ron Gardenhire started to sum up the team’s first half of the season while speaking to reporters in Chicago on Sunday, he intentionally coughed three times.

“It’s not what we set out to do out of spring training,” Gardenhire said after the Twins took three of four from the White Sox. “Injuries have played a part in it and some general pretty sloppy play. We really struggled defensively. We struggled throwing the ball over early in the season.”

Even with many of the team’s big offensive guns on the disabled list or struggling to work their way back into the lineup, the Twins won 15 of 17 games during one stretch and 24 of their final 35 before the break to surge back into the picture. Utilizing strong starting pitching from Scott Baker, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano and getting unexpected contributions from Triple-A call-ups Ben Revere, Luke Hughes and Rene Tosoni, the Twins shaved 10 games off the deficit in just over a month.

“It’s a team effort down there,” Smith said. “They win as a team and they lose as a team. We got through those first two months, through some tough times and guys continue to pull together and guys continue to work hard. (Gardenhire) never let anybody hang their heads. He handled it as well as it could be done.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done. The Indians and Tigers are playing well, and the Twins still need to get Span (concussion), Kubel (sprained foot) and Morneau (neck surgery) healthy if they expect to have the best chance to catch them.

The Twins have a history of second-half surges, providing a little bit of comfort to a team that was 3½ games back at the All-Star break last year before running away with the division.

In 2009, they were 7 games back on Sept. 6 and 3 games back with four games to play in the regular season before winning the division in a one-game playoff. In 2006, they trailed by 10½ games on Aug. 6, but still rallied to take the division, a comeback that makes this little deficit they’re facing right now look rather pedestrian.

“Some teams can go on a run and run away from everybody,” Gardenhire said. “You just don’t know. The good thing about the start of the second half is we’re playing a lot inside our division, so you’ll have your opportunities to get closer, that’s for sure, if you play well inside your division. That’s a good thing.

“It’s happened a lot, having several teams there at the end. From where we’re at, that’s what we’re hoping for.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (13)
  1. Johnny Rain Cloud says:

    Please Mr. Smith trade Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey and prospects for a real starting pitcher. You also need to go out and trade for a power hitting outfielder. There is no reason to keep fan favorites who can’t produce or stay off the DL.

    1. Get a clue.com says:

      I think bullpen takes precedence over any other need. And I agree, Young, Slowey, Plouffe, etc should all be expendable.

      1. MARK says:

        Bill Smith should not trade anyone. He should not be allowed to further destroy this team. Trading Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps? Disaster. Letting most of our bullpen go in the off-season? Disaster. Trading Jose Morales for Paul Bargas (who?)? Disaster. JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez? Disaster. Thinking Alexei Casilla was the answer at short? Disaster. But at least they got those pine trees in the outfield removed. LOL. Bill Smith? Disaster.

        1. Get a clue.com says:

          Seems to me you do not follow the Twins very closely. Matt Capps saved the Twins last year, granted he’s horrible this year. Jose Morales – destined to be a backup forever. JJ Hardy for Gomez, more like trading JJ Hardy for bullpen garbage last year. Gomez is average at best. Casilla has been one of the best 2B the past month. Get a clue

          1. MARK says:

            Matt Capps saved the team last year? That’s hilarious. We have multiple bullpen guys who could have done the job, including the guy who was doing the job, Jon Rauch. Jose Morales isn’t exactly Johnny Bench, but he’s about 100 times better than Drew Butera. Bill Smith setting this team up with Drew Butera as the only backup is enough to get him fired in my opinion. Yeah, he we traded Carlos Gomez, the main piece of the Johan trade, for bullpen garbage. Great job? If you think Casilla is the long-term answer at second base after proving his futility for years, then you don’t know anything about baseball.

    2. Tyrell says:

      Technicaly if we have Kubel,Cuddyer, Span and revere for the outfield who do we trade or release out of them, you’re an idiot power hitting outfielder is the least of their concerns.

  2. Al says:

    Fire Gardenhoser.

  3. MARK says:

    “We’re in contention,” Smith said Wednesday.

    LOL. No. Not with that lineup and bullpen you’re not.

    1. Al says:

      Actually, the sad thing is that they really are in contention in this pathetic division. They could really win the central, only to be slaughtered once again.

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