I think the most important game of this homestand is tonight, against the Royals. Sure, they Royals are the only team in the AL Central that's not in contention, but for Minnesota, this is a game about sending a message. Francisco Liriano goes up against Bruce Chen, who is not a bad lefty. A win tonight could exemplify the following: a home victory; a victory against a divisional opponent; a solid performance by Liriano. These are three major keys to second-half success for the Twins.
I'm excited (cautiously) about the second half. In early June, it appeared that the Twins weren't even going to be playing meaningful games down the stretch. But here we are, with a decent chance to overcome a horrendous start. Nishioka is beginning to hit, although he still looks uncomfortable from the left side. Denard Span should be coming back soon. Delmon Young will be back, and he needs to step up immediately, as he did in the second half of 2010. Jason Kubel hopefully will return sooner than later. His formidable presence in the lineup, and the solid stats he put up until his foot injury, have been missed.
Joe Mauer, though still lacking power, had been hitting for average in the days leading up to the All-Star break. If the Twins intend on making a run, it begins and ends with Mauer. Will we see "Hobbled Joe" batting .235 and dribbling out to second base, only able to play in slightly more than 60 percent of games, will we see "Average Joe line-drive-to-left-center Mauer" that can bat .315 with some doubles, or will we see "Contract Joe" of 2009, hitting the ball with authority everywhere? My guess is that it's going to be a mix of the "Hobbled Joe" and the "Average Joe." Until/unless he gets his left leg strength back, I don't see much power in his 2011 future. I would love to be wrong on this, though.
Many things have to go right for the Twins to come back and win. Just because it has happened in years past, such as in 2009, doesn't mean it will happen this year. It starts and ends with winning ballgames against divisional opponents, and the test begins tonight.