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08/10/08 2:00 PM ET

Young team, big dreams in Minnesota

Twins in thick of pennant race with youth abound in lineup

KANSAS CITY -- No Torii Hunter, no Johan Santana and, as most would've expected, no playoffs.

But deep into the season, the Twins are in first place in the American League Central with a young team, and they think that can be an advantage.

"In our own way," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "we're trying to prove people wrong, but we're trying to prove to ourselves we belong more than anything else. That's what it should be all year. Prove you belong here. And you only do that by getting it done on the field."

Minnesota has the third-youngest team in the Major Leagues, with an average age of around 27. This year, several young guys have stepped up and filled roles, including Denard Span and Carlos Gomez.

Gomez sparked the team from the leadoff spot for the first half of the year before Span took over after Gomez began struggling. Now, Gomez is again hitting well in the No. 9 spot.

Span joined the team when Michael Cuddyer went down with an injury, and he is now hitting .322 -- including a key two-run single in Saturday's win against the Royals.

All the hitters have been helped by one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Twins have walked the fewest batters in the Majors and sport a 4.31 ERA. The current rotation -- Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins -- features no one over age 26.

Being young does have its drawbacks. Few Minnesota players have experienced anything resembling a pennant race. To make up for it, Slowey said the younger guys always to look to players like Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan for advice.

"You start to realize even with some 40 games left every game is very important," Slowey said. "I feel like it's definitely a grind. We just keep going."

Gardenhire said he expects a close race all the way to the end. The White Sox, the team the Twins are battling for the division, have a much older team. So do other teams hoping to make the playoffs, such as the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees. The Twins will take their youth.

"Nobody thinks we're supposed to be here, so what the [heck]," Gardenhire said. "But we are here, so we're going to enjoy the heck out of it and show you why we are here."

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.