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09/11/08 5:31 PM ET
Hillman gives division edge to Twins
Kansas City manager picks Minnesota to win AL Central
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins and White Sox have battled in a tight race for the division lead for nearly the entire second half. The two clubs have not been separated by more than 2 1/2 games since July 26. The White Sox have spent the majority of that time in the division lead and held a one-game lead heading into Thursday. But if Royals manager Trey Hillman had to give an edge to one of the two teams as the race reaches the home stretch, he said Thursday that it would belong to the Twins. "It's a tough call for me, but I really feel like it's tougher for us playing against [the Twins]," Hillman said. "Maybe it's because we are here right now playing against them in this Dome, where they have a good record. But I just feel like these guys might have the edge a little bit." Hillman has certainly seen his share of both teams, with his Royals facing each a total of 18 times this season. In comparing the two teams, Hillman noted that the White Sox are the better slugging team, as they've hit significantly more home runs than Minnesota, 209 to 101. The Kansas City skipper also gave the edge in the starting pitching staff to Chicago, labeling the White Sox a bit more dominating. But where the Twins find their advantage on the pitching side, he said, is how they pitch. "The strength for [Minnesota's] pitching staff, for me, is the obvious. They don't walk people, they don't give free passes," Hillman said. The Twins have walked a Major League-low 347 batters this season and are on pace to walk just 387 batters. It would be only the fifth time in the past 20 years that a team has walked fewer than 400 batters in a season, with the Twins doing it twice -- in 2006 (356) and '05 (348). Although Hillman gave the slugging edge to Chicago, he said Minnesota has been able to use its speed to help score runs. The team is currently third in the American League in runs scored, with 740, which puts them on pace to score 826 runs, which would be the third-highest total in Twins history. And he gave Minnesota a significant edge in one other category -- its defense, particularly the coverage in the outfield. "When the ball is in the air, it's tough for it to get down with Denard Span and Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young out there," Hillman said. "If it has any hang time at all, it has got a good chance to be caught." So after analyzing both teams in depth, would Hillman still give the overall edge to the Twins? "Given the fact that they don't give as many free passes and they have a little bit better coverage in the outfield, even though the White Sox have slugging, I like these guys a little bit better," Hillman said.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.