Twins Record: 15-10
Overall Record: 60-48, 2nd in AL Central by 0.5 games
(I'm a few days behind, but let's pretend the Cleveland series hasn't happened yet, and the Twins have just come off their 3-1 series win over the White Sox.)
The Twins finished their 3rd straight month with 15 or more wins, especially impressive since there were only 25 games in July. The only real setbacks came in 2 road series vs. the AL East titans: the Red Sox and Yankees each swept the Twins, accounting for their only series losses of the month. Disappointing, but it's much more important to win the games against your division rivals, and the Twins really delivered there. In 16 games vs. Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago, the Twins went 13-3, outplaying the White Sox by 2 games to pull nearly even in the standings.
Offensively, the thing that struck me the most was that the Twins finished 2nd in the league in OBP at .361, just .001 behind Texas. What an incredible turnaround from the team that reached base just over 30% of the time in April. 59 doubles, 5 triples and 19 homers helped the Twins to a 7th place finish in SLG% at .441, their best split of the season in that category. Denard Span was a big help filling in for Michael Cuddyer, and should find himself remaining at the top of the lineup even when Cuddy returns in August.
The pitching staff was in the middle of the pack in runs allowed and ERA. As with June, most of the damage was done in a handful of games on the road: 50 of the 116 runs the Twins allowed in July came in the 6 losses against the Red Sox and Yankees. 66 runs allowed in the remaining 19 games comes out to about 3.5 per game - definitely an amount that the Twins' steadily improving offense can overcome. My greatest concern with the pitching staff (other than Livan Hernandez) is the bullpen bridge between the starters and Joe Nathan. The other relievers allowed 37 ER in 54.2 IP for a 6.09 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. This did not prompt management to make any moves before the deadline, so the Twins will have to hope that someone in the bullpen will step up down the stretch (or that the starters will all go 8 innings).
The defense got back to the standards Twins fans are used to. The team committed just 12 errors over the 25 games, a rate that would have them among the league leaders in team defense had they played that way all season. 4 of the 12 errors came in the awful Yankees series; no errors were committed during the crucial 4-game set vs. the White Sox. Not only did they make the plays they were supposed to - they made a ton of plays they shouldn't have, taking away numerous hits and extra bases. Span was a huge help with his CF instincts in RF. With Alexi Casilla injured and Brendan Harris back at SS, I worry that August will not go as well.
Getting It Done
Joe Nathan - allowed just 8 baserunners and 1 R in his 11 IP, with 12 K. Plus, he threw a perfect inning in the All-Star game. More save situations, please!
Nick Blackburn - despite a low strikeout rate, Blackburn came through with a WHIP just under 1.00 for the month, and allowed only 8 ER in 29.1 IP. He only got 1 W for his trouble, thanks to a shaky bullpen and slow-starting offense in his starts. He'd be a prominent ROY candidate if he were getting more Wins.
Scott Baker - Baker averaged 6.5 IP over his 6 July starts, with a 1.00 WHIP and 3.46 ERA, and nearly a K/IP (37 K in 39 IP). Francisco Liriano may surpass him by season's end, but for now, he's undeniably the ace of the staff.
Glen Perkins - Perkins also averaged over 6 IP/start in July, and kept his ERA under 4.00 with a 1.26 WHIP. Overall, his best month of the season so far, and a terrific contribution from a 4th/5th starter.
Justin Morneau - .360/.473/.708. He got his HR total back up to 6 and racked up 20+ RBI for the 4th straight month while drawing by far his most walks of the year. Plus, he took home the HR derby trophy and scored the winning run in the All-Star game. Once again looking like an MVP.
Denard Span - proving that his performance in Rochester was not a fluke, Span took over for Cuddyer and put up a .912 OPS for the month while making several plays in RF that Cuddy wouldn't have come within 10 feet of. I sure wish Span had been with the team all season.
Delmon Young - Young continues to improve, posting his best month of the season in terms of BA (.330), OBP (.359) and RBI (15). His K/BB rate was the worst of the season, however, so there's still some work to do there.
Joe Mauer - the average slipped a bit in July, but there were plenty of walks (16) and a season-high in RBI (16), so things still look plenty good for the All-Star catcher.
Nick Punto - in his first full month as a starter, Punto partied like it was 2006, batting .319/.359/.458 with a HR and 11 RBI. He also played sensational defense at short (especially compared to Harris).
Brendan Harris - I won't likely stop disparaging Harris' middle infield defense, but an .811 OPS with 13 RBI makes up for a lot. His 13/7 K/BB rate was his best since May. I like him better platooning at 3rd, but it's not a perfect world.
So Far, So Good
Craig Breslow - not great numbers by any means (4.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). But from the least used member of the bullpen, I'll take it.
Matt Guerrier - terrific 1.03 WHIP and 16 K in 12.2 IP, but the 6 ER he allowed were in crucial situations, costing the Twins a couple of wins. He just needs to be a little better in order to hold down the 8th inning job.
Jesse Crain - his overall line for July isn't too good (4.66 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 7 K in 9.2 IP), but most of the damage was done in the Yankees series. I've been writing that one off as par for the course, so if we throw out that outing (0.1 IP, 3 ER, 2 H, BB), we're left with a pretty nice 1.93 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Alexi Casilla - the .718 OPS is nothing too special for a second baseman, but I loved his range and speed on the bases. I'll definitely miss what he brings to the lineup while he's out with his thumb injury.
Brain Buscher - the average (.278) and OBP (.316) came down a bunch from June (.360/.370/.440), but the SLG% stayed strong (.444), and he knocked in 12 RBI in platoon duty. His throwing in the infield makes me nervous sometimes, but he's been solid at 3B otherwise.
Mike Redmond - we're used to a little bit better from Redmond than .278/.300/.278. But remember, he's the backup catcher, and most teams have to put up with a lot less.
Need to Pick It Up
Kevin Slowey - Slowey made just 4 starts in July, and he suffered through a bad inning in 3 of them. The other start was a CG shutout. In August, let's have more of the good starts than the bad.
Livan Hernandez - yes, he averaged nearly 6 IP over his 5 starts, but the 6.44 ERA and 1.74 WHIP were hardly worth it. I sure am glad he's gone.
Dennys Reyes - in 9 appearances, Reyes amassed just 4 IP, so any little thing is going to drag him down. He's basically asked to get one or 2 batters, and he failed to do so in 4 of his 9 appearances.
Brian Bass - 10 appearances, 10.2 IP, 8 ER, 16 H, 4 BB, 6 K. That's a 6.75 ERA and 1.87 WHIP. Those numbers remind me of Livan, and that's not a good thing.
Boof Bonser - 12 K in 11 IP - that's good! But then there's the 15 H, the 12 ER, the 3 HR, the 4 BB...
Jason Kubel - .271/.343/.424, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 15/7 K/BB. Not bad, but Kubel can do better.
Mike Lamb - Lamb didn't get a lot of playing time in July, and his .609 OPS for the month didn't make me feel like I was missing much.
Carlos Gomez - .220/.256/.268, 18/3 K/BB, 0/1 SB. Finally, he was taken out of the leadoff spot. He still plays spectacular CF, but I'm not sure that will be enough to keep him in the lineup when Cuddyer comes back.
Craig Monroe - after he hit under .200 for the second straight month, the Twins finally made the sensible decision to cut ties with Monroe. He finished his tenure with the Twins with a .449 OPS vs. LHP.