Monday, September 29, 2008

10th Split: 8-9

Overall Record: 88-74
First in AL Central by 0.5 games

Previous Splits:

7-9, 10-6, 7-9, 7-9, 13-4, 11-5, 7-9, 12-4, 6-10

Another regular season has come to an end (mostly, maybe). The Twins await the result of this afternoon's makeup between the White Sox and Tigers to see if they must play game #163 in Chicago on Tuesday. Officially, that's a regular-season game. As far as I'm concerned, it's a playoff game, so I'll wrap up my splits now.

While the 9th split, encompassing most of the frustrating, interminable, West Coast + Toronto road trip was the worst of the season, the Twins weren't really outplayed in it - they just did enough little things wrong to lose a lot of games. A lot of that had to do with the starting pitchers keeping it close on the days when the offense wasn't doing much. No such luck in this split, as the Twins were blown out in 4 of their 9 losses, and gave up 12 R in another.

That affair, the 12-9, 11-inning loss at Cleveland, was the one game during this split that I wish we could get back. Francisco Liriano had his first bad outing since his recall, a couple of errors led to 4 unearned runs, the bullpen blew another 8th inning lead, and then Joe Nathan served up the game-winning 3-run HR to Victor Martinez, who had hit 1 HR all season prior to that. That one extra win sure would come in handy right about now, huh?

The offense put up 89 wins over the 17 games, just about 5.5 runs/game. But, as with the 9th split, most of those came in just a handful of wins - the Twins combined for 25 runs in their 9 losses, and 9 of those came in that Cleveland game. Justin Morneau was a crucial reason the offense sputtered - he hit just .254/.296/.343 with 10 RBI over the final 17 games, losing the RBI title and likely costing himself a chance at the MVP. Joe Mauer, meanwhile, was marvelous, hitting in 14 of 16 games played with a line of .381/.451/.556 with 12 RBI. I'll also mention Carlos Gomez, who finished strong at .306/.348/.484 with 16 RBI out of the 9-hole.

When your offense provides you with 3 or fewer runs in 8 of 17 games, you'd better have air-tight starting pitching if you want to come away with a winning record. Unfortunately, most of the Twins' young pitchers went into a serious fade at the end of the month. Kevin Slowey, Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins combined for just 3 QS over the final 2.5 weeks, frequently failing to finish 5 IP. Scott Baker was a bright spot, allowing 1 or fewer runs in 6 or more innings in 3 of his 4 starts, failing to do so only when a rainout forced him to pitch on 3 days' rest in Cleveland. We can also celebrate the emergence of Jose Mijares as a stabilizing presence in the 8th inning - he allowed only 1 ER on 3 H in 9 IP down the stretch.

Not a great finish for the Twins over the last 2 splits - there were certainly ample opportunities for them to have pulled out 1 more game than they did. Now they wait to find out whether their plane will be flying to Chicago of Tampa.

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