Friday, October 3, 2008

September Review

Twins Record: 11-15
Overall Record: 88-75
2nd in AL Central by 1 game

After 4 straight winning months, it turned out the Twins would have made the playoffs if they'd just gone .500 in September. Instead, they had their worst record for any month of the season, finishing tied with the White Sox, and lost the division in a scintillating 1-game playoff by a 1-0 score.

Starting pitching, the Twins' greatest strength in August, let them down a bit in September. In 26 games (including the playoff), the Twins got just 12 quality starts. Only Scott Baker was strong down the stretch - perhaps not surprising, since he was the member of the rotation with the most MLB experience coming into the season. In 5 starts, he averaged 6.1 IP and a 2.53 ERA. The other 4 starters had ERAs of 4.66 or higher, and averaged just over 5 IP/start. With the middle relievers continuing to struggle, the scores started to get a little out of hand. The Twins' staff allowed 5 or more runs only 10 times in 29 August games, or about 34% of the time - it happened 12 times in 26 September games, about 46% of the time.

That meant the offense had to play even better than they did in August, but that trailed off as well. After averaging almost 5.6 runs/game in August, the Twins produced just a smidge over 5.0 runs/game in September. Denard Span, Nick Punto, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla all saw their production decline in the season's final weeks, though many of them continued to draw walks at a substantial rate. The baserunners were out there, they just weren't being knocked in like they were earlier in the season.

Timing isn't everything in this league, but it's a factor, and the Twins found themselves bowled over by some of the hottest teams in the league - Toronto at the beginning of the month, and Kansas City at the end. The Twins went just 1-5 vs. those momentum trains - outside of that, they did manage to play .500 ball in September. No excuse, and the Twins certainly were able to feast on some cold teams themselves over the course of the season, just another thing to consider.

Since this is the end, I'll change the grading system slightly. As usual, I'm going to stick to the regulars: only hitters with as many ABs as Mike Redmond, pitchers with as many innings as Dennys Reyes.

Just What We Needed

Joe Mauer - The MVP of this year's team, in my opinion. Down the stretch, when we need him most, he was at his best, appearing in every game but one and amassing a .365/.414/.490 line with a season-high 19 RBI to lead him to his 2nd batting title.

Craig Breslow - What right did he have to be this good? 0 ER allowed in 9 IP over 13 appearances.

Jose Mijares - A terrific debut for Mijares, who had missed much of the season recovering from an off-season elbow injury. The only run he allowed in 10.1 IP was let in by Matt Guerrier. I wish Gardy had figured out how good he was earlier in the month.

Jesse Crain - The 'pen's best right-hander after Joe Nathan. Crain actually outpitched Nathan this month, allowing just 1 ER in 8.1 IP while striking out 8.

Scott Baker - The Twins' best starter down the stretch, Baker's only rough start came when a rainout in Baltimore forced him to start on 3 days' rest in Cleveland. His performances on the final home stand helped ensure that the season ended tied.

Delmon Young - .333/.368/.455 was Young's best line in any month of the season. The guys around him in the lineup didn't do too much, so the runs and RBIs weren't impressive, but he did his part to contribute.

Brendan Harris - Harris made the most of his platoon role in September, batting .324/.419/.459. He delivered some pretty important pinch-hits as well, including the double that started the Twins' tying rally in the finale vs. the White Sox at the Metrodome.

Carlos Gomez - Wouldn't it be wonderful if he could play like this all the time? .289/.330/.470 with 10 XBH and 5/6 SB, plus some spectacular, game-saving catches.

Matt Tolbert - When he came off the DL in Toronto, Tolbert was swinging the bat great. I was surprised he didn't get more playing time down the stretch. He finished the month 10/30 with 3 triples and 3/3 SB.

Mike Redmond - Mauer made sure he wasn't needed much, but when he did get in there, Redmond went 5/15 with 3 RBI, making him and Mauer the best catching tandem in the league once again.

As Good As Could Be Expected

Denard Span - Span moves down a category only because his OPS slipped under .800. Despite seeing his BA drop to .278 for the month, he managed to keep his OBP very high (.391), which is what a leadoff man needs to do.

Nick Punto - After a fantastic July and August, Punto fell off quite a ways to .268/.348/.305. Still, that's right around his career averages, and a .348 OBP with 6/7 steals and 10 R from the #8 hitter isn't too bad.

Joe Nathan - Coming off 3 straight months of ERAs below 1.00, Nathan's 2.53 ERA for September stands out. All that damage came in one brutal loss at Cleveland. His blown save for the month was the result of poor defense behind him.

Dennys Reyes - Like Nathan, Reyes' September line (7.2 IP, 6 H, 9 K, 2.35 ERA, 10/5 GB/FB) looks great, especially when you consider that 2/5 BB he allowed were intentional. The only 2 R he allowed were solo homers, but one of them was a killer, a tying shot by Curtis Granderson in the 8th inning at the Metrodome - another of the games the Twins would love to have back.

Michael Cuddyer - .200/.400/.267 is certainly nothing to get excited about. But considering that Cuddyer had been out since late June and made his September comeback without the benefit of a rehab assignment, I think a .400 OBP (and 3/4 K/BB) was a pretty solid contribution for 15 ABs.

Let Us Down

Justin Morneau - Though he drove in 20+ runs for the 6th consecutive month, overall Morneau faded down the stretch. He finished September at .243/.298/.398, and drove in just 1 run on 2 XBH over the season's final 11 games.

Jason Kubel - The Twins might still be playing if Kubel had performed this month the way he did last September (.325/.404/.584). Instead, he came in .239/.313/.465. Though more than half his hits were for extra bases, there just weren't enough of them.

Brian Buscher - Pretty much a non-factor, hitting .222/.333/.234 with just 1 XBH in 45 ABs. At least he showed the best plate discipline of his MLB career so far (12/8 K/BB), making himself reasonably useful with a .333 OBP.

Alexi Casilla - Too bad he got injured when he did - he wasn't the same afterward. He finished up with just 1 XBH in September, hitting .221/.321/.253, and he missed some key bunting opportunities in the season's final week. Still, the 14/13 K/BB ratio is great, something to build on for next year.

Francisco Liriano - After being infallible in his first 8 starts since his recall, Liriano had a couple of clunkers at the end. Not bad for his first year back from Tommy John surgery, though.

Boof Bonser - I thought Boof's final appearance vs. KC pretty much summed up his season: 4 straight hits to begin an inning, only one of them hit hard. 14 K in his 14.1 IP, and a respectable WHIP before that final outing.

Kevin Slowey - Seemed to run out of gas in his final 2 starts before being beaten out of his last game by a Juan Uribe line drive. He gave up as many hits in 26.2 IP this month as he did in 37 IP in August.

Glen Perkins - Nobody hit the wall harder than Perkins. After going 6 or more IP in every start since June 30th, he failed to do it once in September. He allowed 6 HR in 35.1 IP in August, and 7 HR in 19.1 IP this month. His ERA was 7.45, and his WHIP was over 2.00. After skipping his start in the Chicago series, he ended the season on a good note with 5 quality innings vs. KC.

Nick Blackburn - Didn't hit the wall quite as hard as Perkins, but still had some ugly starts down the stretch. He allowed a season-high 8 HR, though his overall GB/FB numbers were very good. Whatever stock he lost in Baltimore and Tampa, he made it back up with his gutsy performance in the playoff vs. the White Sox.

Matt Guerrier - September was just as bad as August for Guerrier. The ERA was slightly lower (10.00 vs. 10.13), the WHIP was higher (2.56 vs. 2.06) - but when you're talking about numbers that bad, who cares? He allowed one or more baserunners in each of 9 appearances over the final 3+ weeks, taking the loss in 3 crushing home losses (and he was on the mound for another road loss). He's probably the LVP of at least the 2nd half of the season.

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