Saturday, August 29, 2009

8th Split: 9-7

Overall Record: 64-65
2nd in AL Central by 4.5 games

Previous splits: 7-9, 8-8, 9-7, 8-8, 9-8, 7-9, 7-9

The Twins continued their .500-ish malaise with yet another moderate split. However, considering that they lost 4 of their first 5, they did pretty well. The big comeback game in Texas on the 18th was the turning point, for this stretch of games at least. They've won 8 of 11 games since then, and the starting pitching has been pretty good the last two times through the rotation (with the exception of the Armando Gabino experiment, of course). Most importantly, the feeling around the team has changed - at least it has for me. When the Twins reached the 9th inning of Tuesday night's game tied with the Orioles, I finally, really believed that the they were going to find a way to win it, something I haven't been able to say for several weeks. And, sure enough, they did.

The offense has continued to be strong, averaging nearly 5 runs/game. Denard Span had a particularly good stretch, reaching base 35 times over the last 16 games and scoring 11 runs. Just as helpful has been the resurgence of Alexi Casilla, who reclaimed the 2nd base job by hitting .375 and scoring 9 runs in the 12 games he played over this stretch. Justin Morneau is in the midst of his typical August slump, but Michael Cuddyer has picked up the slack by hitting .300/.344/.533 in recent games.

Pitching-wise, Scott Baker has re-established himself as the ace of the staff, winning all three of his starts by allowing only 5 ER on 15 H and 3 BB over 21.1 IP for a 2.13 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. But the most surprising contributor to the staff's turnaround had to be Brian Duensing, who gave the Twins a 3.00 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 15 IP while collecting his first two Major League wins. Also encouraging is the improved work of Jesse Crain - his 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 will do nicely for the remainder of the season.

The Twins' defense committed 8 errors in this split, few enough to remain 2nd in the league in that stat and fielding percentage. More importantly to me, they allowed only 1 unearned run in the last 16 games, maintaining the #2 spot in that category, just 1 behind Texas. And the defense turned in some spectacular plays during this split - most notably Casilla's ridiculous diving backhand shovel/flip to Orlando Cabrera for an inning-ending force out against the O's.

We've seen some better baseball recently, at last. But the Twins must keep playing at this rate, particularly against their division rivals, from here on out. I don't think the Tigers will be able to finish with more than 86 wins. Even so, that almost certainly means that the Twins must reach double-digit win totals on their last two splits in order to take the division lead away. And that's something they haven't shown themselves to be capable of doing so far this season.

Bold prediction: The bullpen isn't going to be a problem over this next split.

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