Twins Record: 12-12
Overall Record: 52-51, 3rd in AL Central 2 games back
I return home from my month of travels to find our heroes more or less where I left them: hanging around the .500 mark, a couple of games out of first. It seems clear that a mediocre team will win the Central Division this year, and that last year's 89 wins would comfortably get the job done if anyone could get there. The Twins have to go 36-23 over the final two months just to match their 2008 win total. That would be a stretch of excellence unprecedented so far in 2009. Adding Orlando Cabrera may marginally upgrade their lineup - particularly if he can maintain some of the scorching hotness at the plate he had in July - but it's not suddenly going to turn this .500 team into a winner.
The offense isn't going to score as many runs as last year - that shouldn't surprise anyone. However, as I predicted, the regression in BA with RISP has been made up for somewhat by an increase in power. The Twins have already surpassed their meager HR total from 2008, and are currently on pace to score 780-ish runs, within the range of scoring they had in all of their competitive seasons under Ron Gardenhire. The acquisition of Cabrera somewhat cements the likelihood that the Twins will have a solid offensive season.
Unfortunately, they're also on pace to allow 780-ish runs, which would be by far the most of the Gardy era. In July, for the first time in a long while, the Twins' pitchers finished dead last in the AL in R, ERA, BA and, tellingly, K. The Twins' staff, and in particular the middle relievers, is now overwhelming composed of "Twins pitchers" - strike-throwers who pitch to contact. While that model has served the Twins well over this decade, it can be a weakness if, say, someone has a lapse of control, or a fielder overruns a foul pop. Those extra baserunners and swings can become fatal when you rely on converting balls in play into outs. Sometimes bloopers fall in, grounders trickle through, fly balls elude the grasp of even the fleetest outfielders. But a swing and a miss is always a swing and a miss.
No one is coming to the rescue of the pitching staff, especially now that Kevin Slowey is out for the balance of the season. They will all have to step up and put their poor July performances behind them. And there is some hope that this can be done. While the Twins were outscored 140-128 this month, the majority of that damage was done by the two best teams in the league, the Yankees and Angels. In 8 games against those two perennial contenders, the Twins went 1-7 and were outscored 55-37. In the balance of their schedule, the Twins went 11-5 and outscored their opponents 91-85. Other than 7 games with the Rangers and 4 with the Blue Jays, the bulk of the Twins' remaining schedule comes against mediocre or worse teams. As long as they can avoid any further once-in-a-generation collapses like they had in Oakland, that still gives them a reasonably good chance to finish on the happy side of .500 and, therefore, in contention for the AL Central title.
This month I'm grading hitters with at least 20 PA and pitchers with at least 10 IP.
Getting It Done
Justin Morneau - Once again, we find him on pace to hit 40 HR. He's got to keep it up - this pitching staff can't afford one of Morneau's typical late-season slumps.
Jason Kubel - Nearly matched Morneau's numbers in slightly fewer PA. Doesn't his contract look like a bargain now?
Joe Mauer - Another decline from the godly heights he ascended in May, but still fantastically productive and the best around at his position.
Denard Span - Every month, he delivers an OBP around .380, steals a few bases, and plays solid defense. What a luxury to have such consistency at the top of the lineup.
Delmon Young - .313/.343/.500 with a reasonable K/BB of 7/2 - that's what we were hoping for when he came to MN. Now if he could just keep that up for longer than 32 AB.
Matt Guerrier - The guy gives up one ER on 7 H and 1 BB in 16.1 IP, and it's a game-tying HR in the 8th inning of a game the Twins wind up losing. That's the kind of season they're having.
Joe Nathan - And Nathan finally blows his first save in 2 months, and that costs the Twins a win. This team doesn't have much margin for error...
Jose Mijares - The walks are a little high, but he didn't give up many hits and had 10 K in 12.1 IP, so it worked out just fine.
Anthony Swarzak - 3.50 ERA in 18 IP over 3 starts. Boy, does he need to find a way to keep that up!
So Far, So Good
Michael Cuddyer - Too many K this month, but an OPS around .800 with 6 HR is still not too bad.
Carlos Gomez - .250/.323/.411 isn't dynamite, but it shows real progress for Gomez, particularly the 13/5 K/BB rate.
Brian Buscher - Though he didn't manage any XBH, Buscher hit .321 for the month with an OBP over .400. He'll get regular playing time at Rochester for a month before undoubtedly joining the expanded roster in September.
Scott Baker - An ERA under 4.50 and nearly a K/IP are huge improvements for Baker. If the Twins are going to get over the hump these last two months, he's going to have to step up the way he did down the stretch last year. That means regularly pitching into the 7th inning.
Brian Duensing - I don't know if he's ever going to do a lot better than a 4.95 ERA, but that spot start he gave the Twins against the White Sox was huge.
Need To Pick It Up
Joe Crede - He needs to hit for higher average, draw more walks, and hit for more power than he did in July. But most of all, he just needs to stay on the field.
Nick Punto - His 11/15 K/BB ratio made him reasonably valuable at the bottom of the lineup with a .337 OBP. But even he should be able to hit over .200.
Mike Redmond - No XBH, no BB. I love the guy, but Jose Morales should be getting those AB.
Brendan Harris - His .525 OPS for the month is a big reason why OC is on the team now.
Alexi Casilla - Like Punto, he did some good at the bottom of the lineup by drawing enough BB for a .315 OBP and going 5/5 in SB. Do that while hitting over .200 and maybe we've got something.
Francisco Liriano - 22/9 K/BB ratio, 8.37 K/9, not bad. It was the 6 HR in 23.2 IP that killed him (and the Twins) this month.
Nick Blackburn - This was bound to happen, and why I thought the Twins should have traded him at the All-Star Break. He pitched poorly enough for the Twins to lose two games on the recent road trip in which they scored 5 or more runs. With Slowey out, it's a good thing he wasn't traded, but he needs to be a 3 ER in 7 IP starter for the rest of the season for the Twins to contend.
Bobby Keppel - That sparkling start evaporated pretty quickly this month as Keppel walked 8 while striking out just 5 and was on the mound for some of the Twins' most difficult innings this month.
Glen Perkins - Remember back in April, when Perkins was briefly among the league leaders in IP and ERA? He'd better figure it out in a hurry, or the Twins are going to be throwing away every 5th game.
RA Dickey - OK, that's one bad month after three pretty good ones. Let's see where he takes it from here.