Wednesday, September 16, 2009

9th Split: 9-7

Overall Record: 73-72
2nd in AL Central by 4.5 games

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

Well, what do you know? The Twins delivered their 9th straight split within one win of .500, and are, not coincidentally, one win over .500 after 145 games. I've been keeping track of splits for most of this decade, and I've never seen anything close to this level of consistency. There's almost always a really bad stretch or a really good stretch. At this point, I don't know that this team has it in them do be anything but mediocre.

Sure, they were just one out away from one more win against the White Sox before Joe Nathan had the worst collapse of his Twins career. And don't forget that, in the 6th inning of that game, the umpires reversed a (correct) call that had awarded Michael Cuddyer a leaping catch at the wall in RF. So, when you think about it, the Twins pitchers and defenders actually got 27 outs without the White Sox scoring. But, that's just the kind of season they've been having.

The loss of Justin Morneau for the last three weeks of the season would seem to cement the Twins' dismal prospects. But, whether because of the sore back or his normal late-summer doldrums, he was hitting just .174/.275/.322 since August 1st. That wasn't quite as bad as what Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert were doing out of the #2 slot earlier in the season, but it's brutal non-production from a cleanup hitter, particularly when Denard Span and Joe Mauer are constantly on base. Losing Morneau means that Jason Kubel and Cuddyer can move up into those RBI spots, and they've already been cashing them in. Meanwhile, Morneau's AB will be made up down in the order by one of the extra OF, who shouldn't have any trouble at least matching what Justin was able to do in recent weeks. The payoff has been immediate, as the Twins have scored 5 or more runs in each game since Morneau went on the shelf.

Pitching was very good in this split - the Twins averaged just 3.5 runs allowed per game. The defense was strong as well, committing just 8 errors (4 in one horrible game in Cleveland) for 66 overall, the lowest total in the AL. They allowed only 2 unearned runs (also in that awful Cleveland game), raising their season total to 33, still second-lowest in the AL. The rotation seems to have stabilized (except for Jeff Manship, who will be skipped as much as possible from here on in), and the additions of Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay seem to have helped to quiet things in the bullpen.

The Twins have 7 games left with Detroit, 6 with KC, and 3 with Chicago. None of those teams has a positive run differential. Conditions are as ideal as they're ever going to get for the Twins to finally have a soundly winning split. Can the Tigers falter enough to give the division away? That will largely depend on how much damage the Twins can do to them head-to-head. If the Twins can win at least 5 of the 7 games, they stand a reasonably good chance of sending the Tigers to something like a 6-11 finish while the Twins go 11-6. They haven't been able to take care of business all season - it's now or never.

Bold prediction: They're going to come up just short.

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