Tuesday, October 6, 2009

10th Split: 13-4

Overall Record: 86-76
Tied for 1st in AL Central

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

Hmm, which one of these things is not like the others?

For 9/10ths of the season, the Twins were one of the most stubbornly .500 teams I've ever seen, never falling more than 6 games below or rising more than 3 games above the break-even mark. Whether it was holes in the lineup, weak starting pitching, or shaky bullpen work, the Twins' impressive strengths (Mauer, Span, Kubel) were never enough to do more than cancel out their glaring weaknesses.

But over the final 3 weeks of the season, everything came together. Orlando Cabrera scored in all but 1 game from the #2 spot. Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto all hit over .300, providing consistent offense from the bottom of the order for the first time all year. Michael Cuddyer was having a solid year, but he found another gear, hitting 7 HR with 19 RBI over the last 17 games. Add that to the guys I already mentioned, and suddenly the Twins were putting up over 6 runs/game, failing to score at least 5 in only 5 of 17 games.

The starting pitching was good enough for that much run support. They were led, as they were in the first half, by Nick Blackburn, who pitched into the 7th inning in each of his last 4 starts, with a 1.65 ERA and 18/1 K/BB ratio. The bullpen was not so cozy, as big leads frequently turned into save situations, but most of the trouble came from middle relief allowing inherited runners to score. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Ron Mahay, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan combined to allow 5 ER of their own over this split, and Jose Mijares had only allowed 1 before his final appearance on Saturday. So let's bring those guys in with the bases empty!

The Twins' defense committed 10 errors over this split - 4 in the ugly finale at Comerica last week. OC seems to let something get away from him almost every day at SS, and Brendan Harris had a terrible time with his limited opportunities at 3B. I'm impressed that Cuddyer has played so well at 1B, where he made several errors earlier in the year on Justin Morneau's off days. Overall, if the Twins can play an errorless game today, they'll finish tied with Toronto for the fewest E in the AL, and will have allowed just 39 unearned runs, a far cry from the 70 they yielded in 2008.

The Twins have lost just 4 times over their last 20 ball games, but 3 of those came at the hands of the Tigers. However, the Twins were 7-2 vs. the Tigers at the Dome this year, and have won 9 out 10 at home overall. The Twins have surged to the finish, the Tigers have sputtered. If Scott Baker can keep the Tigers in the yard, things should go well.

Bold Prediction: Today's game will not be the last the Twins play at the Metrodome.

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