Twins Record: 21-11
Overall Record: 87-76, AL Central Champions by 1 game
After stubbornly hanging around the .500 mark for most of the season, the Twins looked to be headed for more of the same in September. A shocking loss to the White Sox on the 2nd after 2 were out in the 9th inning started a 3-7 skid that killed their late August momentum and dropped them back to 2 games under at 70-72. During that stretch, the Tigers surged to a 7-game lead in the division. And then the Twins found out that Justin Morneau was going to miss the last 3 weeks of the season with a stress fracture in his back. With all that weighing them down, the Twins finally found themselves.
Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer had played well all season. But when Cuddyer moved from RF to 1B he stepped it up a notch, racking up a .920 OPS with 10 HR and 29 RBI. Orlando Cabrera scored from the #2 spot in nearly every game, 28 times altogether. Nick Punto gave the Twins a .400+ OBP from the #9 spot, with 7/8 SB. Matt Tolbert, filling in at 3B for Joe Crede, hit .333 from the #8 spot. And Delmon Young found his power, slugging .544 with 18 RBI from the #7 spot. In short, the Twins finally had a lineup without holes, and it bludgeoned the opposition to the tune of 6.3 runs/game over the last 21 games of the season.
The pitching mostly maintained the steadiness it found at the end of August. Led by Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn, the starters reliably found their way into the 6th inning, where they were buoyed by superb relief work from new acquisitions Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch, a resurgent Jesse Crain, and the constant good work of Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and (mostly) Joe Nathan.
With their backs against the wall for most of the month, the Twins played their best baseball of the season, catching the Tigers on the final weekend and defeating them in a play-in for the division championship. Their rapid defeat at the hands of the Yankees was utterly forgettable, but their incredible drive to the finish is something Twins fans can always remember fondly.
Grades this month go to hitters with at least 25 PA and pitchers with over 8.0 IP:
Just What We Needed
Joe Mauer - He wound up leading the league in OPS, so it's no surprise that he led the Twins in that category for September. The HRs tailed off, but with an OBP pushing .500, he was still quite an offensive force.
Denard Span - Quickly becoming one of the league's premiere leadoff men, Span followed his searing August with a strong September, hitting .317/.383/.442 with 23 R.
Michael Cuddyer - Perhaps the offensive MVP of the month. When a veteran steps up like that in the absence of a star like Morneau, that's leadership.
Jason Kubel - A typical month in Kubel's breakout campaign, he went berserk over the final weekend to finish Sept/Oct at .287/.358/.546 with 26 RBI.
Orlando Cabrera - He seemed to get stronger as the pressure increased. Cabrera was constantly crossing home plate in the final weeks of the season, finishing Sept/Oct at .315/.343/.477 with 4 HR.
Matt Tolbert - Called up when the rosters expanded, he found himself in the everyday lineup beginning on the 14th - the second day of the run. He stayed there because he hit .333 and played strong defense at 3B.
Delmon Young - Could this be a harbinger of things to come? Young's .340/.370/.544 line must have been what Bill Smith envisioned when he made that trade with TB.
Nick Punto - A #9 hitter with a .406 OBP is a very good thing.
Jesse Crain - After returning from his AAA demotion, Crain was as good as he's ever been, allowing only 8 H (0 HR) over 16 IP for a 1.00 WHIP and 1.13 ERA.
Jon Rauch - The big man had a fine introduction to the Junior Circuit, allowing just 3 ER in 14.2 IP (1.84 ERA), all of those coming in one appearance. The other 15 times he took the mound, he kept the score right where it was.
Ron Mahay - He alternated good and bad months all season, and the Twins were fortunate to catch a good one for their 5-week rental. He had a 2.16 ERA and 1.08 WHIP down the stretch.
Matt Guerrier - A far cry from last September, Guerrier finished off his bounce-back season with another steady month. He gave up 4 HR in 13.1 IP, but they were the only ER he allowed, good enough for a 2.70 ERA.
Nick Blackburn - Whatever he lost after the All-Star Break, he found it down the stretch. Blackburn gave the Twins 37 IP over 6 starts, with a 3.41 ERA and 1.14 WHIP (thanks to a 18/3 K/BB ratio).
Brian Duensing - My vote for pitching MVP of the month. Where the Twins had struggled for most of the year to find a solid 5th starter, Duensing delivered 35.2 IP over 6 starts with a 2.78 ERA. The comeback falls well short without that performance.
As Good As Could Be Expected
Jose Morales - About the only guy slumping in the final days of the season, Morales ultimately found his way back to the bench, but still hit a decent .269/.367/.308 for the month.
Jose Mijares - Stellar in September, Mijares really hit the wall when the calendar changed. Altogether, he delivered a solid 3.48 ERA with 10 K in 10.1 IP.
Scott Baker - I would have liked to have seen more innings from the de facto ace of the staff, but he gave the Twins a chance to win almost every time out and started two very big wins against the Tigers.
Joe Nathan - By his lofty standards it was a rather poor month for Nathan. Although, if you throw out that one horrendous outing against the White Sox, he gave up just 2 ER (both solo HR) on 7 H and 4 BB in 15 IP with 19 K, and converted 12 straight saves.
Carl Pavano - The Twins didn't bring in Pavano to be an ace, but rather to regularly pitch into the 6th inning and keep the team in the game. And, except for his start in Detroit, he did that, and the Twins won 5 of those 6 games.
Bobby Keppel - Though I continued to cringe every time he took the mound, Keppel managed to hold things together in middle relief up to the final weekend. Things got hairy then, but he was able to escape with the win in game #163.
Let Us Down
Brendan Harris - He had an opportunity to grab hold of 3B when Crede went down for the last time, but his poor hitting (.222/.311/.296) opened the door for Tolbert.
Justin Morneau - .077/.178/.179. I have to believe that the back injury can explain that.
Jeff Manship - He was pretty far over his head, having pitched just a handful of games at AAA before his call-up. But he was known for his control (2.8 BB/9 in the minors) and keeping the ball in the yard (0.4 HR/9), so to see him give up 12 BB and 4 HR in 24.2 IP was disappointing.
Francisco Liriano - Moved to the bullpen except for one not-so-great start against the Royals, Liriano didn't do particularly well there, either. He walked 7 in 9.1 IP. Will he ever throw strikes again?