1st in AL Central by 2.5 games
After playing consistently excellent ball in all phases of the game over the first 32 games, things tapered off for the Twins in this split. They were narrowly outscored, 69-68. Those figures represent about a 17% drop-off in scoring and a 22% increase in runs allowed. They had been 5-3 in 1-run games, but lost 4 of 7 in recent weeks.
The pitchers had their share of clunkers. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano each had starts in which they allowed multiple HR and more R than IP. Jesse Crain, Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch each got clobbered on multiple occasions, and Matt Guerrier finally allowed a HR. On the plus side, Nick Blackburn worked 7 or more innings in each of his starts and Alex Burnett got back to being pretty reliable in long relief. The pitching staff remains 3rd in the AL in ERA.
The offense continued to struggle with the bases loaded (with one notable exception!), but that didn't stop them in the first 2 splits. I attribute most of the decline in runs during this stretch to warning track power: the Twins have failed to put a ball in the seats in 9 of their last 10 games, though they routinely tantalize us with drives that die just short of the wall. They had been averaging about a HR/G, and had they kept that up, the difference in runs scored during this split would have been negligible. Eat your Wheaties, boys! However, they remain 5th in the AL in scoring.
Only the defense maintained the standard that had been set in the first 20% of the season. The Twins committed just 4 errors and allowed only 1 unearned run, remaining the runaway leaders in the league in those categories with 10 and 4, respectively. Even so, the IF without JJ Hardy was noticeably worse, so I'm very happy to have him back at SS every day.
Thanks to the season-opening series in Anaheim, the Twins' historically dreadful late-May west coast trip will consist of just 2 cities and 7 games instead of the typical 3 cities and 10 games. Those 2 cities, Oakland and Seattle, host two of the weaker lineups in the league, so if the offense can return to its early-season form, even allowing for continued futility with the bases loaded (which is unlikely), that trip should go OK. Then, June and interleague play, the time when the Twins have traditionally hit the accelerator during Gardy's tenure as manager. The fundamentals of this team remain very strong, so I'm expecting good things in this next stretch.
Bold prediction: At least 5 hits with the bases loaded, including another grand slam.