Tied for 1st in AL Central
When all is said and done, I hope we'll look back on this split and see it as the low point of the season. As well as the Twins played in all phases of the game back in April, they were pretty weak in the latter half of June. It looked as though they were poised to turn a near-disaster into a spark when they pulled off an elating come-from-behind win against the Phillies at the start of the NL road trip. Instead, they finished this stretch 4-8, dropping them below a 90-win pace for the first time this season.
The offense sputtered a bit in the middle games, scoring just 15 R across 6 losses in 7 games from the 22nd-28th, including 2 shutouts. Denard Span, Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer were all underwhelming at the top of the lineup, providing fewer opportunities with RISP for Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel than we're accustomed to seeing. The pitchers didn't contribute much of anything during the 9 NL games. Nick Punto, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young did a pretty good job from the bottom of the lineup, though.
The big problem recently has been the rotation. Carl Pavano was awesome. Francisco Liriano was decent, but got himself into trouble with 1st inning wildness in 2 of his starts, digging the Twins a hole they couldn't get out of. Scott Baker had 2 splendid starts, 2-1 wins, and 2 stinkers in which he couldn't keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey each had a couple of nightmare starts in which they couldn't even finish 5 IP. The bullpen generally did a splendid job covering for them - until this afternoon, anyway.
10 errors led to 5 more unearned R in this split, costing the Twins at least one win against the Rays last Thursday. Again, those numbers are about equivalent to the totals the Twins had accrued in their first 3 splits combined (10 E, 4 unearned R). Worse than that, the Twins let numerous innings get out of hand when they failed to convert bunts, choppers and other rather gently hit balls into outs. They were scored as H or FC, but they still represent plays that could have been made, weren't, and therefore placed extra stress on the pitchers to try to control the damage, and on the offense to try to make up for the extra runs.
One important change: the Twins moved Cuddyer to 3B in order to keep both Young and Kubel in the lineup in the NL. That move has carried over back into the AL games, providing a spot for Jim Thome to get regular AB at DH. This has paid immediate dividends, as Thome seems to be the only person who can hit the ball out of Target Field with any regularity. Cuddyer will weaken the IF defense, but Thome's stick should more than make up for it.
One more game with the Rays, then the Twins spend the next 15 playing teams whose 1st half run differentials top out at -6. If they can return to the form they showed in April, there's no reason the next split can't get them back to their high-water mark of 11 games over .500.
Bold prediction: The Twins will enhance their roster with a trade sometime in the next 20 days.