Overall Record: 58-46, 2nd in AL Central by 0.5 games
It's remarkable how neatly this month can be cut in half. From the 1st through the 15th, the Twins went 3-8, allowing 6.0 R/G while scoring 4.1. From the 16th - 31st, they were 12-3 - including a 7-0 run to end the month, with the pitching and defense improving to just 3.0 R/G while the offense put up 6.6. Most of that stretch coincided with the Twins facing the 4 worst teams in the AL (Cleveland, Baltimore, KC and Seattle) for 12 games. Good teams have to be able to take care of business against the bad teams, and the Twins handled them just fine.
For the month, the Twins led the league in all three triple slash categories. The upturn in offense was largely fueled by facing bad pitching, though Gavin Floyd, Felix Hernandez and Zach Greinke were among the pitchers the Twins were able to rough up. What was really amazing was that they were able to achieve such impressive offensive numbers without Justin Morneau, out since the 7th with a concussion, and Orlando Hudson, who missed the last week with a strained oblique. More than picking up the slack were Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young, who finally fulfilled his promise as a middle-of-the-order run producer. Joe Mauer has also surged since the All-Star Break.
The pitching turnaround more or less coincided with the belated decision to remove Nick Blackburn from the rotation. In 11 IP over his first 2 GS, Brian Duensing allowed just 3 ER on 12 H and 1 BB with 5 K. Francisco Liriano had the one clunker in Detroit right before the break, but went at least 7 IP in each of his other 4 GS, allowing a total of 3 ER in those games. The bullpen was bolstered by the addition of Matt Capps and the demotions of Alex Burnett and Blackburn.
The defense got back to sure-handedness after a terribly sloppy June. The Twins committed just 5 E in July, resulting in only 4 unearned runs. They remain comfortably in first place in the AL in each of those categories with 34 and 16, respectively. There were plenty of plays, especially early on, in which the defense failed to convert balls in play into outs but were not charged with errors. Obviously, the improvement in run prevention since the break suggests that those sorts of plays have been cleaned up along with the pitching.
The Twins play just 11 games at home in August, so they'll need to maintain at least the .500 ball they've played on the road to this point in order to stay even with the White Sox. Most importantly, they've got 6 games head-to-head with the Sox. If they can keep winning 2 of 3, as they have in the first 3 series this year, they have a great chance of putting themselves back in the lead as they head into September.
This month I'll be looking at hitters with at least 25 PA and pitchers with either 9 appearances or 3 GS:
Getting It Done
Delmon Young - The bad news is, he only drew 2 BB in 112 PA. The good news? When you hit .434/.455/.736 with 6 HR and 30 RBI in 26 games, it's probably better that you swing away.
Joe Mauer - I knew there was an MVP in there somewhere, trying to get loose. Mauer cranked his OPS up to .962 and doubled his HR total.
Danny Valencia - .453/.508/.623 with 6 2B and, finally, a HR. For those who questioned his plate discipline, he had a 4/6 K/BB ratio. I think he's seen the last of Rochester.
Alexi Casilla - Filling in for the injured Hudson, Casilla turned the clock back to May of 2008, going 9 for 28 with 2 3B and 1 HR with a .355 OBP from the #2 spot.
Jason Repko - His performance took me back to the summer of 2006, when the Twins called up player after player from AAA, and they all raked for a while. Repko surpassed Casilla, going 9 for 27 with 2 2B and 2 HR.
Jim Thome - In his first month with regular playing time, Thome didn't disappoint, hitting .277/.397/.554 with 3 2B and 5 milestone setting HR.
Justin Morneau - Only 1 BB in his week of work, but 2 2B and 2 HR pushed the OPS to .945. I hope he can come back soon.
Michael Cuddyer - As he did when Morneau hit the DL last year, Cuddyer has picked it up at the plate (.883 OPS) while playing nearly flawlessly in the field.
JJ Hardy - Finally healthy, Hardy showed that he's got a good bat to go along with his excellent glove. He hit .351/.377/.486 with 5 2B, 3B, and his first HR since April.
Francisco Liriano - His BABIP, obscenely high in the first half, is finally starting to normalize. Even with that crappy start in Detroit, he had a 2.97 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 33/9 K/BB in 30.1 IP.
Carl Pavano - Start after start, he pitches deep into the game. It was a shock when he came out after 5 IP in KC. For the month, he averaged 7.1 IP/GS with a 2.91 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
Jesse Crain - Just about a perfect month for a reliever: 11.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K. A couple months ago he looked like a possible DFA. Now he looks dominant.
Brian Duensing - The WHIP got a little high, but he kept the ball in the yard and his ERA under 2.00. That won't last now that he's in the rotation, but he only has to be better than Blackburn, so the bar hasn't been set too high.
Ron Mahay - Another good month, with just 2 ER allowed on 1 HR in 9 IP. Hopefully he's got 2 more good months left in him.
Jose Mijares - His ERA looks pedestrian next to those of some of his fellow relievers, but the K/BB (9/2) and WHIP (1.17) were excellent.
So Far, So Good
Orlando Hudson - He was swinging the bat about as well as he has all season, providing a .353 OBP from the #2 spot, when he went on the DL.
Kevin Slowey - Still not quite averaging 6.0 IP/GS, but the ERA (4.06), WHIP (1.16), HR/9 (0.9) and BB/9 (0.9) are pretty much where they need to be.
Need To Pick It Up
Jason Kubel - Only 5 XBH in 95 AB to go along with a .232 BA. 9 BB isn't bad, but 27 K kinda is.
Denard Span - The K/BB rate (8/10) is great, but his .245 BA kept the OBP down at .315, and that's not good enough for a leadoff hitter. Also 2 CS and a couple of pickoffs.
Drew Butera - I guess he's a really great catcher, because he can't hit a lick (.214/.207/.357).
Nick Punto - Regressed to the 2007 model: .226/.281/.264, and only 1/3 in SB attempts.
Scott Baker - Continuing his habit of pitching really well, except for that one bad inning. Only a few more H and BB than Slowey, but enough to make the results noticeably worse.
Jon Rauch - I'm guessing it was the 2.28 WHIP more than anything else that made the Twins look for a new closer.
Matt Guerrier - 9 IP, 12 H, 8 ER, HR, 4 BB, 2 K, and 3 losses. That's a pretty putrid month.
Nick Blackburn - Not as bad as this, though: 17.1 IP, 30 H, 19 ER, 5 HR, 3 BB, 5 K for a 9.87 ERA and 1.90 WHIP. 4-year contract or no, those numbers are going to get you sent to the minors.