Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Review

Twins' Record: 12-15
Overall Record: 43-35, 1st in AL Central by 1.5 games

The Twins took a pretty significant step backward this month in just about every phase of the game. June is so often the point when the Twins put the pedal down, because they are routinely dominant in interleague play. But they went just 6-9 in their games against NL opponents this month, while playing .500 against AL teams. There's no shame in playing Atlanta, Colorado, Philadelphia and the Mets to a draw, but dropping 3 straight to the Brewers was a major low point, particularly when the Twins have won so regularly in Milwaukee in recent years.

The offense dropped off another half run from where they were in May, scoring just 4.26 R/G, good for just 11th in the league. They scored 3 or fewer R 12 times, going 2-10 in those games. A lot of that was related to Orlando Hudson spending half the month on the DL, then needing a while to get back up to speed. A lot of it has to do with a subpar month from Joe Mauer, and a fairly punchless month from Michael Cuddyer. The Twins drew far fewer walks, dropping their OBP below league average for the first time this season. Where they did succeed, it was due especially to the soaring OBP Nick Punto provided at the bottom of the lineup (even when Denard Span and Hudson were scuffling) and the clutch hitting of Delmon Young, who always seemed to come through when he came up with RISP.

The pitching slumped from the top tier of the league down to the middle of the pack with a 4.22 ERA. They allowed 5 or more R 13 times, going 1-12 in those games (the only win coming in the Saturday afternoon slugfest in Philly). The back end of the rotation was the main culprit: Scott Baker (6.07 ERA), Kevin Slowey (5.29) and Nick Blackburn (10.17) were regularly battered, combining for just 87.2 IP over 17 GS (5+ IP/GS) and allowing 19 HR (1.95 HR/9) in that span. Thankfully, Carl Pavano was brilliant, mopping up 40 IP over 5 GS with a sparkling 2.25 ERA. And Alex Burnett was the weakest link in the bullpen with a 4.22 ERA - not too shabby.

I was used to seeing zeroes from the Twins in the Error column of the box score, but this month that wasn't the norm. After committing just 12 E and allowing only 5 unearned R over the first 2 months of 2010, the Twins had 17 E and 7 unearned R in June. 3 of those E and unearned R were the difference between winning and losing the finale against the Royals. And there were several times when the IF failed to convert bunts and fielded grounders into outs, extending innings and allowing more damage to be done. I blame the absence of Hudson and JJ Hardy for a lot of this - hopefully those two will both be able to stay on the field for the 2nd half.

While the Twins were stumbling along, the White Sox and Tigers were rampaging through a slate of National League cream puffs, so the standings are suddenly pretty tight. The next month will set the tone for the 2nd half of the season. If the Twins play the way they did in April, they'll rebuild their lead and force the competition to make some tough choices about whether they want to upgrade their rosters in order to stay in the race. If they play the way they did in June, they'll embolden the rest of the division, and we'll be in for another fight all the way to the final days of the season.

This month I'll just be looking at guys who contributed at least 30 PA or 9 IP:

Getting It Done

Jason Kubel - It took a couple months to get going, but .316/.356/.537 is a line that any team will be happy to have from a corner OF.

Jim Thome - Here's how to make the most of limited playing time: in just 28 AB, Thome had 8 H, 7 for extra bases. Giving him regular PA for the rest of the season could be one of the keys for the Twins in the 2nd half.

Delmon Young - The walks really trailed off, and the IsoP wasn't terribly impressive, either. What was impressive was the timeliness of Young's hits, as he seemed to come through in every situation with RISP. His 24 RBI were 50% more than any other Twin accumulated.

Carl Pavano - The pitching MVP for the month, Pavano not only soaked up 40 IP in 5 GS, he did it with a 2.25 ERA and 0.80 WHIP.

Jon Rauch - Only 4/5 in save opportunities, but he was generally pretty reliable, allowing just 6 baserunners in 9 IP and only 1 ER, a memorable 2-out PH HR in the bottom of the 10th.

Jesse Crain - I wasn't sure he was going to stay on the staff after May, so I can forgive a few too many walks (6 in 9.2 IP) if it comes with 9 K, 9 H and 0 HR allowed for a 1.86 ERA.

Brian Duensing - Whether he needs to pick up a few innings after a short start, face a tough lefty or two, or give a full inning in the setup role, Duensing has been totally effective this year.

Matt Guerrier - Another great month for Guerrier in terms of ERA (2.03) and WHIP (1.20), and he finally had the strikeouts (12 in 13.1 IP) to justify it.

Ron Mahay - Last season, Mahay bounced between good months and lousy months. That pattern is continuing in 2010. June was one of the good months.

So Far, So Good

Justin Morneau - .299/.349/.505 is about the least I'd expect from an All-Star first baseman.

Danny Valencia - He was surprisingly punchless in the minors, and that's continued with the Twins. But he's hitting for average (.304) and has drawn enough walks to get his OBP to .360. That, plus competent defense at 3B, is a solid contribution from a rookie at the bottom of the lineup.

Nick Punto - .301/.396/.386 is about as good a hitting line as we'll see from Punto. Unfortunately, his defense was shaky at times - the mistakes he made in the field led to a few extra runs that really hurt.

Francisco Liriano - Just look at the key peripherals: 6.2 IP/GS, 2.2 BB/9, 10.9 K/9, 0 HR/9, 1.18 WHIP. Those are ace numbers. If he can just cut down on the HBP and IF H, we're in business.

Alex Burnett - I feel like we're starting to see some cracks in Burnett's game. But, he's a rookie, and a rather young one, and he's holding his own.

Need To Pick It Up

Joe Mauer - .271/.349/.396 is decent for a C, but it's not worth $23M/year.

Denard Span - Only 7 BB this month, dropping the OBP to .319. That's not going to cut it from the leadoff spot.

Orlando Hudson - He's been slow to recover from his injury, striking out 12 times in just 50 AB since his return to the lineup.

Michael Cuddyer - He hit a HR the 2nd game of the month, and that was that in the power department. Great to see him willing to take on 3B, though - letting Thome into the lineup should be a net gain for the team.

Matt Tolbert - A .625 OPS isn't too far beneath what one could have expected from Tolbert. It's also not enough to make it worth keeping him around.

Kevin Slowey - The WHIP is identical to Liriano's, the BB/9 is better. But 5 HR in 32.1 IP is too many, not to mention all the other XBH he gave up - usually in quick succession.

Scott Baker - A strikeout per inning, a walk every 10 IP. That's excellent. But 8 HR in 29.2 IP? That's horrendous.

Nick Blackburn - Whatever he had going for him in May didn't follow him into June. He was shelled for 45 H, including 6 HR, in just 25.2 IP over 6 GS. Even worse, he walked 11 in that time, a rate someone with his stuff can ill afford.

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