1. The Breakout (19-9)
The Twins win 8 of their first 9 series, including their first 4 on the road. They play 7 of the series against Central Division teams, and conclude those 21 games with a .667 winning percentage against each of their rivals. The offense puts up 5.3 R/game, the pitching staff has a 3.41 ERA, and the defense has been virtually flawless, yielding only a handful of errors and a single unearned run. This team looks as though it can wrap up the division by the end of July, and may stack up quite favorably against the titans of the East.
- Francisco Liriano goes 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and is named AL Pitcher of the Month for April.
- Justin Morneau hits .345/.483/.646 with 6 HR, 19 RBI, and a ridiculous 18/24 K/BB ratio.
- Jon Rauch converts 8 of his first 9 save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA, allaying concerns that the 9th inning would be a nightmare without Joe Nathan.
- Nick Blackburn is the only member of the rotation who struggles, amassing a 5.79 ERA and serving up 7 HR in just 32.2 IP. At least he can't get any worse, right?
- Jesse Crain sports a 5.27 ERA. All the damage against him is done in 3 of his 12 outings, but each is costly, turning close games into sound defeats.
- Jason Kubel draws plenty of BB, but otherwise hits a rather punchless .205/.340/.313 with just 2 HR and 11 RBI.
Warning Track Power
In the midst of some 9th inning heroics vs. the Tigers, JJ Hardy injures his wrist and spends most of the next 2 months on the DL. Orlando Hudson joins him after a game-ending collision with Denard Span and May 31st. Without the MI they acquired in the offseason, the Twins are forced to employ some combination of Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe in those positions. The results are similar to what we saw in 2009: a lineup full of holes, particularly at the #2 spot. The pitching and defense remain largely excellent, but the offense drops off into a feast or famine pattern, scoring 3 or fewer runs in 19 games with a 4-15 record. This epoch is embodied for me by the image of countless drives, potentially game-changers should they clear the wall, that instead fall harmlessly into the opposing OF gloves on the warning track. The Twins are this close to winning 5 or 6 more games during this time, but barely over .500 is all they wind up with.
- Kubel bounces back by hitting .278/.357/.513 with 7 HR and 27 RBI, including 3 HR and 9 RBI to help the Twins salvage each series against the Yankees.
- Delmon Young starts hitting like a #1 overall pick: .313/.347/.522 with 9 2B, 5 HR and 28 RBI thanks to consistently productive AB with RISP.
- Scott Baker throws 6 or more innings in all but one GS - and one of those was the suspended game against the Yanks in which he threw 5 shutout innings - for 6.1 IP/GS and a 3.54 ERA.
- Brendan Harris hits a wretched .131/.159/.148 with 14 K in 61 AB. That, plus his below average defense, will soon earn him a DFA.
- Denard Span posts just a .315 OBP - not nearly good enough from the leadoff spot. Most of his trouble comes on a 7-game trip to Seattle and Oakland during which he goes 2 for 30 with 1 BB.
- Ron Mahay allows 9 ER over 4 consecutive outings totaling just 3.1 IP. In those outings he allows 2 of the 4 HR and 3 of the 6 BB he has yielded all season.
Digging a Hole
I might have extended the Plateau 4 more games through the Philadelphia series, since the Twins went 2-2, keeping their record flat. But the theme of this part of the season is disastrous starting pitching, and that begins with Liriano's wild 1st inning against the Rockies: 3 ER on 4 H, BB and 2 HBP. That is the first of 8 occasions in which the Twins find themselves behind by 3 or more runs after 3 or fewer innings. The starters provide just 9 QS in 23 games, and 7 times fail to reach the 6th inning. As if that weren't enough, the defense falters, regularly giving away outs and bases. The bullpen fails to protect some late leads against Tampa and Toronto. And the offense holds up pretty well, but is still stymied for 3 or fewer runs 8 times, thanks to a continuing avalanche of GIDP. Almost nothing is working. This was a pretty tough part of the schedule, but still...
- Carl Pavano pitches into the 7th inning every time, saving the bullpen and putting the team in position to win.
- Crain does not allow a run in 8.2 IP, allowing just 4 H, 3 BB and 9 K.
- Jim Thome makes the most of his limited opportunities, hitting .302/.388/.721 with 6 BB, 3 2B and 5 HR in just 49 PA.
- Blackburn makes us wish for his April performance. He is torched for 28 ER in just 22.2 IP over 5 GS. In that span he allows 9 HR and 11 BB.
- Matt Guerrier quickly falls apart after being used 4 times in 5 days. Beginning with the 5th day, he allows 6 ER on 6 H, HR and 3 BB in 2 IP. The HR and BB totals match what he gave up in all of June.
- Joe Mauer hits .244/.306/.385, driving in just 7 R. The Twins need a lot more than that from the reigning batting champ and MVP, especially when the pitchers are struggling.