AL Central Champions by 6 games
The Twins maintained their searing 2nd half pace through the first 7 games of this split, going 5-2. Over that week, the White Sox lost another 6 straight games, and the division was clinched with rather shocking quickness at the end of September 21st, about 4 days earlier than I expected. It seems that after the Twins' emphatic sweep of the Sox in their home park (9-3, 9-3, 8-5), Ozzie's boys decided to get busy dying.
As the 1st team in the Majors to clinch, and with 2 full weeks before the start of the playoffs, the Twins had the luxury of resting their ailing regulars. Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and JJ Hardy missed virtually all of the season's final road trip. As for the bench guys and September call-ups who filled in for them, well... there's a reason those guys aren't big league starters. The offense sputtered over the final 10 games, scoring 3 or fewer runs 6 times.
Less understandably, the pitching staff mailed it in as well. Francisco Liriano lost his last 3 starts, surrendering more HR (5) in those games than he had in the previous 5 1/2 months (4). Each of the other members of the rotation delivered at least one clunker. That led to lots of opportunities for Glen Perkins, Jeff Manship and Alex Burnett in middle relief. Again, each of them showed why they spent much of the season in the minors, and why their numbers at Rochester weren't that great. The pitching staff coughed up 5 or more R in 7 of the last 10 games.
The defense continued its 2nd half trend of being ordinary at best. The Twins committed 15 errors, remarkably resulting in just 3 unearned runs. The unearned run season total of 33 was the best in the AL (50 seems to be about average). The final fielding percentage numbers were 2nd only to the Yankees.
Speaking of whom, the Twins are going to get a chance to avenge last year's postseason sweep. I hope to have time to address the series in depth before Wednesday night. Suffice it to say, the circumstances are a lot different this time around: the Twins are 8 wins better than 2009 (through 162 games), the Yankees are 8 wins worse. The Twins are rested. They have their rotation set. They have excellent depth in the bullpen. The batting order will end with Danny Valencia and Hardy instead of Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto. And the first 2 games will be at home.
Time to shine, fellas.
Bold prediction: Twins in 4.