Posted by: Jeff | September 17, 2010

The Irrepressible Minnesota Twins

On July 10, the Minnesota Twins were flailing.  With a record of just 45-42, they’d squandered a great start to the season and fallen into third in the AL Central standings, behind both the Detroit Tigers and the surging Chicago White Sox.  If that weren’t bad enough, they’d also just lost their best player having an MVP-worthy season, Justin Morneau, to what may still turn out to be a season-ending concussion.

And yet.  Fast forward to September 14, and the Twins were on the way to Chicago for a three game road series against the White Sox.  Holding a six-game lead, the series would be pivotal to the closing stages of the season and the playoff race.  A sweep at the hands of the Sox would mean a tenuous 3-game lead, and a perilous shift in momentum.

And yet.  The Twins played three games of magnificent baseball, silencing critics and ending the playoff race on a resounding note.  The Twins are playoff bound, and, at 42-16 since the All-Star Break, own the best record in the second half this season by far.  By comparison, the Yankees are a mere 32-26.

What explains this?  Well, in part, the Twins are a lot better in past years, a product of a payroll that has leapt to 10th-highest in the league.  But credit has to be given where it is due: the management of this team – though frustrating at times – has been altogether fantastic.

Take pitching.  Through June and July, the Twins starting rotation’s ERA was a staggeringly high 5.41.  Over the last month?  A very reasonable 2.96.  Most notably, reliever Jesse Crain, who was horrible through much of the first half, owns a 1.07 ERA since the All-Star break.  The additions of Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes in the bullpen has further bolstered a staff that, while it doesn’t feature any elite pitchers like a Johan Santana or Joe Nathan, is deep and talented enough to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Hitting has been better than expected as well.  The loss of Justin Morneau was deemed devastating, yet a number of bats have stepped up and propelled the Twins to a long hot streak.  Danny Valencia has proved an emerging talent at third base.  Delmon Young has finally proven himself as a talented hitter.  Joe Mauer has returned to the form he struggled to find while fighting off injury in May and June.  Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer continue to give consistency to the lineup.  And aging Jim Thome, cast off by the White Sox during the offseason, is having a season worthy of his Hall of Fame career.

All of this has a team that nobody expected to win the Division now creating a stir as the playoffs approach.   The disconnect is wide enough for Sports Illustrated editor Joe Posnanski to declare that Ron Gardenhire simply must be the Manager of the Year:

And where are the Twins right now? Exactly: First place, the American League Central is all sewn up, the Twins are only a half game behind Tampa Bay for the best record in all of baseball. They are 43-16 since hitting that low point — staggeringly awesome baseball. Gardenhire is about to take the Twins to the playoffs for the sixth time.

And, no, I don’t know if the Twins will do any better this time around — the Twins under Gardy have lost their last nine playoff games and have only won one playoff series — but on paper, to me, they at least seem in better playoff shape. They have the ace — Francisco Liriano has pitched as well this year as any pitcher in the league. They get on-base (second in OBP) and are fourth in the league in runs. Their bullpen, even without Nathan and with a couple of closers through the season, has been strong. We’ll see.

But I guess my point remains … I think Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. I think that not based on what we see but what we can’t see. I base this not on what I think a manager should do but on success. I base this not on individual moves but on the basis that the Twins are there on top one more time.

Posnanski seems convinced of Gardy’s magic, but some Twins fans remain skeptical.  Finally making a push in the playoffs and reaching the World Series would lay that skepticism to rest.  And these Twins are playing like they believe they have a shot.

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Responses

  1. yeah my dad will like this


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