With two months left in the 2010 regular season, the Minnesota Twins are finding themselves in a very comfortable spot in the AL Central. Although every team wishes to be in first place, the Twins find themselves one-half game back of the Chicago White Sox. This year has been a year of firsts and worsts for the Twins as they opened their new, outdoor ballpark, Target Field.
The Twins had to wait 28 years before outdoor baseball returned to the Twin Cities. They weren’t the only ones waiting, as the other 29 teams in the MLB were very excited that they never have to play at the Metrodome ever again. As with the Metrodome, the Twins have a good home record (33-20). They may have lost the noise factor from the Metrodome, but they still have the home field advantage.
Entering the 2010 season, there was a lot of hype about this team around the Twin Cities. With the additions of Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and J.J. Hardy, this was supposed to be one of the best lineups in recent years. Despite the offensive additions, there was angst within the fan base due to the lack of pitching upgrade. They were able to keep the rotation intact, but some felt that to get past the 1st round of the playoffs, they would have to upgrade their pitching.
That didn’t matter though as the Twins start the year by going 15-8 in April. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, referred to as the M&M boys, both had a good month of April. Both hit over .340 during the month, however Morneau really shined by hitting five home runs and driving in 17. The lack off leadoff hitting by Denard Span really hindered Mauer’s opportunity to drive in more runners.
The main question heading into April was, “Who will be the ace of this staff?”. With Scott Baker getting the Opening Day nod, some thought that he would be the ace. Francisco Liriano had a different idea. “How about me?”. Well, he sure as heck performed like the ace of this staff. In 4 April starts, he went 3-0, with an astonishing 0.93 ERA. He would go on to win the American League Pitcher of the Month for the month of April.
May was another good month for the Twins, as they would continue to hold onto first place in the A.L. Central. They entered May with a half game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Twins offense would continue to produce runs at a steady pace, with Justin Morneau have another solid month by hitting .400 with six home runs and 19 runners driven in.
Twins top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos, would make his MLB debut due to Joe Mauer’s ailing left heel. Despite playing in only seven games, he would hit .296, but only drive in one run. No one expected him to stay up very long, which was the case as he was sent back to Triple-A Rochester once Mauer was healthy enough to resume his catching duties.
Jon Rauch would continue to be a solid fill in for Joe Nathan at the closer role, as he picked up 6 more saves during the month, bringing his season total to 13 saves. However, the real surprise of the pitching staff was Nick Blackburn. Nick was by far the best Twins pitcher in May as he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA in five starts. With the struggles of Francisco Liriano during May, the Twins really needed someone to step up and provide some consistent pitching. So, it was very cool to see Nick take the spot.
The Twins were feeling very good about themselves heading into June with a four and a half game lead over the Tigers and an eight and a half game lead over the White Sox heading into June. However, things would be very different at the end of June. The Twins had the worst month of the season thus far, thanks to very inconsistent pitching.
Delmon Young finally started to emerge as a threat for the Twins. He came into the 2010 season looking very different. Like 20-30 pounds lighter and really worked on his hitting in the off-season. There was question whether or not Delmon would be a good fit in Minnesota and whether he would show flashes of his offensive output like he did during his rookie season, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He would go on to hit .320 with three home runs with 24 runs batted in.
The move the Twins made during June that I was a huge fan of was the call up of third base prospect, Danny Valencia. Danny has been groomed to be the next Twins third baseman and possibly the first true third baseman since Corey Koskie. There was some thought that Danny would be the Twins starting third baseman coming out of Spring Training, but the Twins thought he could use more work at the Triple-A level. He would start off by splitting time with Nick Punto at third and then go from there.
The one aspect that really caused the Twins problems during the month of June was the lack of consistent starting pitching. Unless your name is Carl Pavano. Carl would begin what would turn out to be a great streak of pitching for himself. As it turns out, it was a very smart move to re-sign Carl for the 2010 season. He would go 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts for the Twins in June. The rest of the Twins rotation would put up a record of 5-12, so Carl really came through in the clutch and allowed the Twins to finish June with a one game lead over Detroit and a two game lead over a streaking Chicago White Sox team.
The Twins were coming off a not so good June, where their starting pitching struggled and gave up quite a bit of ground in the AL Central. With the dog days of summer arriving, the fight for the AL Central crown was beginning to take shape. It’s going to be another battle to the end. Could we see another Game 163 this year? It may be too early to tell at this point, but sure looks like no one wants to keep control of an AL Central lead.
Delmon Young, aka Delmonster, continued to swing a hot bat and was the leader of the Twins offense during July as he would hit an amazing .434 with six home runs with 30 runs batted in. With the loss of Justin Morneau to a concussion and no idea of when he will return, someone had to really step up and be the offensive threat that Morneau usually is. Well it didn’t take Delmon long to adjust to that role. Despite it being a farfetched thought, Delmon could get a few votes for AL MVP come seasons end.
After a horrendous month of the June, the Twins starting pitching finally got their heads on straight. The starters went a combined 13-4 in the month of July. But that didn’t come with some change. After struggling quite a bit, manager Ron Gardenhire decide to move Nick Blackburn to the bullpen and give Brian Duensing a shot at starting. Carl Pavano continued to be the ace of the Twins staff after a little bit of a slow start. Through the end of July, Carl has a record of 13-6 with an ERA of 3.21 with 22 walks and 83 strikeouts. So without a doubt Carl Pavano is the ace of this staff with two months to go.
As the trade deadline approached, there was talk of the Twins possibly trying to acquire a starting pitcher, but GM Bill Smith had other plans. He traded catcher Wilson Ramos and LHP Joe Testa to the Washington Nationals for reliever Matt Capps. There was immediate confusion about why the Twins would trade one of their top prospects for a relief pitcher. The Twins must have felt that this was the best they could have gotten for Ramos. Capps will become the Twins closer, with Jon Rauch becoming the 8th inning set-up man for Capps.
Entering August, the Twins trail the White Sox by a half game, with Detroit in a free fall and now seven back of the White Sox. Anything can happen in the AL Central though, so this should be a very fun race to watch and we may even get to see a game 163 yet again. Will Justin Morneau be healthy enough to play at all down the stretch? How will the Twins starting pitching perform? These are just a few questions on Twins fans mind for the rest of the season.