Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Twins Mid-season Report

July 5, 2008 finds the Minnesota Twins at 48-38 only 1 game out of first place in the A.L. Central Division. I don’t think anyone was expecting this. The Twins had traded away a 2 time Cy Young Award winner (Johan Santana), and allowed an All-Star player (Torii Hunter), and their #2 starter (Carlos Silva) to leave via free agency. If anything most everyone had the Twins peg as a talented, but young team which would hover around the .500 mark.

Yet here they are on the verge of first place. How could this have happened?

1. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are superstars and playing like it.

It is now apparent that as Morneau goes, so go the Twins. Morneau has been brilliant this year, hitting over .300, second in the A.L. in RBIs, and playing gold glove defense. He is the best first basemen in the American League. That long term extension the Twins signed him to this off-season is looking better all the time.

Mauer is simply the best catcher in baseball. He calls great games, plays well defensively, and hits with the best hitters in baseball. Healthy this season, Mauer could win another batting title. He was voted the starting A.L. catcher for this year’s All-Star game, as he should.

2. Joe Nathan is best closer in baseball.

Many wondered why a re-building club like the Twins would sign the 33 old Nathan to a contract extension instead of trading him. You sign Nathan because his presence gives confidence to a young starting rotation that their efforts will not be blown when it gets crunch time in the 9th. Nathan has saved every game he has been asked to except for 2, and the Twins rally back to win both games.

Having Nathan changes the outlook of this club. In an age where having a great closer is a key, the Twins have the best.

3. Alexi Casilla

In May the Twins offense look spotty, then Alexi Casilla arrived. I heard about Casilla a couple of year ago. He had good success in the minors and when he arrived in late 2007, I was expecting a good hitter who would steal bases and play great defense solving our 2nd base problems for years to come. Well, Casilla looked bad in 2007, and was sent back to the minors early in spring training this season.

However, I learned long ago that many a great player started out their major league career playing bad. When the opportunity to return to the major presented itself Casilla seized it and never let go. Everything I expected in 2007, I have gotten in 2008.

Casilla is the perfect #2 hitter. In fact he has lead off hitter potential. A great bunter, able to work the count; steal bases, and showing some surprising power, Casilla may be the third most important every day Twin.

One last point about Casilla, he has been a pal for the electrifying and sensitive Carlos Gomez. Gomez is a great talent, but needs someone to keep him somewhat grounded. Fellow Dominican Casilla is that guy. Gomez and Casilla are a great 1-2 at the top of our line-up. Remember in baseball, speed kills. Gomez and Casilla have speed in spades.

4. Our young starting pitching is coming of age.

Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey are giving the Twins incredible starting pitching. All have ERA’s under 4, and more impressively all have better than 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratios.

Glen Perkins also looks to be coming around, while somehow Livan Hernandez is hanging around and winning games. If this young staff keeps developing, they could be the Twins best starting pitching since 1991.

5. The Pohlads, Bill Smith, and Ron Gardenhire may know what they are doing after all.

The Pohlads guessed right on who to give the six year contract extension too (Morneau not Santana). Bill Smith traded Santana to the right New York team (Phil Hughes, the key to the Yankee deal, pitched horrid then got hurt).

Ron Gardenhire is doing some good managing. He kept with Gomez and Delmon Young when it seemed like they were not going to get the job done. He kept calm as the left side of the infield falter. He is smart enough to let his brilliant pitching Rick Anderson work with his young pitching staff without interference.