Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1st Place (and +100 Run Differential)

That was enjoyable. Aside from a bit of a shaky outing from Scott Baker, last night's win was enjoyable in just about every way. 5 HRs, good at-bats all night, some solid bullpen work from Matt Guerrier all added up to a big Twins win and sole possession of 1st place for the first time since July 2nd. Last night also marked the first time this season that the Twins run differential has cracked the +100 mark. This number sparked my curiosity so I did some digging. Since 2002, 51 teams have finished the season with a +100 run differential or better. Of those 51 teams, 84% of them have made the playoffs. With 50 games left on the schedule, I realize this analysis is a bit premature, but these numbers are pretty convincing and I don't see any reason why the Twins wouldn't continue to improve their run diff. number.

In getting back to 1st place, the Twins have followed my "Steps to Reclaiming 1st Place" pretty closely. They've beaten the White Sox (4 out of 5 times since then), beaten the teams they should beat, won the division games (18-7), demoted Nick Blackburn to Triple-A, and shaken up the bullpen a little (brought back and subsequently sent down Slama and added Capps). They didn't add a starter, but Brian Duensing has performed admirably in his starts since joining the rotation and tonight we get to see what will hopefully be a reinvented Glen Perkins. There was a good article written about Perkins in the Pioneer Press this morning and Perkins has pitched well in his last 7 starts going 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA.

Joe Mauer has now improved his season hitting line to .325/.397/.485 which is still a good bit off from his .365/.444/.587 line from last year, but is right in line with his overall career numbers. He's 13 for 27 (.481) in his 7 games with 3 multi-hit games, 5 runs and 9 runs-batted in. It gets even better if you go back over Mauer's last 11 games where he's hitting .488 with 11 runs and 12 RBIs. It doesn't look like this shoulder is bothering him anymore, here's to hoping it stays like that for the rest of the year.

I was thinking last night, much has been made of how well the Twins have been playing without Justin Morneau. They mentioned it again on the White Sox broadcast and I've read it various other places as well. I'm here to argue that Justin Morneau has nothing to do with it, but rather, the absence of Nick Punto is what has been good for this team. In the 12 games that Punto started for the Twins since July 9th, they were 7-5. In the other 16 games, they were 12-4. In June the Twins had their worst month of the season and Punto started every game (he did play well though hitting at a .301/.396/.386 clip). I say this very tongue-in-cheek because really, this Twins team is a good one despite the absence of one or two players. Danny Valencia has played quite well so far at 3rd, committing only 1 error in 323 innings. I'm looking forward to Morneau's return, but I don't mind keeping Valencia at 3rd, he's earned some extra time.

Jim Thome celebrated his birthday on Monday (doesn't turn 40 till Aug. 27th) and then proceeded to hit a HR in last night's game against the Sox. Of all the moves Bill Smith has made since taking over for Terry Ryan, signing Thome has got to rank near the top. To quickly revisit, Thome signed a one-year deal with the Twins for $1.5MM in base salary plus $750K in incentives. He has a .267/.392/.579 line in 237 plate appearances this year and has been the left-handed pop that the Twins hoped he would be. Not only that, he's been a great addition to the team personality-wise and has helped to fuel the impact that some of the callups have had on this team. So to Bill Smith, I salute you for signing Thome.

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