FINAL RECORD: 83-79
The Twins fell well short of expectations last year, finishing barely above .500 and 16 games out of first place when many people had pegged them as World Series contenders. The offense was the worst in the American League, producing only 688 runs and failing to support a pitching staff that posted a 3.71 ERA and held opponents to a .307 batting average, second best in the AL. That was the story of the year though really; pitchers delivering great performances only to be hung out to dry by an offense that frequently couldn't produce more than one or two runs per game, even against mediocre pitching. As a fan, it was frustrating to watch the team fall out of contention mid-way through the season, but there was still a lot of great baseball and some positive things to be taken away from the future. Now, a list of my most memorable aspects of the 2005 season.
The Disappointing Hitters
Who could've guessed that Justin Morneau would regress from .271/.340/.536 to .239/.304/.437? Or that Shannon Stewart's OPS would plummet 116 points? Jacque Jones hit .249 and struck out 120 times. Michael Cuddyer hit .204 with runners in scoring position. Luis Rivas hit so badly that the Twins had to gamble on Bret Boone, who proceeded to hit .170 in 14 games with the team before being promptly dumped. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Twins' offense last year did. I literally cringed every time the Twins loaded the bases, just wondering how they would manage to butcher the scoring opportunity. That's just not right.
Santana Robbed of Cy Young
The Baseball Writers of America foolishly awarded Angels' ace Bartolo Colon with the AL Cy Young award despite the fact that our own Johan Santana was clearly deserving. Santana was significantly better than Colon in every major category other than wins, and he led the Major Leagues in strikeouts. This debacle really has diminished the prestige of the Cy Young Award, in my mind, because it shows that the people voting for it truly do not have a very good knowledge of the game of baseball. Pitching is about a hell of a lot more than wins.
Who would've known Carlos Silva, the former relief pitcher acquired from the Phillies in the Eric Milton trade, would turn out to be one of the most accurate pitchers in baseball history. Silva pitched 188 innings and walked only nine batters. He posted an excellent 3.44 ERA. He also had quite the knack for posting incredibly low pitch-counts, including a historical 74-pitch complete game on May 20.
The One-Hit Wonder
Easily the most memorable game of the season was on August 23, when Johan Santana and Freddy Garcia faced off in a pitcher's duel for the ages. Garcia carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning before Jacque Jones ripped a solo home run to put the Twins ahead 1-0, and Joe Nathan came in and slammed the door in the 9th to make it official. Probably the best game I've ever seen.
With all the changes that have occurred on this team within the past five years, seeing Torii Hunter in center field has been the one mainstay. Despite his tendency to jump and dive for balls in center field with wreckless abandon, Hunter had been primarily healthy during his career with the Twins, playing in 138+ games every year since 2001. That is, until that July 30 game at Fenway Park. Hunter went jumping against the wall for a fly ball, caught his foot, and broke his ankle, causing him to miss the remainder of the year. A real shame, since Hunter was having one of the best seasons of his career. It was that day that we truly knew the season was over. Or maybe it was the next day...
Ryan Stays Put at Deadline
Despite essentially promising Twins fans that he would make some kind of move to bolster the team's offense before the deadline on July 31, Terry Ryan did absolutely nothing. I was furious. In the next month, the Twins would make a minor charge and eat up some ground in the division and Wild Card races, only to eventually flatten out and fall short. Would the addition of a minor offensive piece have made the difference? Probably not, but we'll never know.
Baker Arrives, Liriano Explodes
Despite having had some pretty good success in the minors, I'll confess I didn't really know much about Scott Baker before last year. Well, the 24-year-old had his coming-out party last season, making the most of a couple call-ups as he made 9 starts and won 3 games, posting a 3.35 ERA. The youngster showed good control, striking more than twice as many as he walked, and also showed very good poise.
Up until last year, Francisco Liriano had looked pretty good, but never astounding. He had never posted an ERA 3.18 at any level, and had some control problems. After starting the season at Double-A New Britain last year, the organization deemed Liriano looked good enough to get a shot at Triple-A. Once in Rochester, Liriano suddenly became incredibly dominant, posting a 1.78 ERA while striking out 112 batters in 91 innings. Now Liriano is near the top of every prospect list and we can anxiously await his arrival on the big league club. Oh, and he's younger than Joe Mauer.
All in all, it was a disappointing and frustrating year. However, the performances of pitchers like Silva, Baker and Liriano as well as the fact that hackers like Jones and Rivas will be replaced in the lineup by more patient hitters like Luis Castillo and Rondell White all bode well for the team's fortunes in the upcoming season. Let's get 2005 out of our minds and start to look ahead to 2006, which should be a much more fun and exciting season.