Monday, October 02, 2006

Minnesota Twins: 2006 AL Central Champs


Yesterday was perhaps the greatest day in Twins history.

Normally, such a statement would sound way out of line. What about 1965? What about Rod Carew in 1977, hitting .388? What about the '87 Series? Or 1991 Game Six? Game Seven? Well, I should say that yesterday was perhaps the greatest regular-season day in franchise history. The Twins capped an incredible comeback, winning 71 of their last 104 games in order to take the divisional championship on the last day of the season in dramatic fashion.

Let us go down the list of amazing things that happened this year: The Twins were 25-33 on June 8th; they won 71 games after that to go 96-66 for the year. Joe Mauer became the first catcher EVER to lead the American League, and the majors for that matter, in hitting. Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 with 13 HRs, 84 RBI, 36 doubles, 4 triples, 8 SB, 86 runs scored, and 186 hits. Those are some pretty incredible numbers.

What's more incredible is that Mauer is a 23-year old catcher in his second full year in the majors. It would make a lot of sense to follow the Cleveland Indians way and sign Mauer to an extension, a la Grady Sizemore (4 years, $22 million, which is clearly a great deal since Sizemore led the AL in doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases this year), after this postseason. Needless to say, let's hope Mauer gets some sleep and is ready to go on Tuesday.

Justin Morneau is of course one of the other great stories of the year. Morneau had a down season in 2005, hitting only .239/.304/.437 with 22 HRs and 79 RBI. Morneau more than blew those numbers away; after June 8th, Morneau lead the majors in hitting (.365) and was second to Ryan Howard in RBI (93), and pushed the Twins to the playoffs on his back. Morneau finished the year hitting .321/.375/.559 with 34 HRs, 130 RBI, 37 doubles, 97 runs, 190 hits, and 331 total bases.

Those are some of the best offensive numbers put up by any player in Twins history and certainly gains him the title of "Little Harmon." Justin may have been put into forefront of the MVP race, as Derek Jeter failed to win the batting title and Morneau's RBI double got the scoring started in the huge win yesterday.

What other great stories were there? How about Francisco Liriano? Liriano, despite the unfortunate end to his season, went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie and had he been healthy, would have been a Cy Young candidate and would have most certainly won the Rookie of the Year award. How about Jason Bartlett? Bartlett was recalled in early June, just as the Twins finally replaced Juan Castro and Tony Batista.

Bartlett hit .309/.367/.393 in 333 at-bats with 18 doubles, 2 homers, and 32 RBI. Along the way, he's played amazing defense at shortstop and came up with some huge hits, namely a momentous three-run homer to defeat Chicago on their own ground in July.

Then there is Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer was a former huge hitting prospect that had done little in four years in the bigs. This year, he didn't even begin the season with a starting job. After a game-winning pinch-hit home run in the 10th against the Angels in April, Cuddyer's season was off and running. He had a great season, taking over the cleanup spot that was a big problem in late May, and hitting .284/.362/.504 with 24 homers, 109 RBI, 102 runs scored, 41 doubles, and three triples. 70 extra-base hits is quite an accomplishment, right behind Justin, who had 72.

Of course, there is Torii Hunter as well. Many thought Torii would be traded in late May or June, as the Twins looked to be headed towards a fire sale. Instead, he came back from an injury in August, hit 16 homers after August 17th and ended with 31 of them, to go along with 98 RBI, a .279/.336/.490 line and the kind of defense we are used to in center field.

The list goes on. Pat Neshek, who has been a force to be reckoned with in the bullpen. Dennys Reyes, a laughing stock journeyman lefty who had a 0.89 ERA this year, a 0.99 WHIP, a .196 BAA, and 49 strikeouts in 50 innings. Not too bad for a guy none of us expected to do anything and started the year in Triple-A. Mike Redmond? Backup catcher who hit .341, making him and Mauer the only backup combo ever to both hit over .340.

Boof Bonser? The third piece in the A.J. deal who will be starting Game 2 for the Twins on Wednesday? He didn't do well this weekend, but he's been great of late and is another surprise for the Twins. Nick Punto? He was always injured before and never was great at the plate, but this year, he found himself the starting third baseman after Batista was jettisoned and play Gold Glove caliber defense while putting up a .290/.352/.373 line. Not fantastic power, but Punto cut down the Ks and got more patient.

In all, it was the best season I can remember. And what a perfect way to end it. Torii gets 31 homers, Mauer wins the batting title, Morneau hits 34 homers in the year Kirby Puckett died, Kansas City sweeps Detroit and improbably comes back to beat them in several games to give us the division title, and all of this happened in a time after everyone wrote this team off. I can't explain in words how good it felt to see these guys get the title.

I realize we will have to get past the Yankees regardless and maybe a five-game series is better, but who cares. Let us honor the 2006 AL Central Champions. Best. Twins. Season. Ever.

7 comments:

John said...

Great list. I'd just add Johan's continued lights-out dominance and Radke's gutty effort this season.

hunterfan said...

How many lives have we used up so far? I've lost count.

twins15 said...

unbelievable end to an unbelievable regular season.

hopefully the best is yet to come!

Dan said...

Great job with your blog and analysis! Its kind of hard to get into debates over issues when everything is going this well right now. GO TWINS!

Nick M. said...

John: I would have mentioned Johan, but his lights-out dominance isn't a surprise at all to me. He is just the best pitcher in the bigs, period.

As for Radke, I think I've harped on him so much the past week that I felt I didn't need to anymore. He is just such an inspirational story, though, and I don't think there is a tougher guy in baseball.

p2 said...

The blog has been an absolute joy to read throughout the year; the greatest year as a Twins fan. Now, the real fun begins.

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