Last Saturday, the Twins played their 81st game of the season, a 5-1 loss to the Brewers. This marked the official halfway point of the 2008 campaign. Over the first half of the season, the Twins went 44-37, an improvement over last year's mark of 42-39. Today, we take a look at how this year's team performed through 81 games...
The Twins hit .272/.327/.397 over their first 81 games, scoring 389 runs (4.8 R/G) and hitting 55 homers. Last year, the Twins had nearly identical production through the first 81 games, hitting .265/.332/.391 while scoring 388 runs and hitting 63 homers. Well it might appear that they've just treaded water, the team has actually improved offensively when you consider the context; there has been a league-wide drop in offense so this year's squad has been one of the better offenses in the league. As I mentioned yesterday, the team's success in scoring runs is largely due to some very strong numbers with runners in scoring position. It'll be hard to keep that up in the second half, so if the team doesn't start getting a bit more power production (which it very well could from the likes of Delmon Young, Brian Buscher and Michael Cuddyer), we could see a drop-off similar to the one experienced by the 2007 offense, which saw its average runs per game drop from 4.8 in the first half to 4.1 in the second half.
First Half Offensive MVP: Joe Mauer
-It's hard not to pick Justin Morneau here, because Morneau seemingly drove in over half the team's runs in the first half. Yet, I think the biggest key to the offense this year has been Mauer's ability to stay healthy and productive. He appeared in 73 of the team's 81 first-half games -- starting starting 68 of them -- and hit .322/.408/.441 while playing excellent defense at perhaps the most important position on the field. Last year, injuries limited Mauer to appear in only 50 first-half games (48 starts). It's been great to see him in the lineup nearly every night, taking great at-bats and getting on base at a fantastic clip.
Twins pitchers posted a 4.28 ERA over the first half. That's a dropoff from the 2007 team's 4.13, made more significant by the aforementioned drop in offense around the league. It's not all bad though. Since getting brutally battered over a four-game series against the White Sox in early June, the Twins posted a 3.35 ERA, which helped them rebound from that trainwreck of a series by going 13-5 in the following 18 games. While this year's rotation obviously lacks an ace to fill the shoes of Johan Santana, the four youngsters have all been relatively effective. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey have looked like very solid No. 2 guys, while Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins have steadily provided solid outings. Blackburn and Perkins have not been flashy, but it's worth noting that the two combined have allowed more than three earned runs in an outing only seven times in 28 starts -- Livan Hernandez alone has done it nine times in 18 starts. Speaking of Hernandez, he's been, well, not as bad as he could be I suppose. I'll only briefly touch on the bullpen and say that they haven't been as good as in past years, but still get the job done for the most part. And Joe Nathan is amazing.
First Half Pitching MVP: Kevin Slowey
Picking between Slowey and Scott Baker was tough, and really you could go either way because they were just about equally effective in the first half. Both dealt with minor injuries early on, both made 11 starts and posted an ERA in the mid-to-upper 3s (3.96 for Slowey, 3.57 for Baker). Slowey had a slightly better walk rate (in fact, his BB/9IP rate of 1.11 would rank first in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify) while Baker posted the slightly better strikeout rate. I went with Slowey because his numbers are truly phenomenal outside of that bad start in Chicago, and Baker was the only starter fortunate enough to not pitch in that series, a slaughter-fest which inflated the numbers of virtually every pitcher on staff.
Tonight's July 4 match-up: Livan Hernandez (.503 SLGA) vs. Paul Byrd (.507 SLGA). Ready for some fireworks?