Saturday, August 02, 2008

Month in Review: July

July Record: 15-10
Overall Record: 60-48 (2nd Place in AL Central)

While it did feature a pair of brutal sweeps in New York and Boston, July was a good month for the Twins. They dominated division rivals (13-3 against AL Central opponents) and capped off the month with a huge series victory against the White Sox. The Twins started the month 2.5 games out of first place, and ended it a half-game out. Progress is good.
The offense averaged 5.52 runs per game with a season-high 802 OPS, and the pitching staff held its own with a 4.56 ERA (which was dragged down by the bullpen's 5.21).

A look at three players whose performances were outstanding over the past month, and three who fell bellow expectations.

Three Up:
1. Justin Morneau: .360/.473/.708, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 0/0 SB
Absolutely monstrous. Morneau set season highs in essentially every category, drew 19 walks while striking out only eight times, and had 19 of his 32 hits go for extra bases. This was probably the second best month of Morneau's career, behind June 2006. If he is in the MVP discussion at the end of the year, which seems highly likely right now, the series he just completed against the White Sox will be a major point in his favor.

2. Joe Mauer: .307/.424/.467, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 16 R, 0/0 SB
His July wasn't quite as good as his June, but Mauer continued to get on base at an excellent pace and set a season high by driving in 16 runs. When Morneau and Mauer are at the top of this list, you know it was probably a pretty good month for the Twins.

3. Denard Span: .321/.424/.488, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 20 R, 2/5 SB
Span has stepped into the leadoff spot and provided the Twins with exactly what they needed -- a patient bat who gets on base steadily. As a result, he scored 20 runs and set up numerous opportunities for Mauer and Morneau to do their damage.

Three Down:
1. Livan Hernandez: 29.1 IP, 2-3, 6.44 ERA, 15 K / 9 BB, 1.74 WHIP
Hernandez finds himself listed here for a second consecutive month, and now finds himself designated for assignment.

2. Kevin Slowey: 24 IP, 2-1, 5.62 ERA, 15 K / 7 BB, 1.33 WHIP
A bad stretch in the middle of the month places Slowey here, but he certainly got back on track in his last start, tossing a complete-game shutout against the White Sox.

3. Carlos Gomez: .220/.256/.268, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 11 R, 0/1 SB
A truly terrible month for Gomez. He didn't hit, he didn't take walks, he hit for no power, and even his speed was nowhere to be found, with zero stolen bases on the month. Hopefully he can string together some decent numbers over the final months while hitting from the ninth spot in the lineup.

Danny Valencia - New Britain Rock Cats
Certainly Francisco Liriano could have occupied this spot, but I don't really view him as a prospect anymore in spite of the fact that he spent the month pitching in the minors. Instead, the honor goes to Valencia for a second time this season. Valencia was promoted from Class-A Ft. Myers to Double-A New Britain at the end of June, and after some initial struggles he turned it on, batting .319/.355/.469 with 11 doubles, two homers and eight RBI in the month of July. His 35-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 at-bats is a bit disconcerting, but Valencia is showing clear signs of adjusting to the increased competition, as the 13-to-5 ratio and .556 slugging percentage over his past 10 games suggests. For an organization that has struggled mightily to find and answer at third base in recent years, Valencia's success at multiple levels this year has to be viewed as extremely encouraging. He's on pace to finish the year in New Britain and hopefully open the 2009 campaign in Rochester, with an appearance in a Twins uniform perhaps on the not-too-distant horizon.

It's no secret that the Twins have struggled away from home at times this year, so the month of August will present a major challenge. They play 16 of their 28 games on the road, including 11 straight to end the month. On the bright side, six of those road games come against the Mariners, one of the worst teams in baseball; three come against the Royals; and another four come against the spiraling Athletics. The Twins will be tested against potential playoff competition with seven games against the Yankees and Angels.