Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Minnesota Twins, Your 2010 AL Central Champs

It was October 6th (or maybe, technically, October 7th) that I wrote a post crowning the 2009 AL Central Champion Twins. I'd just returned home from witnessing live, over 3 1/2 pulse-pounding hours, the most intense sporting event I'd ever seen. I vividly remember trying to sit down and type up a post fitting of the momentous occasion while my fingers still trembled from the excitement that had taken place just an hour before.

In the 12th inning of a roller coaster division tiebreaker between the Twins and Tigers, Alexi Casilla knocked in Carlos Gomez to clinch the AL Central title and earn his team a fifth trip to the postseason in eight years.

The celebration was necessarily somewhat subdued, as the Twins knew they'd be facing off against the well rested Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS less than 24 hours later in New York.

Last night's celebration was also subdued, but for different reasons. The Twins officially clinched their sixth AL Central title under Ron Gardenhire at 11:37 PM, and while the players stuck around to pop champagne in the clubhouse, they did so in a mostly empty stadium and (hopefully) held back knowing an early start awaited the next day.

Had the circumstances been different, the Twins surely would have gone all out in celebrating this remarkable season. They are on pace for one of the best second-half records in major-league history. They flat-out dominated the division, fending off a ferocious midsummer assault from their greatest rival and putting the nail in Chicago's coffin with a sweep at U.S. Cellular Field. The Twins boast legitimate candidates for both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young, and I'd be pretty surprised if Jim Thome's name didn't show up on a couple MVP ballots. (Speaking of Thome, you absolutely MUST read Joe Posnanski's cover story on him in the latest Sports Illustrated.)

The Twins could well finish with the best record in the major leagues, all while getting a combined total of one half-season from their elite closer and best hitter -- who also happen to be two of their three highest paid players.

I write this post celebrating the Twins' 2010 AL Central title on September 22nd. That's a full 14 days earlier than I did so last year, a fact that gives these Twins a distinct advantage over the '09 group -- beyond the more meaningful edges in talent and depth.

We'd be wise not to overplay the value of momentum. After all, last year's team won 17 of its last 21 regular season games and the 2006 club finished its season on an incredible high point; neither won a single playoff game.

Yet, this team has not lost consecutive games in four weeks. They possess legitimate front-line talent and excellent depth in the rotation, along with a bullpen that ranks as one of the league's most reliable. Where last year's Game 1 ALDS lineup featured Nick Punto as No. 9 hitter and Brendan Harris as DH, this year Ron Gardenhire figures to write in J.J. Hardy and Thome. And he'll more than likely be writing them in at Target Field, where his team has been ridiculously tough to beat since the All-Star break.

Oh, and the Twins will now have the opportunity to rest aching starters and set up their playoff rotation while the Rays and Yankees continue to battle for the AL East title and the valuable home field advantage that comes along with it.

Nothing is guaranteed. You don't even need to tell that to Twins fans, who are so accustomed to postseason failure that they can be excused for failing to grasp what good shape their club is in as October approaches.

The Twins have already established this as one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. How it ends will likely dictate the way we ultimately remember it. But, regardless of what happens in two weeks when the Twins step up to the national stage and try to shake a tenacious monkey off their back, it's been an awfully fun ride that's gotten us there.


John said...


Anonymous said...

While I'm thrilled at how well this season turned out and can't wait to watch the Twins this postseason, I can't help but wondering what we'll look like next season and if we've got a chance at repeating the magic once again.

I know it's ridiculously early for such a thing, but is there any chance you could write up a brief primer on what the team looks like next year? Who's locked up already, Whose contracts are up?

Don't get me wrong, I know this club can do great things this postseason, but I again, I can't help but imagine what they could do with Morneau and Nathan too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Twins for a great summer of entertaining ball games. I got a chance to see the new ballpark and it took my breath away! I too remember watching the Twins play in the old Met. Target Field is just a gem and the Twins organization is first rate. I could not be more proud to say I am a Twins fan! Go Twins!

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Great write-up like always Nick. And yes, I think it's great for both the players and fans to soak this one in for awhile with no game 163 and plenty of room to spare. And with a come-from-behind win completed in the 8th, they couldn't have done it better in these circumstances. Now time to give rest and prepare while doing enough to chase NY and Tampa for the best record.

This has been the best season of my life thus far, and the best team I've ever seen them put together. Hell, probably the best overall since 1991/1992 for that matter.

Go Twins! Let's take this one all the way!

Ed Bast said...

Well I've been pretty hard on the squad at times this year. But in the end they did exactly what they needed to do: win the division, and win it early enough so you can reload for the playoffs. So hats off to Gardy and the boys.

Now: let's win a playoff series or three.

Ed Bast said...

Oh, and by the way Nick, now that we can shift our focus to the playoffs - have you seen the playoff ticket prices? The ALDS is fairly reasonable, but let's just say that if the Twins get to the WS and you aren't a doctor or a lawyer, you're probably watching the games on TV. $150 for a standing room ticket anyone?

Maxwell Gene said...

The extra time is going to be good for every one, but Dazzle said it best during his post game talk last night. It's time to rest players, not the team. Of course Mauer is going to see more DH days, and guys with nicks and dings will have time to get it together. but there's no sense in changing the chemistry of this team right now. I think the extra time for gardy/scouts/rest of coaching staff is going to be a huge boon for this team too.

Maxwell Gene said...

also, we have, in my opinion, the lock Manager of the Year candidate too. After years of my shouting it to the wind, do you think it might happen?

Jim H said...

Good write-up, Nick. Just a small quibble with your post from yesterday. I don't know that I agree that Liriano has been better than Pavano this year. Liriano has been dominating in about 1/3 of his starts. That makes his overall numbers better than Pavano who is really never overpowering.

I think, (I don't know that the numbers back me up) that Pavano has largely been more consistent. Pavano is pretty unlikely to throw a shutout or one run game at the good teams in the playoffs. I would he think is more likely to throw a good game than Liriano, however.

Overall, Liriano and Pavano seem like a pretty good one/two punch.

Alek Hidell said...

Get back to me when they win a playoff series.

Anonymous said...

The numbers dont back up your sentiment about liriano being less consistent than pavano. They are equally likely to pitch well and liriano is significantly more likely to pitch very well. Pavano is more likely to pitch deeper in the game but a lot of that is due to him not striking out or walking anyone. I think a lot of the perceived liriano inconsistency is dick bremer propaganda. Certainly liriano has had some terrible starts but hes been better than pavano.

Dr. Truth said...

Since when has Dick Bremer ever said anything negative about the Twins?

Anonymous said...

Seems like every time liriano give up a hit he talks about how liriano has had problems with things "mushrooming" or "unraveling" on him

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