The Minnesota Twins are 41-48, 7 games below .500 and 6.5 games behind the first place Detroit Tigers. The Twins will start the 2nd half with a 12 game home stand against Kansas City, Cleveland, and Detroit. Those 12 games could very well determine the rest of the 2011 season. If the twins can go 8-4, and pick up a couple of games against the Indians and the Tigers they could find themselves only 4 games out of first place, with a real shot at winning the division through the final third of the season.
It is an old story, but the Twins have certainly had their share of injuries through the first half of the season, with only 2 players (Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia) notching more than 300 plate appearances. In fact, from their opening day line up, three players have failed to reach even 200 plate appearances.
Let’s look back and pick out the Twin’s most valuable players up through the All-Star Break. Baseball is a game of pitching, hitting, and fielding, so there where I’ll look to make my decisions.
2011 Minnesota Twins First Half Best Starting Pitcher: Leaving Spring Training at the end of March the Twins were hopeful that Carl Pavano could replicate some of the magic of 2010 and they gave him the nod as the opening day starter. But things haven’t worked out so well for Pavano in 2011 (Though his 4.10 ERA is 2nd best among Twins’ starters) and he’s been up and down all season. Scott Baker, on the other hand, started the season as Minnesota’s 5th starter but heads to the All-Star break leading the Twins with a 3.01 ERA (more than a full point better than 2nd place Carl Pavano), 102 strike outs, 1.175 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) and he is tied for the team lead with 7 victories. If he can avoid some of the minor injuries that have at times limited him in the first half, Scott Baker will be a huge part of the Twins success in the 2nd half.
2011 Minnesota Twins First Half Best Relief Pitcher: Only four of the Twins’ relievers have made more than 30 appearances this season. Part of that has to do with injuries, but more of it has to do with the relative ineffectiveness of the rest of the arms in the bullpen. Of those four pitchers (Matt Capps, Alex Burnett, Jose Mijares, and Glen Perkins) only one of them has an ERA under 4.5 (Alex Burnett has an ERA over 6 and he continues to be used on a regular basis, what is Ron Gardenhire thinking?!) and that is Glen Perkins, with an ERA of 1.97 more than 2.5 runs better than Matt Capps (4.54). In fact, no Twins pitcher with more than 10 innings pitched has an ERA within 1 of Glen Perkins, and that guy is Scott Baker. Glen Perkins has been a welcome surprise out of the Twins’ bullpen in the first half and he will need to continue to produce after the All-Star break if the Twins want to repeat as AL Central champions.
2011 Minnesota Twins First Half Best Fielder: Denard Span has been out with symptoms related to a concussion (or whiplash) for several weeks, but his 54 games played still ranks him fourth on this Minnesota Twins team behind Danny Valencia, Michael Cuddyer, and Alexi Casilla. In those 54 games, Denard Span has been an absolute treat to watch in center field. Total Zone Fielding puts Denard Span 18 runs above average, a full 10 runs in front of 2nd place Delmon Young (who, despite loafing for entire games at a time, has vastly improved on his 2010 defensive numbers). He has saved 9 runs on the defensive side of the ball, which leads the team by a slight margin over 2nd place Ben Revere. He’s committed just 1 error in 2011, out of 173 chances, behind only Justin Morneau among players with more than 100 chances. While Ben Revere ranks as a close second, he just cannot match the performance of Span.
2011 Minnesota Twins First Half Best Hitter: The Twins were supposed to be a team with a lot of fire power, a team that could score runs in bunches and simply over power the opposition. Instead, 2011 has been filled with missed opportunities and underwhelming hitting. The Twins have only 51 home runs so far in 2011, Jose Bautista has 31 by himself! Leading the way for the Twins is Michael Cuddyer. After a slow start he has turned his season around and his batting average is just a tick below .300 at .295. Only Jason Kubel has a higher batting average (.310), but he has had just 217 plate appearances to Cuddyers team leading 345. Cuddyer is also leading the team in on base percentage (.368), slugging percentage (.474), On Base Plus Slugging (.842), total bases (146) and he is even tied for the league lead in being hit by pitches (3). While Denard Span and Jason Kubel have had very fine offensive seasons themselves, ranking in the top 3 in almost each of the categories listed above, their continued absence from the line up keeps them from passing Minnesota’s lone All-Star, Michael Cuddyer.
So there you have it, my 2011 First Half Awards. Did I get it right? Would you choose someone else? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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