The Twins ended the month of May bathed in the blinding light of Joe Mauer's unbelievable return from the DL. His unearthly line of .414/.500/1.338 along with 11 home runs went a long way to cover for the rest of the team's woes.
The Twins entered June two games under the .500 mark, and 4.5 games out of first place in the division. They played June at three games over .500 and basically kept pace with the division leaders, despite Detroit's surge.
Of the Twins' 12 losses last month, half were one-run losses and nine of the 12 were by two runs or fewer. Depending on how much you believe in luck, that will either be incredibly encouraging, since luck tends to regress to the mean, or incredibly depressing, because you know teams tend to make their own luck.
What ought to encourage everyone heading forward is the fact that the Twins have cut bait on those most directly responsible for their languishing near the .500 mark. Jesse Crain was sent to Rochester, Louis Ayala was designated for assignment, and Sean Henn has seen his role reduced (hopefully he'll join the other two soon).
Those three combined for five of the Twins 12 losses, three by Henn alone.
As they make the turn into the second half of the season, here are a few guys who helped lead the team this month.
This was Liriano's best month so far by nearly all measures. He pitched more innings than any month before, yet posted his lowest monthly ERA, due in no small part to the fact that he got his highest number of ground balls in 2009.
Liriano got most of his work in on the road, an area of great weakness for the Twins, yet consistently put them in a position to win. In fact, the Twins won all but one of Liriano's starts in June and won all of his road starts.
He lowered his ERA in every June start and may have finally turned the corner. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, Liriano is a chronic late starter. That it took him this long to get going is unfortunate, but if he truly has turned the corner, the Twins will be a much better team for it.
Harris has two major groups of supporters: those that really like him and those that just hate Nick Punto. Due in no small part to Punto's nagging rib injury, Harris was allowed to start every game in a month for the first time since he came to the team.
As much as Gardy may have wanted to pull him out, Harris showed stronger defense than Nick Punto and represents a clear upgrade at the plate. His monthly line of .305/.345/.716 was good enough to earn him the second spot in the order on a fairly consistent basis.
What is most impressive about Harris' start to the season has been his defense. Last year he posted a -5.9 UZR at short. By comparison, Nick Punto slotted in at 17.9, which just gave the coaches all the more reason to keep writing his name into the lineup.
This season, Harris is at a 14.2, an improvement of nearly 20 defensive runs. Punto has regressed to a -2.8, and the Twins (thankfully) have a new starting shortstop.
Poor Jason Kubel played a lot more left field in June than he was planning on. Interleague play forced the DH into the outfield and while no one will confuse him for Carlos Gomez in the field, no one will confuse the two at the plate either.
Kubel hit his most home runs in a month in June and posted his best OPS for far this season.
In many ways, Kubel is the forgotten member of the Twins lineup. Mauer and Morneau garner the majority of attention and new addition Joe Crede has his devotees, but the South Dakota native is a critical part of the Twins run production scheme. His 42 RBI are good for third best on the team.
If Kubel wants to make a bigger splash on the team, toning down the platoon split would be a good way to start. Against right-handers, Kubel simply rakes. His .360/.416/1.085 is truly excellent.
However, against portsiders, he hits a rather flaccid .185/.254/.485. If he could bring that line up over the rest of season, he'd certainly help the team win a few more games.
It wasn't all wine and roses for the Twins, though the majority of players did play better in June than in May. Here are a couple guys who struggled in the summer heat.
If timing is everything, then Justin has nothing. He excelled in May with a line of .361/.459/1.172 and nine home runs. Sadly, his incredible month was overshadowed by his teammate Joe Mauer's aforementioned offensive explosion.
With Mauer returning to the mortal realms (he still hit .357 this month), Morneau had his chance to seize the stage. Instead, he hoped no one was watching.
Morneau hit a very pedestrian .242/.327/.748 with just five home runs, three of which came in the last week. Hopefully those three home runs signal a resurgence for Morneau, who has a history of second half disappearing acts.
He's gotten a bit more time off this season than he has in the past (he played all 163 game last year), so ideally he'll be fresher for the last season push.
Anyone who reads this blog consistently knows that the only person who loves Kevin Slowey more than me is his brother, but he simply wasn't at his best this month.
Slowey posted his highest ERA of the season this month and lost two games for the first time all season. His 10-3 record flatters how he's pitched as his 1.40 WHIP and ERA over four would indicate. Opposing hitters got fewer hits off of Slowey in June, but he walked twice the number of batters he walked in April and May combined.
With two more starts before the break, Slowey has a good chance to enter the season's second half as the winningest pitcher in baseball. However, he needs to pitch deeper into games and hope that his inflated BABIP will regress to the mean if he is going to join the ranks of baseball's elite pitchers.
Slowey's rough June can be explained, by and large, by his peripherals catching up to him. When that many runners reach base, some are bound to score, and the offense won't always be there to pick him up.
Span missed 13 games this month with an inner ear infection that caused horrible bouts of vertigo. It turns out, Span had been suffering from these episodes for longer than just the time he was on the DL, which means he should have been on their longer than he was.
As with most injuries, trying to play through it may make you look tough, but it ultimately hurts the team. After strong showings in April and May, Span's stats took a nose dive as he tried to fight off the dizziness.
He posted a .208/.321/.634 in 48 June at bats, substantially worse than no-hit outfielder Carlos Gomez whose .242/.288/.659 was his best so far this season.
Now that a proper diagnosis has been made and Span is on the mend, he should resume hitting again. Span is the lead-off man the Twins always hoped he would be and if he and Morneau both start hitting again, the Twins will start scoring runs at a much better pace.
The Twins have 10 games left before the break, nine of which are back in the Metrodome, where they have played very well for the most part. If they can go 7-3 or even 6-4, they'll be primed for one of the second half runs that have become almost tradition for the Twins.
However, looking ahead to the break and dropping games to the Tigers and White Sox would be a critical error the Twins simply cannot afford to make.
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