Minnesota Twins Gave Plenty to be Thankful for in 2009
Thanksgiving is upon us once again.
We all know that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about families and turkeys and a rapidly-depleting supply of shopping days until Christmas.
In the minds of baseball fans, Thanksgiving is just a pit stop between the end of awards season and the beginning of the Winter Meetings.
I’ve decided to combine the more traditional Thanksgiving festivities with my burning need for more baseball.
In doing so, I’ve created a list of things that the Twins have given me to be thankful for in 2009.
DELMON YOUNG (after the All-Star Break)
I’m thankful for the second-half version of Delmon Young.
In the first-half of the season, Delmon Young was battling for playing time, suffering through the death of his mother, and looked flat-out lost at the plate.
He put up an abysmal .266/.292/.344 line with just three home runs and 25 runs batted in, hardly the production a team expects from a corner outfielder.
As it turned out all he needed was time.
After the All-Star break something clicked for Young and he finally started to produce.
He hit .300/.322/.502 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs the rest of the way after taking over full-time in left field thanks to the combination of Carlos Gomez’s struggles and Justin Morneau’s back injury.
The real question now is whether or not he’ll give us anything to be thankful for in 2010.
I’m thankful for Jason Kubel finally realizing his potential; nearly five years after a terrible knee injury nearly ruined his career.
After years of lingering knee problems, Kubel finally broke through and had an incredible season putting up a .300/.369/.539 batting line with 28 home runs, 103 RBIs, and 35 doubles.
In 2009, Kubel not only realized his potential, but he ascended the ladder and established himself as one of the best designated hitters in baseball.
What’s more, the 27-year-old still has plenty of room to grow and improve.
I’m thankful that Michael Cuddyer was able to stay healthy for a full-season and put up career numbers when the Twins needed him most.
Cuddy showed his selflessness when he moved to first base after Justin Morneau was lost for the season with a back injury.
Cuddyer—already in the midst of a big year—stepped up his game and hit .325/.398/.675 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 21 games at first to help propel the Twins into the playoffs.
In doing so, Cuddyer ensured himself another year in Minnesota and gave both the fans and the front-office a shot of confidence that he can be a consistent middle of the order threat.
I’m thankful for Ron Gardenhire’s ability to consistently get something out of nothing.
Gardy has been one of baseball’s best managers since taking over the helm from former skipper, Tom Kelly.
In 2009, he had one of his largest challenges as his rotation fell apart, he lost his two best players for a month each, his bullpen imploded, and he had Nick Punto as an everyday player, all season long.
Despite those challenges—and plenty more—Gardenhire led the club back to the postseason for the fifth time in eight years.
I’m thankful for Joe Crede and the 90 games we got out of him before his back did him in, again.
The Twins signed Crede in Spring Training and he was a force early in the season while Joe Mauer was on the shelf and Delmon Young was struggling at the plate.
He played his usual steady defense and displayed solid power when he was in the lineup, the overall numbers aren’t pretty but he did exactly what was expected of him.
Personally, I would be thankful to see him come back for an encore performance.
I’m (currently) thankful for general manager Bill Smith’s shrewd roster moves.
After seemingly getting fleeced in past deals, Smith really seemed to get it together in 2009.
He brought in sparkplug, Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline and then acquired three pitchers in Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch, and Ron Mahay. All of whom played large roles down the stretch.
There is still a long offseason ahead for Smith and I could very easily be all-kinds of unthankful for him by Spring Training, but for now he’s on the list.
I’m thankful for Orlando Cabrera injecting life into the Twins after the trade deadline.
Orlando Cabrera didn’t light the world on fire after the Twins acquired him from Oakland in a deadline deal.
In fact, considering he became the club’s primary number two hitter his .289/.313/.430 line is less than impressive; especially considering it was coupled with his eroding defensive skills.
Cabrera made up for all of that, however, by bringing a fire and passion to the clubhouse that was sorely needed.
Everyone in the clubhouse and all of the fans who watched the Twins’ magical run know that it wouldn’t have happened with Cabrera’s drive and enthusiasm, for that everyone in Twins Territory is very thankful.
I’m thankful for Nick Blackburn coming of age down the stretch.
Blackburn had another solid season and put up nearly identical numbers to his 2008 campaign, but what mattered most was his performances in September, with the season hanging in the balance every time out.
In his final four starts, Blackburn went 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and struck out 18 in 27.1 innings of work. The Twins were 4-0 in those games, all quality starts.
Although, perhaps Blackburn’s most impressive accomplishment was his awesome late-season beard.
I’m thankful for Scott Baker turning into an ace after a dreadful start to the season.
Baker started the year on the disabled list and then got rocked to the tune of a 2-6 start with a sky-high 6.32 ERA through May.
After that Baker settled into his rhythm and showed the same talent earned him a $15 million extension last offseason.
After the end of May, Baker had 24 starts and went 13-3 with a 3.67 ERA.
The Twins won 17 of those starts, including two pivotal games against the Detroit Tigers in the final week of the regular season.
Baker finished with a solid 15-9 record, a 4.36 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and 162 strikeouts over exactly 200 innings pitched.
I’m thankful for Joe Mauer.
I could rant and rave about how he was voted to his third All-Star team or how he won his third Silver Slugger.
I would wax poetic about his second Gold Glove award or his first American League MVP award.
All of that, however, would be superfluous.
Mauer is the best catcher in baseball and arguably the best hitter in the game and we’re all blessed with watching him play for the Twins, for now at least and hopefully for years to come.