Baseball's Midseason Classic no longer actually breaks the season into halves, as it once did, but it still makes for a nice reflection period.
The Twins enter the break just 1.5 games out of first place in the AL Central and 2.5 out of the Wild Card.
If you had told Twins fans at the end of last season that they would lose Torii Hunter, Carlos Silva, Johan Santana, and Matt Garza, that Francisco Liriano would make just three starts for the team in the first half, and that, through it all, they would find the club in striking position headed into the break, you would have seen a lot of weak smiles and shaking heads.
You may also have seen the inside of a mental health ward, as they tried to have you committed.
No one expected this team to do much of anything this year. This season was preparation for next year and the new stadium, not much more. This team was supposed to be almost painful to watch, as the young players learned their trade, one mistake at a time.
It's almost hard to grade this team, given how low expectations were, but progress is nothing without checkpoints, so here we go. Players listed are those who have the most starts at the position.
Catcher: Joe Mauer
Mauer is an All-Star starter, third in the AL in batting average, and starting to show some power. While his five home runs aren't much to write home about, many have come at timely points, and Mauer's 23 doubles lead the team. He's the best catcher in the league, according to VORP (value over replacement player) rankings, and it's hard to argue with that.
First Base: Justin Morneau
Another All-Star, and, as of last night, the home-run king of baseball. While no one expects Morneau to hit even 40 bombs this season, he has proven to be the perfect cleanup hitter for the Twins. He is the No. 2 hitter in the AL, sporting a .323 average, and moves runners exceptionally well, as evidenced by his 68 RBI.
Morneau extends rallies well and does have enough power to force opposing pitchers to pitch around him. He is also having a Gold-Glove caliber season at first base.
Second Base: Alexi Casilla
Casilla didn't deserve his call-up when it came in mid-May, but he has certainly made the most of it. His defense has improved drastically from where it was last year, and he has improved his discipline at the plate. He has been a catalyst for this team and has taken control of second base for the foreseeable future.
If his eye continues to improve at the plate, the trade that brought him to the Twins for J.C. Romero could become another of Terry Ryan's famous steals.
Shortstop: Brendan Harris
Harris was a small piece of the Delmon Young trade, and has been very inconsistent this year. When he's doing well, he is a great asset to the team, especially with all the injuries that have claimed Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Adam Everett.
Harris hit just .217 in May and looked to be in a prolonged slump, but has looked great in so far July. He is hitting .364 with 10 RBI this month.
If he continues to produce, he will have a role on the team going forward, but he needs to hit the ball consistently and learn to draw more walks.
Third Base: Mike Lamb
Yikes. Lamb was brought in after Nick Punto spent 2007 flirting with the Mendoza line, and he was brought in strictly to hit. The front office knew he was terrible with the glove and brought in Adam Everett to compensate. What they didn't expect was Lamb's horrendous year at the plate.
He hit under .200 in April, but rebounded with a .302/.340/.747 May. His good May made June (.063/.154/.216[!]) look even worse.
Thankfully, Ron Gardenhire learned from last year's debacle at third and benched Lamb before he could kill the team's momentum. Lamb won't see much playing time for the rest of the year.
Left Field: Delmon Young
Delmon Young is a work in progress; there is no doubt about that. He has made a few terrible plays in the outfield and hasn't yet found his power stroke at the plate. He's on pace to be known as "The Guy Who Was Traded For Matt Garza," especially since Garza is doing so well in Tampa.
However, many fans have given up too quickly on Young. He has improved his hitting every month so far, and has picked up the power substantially since April and May. He is far from ideal, but, if he continues at his current pace, he'll be very good by the time the pennant race heats up. He MUST be more patient at the plate.
Center Field: Carlos Gomez
Like Young, Gomez is inexperienced, raw, was traded for a star pitcher, and hasn't lived up to his billing. Gomez is, however, a defensive superstar, perhaps even better than Torii Hunter was. Gomez is currently mired in a three for 39 slump in July and has not drawn a walk during that period. Ouch.
Hopefully, the break will help Gomez relax and come out of this slump. The Twins need him on the bases if they are going to continue scoring runs at the rate they did in the first half.
Right Field: Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer has the most starts in right, despite two stints on the DL already this season. When he was in the lineup, Cuddyer was on pace to have one of his worst offensive seasons as a pro. He is, however, the poster child for the Twins' "unsustainable offense," as the local media sees it.
Cuddyer was hitting just .252 when he hit the DL, but he was batting .347 with runners in scoring position, including 11 extra-base hits. Cuddyer's greatest value to this team is as trade bait, especially with how well Denard Span is playing in Cuddyer's stead.
Designated Hitter: Jason Kubel
Kubel is second on the team with 13 home runs heading into the break, which is a marked difference to the team's DH situation last year. It's not that Jason Tyner wasn't a convincing DH, but Kubel's power is a nice addition to the lineup. He has also shown good patience at the plate, but must improve against lefties if he wants to get out of the platoon situation he is in.
Over the rest of the week, I'll grade the rotation, the bench, and cover what the Twins can realistically add before the deadline to help them continue this unbelievable season into October.
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