Minnesota Twins: Gardenhire's Sixth Division Title Needs an Ace

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Minnesota Twins: Gardenhire's Sixth Division Title Needs an Ace
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Twins closed out the unofficial first half of the season salvaging the third game against Detroit with a 46-42 record.

Good enough for third place in the AL Central.

One definition for 'frustration' is when expectations exceed reality.  For Twins' fans the first half of 2010 has been a lesson in dealing with frustration.

Even before the first pitch was thrown in 2010 the expectations were high.

The opening of Target Field came on the heels of an unprecedented surge to win the 2009 AL Central Division by forcing, and winning, game 163 to break a tie with the Detroit Tigers.

Expectations were made greater with the signing of hometown hero, three-time batting champion, and reigning AL MVP, Joe Mauer to a contract extension that will keep him in Minnesota for a long time.  

Once the season began the expectations were cranked even higher.

The Twins started by winning the first six series they played, and eight of the first nine, giving them a 19-9 record, good enough for a three and half game lead in the division. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were among the top hitters in the league, and Jon Rauch had eight saves in place of Joe Nathan who was lost before the season began. Francisco Liariano was named AL Pitcher of the Month in April with a 3-0 record and a 0.93 ERA.

Then reality set in.

Mauer's average is currently at .293—equal to the lowest in his career.

Due to complications from a concussion, Morneau has missed the last two games and will miss the All-Star Game in Anaheim this week.     

Since April, Liariano is 3-7 with a 4.94 ERA.

This is Ron Gardenhire's ninth season as the Twins' Manager and he has found himself in this situation before. Gardenhire has never finished lower than third in the American League Central Division, winning five of the last eight division titles.

Twice the Twins have gone into the break with the third best record in the division.

In 2003, the Twins finished the first half of the season losing 11 of 12 games.

They saw a half game lead on June 30 fall to a third place finish at the break, down seven and a half games behind the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox, by July 13.  

The starting pitching ignited the team in the second half to win the division by four games.

Brad Radke (9-1), Johan Santana (8-1) and Kyle Lohse (9-2) lead the way as the team cruised to a 46-23 second half record.

Contrast that with 2007.

The Twins went into the Mid-Season Classic with a 45-43 record, again good for third place in the division, eight games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.

This time, however, there was no one to lead them to a division title. They went 34-40 to finish with Gardenhire's only losing season at 79-83.

Carlos Silva led the starters with a 7-4 record. Santana and Scott Baker were the next best with 6-6 records.

If the Twins are going to repeat the accomplishments of 2003, they need a starting pitcher to step up and carry the team past the Tigers and White Sox.

Right now that pitcher appears to be Carl Pavano. His win against the Tigers ended a five game slide for the club and has him leading the team with a 10-6 record and a 3.58 ERA.

A peek at the stats for the Twins' starters for the second half of 2009 does not bode well for a 2010 comeback.

Baker ended strong in 2009 going 8-2 to in the second half after starting the season at 7-7. 

Pavano was acquired in the second half from Cleveland and went 5-4.

Nick Blackburn went 3-7. He's currently 7-7, but his 6.40 ERA is the worst on the team. He has not shown any indications he will be able to turn things around in the second half.

Liriano only went 1-4 last year. His 2010 record does not accurately reflect how good he is pitching. Exclude is last appearance (1.2 innings and seven earned runs) and his record would be a serviceable 6-6 with 4.22 ERA, more than two runs better than Blackburn's.

That leaves Kevin Slowey, who did not pitch after the All-Star break in 2009 and has not regained the dominance he showed opening the 2009 season 10-3 with a 4.86 ERA.

If Gardenhire is to duplicate the type of success the Twins had in 2003, they will need to find at least one more starting pitcher to join Pavano, Liariano and Baker. There does not appear to be anyone ready to make the jump from AA or AAA to the majors.

In Rochester, the Twins' AAA affiliate, Anthony Swarzak (1-5, 6.84 ERA) and Jeff Manship (3-5, 5.11 ERA) have both made spot starts for the Twins, but neither appear ready for major league hitters.

With Cliff Lee going to the Texas Rangers, that leaves few options for trades.

Unless the Twins' find an ace-in-waiting or can trade for one, 2010 looks like it will be going the way of 2007—a third place finish in the AL Central.

Look at the bright side—there at least won't be another playoff loss to the Yankees.

 

 

 

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