Minnesota Twins: 5 Reasons They Will Win the American League Central
At the start of June I never thought I would be writing an article like this—at least not about the Twins in 2011.
On June 1, the Twins sat at 17-37, 20 games below .500 and 16.5 games behind the division leading Cleveland Indians.
Since then the Twins have gone on a tear, going 29-14 and closing the gap in the division race to only five games.
The Twins are looking to become the first team in major league history to finish with a record above .500 after being 20 games below .500 at some point in the season while seeking their third straight AL Central title.
Here are five reasons the Twins will win the division.
1. Joe Nathan Is Looking Like Joe Nathan of Old
Forty thousand fans at Target Field and millions more around Twins territory gave a collective cheer on July 16 when Joe Nathan came in to close out his first game since April.
Matt Capps' season had turned into one to forget following his seventh blown save in 22 opportunities, and Ron Gardenhire was forced to do something to right the ship at the back end of the bullpen.
It makes the decision a little easier when you can hand the ball back to a four-time All-Star closer with 253 career saves under his belt in Joe Nathan.
Since returning to his closer role, Nathan has three saves in three appearances over the last week.
Nathan is nearly all the way back from his 2010 Tommy John surgery, hitting 94 on the radar gun and devastating hitters with his curveball.
Nathan will need to be nearly perfect down the stretch, as any blown save could result in the Twins missing the playoffs.
2. Joe Mauer Just Keeps Hitting and Hitting and Hitting
The dissenters of Joe Mauer, who were piling on the 2009 MVP following his series of injuries and ailments which clearly effected his ability to play effectively, have gone silent over the last month.
Mauer, following his return from injury, was clearly not 100 percent. In the month of June, the three-time AL Batting Champion hit a pedestrian .195.
Since July 1, Mauer has been on a tear. He has hit .397 with a .486 on base percentage, raising his season average up to .297.
Mauer has also been able to stay in the lineup by playing some games at first base in addition to his normal catching duties.
If the month of July is any indication, the AL Central pitchers will have a chore anytime Mauer strolls up to the plate the rest of the season.
3. Delmon Young Has Found His Bat
In an earlier article I wrote, Minnesota Twins' Midseason Awards, Delmon Young was a contender for the less than flattering award of Least Valuable Player.
Since then, all Delmon Young has done is hit double after double after double.
Young has five doubles in the last week of games since returning from the disabled list on July 14 after the All-Star break.
He has consistently been raising his batting average following his very slow start to the season, which saw him sit at a .211 average at the end of May.
Since June, Young has seen his average slowly climb to his current .266.
Young will need to continue his resurgence in the final two months of the season for the Twins to chase down both the Tigers and Indians.
4. Jim Thome Speaks Softly and Carries a Big Stick
Jim Thome is chasing history, looking to become the newest member of the exclusive 600-home-run club. My guess is he will get there sooner then later.
Thome, like most of the Twins players this season, has been less the healthy.
When healthy, however, there are few in the game who pack as much power and who can do as much damage with one swing of the bat, as evidenced by his Target Field record 490 foot home run hit on July 17.
Thome holding down the DH position gives the middle of the Twins lineup a threat that Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert just can't bring to an at-bat.
5. Ron Gardenhire Is the Best Second Half Manager in MLB
The Twins as an organization are all about consistency, be it in pitching philosophy, defensive standards or front office personnel. For those reasons, the idea of Ron Gardenhire being fired following the 17-37 start could not be taken seriously by myself.
Gardenhire, who won AL Manager of the Year in 2010, may be having his career's best managerial job this season.
The multitude of injuries (and that is an understatement), inconsistent play from healthy players and a fanbase that had all but given up on the season have only given Gardenhire more encouragement to show everyone wrong.
Gardenhire has gotten the Twins on track and back in contention. And once the Twins are in contention, Gardenhire knows how to close out a division.
A look back at the 2006, 2009 and 2010 (all division winning seasons) seasons, combined with 2011's second half (so far), shows that the Twins are one of the best, if not the best, second half team in all of baseball.
Over the mentioned seasons, the Twins went a combined 157-103 for a winning percentage of .656.
To put that in contrast, the best record in MLB this season is the Philadelphia Phillies with a 61-36 record, a winning percentage of .629, which falls 0.027 behind the Twins' second half performances.
Ron Gardenhire looks like he has the Twins rolling in the second half once again, going 11-5 since the season's midpoint.