- The new-look Twins exceeded expectations in the first half, but now enter uncharted territory for many first-time starters.
At the start of the year, I felt that the Twins were, at best, due to be a middle of the pack .500 team. After losing Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter to free agency, trading Johan Santana to the Mets(for prospects), and had six new Opening Day starters(some that worked, others, not so well) could face an uphill climb.
However, the Twins enter the second half only a game and a half behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central, and only 2 1/2 behind Tampa Bay in the wild-card race. As Michael Cuddyer was quoted last week, "It's pretty much the same story as 2006, but with a different cast." Can the Twins pull off a playoff berth in 2008? The first-half surprises will have to continue to produce; the most welcome of these is the four young starters behind Livan Hernandez(Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Glen Perkins) have performed admirably, going 25-15 in their 60 starts, witha respectable 3.85 ERA (in 362 innings). This seems to at least hint at a stable rotation in the years ahead. The unanswered question is how they will hold up, as only Slowey(with 200 1/3 IP last year between AAA and the big club) has ever pitched over 200 innings in a season in their careers.
Some of the keys to the Twins staying in contention in the second half, I feel, are as follows:
1. The Twins manage to get through their toughest stretch of the season, with 24 out of 30 games on the road between August 21st and September 21st.
2. Whoever hits fifth(behind Justin Morneau) needs to have a productive second half, to discourage other teams from intentionally walking him.
3. Francisco Liriano-- He is 4-0, with a microscopic 0.32 ERA in his last four starts, with just three walks(and 32 strikeouts). With the starters, at this point, performing up to expectations at the big-league level, is there a place for him in the rotation, or would he be better suited to taking over the eighth-inning setup role that Pat Neshek filled last year?
4. Can Michael Cuddyer stay healthy?-- This isn't as big a concern as it was only a couple of weeks ago, when Cuddyer went on the DL for the second time this year. Denard Span has come up, and performed admirably, hitting .324(with a .429 on base percentage) in 71 at-bats. But can the Twins get enough production from either player in the second half?
5. Delmon Young-- After hitting .288, with 13 HR's and 93 RBI's last year for Tampa, the Twins are concerned with Delmon's drop-off to three HR's and 36 RBI's this season. In the second half, will he pick up the pace?
No matter the outcome, it points to (hopefully) an exciting second half of the season!!