September 29, 2010

Twins Notes: Limping in, dressing up, and mustaches

• Obviously every team would like to head into the postseason playing their best baseball of the year, but for the Twins right now getting everyone healthy is of much bigger concern than winning games, ugly as that may be for fans watching those games. Consider that the Twins lost five straight games to end the 1987 season and won the World Series. Four years later they finished 10-13, losing four of five to end the season, and won the World Series again.

In both World Series-winning seasons the Twins' negative momentum going into the playoffs meant absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, last year the Twins finished 17-4, including six straight wins to end the season, and were swept in the ALDS. Three years before that they had the best record in baseball after the All-Star break at 49-27, including a 16-7 run to end the year, and were swept out of the ALDS. The key part of limping into the playoffs is "into the playoffs."

• Most teams have an annual tradition in which they force the rookies on the September roster to dress up in embarrassing outfits and the Twins are no different, with the added bonus that Pat Neshek posted some of the amusing pictures from "rookie dress-up day" on his blog. You should check out his site for all the photos, but here's a little collection of my three favorites:

From left to right, that's Drew Butera and Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett, and Ben Revere.

Joe Benson and Kyle Gibson have been named the Twins' minor league hitter and pitcher of the year, respectively. As usual there were plenty of standout pitching performances to choose from this year, including Liam Hendriks' ridiculous 1.74 ERA between two levels of Single-A, but as the organization's top pitching prospect Gibson was a relatively easy pick after posting a 2.96 ERA and 126-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a system-high 152 innings.

Benson is a different story, because he hit just .259 in 123 games and was actually demoted from Double-A back to high Single-A after a slow start. However, if you look beyond the .259 batting average he led the organization in homers (27), slugging percentage (.538), and OPS (.881). Plus, it was an underwhelming season for hitting prospects throughout the system and the Twins probably shied away from giving the award to Revere for a third straight year.

In my preseason ranking of Twins prospects Gibson was second and Benson was 14th.

• If forced to guess which Twins player was mostly likely to plunk Ron Gardenhire in the ear with an errant throwing during batting practice, I'm pretty certain most fans would have picked Alexi Casilla without much hesitation. Luckily he avoided a serious injury, although Gardenhire surely didn't enjoy the Twins' medical staff performing "an impromptu surgery to drain his ear." It did lead to this amusing quote from Gardenhire: "Best throw he's made all year."

• The widely held and oft-repeated perception that the Twins win because they "do the little things" has been off base for years now, and Phil Mackey of delved into the numbers to see exactly where their reputation differs from reality. In addition to simply being lazy and ultimately inaccurate analysis, chalking up their success to little things is a disservice to all the players doing big things that help the Twins win.

Matt Klaassen of Fan Graphs put together a good statistical breakdown of the Twins' playoff rotation, concluding that it "stacks up against other playoff teams better than it has in years."

Kelly Thesier of wrote a good piece examining 10 prominent reasons for the Twins' success this season. I might quibble with one or two entries on the list, but for the most part it's a good roundup of the key moves that led to the Twins' sixth division title in nine seasons.

Carl Pavano is the early frontrunner for the American Mustache Institute's prestigious Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year award. Seriously. According to Aaron Perlut, the institute's chairman, Pavano's performance this season "once again demonstrated that the ultimate performance enhancer is indeed the mustache on the athletic playing field."

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