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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Twins sitting in a good spot

Editor's note: Throughout August, will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer

There have been plenty of contributors to the Twins' offensive success this season, with Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome all figuring heavily. In the end, though, it inevitably comes down to Mauer. As the All-Star catcher goes, so go the Twins; the team struggled to play .500 ball in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break while Mauer battled various ailments. But since the Midsummer Classic, Mauer is hitting at a blistering .418/.497/.639 clip and the Twins are 26-10. The 2009 MVP's continuing brilliance has done more than anything to make up for the absence of Justin Morneau.

-- Nick Nelson, Twins blogger (Nick's Twins Blog), SweetSpot Blog Network

Scott Baker

Scott Baker

Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano have done an outstanding job atop the Twins' rotation, but Baker has continually failed to get on track for an extended period of time. His 3.88 xFIP and 3.79 K/BB ratio -- both among the best in the American League -- would suggest that he's pitched well, but Baker's results (11-9, 4.63 ERA) don't match up. That's because when Baker's gotten hit, he's gotten hit hard, as evidenced by his 46 doubles allowed and .472 opponents' slugging percentage. With Kevin Slowey's elbow aching, the Twins need Baker to step up and consistently perform like the true No. 3 starter (or better) that he's been before.

-- Nick Nelson, Twins blogger (Nick's Twins Blog), SweetSpot Blog Network

Win the important ones. The Twins' 33-18 record against the rest of the AL Central is, by percentage, the best mark of any club in baseball against its own division. In fact, the Twins were at least tied for the division lead every day from April 11 to June 28. A dismal month of June -- 12-15 including 6-9 in interleague play -- looked like it might do them in. And that was before Justin Morneau sustained a concussion while breaking up a double play. But the Twins rebounded out of the All-Star break by taking three out of four from the second-place White Sox, and they've won two additional series from the White Sox since then. Three-game sweeps of the Royals, Mariners and Athletics, while Chicago was busy losing 10 of 14 in mid-August, have given the Twins a cushion in the standings.

If there can be good news about a concussion, it's that Morneau hasn't had a chance to go into a slump like he did at the end of 2009. It was eventually revealed that he had a stress fracture in his back, but that news didn't come until mid-September. In the meantime, he hit only .201 in the second half.

Here's the obligatory Joe Mauer-and-Justin Morneau chart.

One line stands out. These two power hitters have been brought back to earth by Mother Nature. For as nice and new as Target Field is, it's also outdoors. In the wind. In Minneapolis. Despite the dimensions being almost the same as the Metrodome, the new park plays a lot deeper, especially to right field. Of those 44 homers above, 26 went to right or right-center, including 11 at the Metrodome. This season has produced fewer homers, but a lot more doubles. The pair has only taken four balls out of the park in right field of Target Field, and all of those belong to Morneau.

The Twins have long been known for grooming players through their farm system. If you look at the 20 position players that they've used this season, 11 are original Minnesota draft picks, and 15 came up through their minor-league system. Look at the rosters of the Rochester Red Wings or New Britain Rock Cats from about five years ago. You'll see Mauer, Morneau, Jason Kubel, Alexi Casilla, Michael Cuddyer, Danny Valencia, Denard Span, Matt Tolbert, even rookie sensation Wilson Ramos (who was traded to the Nationals last month).

However, one big name who's been added from the outside this season is Jim Thome. The Twins took a chance on the 39-year-old, now in his 20th major-league season, and it's paid off. We remember Alex Rodriguez's seemingly-endless chase for his 600th home run earlier this summer. Thome is second on the active home run list (581), and while he won't join the 600 Club this season, he's put up solid numbers. His batting average hovers around .275 (30 points above last year), and he's on pace to finish with more homers, more doubles, and considerably fewer strikeouts than last season. Thome's penchant for hitting the ball to the opposite field (i.e., to left) is also welcome in Target Field.

It's hard to find much wrong with this team. They're not flashy. They don't have a big power lineup with a lot of household names. They don't have a Cy Young winner or a bunch of Silver Slugger candidates. Mauer and Morneau were their only two All-Star selections this year. Yet they continue to play consistent solid baseball, day in and day out, and just win games.

-- Doug Kern, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From FanGraphs

After Justin Morneau went down on July 7, the Minnesota Twins immediately dropped four of five games. They were 1½ games back in the AL Central at that point and were struggling against the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers.

More than a month later, things have changed. The Twins have surged of late -- even taking it to the White Sox in a head-to-head series -- and now have an 83 percent chance of making the playoffs.

How will the "dog days" play out for the Twins? Let's take a look.

For more of For more of FanGraphs' analysis, click here Insider .