With last night's 4-1 victory over the Pale Hose and Detroit's loss to Tampa Bay, the Twins find themselves only 3.5 games out of first place. At this point, the Twins are the only second-place team with any realistic chance of winning the division, none of the other division races are particularly close (and really, only the NL wild card race is closer). There is suddenly a renewed optimism in the team's postseason chances, heck, even PECOTA thinks they might make it. The comparisons to 2006, when the Twins made a magical run to capture the AL Central title, are probably inevitable. But let's not go nuts.
The 2006 Twins got off to a terrible start, posting a 25-33 record by June 7 and looked to be going nowhere fast. They found themselves eleven games back at the All-Star break, but went on an incredible 49-28 run in the second half of the season to steal the division from the Tigers. It's often thought that they sort of came out of nowhere to capture the division title (or at least Ozzie Guillen thought so). That isn't exactly true. Once they jettisoned some dead weight, this was actually a really good team:
Joe Mauer: 347/.429/.507 144 OPS+ 6.1 WAR. Man Muscles won his first batting title!
Justin Morneau: .321/.375/.559 140 OPS+ 4.4 WAR. And Morny robbed Jeter of the MVP, despite quite obviously being the second-most valuable player on his own team.
Nick Punto: .290/.352/.373 90 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. Yeah, Punto was useful once.
Michael Cuddyer: .284/.362/.504 124 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. Still Cuddles' best season to date.
Jason Bartlett: .309/.367/.393 99 OPS+ 3.0 WAR. God, I miss Barty.
Torii Hunter: .278/.336/.490 112 OPS+ 2.2 WAR. The Twins hadn't had a player hit more than 30 homers in a season since 1987. This year they had two.
Luis Castillo: .296/.358/.370 91 OPS+ 2.1 WAR. Sadly, Castillo is probably the third-best second baseman in Twins' history.
LEWWW!!! Ford: .226/.287/.312 57 OPS+ -0.1 WAR. I kind of miss him. He wasn't very good, but man, those stories.
Rondell White: .246/.276/.365 66 OPS+ -1.2 WAR. And he was the DH! Do you see now, Dave Cameron, why the Twins saw fit to lock up Jason Kubel?
The starting rotation wasn't bad, either:
Johan Santana: 2.77 ERA 3.42 xFIP 3.39 tRA 7.3 WAR. *Sigh* He won his second Cy Young that year, too.
Francisco Liriano: 2.16 ERA 2.57 xFIP 3.14 tRA 4.1 WAR. *Sigh* If only we had a time machine so F-bomb could go back and take a couple of starts off.
Brad Radke: 4.32 ERA 4.85 xFIP 5.21 tRA 2.0 WAR. And his arm had pretty much fallen off at this point!
Boof Bonser: 4.22 ERA 4.39 xFIP 4.42 tRA 1.3 WAR. Boof was kind of thrown into the rotation when F-bomb went down.
Scott Baker: 6.37 ERA 4.95 xFIP 5.24 tRA 0.7 WAR. Scotty's rookie season was somewhat less than stellar.
Carlos Silva: 5.94 ERA 5.09 xFIP 6.80 tRA 0.1 WAR. The worst starter in the rotation was actually pretty average. How I miss those days.
And they had the best bullpen in all of baseball. It's not at all surprising that the 2006 team won 96 games and captured the AL Central crown, and they really should have gone deeper into October. If it weren't for Torii Hunter and his brain fart, there may have been a re-match of the 1987 World Series.
The 2009 team, on the other hand, is a different story. I mean, it's not like Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel are getting a lot of help:
Denard Span: .310/.395/.408 119 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. You have to love indentured servitude.
Joe Crede: .221/.293/.421 90 OPS+ 1.9 WAR. Crede can take the rest of the season off, he's already earned his paycheck.
Michael Cuddyer: .275/.342/.504 126 OPS+ 1.5 WAR. Cuddyver.
Carlos Gomez: .239/.294/.354 99 OPS+ 0.4 WAR. Oh, Go-Go. Um, at least he's good in the outfield.
Punto: .213/.315/.265 60 OPS+ 0.3 WAR. Yeah, Punto was useful. Too bad this version is getting paid $4 million.
Brendan Harris: .267/.311/.372 84 OPS+ 0.2 WAR. God, I sure miss Barty.
Orlando Cabrera: .259/.283/.375 77 OPS+ -0.5 WAR. Well, it looks like Tyler Ladendorf won't amount to much, so there's that...
Alexi Casilla: .194/.278/.251 48 OPS+ -1.2 WAR. At least he's not making $4 million this year.
Delmon Young: .264/.288/.384 80 OPS+ -1.4 WAR. *Sigh* Maybe Delmon will grow up to be a replacement-level outfielder someday.
And, with a few exceptions, the pitching staff is a mess:
Baker: 4.44 ERA 4.28 xFIP 4.41 tRA 3.0 WAR. That 4-year, $15.25 million extension is looking like a bargain right now.
Nick Blackburn: 4.16 ERA 5.02 xFIP 4.72 tRA 2.3 WAR. Blackie earned his first win since the All-Star break last night. Too bad he can't pitch against the White Sox at the Dome the entire season.
Joe Nathan: 1.71 ERA 2.91 xFIP 1.81 tRA 2.1 WAR. You know you're in trouble when a reliever is the third-most valuable pitcher on your staff. Even if that reliever is one of the best closers in baseball.
Kevin Slowey: 4.86 ERA 4.49 xFIP 4.63 tRA 1.4 WAR. Get well soon,
Liriano: 5.80 ERA 4.74 xFIP 5.18 tRA 1.3 WAR. Now, where is that time machine?
Glen Perkins: 5.89 ERA 5.12 xFIP 4.51 tRA 1.1 WAR. Yep, Perk is the fifth-most valuable pitcher on the staff, and fourth-most in the rotation. I know, I was surprised too.
Carl Pavano: 4.06 ERA 4.36 xFIP 4.41 tRA 0.9 WAR. Actually, if you count his time in Cleveland, Pavano is good for 2.8 wins above replacement. Which would make him the second-most valuable pitcher on the team if he had spent the entire season in Minnesota. And he wouldn't have cost an intriguing major-league ready pitching prospect, either.
Matt Guerrier: 2.29 ERA 4.23 xFIP 4.15 tRA 0.9 WAR. Wonder why this team is 66-65? The Mayor is more valuable than half of the rookies that have been thrown into the rotation.
Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and, of course, the rest of the bullpen round out the list. The relievers haven't been as bad as people tend to think, but they're nowhere near as talented as the 2006 crew. Ugh, this team will be lucky if they win 82 games.
Could the Twins actually win this thing? Uh, sure, why not? It's not like the Tigers are running away with it or anything. But it's hard to call this a pennant race when the division leader is a mere eight games over .500 this late in the season. It's more like last year's meh-fest.