They certainly look like a new team...
...they've been acting like one, too. There's a sense of confidence in the way they act, as though they're sure they have a chance to win today. As if they have a chance to win every day they step onto the field. Riding an 8-game winning streak, the team we're watching six times a week isn't the team we were watching in April, or even in May.
It's more than just a few bounces going our way. Preston Wilson missing his cutoff man tonight and allowing two runners to advance a base, this was a nice bounce. But the Twins still had to get the runners in, and they've been collecting the hits needed to score runs. Grand slams and home runs aside, the boys are stringing together hits for big innings and timely scores.
The addition of Jason Bartlett has done wonders on both sides of the ball. Offensively he's been offensive, for all the reasons Castro wasn't. There's no way I'm delusional enough to think he can continue to hit at the rate he has, but the difference goes beyond sample size. Juan Castro's best season was one of two years: 2003 or 2005. I'd have to give the nod to 2003 by the skin of it's teeth, as Castro dialed it up a notch to hit .253/.290/.388. Yes, those OBP and SLG numbers are career highs. Jason Bartlett deserves the chance, at 26, to prove he's better than those craptastic numbers. He's earned the chance to prove he can play everday at a position better than a man who was never destined to be more than a part-timer.
Defensively, Bartlett is earning his stripes as well. In the last game of the Boston series he made a couple of nice stops. Against the Pirates he displayed range that Castro hadn't sniffed an echo of since last year. Tonight, see above, he beat out a throw that a shortstop should be able to beat out. Castro was just too slow.
Energy. Bat. Glove. Arm. Speed. Age. Right now, everything is on Bartlett's side, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity he's been given. And it's about damn time.
Who is this Punto character? Even before Batista was handed his walking papers, Punto was boasting a healthy on-base percentage. Tonight, he continued his solid play with his glove, and picked up a double. The range he's displayed at third base isn't extraordinary, at best it's a bit better than adequate. Two things work in Punto's favor. First, he's replacing a statue. Second, he gives everything he's got. Not as fast as he is quick, if there is any human way he can reach a ball and make a play on it, it's going to happen.
At the plate, Punto is far from what you'd call the ideal offensive force for a corner infielder. But the bottom line is that he's reaching base (even if he hasn't during the winning streak) and this is something neither Castro nor Batista were able to pull off. As of last night, Nick Punto is hitting .286/.377/.357. Again, not ideal, but if you understand baseball, you understand that a lineup of players reaching base at a .377 clip is going to yield runs at an above average rate.
There is a legitimate question of whether Punto can continue his offensive success, since he's never been an everyday player. After all, nine "Nick Punto"'s won't sport a .377 OBP. Until such time arrives where it's proved he's been neutralized, however, he's the best option at third base for the Twins. He's not a bad option right now, either.
Okay. I'm seriously, you guys. Who is this man? I haven't seen him before. He go boom. He go boom often. When he not go boom, he still look good with bat in hand.
It happened again last night. Justin Go Boom. Number 17, and we're not halfway through the season. This month has clearly been his career highlight to this point, but that changes nothing. If he weren't capable of doing it, it wouldn't be happening. I'm not really sure what else to say about it right now, because I'm a bit speechless.
This is what it looks like when a hitter is in the zone. We saw it last June when Torii was hot; we've seen it on the mound from Johan Santana on a regular basis over the last two years. But neither has really been like Morneau's June '06, has it? Santana is a pitcher, and blistering streaks on each side of the ball are too different to compare. One is an everyday thing, one is a lone performance. At the plate, Hunter was hot, but 8-homer months are going to be few and far between. With Justin Morneau, you get the sense 8-homer months could happen twice a year. This month, we've seem precisely the sort of promise long rumored to be living within Morneau's bat. It's been a fun month.
8-Game Winning Streak
Now 35-34, the Twins are over .500 for the first time since being 6-5 on April 15th. Here's how our Twins have done since the start of The Streak, back on June 11th.
Player G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB Avg Obp Slg
Castillo 7 30 5 10 2 0 5 3 .333 .394 .400
Ford 5 13 2 1 0 0 0 1 .077 .143 .077
Mauer 7 27 4 8 2 0 1 5 .296 .406 .333
Cuddyer 8 31 7 7 1 2 5 4 .226 .351 .355
Morneau 8 33 6 13 3 4 12 2 .394 .429 .758
Hunter 8 30 3 10 0 1 3 5 .333 .429 .433
Kubel 6 22 5 7 0 4 9 1 .318 .349 .727
Bartlett 6 22 4 10 2 0 1 3 .455 .520 .500
Punto 8 27 4 6 2 0 3 4 .222 .323 .296
Totals 8 235 40 72 12 11 39 28 .306 .385 .498
There are a few downers in there. Lew has had a bad week and a half, and Nick Punto hasn't performed as he has most of the season. DJ Cuddles has had a little down time, too.
But the rest of the lineup has more than picked up the pace. Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, specifically, have been absolutely stellar at the dish. Both of these two AND Jason Bartlett have OPS scores over 1.000. As the major offensive players over this winning streak, a .883 OPS isn't too shabby.
It's definatley a brand new season. The pitching has settled down into a routine more familiar to Twins fans, especially in the bullpen. Joe Nathan has had more appearances, Jesse Crain had a nice outing last night, and Rincon and Reyes have been solid.
There's been a youth movement throughout the lineup, with Cuddyer (27), Morneau (25), Mauer (23), Kubel (24) and Bartlett (26). These five guys all have the potential to be above average players, and at their age can be a core of Twins teams to come.
It's definitely an exciting time to be checking out the home team: not just because of the winning streak, but being able to watch the farm system at work at the plate and on the mound with players we've been hearing about for years, well, it's extremely gratifying. There's something inspiring about watching a team learn who they are, and play well doing it. They're starting to have fun, too, and that makes everything easier. It's a brand new season, everyone. Enjoy it.