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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Off the TePoel

The Case for Morneau

Here it is, as promised. My case for why Justin Morneau is the MVP of the Twins, hands down over Sideburns Joe. Not only is he the MVP of the Twins, he indeed was the AL MVP in 2006 and earned 2nd place this magical season of ought-eight. Statistics are, of course, heavily considered in choosing an MVP, though the subjective is what truly determines the MVP. That is why you won't find much number crunching here. The MVP selection is always surrounded by controversy save the very few unanimous choices - the way it should be due to the fact that most seasons any one of four or five guys could carry the crown. Alas, we are not discussing THE MVP, just the Twins MVP. It's Justin.

There are a lot of reasons why the Twins were one run away from the playoffs. As I think back to my opening day expectations that would have been a rather daring, yet charming belief. I was truly anticipating something resembling more of a Minnesota Timberwolves campaign. Honestly. And I was okay with it. After seven/eight years of high expectations and mild to extreme disappointment, I was ready to lower my guard and simply sit back and enjoy the game of baseball and some young, developing talent. But no, the Twins surprised and were right in the mix because of several factors. I will list them as such; first the factors NECESSARY as a bare minimum for the pennant run:

1) The first half pitching by Livan Hernandez. Without him carrying the load for the young pitching staff the Twins would not have made it to June with a respectable record. I recall our starting five having about 15 combined wins after the first 60 games. Thank you Livo.

2) The failure of the Lamb/Harris/Everett infield allowed the Twins to utilize Alexi Casilla early on in the season and he produced more RBIs than me in the backyard baseball season of '89. Casilla was absolutely on fire. He carried the offensive spark that was missing from Mauer, Young, Cuddyer, et al. Much like the failed Castro/Batista experiment in '06 that allowed Bartlett and Punto to flourish, Casilla ushered in the '08 version.

3) Thank goodness Cuddyer got hurt because Denard Span saved this team as well. Cuddy wasn't doing much of anything in that #3 spot initially, then 5 or 6 or wherever he hit. Span was tearing it up in AAA, deserved to be on the team from day one, and when he got his second call-up he did not blink. Speed, production, defense, he did it all. 

4) Joe Mauer. Hey, just cause he's not the MVP doesn't mean he isn't extremely valuable. That's an understatement. Another batting title certainly is hard to overlook, especially considering he did it as a catcher. He played more this year and stayed healthy which was key to the team's success. A gold glove as well to add to the nonexistence of a running game for opponents thanks to Joe. He deserves a good chunk of the credit for the success of #5 below as well, although he has to split that with Rick Anderson and the aforementioned Hernandez.

5) The Staff of youngins who pitched out of their minds. Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins, Liriano, and Baker. These guys are pure filth. I don't know how the Twins consistently develop such good young pitching. Although they really need to stop giving up the long ball.

6) Go-go. Yeah he helped too. Despite all his strikeouts and stretches of ugly baseball, the kid was a spark at times and played his butt off all season. 

So there it is, six NECESSARY components to the value of the team. But they alone, are not SUFFICIENT to explain the pennant run. That would be Mr. MVP. Take away any one of those six pieces and the Twins still can compete. Don't believe me? They proved it. Harris and Punto filled in for Casilla when he was hurt or struggling. On countless at bats Gomez might as well have walked up to the plate and told the ump, "45,000 people know that I won't come within four feet of the ball these next three pitches, so can I just sit down?" but the Twins still found ways to win. The staff had off days, the bullpen or offense picked them up. And yes, even when Mauer's line read "4-3. 4-3. 4-6-3. 4-3" the team stayed alive. And that is because of the first baseman.

This team simply would have been nowhere near the top without Morneau. Gardy didn't think so either. The Canadian found his way into all 163 games. Morneau had 47 doubles. Mauer had 44 extra-base hits combined. Pitchers gave Mauer stuff to hit because they didn't want to face the MVP. Morneau had no legitimate threat behind him. Most of the time hurlers were licking their chops to get at Kubel or Delmon. That's the cake: Morneau put up a .300 average, 129 RBIs (44 more than Mauer), and 23 HR with pitchers trying to avoid him all season. Not to mention the much improved defense from the once awkward first sacker.

Next year I'll take Justin to prove it again.

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