Twins in the 2000s: The 2010 Season
Image courtesy of Brock BeauchampWe're running a 20-part series in which we look back at each Minnesota Twins season of the 2000s. A rotation of different writers will highlight key moments, unearth forgotten details, and share nostalgic tales from the past two decades leading up to the present. This installment covers the 2010 season.
Team Record: 94-68
Finish: 1st Place in AL Central
All-Stars: Joe Mauer ( C ), Justin Morneau (1B)
Awards: Joe Mauer (Gold Glove & Silver Slugger, C) Ron Gardenhire (AL Manager of the Year), Francisco Liriano (AL Comeback Player of the Year)
Playoffs: Lost to NYY 3-0 in ALDS
This was a special time in Twins history. It marked the team's 50th season since coming to Minnesota, it was the first year of outdoor baseball since 1981, and it was quite the successful campaign on the field.
To better dive into the 2010 season for the Minnesota Twins, let’s break things down month by month and follow along with the inaugural journey of the Target Field era Twins.
In addition to packing up their things and moving to Target Field, the Twins made plenty of moves to keep busy in the offseason heading into 2010. The first of these was extending the reigning MVP Joe Mauer with an eight-year, $184 million contract in March, making him the highest-paid Twins player in team history. Out of free agency, the Twins signed Orlando Hudson at second and veteran Jim Thome to be their designated hitter. He would go on to hit for an OPS of 1.039 in 2010 and take on a huge leadership role for the Twins. Finally, the Twins parted ways with Carlos Gómez, trading him to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy in efforts to shore up a position of perpetual instability.
The Twins came out of the gates strong in the opening two months of the 2010 season, providing Twins fans with an entertaining product to go along with their shiny new stadium. By the end of May, the Twins were 31-20, and held a 4 1/2 game lead in the American League Central. On the mound, the Twins were led by Francisco Liriano who bounced back from a dreadful 2009 to show signs of his previous form. With his fastball back up in the mid-90s, Liriano posted a stellar 3.29 ERA through the first two months, highlighted by an April 27th performance against the Tigers where he pitched eight innings, allowing just four hits and striking out 10.
After a hot start, the Twins hit a bit of a rough patch in June and July, posting just a 27-26 record over this time span and surrendering their lead in the AL Central. On July 15th, the Twins found themselves 4 1/2 games back of the White Sox, the largest division deficit they would face all season. One contributor to the mid-season swoon was the concussion suffered by Justin Morneau on July 7th in Toronto. At the time of his injury, Morneau was the leading MVP candidate, as he was hitting .345 with 18 homers and a 1.055 OPS. Morneau wouldn’t play another game for the 2010 Twins after suffering the injury, and would never again be quite the same player.
- Trade Deadline
The 2010 season featured one of the more infamous deadline deals in team history when the Twins traded away catcher and top-100 prospect Wilson Ramos for Nationals closer Matt Capps. The move was born from general manager Bill Smith's compulsion to install an "established closer" in the absence of Joe Nathan, who went down with Tommy John surgery in the spring. At the time of the trade, Capps was pitching well as the Nationals closer, with a 2.74 ERA and 26 saves in 30 chances. This was an uncharacteristically win-now move for the Twins, who traditionally never traded away top prospects for established veterans.
Capps pitched well for the Twins for the remainder of the season, but many still question the short-sighted thinking with the trade, especially given value gap between a top catching prospect and an aging, good-not-great relief pitcher.
After a mid-season dip in performance, the Minnesota Twins absolutely dominated the post-deadline portion of their schedule, going 37-22 over the final two months. Heading into August, the Twins were in second place in the American League Central, but when all was said and done Minnesota won the division by six games. A big reason for their success in the Central in 2010 was how much they dominated the White Sox. In 18 games, the Twins went 13-5 against Chicago, accounting for their entire division lead at the end of the season. A mid-September sweeping at U.S. Cellular Field was essentially the nail in the coffin.
The Twins ended the season 94-68, earning the No. 2 seed in the American League and an ALDS matchup with (once again) the New York Yankees.
Different year, same result for the Twins as they rematched the Yankees in the ALDS, and again were swept 3-0. There was some optimism surrounding this year’s showdown, as the Twins had home-field advantage plus some arm talent, with Liriano and 17-game winner Carl Pavano slated to start Games 1 and 2. Unfortunately for the Twins, David was still no match for Goliath, thanks to powerful New York bats that pushed across six, five and six runs in Games 1, 2 and 3 respectively. An exciting season that ushered in outdoor baseball and a division title once again ended in disappointment at the hands of the Bronx Bombers.
Team MVP: Joe Mauer ( C )
Other Contenders: Justin Morneau (1B), Jim Thome (DH), Francisco Liriano (SP), Carl Pavano (SP)
The 2010 season was just another year at the office for Mauer, who slashed .327/.402/.469 while nabbing his third Gold Glove and fourth Silver Slugger awards from the catching position. Additionally, Mauer led the Twins in fWAR with 5.7 and hit a career-high 43 doubles. The “what could have been” winner of the Team MVP, though, was Morneau, who trailed Mauer by just 0.7 fWAR for the team lead despite only playing in 81 games.
3 Most Pivotal Games
July 18th: Won vs. Chicago White Sox, 7-6
Heading into the final game of a pivotal four-game series against the Chicago White Sox, the Twins found themselves 2 1/2 games back of the division lead. After trailing 6-3 into the bottom of the ninth inning, it was looking apparent that Minnesota would fall and lose more ground to the Sox. The Twins batters had other plans, though, as they put together three walks and three singles to push across four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game. The hero? Delmon Young, whose walk-off single scored Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer to trim the Twins’ divisional deficit to 1 1/2 games.
August 17th: Won vs. Chicago White Sox, 7-6
Better known as the Jim Thome Game, Minnesota fans can’t forget the enormity of this contest, and the implications it had on Target Field's legacy and on the 2010 season. Heading into the first of a three-game series against the White Sox, the Twins held a three-game lead in the division. After a Capps blown save in the ninth inning forced extras, Thome came up to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning and blasted the first ever walk-off home run at Target Field. The homer expanded a division lead that Minnesota would not relinquish.
October 6th: Lost vs. New York Yankees, 6-4
Game 1 of the ALDS started about as well as anyone could have hoped, as the Twins jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and Liriano was dealing. This was looking like as good of a chance as any for the Twins to finally slay the Yankees. Things flipped in the sixth inning, though, when New York got run-scoring hits from Robinson Canó, Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada before Mark Teixeira all but ended the game with a two-run blast in the seventh. There’s no telling how differently this series would have played out had the Twins held on to take Game 1.
Joe Mauer's Extension
While the Twins made big splashes in the offseason by signing Thome and Hudson and trading for Hardy, the biggest move of the winter was extending Mauer. Prior to the extension, there was plenty of talk about whether the Twins’ front office would have what it took to finally pony up and pay Mauer, or if he would potentially walk and join a team like the Yankees. Alas, the Twins made it happen, with the richest contract for a catcher in major-league history.
Whether or not the contract extension was worth it in the end is still debated by many, but the extension was uncharted territory for the Twins’ brass and marked a momentous occasion.
At Last, Outdoor Baseball!
Thirty-eight thousand, one hundred and forty-five Twins fans packed into Target Field on April 12th to take in the team's first outdoor home game in almost 30 years. Pavano took the mound against Boston and pitched six excellent innings, allowing only one earned run. In the seventh, Jason Kubel hit the first home run in Target Field’s history, and Jon Rauch closed out the game as the Twins beat the Red Sox 5-2.
Thome Passes Killebrew
On July 3rd, Thome hit two home runs in a losing effort at Target Field against the Tampa Bay Rays. The two homers tied and then propelled him ahead of Harmon Killebrew for 10th on the all-time home run list.
Win No. 4,000
Somewhat poetically, the Twins earned their 4,000th win in their 50th season in Minnesota. They checked off this milestone on September 12th against the White Sox in a winning effort by starting pitcher Kevin Slowey.
One Detail You Probably Forgot
The Twins drafted Matt Fox with a first round pick in the 2004 MLB draft. As a highly touted talent, Fox battled injuries for the early part of his career. Fox reached the Twins as a September call-up in 2010. He made one start for the Twins, pitching 5 2/3 innings while allowing 2 earned runs. Following the start, Fox was designated for assignment, and picked up by the Red Sox where he appeared in three games of relief before being DFA’ed again. He never appeared in the MLB again following his four appearances in the 2010 season.
Unsurprisingly, the 2010 season still holds the record as the highest fan attendance in a season in Twins history. Over the course of the season, Target Field brought a total of 3,223,640 fans out to the ballpark. For context, this was about one million more fans than the 2019 season, which posted a total attendance for the season of 2,294,152.
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- The 2009 Season
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