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Article: Who Will Step Up This Year?

michael cuddyer justin morneau joe mauer delmon young denard span
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#1 Seth Stohs

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 06:25 AM

Miguel Sano came off the bench in the 12th inning on Wednesday night and delivered a clutch home run to give the Twins a 3-2 lead and win over the Kansas City Royals. The game was full of excitement, ebbs and flows, good at bad.
As I was watching the Twins, I could help but thinking back to the 2009 Twins. With the Twins win coupled with a Rangers loss, Minnesota is 1.5 games behind Texas for that second Wild Card spot.As Kurt Suzuki laid on the ground after a home plate collision with the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson. On Twitter, I was being asked what the Twins would do if Suzuki needed to miss significant time. In mid-September, the Twins would have to rely on the combination of Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer down the stretch.

On September 12, 2009, Justin Morneau dove head-first into first base in an attempt to avoid a tag. He jarred his back and ended up with a stress fracture in his lower back. It was all bad news. Morneau had just reached 30 home runs and 100 RBI. The team was also 5 ½ games back of the Detroit Tigers. At 70-72, the situation looked bleak. The good thing was that the Twins were scheduled to play the Tigers seven more times over the final 20 games. Little did we know at the time that they would play them an eighth time, in Game 163 at the Metrodome.

Michael Cuddyer moved in to first base. Jason Kubel was primarily DHing, and he moved out to right field. The DH position was filled with the likes of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris. But if the Twins were going to get to the playoffs, they needed those two to step up, but others as well. And, that’s exactly what happened. The offense took off, and the Twins went 17-4 down the stretch, catching the Tigers and winning Game 163.

Here is a look at how the hitters performed over that final stretch.


MICHAEL CUDDYER

The team-first Cuddyer stepped up. Over the final 21 games, he hit .325/.398/.675 (1.073) with three doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 24 RBI. He also played very well at first base in Morneau’s absence. Overall, Cuddyer hit 34 doubles, 32 homers and drove in 94 runs. This final stretch got him a lot of MVP votes.

JOE MAUER

Mauer’s MVP season was absolutely incredible. Though Cuddyer hit the home runs and drove in 24 runs, Mauer was on base most of the month. In 21 games starting September 13, he hit .378/.521/.527 (1.048) with five doubles, two homers and 14 RBI. Those numbers are amazing, but they were right in line with his full-season numbers in 2009. Overall, he hit .365/.444/.587 (1.034) with 30 doubles and 28 homers.

ORLANDO CABRERA

The Twins acquired the 34-year-old shortstop from Oakland in exchange for former 2nd-round pick Tyler Ladendorf (who made his MLB debut for the A’s in 2015). Cabrera was magnificent down the stretch. He played all 21 games and hit .355/.378/.538 (.915) with six doubles, a triple, three homers and 19 RBI while playing a strong shortstop.

JASON KUBEL

Kubel moved out to the outfield from DH and hit well down the stretch. He played in 20 of the final 21 games and hit .278/.333/.597 (.931) with five doubles, six home runs and 21 RBI.

DENARD SPAN

The 25-year-old Span was in his first full season with the Twins and did a great job leading off. He played in 19 of the final 21 games and hit .333/.398/.397 (.795) with three doubles and a triple. He drove in 11 runs and scored 16 times.

DELMON YOUNG

The 23-year-old was in left field. He played all 21 games and hit .353/.380/.576 (.957) with five doubles, a triple, four home runs and 17 RBI.

NICK PUNTO

Ron Gardenhire loved his defense and his approach at the plate. He was a polarizing figure with fans. However, he took over at second base late in this season. He played in all 21 of the final games and hit .250/.407/.297 (.704) with three doubles. In that stretch, he walked 17 times and obviously played great defense.

MATT TOLBERT

2009 was the year they brought in Joe Crede. As he had in previous seasons, Crede ended up out for the season with recurring back issues. Tolbert wasn’t much of a hitter, but he started 18 of the final 21 games. After September 13th, he hit .313/.347/.448 (.795) with four doubles, a triple and a home run.

GAME 163 HEROES

Mauer and Tolbert each had two hits in Game 163. But that game was also a reminder that anyone can play hero in a big game or a pennant stretch. In the final inning, Carlos Gomez was on second and scored on a game-winning single off the bat of Alexi Casilla. Bobby Keppel was the winning pitcher, his first and only major league win.

BRIAN DUENSING

People may forget, but Duensing was alright as a starting pitcher for a while. In his final four starts of that 2009 season, he went 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA. On September 13th, with the Morneau news fresh, Duensing threw seven shutout innings. He backed that up with 6.1 scoreless innings in his next outing.

OTHERS

Francisco Liriano was pretty bad and had been moved to the bullpen later in the season. Scott Baker went 2-1 despite a 4.61 ERA. Jeff Manship wasn’t great, but he picked up his first career win in Game 160. Joe Nathan posted a 1.46 ERA and recorded nine saves. The Twins went 12-0 in games he pitched.


SUMMARY

2010 was the last time the Twins were in the playoffs and Twins fans were involved in a pennant race. However, the second half of the final month of 2009 was as exciting as it gets in the baseball world. The former MVP gets hurt. Things don’t look good. Someone needs to step up. Everyone did step up. Mauer was amazing. Cuddyer had some huge home runs. And then there was Game 163, one of the most exciting games in Twins history.


So, what will happen in the final three weeks of the 2015 season? There’s no way to know. The Twins are just 1.5 games back of a playoff spot. Who will step up? Will it be a big name? Will Miguel Sano hit a few more big home runs? How will the rookies respond? Will the veterans lead the way? Will a role player come up in a big situation and come through? In reality, they will need a combination of all of the above.

No one knows the answers to those questions. All I know is that it’s going to be a lot of fun to find watch!

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#2 Carole Keller

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 06:33 AM

After last night's win, you'd think that would be a catalyst for good things in the remaining weeks, and that it will ignite more than one to get it done.

 

 

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#3 Shane Wahl

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 07:44 AM

2009 was just an incredible run. I am betting on Buxton to click. I know that sounds ridiculous.

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#4 Loosey

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 08:07 AM

 

2009 was just an incredible run. I am betting on Buxton to click. I know that sounds ridiculous.

I have similar feelings.As few hits as he has been getting he looks more confident at the plate.I can see him hitting a huge clutch home run (over the fence or Inside the park) in the coming weeks and he will just build on that.   

 

 

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#5 birdwatcher

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 08:10 AM

Thanks for the lookback Seth. I remember feeling "realistic" about our chances back then. That team had its flaws. And I've been feeling realistic about our chances this year for the same reason. I can't quite picture Plouffe, Dozier, and Mauer putting the team on their back, I'm skeptical that Buxton, Sano, and Rosario will step into the spotlight, although after last night-My Lord. But whatever happens, it's already been a better ride than we thought possible, and it could be, just maybe, one of those seasons you remember like 2009.

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#6 Seth Stohs

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 09:13 AM

Sano and Rosario seem to be the types to step up in big situations. They have in their minor league careers, and although this is the big leagues, I think that continues.

 

The thing I found interesting was that Cuddyer (deservedly so) received a ton of the credit for the 17-4 run to end the season, but everyone stepped up. That is amazing!

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#7 Brandon

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 09:21 AM

This team has used 8 or 9 starting pitchers this year and none of them were bad. We're in it because of that depth. It'll be fun to watch and see who the heroes will be this year.
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#8 Comrade Bork

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 09:40 AM

The Rosario-Escobar-Suzuki trio have been coming up big more often than not since the Baltimore series. In the field and at the plate. (Though that Suzuki strike out last night 0_o)
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#9 nicksaviking

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 10:09 AM

 

Sano and Rosario seem to be the types to step up in big situations. They have in their minor league careers, and although this is the big leagues, I think that continues.

 

 

 

Yeah, these guys just seem to feel more relaxed and confident.Perhaps it's a cultural thing because Vargas and Arcia always seemed to give off the same vibe as well (OK, maybe confident, not so much relaxed for Arcia).Meanwhile Hicks, Buxton, Gibson, May and Meyer all seem(ed) much more anxious and much less confident, at least at first. 


#10 jimbo92107

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 10:42 AM

Twins veterans are battling late-season fatigue, and their younger players are striving to improve and keep up the good play. Is the team set up for a late season push?

 

Miguel Sano's home run trot was a very good sign. Both his swing and his trot looked like a guy whose hamstring didn't hurt.

 

Eddie Rosario loves the moment. Lots of high-drama moments coming in the next couple weeks.

 

Brian Dozier has a shot at 30 home runs, first time for a Twin since Josh Willingham's 35 dingers in 2012. With Sano around, this will be Dozier's last chance to lead the team in home runs.

 

Aaron Hicks has now proved that he can send a baseball over the fence from both sides of the plate. Can he turn it on from the left side towards the end? Can he hit his targets from right field?

 

Byron Buxton has showed steady improvement at the plate and as a base runner. Will he continue to improve over the last weeks?

 

Kennys Vargas is a sleeper candidate for a late season hero. He's got the size and the swing to hit balls as far as Sano. Can he find the discipline to get favorable counts, then hit his pitch?

 

Torii Hunter appears to be swinging the bat with more vigor since he's had a few days off. With more rest, could Hunter get back just enough for a few more key hits and plays?

 

Joe Mauer also looks a bit fresher after having a key day off here and there. Will he remain steady, or does he have a late-season surge in him?

 

Trevor Plouffe has played a lot of games this season, hit clean-up, protected Sano, played first when Mauer needed a break, etc. If he does more during the closing stretch, that would truly be heroic.

 

Eduardo Escobar has looked great since he got his shortstop job back. Justice! This guy could easily be a late season hero. He's playing happy baseball.

 

Danny Santana and Eduardo Nunez are mostly riding the bench these days, but both of them are capable of doing heroic things.

 

The pitching staff has been all over the place this season, but some guys that might step up are Ervin Santana, Tyler Duffey, Jepsen, May, Milone, Boyer, and maybe even JR Graham. Kyle Gibson showed that he's capable of shutting down the Kansas City Royals if he'll pitch the way he knows how, after getting chewed out by Neil Allen. Would it help to get chewed out an inning earlier, or will he remember next time?

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#11 stringer bell

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 10:48 AM

I would like to see Dozier step up and carry the club. He's been in the doldrums for a while and he's a good player who still is able to help the club in the field, on the bases and with the bat.

Mauer still might have a white-hot week or two in him, as well.
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#12 Comrade Bork

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 10:59 AM

The Rosario-Escobar-Suzuki trio have been coming up big more often than not since the Baltimore series. In the field and at the plate. (Though that Suzuki strike out last night 0_o)
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#13 Comrade Bork

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 11:13 AM

Or a dark horse Berrios call up for 10 innings. :P
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#14 dxpavelka

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 11:37 AM

 

Twins veterans are battling late-season fatigue, and their younger players are striving to improve and keep up the good play. Is the team set up for a late season push?

 

Miguel Sano's home run trot was a very good sign. Both his swing and his trot looked like a guy whose hamstring didn't hurt.

 

Eddie Rosario loves the moment. Lots of high-drama moments coming in the next couple weeks.

 

Brian Dozier has a shot at 30 home runs, first time for a Twin since Josh Willingham's 35 dingers in 2012. With Sano around, this will be Dozier's last chance to lead the team in home runs.

 

Aaron Hicks has now proved that he can send a baseball over the fence from both sides of the plate. Can he turn it on from the left side towards the end? Can he hit his targets from right field?

 

Byron Buxton has showed steady improvement at the plate and as a base runner. Will he continue to improve over the last weeks?

 

Kennys Vargas is a sleeper candidate for a late season hero. He's got the size and the swing to hit balls as far as Sano. Can he find the discipline to get favorable counts, then hit his pitch?

 

Torii Hunter appears to be swinging the bat with more vigor since he's had a few days off. With more rest, could Hunter get back just enough for a few more key hits and plays?

 

Joe Mauer also looks a bit fresher after having a key day off here and there. Will he remain steady, or does he have a late-season surge in him?

 

Trevor Plouffe has played a lot of games this season, hit clean-up, protected Sano, played first when Mauer needed a break, etc. If he does more during the closing stretch, that would truly be heroic.

 

Eduardo Escobar has looked great since he got his shortstop job back. Justice! This guy could easily be a late season hero. He's playing happy baseball.

 

Danny Santana and Eduardo Nunez are mostly riding the bench these days, but both of them are capable of doing heroic things.

 

The pitching staff has been all over the place this season, but some guys that might step up are Ervin Santana, Tyler Duffey, Jepsen, May, Milone, Boyer, and maybe even JR Graham. Kyle Gibson showed that he's capable of shutting down the Kansas City Royals if he'll pitch the way he knows how, after getting chewed out by Neil Allen. Would it help to get chewed out an inning earlier, or will he remember next time?

Good point about Dozier's last chance to lead the team in home runs with Sano no onboard.Maybe if he had a few less meaningless home runs and a few more meaninful base hits the team as a whole would benefit.Just sayin

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#15 Shaitan

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 11:39 AM

Great memories, and that list of 2009 pitchers is evidence that anything is possible and the 2015 bullpen can just maybe get it done.

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#16 dxpavelka

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 11:41 AM

Good article showing how you win with a TEAM performance.You can hope one guy steps up and carries a team on his shoulders but the reality is that such events happen very seldom.Yes, they can be legendary when they DO happen but you can't count on them.More often than not your best bet is to win as a team.If one guy struggles, someone else picks him up.If the bats are cold the pitching is hot.If the bullpen is cold the starters are on, or vice versa. 

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#17 gocgo

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 12:46 PM

I'll be very curious to see if that one pitch...that one non strike call...will be the reason the Twins make the playoffs.

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#18 formerly33

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 01:05 PM

 

I'll be very curious to see if that one pitch...that one non strike call...will be the reason the Twins make the playoffs.

Even if we do end up making the playoffs by one game, you can't say that it's all because of that one call since we still have nearly a month ahead of us. Also, you never know what might have happened last night had Sano not had that extra chance to homer. Buxton might have done it for him to lead off the 13th; there's just no saying what could have happened.

 

Now, if it was game 163 and we were down by a single run with 2 outs in the 9th and the same call, same pitch count occurred ... might as well add that there was a base runner and we were home ... then you could say beyond any doubt that we made it because of a bad call. In this instance, though, I feel like it's a bit extreme.

 

Last night I checked out a Royals fan page because I was curious to see their opinion on the call, and while there were (of course) a few people ranting about it, the majority thought that it was 100% on the Royals and that they should have had the game. Some said that the Royals are getting too comfortable with the division lead whereas the Twins are battling for a WC spot, just like last year's Royals. I almost got the impression that they wouldn't be surprised if we went on to win the ALCS. Maybe I shouldn't be flattered though ... it's probably just stemming from the mentality that whoever can beat them must be as good as the Giants. ;)

Edited by always33, 10 September 2015 - 01:08 PM.

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#19 bluechipper

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 01:28 PM

I think Brian Dozier needs to be the one to regain his form from the weeks leading up to the AS break so he and Sano can co-carry this team to the playoffs.

 

He's only hitting  .210 with a .668 OPS in the 2nd half. It's also pretty interesting that his OPS in wins is .912 and only .627 in losses. And he only has 19 of his 70 RBI in losses in roughly the same amount of games. I think this shows how important it is that he gets on track in these games down the stretch.

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#20 ashburyjohn

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 01:43 PM

 It's also pretty interesting that his OPS in wins is .912 and only .627 in losses.

If I'm reading bb-ref.com correctly, the entire team is .833 in wins and .548 in losses. I really don't know if there is anything to be read into these splits - when you lose it's because you're not hitting or not pitching or not doing both.

 

Mauer looks like the interesting outlier this year with an OPS in losses only slightly lower than in wins.

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