Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Spark

With just about any team that is destined for the playoffs, there comes a point in a season where the team just takes off (unless you're the Yankees, you never seemingly need one). Last year we saw the World Series winner San Francisco Giants fall to 41-40, riding a 7 game losing streak, come from behind and beat Colorado 11-8 and sparking their second half which saw them finish 92-70 and go on to win the World Series.

In the past decade of Twins baseball, there have been many seasons that have had that much needed spark to propel them to a Central Division title and a shot in the postseason.

In 2003, the Twins were 44-49 and 7.5 games behind the first place Chicago White Sox during the All Star Break. On the Wednesday following the All Star Game, GM Terry Ryan acquired OF Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays in exchange for OF Bobby Kielty. The move filled a much needed hole in the leadoff spot for the Twins. Following the trade, Stewart batted .322/.384/.470 with 6 HR and 38 RBI and lead the Twins to their second straight Central division title. Stewart's play was so impressive, he would go on to finish fourth in the AL MVP voting that year.

2006 saw Justin Morneau slump for the first two months and a week (.235 12 HR, 38 RBI), before he was called into a managers meeting with Ron Gardenhire. At this time, the Twins were 25-32 and 11.5 games back of first place Detroit. This June 7th meeting saw Gardy tell Morneau he would be benched for that nights game, and that it was time to get it going. The Twins lost the game that night to Seattle, and the next day Morneau was back in the lineup. Clearly, Justin got the manager's message. From June 8th on, Morneau batted .361, with 22 HR and 92 RBI while leading the Twins to a 71-33 record during that time. The Twins went on to win the Central division on the last day of the season, and Morneau would win the AL MVP over Yankees SS Derek Jeter. Since then, Morneau has been on of the best first baseman in all of baseball.

Michael Cuddyer had found a nice home in right field for the Twins after his move there from third base. But in 2009, the now infamous 'I can play anywhere player', was forced to move to first base to take over for an injured Justin Morneau in early September. Following their game on September 6th (3-1 loss at Cleveland), the Twins found themselves 7 games behind Detroit, and they were forced to play the remainder of the year without their All Star first baseman. But Cuddyer saw this as an opportunity to step up in a big way...and he did. Cuddy hit .279 with 10 HR and 29 RBI, while helping lead his team back from a seemingly impossible deficit. The Twins forced a one game playoff with the Tigers (Game 163), and went on to the postseason again, thanks largely to Cuddyer's efforts.

With Tuesday's win, the Twins now sit 45-51, 6 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. This team has the talent (for the most part), all they need now is that one spark to push them in the right direction. Was Danny Valencia's walkoff hit that spark? Or will another midseason trade trigger that spark? Or will the return of Denard Span. Jason Kubel, and Justin Morneau spark this team? All we can do now is wait, and find out...

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