I woke up yesterday morning still in disbelief. It had been two days since I had sat in row 33 of left field and watched as Juan Rincon gave up a 3 run home run to tie a game that the Yankees would eventually win in extra innings. It is so strange how a season can just end in a moment. Baseball is a crazy game where an inch can make the difference between postseason glory and another early exit. After the game Saturday all that was left was for the players to pack their bags, say goodbyes and head out for the winter. There is no guarantee that the Twins will be back in the postseason next year with the emergence of Cleveland and Chicago still lurking. How the Twins handle the off-season and fill their needs will determine where they are this time next year. Later this week Twins Chatter will begin to look ahead to the off-season and what follows. Today we will hand out the hardware for this past season and give the Twins props where they deserve it.
MVT (Most Valuable Twin) -
Unlike last season when Shannon Stewart almost single handedly turned the Twin’s season around, this year the Twins had several players stand out. They never would have stuck around early in the year had it not been for Lew Ford’s hot hitting. He may have cooled off a little as the season progressed but he stayed around .300 all year. Justin Morneau provided a much-needed spark in the middle of the season and finished with 19 HR in just 280 at bats. He struggled at the end of the year and into the postseason though. Shannon Stewart provided a spark upon his return and Torii Hunter carried the Twins in big games and the playoffs. The Twins most valuable player has got to be Johan Santana. He not only had one of the most dominant second halves ever, he kept this team rolling along. He ended losing streaks and began winning ones. The Twins won when he was on the mound, period. He pitched in big games and battled right up to the very end. He will certainly win the American League CY Young but he is also the most valuable Twin.
Best Pitcher -
Since the MVT already went to Santana, who was also the best pitcher, we will spread the awards around a bit. Juan Rincon had a great year if you leave out his last appearance. Brad Radke did not get the recognition he deserved and may have been in consideration for the CY Young if he had more wins. This was his most consistent year by far. The Twins most valuable pitcher was Joe Nathan. The Twins didn’t know what they would get from Nathan, who had never been a closer before. He emerged and was more then the Twins could have hoped for with 44 saves and a 1.62 ERA. Without him the Twins would have been a second place ball club. He shut the door on the 9th inning all year.
Most Disappointing Pitcher -
Kyle Lohse came into the spring training as the third starter and went backwards from there. He never found consistency during the year. He would have a great start and then follow it with 3 bad ones. He would seem to be progressing then fall back into the same routine. All told, he lost 13 games with a 5.34 ERA and was the losing pitcher in the last game of the season for the Twins.
Most Disappointing Hitter -
Joe Mauer was the real deal when he played. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to play very often putting the Twins in the position of having to rely on Henry Blanco as the starting catcher. The Twins could have used Mauer in the postseason. Next year he gets another try and hopefully a healthy year.
Best Fielder –
People talked up Doug Mientkiewicz when he was here but the best fielder on the team was always Torii Hunter. He changed the course of a game with his magnificent plays; with no regard for his own body. He used his glove to make amazing catches and his arm to throw out runners at the plate, all while still making the routine play.
Emerging Player Award -
Carlos Silva came out of nowhere to win 14 games; he struggled in the playoffs but held down the third starter spot all year after having started 1 game previously in his career. He also pitched 203 much needed innings for the club. The best hitter to emerge was Michael Cuddyer, who gives the team another option at second next year. He showed that he could adequately play the position at the end of the year. His bat also provided a little pop to the lineup.
Young Player of the Year –
Usually this award would go to the rookie of the year but both Lew Ford and Justin Morneau played themselves out of that classification last year. Their seasons were just to good to ignore. Ford didn’t start the year with the club but made an immediate impact upon his call-up. He is the official player of Twins Chatter for good reason. Morneau came up and provided the power the lineup desperately craved. He was a different player then the one who came up last year. He also made great strides at first base and will be a cornerstone for years to come. Jesse Crain had a pretty good run out of the bullpen as well but his performance is not quite on par with the other two.
Other Awards –
Batting Champ – Shannon Stewart .304
Homerun King – Corey Koskie 25
RBI King – Torii Hunter
Saves – Joe Nathan 44
Wins – Johan Santana 20
ERA – Santana 2.61
Strikeouts – Santana 265
It was a great year that unfortunately didn’t end the way many fans envisioned it. Every year new players struggle while others emerge. The Twins will battle for their 4th consecutive division title in 2005. Right now is the time to bask in their accomplishments from 2004 that put the Twins in a position to give the Yankees a run for their money.