Monday, June 21, 2004

June Swoon? I Think Not

Well, they did it again. Just when you think the Twins are reeling from a difficult late-inning loss, they come right back and win the next day in convincing fashion. As most of you know already, the story of Sunday’s 4-2 win over the now-formidable Brewers was Johan Santana, a.k.a. the Johanimator (copyright Bat-girl). He was his old brilliant self over 8 innings: 2 earned runs, 4 hits, and most impressively, 12 strikeouts. This is the pitcher that we were counting on to lead our staff in 2004, not the impersonator that had a 5.61 ERA as late as May 29. Here are Johan’s totals so far for the month of June:

3 W, 30.2 IP, 17 H, 9 ER, 6 BB, 36 Ks, 10.7 K/9 IP, 2.68 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

I don’t know about you, but I’d say those are some pretty impressive numbers, and if you only include Johan’s last three performances, they are even more outstanding. Sunday’s masterpiece also helped Johan lower his season ERA to 4.61, well on its way to a Johan-ish level (somewhere in the low-to-mid 3.00s).

So far in June, the Twins have a record of 11-7. There have been a few very noticeable blemishes (losing 3 of 4 to the Deviled Hams and 2 of 3 at home to the Phillies), but somehow, at least record-wise (the only statistic that actually matters) it has been a pretty good month for the hometown nine. How has this happened? Our offense, which was absolutely putrid in May, hasn’t been a whole helluva lot better in June. The Twins are hitting a collective .248 this month, with a measly .319 OBP. They’re averaging a mediocre 4.6 runs per game, which is not a figure you would expect from a team that is consistently winning ballgames. But the Twins have finally returned to their old tried-and-true method of winning: pitching and defense.

Even after his baffling meltdown on Saturday night, Brad Radke still has a 2.28 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in June (all without collecting a win!). Carlos Silva has also performed admirably, notching 2 wins to go with a 3.16 ERA in his four June starts. Even the enigma that is Kyle Lohse has been respectable, posting a 3.79 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in his three June starts. As hard as I was on him the other day for giving up four sixth inning runs, he really didn’t pitch that badly overall.

The bullpen, which hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations that stemmed from their April and May dominance, has been pretty decent as well in June. Juan Rincon (who will get his own column one of these days) has been spectacular this month: 10 scoreless innings, 2 vultured wins, 5 H, 3 BB, and a whopping 14 strikeouts. He is almost single-handedly responsible for holding the ‘pen together after the implosion J.C. My man Grant Balfour, despite his moments of shakiness, has only allowed a run in 5.1 innings pitched. Joe Nathan has also been his dominant self, although not as lights-out as he was in April and May. Even Fultzy and Mulholland haven’t been completely terrible.

The Twins’ fielding hasn’t improved quite as much statistically in June as the pitching did, but the team is slowly climbing up the charts in fielding percentage in June (they now sit at 10th in the AL) and their have been a number of spectacular plays made this month. Torii has been making great catches left and right, and even Louie Rivas is flashing some leather. Although the numbers might disagree somewhat, defense has also played a big role in the Twins’ stellar June record.

Johan’s tremendous Father’s Day performance has really helped bring to the forefront the Twins’ improved pitching in the month of June. With a rotation that has four guys (Radke, Santana, Lohse, and Silva) all pitching well, I don’t see why the Twins can’t expand upon their 1.5 game lead in the division during the upcoming week.