07/13/11 2:00 PM ET
Twins believe they have second-half run in them
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
The Twins -- winners of the past two American League Central crowns -- were considered favorites to win the division yet again, but have mostly disappointed this year because of a rash of injuries that has characterized the season, as the club has utilized the disabled list 16 times for 13 different players.
It's been a difficult task for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has seen many of his top players miss large chunks of the season due to injury and has his team under. 500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 2003.
"You can't do anything about it as a manager," Gardenhire said. "When they get healthy, you just try to figure out a way to get them in the lineup and go from there. You just have to take it and go with what you got and do the best you can."
But it didn't start out that way, as the Twins were one of only two clubs to enter the regular season without a player on the disabled list.
It quickly changed, however, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the first casualty, breaking his left fibula in just the sixth game of the season, before Joe Mauer was placed on the DL just five days later with an injury classified as bilateral leg weakness that kept him out of action for two months.
Kevin Slowey and Delmon Young also were placed on the DL in the first month of the season before the club was hit the hardest in May with Jim Thome, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares, Glen Perkins, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan all being placed on the DL.
AT THE BREAK
- MVP: Michael Cuddyer -- He's been the anchor of the lineup and is the club's lone All-Star representative.
- Cy Young: Scott Baker -- Baker has quietly emerged as one of the best starters in the AL, already reaching the 100-strikeout plateau.
- Rookie: Ben Revere -- With Denard Span out with a concussion, Revere has been the offense's catalyst atop the order.
- Top reliever: Glen Perkins -- He has been a pleasant surprise in a bullpen that has largely struggled this year.
Players to watch in the second half
- Joe Mauer: After missing two months with bilateral leg weakness, it'll be interesting to see if he can return to his All-Star form.
- Jim Thome: The slugger is nearing 600 home runs, which only seven others have accomplished.
- Francisco Liriano: The lefty has turned it around and looks headed toward regaining his dominant form.
With all the injuries piling up, the season hit a low note on June 1 following a three-game sweep to the Tigers -- the Twins were 20 games under .500 and 16 1/2 games back of the Indians in the American League Central.
But then the Twins bounced back by winning 15 out of 17, including eight in a row, to give themselves new life despite the fact key players such as Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Nathan and Thome were all out of action.
The Twins also welcomed back Mauer, Nishioka and Perkins during that stretch, but received bad news on Morneau, who is out until at least mid-August after undergoing surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment in his neck.
But Minnesota has been playing better baseball heading into the second half of the season, powered offensively by All-Star Michael Cuddyer and a pitching staff that posted the second-lowest ERA in the AL in June.
Keeping that momentum going will be key, as the Twins don't have history on their side, considering no club has come back from a 16 1/2-game deficit and won a division title.
The 1978 Yankees were 14 games back of the Red Sox in July before winning the AL East, and the 1951 Giants were 13 games back of the Dodgers in August before capturing the NL crown.
The biggest deficit overcome came all the way back in 1914, when the Boston Braves trailed by as many as 15 games before winning the pennant. The 2008 Rockies did trail the Dodgers by 15 1/2 games on June 3 and made the playoffs, but they won the NL Wild Card, which they never trailed by more than 10 games.
But the Twins aren't giving up hope, as the club has come back from big deficits to win the division in the past, including in 2003, when they trailed the Royals by 7 1/2 games in July; in '06, when they were 12 1/2 games back of the Tigers in late May; and in '09, when they trailed the Tigers by three games with four to play.
"It's still the first half, so we still have plenty of time to make a run at this," right-hander Nick Blackburn said before the break. "But I think one of the good things about what we've been doing lately is that we don't get too caught up in all that stuff. We're just trying to go out there and do what we can and execute. So as long as we can do that, we have enough ability and players on this team, who knows where it can go."