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Minnesota Twins

2010 Twins: If Only Morneau were Healthy

The 2010 Minnesota Twins season will always be remembered for what it could have been rather than what it was. Dreams of grandeur floated around Target Field as the Twins ended the regular season with a 94-68 record and home field advantage against the New York Yankees in the ALDS.

Even the most pessimistic of fans, myself included, began to wonder if this could be the year the Twins finally exercise their Yankee curse. That wonderment only increased as the Twins held a 3-0 lead going into sixth inning of game 1, but then, the inevitable occurred.

Four hits and a walk led to four runs in the sixth, giving the Yankees the lead. The Twins managed to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning but J.J. Hardy’s strikeout left the bases loaded and the memories of past playoff collapses crept into everyone’s mind. Those memories quickly became reality when Mark Teixerra took a 3-2 Jesse Crain fastball deep to right. All the confidence evaporated from the lineup with a single pitch and it was never recovered. The Yankees swept the series and the Twins have never been the same since.

It’s been two years since the 2010 season and those memories are still fresh in our collective minds. The what if’s are as persistent as ever but there is one ‘what if’ that rings louder than any other. What if Justin Morneau had remained healthy for the entire season?

For the first 81 games of the season Justin Morneau was not merely good, he was incredible. Here is a list of stats that he accrued for the first half of the season:

.345 avg.
.437 OBP
.618 SLG
18 HR’s
56 RBI’s
.274 ISO
1.055 OPS
.385 BABIP

The statistics only tell a fraction of the story though. Standing alone they are impressive but to truly comprehend how dominant Justin Morneau was during the 2010 season you had to watch him at the plate. You always hear how confidence can change a player but I never understood it until Morneau stepped into the batter’s box that year. It’s not that he lacked confidence in previous seasons, he did win the AL MVP in 2006 after all, the confidence level had just reached a new high.That confidence led to an increased plate discipline that saw his walk rate (14.4 %) hit a career high. There was something special brewing in the 2010 season until July 7th rolled around and changed the progression of Morneau’s career.

An errant knee to the head by Toronto Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald landed Morneau on the DL with a concussion. The duration of the DL stint wasn’t initially known but as time passed it was clear that concussions symptoms were lingering longer than expected. As the Twins neared the postseason there was speculation that Morneau would return to the lineup but on October 4th he was officially shut down for the season.

The odds that Morneau would have continued his torrid pace throughout the 2010 season were not high but it was undeniable that he would have continued to produce at a high clip. Michael Cuddyer filled in very well at 1B but there was no way to replace Morneau’s production and that was evident in the ALDS. Morneau had built up the reputation as a Yankee killer in previous seasons even as his team struggled against them. Another bat may have helped the Twins overcome Teixeira’s blast in Game 1 and that could have turned the tide of the series.

Of course there is no way to tell if Morneau would have pushed the Twins past the Yankees in the ALDS. There is no way to tell if Morneau would have ended up producing one of the great seasons in Twins history on his way to his 2nd AL MVP. All we can do is wonder, what if…

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