The Minnesota Twins 2006 season ended with Minnesota finishing the regular season as champions of the American League Central Division, but were swept in three games by the Oakland Athletics in the 2006 American League Division Series.
|2006 Minnesota Twins|
|AL Central Champions|
|Major League affiliations|
|General manager(s)||Terry Ryan|
(Bert Blyleven, Dick Bremer)
|Local radio||830 WCCO AM |
(Herb Carneal, John Gordon, Dan Gladden, Jack Morris)
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The Twins stumbled out of the gate after the death of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett in late March, accumulating a dismal 25-33 record by June 7. Around that time, the team dropped underperforming veterans like Tony Batista, Juan Castro, and Kyle Lohse, replacing them with talented rookies from the Rochester Red Wings. The Twins went 9-1 in their next ten games, evening their record at 34-34. Interleague play was particularly generous to the team; the Twins had Major League Baseball's best Interleague record at 16 wins and 2 losses. By July 26 the team had won 34 of 42 games, leaving them tied with the White Sox at 59-41, but still 8.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers.
As the season neared its conclusion, the Twins continued to put distance between them and the White Sox, while gaining on the Tigers. A key series starting on September 7 saw the Twins take three out of four from the Tigers. And after a commanding win in Boston on September 19, the Twins found themselves within a half game of the Central-leading Tigers. On September 25, the Twins beat Kansas City 8-1 to secure an American League playoff berth.
A win in a 10-inning game against the Royals on September 28 moved the Twins into a tie with the Tigers atop the AL Central. With that win, the Twins broke a major league record by moving into first place after the team's 159th game. This was the latest in a season that a team moved into first place for the first time all season. (It was a tie for first at this point.)
The Tigers led the season series, so a tie at the end of the season between the Tigers and Twins would have meant the Twins get the wild card. Instead, the Tigers were swept by 100-game-losers Kansas City to end the season, and the Twins took one of three from the White Sox, giving the Twins their fourth AL Central title in five years. It was the first time in major league history that a team clinched on the last day of the season after never having held sole possession of first place.
For the first time since 1987, the Twins had legitimate power hitters in Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, and Michael Cuddyer. On August 9, Morneau became the first Twin to hit 30 or more home runs since 1987, when Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti, and Kent Hrbek did it.
During the same span:
Morneau finished the season with 34 home runs, 130 runs batted in, and a .321 average and was named American League MVP.
Hunter enjoyed a late season surge to also reach the 30 home run mark. On September 25, he homered off Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke in the bottom of the 7th inning and became the second Twin to hit 30 home runs in 2006. He finished the season with 31 home runs and 98 runs batted in.
Michael Cuddyer also had a breakout season as the Twins' cleanup hitter. He did not start the season as a regular player, but eventually replaced the ineffective opening day right fielder, Jason Kubel. By June, he was hitting fourth in the lineup, and he finished the season with 24 home runs, 109 runs batted in, scored 102 runs, and hit for a .284 average.
Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer may have finally earned the nickname "The M&M Boys", that had been prematurely applied to them early in the 2005 season. (This was the nickname applied to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the early 1960s.) Not only did Mauer win the American League batting title, but he led the major leagues with a .347 average, finishing ahead of National League champion Freddy Sanchez. Mauer was the first catcher to lead either the American League or the majors in hitting. Two catchers did win the National League batting title. Bubbles Hargrave of the Cincinnati Reds did it in 1926. Ernie Lombardi led the National League twice: once for the Reds in 1938 and once for the Boston Braves in 1942. However, neither catcher won the major league title.
These strong hitters were complemented by the top and bottom of the Twins' order, where the players gave the hitters plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Midway through the season, the Twins opted for a lineup that included Jason Tyner batting eighth, Jason Bartlett ninth, Luis Castillo first, and Nick Punto second. Manager Ron Gardenhire said that these players are like four leadoff hitters: all are fast and hit for average but not power. All four hit between .290 (Punto) and .312 (Tyner), but hit a combined six home runs.
Players like this caused Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén to dub the team "the Little Piranhas." Quoth Guillen: "All those piranhas -- blooper here, blooper here, beat out a ground ball, hit a home run, they're up by four. They get up by four with that bullpen? See you at the national anthem tomorrow. When I sit down and look at the lineup, give me the New York Yankees. Give me those guys because they've got holes. You can pitch around them, you can pitch to them. These little guys? Castillo and all of them? People worry about the catcher, what's his name, Mauer? Fine, yeah, a good hitter, but worry about the little [guys], they're on base all the time."
The Twins led the Major Leagues in batting average with a team average of .287.
For much of the season, the Twins' starting rotation was its most apparent weakness. This is surprising, because the 2005 Minnesota Twins had one of the strongest rotations in baseball. The team started the season with a rotation of Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and Scott Baker. By September, only Santana could be counted on for a full, effective start.
Baker was not effective and was quickly demoted to the minors, though he came back a couple times and had a couple competent starts. Lohse was ineffective, surly, and traded to the Cincinnati Reds midway through the season. Radke started slowly but seemed to find his form, providing some consistency to the number two spot before being sidelined with a torn labrum and a stress fracture in his right shoulder. Silva was unable to find his 2005 form, finishing the season with an ERA of 5.94. He did make a few strong starts in September before regressing.
On May 19, talented rookie Francisco Liriano entered the starting rotation. He pitched well enough to earn an All-Star berth, finishing with a 12-3 record and a minuscule ERA of 2.16. Unfortunately, he was sidelined after the All-Star break with elbow problems. He did not pitch at all in 2007, as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Boof Bonser had an up-and-down season, but finished strong with a 7-6 record and 4.22 ERA. This earned him a spot in the postseason rotation. Matt Garza was the team's top pitching prospect, but was inconsistent during his first partial year in the majors.
The Twins had one of baseball's best bullpens. Dennys Reyes, signed to a minor-league deal during the offseason, provided a pleasant surprise with an excellent season as the Twins' sole left-handed reliever. Right-handers Jesse Crain and Juan Rincón set the stage throughout the season for closer Joe Nathan, with homegrown rookie Pat Neshek contributing some solid innings after being recalled from the minor leagues in July. Pitchers like Willie Eyre and Matt Guerrier ate up innings when the starters faltered.
In the May 27 game against Seattle, Jesse Crain – with a lead – loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. Juan Rincón replaced Crain, and promptly ended the threat – with just one pitch – by inducing Mariner Kenji Johjima to hit into a triple play. Rincon threw 26 more pitches in the ninth for the save.
The Twins finished tied for second place in the American League with a .986 fielding percentage. The team's defense was noticeably stronger when the left side of the infield was revamped in June, when the team traded shortstop Juan Castro to Cincinnati and released third baseman Tony Batista. Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto stepped into those roles, providing an immediate upgrade.
|Chicago White Sox||90||72||0.556||6||49–32||41–40|
|Kansas City Royals||62||100||0.383||34||34–47||28–53|
2006 American League Records
Sources:              
|2006 Minnesota Twins|
|2006 game log|
Note: Pos = Position; G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in
Note: G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in
After the Twins won the division, the American League playoff matchups were decided as follows: number two seed Minnesota Twins hosting number three seed Oakland Athletics, and number one seed New York Yankees hosting the wild card Detroit Tigers.
The Twins were defeated by Oakland in a three-game sweep, ending their playoff run for 2006. The Twins got great starts from both Johan Santana and Boof Bonser (who made his first post season appearance) at the Metrodome. After losing game 1 by the score of 3-2, the Twins came back to even the score at 2 in game 2. With two outs and a runner on first in the top of the 7th inning, Mark Kotsay hit a line drive to center field that Torii Hunter made a valiant dive for. Unfortunately, the ball sailed past him all the way to the wall, resulting in an inside-the-park home run for Kotsay. This play seemed to take all the momentum away from the Twins. The Twins never led in any game in this series.
|AAA||Rochester Red Wings||International League||Stan Cliburn|
|AA||New Britain Rock Cats||Eastern League||Riccardo Ingram|
|A||Fort Myers Miracle||Florida State League||Kevin Boles|
|A||Beloit Snappers||Midwest League||Jeff Smith|
|Rookie||Elizabethton Twins||Appalachian League||Ray Smith|
|Rookie||GCL Twins||Gulf Coast League||Nelson Prada|
2006 MLB season by team
|Culture and lore|
|Division titles (10)|
|Wild Card titles (1)|
|Minor league affiliates|