Inside The Dugout: Top Ten First Half Stories

With the White Sox winning games at an unbelievable pace, the Minnesota Twins have stayed right behind them and should be able to make a move in the second half. With the AL Central title and the Wildcard still within reach, the Twins have played hard through injuries and other detours along the way. Here is a look at the top ten performers of the first half of the season.

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1. Jesse Crain: Crain set an American League record in the first half by becoming the only reliever to win 11 consecutive games to start a career. His clutch pitching out of the bullpen was a real lift to the Twins, especially when Juan Rincon was suspended for steroid use. Although he suffered his first loss on July 9 against the Kansas City Royals, Crain came back the next day to record his first career save.

2. Joe Nathan: Nathan is becoming possibly the best closer in the American League. Named to his second All-Star Game, Nathan recorded 25 saves in 28 chances in the first half. The former National League setup man, Joe has now saved 72 of 78 chances since coming over to the Twins from San Francisco. He had saved seven in a row without allowing a run before blowing the same July 10 against Kansas City.

3. Glenn Williams: Williams was called up to fill a gap due to injuries, but he did so much more than that. In his 13 games at third base, the career Minor Leaguer hit .425 and played solid defense for the Twins. He had a 13-game hitting streak at the time that an injury cut his Cinderella season short. An MRI showed a tear in the front and back of his right shoulder and he will miss 6-8 weeks. If the rehab doesn't work, he will need season-ending surgery. However, even if the rehab is successful, he probably wont be back before September 1.

4. Shannon Stewart: Stewart stayed healthy for the whole first half, and his numbers showed a rise in production. He hit ten home runs, including career number 100, and should beat his career-high of 21 this season. He finished the first half second among regular starters with a .290 batting average, and his 144 total bases ranked him second on the team. Batting mostly from the leadoff spot, Stewart led the team in runs with 54 and hits with 99.

5. Luis Rodriguez: L-Rod has been a great surprise for the Twins as well this season. The second baseman, who was called up from Rochester on May 19, has hit .293 in 37 games this season. He filled so many holes when injuries ravaged the infield, and is now the everyday third baseman due to injuries to Glenn Williams and Michael Cuddyer. Rodriguez finished off his miracle first half by going 2-5 with an RBI against Kansas City on Sunday.

6. Carlos Silva: Silva has quietly become the most reliable starter for the Twins this season. Although he'll never bring to the team what a Johan Santana does, Silva currently 7-3 with a 3.53 ERA. On Sunday, he went seven innings in a no-decision, allowing one run on five hits. He has not lost a game since May 31, and his ERA is the best among Twins starters. Although he only has 41 strikeouts in 114 innings, Silva has thrown two complete games and has only walked five batters this season.

7. Johan Santana: Like last year, Santana had an up and down first half. Sure he has a 7-5 record and has not won since June 8, but the All-Star does lead the American League in strikeouts by a pretty decent margin. He is second among starters with a 1.05 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), and is also is holding opposing batters to a .266 batting average, good for second among starters as well.

8. Torii Hunter: Hunter was snubbed from the All-Star Game this season but that doesn't change what he does for the Twins. He is the high-energy guy every team needs, and his wall-climbing defense in centerfield brings the fans to the park. He also gets in done statistically, leading the Twins in home runs with 14 and RBI with 54. Hunter also leads the team with 19 stolen bases, 151 total bases, and 22 doubles.

9. Juan Rincon: Rincon came back from a drug suspension earlier in the year and has solidified the Twins bullpen as one of the best in the game. On the season, Rincon owns a 2.54 ERA and is averaging 10.38 strikeouts per nine innings. Batters are hitting only .211 against the 26-year old righthander, and have only touched him for one home run this season. Considered to be Mariano Rivera like when he is on, Rincon has put the suspension behind him and has been a huge part of the Twins season so far.

10. Scott Baker: I know it is hard to put someone with only two appearances in the top ten spots, but Baker has given the Twins a little glimpse of the future. With the trade deadline almost upon us, Baker showed enough in his one start to be considered a Major League starter. Although he will be optioned back to Rochester after the All-Star break, Baker should be back in Minnesota by the end of the year starting games or working out of the bullpen.

Any additions or subtractions, talk it over in the forum. TwinCitiesDugout would love to hear what you think of the first half.