CP: One stathead favorite is on-base percentage, and you seem to have an unusual number of good OBP guys this year.
Ryan: Yeah, we do, and that's a big stat in our approach to how we go about things. I think on-base percentage is big. It's not the end-all, by any stretch, because we've got a few guys with the kind of on-base percentage you don't like to see on a stat page. But when you've got hitters who know what they're doing, who are somewhat patient and disciplined toward the strike zone, you're probably going to extend innings and get into bullpens and do all the stuff that's conducive to offense. We've had trouble over the years with some of that. It's something I've always tried to improve upon in putting a lineup out there. But you're right, we've got a little more threat one-through-nine than we've had in the recent past.
CP: What's made the difference for Justin Morneau this year? He's seeing about the same number of pitches per at-bat, walking and striking out at about the same rate as last year, hitting a lot fewer groundballs. Is that part of the key to his success?
Ryan: Well, really, the problems he had last year came from being unable to get prepared for the season. He had injury after injury through the course of the winter, and in about the second game of the year, he got hit in the head. That set him back. He came back and did a pretty good job for a couple of weeks, and then he went in some sort of tailspin and never really got his feet under him again. I don't know if it's being healthy, or confident, but everything he's doing this year is what we hoped he'd do last year.
You've got to give him a lot of credit. He's now a force in the middle of the lineup. This is what he did in the minor leagues every year. It's no surprise to those of us who saw him down there. He was always a guy who drove in runs, hit it over the fence, and hit for average. I'm happy for him. I think this is the year that all of us anticipated he'd finally put together.
CP: In view of the knee troubles he's already had, what measures do you take to make sure that Mauer is holding up to catching as much as he does?
Ryan: We've kept an eye on him pretty well this year. We don't want to abuse him back there, but we certainly like having his bat in that lineup slot. Athletically, he's not had any setbacks. There's a lot of maintenance on his legs, but he's a good worker. He's a very good athlete, he runs well, he's got quick feet. All the things you look for in a catcher, he possesses. So we're not going to baby him. Most everyday catchers go about 120-130 games a year behind the plate, and he'll be in that vicinity.
Incidentally, he doesn't want to be babied. He wants to be out there. And we put him out there as much as we can without abusing him.
CP: What's been the biggest surprise to you about this '06 team?
Ryan: That our starting pitching ended up solidifying itself. Not a big surprise. But to win out there, you've got to have starting pitching, and ours started to kick in in about June. Coincidentally, it might have paralleled the promotion of Liriano to the starting rotation. But for whatever reason, we struggled on the mound early. You can blame it on a lot of things, but starting pitching is going to end up being how we succeed or fail. I've stated that over the years. We had trouble with quality starts, getting into the sixth inning. But Radke ended up settling in nicely, and certainly Santana's been good. But we've had a lot of guys contribute. Our starting rotation's had a lot of different faces in it this year. And for the most part, from June on, we've had pretty good starting pitching. Our bullpen's been solid for the most part.
CP: And what's been the most pleasant surprise among individual performances?
Ryan: We've had a lot of pleasant surprises. Jason Tyner's come up and done well. Punto's had a nice season. Bartlett's been the guy we anticipated he'd be. It took a little longer than we expected, maybe. Liriano. It's not been one guy who's been a pleasant surprise. We've had a lot of things go right since June. We've had more people contribute. Morneau did what we thought he was going to do. Mauer stayed healthy. Unfortunately, we've had a couple of injuries to Radke and Liriano too. Over the course of a 162-game season, there are always good things and not-so-good things.
CP: It's certainly been one of the most gratifying Twins teams to watch.
Ryan: It's not going to be gratifying unless we get to the postseason. We've put ourselves in a good position for it. But if this all goes for naught, it's not going to be what we wanted. We've got to get to postseason.