July 3, 2006
Twins 6, Royals 5
I have very few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to this site, but here's one of them: If it's our nation's birthday, Johan Santana gave up five runs to the Royals the night before, and the Twins still won for the 19th time in 20 games, I will skip posting my recap of the SABR convention in order to write about the game. OK, so I made all that up, but you get the idea.
Unfortunately, my insights are limited (moreso than usual, even) because of two factors: Last night was the first time I've seen the Twins play since last Tuesday and there's only so much you can say about a team that simply doesn't lose. Rather than try to find new ways to express that the Twins are playing really well, here are some random notes inspired by the team's 11th straight win ...
YEAR AB 2B HR IsoP
2004 280 17 19 .264
2006 282 15 22 .287
What's turned Morneau into a truly devastating hitter in the middle of the Twins' lineup is that he's hitting for increased power and a big batting average. Three hits last night raised his average to .298 on the year, which is up 20 percent from his career mark of .248. Back in 2004, when he had 19 homers and 17 doubles in 280 at-bats, Morneau's average was "only" .271.
Here are a couple stats to chew on: From May 19, 2005 to May 19, 2006, Morneau played 154 games and batted a pathetic .215/.287/.395 (although he did smack 24 homers and drive in 85 runs). On May 20, 2006 Morneau went 3-for-5 against the Brewers and has hit .361/.412/.707 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs in 39 games since then.
Morneau has absolutely destroyed right-handed pitching this season, but the biggest difference in his game has been the new-found ability to hold his own against left-handed pitchers. Take a look at his OPS totals against righties and lefties from 2003-2005 compared to this season:
03-05 2006 +/-
vs RHP .844 .991 +17%
vs LHP .603 .815 +35%
Morneau has gone from good to great against righties, improving by 17 percent, but he's also gone from horrendous to solid against lefties, improving by 35 percent. In the long run his ability to post a .950 OPS against righties is what will make Morneau valuable, but his ability to post an .800 OPS against lefties is what can make him a star.
When you toss in Joe Mauer's .393 average against lefties this season after Mauer, Morneau, and just about every other left-handed hitter the Twins had struggled against southpaws prior to this year, Joe Vavra comes out looking really good in his first season as hitting coach.
With that said, since a horrible outing against the Mariners on May 1, Crain has tossed 24.2 innings with a 2.92 ERA and 20-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If he continues to pitch like that the Twins' pitching staff will be scary, because the two guys who followed him in relief of Santana have ERAs of 1.96 and 1.80, and the Twins have the only two starters in the entire league with an ERA under 3.00.
The last Twins catcher to reach 60 extra-base hits in a season? No one. Brian Harper holds the team record at 51 multiple-baggers and no other Twins catcher has topped even 50. Oh, and it's the Fourth of July and he's still hitting .391.
At this stage last year the Twins were exactly where they're at now: 46-35 and 9.5 back in the division race. Actually, setting the winning streak aside they're probably in much worse shape this time around. Back then the Twins were leading the Wild Card, whereas now they're 6.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Of course, if they never lose again I'm pretty sure the Twins will make the playoffs.