July 7, 2004


There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like playing a watered down, injury-ravaged, last-place team to make you feel good about your favorite team.

Coming into the three-game series with the Kansas City Royals, Twins pitchers had a total of three complete game shutouts in their last 262 games, stretching back to the end of the 2002 season. They had zero complete game shutouts in their first 80 games this season.

And then the Royals came to town, without the recently-traded Carlos Beltran, without the injured Mike Sweeney, and without their bats. Or at least it seemed that way.

The Twins played three games against the Royals and the Royals failed to score even a single time. More importantly, or at least more amazingly, Brad Radke, Johan Santana and Kyle Lohse each completed their start. For those of you who aren't real good with piecing together facts, that means Minnesota pitchers reeled off three straight complete game shutouts.

                    IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT (ST)

Brad Radke 9.0 4 0 0 0 4 0 102 (74)
Johan Santana 9.0 3 0 0 2 13 0 114 (81)
Kyle Lohse 9.0 6 0 0 0 7 0 118 (82)
TOTAL 27.0 13 0 0 2 24 0 334 (237)

The Royals hit .144 during the series, with a total of 13 hits ... all of them singles. Radke, Santana and Lohse threw 71% of their pitches for strikes, walked a total of two batters, and struck out 24.

Just total domination, although it did sort of having that Danny Almonte in Little League feeling, in that the Royals had a makeshift lineup and aren't all that good to begin with. I mean, Kansas City started Damian Jackson as their DH in last night's game.

The funny thing about it is that this was one of the rare times when the Twins' offense actually did some damage this year, so the shutouts were, in some small way, sort of wasted. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

Along with the great pitching during the Kansas City series, there was one other performance of note ...

I am about as impressed with Joe Mauer as a person could possibly be. Whatever the opposite of how I feel about Luis Rivas, that's how I feel about Mauer. At this point, he can do no wrong.

As evidenced by the amount of runs the Twins allowed during the series, he is doing an outstanding job behind the plate, calling pitches and managing the game. He is also throwing strikes to second base whenever someone is brave enough to run on him.

At the plate, he's just amazing. So calm, so prepared, so patient. He takes borderline pitches, he isn't afraid to get deep into counts, he fouls off stuff he can't handle, and, most of all, he hits line drives all over the field.

I ranked Mauer as my #1 prospect in baseball prior to the season and spent much of the offseason talking about what an incredible talent he was and what an amazing player he could become. I said his skill-set was one that wasn't even comparable to great catchers in the past, because he possessed not only great skills, but such a wide assortment of them.

From the very first time most Twins fans laid eyes on Mauer, I think it was clear he was something special. He's just got that special something about him, a mix of confidence and ability, intelligence and patience.

He's a rookie, he's starting for a first-place team in a pennant race, he's a catcher, he missed two months with a serious injury, and he's 21 years old. And Mauer is hitting .340/.402/.638 in his first 30 games as a major leaguer.

Joe Mauer is significantly better than I thought he would be, and that seems almost impossible for me to believe.

Today's picks:

Oakland (Harden) +220 over Boston (Schilling)

Detroit (Maroth) +110 over Minnesota (Mulholland)

Total to date: -$2,650

W/L record: 121-161 (0-3 yesterday for -305. If you're gonna lose, lose big. My three teams lost by a combined 35-3 score.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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