Twins Notes: Mauer, Morneau, Gomez, and Swarzak
Joe Mauer was out of the lineup yesterday after starting 17 straight games, so instead of collecting multiple hits he just came off the bench with a two-run homer against Jonathan Papelbon that pulled the Twins to within one run in the ninth inning. Mauer has already surpassed last season's homer total in 533 fewer plate appearances and is just two long balls shy of tying his career-high of 13 from 2006. He's up to .444/.530/.913, which is just silly. He could go into a 0-for-39 slump and still be hitting .300.
Lost in Mauer's ridiculousness is that Justin Morneau is batting .341/.422/.653 with 13 homers, 13 doubles, 24 walks, 41 RBIs, and 37 runs in 46 games. He's on pace to set new career-highs in nearly every key category and leads AL in OPS (at least until Mauer gets enough plate appearances to qualify). Morneau has undeservedly overshadowed Mauer, winning the MVP in 2006 and finishing second last year despite being the second-best player on his own team, so it's ironic that he's now overlooked.
Along with Morneau leading the AL with a 1.075 mark, the Twins also have Jason Kubel (.911) and Michael Cuddyer (.891) among the top 20 in OPS. Toss in Mauer and they've had four of the 20 best hitters, and interestingly Jason Bartlett (1.014) and Torii Hunter (.987) are sixth and ninth respectively. The quintet of Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Joe Crede have combined for 45 homers in 691 at-bats after the entire team totaled 111 homers in 5,641 at-bats last season. I could get used to this.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Twins rank dead last in OPS from second basemen at .475 and second-to-last in OPS from shortstops at .577. The 92 middle-infield starts have been divided among Nick Punto (38), Alexi Casilla (21), Brendan Harris (18), and Matt Tolbert (15), who've combined to hit .195/.254/.251 with three homers in 386 plate appearances in those games. National League pitchers have hit .138/.189/.170 with an average of two homers per 386 plate appearances this season.
Carlos Gomez is the leader in the clubhouse for most ridiculous injury of the year. LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that he "needed two stitches in his head after getting caught in the revolving door while entering the stadium." Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press provided further details: "Gomez was walking through the door ... someone came in behind him and the door stopped, but Gomez didn't. He sustained a cut on his eyebrow." And then he went 1-for-4 with two great catches.
Anthony Swarzak exceeded my expectations and then some in his major-league debut Saturday, tossing seven shutout innings against the Brewers. He averaged 90 miles per hour with his fastball, throwing it on 76 of 98 pitches, and also featured an 80-mph changeup and a 75-mph curveball. While he wasn't quite as impressive as the seven scoreless frames suggest, striking three and walking two, Swarzak threw 65 percent strikes and certainly looked capable of becoming a solid mid-rotation starter.
There are some rumblings out of San Francisco that the Giants are shopping for a hitter and may be dangling Matt Cain in trade talks, which should be of interest to Twins fans given the offseason rumors of a Cain-for-Delmon Young swap. Back then my suggestion was to package "Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins with Young for Cain and a lesser player," but even that may not get the job done now that Cain is 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA and Young is hitting .253/.296/.297.
On a related note, Joe Christensen has an update on the increasingly regrettable Tampa Bay trade.
Over at ESPN.com Rob Neyer wonders when Francisco Liriano is going to take "the next step" in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery, but the answer is probably "never" if "the next step" involves reclaiming the dominance that he had in 2006. Liriano simply isn't the same pitcher that he was before going under the knife, although certainly he's still capable of looking a lot better than he has this year.
Last week on the FSN pregame show Jim Souhan said that he'd take Morneau over Mauer, which is a stance that he's misguidedly held for the past three years. This week Souhan wrote that Mauer is the best player in baseball, which is a stance that he'll hold until Mauer stops homering every eight at-bats.
Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.