Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer
may not be Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but the Minnesota Twins’ version of the M&M boys isn’t exactly a cheap knockoff. Justin Morneau
and Joe Mauer are both left-handed hitting products of the Twins’ farm system, and they are attempting to carry the Twins into the post-season in 2006. Joe Mauer is on pace to become the first catcher since Ernie Lombardi in 1942 to win a batting title, and Justin Morneau is trying to overtake former Twin David Ortiz
for the runs batted in crown. One can only imagine if the Twins had kept Ortiz around, to add to the blossoming talents of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.
That heart of the order may have actually made pitchers pass out, but the Twins still have a potent middle of the line-up. Justin Morneau was drafted by the Twins in 1999 out of his native British Columbia’s New Westminster’s Secondary School, where he was a three sport star. The Twins expected Justin Morneau to hit for power, but little did they know that he would be hitting for as high of a batting average as he is this season. His power numbers have crept up each year since his 2003 debut, but now Justin Morneau, who mans first base, is hitting a robust .317. Just last year Justin Morneau hit but .239; the huge jump in average is quite a pleasant surprise for the team. So far in 2006 through Minnesota’s first 123 contests, Justin Morneau has 140 hits in 441 at-bats. Included in those base hits are 31 homers, and Justin Morneau’s 107 runs batted in have him in third place in the American League in that category, 10 behind Boston’s Ortiz and 3 behind the Indians’ Travis Hafner. Justin Morneau has raised his average from .240 on June 1st to the current .317 on the strength of a .364 month of June and a .410 July.
In 29 games this season Justin Morneau has had more than one run batted in. He will be a candidate for the AL MVP Award, but more than likely will not receive it, as players like Ortiz and Jason Giambi of the Yankees are having monster years in bigger markets. But make no mistake. Justin Morneau is the Twins’ MVP; he has had to carry this offense from the get-go in April. Free agent busts Rondell White and Tony Batista were being counted on to provide some punch, taking some of the pressure off of Justin Morneau. White did not hit his first home run until the middle of July and is on the disabled list with yet another injury; Batista was such a flop that he was let go. Outfielder Michael Cuddyer is having his best year as a Twin, taking some of the burden off of Justin Morneau, but if Morneau does not hit down the stretch, Minnesota’s playoff hopes are dead.
Joe Mauer was drafted two years later than Justin Morneau, in 2001 out of Cretin- Derham Hall High School right in St. Paul, Minnesota. Standing six-foot four and weighing 220 pounds, the home grown Joe Mauer was a .297 hitter in just under 600 career at-bats over two seasons coming into the year, and scouts expected even better things out of the catcher. Joe Mauer has lived up to the hype so far, with a sizzling .452 mark in June having him near the magical .400 plateau. As late as July 5th Joe Mauer was batting .391, but of course that pace could not be expected to be maintained. Still, at this point Joe Mauer is leading the American League with a .357 mark; Derek Jeter of the Yanks is in second at .337. Joe Mauer has collected 144 hits in 403 at-bats, hitting the ball to all fields with authority. Joe Mauer is a solid line drive hitter with some power; he has 10 homers and 68 runs batted in. Barring a terrible September, that is possible for a catcher as their bodies wear down from the daily grind, Joe Mauer is likely to become the first backstop in 64 years to lead his circuit in hitting.
Defensively, Joe Mauer has committed just 3 errors and has caught 17 of 46 base stealers. Justin Morneau is no butcher with the glove either, as the six-foot five first baseman has made only 6 miscues with the leather all year. But it is with the bats and not the gloves that the duo of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer is going to try to take the Twins to October with. Minnesota is just a game behind the White Sox in the wild card chase as of this writing, and is six and a half games behind the suddenly vulnerable Tigers in the Central Division. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have been splendid so far in 2006. But they need to be as good, if not better, in the next few weeks for the Twins to have any chance of making the playoffs.