By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
It’s hard to imagine that a team on pace for 94 losses has many attractive storylines to follow other than, “How high a draft pick can they land?” However, from an offensive standpoint, the Twins have several intriguing plotlines going into September.
With 41 games to go entering play on Tuesday, Joe Mauer is within striking distance of his fourth batting title, while Josh Willingham is primed to be the first Twin to hit 40 home runs since Harmon Killebrew in 1970. For a team otherwise playing a spoiler role, the pursuits of Mauer and Willingham should be enough to keep you interested.
First, Mauer. Joe is hitting .321, 22 points behind the rookie phenom Mike Trout. Though Trout is showing no signs of letting up and is on track for a unanimous Rookie of the Year award, it’s not inconceivable to think that Mauer could leap another 10 to 15 points and reel in Trout. After all, he is a catcher (sorry, bad pun).
Mauer has increased his hit total every month this season and hasn’t been below .300 since June 9th. If he comes back to take the title this year, he’ll be the first four-time A.L. batting champ since Wade Boggs in 1985-88. And you all booed him in April and May…
Mauer’s even-keeled attitude, though infuriatingly dull at times, seems to work for him. The hometown kid dealt with a city full of skeptics, a pitching staff in shambles, and even planned for a winter wedding, all without missing a beat. He turned around from a .265 mid-May average to earn his fifth All-Star invitation and now may make a run at his fourth batting title in seven years. Not shabby in the least.
Twins fans have been spoiled seeing Mauer pile up hits for nine years, but nobody in the current generation has had the privilege of seeing a 40 HR chase. That’s what “The Hammer” is providing in his first year with the club.
In a contract year with Oakland, Willingham delivered career highs in home runs and RBIs (29/98) at age 32. With Minnesota, he’s already exceeded his total in home runs (31) and is all but guaranteed to hit triple-digits in RBIs (91). Makes you wonder what kind of numbers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau could put up with a short fence to their pull field.
Willingham has been launching one homer per 14 at-bats. Assuming he gets about 150 more at-bats this season, his current ratio would give him 42 HRs. If you take out his outlier month of June, in which he hit 11 bombs, then his ratio decreases to one in 17. If he follows that, he’ll hit another nine, putting him right on 40. Barring injury, “Hammer” should be flirting with that magic number until the season’s final series at Toronto.
To give it some historical perspective, Harmon Killebrew hit 40+ home runs seven times as a Twin. Nobody else has ever done it. Nobody. He’s the only one. If you eliminate Killebrew from the Twins’ history books, their single-season home run leader becomes Bob Allison with 35 in 1963. Willingham has a chance to turn in the greatest power season by someone not named Killebrew in franchise history. It’s a shame it couldn’t be on a contending team.
Sure, the losses might keep rolling in. But there’s still more to look forward to than September call-ups, so don’t mail in the season just yet. Hey, the Vikings only play one afternoon a week. How else will you make the days pass by?