Don't Look Now: Justin Morneau Is Carrying The Twins... Again

Joe M.Correspondent IIJuly 6, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 11:  Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins waits in the field against the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game on June 11, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

June 6, 2006.

Justin Morneau and the Minnesota Twins sat comfortably in forth place in the American League Central, 11.5 games behind the first-place Tigers.

Their record was 25-32. They had lost three in a row and had been outscored by 41 runs on the season.

Fast forward to the end of the year and Minnesota not only won the division by exactly one game over the Tigers,. 

The Twins lead the division for all of one day—the day that mattered.

The Tigers didn't fare too poorly. They won the A.L. Wild Card birth before cruising to the World Series, where they lost in five games.

That same year, Justin Morneau on the other hand, went on to win the American League MVP.

That spectacular second half of the season in which the Twins played near .700 ball on a consistent basis was led by Morneau. With stellar defense, a great on-base percentage, and a batting average that exceeded well north of .300, Morneau put the Twins on his back.

This year doesn't seem all that different.

The Twins, having recently won their last four series', have now won eight of 12 games and picked up two games on the Tigers, who are once again leading the division. Once again, Morneau has Joe Mauer helping him balance the responsibilities of leading the team to the postseason.

This time, once-valued Franciso Liriano is hardly automatic. Only recently has he gone 2-0 in his last three starts and pitched six-plus innings in each game.

However, this time the team has a rarely seen abundance of power with five players—Morneau, Mauer, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and newcomer Joe Crede—all on pace to hit well over 20 home runs each.

This stat has the normally power defunct Twins 12th in the league in long bombs. Not bad for a team that A) preaches singles first over homers, and B. generally finishes the season in the 26-29 range in power statistics despite having Morneau and Mauer.

Forget the fact that I had Scott Baker as my preseason pick for AL Cy Young. He started out the season 1-4 before settling down. He is now 6-6.

Morneau, my MVP pick, is doing his usual thing. He is on pace for well over 30 home runs and the usual 130 RBIs. My AL Manager of the Year pick, Ron Gardenhire, is proving himself worthy once again.

Its beginning to look a lot like 2006, all over again....

Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer—my favorite Twin—is finally healthy again and having a nice comeback season, one that is easily the most surprising and pleasant one on the team. While his 13 home runs and 45 RBIs may not seem like much now, the fact that he's being more consistent shows vast improvement.

Emigma Delmon Young may only be hitting .269 with three homers and 25 RBIs, but for someone who only comes around after June 15 or so every year, this too is hardly a surprise. I fully expect him to hit .290, 10 home runs and 65 RBIs. 

Having Jason Bartlett—one of the players for whom Young was traded for—make the All-Star team might not make this any easier to swallow. 

But Young typically heats up around July, so this is no surprise, considering he's hit .429 in the past seven days with six hits in 14 at-bats.


Challenges lie ahead however

If the Twins can figure out their bullpen situation and swing a deal or two before the deadline to shore up their annual glaring weakness, there is no reason the team can't compete again for another division title, as they should.

Their upcoming schedule could prove to be their one tripping point.

Games against the enigma Texas Rangers and always competitive Los Angeles Angeles will prove to be worthy tests. Mix in the fact that both series are on the road, where the Twins are just 17-24, show some obvious potential problems.

However, having just come off a 6-3 road trip in Kansas City, St. Louis and Milwaukee provides a reason for optimism.

The Twins started the year 5-14 on the road, meaning they've actually gone 12-10 since.

Signs of turning the corner perhaps?

We'll see what the second half of the season brings, but at 43-40 and in second place in the division at just two games out, who's to say they can't do it again?

Don't say you didn't see it coming.....