Nobody thought Justin Morneau, at this stage of the season and with all of his concussion problems, would be having a much better year than his former roommate and teammate, Joe Mauer, who is struggling more at this point than at any time in his major league career.
Mauer finished the four-game Rangers series at Target Field 3-for-17 with one double, one run scored and one RBI. He also left six runners on base and struck out twice with two outs and runners in scoring position late in games.
Meanwhile Morneau, whose career many people thought was over and didn’t have many clubs offer him a contract after finishing last season with the Pirates, continues to have a tremendous rebound season with the Rockies. He hit his 10th home run Wednesday in Philadelphia. He has a .312 batting average, a .356 on-base percentage, a .559 slugging percentage and .916 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Going into Thursday’s games, Morneau held these ranks in the National League: tied for 18th in home runs and RBI (33), 10th in slugging percentage and 12th in OPS.
Mauer was hitting like his usual self on May 15, with a .301 batting average and a .395 on-base percentage. He had 13 RBI and 23 runs scored to go along with 22 walks to 31 strikeouts. But since then, he has hit only .204 with two RBI and three runs scored in 12 games, and a surprising seven strikeouts to one walk over that time.
Still, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was quick to say he doesn’t believe Mauer is necessarily in a slump.
“I don’t know about that. It’s not so much a slump,” Gardenhire said. “He’s hitting some balls hard. [On Thursday he] hit a bullet down the left field line, the last ball he hit at the shortstop was right on the nose. He just has to keep working.
“The guy is a great player, and that hasn’t changed. He’s fighting a little bit, pressing a little bit, if you can ever believe that, that Joe Mauer is pressing. He wants to do well. He wants to help this team, and he is helping this team. The hits aren’t falling like they normally do, but that will change. He’s a great hitter.”
Mauer missed five games earlier this month because of back spasms, but Gardenhire said Mauer’s health doesn’t seem to be any kind of issue.
“He’s fine,” Gardenhire said. “He’s adjusting to a new position [first base], and like I said, he’s putting the bat head on the ball pretty well. He’s hitting it on the screws, it’s just not falling for him right now as much as it has in the past. We keep telling him, ‘Just keep swinging, Joe.’ He’s a great player and a great hitter.”
Hitting coach Tom Brunansky echoed Gardenhire’s sentiment, also saying that when a team struggles to hit, as the Twins have recently, that can affect the whole lineup.
“Joe is trying to find it, too,” Brunansky said. “We have some guys that are in between some things, and when guys start swinging the bats pretty good, then everybody else kind of follows suit. When teams start to struggle, guys try to do a little bit more than they’re capable of and it accentuates the fact that we’re not hitting well as a team and kind of stands out. We’re in a little bit of something, but we’ll keep battling.”
Brunansky also acknowledged he feels the slumps right along with the players.
“It’s no fun,” he said. “It’s tough because you sit and live and die with every time they’re up there and every pitch they take and every time things don’t work out real good, you feel it and you hurt for them.”
Vikings are underdogs
Las Vegas oddsmakers recently predicted the Vikings will win six games in 2014.
General Manager Rick Spielman is confident Mike Zimmer has lived up to what he expected as he watches him operate as a head coach.
Spielman said that before he hired Zimmer, he talked to 47 of the Vikings players and asked them what they expected in their new coach. The answer was they wanted a coach who would hold them accountable, and to date, Zimmer has done just that.
Wolves getting offers
According to Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears, the Sacramento Kings are one of the NBA clubs that have approached Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders about a trade for All-Star forward Kevin Love, offering their eighth pick in the first round and players.
Spears also reports the Lakers, Knicks, Cavaliers, Warriors, Bulls, Celtics and Rockets have shown an interest in Love. If Saunders makes Love available, every team in the NBA will make an offer. And if Love is traded, look for Wolves fans to be even more upset than when Kevin Garnett was traded to the Celtics in 2007 and for season-ticket sales to hit a new low.
• Cold spring weather could be one reason the Twins have drawn 692,128 in 27 home games compared to some 815,634 in the same number of games last year. … The Twins will have an easier schedule in the second half of the season, since they have played or will play 64 of 94 games [69 percent] against teams that currently have a winning percentage above .500 in the first half, while in the second half they will play only 35 of 68 games [51 percent] against opponents above .500. … Josh Willingham homered Thursday for the first time this season and drove in three runs. He had only one RBI in his previous 22 games played. … The Twins went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Texas on Thursday. They are 6-for-52 (.115) with runners in scoring position since May 23.
• If the Gophers football team had to lose a starter such as offensive lineman Caleb Bak, who started 20 consecutive games until suffering a concussion and who recently gave up his senior year, they’re somewhat fortunate that Bak’s position is one at which the team has tremendous depth.
Richard Pitino and the Gophers basketball coaching staff are keeping an eye on point guard Desure Buie of Wings Academy in the Bronx. Buie has a connection with assistant Kimani Young. The Gophers haven’t offered Buie yet, and he recently told GopherHole.com, “I don’t talk to the Minnesota staff but my coach does. I like the league they play in, though. The Big Ten would be a great conference to be a part of.”
• The Foundation for Minnesota Baseball, the group that raised the money to put up lights for the Gophers at Siebert Field, hopes to bring in more funds to build a locker room, an indoor batting cage and other amenities that will make the facility first-class.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org