After finishing the month of April ranked near the bottom of the American League in most categories, the Twins’ offense has undergone a stunning turnaround here in May, where they led the league in scoring through Tuesday. Prior to Wednesday's loss to the White Sox, the Twins had averaged 6.2 runs per game this month and had crossed the plate five or more times in eight of their past nine games.
A sleeping beast awakened, indeed.
Can this unit continue to excel and help keep the team hovering around .500? That will largely be dependent on how young contributors like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Brian Dozier and Chris Parmelee progress, but even more so it may be dictated by the two veterans at the heart of the order.
Justin Morneau pulled into a tie for sixth place in the American League with four RBI on Monday night, but his high ranking has more to do with opportunity than effectiveness. Morneau has started 35 of the Twins’ 36 games – 32 of them in the cleanup spot – and has routinely batted behind Joe Mauer (.426 OBP) and Josh Willingham (.377 OBP).
Entering play Wednesday, Morneau had batted with more runners on base than any player in the majors save for Prince Fielder, and while he’s done well in those situations, batting .326 with runners in scoring position (including 7-for-8 with the bases loaded), you also get the sense based on his track record that he’s been leaving plenty on the table. Morneau has uncharacteristically been limited to two home runs this season, including just one with runners on base. Although he appears healthy, he is slugging .424, which is 65 points below his career mark.
Morneau is on pace for nearly 130 RBI this season even with a mere semblance of his usual power. Imagine what that number could look like if he were flashing more pop. We may actually be starting to see that now, as the 32-year-old has been hitting the ball with increasing authority recently, having tallied five doubles (and not coincidentally 10 RBI) in his past seven games.
The man hitting in front of Morneau is another interesting case. After driving in 110 runs last year, Willingham is on pace for 72 this year. Like with Morneau, this can be attributed to decreased power – Willingham hasn’t homered in May and is well off last year’s pace despite a team-leading total of five – but the bigger culprit is a simple lack of hitting.
It’s not that Willingham has been an offensive liability; he’s contributing to Morneau’s opportunities by getting on base at a .377 clip, thanks to a career-high walk rate. But walks don’t drive in runs and the slugging outfielder is batting just .204. In 39 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he has collected only six hits.
The Twins are relying on these two boppers to provide the brunt of the power in their lineup and produce runs. Morneau is trending up in that department and Willingham, despite his recent slump, has proven more than capable. If the heart of the lineup can start beating more steadily, this offense should be able to keep its rhythm.