There has been a lot of disappointment on the Twins offense this year. Michael Cuddyer, Shannon Stewart, Luis Rivas, Jason Bartlett... none of them have lived up to expectations. But I can't think of any player in the AL who has been more disappointing than Justin Morneau. He has had an absolutely AWFUL season, especially if you discount his two-week hot streak after returning from the DL in April. Even the most conservative projections at the start of the year had Morneau hitting .250 with 25 HR or so. Instead, it appears that he will finish the season at around .230 with under 20 home runs. Morneau is unlikely to surpass his home run from roughly one half a season's worth of at-bats in 2004 (19) in a full 2005 campaign. I sadly have to admit that I honestly don't know if Justin is going to be able to come around and have a successful Major League career. He has been absolutely ravaged by Major League pitching, and has shown no ability whatsoever to adjust. I realize it's only one year, but when a guy has holes this massive in his swing it can be difficult to impossible to correct. He has been dreadfully bad since May and shown no signs of improvement. After hitting .439 in April, Morneau has hit .222 in May, .230 in June, .213 in July, and .200 in August. His on-base percentage has declined while strikeouts have gone up. And yet... Morneau CONTINUES to bat clean-up in the lineup, despite being almost indisputably the easiest out on the team.
That is just extremely bad management by Ron Gardenhire, and it hurt the team once again tonight. In the top of the 8th, Jason Bartlett hit a leadoff double, then Mike Ryan laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to third. Alas, the Twins had yet another runner on third with one out, this one representing the go-ahead run in a 1-1 game which would have likely meant the victory for Scott Baker. Nick Punto struck out looking (he REALLY needs to learn how to protect the plate with 2 strikes... that's little league stuff, Nick), and up came Joe Mauer. Of course, the Royals intentionally walked him, which wouldn't happen with most teams when the cleanup hitter is on deck. Of course, Morneau hit a weak grounder to second to end the inning; this after already having struck out swinging at balls in two previous at-bats. The situations would occur again in a less important but equally pitiful showing in the top of the 10th. After a clutch 2-run double by Punto put the Twins ahead by two, Mauer came up and was again intentionally walked. This put runners on first and second with one out. Up came Morneau, who promptly grounded into a double play to end the inning. Justin's 0/5 performance dropped his average to .237; his on-base percentage is an ugly .305.
Moving away from that painful topic, the Twins did collect a victory tonight, albeit it a tough one against the lowly Royals. Baker pitched extremely well, going 7 innings and allowing just one run on 4 hits while striking out 5 and walking just one. Kind of makes you wonder why the hell it took so long for for Gardy and Ryan to call him up. If he would've pitched a couple of those games that Joe Mays lost, the Twins could conceivably still be in playoff contention.
Jason Bartlett has looked really good lately. He went 2/3 tonight, raising his average to .268. Perhaps more importantly, he has shown huge improvement in the field. Bartlett is stabbing tough grounders on both side and firing the ball to first to gun down baserunners. This is a good sign, and hopefully one that continues as we move along.