Over six innings this afternoon, we saw Scott Baker at his best while not having his best stuff. Of the three hits he allowed, Andy Marte's third inning solo home run was the one time Cleveland scratched his surface. Baker's accuracy wasn't great on the fastball, but luckily he was never afraid to go to a slider, even if that didn't hit its spots at times either. The result was four walks, but none of them came back to haunt.
Outside of another good day for Baker, the biggest star on the offensive side of the ball was...wait for it...Nick Punto. His double in the fourth scored Jason Kubel and Jose Morales, giving the Twins a 2-1 lead. His single in the ninth led to an eventual insurance run, giving Joe Nathan a three-run lead to work with. Since August 16, Punto is hitting .370/.469/.481. Small sample size theater, sure, but it's still better than Justin Morneau.
Justin hit the ball hard a couple of times tonight, and as an exclusive game to MLB.tv I saw their play-by-play crew insisting a couple of the fly balls he hit would have been home runs had it not been for the wind. I can't speak for that, but if there was one defining moment in Morneau's afternoon it was his strikeout to end the top of the ninth. Already leading 4-1 with Joe Mauer on first base, Justin worked a 2-2 count before swinging at a breaking ball so far out of the zone it was ridiculous. By the time he realized where the pitch was going it was too late, and Justin's "just make contact" half-swing was full of doubt. Morneau turned and flipped his bat away, frustrated.
In some circles his second-half slumps are big news, while others are convinced his struggles this summer have more to do with the inner ear and balance problems from weeks ago. Whatever the case, Justin left eight men on base on Sunday while going 0-for-5, and is now hitting .188/.291/.333 since August 1. This team needs Morneau to snap out of this funk, no matter what the cause.
In case anyone is still wondering, Nathan's ninth inning was perfect. What else, what else...Jon Rauch is a stud, Punto and Mauer and Jason Kubel picked up multi-hit days, and Justin Masterson looked just as good as Baker for six innings.
#3: Jason Kubel (2-for-2, 2B, 2 BB, R, .186 WPA)
#2: Nick Punto (2-for-3, 2B, BB, RBI, R, .263 WPA)
#1: Scott Baker (6 IP, 3 H, 4 K, 4 BB, 1 R, .269 WPA)