Twins collapsing despite Mauer's amazing season

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By beating the Rangers on July 18 behind eight innings of one-run ball from Scott Baker the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then they’ve gone 9-17 despite scoring nearly 5.5 runs per game, because the pitching staff has absolutely imploded to the tune of allowing 6.5 runs per game, including coughing up double-digit runs eight times.
During those 26 games Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS well over 1.000, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A’s. Yet the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Joe Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren’t in.
Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central it’s tough to imagine them making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals, and now travel to Texas for a four-game series against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.
In other words, by this time next week the Twins’ remaining schedule may not even matter. Even now, if the Tigers go just 22-23 down the stretch the Twins would have to go 28-17 just to tie them at 84 wins. And they also have the White Sox to contend with. Memories from 2006 of the Twins making a 10-game deficit vanish in 50 games make it tough for their fans to give up yet, but it’s worth noting that the Twins were 68-49 through 117 games that year, compared to 56-61 this season.
By the middle of August the 2006 team had clearly shown that it was capable of playing very good baseball and in fact were on a 94-win pace at this stage of the season. Right now the Twins are on pace for 78 wins and even that looks awfully optimistic given their performance of late. Can the Twins at least make things interesting this year? Sure. Both the Tigers and White Sox are plenty flawed and six games down with 45 left to play is very difficult but hardly impossible.
But regardless of the mediocre competition, favorable schedule, and memories of 2006 if anyone who’s watched the Twins over the past month can still conjure up visions of meaningful late-September games to close out the Metrodome … well, let’s just say that I’m jealous of their optimism. And wouldn’t mind a little bit of what they’ve been smoking. Right now their season looks like nothing more than a whole bunch of opportunities missed and great individual performances wasted.

Robinson Cano hit his 300th home run last night

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Last night Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the ninth inning of the Mariners’ loss to the Texas Rangers. It was his 22nd on the season. Though it was insignificant to the outcome of that game, it was significant to Cano: it was his 300th career homer.

While we’ve become accustomed to not caring much about home run milestones south of, say, 500, 300 homers for Cano is a big deal, as he’s only the third second baseman to cross that threshold in baseball history. The other two: Jeff Kent, at 377, and Rogers Hornsby at 301.

Cano, who turns 35 next month, has a career line of .305/.354/.495 and 1,179 RBI, 512 doubles and 33 triples to go with those bombs. He’s in his 13th big league season and still has six more years left on his deal with the Mariners. He’s averaged 24 homers a year since coming to the Mariners. While he’ll obviously trail off at some point — and while great second baseman’s have this weird habit of just suddenly falling off a cliff — it’s highly likely that he’ll finish his career as the all-time home run leader among second baseman. If he remains healthy he should also get over 3,000 hits in his career.

Cooperstown, here he comes.

Reds sign catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year deal

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Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that the Reds have signed catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year contract extension. The terms: $16 million total, with a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus.

The deal buys out all three of his arbitration years — he was going to be eligible for the first time this offseason — and the first year of his potential free agency. The club option buys a second. Barnhart made $575,000 this season.

Barnhart, 26, is finishing his second season as the Reds primary catcher. This year he’s hitting .272/.349/.399 with six homers and 42 RBI in 113 games. For his career he has a line of .257/.328/.366 in 330 major league games. His real value is defensive, however. He leads the National League in caught stealing percentage and number of base stealers caught (31-for-70, 44%) and leads all players at any position in the league in defensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com.