Willingham and Plouffe, Mauer and Revere


On a baseball team named the Twins, it’s only fitting that the best players come in pairs. Right now, a pair of Twins’ pairs is putting on a hitting clinic. Locked in twin statistical battles, these four all have a shot to write their names in the Twins’ record books. Right-handed hitters Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham are busy bashing the long homers that the franchise has been missing for decades while lefties Ben Revere and Joe Mauer keep padding their batting averages. Both pairs have the potential to enshrine themselves among the most productive duos in team history.

As every Twins fan is no doubt already aware, Plouffe and Willingham  have been playing a game of home run one-upsmanship for the last month. Early in June, Plouffe seized the team home run lead from the Hammer, but Willingham has not been eager to let the title slip away. Almost without fail, Willingham has answered Plouffe’s homers on the same day. Both players homered on June 4, June 12, June 13, June 24, June 30, July 1, and July 3. It’s almost as if the two are feeding off each other and thriving from the competition; at any rate, the barrage of homers from these two men is almost too remarkable to be a coincidence.

Coincidence or not, the two sluggers are now each a better-than-even shot to end a 41 year franchise dry spell. No Twin has hit 35 homers in a single season since Harmon Killebrew slammed 41 in 1970. Three have hit 34 (Gary Gaetti in 1986, Kent Hrbek in 1987, and Justin Morneau in 2006), but that 35th seems to be out of reach. Entering Wednesday evening’s game, though, Willingham was on pace for 36 and Plouffe on pace for 38 (despite not playing much at all in the season’s first month). The chase for that elusive number 35 probably won’t be quite as captivating as Mantle/Maris’s quest for 61 or Sosa/McGwire’s steroid-fueled race to 62, but it should provide some much-needed entertainment for Twins fans down the stretch.

If the comparisons to Mickey Mantle and Mark McGwire are facetious, Plouffe and Willingham do have a serious shot to establish themselves as the most powerful duo in Twins history. Currently the mark for most homers by a pair of Twins is held by Killebrew and Bob Allison back in 1964. Killebrew hit 49 that year and Allison hit 32 (Tony Oliva also hit 32, so you could substitute his name for Allison’s if you like). Killebrew and Allison also hold second place on the list with 80 in 1963. Allison hit 35 that year, making him the only Twin other than Killebrew to reach the number that Willingham and Plouffe are gunning for in 2012. Recent notable Twins homer pairs include Morneau (34) and Torii Hunter (31) in 2006, Hrbek (34) and Tom Brunansky (32) in 1987, and Gaetti (34) and Kirby Puckett (31) in 1986.

Some good news: Plouffe and Willingham have already far exceeded the output of the Twins’ two leading homer hitters from 1980. That year, John Castino led the team with a meager 13, and Roy Smalley contributed 12.

The homer race may be getting all the attention, but there’s another interesting statistical race going on amongst the Twins’ hitters. Entering play Wednesday, Joe Mauer’s batting average has climbed all the way to .332, good enough for third in the American League, and just eight points behind league leader Mike Trout. Right on Mauer’s heels is teammate Ben Revere, whose .328 mark would be fourth in the AL if only he had 46 more plate appearances.

Thanks to a slump, Mauer’s average had plummeted all the way to .265 on May 17th, but he has been absolutely deadly with the bat since. His .388 average (54/139) since that date has him back to his career levels and right in the thick of the batting race. In another strange coincidence, Revere was recalled from Rochester and played his first game on the very same date: May 17th. He has been hitting well the entire time, so his only obstacle in the batting race is accumulating enough plate appearances to qualify. As long as he avoids injury and stays in the lineup, he should have no trouble doing so by the latter part of the season. Thus, there could be two Twins battling it out for the batting title this year.

There have been only three occasions when two Twins hit .320 or higher. The best performance of all, one which Mauer and Revere probably cannot hope to match, came in 1977 when Rod Carew hit .388 and Lyman Bostock hit .323. The year before, Carew had hit .331 to Bostock’s .323. The other occasion came two decades later in 1996, when Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and noted humanitarian Chuck Knoblauch finished with identical .341 marks.