ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Twins were making their playoff push in September 2006, catcher Joe Mauer was chasing his first batting title and Justin Morneau was being mentioned in discussions for the American League MVP Award. Two years later, the storyline is virtually the same. The Twins are currently vying to stay in the AL Central race, trailing the White Sox by 2 1/2 games with eight games left to play. And it comes as no surprise that the M&M boys have fueled Minnesota's playoff run.
But both players agree that while the storyline might seem similar to 2006, this time around is different. "In '06, I think we were playing a lot better as a team, so it's a different feeling now," Mauer said. "But we're close to the same spot as we were then, which is good." Mauer was talking about his team's position in the standings, but he could have also been talking about his and Morneau's performances. The catcher's 1-for-2 performance in Friday's loss to the Rays raised his batting average to .328, which currently ranks first in the AL. Mauer has some stiff competition in the race, as the Tigers' Magglio Ordonez ranks second with a .326 average and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox is third, batting .324. Delivering hits has never been an issue for Mauer. But just when the Twins really need the catcher to step up and produce, he has done just that. Mauer currently is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak, in which he's batting .382 with a home run and six RBIs. For Morneau, it's not a surprise that Mauer is once again delivering in late September. "His approach is prefect for this time of year," Morneau said. "You don't see him trying harder. He doesn't have to, because he's so set in what he's going to do at the plate. He knows his strike zone so well. It's awesome for me to have a guy like that hitting in front of me." In '06, Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a batting title. The wear and tear of a long season behind the plate can take its toll a player, especially considering that Mauer ranks second in innings caught in the AL this season. With only eight contests remaining -- including Saturday's afternoon game against the Rays -- Mauer admits he's feeling the effects of a long season. But Mauer said that, much like the case in '06, he's still feeling good at the plate. "Going up there, I feel like I'm relaxed and seeing the ball pretty good," Mauer said. "In baseball it can change on any day, but lately, I've been feeling pretty good and I'm trying to keep that going." Unlike Mauer's race, which will be decided by numbers on the last day of the season, Morneau's chance for a second MVP title will be left in the hands of voters. Morneau's .311 batting average and AL-leading 128 RBIs have him being mentioned among some of the top candidates for the award. But the first baseman knows that his best chance at taking home a second trophy will come if the Twins make the playoffs. That doesn't bother Morneau, because his entire focus is on trying to help get his team back to the postseason. "September baseball is all about big hits down the stretch, it's what's important," Morneau said. "And it's hard, if you don't make the playoffs, for any of those [awards] to happen. The only thing that matters is making the playoffs and hopefully if I'm driving in runs, it's contributing to us making the playoffs."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.