Morneau and the Twins open the second half of the season Friday when they begin a three-game home series against the Texas Rangers.
Once below .500, the Twins (53-42) are a major league-best 21-7 since June 13, having batted .301 as a team during that stretch. They’ve gained four games in the AL Central standings during their run and are now 1 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the division lead.
“We’ve totally gone out to this point and surprised everybody,” catcher Mike Redmond told the Twins’ official Web site. “But it’s not a surprise to us. We had the confidence in ourselves as a team. We knew that once we all figured it out we’d be able to get going.”
Morneau has been a big part of the surge. The Twins first baseman, who scored the game-winning run in the 15th inning of the AL’s 4-3 win over the NL in Tuesday’s All-Star game, has batted .364 (39-for-107) with 13 extra-base hits (eight doubles, four homers and a triple) and 21 RBIs during the last 27 games.
On top of his exploits in the midsummer classic itself, Morneau defeated Texas’ Josh Hamilton 5-3 in the final round of the Home Run Derby on Monday.
Hamilton put on the better show, though, hitting a record 28 home runs in the first round, including three shots farther than 500 feet.
“It does seem kind of unfair that he didn’t get to win the whole thing,” Morneau said of Hamilton. “Anyone who was here won’t forget that performance.”
It was merely the latest in a banner season for Hamilton, the outfielder acquired in an offseason trade with Cincinnati. He is hitting .310 with 21 homers and a major-league leading 95 RBIs this season.
Now, Hamilton and the Rangers (50-46) are focused on chasing the AL West-leading Angels. Texas won eight of its last 13 heading into the break, but still trails Los Angeles by 7 1/2 games.
“I’m pleased where we are,” general manager Jon Daniels told the Rangers’ official Web site. “I’m not underestimating what we are capable of in the second half.”
Twins starter Kevin Slowey (6-6, 4.26 ERA) looks to resume his hot streak. After opening the season 2-6, the right-hander is 4-0 since June 13 with a 3.26 ERA in six starts - all wins for Minnesota. He struggled last Thursday against the Tigers, however, allowing six runs and nine hits in 3 2-3 innings of an 11-inning, 7-6 win.
In his only start against the Rangers last Sept. 17 at the Metrodome, Slowey did not earn a decision. He allowed one run and four hits in six innings.
The Rangers will counter with Kevin Millwood (6-5, 5.11), who hasn’t made it through the sixth inning in any of his last four stars. The veteran right-hander pitched 5 1-3 innings on Saturday against the White Sox, allowing five runs, 10 hits and four walks, while failing to earn a decision in a 9-7 loss.
Millwood is 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA in nine career starts against the Twins - the only AL club he has never defeated other than the Rangers.