Mauer-Less Minnesota Twins Powerless Against Seattle Mariners

Duane WinnCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 23: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the New York Mets on June 23, 2008 at Shea Stadium in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners got a taste of what life is like without Ichiro Suzuki in the lineup.

The Minnesota Twins got a reminder of what life is like with Joe Mauer missing in action.

The advantage goes to the Mariners.

Suzuki had only missed 16 games in eight Major League seasons before the Mariners' 6-1 season-opening victory at Minnesota Monday night.

A lifetime .331 batter who has averaged 225 hits per season, Suzuki was placed on the disabled list with a bleeding ulcer. He isn't scheduled to return to the Seattle lineup until April 15.

Suzuki has been particularly devastating against Twins pitching in recent years, posting a .300/.364/.300 batting line against the Twins in 2008. In 2007, he went .385/.385/.487. And in 2006, he absolutely devoured the Twins staff, batting .526 in eight games with a .538 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .711.

He is, suffice it to say, one of the most feared leadoff hitters in the game.

Endy Chavez, his replacement atop the Mariners' batting order, isn't.

Chavez went one-for-four Monday night against Francisco Liriano and Luis Ayala. But the Mariners didn't suffer for the lack of Suzuki as a table-setter.

Ken Griffey Jr. smacked a solo homer in the fifth inning and Franklin Gutirrez belted a two-run homer in the sixth. Jose Lopez provided the Mariners' first run of the season with a sacrifice fly in the second, scoring Adrian Beltre, who had doubled to lead off the inning. Lopez added a two-run single in the ninth inning to seal the Twins' fate.

Liriano's performance in the season opener didn't exactly evoke comparisons to his rookie season in 2006, when he fashioned a 12-3 slate with a tidy 2.16 ERA. But with what he's been through, the Twins can't help but be heartened.

Liriano missed 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. Last season was one of transition for Liriano, who was plagued by inconsistency en route to a 6-4 record with a 3.91 ERA.

However, Liriano limited the Mariners to four hits over seven innings, striking out three while walking none.

Meanwhile, the Twins, for at least one game, didn't do anything to quell doubts about a potential lack of offensive production that might arise without Joe Mauer in the lineup.

Mauer won his second American League batting crown in the past three seasons in 2008. He also drove in 84 runs a year ago and owns a .399 OBP.

Both his timely hitting and propensity to get on base would have come in handy in the 2009 season opener. However, he's on the mend with a bad back and his status is up in the air.

Of course, Felix Hernandez's performance might have something to do with the Twins' less-than-overpowering offensive performance. His victory Monday was his fourth in six decisions against the Twins. He scattered five hits over eight innings, issuing three walks and striking out six.

Hernandez casts a particular spell over Twins' sluggers Michael Cuddyler and Justin Morneau, and that continued pretty much unabated in the opener.

Cuddyer, who entered the opener hitless against Hernandez in 12 career at-bats, produced the Twins' lone run with a single in the fifth inning. It was his only hit in four trips.

Morneau, two-for-14 lifetime against Hernandez, struck out and grounded into a double play in four trips.

The Twins placed runners in scoring position in both the first and third innings but couldn't deliver them home. Overall, they stranded five runners in scoring position.

If Mauer's absence fueled anxiety about the Twins' offense, the ineffectiveness of the Twins' middle relief corps may cause Twins fans another sleepless night or two.

Ayala pitched one scoreless inning, but Jesse Crain surrendered a run in two-thirds of an inning and Craig Breslow allowed an unearned run.