Joe Mauer: Hurry Up and Get Well
"Bill Bailey, won't you please come home?"
"Come back, Shane."
Minnesota Twins fans have their own supplication to add to this roster of heartfelt pleas.
"Get well soon, Joe."
We're only two games into the season, so it's much too early to be drawing conclusions. However, the evidence is growing day-by-day that Joe Mauer's absence in the lineup is causing the Twins' offense to be a model of inefficiency.
Thus far, the Twins are batting .215 and have left seven runners in scoring position against the Mariners. Twin batters have walked six times and struck out 19 times. Add this all up, and Minnesota has only scored seven runs in two games.
The Twins are extremely lucky to have scored seven runs in two games.
Their game-winning rally in the ninth inning Tuesday was staged against Brandon Morrow, a young closer with a history of wildness who had only pitched four innings in spring training. After he set down the first two batters in the ninth, Morrow suddenly—and characteristically—blew up, walking the next three batters and leaving the door ajar for the Twins.
Teams can overcome the loss of great hitters for a few games or even periods longer than that.
Witness Endy Chavez of the Mariners, who has stepped into Ichiro Suzuki's shoes as the leadoff batter and done an admirable job. In two games, he's 4-for-9 with three runs scored and two RBI.
The Indians scored the most runs in the American League during the second half of 2008 without power hitter Travis Hafner in the lineup.
It may be more difficult for the Twins to replace Mauer, whose consistency is a linchpin in an offense that thrives on "small ball," rather than the big blast.
Forget for a moment that Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball.
Or that he's won two American League batting crowns in the past three seasons.
Or that he owns a lifetime .317 batting average.
More importantly, Mauer is the No. 3 hitter in the Twins' lineup, a sensitive spot in any team's batting order.
The three-hole should ideally feature a team's best hitter for average, a guy who has an uncanny knack for getting on base (Mauer had a team-high .399 OBP in 2008), a guy who walks more than he strikes out (Mauer walked 84 times and only fanned 50 times in 2008), a guy who can deliver the timely hit (Mauer drove in 85 runs a year ago).
The Twins don't have anyone who comes close to filling this void in the batting order.
This isn't a knock on Michael Cuddyer, who's currently manning the three-hole in the Twins' batting order. He's come through big for the Twins thus far. After all, he has a team-high three RBI.
But he's a hit-and-miss guy in a position that cries for a hitter like Mauer who can do the little things, like advancing a runner or eking out a walk when the need arises. Cuddyer, being an aggressive hitter, would be a better fit at fifth or sixth in the batting order.
Perhaps moving either Denard Span or Alexi Casilla to the three-hole would be workable scenarios. But then the Twins would miss their presence as table-setters.
Morneau would be the next-best option, but he's desperately seeking his first hit of the season. When's he on, he is a clean-up hitter, pure and simple.
It's early yet, but the suspicion is mounting that the Twins will continue to struggle offensively until Mauer returns to the lineup.
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