Minnesota Twins Still Haven't Achieved Lift-Off

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMay 18, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 17:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins hits a ninth inning single against the New York Yankees on May 17, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Twins 3-2 in ten innings. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The story for Joe Mauer keeps getting better.

The two-time American League batting champ spent this last offseason recuperating from surgery to remove a kidney obstruction.

Mauer then missed all of spring training—and the first 22 games of the 2009 season—with an inflamed joint in his back that kept him on the disabled list.

No one could predict whether these injuries might add up to a lost season for Mauer.

Not to worry.

It's been all systems-go for Mauer thus far in 2009.

His return to the Twins' lineup on May 1 was the stuff of myth. All he did was belt a homer in his first at-bat against the Kansas City Royals.

But, as they say on late-night infomercials, "But wait...there's more."

Mauer's initial hit was just the beginning of an offensive rampage that may foretell a career year.

In 15 games, Mauer is batting .429, with 12 runs scored and 15 RBI. His on-base percentage (.529) and his slugging percentage (.804)  have gone through the roof.

Mauer has even managed to silence the critics who knock him for his lack of power.

With six home runs in just 56 at-bats, Mauer is on pace to shatter his career high of 13 home runs in 2006.

If Mauer, before his recent physical woes, wasn't regarded as one of the best pure hitters in the game, he is now without question.

Unfortunately, the story Mauer is writing is only half-told.

It won't be complete unless the Twins can secure a playoff spot.

Mauer's return to the Minnesota lineup was perceived as the missing ingredient which would lift the Twins into serious contention for the AL Central Division crown.

The Twins, however, still haven't taken off.

The Twins (18-20) are only 7-8 with Mauer in the lineup. Without him, they are 11-12.

They are lucky they're still within striking distance of first place in the AL Central Division, a division in which 85 victories may be enough to capture a title.

Even if they do right the ship, they still must show the AL Central Division crown they hope to wear will be more than just a hollow crown.

The Twins may be able to beat senseless the weak teams in the AL, but against teams with winning records, they've been wretched, winning just three of 14 decisions.

The Twins' weaknesses, which have plagued them all season, really shone through against the New York Yankees in the first three games of a four-game set.

The Twins managed to lose all three games in walk-off fashion as the balky bullpen completely broke down.

At this juncture of the season, it's a matter of conjecture whether Mauer's teammates, with the exceptions of Justin Morneau, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel, can step up their efforts to match the brisk pace set by Mauer.

That's just what it will take. For even a superstar like Mauer can't work work miracles all the time.



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