Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer and 7 Players That Must Step Up for a Playoff Run

Joe PetruloCorrespondent IIIAugust 3, 2011

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer and 7 Players That Must Step Up for a Playoff Run

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    The Minnesota Twins are still hoping to make a run at an AL Central division title, but there are players, including Joe Mauer, that need to step up to turn these hopes into reality.

    There have been a number of players that have failed to live up to expectations for manager Ron Gardenhire's Twins this season.

    Some are dealing with injuries and may not have the opportunity to contribute for the rest of the season. Others have returned from injury and are primed to improve during the final stretch of the season.

    Let's take a look at seven players that need to step up if the Twins want a realistic chance at an AL Central title.

7. Jason Kubel

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    Jason Kubel was probably the most valuable player on the Minnesota Twins for the first third of the season, but despite the injuries that have set him back he will be crucial to a playoff run.

    Now, he is fully healed and back in the everyday lineup.

    Kubel's statistics have taken a minor drop, but his overall production is expected to get back to where it was before his injury.

    The Twins need some more pop in their bats if they want to make a legitimate run at the AL Central title.

    Kubel has proven he can provide the boost in the lineup that Minnesota needs.

    Now, it is up to him to step up for the rest of this season.

6. Joe Nathan

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    Joe Nathan has slowly regained old form since taking back the closer role, but he still needs to continue executing to help the Minnesota Twins find continued success.

    Nathan represented the team's early struggles, losing his closer's job to Matt Capps.

    Since then, Capps has struggled mightily, which has given Nathan the opportunity to earn his job back.

    Manager Ron Gardenhire seems to have faith in Nathan for the rest of this season.

    That means that the closer must keep his end of the deal and continue to perform as well as he has since taking back the closer job.

5. Delmon Young

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    Delmon Young is the missing piece to the outfield puzzle for the Minnesota Twins as the season wears down.

    Manager Ron Gardenhire was probably expecting big things from his left fielder after a 21 HR, 112 RBI season last year.

    Young got off to a shaky start in 2011, and this was only compounded by an injury that has caused him to miss more than 30 games.

    Now, Young is looking to get back on track as a staple in the lineup, but he is struggling to get there.

    He is currently batting .267 with only two HR and 27 RBI in 75 games.

    Young has been crucial to playoff runs the last two years, providing power in the absence of Justin Morneau.

    This year, he will need to regain that form to give the Twins hope. 

4. Joe Mauer

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    Joe Mauer was widely critcized as he struggled coming off injury, but is slowly getting back to swinging the bat the way Minnesota Twins fans are used to seeing.

    Mauer's batting average danced around the low .200's for awhile as he tried playing first base to help the team while slowly regaining his health.

    Now, he has pushed it all the way up to .295 in the blink of an eye.

    While the media continuously heckled and ridiculed Mauer for wasting the organization's money, he worked at finding his swing.

    Mauer has made improvements but still needs to take it to the next level if the Twins want to make the playoffs.

    A team should never pay a player $23 million to hit under .300, one home run and 19 RBI. So, Mauer still has some work to do to get his stats on par with his salary before the end of the season. 

3. Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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    Tsuyoshi Nishioka entered Major League Baseball as a rookie this season, but he has failed to live up to expectations.

    Due to his experience playing professionally overseas, everyone expected him to fit right in and produce like he had previously in his pro career.

    This has not been the case.

    In fact, things couldn't have started much worse. Nishioka broke his leg in April, stunting his ability to grow as a player.

    He has come back and found little success, batting .208 with a .259 OBP.

    Nishioka needs to improve as the season winds down to give the Twins a chance in the AL Central.

2. Matt Capps

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    Matt Capps symbolizes how poor the Minnesota Twins front office has done over the past few years, but he can still be a part of the rejuvenation of the bullpen. 

    The bullpen has been the glaring hole of this Twins team since they started winning games and getting in the AL Central race.

    Despite inconsistent hitting and starting pitching, the bullpen has been steadily terrible all season.

    Now, Joe Nathan appears to be comfortable in the closer position, taking the pressure off of Capps.

    Capps can now focus on doing his job without all the pressure on his shoulders.

    Hopefully, this allows him to make up for all of the blown saves and regret from the front office for trading away elite prospect Wilson Ramos for him.

1. Carl Pavano

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    In the offseason, Carl Pavano was looked at as one of the best starting pitchers available after the upper echelon dried up, but he has failed to perform up to his salary or expectations this season.

    It was a little bit worrisome from the fans' perspective when Pavano did not garner much interest in the free agent market. 

    On some fronts, it appeared as if he went out, asked for the money he eventually got from the Minnesota Twins, couldn't find it, and moseyed back to the Twin Cities to collect his money. 

    Pavano was considered the "ace" of the Twins going into the season, but has turned into a liability in the rotation.

    He is supposed to be the steady veteran of the pitching staff that helps guide the other pitchers on and off the field 

    Now, it is time for him to perform on the field and help locker room morale so that the Twins can make a run at the AL Central title.