A scary notion: Cuddyer is the key to the Twins's season

class=img_thumbleft>My antipathy towards

Michael Cuddyer

has been well documented in this space. Last season I thought he was among the worst everyday players in baseball. He drove in a pathetically anemic 42 runs, while striking out 93 times, and provided barely adequate defense at third base. It seemed like the only reason that he was getting regular playing time was that he had, in Gardenhire's eyes, jumped through all of the appropriate hoops. I would've gladly seen Terry Tiffee or Nick Punto take his spot.

But Cuddyer has proven me wrong this season. He's on pace to hit roughly 25 homeruns and drive in 100 runs, while his batting average has hovered around .270 for most of the season. Most importantly Cuddyer's been sufficiently dangerous to make teams think twice before pitching around Mauer to get to him.

That said, it can still be extraordinarily painful to watch Cuddyer at the plate. At times he doesn't seem to be familiar with the concept of off-speed pitches, flailing away at curveballs like he's trying to chop down a tree. Consequentially Cuddyer has a remarkable 103 strikeouts, by far tops on the team. (Torii Hunter, not surprisingly, is next with 79 strikeouts, followed by Morneau with 71.) That's one strikeout for every four at bats.

But whatever my misgivings about Cuddyer, it's become abundantly clear that he's now the key to the season. As goes Cuddyer, so go the Twins. With a lineup filled with "piranhas" (Tyner, Punto, Bartlett, Castillo), they need his meaty bat to come through during the last quarter of the season.

The last seven games have clearly amplified this fact. In the Twins five victories Cuddyer was a scintillating 9 for 20, with two homeruns and 8 rbis. By contrast, during the team's two losses, Cuddyer had just one hit in seven at bats, while driving in no runs. Of course hitting behind Mauer and the piranhas he's had a ridiculous number of runners on base when he's come to the plate. During the seven-game stretch, Cuddyer managed to leave a whopping 15 runners stranded.

Hopefully my irrational hatred of Cuddyer will prove to be utterly wrongheaded. If so the Twins will make the playoffs.

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