Joe Mauer: "Return of the Mack" trilogy edition
For the third year running, the Mack is back. In 2008, Joe Mauer rebounded with swagger
from an injury-plagued '07 and raised his average 35 points en route to batting title No. 2. Last season, Mauer returned from an absent April to rhythm his way to an MVP season and eventual $184 million contract extension.
This year, Joe has rapidly turned a first-half funk into post All-Star break funkiness. Through 77 games heading into the All-Star break, Mauer was batting just .293. Of course, the "just" is relative term for a three-time batting champ and lifetime .326 hitter. The clip represented Mauer's lowest average through 77 games in the catcher's career and motivated Yours Truly to strongly suggest that he take a pass on this year's Mid-Summer Classic in Anaheim. A decline in post All-Star performance over the years combined with his brutal performance in this year's contest seemed to warrant the plea.
But now I'm gladly eating a mouthful of Red Man leaf. Enjoy the beat accompaniment for year No. 3 of Mauer's "Return of the Mack."
Although Mauer had just (again) 19 multi-hit games in that first 77, the catcher -- while still battling injury -- has been on a tear since the break, with nine multi-hit efforts in his past 20 contests, hitting a monster .425 over that stretch. In the process, Joe has raised his average nearly 30 points up to .322, good for sixth in the A.L. entering the week. Concurrently, Mauer has also raised his On Base percentage 27 points and his Slugging clip 49 points since the All-Star game.
Did something happen to Mauer in Anaheim? Did the MVP have some dynamite sushi? Drink an inspired cab? Get a suggestion from a lofty peer? Who's to say. . . He surely wouldn't, but the fact that his bat is now speaking loudly again is all that matters.
The timing for Mauer's surge couldn't come at a better or more important time for the Twins, who face division-leading Chicago for a three-game set this week and then thrice more next Tuesday - Thursday at Target Field. Taking two of three from the ChiSox this week would put the club back in the Central's sole driver's seat for the first time since Independence Day.
Gauging from an historical vantage, opposing the ChiSox should only advance Mauer's
numbers and give him a shot at making a noticeable move up the AL batting leaderboard. In nine games vs. Chicago this season, Mauer owns a .419 average to couple with an On Base clip of .500 and a bulky Slugging percentage of .613. Versus probable Chicago starters Freddy Garcia, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, Joe owns lifetime .379, .343 and .276 averages, respectively. For his career against the White Sox (82 games), Mauer claims a lifetime average of .308.
All of this late-summer heat begs the query -- Can Mauer make a run at a fourth batting title? I won't say "Yes" now, nor will I negate his chances. Joe no doubt has some ground to make up as he trails the Rangers' Josh Hamilton by 33 points, but to look at the list of leaders is to suggest that a title run isn't beyond the realm of possibility. Of the AL's top 22 hitters entering Monday, only two other ballers on the list (Ichiro Suzuki and Magglio Ordonez) can lay claim to a batting crown. And those two combine for as many title's as Mauer has in the past four seasons.
As we've had pleasure to witness over the past six years, Joe Mauer isn't "just" anything. And now the Mack is playing like it.
Return of the Mack, Mark Morrison
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