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Joe Mauer is still very much capable of squaring up a ball and hitting it sharply. Just ask David Price's protective cup, which Mauer blasted on the fly for an infield single Tuesday.
As a matter of fact, 28.3 percent of all balls he's put into play this season have been line drives -- a small sample size, but the highest number of any season in his career. The best full season was 2013, when his line drive rate was 27.7 percent.
Last year and this year, however, also have a more disturbing trend in common: a rapidly increasing strikeout total for a player who used to be one of the tougher guys in MLB to whiff.
Mauer had two more strikeouts last night, giving him 24 in just 19 games. That's obviously more than one per game for a guy whose career average is more like a strikeout every other game.
And the strikeouts have been coming in bunches. Mauer has 12 career games with three or more strikeouts (11 with three, one with four). Half of them have come in either 2013 or 2014. He has struck out either two or three times in nine of his 19 games this season.
As pointed out by Parker Hageman, Mauer is struggling particularly this season against non-fastballs, with just a .161 average against off-speed stuff before last night's game. He also hasn't fared well with two strikes, something he used to be well above-average at doing.
The big question is: should we worry? Part of us wants to say no because this is a 19-game sample size for a player with a much longer track record of success. He was striking out at a one per game rate for about the first third of last season before he started putting more balls in play, so there should be some adjustment coming.
Part of us, though, is concerned. When he was fanning last year, he was still maintaining a high average and hitting for power; through 49 games in 2013, he had 49 Ks but a .492 slugging percentage and .332 batting average. This year, he has just three extra base hits in 19 games. He just turned 31, and we can't forget that a concussion ended his 2013 season.
In other words, it's not time to pull the alarm yet ... but if we check back at, say, the 50-game mark and Mauer is still trending downward, you have our permission to be very concerned.
Former Twins outfielder Denard Span is known for generally having good plate discipline. But there's ball four ... and then there's a pitch so wild that it does this:
Just when you thought we were getting close to the end of mock draft season (with the NFL), it's time to start thinking about the NBA.
The draft is roughly two months away, and as long as the Suns don't leapfrog the Wolves in the lottery, a prospect that has a 5 in 1,000 chance of happening, Minnesota will have the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. (If somehow the Wolves get jumped, which would be just their luck, they lose their pick because they fall to No. 14 in the draft order and the pick, part of a long-ago trade, is top-13 protected).
In any event, the draft is one place the Wolves can try to improve their roster. With 12 players under contract for next year, this will be one of their best places to add a piece beyond getting creative with a trade (which also means subtraction).
As such, here is where ESPN.com has the Wolves going with that No. 13 pick:
Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6-6 shooting guard: The Wolves' biggest need right now continues to be shooting. Stauskas is one of the true elite shooters in the draft. He has unlimited range, a super-quick release, and as a bonus, he can play point guard in a pinch.
That would work for us. Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
So apparently the notion that Flip Saunders will be the next Wolves coach should be upgraded from sneaking suspicion to somewhere approaching "foregone conclusion."
At least that's how the sports gambling site Bovada.lv looks at it.
The sites asks potential bettors to wager on the next full-time Wolves coach and lists seven options. Flip, at 3-2 odds, is by far the favorite.
What's interesting, too, is that three college coaches are the next-highest on the list:
Instead, of course, Granlund saved the day. When every other player was either getting unlucky, pressing too much or getting flat-out robbed by goalie Semyon Varlamov, Granlund stayed composed and made a falling down shot look about as easy as possible.
If there was a fear the Wild had already given up after going down 2-0 in the series, it was erased quickly Monday. If there was a doomsday tension building that the Wild would lose despite outplaying Colorado, that fear was quelled eventually.
So the Wild showed us something. They showed us plenty.
Now they must show more. Why?
Well, for a number of reasons, but foremost is this: at the end of the day, they are right back where they were a year ago -- at least results-wise.
A year ago, Minnesota lost Game 1 to Chicago in overtime. Then the Wild was outplayed in a 5-2 loss in Game 2. Pressed up against a wall in Game 3 back at the X, a youngster (Jason Zucker) came through with the game-winning goal in overtime to make the series 2-1.
Chicago then proceeded to breeze through the next two games, taking two victories by a combined 8-1 margin to take the series.
This Colorado team is not last year's Blackhawks team. This Wild team is not last year's Wild team. To foster genuine belief, the Wild must duplicate not only Monday's effort, but also Monday's result in Thursday's Game 4. Get this series knotted up 2-2 going back to Colorado. Right now, the opportunity to make this a real series exists, just as it did last year.
We think the extra off day (which Minnesota didn't have between Games 3 and 4 last year) will help. That was an emotional, rugged game Monday. A day to rest and reflect is huge. When Minnesota hits the ice tomorrow for practice, it should be with the mentality that nothing in this series has really changed -- yet.
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