There seems to be a perception among the most-devoted bashers of Joe Mauer that he continues to hit third for the Twins because manager Paul Molitor doesn’t want to hurt Joe’s feelings.

There’s not a day when I fail to receive an e-mail or a Twitter response stating that Mauer should be hitting seventh for the Twins.

If Molitor had a lineup as do the Toronto Blue Jays, the Detroit Tigers or the L.A. Dodgers, Mauer might be hitting seventh (although, probably second). What Molitor has instead is a lineup so limited that a slump-ridden Kurt Suzuki was hitting fifth regularly not long ago.

Molitor has Mauer hitting third most every night, because even with Joe’s long-term lack of power and his overall decline, he’s still tougher to pitch to than most of his teammates.

The Twins have been issued 20 intentional walks this season and nine have gone to Mauer. Trevor Plouffe is a threat behind Mauer, and yet rival managers are of a mind to walk Joe – sometimes to set up the double play (obviously), sometimes because it’s a situation where a single or double can beat them.

Rival managers aren’t doing this because of nostalgia over Mauer’s former greatness as a hitter. They are doing it to win ballgames.

Mauer has started 75 of the Twins’ 79 games, so the old knocks about fragility and ducking out of the lineup do not apply. And the idea that because he’s 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and because he’s making $23 million per season, that he should be able to flip a switch and start hitting home runs … it’s silly to keep repeating that.

He’s not the hitter he was, and it seems like the anti-Mauer crowd wants to believe that’s a strategy that he has adopted.

It’s much simpler than that: Mauer’s not the hitter he was, because he’s not the hitter he was.

Baseball history is filled with hitters who peaked at 26, 27 , 28 and then started to slide. Joe is one of those hitters, not because he wants to be, not because he’s a malingerer, but because it happens.

Why is Miguel Cabrera still going strong and Mauer isn’t?

Because Miggy’s a better hitter, always has been with that easy power to all fields. Mauer never had easy power, even when he was slicing those home runs into the second row of the left-field seats of the Metrodome in 2009.

Mauer had a wretched couple of weeks to start June and his average bottomed out at .253. Since then, he’s reached base 22 times (14 hits, eight walks) in 12 starts, with his average inching upward to .266 and his on-base percentage going from .316 to .335.

These numbers are nothing to write home about, nothing like old times, but Mauer still has a better chance to slice a hit from the 3-hole at an opportune time that do the Twins’ other options.

Paul Molitor knows that, and so do the opposing managers who choose to have him pitched around.

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