Here's our 10 cent analysis of Joe Mauer this season:
*He started out the year with a slightly different approach after his move to first base, feeling as though he needed to hit for more pop. His swing got a little longer, he struck out more, and it threw him all out of whack.
*After about three weeks, he started to find a groove. From April 24-May 3, a span of 32 at bats, he hit .406 with a 1.005 OPS. That included a double and a home run to right field. After that May 3 game, he was hitting .298 and had an OBP of .396. He still wasn't hitting for a ton of power overall, but he was squaring up the ball.
*On May 4, he left a game with back problems. He didn't play again until May 10. Whether he came back too early or had his timing thrown off, he hasn't been the same since -- not even decent, which he at least had been before the back injury. From May 10 through Wednesday, he hit just .220 with just a .291 slugging percentage and a .570 OPS. Those are weak-hitting middle infielder numbers. The more you fail, the more failure gets in your head. He looked tense at the plate, and every game that went by without an RBI seemed to fester. Combine that with increasingly shifting defenses taking hits away and a notion that at age 31 with a concussion history Mauer might be losing even a fraction of his hand-eye coordination, and you have cause for alarm.
*But last night we saw something different: two trademark Mauer hits. The first was a looping single to left, a classic Tony Gwynn-like stroke off a left-handed pitcher that drove in a run and tied the Twins 2-2. The second was a well-struck double down the left field line -- a clutch hit to break that 2-2 tie in the eighth and propel the Twins to a 4-2 victory. His swing looked short and compact, but still authoritative. He wasn't trying to do anything other than hit like he always has.
In FSN's postgame interview, we saw an honest smile on Joe's face a few times. A smile will not help you go 2-for-4, but going 2-for-4 and contributing to a win will help you smile. When you feel good, you gain confidence.
It was the kind of game that could propel him into the kind of hot streak he had started shortly before being injured, and we're guessing it will.