The word is that Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was hoping to be back sometime this weekend for a big series against Cleveland, but now it looks like he might not return from the disabled list until next week.
If you want an idea of how important Mauer is to the Twins, consider what has happened to the team since he went on the disabled list because of a strained neck and concussion symptoms May 19.
The Twins were 18-22 at that point, but their offense was performing OK. They were hitting .244 with a .314 on-base percentage and averaging 4.2 runs per game, but their pitching was struggling.
Since Mauer has been sidelined, the offense has sputtered. The team was 4-7 without him going into Thursday, averaging 3.6 runs per game and hitting a paltry .212 with a .294 on-base percentage.
Before these past two games, the pitching staff had been much better, but it hasn’t mattered because the offense hasn’t scored enough runs.
Of course, Mauer was the most consistent player on the roster with a .404 on-base percentage, which still rates as the fifth best in the AL, and there’s no question that his presence in the batting order did wonders for everyone around him.
Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey broke down what Mauer means to the team earlier this season.
“Joe is such a patient at-bat, and if you look back at his career there’s so many good years offensively, not only coming in the form of just hits, but the walks, on-base, the ability to score runs,” he said. “It’s a big part of what he has been and what he continues to be for us.”
Over the course of Mauer’s 14-year career, the Twins win when he is hitting and playing well. Mauer has hit .344 with a .437 on-base percentage in games the Twins have won over the course of his career. In the losses he has hit .271 with a .343 on-base percentage.
Hopefully, this time Mauer won’t have to deal with the lingering effects that some of his other concussions have left.
There’s no question he was starting to look much like his old self with the bat the past two seasons, hitting exactly .300 with a .388 OBP in 179 games between 2017-18. And his defense at first base had reached the excellent levels that he showed for years as a catcher.
Stanley Cup ties
The Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals has a great deal of local interest, as several members of both teams have Minnesota ties.
The expansion Golden Knights have to be one of the most incredible stories in the history of sports as they have reached a league championship in their first season.
The only other team to do that in a major sport was the St. Louis Blues, who came into the NHL in 1967-68 under the league’s first major expansion, the same season the North Stars got their start. Every member of the West Division was an expansion team that season, so one of them was going to be playing for the Stanley Cup that year.
Looking back to that season, I remember watching Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake put his team through one of the toughest practices I’ve ever seen March 1 at the Met Center after they had tied at St. Louis the night before 3-3. But the next night the Habs fell to the North Stars 3-2.
But the Canadiens learned their lesson and swept the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final, winning their eighth championship under Blake, who retired after that season.
The difference, of course, was that in 1967-68 the league doubled from six to 12 teams. Now there’s 31 teams with Vegas’ addition, with a 32nd in Seattle expected to be coming soon.
The Golden Knights have gotten big contributions from two former Wild forwards. Erik Haula has continued to build on his regular season where he had 29 goals and 26 assists, ranking fifth on the team with 55 points. This postseason, he has eight points on three goals and five assists.
The other former Wild player is Alex Tuch, the 22-year-old who was the Wild’s first-round draft pick in 2014. He has been thriving on the third line with six goals, which is the third most on the squad in the postseason.
Besides Haula, Vegas also has another former Gophers standout in Nate Schmidt, who was acquired in the expansion draft from Washington. He is Vegas’ defensive leader in plus/minus in the playoffs at plus-7 and has two goals and four assists.
As for the Capitals, their team includes Matt Niskanen, the Virginia, Minn., native and former Minnesota Duluth standout, who remains one of their most stable defensemen. He has eight points this postseason and is second in ice time at 25:32 per game.
And Warroad High School product T.J. Oshie is tied for fourth on the Capitals in postseason points with 17, including two game-winning goals.
Mark Merila, the former Gophers second baseman who was drafted by the Twins in 1993 and was the longtime bullpen coach for the Padres after retiring from playing because of a brain tumor, is now working as a scout in their front office. He works from the Twins press box scouting future Padres opponents.
There’s no doubt that he had a big influence on the Padres trading for Phil Hughes last week for catcher Janigson Villalobos.
• For once, the Gophers football team got a break with its season opener. The Gophers still have to contend with the Minnesota State Fair when they play host to New Mexico State on Aug. 30, but the Twins will be at Cleveland that day and the Vikings will be playing their final preseason game at Tennessee.
• It could be a fascinating basketball season for Reid Travis, a first-team All-Pac 12 selection for Stanford. The DeLaSalle product thought about entering the NBA draft but now has decided to stay in college, but the word is he will end up at Kentucky as a graduate transfer eligible to play immediately for John Calipari. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds as a junior for the Cardinal in 2017-18.
• Former Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith will be coaching at his alma mater High Point after being fired at Memphis, and he has hired his son G.G. Smith to be his associate head coach. G.G. was the coach at Loyola (Maryland) for five years before resigning in March.
• For the second year in a row, the Gophers’ Jared Weyler is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center in college football. Weyler, a senior this fall, played in 10 games last year but missed the final three because of injury. There’s no doubt that coach P.J. Fleck is going to need him to anchor a young line.