We had a good phone conversation with ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe earlier this afternoon. Sutcliffe will be part of the ESPN Monday Night Baseball team assigned to the Twins/Red Sox game this coming Monday, and we will have more with him leading up to that game. But we wanted to pull out a little snippet that we found interesting. We asked him about the Twins' struggles this season and where he would point in terms of the biggest overall problem. He identified Joe Mauer's absence, which shouldn't be surprising. His thoughts on what Mauer brings to the table, though, piqued our interest:

"It's real obvious to me. It's all on the shoulders of one guy, adn that's Joe Mauer. People don't realize what he does to help a team get through a game. More important than his four or five at bats a night are his fingers and the signs he puts down for the 120-130 pitches that have to be called. I'm not knocking anybody who gets back there, but there's nobody like him. We know about the batting titles, we know about the MVP, and the relationship with pitchers, but I've had home plate umpires tell me he gives them a better view (of pitches) than any catcher in baseball. And that makes their job easier. And this guy is 6-foot-6. I think it's not only getting as low as he can, but also keeping his hand out in front as far as he can to give them a really good look. ... He gets as generous a strike zone as anybody in baseball because of the great view he gives those (umpires). ... I don't care what the Twins do. If they don't get Mauer back and he's not healthy, they're not going anywhere."

We're not quite sure what to make of the theory regarding Mauer getting a big strike zone from umpires. We ran the numbers for this year, and Twins pitchers have walked 106 batters in 29 games -- 3.66/game. In Mauer's nine games, the numbers are slightly higher (3.78/game). But it's worth noting the Twins -- with Mauer as the primary catcher -- were No. 1 in the AL last year, allowing just 2.36 walks per game. Maybe Mauer's virus/leg weakness/soreness was preventing him from giving the umps a proper look earlier in the year, contributing to the downward spiral in control?

Is there anything Mauer can't do?

Your thoughts on Sutcliffe's sentiments in the comments.

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