One positive thing for the Twins is that we might be starting to see Joe Mauer catch fire and break out of the slump that started in the 2013 season, when he hit .324 but battled various concussion-related injuries, and the 2014 season, when he posted the lowest batting average of his career at .277 during another injury-shortened season. Those past two seasons had to be tough on Mauer as his average dropped and he drove in just 102 runs in total.

The fans who are on Mauer’s case might have to change their tune, and there are many fans like that.

While Mauer has slumped to start this season, a big positive that has to be said is that he has continued to play on a daily basis, appearing in 80 of the Twins’ 81 games this season, compared to 2013 when he missed 49 games and 2014 when he missed 42.

And lately he has started to see results. Saturday night, he went 4-for-5, his first four-hit game since August 2013, and hit a two-run homer in the first inning of a 5-3 victory at Kansas City. That lifted his average to .372 over his past 12 games, and his 41 RBI are good for third on the team.

His on-base percentage of .341 this season would be the worst of his career, yet it is the best mark among team regulars.

Yes, Mauer has been having a rough season, but there are signs that he can pull out of it and get back to the .300 hitter that Twins fans have known for 11 seasons.

In Mauer’s MVP season in 2009 he hit .365 with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, and 94 runs scored. From 2006, when he won his first batting title at 23 years old, to 2013 when he suffered that concussion, Mauer hit .327 with a .410 on-base percentage and averaged 11 home runs, 31 doubles, 70 RBI and 76 runs scored per season.

And while some fall-off is expected as Mauer ages, the drop has been surprising over the past two-plus years. But the Twins, who continue to produce victories and stay in contention as the season enters the second half, might have a surprise in store if Mauer can continue to produce runs and start hitting like he has in the past. It would be a true boost to the offense and the team overall.

Vikings are more athletic

General Manager Rick Spielman said when the Vikings started planning for coach Mike Zimmer’s second year, one point of emphasis was adding athleticism and speed. Spielman believes they succeeded.

“We talked about tough, smart, passionate football players, but we also wanted to focus on the athleticism and speed,” Spielman said. “There are some of these young guys that are 20, 21 years old that we’ve drafted over the last few years and even this year, that have pretty unique physical traits.

“But the belief that we have, and coach Zimmer and this coaching staff have, to develop and teach these young guys gives you a lot of optimism. It’s hard to say right now, without [having seen] the pads on, especially the offensive and defensive linemen, but there’s no question that the skill guys we took that they were able to show from an athletic standpoint through OTA’s and minicamp.”

Spielman said one thing that would help the Vikings win more games is if tight end Kyle Rudolph, who missed seven games last year and eight the year before, can stay healthy.

“That is a pretty key position in Norv Turner’s offense,” Spielman said. “Kyle could be one of those elite receiving-type tight ends, just because of his size and catching radius. But he also does a good job blocking at the line of scrimmage and is our most complete tight end. If we can stay healthy with the running backs and the receivers we have and some of those other tight ends, that gives Teddy [Bridgewater] the weapons he needs and hopefully we’ll be very productive on offense.”

Rudolph’s ability to help the offense is obvious. In 2012 he caught 53 passes when he played all 16 games, whereas over the past two injury-shortened seasons he caught a total of 54 passes.

Kill sees potential draft picks

The Gophers football team sent five players to the NFL last season, including draft picks Damien Wilson, David Cobb, Cedric Thompson and Maxx Williams. Then Cameron Botticelli was signed as a free-agent by the Chargers. It was the most players they had sent to the NFL in one season since 2006.

Now coach Jerry Kill says that this year’s squad could easily send five players to the draft, just on defense.

“On the defensive side of the ball, I really do [think we can send that many players],” he said. “I think that in our secondary, you know I think it has been pretty well noted how good those kids are. De’Vondre Campbell, if he has a good year and then if T.C. [Theiren Cockran] has a good year because of his length and speed. They have to have good years, but they have great potential to do it and I think they’ll have great years. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that with their attitude right now in the offseason and in the summertime.”


• People on the inside speaking about Major League Soccer, and where a new stadium will wind up in Minnesota, say all the talk about putting the new franchise in St. Paul is just a way of applying leverage to the Minneapolis political bodies to come through for Dr. Bill McGuire’s group to get the minor tax breaks they need.

• Charlie Sanders, the former Gophers and Lions gridder who died last week, was, in my mind, the best tight end to ever to play for the Maroon and Gold and he proved how great a player he was by competing in seven Pro Bowls. The one tough part for Sanders’ career is he played in 19 matchups between the Vikings and Lions from 1968 to 1977, and the Lions’ overall record was 2-17.

• Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves president and coach, said Nemanja Bjelica, the European MVP who will join the Wolves, has the kind of presence that will make Andrew Wiggins better. “If I had one thing that we lack a little bit in our frontcourt it’s the ability for any of our players, outside of Wiggins, to put the ball on the floor and make a play. Those are things [Bjelica] can do. He’s a multidimensional player, he can play small forward, power forward, he really shoots the ball extremely well from the perimeter and he can handle the ball.”

• New Wild signee and former Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly on getting to play for his hometown team: “Growing up, going to games, kind of the back of your mind, you sit there and kind of dream about a little bit of potentially playing here,” he said. “But I definitely did not predict it to actually happen.”

• Hassan Mead, the former Gopher All-America, will run in the IIAF World Championships in August in Beijing after finishing third at the USATF Outdoor Championships last month.