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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 19 April 2011

Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball.

As far as bold statements go, this one isn't exactly earth-shattering. An argument could be made for Buster Posey, and Brian McCann is no slouch, but Mauer provides a great bat at a position where quality offense is hard to find.

In fact, a large portion of Mauer's value lies in the fact that he puts on the catching armor at least 135 times every summer. Ideally, Mauer would be able to catch for the rest of his career and the Twins could put his consistent bat – one of the best in the league – in their lineup every day.

But the 6-foot-5-inch, 235-lb former quarterback is simply too big to squat behind home plate for the next eight years, and will likely need to move to another spot. Judging from his inability to stay healthy for an entire summer, the transition needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Perhaps as soon as right now.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 17 April 2011

You can always count on your B-lineup to come through in the clutch. I particularily enjoyed the Holm-Repko-Tolbert scoring combination in the 5th.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 15 April 2011

I'm pleased to introduce a new guest to you today, one who will hopefully grace us with his smart ideas and sound writing skills many more times this year, and in the future. Michael L. White, a graduate of Gonzaga, has a B.A. in history and double-minored in English and economics. Currently living in Rapid City, Michael is one of the biggest Twins' fans you'll ever meet. Please give him a warm welcome, and be sure to enjoy his take on the Twins up-the-middle struggles this season.

BY MICHAEL L. WHITE

When new contributors introduce themselves, many try to validate themselves writing on said wondrous platform, blah blah blah. I find the ideal introduction regarding my feelings on this type of lead is best plucked from the fringe-average 90s comedy “Good Burger:”

​I'm a dude. He's a dude. She's a dude. We're all dudes, hey!

Your 2011 Minnesota Twins offensively—to be generous—are about as substantive as a Law & Order spinoff. The Twins in 2010, in switching from a somewhat generous offensive park to a pitcher-centric part, looked about as intimidated as a little leaguer taking cuts in Forbes Field. As Kneeland has previously pointed out, the 2011 club looks putrid, especially coming from the big money hitters.

While we can expect the Law of Sample Sizes to put things back in order, several positions required lots of love in the offseason. The 2011 Twins up the middle positions—C, 2B, SS, and CF—are bound to be crutches that spell doom in an open AL Central race.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 09 April 2011

Nick Blackburn turned in another impressive performance tonight, but the offense couldn't string any hits together.

 Even with a strong pitching performance to fall back on, a team can't expect a victory when the first six batters in your lineup combine to hit 2-21 in a game. Twins hitters reached base just five times in their game against the Oakland Athletics this evening, more than five times less than the team averaged last year.

Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, and Alexi Casilla managed a hit apiece, and played about as well as you could expect. No, the problem is found in the top and middle of the lineup. Although expected to be among the league-leaders in offensive statistics, Minnesota has a team batting line of .210/.267/.297 and have scored the fourth-fewest runs in either league.

Offensive strugglesIt's still early, but yikes!

The "small sample-size" label still applies, though things better start clicking soon for the Twins. Each of the 162 games counts towards the final standings, and in the always-competitive AL Central, this early offensive slump could very well prove the difference between first and second.

Let's take a look at each of the top six hitters in tonight's lineup, and attempt to diagnose their problems.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 08 April 2011

Playing in the safe, comfortable confines of Target Field didn't do much to rescue the Twins from their poor offensive play.

From errant pick-off throws to botched fieldwork, Minnesota wasn't at their best Friday afternoon. Save for the eighth-inning dramatics, a two-out rally in the first inning was essentially all the offense the Twins generated against the Oakland Athletics Friday afternoon, and the sell-out crowd in attendance to see Minnesota's home opener were no doubt disappointed by the mediocre offensive performance.

To be fair, the Athletics' Brett Anderson is one of the most talented young pitchers in the league, and he highlights a vastly-underrated Oakland starting rotation. Though he was aided by a couple of poor Minnesota at-bats, Anderson was firing on all cylinders Friday afternoon, reaching a two-ball count just a couple of times.

But the Twins finally got things going in the 8th inning, when Anderson started to tire. With two outs, pinch-hitter Jason Kubel proved he isn't totally useless against left-handed pitching, and advanced Danny Valencia to third on a single to right. Denard Span showed off his quick hands, plating the tying run.

Joe Mauer smacked an 0-1 pitch to left to score the go-ahead run. Justin Morneau nearly brought another run home, but an excellent catch by Josh Willingham in left field ended the inning.

In his first-ever appearance in Target Field, Joe Nathan ended the game to give the Twins their third victory of the year. Nathan allowed one runner to reach after a bleeding infield hit, and kept things dramatic in the 9th inning, but managed to record three outs and give his team their first home victory of the year.

Carl Pavano had a deceivingly-solid start against the Athletics. A walk, wild pitch, and off-target pick-off throw scored the only Athletic run of the game, but Pavano pitched very well in the following seven innings. Scattering just three hits in his eight innings of work, Pavano gave Minnesota their first quality start of the season.

But Anderson's dominance -- and a few lucky, rally-killing double plays -- kept the Twins offense at bay for much of the game, but the 23-year-old grew weary in the 8th inning, and Minnesota capitalized.

It's certainly nice to know that the Twins can hold their own against the best pitchers in the league, and didn't wither up and die when Anderson had retired over a dozen batters in a row. The Twins remained patient, waiting for their chance, and took advantage when the opportunity arose.

Pavano's start can certainly be given "gem" status, despite the rough start. The veteran pitcher will be needed to help shore up an inconsistent Minnesota rotation this year, and it was good to see that he's still capable of tossing eight four-hit innings.

Notes:

- Alexi Casilla hasn't done himself any favors through the season's first seven games. If the young Dominican intends on keeping his gig as starting shortstop, he'll certainly need to hit more: a .486 OPS is tough to hide.

- Tsuyoshi Nishioka fractured his leg Thursday afternoon while trying to turn a double-play and avoid Nick Swisher's hard slide. Though he was placed on the disabled list immediately following the game, the Japanese second baseman received some good news today: his injury won't require surgery, and his leg won't be put in a cast. Hopefully Nishioka won't be out too long, and he'll get back to the starting lineup quickly.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 05 April 2011

That's one way to get a monkey off your back.

The Twins did the impossible tonight, coming from behind to win a game in Yankee Stadium. Defeating the Yankees is a tough enough task -- Minnesota's only won four of the last 30 meetings -- but the Twins also defied their historicaly bad luck in Yankee Stadium, winning their seventh game there in nine years. Overcoming a four-run defecit only makes the victory sweeter.

The game started out as innocuously as all other games against the Yankees, with a three-run blast from Mark Teixeira. Starting pitcher Brian Duensing pitched well enough, but allowed enough Yankee batters to reach base to make the eventual New York home run a painful one. Add another solo shot from Andruw Jones, and the Twins were suddenly in a 4-0 hole with CC Sabathia starting to heat up. Sabathia finished his masterful night by retiring 17 straight Twins batters, leaving Minnesota to duel with New York's incredible bullpen.

Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera (JoSoMo) shut down the Twins on Monday, but a vulnerability was found tonight. The mighty Yankees showed off a chink in their impenetrable armor, and Minnesota was able to capitalize. Soriano loaded the bases in the eighth inning and walked in a run, giving Delmon Young the opportunity to smack a three-run double on a bloop hit to right field.

Matt Capps did everything he could to prove he is worth his hefty pricetag, and Joe Mauer singled in a run in the 10th to give the Twins the lead. Joe Nathan closed things out in the bottom half of the inning, and the monkey was no longer clinging to the backs of the Minnesota Twins. Truthfully, the Twins didn't win as much as the Yankees lost.

But a win is a win, and in Yankee Stadium Minnesota will take any win they can. In the grand scheme of things, this game in early April doesn't mean much. It's the fifth game in a summer that will see the team take the field at least 156 more times, but this could be the most important victory the Twins have enjoyed in a long time.

The Twins' struggles against New York are at least partially pyscological -- even a poor team wins more than four of every thirty games against the Yankees -- and hopefully this dramatic victory will spur some enthusiasm in Minnesota. Again, it's still April. Over 150 games have yet to be played. But a come-from-behind victory against the Yankees in New York is something to remember.

Hopefully it won't be the last.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 04 April 2011

Twins fans are nothing if not loyal.

Some may be negative or cynical, but all Twins fans look forward to each spring, regardless how many lost seasons they've endured. Generating excitement for the season is the one goal of the baseball offseason, and it's always carried out to perfection. Especially in Minnesota.

Last year, the Twins capitalized on the bottled-up anticipation, opening their season with a 5-2 record and getting an early jump on their competition. It was a perfect way to lead up to Target Field's first game, and showed that the offense was just as fired up as the fans were. Minnesota didn't hit at the same level they did for the rest of the season, but enjoyed a significantly better runs scored-to-allowed ratio.

Opening weeks may not shed much light on the outcome of the season to follow -- the World Series-winning Twins of '91 went 2-5 in their first seven games -- but it's an excellent opportunity for the team to springboard into the daily grind of the regular season. Though statistically insignificant, those first seven games occur at a time when raw emotion is rampant; success or failure will dictate the prevailing mood of the season to come.

In 2011, the Twins aren't exactly spreading the joys of optimism.

Four games have been played, and Minneosta sits at the bottom of the American League Central with a 1-3 record and a horrifying 11-26 runs scored-to-allowed ratio. Just 19 hits have been recorded by Twins hitters, roughly half the pace of the 2010 team. Patience hasn't been a virtue these last four days, either, as the 3-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio would make even Mark Reynolds blush.

In fact, these last four games have given the Twins a legitimate chance to claim the worst opening week performance in the last 20 years. Here is a public Google document with the relevent data. As the table shows, the Twins' runs scored-to-allow ratio in the first seven games has been better than the following season just six times over the last two decades. They have hit more frequently just eight times. Clealry, Minnesota teams are prone to slow starts.

Studying seven-game samples is an excellent way to learn nothing, however, and these results hardly correlate to a a season's outcome. Even so, it's an interesting trend to note, and may explain the rationale of that pessimistic Twins fan who lives two doors down.

The Twins rarely make good first impressions, but have consistently found ways to overcome the early defecits to advance to the top of their division. The poor performance this week may not be inspiring, but it holds little predictive value.

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