Saturday, Jun. 24, 2017



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Joe Mauer Decline Not Going Away

 

Whatever is wrong with Joe Mauer isn’t changing. With the Twins season ending within days, the 33-year-old Mauer is finishing yet another dismal year at the plate.

The rumors about what ails Mauer have even included speculation he has a crippling disease. Truth could be the former three-time American League batting champion continues to deteriorate as a productive hitter because of concussions and aging.

A source with decades of experience in baseball told Sports Headliners he doesn’t know what’s wrong with Mauer but the causes might be the two factors mentioned immediately above.

Mauer’s well publicized concussion in 2013 led to him being moved from catching to first base.Dating back to high school who knows how many other concussions the Minnesota native may have experienced in athletics? Damage to the brain, the source speculated, could be impacting the response and effectiveness of Mauer’s body at the plate as he struggles to be the hitter he once was. Motor skills, the source reminded, are everything when trying to hit a baseball thrown at 95 miles per hour.

Mauer has a history of injuries and critics question how successfully he works through them. As of late, Mauer has been troubled by strained and sore quadriceps. With an aging body that turns 34 next April, injuries could be a continuing pattern for Mauer who no doubt will welcome the season’s end and the opportunity to rest.

Other than being supportive, the Twins don’t have much to say about the one-time superstar’s decline. Mauer thought before the season he was headed toward a better year after more time had gone by since his 2013 concussion. But the 2016 statistics tell a similar story to the last two seasons.

The lifetime .309 hitter, who won the 2009 league batting championship with a .365 average, is hitting .261 as the Twins approach the end of their schedule next Sunday. Mauer has 11 home runs and 49 RBI. Last year he hit .265 with 10 home runs and 66 RBI. In 2014 the numbers were .277, 4 homers and 55 RBI.

Mauer isn’t making contact with the ball like he did when he routinely hit over .300. He struck out a career high 112 times last season. This year, in about 100 fewer at bats, he has struck out 93 times.

Those are alarming numbers for a guy with Mauer’s past record of success. They also leave fans frustrated that the Twins are paying Mauer $23 million per season and receiving that kind of return. A lot more is expected from a hitter who bats high in the batting order earns mega compensation.

If the Twins were winning, Mauer would still be a sensitive subject with fans, but playing for a club that has lost more than 90 games in five of the last six years puts him in the eye of the storm. With two years left on his contract, Mauer is owed another $46 million.

Mauer and the Twins can only hope he can improve his production. He certainly isn’t finishing this season in that direction. In his last seven games he is batting .080, and in the last 30 games .196.

Worth Noting

At 100 losses and counting, there is still valid conversation that a contributing reason for the Twins’ awful record after finishing 83-79 last season is the absence of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter who retired. Hunter was a strong personality in the clubhouse who was willing to push underachieving teammates, and his leadership is still missed.

The Twins finished their 2016 home schedule drawing 1,963,912 fans—the lowest ever at Target Field and first time below 2 million.

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

Vikings guard Alex Boone suffered a reported hip injury in yesterday’s impressive win over the Panthers, and had an MRI today. “He should be okay, I think,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said this afternoon. Zimmer is unsure, though, if Boone will be able to play next Monday night against the Giants.

The 3-0 Vikings, who gave up just one touchdown in yesterday’s 22-10 win, are allowing an NFL-third best 13.3 points per game. Opponents have scored only 13 second half points this season.

Since Zimmer took over the team for the 2014 season, the Vikings have 99 sacks—second best in the NFL. During that period defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks yesterday, has the fourth most sacks in the league with 26.5.

Zimmer stays in touch with his former boss and NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells who is now retired. “He gives me advice on my team,” Zimmer said.

If pressed for a way-too-early prediction on who the Gophers quarterback will be next season, Ryan Burns guessed Mark Williams. The GopherIllustrated authority likes the athleticism and arm strength of the true freshman from Gainestown, Alabama, and believes Williams could replace Mitch Leidner as Minnesota’s starting quarterback in 2017.

Penn State coach James Franklin and his players will attempt redemption in Saturday’s home game against the Gophers after being embarrassed 49-10 last weekend in Ann Arbor. Michigan led the Nittany Lions 28-0 in the third quarter when with fourth and two at the Wolverines’ goal line, Franklin decided on a field goal rather than pursue a touchdown.

Brandon Lingen, the Gophers tight end with All-Big Ten potential, is still about three weeks away from playing because of his broken clavicle, Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said today (Tuesday).  Other Gophers who won’t play Saturday are Carter Coughlin, Ta’yon Devers, Coney Durr, Nick Rallis, Ace Rogers, Alex Starks and Rashad Still.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, a Redwood Falls native and University of Minnesota alum, attended Saturday’s Gophers-Colorado State game. Mountain West officials worked the game.

Former Gophers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson now has that title at Notre Dame after Irish coach Brian Kelly fired Brian VanGorder last weekend. Hudson, a former Notre Dame player and assistant coach, was let go at Purdue after last season and was available to replace VanGorder for the defensive-challenged and 1-3 Irish.

Don Lucia

Don Lucia

There continues to be no word from the Gophers on the contract status of hockey coach Don Lucia. The 2016-2017 season is his last under contract.

Lindy’s College Basketball Magazine predicts the Gophers will finish 13th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Rutgers in the conference standings. “Best case scenario: They’re at least a year away from postseason play,” the magazine forecast.

The Gophers open their Big Ten schedule December 27 at home against Michigan State. Lindy’s ranks the Spartans No. 11 nationally. The magazine’s top-rated Big Ten team nationally is sixth ranked Wisconsin.

A source from Rochester, Minnesota told Sports Headliners North Carolina coach Roy Williams was in town last week recruiting John Marshall High School’s Matthew Hurt. Kansas coach Bill Self visited Rochester recently too in pursuit of the sophomore forward who is already among the more highly recruited boys basketball players in state history.

While Matthew wants a pro basketball career, older brother Michael is a freshman with the Gophers and plans to be a doctor. The close relationship between the two brothers will help Minnesota’s chances of gaining a commitment from Matthew.

St. Paul Saints part owner Bill Murray is scheduled to be among the celebrities participating in a nine-hole scramble tomorrow from 2 to 5:45 p.m. at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The Ryder Cup Celebrity Match will have personalities from the United States and Europe playing against one another. Michael Phelps is expected to be among Murray’s U.S. teammates, and Europe’s roster includes Martina Navratilova.

Ryder Cup ceremonies on Thursday will feature business leaders holding flags including WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson with the American flag.

Cal Franklin of the American Marshals will be making the “Let’s Play Hockey” call at the Wild-Hurricanes preseason game tomorrow night at Xcel Energy. The Wayzata businessman is part of the Marshals group of golf enthusiasts who are unofficial ambassadors of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. They have provided support at the last four Ryder Cups in Kentucky, Wales, Chicago and Scotland.

Most Ryder Cup players are renting homes on Lake Minnetonka or at Bearpath Golf and Country Club.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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