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Mauer turning it on for Twins

By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I went to my first Jay-Z concert this weekend in Philadelphia and I've got to say, it registered pretty high on the epic scale.

After Jay-Z finished playing his greatest hits, he handed the microphone off to Kanye West, who appeared seemingly out of thin air.

Kanye's unannounced visit set the crowd into a frenzy as fireworks filled the night sky above the steps that Sylvester Stallone famously climbed in the film "Rocky."

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away in Kansas City, Missouri, Joe Mauer decided to skip the concert and go straight to the fireworks.

His second-inning grand slam lifted the Twins to an impressive 8-7 victory over the Royals in the second contest of a three-game series between division rivals.

Mauer wowed the crowd in Kansas City again with a three-hit effort on Sunday, giving the five-time All-Star eight hits in his last four outings.

The Royals aren't the only team Mauer has ripped to shreds with his bat this season. The 29-year-old has been a force all year, collecting 146 hits and leading all American League catchers with a .316 batting average.

We know that Head and Shoulders for Men is responsible for Mauer's great- looking hair, but what's been the secret to his offensive success this season?

Remember, this is a guy who homered just three times in 296 at bats a season ago.

It's simple. Joe finally got healthy.

Pneumonia and a pair of bum knees limited Mauer to just 82 games in 2011. This year he's been in the lineup for 124 of the 134 games the Twins have competed in.

Minnesota didn't want Mauer to endure another injury-riddled campaign in 2012 so they made some changes. Now Mauer only plays catcher about half the time with Ryan Doumit starting on days when Mauer is used as a DH or first baseman.

Mauer's transformation from an everyday catcher to a part-time one has taken stress off his knees, while adding to the stress of opposing pitchers.

The nine-year veteran is batting .297 against left-handed pitching this season, his highest mark since posting a stunning .345 average in 197 at bats against lefties in 2009. Mauer's .332 average at home is also the highest it's been since 2009, the year Mauer took home his first American League MVP award.

Mauer's power numbers are also heading in the right direction. After belting a career-best 28 home runs in 2009, Mauer left the yard just 12 times between 2010 and 2011. Mauer has already clubbed nine long balls in 2012, putting him on pace for his third season of double-digit homers.

With a late push, Mauer (72 RBI this year) could even eclipse his personal best in RBI (96). And yes, that was also set in 2009.

I realize nine homers in 124 games isn't something to jump up and down and about and neither is Mauer's wins above replacement (2.9), which is nearly five wins below what it was during his legendary 2009 campaign (7.6).

Still, it's pretty tough to knock a guy who gets on base in 40.9 percent of his plate appearances (only Detroit's Prince Fielder has reached base more frequently). Mauer's 72 walks this season (fifth-most in the American League) demonstrate a level of intelligence and plate discipline that only a few other players in this league possess.

Target Field's lengthy dimensions make it unlikely that Mauer will ever outdue his home run total from 2009 (that was the last year the Twins' played at the Metrodome), but then again, Mauer has never been much of a home run hitter. He has only 93 round-trippers in 1,042 career games.

While the Twins' home stadium may not be conducive to many home runs, its setup is actually perfect for a hitter like Mauer. There's plenty of room for balls to roll in the outfield and down the line, which could be why Mauer is second on the team in doubles and third in triples.

This season Mauer has also received better lineup protection than he has in years past. Concussions threatened to end Justin Morneau's career, but now he is finally healthy again and Josh Willingham (.260, 33 HR, 96 RBI) has been outstanding in his first year as the Twins' cleanup hitter. The emergence of speedy outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere has also made life a little bit easier for Mauer and given him more RBI opportunities.

I was shocked when I looked back and discovered that Mauer wasn't drafted until the 12th round in one of the fantasy leagues I played in this year. If the draft were held again today, Mauer would project as a sixth or seventh- rounder based on his production so far in 2012.

Is Mauer worth the $184 million the Twins signed him for in 2010?

Of course not. Few are.

But he's still one of the best fantasy catchers in the game.

And he has great hair. That has to count for something, right?

09/03 19:28:33 ET


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