The Twins don’t have a bad offense. It could be considered inconsistent, but heading into Friday’s they’ve scored 553 runs — tied for 10th in the majors with Houston, a team they coincidentally will face starting tonight in a three-game series at Target Field.
But there is one somewhat strange thing about this year’s Twins: in spite of Joe Mauer’s overall struggles, he’s hitting .354 with runners in scoring position … yet his RBI pace (54) is so sluggish that it compares to last year (55) in almost an identical number of plate appearances (520 this year to 518 last year) even though he hit .290 with RISP a year ago.
It prompted me to take a deeper look into the numbers, and this stood out: Mauer has batted, as a percentage, with fewer runners on base than in any season in his career (excluding 2004, when he had just 122 PAs) and the only other season he hit less often (again by percentage) with runners in scoring position was 2013.
Here’s a year-by-year breakdown since 2004:
Mauer this season has come to the plate with a runner on base just 40.4 percent of his plate appearances; compare that to last season when it was 46.5; four other season in his career when it topped 48 percent; and his career mark of 46 percent … and the picture starts to become more clear.
Sure, Mauer would be driving in more runs in general if his overall numbers were better (he does, after all, have a career-low OPS+ right now). But in fairness, his RBI total is at least somewhat circumstantial. In terms of raw numbers instead of percentages, he has batted 21 fewer times with runners in scoring position and 31 fewer times with any runner on base than he did in 2014, again with the PAs being nearly identical.
A big part of the problem: Twins leadoff hitters have a .299 OBP this year, and their No. 2 hitters are at .303 (whereas last year those numbers were .328 and .358). Compound that with the fact that Brian Dozier, who has typically hit ahead of Mauer, is the team leader with 26 homers (not at all a problem, but a thing that clears the bases), and it’s not hard to see why Mauer has had fewer chances.
Given the same number of chances he had even a year ago, with that robust .354 average with RISP that he has this year, it’s not crazy to think that Mauer would have another 10 runs batted in and be in the mid-60s — not far off from Trevor Plouffe’s team-leading 70.
Kyle Rudolph, entering his fifth season, has been a Pro Bowl tight end, so you can bet his job with the Vikings is safe.
But the team will have to make some decisions behind him. Rhett Ellison, in his fourth season, is considered one of the best athletes on the team. Third-year guy Chase Ford stepped in last year when Rudolph was injured and had some nice moments. Rookie MyCole Pruitt was a camp sensation until suffering an ankle injury. And Brandon Bostick, who came over after the Packers axed him following the NFC title game fumble on a crucial onside kick, is a third-year pro.
“Rhett has always been a guy that’s been a tough guy that we ask to do a lot of things,” said coach Mike Zimmer when asked about the tight ends playing behind Rudolph. “He always shows up, he always works hard. He’s getting better at catching the ball. Pruitt is a guy that was really, really moving good until this last injury. I think he’s got a very, very good future. And Chase Ford, when he gets in there he does a lot of really good things, catching the football in the passing game that creates some mismatches for people.
“Bostick is still learning a lot of the stuff that we’re trying to do.”
Seems like Bostick has a way to go to make the team. His playing time has been limited, and he’s the only one of the group who hasn’t caught a preseason pass; Ford has six catches for 31 yards, Rudolph five for 50, Pruitt four for 51 and Ellison one for 13.
Rudolph said the tight ends have great camaraderie in their meeting room.
“That’s been a standard throughout my years here,” Rudolph said. “We always seem to have one of the closest rooms, and that doesn’t change based on competition. We just make each other better every day.”
Having five preseason games, and an extra week of preseason practices, to show their stuff is an added bonus for the backup tight ends.
“It’s definitely long,” Rudolph said of the extended time the Vikings got because they played in the Hall of Fame Game. “At the beginning of the preseason it made training camp go quicker, getting that first game right away. But now getting to the fourth preseason game, we still have two left, it’s definitely a grind.”
The Vikings flew to Dallas today and have preseason game four against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m.