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Twins' offense comes up empty at wrong time

Twins' offense comes up empty at wrong time

NEW YORK -- Catcher Joe Mauer is undoubtedly the face of the Twins' franchise.

That's why Mauer's lack of timely hits during the American League Division Series against the Yankees, including Saturday's 6-1 loss, has perhaps drawn the brightest glare of the spotlight. But the reality is that Mauer's troubles only exemplified the offensive struggles that the entire Twins club endured while it was swept for a second straight year in the ALDS at the hands of the Yankees.

Mauer finished the series batting .250 (3-for-12), with no runs scored, no RBIs and only a single walk. One hitter can't carry an offense, but the Twins certainly missed the impact of Mauer's bat at a time when hits seemed difficult to come by.

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"It's frustrating," Mauer said of his team's offensive struggles vs. the Yankees. "Obviously, the first couple nights, guys were making good pitches. With those three [Yankee starters] throwing the way they did these first three games, they're probably going to do well this postseason."


There have been many questions as to why the Twins have struggled to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Twins have not won an ALDS since 2002, a streak of five straight first-round exits in the postseason.

But perhaps the easiest thing to point to has been the club's lack of offensive execution when it reaches the postseason.

Since 2004, the Twins are 20-for-97 (.206) with runners in scoring position in the ALDS. Over that stretch, the Twins have won just one out of 13 games -- that one coming in Game 1 of the '04 ALDS vs. the Yankees.

While there had been previous offensive struggles, the Twins seemed poised to turn that around this year. The club ranked fifth in the AL with 781 runs scored. Minnesota added key veteran bats, including Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy to aid in the team's chances both in the regular season and the playoffs.

Instead, it was more of the same.

The Twins went 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the three-game sweep by the Yankees. Both of those hits came in the eighth inning of Saturday's loss in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, when they scored their lone run of the game.

"What it boils down to is they hit and we didn't," said Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer of the difference between his team and the Yankees. "That's it, especially in big situations, runners in scoring position. We didn't; they did."

The Twins held leads in Games 1 and 2 of the series at home, but couldn't add to them late in games. On Saturday night, the Twins fell behind early, but missed opportunities for some big hits to get them back in the contest. With one out in the fifth, Delmon Young singled and Thome walked to put runners on first and second. But Cuddyer struck out swinging and Danny Valencia popped out to end the threat.

One inning later, in the sixth, the Twins tallied back-to-back hits for just the second time in the ALDS. Hudson and Mauer both singled to right field with two outs, and it set up a scoring opportunity with Jason Kubel at the plate. But Kubel struck out swinging and finished the game with his career postseason average at .069 (2-for-29).

The Twins had lost some of their offensive prowess after Justin Morneau went down with a concussion on July 7. Morneau did not play again after that, but the Twins still managed to put together a second-half run to capture the AL Central title.

Minnesota led the league with a .285 batting average with runners in scoring position.

So what happened to all those key hits in the postseason?

"It's tough," said Thome. "Offensively, we did so much during the year and grinded out at-bats.

"I think when [the Yankees] would score and put a little pressure, we wanted to come back and we were never able to get that big hit. I've been on some teams in postseason where it clicks and sometimes it doesn't. Why? It's hard to explain. It's baseball. Sometimes that's just the way it is. I think this time of year everything gets magnified."

Such is the case with Mauer's production in the series. The catcher didn't look quite himself over the three-game set. Mauer was asked after Saturday's loss how he was feeling physically, having missed nine games down the stretch with a sore left knee.

"I feel terrible, [because] we're not playing anymore," he said. "We'll assess everything later.''

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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