We’ve all been thinking it. We’ve tried to rationalize, in our minds and even in our public statements.
But privately, every one of us in Twinsville has been thinking it.
Yes, the season is still young, with only 12 games in the book and 150 still ahead.
Yes, the Twins, as a whole, have been surprisingly competitive, thanks to better than expected pitching being backed up by defense that’s superior to pretty much anything we’ve seen in Twins uniforms during the Target Field era.
Still, nobody who has watched this team can claim that the Twins engine is hitting on all cylinders.
So let’s just put it out there.
What the hell is wrong with Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer? And when is someone going to do something about it?
The Twins’ Opening Day lineup had Buxton in the number three spot and Mauer batting cleanup. Obviously, manager Paul Molitor and the other decision makers were expecting some pretty decent productivity at the plate out of both guys.
To say that hasn’t happened would be an understatement of near-epic proportions.
Through Sunday’s game, Buxton is hitting just .093 and Mauer’s batting average is not much more impressive.
Mauer’s .190 BA is bad enough, but his .434 OPS has to be embarrassing for a guy that should be justifiably proud of a .391 career on-base percentage, alone.
I’ll grant that both guys have made contributions to the Twins’ surprisingly strong start, but those contributions have come almost exclusively with their gloves.
Buxton has made multiple highlight-reel catches in centerfield and Mauer has been impressive at first base.
If there’s been a weakness in the Twins’ defense, so far, it has been on the left side of their infield where Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco have been a little erratic at times and Mauer has looked awfully good to me at picking their throws out of the dirt at first base.
Still, with the Twins sitting at 7-5 through their first dozen games of the season, we can’t help but ask ourselves just how good this team could be looking if Buxton and Mauer were just performing at a level we might grudgingly call “okay” at the plate.
I’m not going to suggest that Molitor should go off the deep end and bench either of these players after just two weeks. That would be an overreaction. After all, Buxton has had just 46 plate appearances and Mauer only 45.
By the end of the season, Joe Mauer is going to be hitting .260. He’ll show limited power, but will have his share of doubles. It’s what Joe Mauer does. It’s not ideal, especially for a first baseman, but with ByungHo Park on the shelf with a bad hamstring at the moment, it’s not likely that the Twins would consider a change at first base any time soon (though we might want to make note that Ben Paulsen has three home runs and is sporting a 1.051 OPS in Rochester already).
As for Buxton, we have to keep in mind that, not withstanding their early record, the Twins are still in a rebuilding process and Byron Buxton is still very likely to be a major cog in the machine that we all hope will eventually bring postseason baseball back to Target Field.
That being the case, you do whatever you think is necessary to get him straightened out at the plate, no matter how long it takes.
I don’t think sending him to AAA would do much good and sitting him on the bench won’t improve his plate appearances. The only chance he has of learning to hit big league pitching, at this point, is to keep facing big league pitching.
And here’s something else worth keeping in mind: Perhaps the best thing that could happen in terms of accelerating the Twins’ return to September significance would be to see pitchers such as Ervin Santana and Hector Santiago put up stats strong enough to induce bidding wars among teams in need of pitching at midseason.
There is no doubt that having Buxton in centerfield makes the stat lines of every pitcher that takes the mound look better. You could possibly make the same argument for Mauer at first base, for that matter.
So Mauer and Buxton aren’t going anywhere and they’re going to be penciled into the lineup by Molitor almost every day. We can resign ourselves to that and hope their bats wake up.
Still, nobody can be blamed for openly wondering how many more games this Twins team, as currently constructed, could be winning if Buxton and Mauer were carrying their own weight… or at least hitting their weight.