NCAA

Mauer looks to catch more in 2013

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Mauer looks to catch more in 2013

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Joe Mauer has always steadfastly believed that his value is highest and his impact greatest when his smooth swing is in the lineup on offense and he's crouching behind the plate on defense.

He somewhat reluctantly backed off his insistence on catching as much as possible last season as the Minnesota Twins urged him to spend more time at first base and designated hitter to reduce the wear and tear on a body that broke down repeatedly in 2011.

The approach was a smashing success. Mauer played in a career-high 147 games and returned to form as one of the best hitters in the American League after a disastrous 2011 season.

Now that he is completely healthy as the Twins prepare for spring training, Mauer fully plans on spending more time at catcher this season.

And GM Terry Ryan thinks it could be a lot more time.

``I've been preparing for the season to be the everyday catcher,'' Mauer said on Friday night as the Twins opened their annual fan festival. ``I can go over to first if they need me to do that. I can DH if they need me to do that, too. The way I've been preparing is catching every day.''

Things couldn't have gone much worse for Mauer in 2011, the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract extension that kept the hometown star away from the big-market teams. Numerous injuries, including a mysteriously vague ``bi-lateral leg weakness,'' contributed to a career-low .287 average with just three homers in 82 games. The monumental struggles led the once-adoring home crowd to turn on Mauer, occasionally booing him when he stepped to the plate late in the year.

He bounced back in a big way in 2012, hitting .319 and leading the league with a .416 on-base percentage. He also found a balance between catching, designated hitter and first base that kept his legs fresh and his bat in the lineup all season long. He only caught 74 games, was the designated hitter for 42 games and spent the rest of the time at first base, in part because Justin Morneau was still working his way back from concussion problems and several other nagging injuries that had plagued him the previous two seasons.

``I think it worked out real well last year as far as handling Joe and keeping him on the field and plenty of at-bats, all those at-bats we got and not beating him up too much,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``I don't see any reason to change it too awful much from there. Games are going to dictate it and the way we're playing is going to dictate it, and how people are swinging. But the important thing is, Morneau and Mauer both, keep them on the field, keep them in there.''

Morneau is healthy again as well, which would seem to reduce the need for Mauer to play first base. Ryan seems to agree that Mauer is ready to handle a substantial increase in his catching duties.

``We're looking for him to catch somewhere around 120 games,'' Ryan said. ``The other at-bats will come, some at DH and some at first base. But when you start talking about an everyday catcher, when you get him up to 125 games, that's a full load.''

That's quite a big step up for such a valuable piece of the Twins puzzle. Many in the organization thought that the rigors of catching were the biggest reason for Mauer's struggles in 2011. With so much of the team's payroll invested in him for the next six seasons, it's paramount that his left-handed swing is there as much as possible for a team that has lost 191 games over the last two years.

``You have to have his bat in the lineup,'' closer Glen Perkins said. ``Having him out changes everything. If we get a scouting report on the Tigers without Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera, it changes things. And to get his bat in the lineup on a daily basis is the most important thing. And I think they did a really good job with that last season.''

Gardenhire said if all goes well and Mauer remains healthy, he doesn't have a problem with putting him at catcher more this season.

``Well, I'll send him out to the bullpen and he can work out there,'' Gardenhire deadpanned. ``I mean, if Joe wants to catch more, he's going to tell me. That's the great thing, we talk. I talk to him every day about, `Hey, this is my plan. This is what I'd like to do.'''

Long one of the Twin Cities' most eligible bachelors, Mauer got married this offseason. The leg and knee problems of two years ago are long behind him, and he's eager to help a team that is used to contending for AL Central titles to recover after two straight last-place finishes. The way he sees it, the best way for him to do that is to get behind the plate and call the game.

``Obviously the last two seasons haven't went according to plan,'' Mauer said. ``We expect a winner out here. Everybody does. Ever since I've been here we've been pretty darn good and we're trying to get back to that level.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

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2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

The 2018 bubble watch has been relatively subdued with the plethora of upsets throughout the latter half of the college basketball season. At the same time, teams that are providing these upsets have slowly worked themselves from being a question mark at the bubble to now solidly in the tournament (ie. Virginia Tech).

Of the major conferences, the Big Ten is up in the air on how the end of February/ beginning of March will play out. Remember, to host their tournament in Madison Square Garden, the conference elected to move it a week earlier than the rest of the power leagues. Will it affect how many teams they have in the big dance? Right now they have four teams in but two more are hovering at the bubble.

READ MORE: BRACKETOLOGY ROUND-UP, RIGHT NOW SYRACUSE IS IN

Aside from the Big Ten, several other teams are striding the line. Many of which have done so all season long. 

Of the teams listed, they are battling for roughly 10 spots in the field of 68.

All rankings and records are as of Thursday, Feb. 22 at 12:00 pm

Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 32     BPI: 43      KenPom: 43    SOS: 12
Could Trae Young’s Oklahoma actually miss the NCAA Tournament? Yes. The Sooners have dropped six straight games and nine of their last 11. Yes, they have racked up the most high-quality wins in the country, but they are in a tailspin. They have beaten Kansas, TCU twice, Texas Tech, and Wichita State, but some of their losses are bad and they are piling up. Of their final three regular season games, two are against bubble teams that are desperate for a respectable win. If they lose out and then don’t make it past the first round of the Big 12 tournament, they are 16-15 (6-12).

St. Mary’s (CA) (25-4, 14-2 WCC)
RPI: 29     BPI: 20      KenPom: 22     SOS: 137
Early season losses to Georgia and Washington State are not as okay as they appeared back in non-conference play. Added to it was their surprising loss to San Francisco has now put the Gaels falling down the slide. Its hard to imagine though a 25-4 team not making the tournament.

Kansas State (20-8, 9-6 Big 12)
RPI: 55      BPI: 47     KenPom: 46     SOS: 73
The Kansas State Wildcats are your typical bubble team. They have beaten everyone in the Big 12 aside from the ranked teams.  They have some good wins but lack a high quality or ‘Quadrant 1’ victory. Their win over Texas on Feb. 21 give them a head-to-head over another team attempting to steal a bubble spot.

Providence (17-11, 8-7 Big East)
RPI: 37     BPI: 72      KenPom: 69     SOS: 20
Being in the Big East will always give a team a strong SOS, but the Providence Friars have lost to teams they should not have. While they have impressive wins over Xavier and Villanova at home, they have a DePaul loss at home that counters one of those wins. Their looming contest against Xavier has now developed into a must-win on Feb. 28.

NC State (19-9, 9-6 ACC)
RPI: 57     BPI: 51      KenPom: 50     SOS: 61
A team that has benefited from a strong conference has been the Wolfpack from NC State. Out of the ACC, NC State had a horrid schedule and even dropped games against Northern Iowa and UNC Greensboro.  However, they have made up for that with some of the most impressive wins in the ACC. They beat Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina on the road to climb back to the bubble watch.

Baylor (17-11, 7-8 Big 12)
RPI: 59     BPI: 37      KenPom: 36     SOS: 23
Beating Kansas and Texas Tech at home are really the only reasons the Baylor Bears are in consideration at the bubble. But, they are in the deepest conference in college basketball this season, which gives them a ton of decent wins that they can add to their resume. The Bears realistically have to win out to get into the dance.

St. Bonaventure (21-6, 11-4 A10)
RPI: 25     BPI:  58     KenPom: 68     SOS: 91
As a borderline bubble team, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have followed that with a nine-game winning streak and a crucial victory over Rhode Island. As long as the Bonnies take care of their own business and make no worse than the semis in the A10 Tournament, they should be good. Guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley are overdue for a tournament berth.

READ ALSO: AP POLL SHAKES UP THE TOP 10

Syracuse (18-10, 7-8 ACC)
RPI: 46     BPI: 52      KenPom: 51     SOS: 22
A month and a half ago, the Syracuse Orange had no business being in the bubble conversation. Still, their four best wins are over Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and then Buffalo. They have some work to do in their final three weeks.

Louisville (18-10, 8-7 ACC)
RPI: 52     BPI: 35      KenPom: 37     SOS: 29
The Louisville Cardinals are in a worse spot than Syracuse, they only have one would be ‘Quadrant 1’ win at Florida State from nearly two months ago. With all the drama surrounding this program through the entire 2017-18 season, you have to give it to David Padgett for keeping them in the race.

USC (20-9, 11-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 36     BPI: 50      KenPom: 52     SOS: 49
The Pac-12 could be in extreme trouble. If USC does not make the push into the NCAA Tournament, there will only be two teams from that conference dancing. With an interesting resume, there is not much that jumps off the Trojans record. Then again, there isn’t much that takes away from it either.

UCLA (19-8, 10-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 47     BPI: 60      KenPom: 54     SOS: 66
Their win over Arizona solidified their claim to the bubble. Win-out situation upcoming for the Bruins who have been hurt by a weak Pac-12.

Texas (16-12, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 54     BPI:  39     KenPom: 41     SOS: 16
The Longhorns have such a good schedule. They’ve played all of their games close, but few close games against high-quality teams have translated to wins.

Marquette (16-11, 7-8 Big East)
RPI: 58     BPI: 45      KenPom: 48     SOS: 18
The Golden Eagles were sitting pretty until a four-game losing streak and a loss to St. John’s took them out of the conference race. Not much room for error with Marquette as they move closer to Selection Sunday.

Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 Big Ten)
RPI: 60     BPI: 61      KenPom: 57     SOS: 101
A win against Michigan and a six-game winning streak in the Big Ten has the Cornhuskers alive despite a sub-.500 SOS. They still need a Big Ten tournament upset to get in.

Washington  (18-9, 8-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 48     BPI: 109   KenPom: 95     SOS: 37
The only reason the Washington Huskies are in this conversation is because they beat Arizona and Arizona State back-to-back.

Utah (17-9. 9-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 49     BPI: 70      KenPom: 60     SOS: 65
Another bubble team that hasn’t done much. They’ve won the games they should have and only have snagged an upset on Arizona State.

Other teams:

Florida (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
RPI: 64     BPI: 34      KenPom: 29     SOS: 39

Georgia (15-12, 6-9 SEC)
RPI: 70     BPI: 84      KenPom: 71     SOS: 48

LSU (16-11, 7-8 SEC)
RPI: 74     BPI: 64      KenPom: 63     SOS: 47

Temple (15-12, 7-8 AAC)
RPI: 44     BPI: 83      KenPom: 85     SOS: 9

 

Games to Watch This Week:

UCLA at Utah 2/22 – 9:00 pm (ESPN)

Baylor at TCU 2/24 – 12:00 pm (ESPN2)

LSU at Georgia 2/24 – 2:00 pm (ESPNU)

Louisville at Virginia Tech 2/24 pm – 1:00 pm (CBS)

Syracuse at Duke 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN)

Kansas State at Oklahoma 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN2)

No. 12 Auburn vs. Florida 2/24 – 8:30 pm (SECN)

Penn State at Nebraska 2/25 – 5:15 pm (BTN)

NC State at Florida State 2/25 – 6:00 pm (ESPNU)

Oklahoma at Baylor 2/27 – 9:00 pm (ESPN2)

Davidson at St. Bonaventure 2/27 – 9:00 pm (CBSSN)

Providence at No. 4 Xavier 2/28 – 6:30 pm (FS1)

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Being an Olympic hero is not all T.J. Oshie has in common with 2018 U.S. Women's hockey team

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Being an Olympic hero is not all T.J. Oshie has in common with 2018 U.S. Women's hockey team

Four years ago, Capitals forward T.J. Oshie was the shootout king in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This time around Gigi Marvin was one of the Americans who provided the extra-time heroics for Team USA at Pyeongchang, carrying the women’s hockey team to the gold medal.

Ironically enough, they both were the King and Queen of their high school’s dance back in 2005.

Marvin and Oshie both went to Warroad High School in Minnesota. They graduated from the same class in 2005. Nearly every high school in the country would wish for just one Olympian, this one got two legends in one class.

Oshie famously took the puck six times for Team USA in a shootout to beat Russia back in 2014. Marvin scored the first tally of the shootout in the gold medal game against Canada. The United States would go on to win the match in seven rounds.

Oshie would go on to congratulate his fellow Warroad alum after the match.

Whoever cast the deciding votes, must have known that these two destined for glory. One could now call them the King and Queen of Olympic shootouts.

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