Mauer a threat to Cabrera’s triple crown hopes

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera entered this past weekend’s series as two of the top hitters in baseball. Cabrera held the lead in the American League batting title race, but Mauer was close behind him.

After three games between Detroit and Minnesota at Target Field, Mauer crept to within .002 of Cabrera following Sunday’s series finale. Cabrera went 0-for-3 with an intentional walk, while Mauer was 3-for-4 and was also intentionally walked. As a result, Cabrera’s averaged dropped to .325 while Mauer’s average rose to .323.

Twins starter Liam Hendriks helped out his teammate by keeping Cabrera hitless in Sunday’s finale. Against Hendriks, Cabrera was 0-for-2 with an intentional walk. He grounded out to shortstop to end the first inning and tapped out to first base in the fourth inning. Cabrera’s last at-bat of the night came in the eighth inning when he hit a rocket to shortstop that was gloved by Minnesota’s Pedro Florimon.

“I was glad that I could keep Miguel (hitless),” Hendriks said. “He put some balls in play, but they were outs. You’ve got to give hats off to Joe. He went 3-for today, and that’s impressive no matter what, even with the pressure that’s going on with him right now, in the hunt for the title. It definitely felt good to be able to help my catcher out.”

Mauer picked up base hits in his first three at-bats Sunday, including a two-out single in the first inning. He then singled to right to lead off the fourth and advanced Ben Revere from first to third with a single in the bottom of the sixth.

Mauer was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs in the seventh inning, which elicited plenty of boos from the Twins fans at Target Field hoping to see Mauer win his fourth career batting title. He had a chance to gain more ground on Cabrera in the ninth inning but he grounded out to first base to end the game, a 2-1 Twins loss.

Meanwhile, Angels rookie Mike Trout is just behind Mauer with a .321 average. Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre is fourth in the race at .319, while Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter dropped to fifth over the weekend, batting .318.

Mauer and the Twins begin a three-game series Monday in Toronto to close out the regular season. Cabrera Tiger, meanwhile, are close to clinching the AL Central title and while likely do so in their final series in Kansas City.

“(Cabrera’s) a great hitter. Joe’s a great hitter,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve got three left and they’ve got three left. We’ll see what it comes down to.”

Tuesday’s starter TBA: With Sam Deduno missing his next start due to eye inflammation, the Twins will need to fill his spot in the rotation for Tuesday’s game in Toronto. As of Sunday, Gardenhire said that decision had yet to be made, but it would likely be either left-hander Brian Duensing or right-hander Anthony Swarzak.

Both pitchers have been used primarily out of the bullpen this season but have each made a handful of starts. Duensing has 11 starts and 43 relief appearances in 2012, while Swarzak has made four starts and has come out of the bullpen 39 times, often in long relief.

Duensing’s numbers have been much better as a reliever this year. In 11 starts, he’s posted a 6.92 ERA with an opponent batting average of .336. Out of the bullpen, Duensing has a 3.36 ERA with opponents hitting just .231 against him. With the Twins needing starting pitching next year, Duensing’s name could be in the mix, but he’s been much more effective this year in relief.

“Once we finish the season out, we’ll see what we have going into spring training and what starters we have,” Gardenhire said. “So if it looks like he’s better than that group, then you have to start looking at him for this role again and look for somebody to take his role out there. He’s been pretty good out of the pen but a few years ago he was good as a starter. So we know he can do those things.”

Twins experience fourth-highest attendance total: Despite a second consecutive 90-loss season, the Minnesota Twins still drew impressive numbers for home games at Target Field this season. After 32,554 fans took in Sunday’s home finale, the season total rose to 2,776,354 for the 2012 season.

That marks the fourth-highest total in team history. The inaugural season at Target Field ranks No. 1 with over 3.2 million fans, while 2011 drew 3,168,107 fans. Also coming in ahead of the 2012 season in attendance was 1988, the year after Minnesota won its first World Series. The Twins drew 3,030,672 fans that season.

The 2.7 million fans this year means Minnesota has now drawn over two million fans a season for the last 14 years.

“The amazing thing about our fans is they just keep coming out,” Gardenhire said. “They love the ballpark and they’re big Twins fans and they’ve supported this team for a long, long time. That remains. A lot of support and a lot of cheering.”

Sunday’s loss to the Tigers dropped the Twins’ home record to 31-50 in 2012. During last year’s 99-loss season, Minnesota was 33-48 at Target Field.

“People are having a lot of fun in this ballpark, win, lose or draw. We would rather be the first part of that, the win, and we’ve got to figure out a way to do a better job for them here at home,” Gardenhire said. “Our record here at home is not acceptable. Overall, it’s not acceptable. So we’ve got to find a way to make it better. Our fans deserve that. They support us no matter what.”


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