Mauer taking aim at fourth AL batting title

Mauer taking aim at fourth AL batting title

Mauer taking aim at fourth AL batting title
MINNEAPOLIS -- With three batting titles to his name, Joe Mauer knows exactly what being in the batting race is like the last week of the season.

Mauer is angling for his fourth American League batting average crown, as he enters Thursday tied for second behind Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera, who is also aiming for baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967, is hitting .326, with Mauer right behind him at .323 and Angels rookie Mike Trout third with a .320 average.

Mauer, who led the AL in batting in 2006, '08 and '09, said staying focused is the key, but even he admits it's hard not to pay attention to what the others are doing.

"I'm keeping an eye on it, when you're eating and things like that with TVs on," Mauer said. "But I'm just trying to come out and do what I do, and just trying to have good at-bats and play the game hard like I always do."

Mauer certainly isn't the only one keeping tabs on the batting race, as manager Ron Gardenhire said other players around the league are well-aware of what's going on.

"Believe me, the other guys in this league know," Gardenhire said. "Cabrera knows. Even when we were in Detroit and Mauer was getting those hits, Cabrera was at third shaking his head. And the guy at first base [Tuesday] night in [Nick] Swisher was out there patting him on the back and shaking his head. And they're all saying the same thing we are -- it's incredible how he constantly puts the barrel on the ball."

Mauer is already in elite company, as he owns three of the six batting titles won by Major League catchers. But this one would put him over the top, as he'd have more batting titles than every other catcher in the history of baseball combined.

"He's pretty impressive," Gardenhire said. "We've watched this for a number of years around here. He just continues on his pace. As I've said all along, people get frustrated with Joe if he's hitting just barely over .300. This guy, he's totally incredible. He can flat out hit. It's amazing to see. He sets such a high standard that when he gets down there close to .300, people think he's struggling. That's a way you make a lot of money in this game, just hitting .300. He goes way above that."

Mauer, though, struggled to even hit .300 last year, as he finished the season with a career-low .287 batting average in just 82 games because of various injuries.

Having played in more than 140 games for the first time since 2008, a healthy Mauer has returned to form. So for Gardenhire, he's not even a little bit surprised that Mauer is putting up such impressive numbers once again.

"I don't think he ever left," Gardenhire said. "He was just beat up and couldn't perform up to his capabilities. I think people on the field and in the game, their emotions don't rise as much as others. Ours pretty much stayed the same. We know what we have here -- a really good baseball player who is very gifted offensively and defensively. He's one of the best in the game."

With Mauer and Cabrera both chasing the batting title, it's set to be an exciting final series at Target Field this weekend with the first-place Tigers in town.

As general manager Terry Ryan put it, there's plenty at stake even though the Twins have long been out of contention.

"When Detroit comes to town, there are a few things going on," Ryan said. "You have Cabrera and Mauer, the Triple Crown with Cabrera, and Cabrera and Trout going for MVP -- and the Tigers trying to get in the postseason."

Mauer will try his best to spoil Cabrera's shot at a Triple Crown, but he won't spend too much time thinking about it.

"Oh absolutely, don't get me wrong about that -- I'd love to win," Mauer said. "But obviously if you start thinking about that, you start trying, and that's when it doesn't happen for you."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.