Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer seems to have launched a stealth campaign for his fourth American League batting title.
With Miguel Cabrera trying to hit the Detroit Tigers back to the top of the AL Central and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout leading the AL Rookie of the Year race, Mauer, a three-time AL batting champ, has sneaked back into the thick of it.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "That'd be nice to get back up there and win it."
Mauer went 3-for-4 with two walks Tuesday in the Twins' 6-5, 12-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. That raised his average to .325, which ranks him third in the AL behind Cabrera's .333 average and Trout's .327 mark.
Mauer won AL batting titles in 2006 (.347), 2008 (.328) and 2009 (.365), and he captured the AL MVP award in '09. But during an injury-plagued 2011 season, Mauer hit a career-low .287 in 82 games, and many wondered whether he would ever regain the form that made him perhaps the best-hitting catcher of all time.
The Twins made a commitment to keeping Mauer's bat in the lineup this season by limiting his innings behind the plate, and it clearly has worked. Mauer caught for the 69th time Tuesday, but he has played first base 28 times and been the designated hitter 35 times. With two weeks left, he could eclipse his career-high 146 games played in 2008.
Winning a batting title would clearly be sweet for Mauer, whose mettle was challenged after last season. The Twins signed him to an eight-year, $184 million extension that kicked in for 2011.
However, Mauer has never been one to get ahead of himself.
"We've still got, what, two weeks to go?" he said. "I mean, anything can happen. There's a lot of ABs left. ... I've been in that race a few times before and understand it's 162 games. My first one went down to my last game, my last four at-bats, so I've still got two weeks left, a lot of ABs.
"But, you know, I'm going to keep approaching the game like I always have."