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Minnesota Twins’ Ron Gardenhire Needs a Refresher Course in Lineup Construction

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COMMENTARY | Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was doing so well. He actually moved Joe Mauer up to the second spot in the lineup to start the 2013 season and kept him there through the first seven weeks.

Coming into the season, Mauer had 4,073 plate appearances as the No. 3 hitter out of 4,552 career PAs. Gardenhire moving Mauer up to second in the order was a big change for an old dog. He was even doing it for the right reasons.

"As I told you guys, I wanted him to bat first, second and third, but I can only bat him in one place," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday, April 1, to the "Pioneer Press" newspaper. "We chose second. ... More at-bats, all those types of things."

This not only gave Mauer more plate appearances over the season, roughly about 15 to 20 more over a full season, it also prevented Gardenhire from trying to slot a much weaker hitter ahead of Mauer. This could lead to Gardenhire being tempted to waste plate appearances by having the No. 2 hitter bunt after the leadoff man reaches base.

The real surprise was Gardenhire sticking with the change even when the Twins' offense struggled and even when Mauer slumped at the end of April. Gardenhire obviously had been convinced of the benefits of batting Mauer higher in the order.

Minnesota Twins' Ron Gardenhire Loses Mind, Bats Brian Dozier Second

Apparently, the Twins losing 11 of 12 games was just too much for Gardenhire. The poor manager must have lost his mind because he dropped Mauer to third in the order in a Tuesday, May 27 game against the Brewers in Milwaukee. This meant the rest of the lineup had to be lower in the lineup as well so Brian Dozier could bat second.

Dozier came into the game batting .197/.239/.273. By moving him up in the order, Gardenhire effectively made sure that Dozier would have as many or more plate appearances than Mauer, Josh Willingham, and Justin Morneau. Clearly, Gardenhire had lost all sense of logic.

The hope was that he was going to go back to the old lineup once the Twins got back to Minnesota and were able to use a designated hitter. However, Dozier was still batting second in Thursday's game. What was worse was that instead of steady veteran Jamey Carroll batting leadoff, Gardenhire had Eduardo Escobar and his .272 OBP batting first.

Oh, the insanity.

Maybe Gardenhire could take the time to watch youth baseball. I have coached my sons for several years, and it is pretty obvious at this level that you need to have your best players at the top of the order. This is because there is a larger disparity in skills between the best and the worst hitters; many leagues have all the players in the lineup, not just the ones playing defense; and the games are shorter, so there are just less chances for players to hit.

In youth baseball, the players at the top of the order generally have twice as many plate appearances as those at the bottom of the order. If you put your best hitters too far down in the order, they might get just one plate appearance in a game, especially when you have 11 or 12 players in the lineup.

Minnesota Twins' Best Lineup Would Have Joe Mauer Batting Second

If nothing else, Gardenhire needs to review the reasons he moved Mauer up to begin with. Not only does it give him more PAs, it gives the batters directly behind him a chance to move up and get more PAs. It also prevents a hitter like Dozier from getting more PAs than Mauer.

In the end, the order of the batters isn't as important as having the best batters in the lineup to begin with. The Twins have won all three games since the change, so it's hard to argue with the results. And who knows, maybe Gardenhire is just sticking with this order until the Twins lose.

However, having a poorly constructed lineup means the Twins aren't maximizing the team's chances of scoring runs. Right now, the Twins need all the help they can get.

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.

Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.

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