There’s no stopping Golden State!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
June 6, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors are on a mission, and that mission is to cement themselves as among the greatest teams in NBA history. They are halfway to the greatest Championship post-season run in NBA history.

After smashing the defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers 113-91 and 132-113 in the first two games at Oracle Arena of the 2017 NBA Finals, it’s no secret they are as good as advertised. Golden State is the 33rd team in NBA Finals history to lead 2-0 in the Finals. Twenty eight of the previous 32 times, the team up 2-0 has won the Championship.

Both wins over Cleveland were similar in the sense that the Warriors blew open the games in the third period. In game one, the Warriors had just four turnovers. Kevin Durant scored 38 points with eight rebounds and eight assists. Stephen Curry had 28 points and 10 assists.

Kevin Durant brings the basketball up the court for Golden State.

Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant

Let me remind you that the Warriors already are the greatest NBA team over three years in terms of regular-season wins. Over the last three years the Warriors have won 67, 73 and 67 games in the regular season — that’s 207 wins. In 2015 they beat Cleveland four games to two in the NBA Finals. Last year Cleveland shocked the world by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to grab the crown in an epic 93-89 game seven.

That loss denied the Warriors’ confirmation as the greatest single-season championship team ever. You see, they had the record 73 wins but no title. The Chicago Bulls, 72-10, won the NBA Championship and is regarded as the greatest team in NBA history. You can argue and debate it, but the fact remains that to finish first you must first finish.

By not winning the title last year after winning all those games and to have had history and the championship in their grasp has tormented this team. Signing All-Star Kevin Durant virtually made this team unstoppable. And to have the opportunity to beat the same Cleveland team that took their championship away has made the Warriors focused.

This team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant is the best team I’ve seen since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman Chicago Bulls, who won three NBA Titles in a row in the late ’90s.

Michael Jordan and Scott Pippen of the Chicago Bulls

Dynasty is a common word in NBA History…

LeBron James, as great as he is, can’t be counted out. Last year he led the Cavaliers all the way back from a 2-0 and 3-1 deficit to win Cleveland’s first championship of any kind in 54 years.

But this Warriors team is virtually unbeatable. They finished the regular season 15-1. Since the playoffs have begun, they are the first team in NBA history — that’s 71 years — to stand 14-0 and two wins shy of a 16-0 unbeaten run to the title. The Los Angeles Lakers finished 15-1 to capture the crown.

The Warriors’ system is predicated on movement spacing and sharing the basketball. When you can combine hard work, talent, and a great system, and you are well coached, you win 29 of 30 games, which is what they have done. Take it to the bank: Cleveland may get one game or two, but I don’t think they can beat this team four times in five games.

In game two, Durant scored 33 points with 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. Curry had 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. LeBron James had a triple double also with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and a game-high 14 assists. Former Timberwolves star Kevin Love had 27.

James, with 18 career playoff triple doubles, eight of them in the Finals, ties Magic Johnson’s record with the Lakers also with eight in the Finals. James and Curry both had triple doubles — that’s the first time that’s happened in the Finals. Cleveland is the first team to trail 0-2 in back-to-back NBA Finals.

With Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green, stranger things have happened, and I have seen some strange things happen. After all, this is just a game of basketball. However, with Head Coach Steve Kerr back directing his team after a marvelous job by Mike Brown stepping in, it’s a matter of time and games. The Warriors will win it, because there’s no stopping the Warriors.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Astros-Twins is a tale of two top prospects

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By Eric Nelson
May 30, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Gold Medal Flour...

•Prized Prospects: There are plenty of good angles in this week’s Houston-Minnesota series that is a battle between two first place teams. One is the comparison of Astros SS Carlos Correa and Twins CF Byron Buxton. Correa – the top pick in the 2012 MLB draft – is batting .309 with eight home runs, 30 RBI and three errors. Meanwhile Buxton – the second choice in the 2012 draft – is batting .194 with two home runs, eight RBI and one error. On Monday, Correa crushed a 430 foot home run for the Astros off Minnesota ace Ervin Santana

•Pure Power: In the same game, Minnesota 3B Miguel Sano smashed a 417 foot tater onto Target Field’s grassy knoll in center field. Left, center or right, Sano’s ability to hit long balls to all fields is impressive…

•7-11: There were plenty of fireworks in the Memorial Day game as Houston rallied to win 16-8. The Twins scored seven runs in the 5th inning and led 8-2 late in the contest. But, Houston erupted for 11 runs in the top of the 8th to stun Minnesota. The half inning was also interrupted by a brief 10-minute rain delay. The last time Houston had an 11-run inning was 1994 and it’s the first time ever the Astros have won when trailing by six runs entering the 8th inning…

•Amazing Astros: Houston clearly has the look of a potential World Series team. The Astros (36-16) have the top record in MLB and lead Texas and the LA Angels by 11 games in the AL West. With a galaxy of stars such as Correa, 2B Jose Altuve, CF George Springer and P Dallas Keuchel, Houston has the building blocks for a possible title run…

•Trending Up: After a sputtering start at the plate, Twins 1B Joe Mauer has slowly raised his average. Mauer is batting .289 and reached base seven times in Minnesota’s 15-inning loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday…

•Minnesota Marathons: The Twins last three games have been lengthy affairs. On Saturday, Minnesota knocked off Tampa Bay 5-3 in a 3 hour and 35 minute game. On Sunday, the Rays outlasted the Twins 8-6 in a 15 inning contest that dragged on for 6 hours and 26 minutes. Monday’s Astros-Twins slugfest took 3 hours and 44 minutes to play, which does not include the rain delay…

•Sparse Turnouts: Despite being on top of the AL Central, the Twins are 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in attendance. In 27 dates Minnesota is averaging just 23,119 fans per game…

•Basebrawl: Just a hunch, but I am guessing that Washington RF Bryce Harper and San Francisco P Hunter Strickland won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year…

•Trailblazer: Kudos to the St. Paul Saints for saluting Ila Borders on Saturday in the Capital City. In 1997 while pitching for St. Paul, Borders became the first female player in minor league history. The Saints also gave out Borders bobblehead dolls to fans before their game against the Kansas City T-Bones…

•Goal-oriented: Minnesota United F Christian Ramirez is tied for third in MLS with eight goals. Ramirez scored the only goal last week in Minn U’s 1-0 win over Orlando City SC. After he scored, Ramirez celebrated with Loons HC Adrian Heath, who was unceremoniously dumped by Orlando City SC last July…

•Repeat Crowns: It doesn’t happen often, but there is a chance the NBA and NHL will have back-to-back champs in back-to-back seasons. Cleveland is trying to make it two straight titles in the Association and Pittsburgh is trying to repeat in the NHL and leads Nashville 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Roar Ahead

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Years ago, when yours truly was playing high school baseball in the Chicago area, pitching won a bunch of games for us, but a dynamic offense won a lot more. We would put the hammer down with a diverse bunch of talent and outscore the opposition en route to a 26-4 record and a league title. Speed and power and solid defense was a fun way to win.

While most of us will agree that pitching wins ball games, we clobbered teams with bats, led by future Chicago Cubs first round draft pick Brian “Ozzie” Rosinski. He was the biggest threat, but not the only one; a trip down memory lane reminds me of the names Bobby Brasher, Ronnie Strong, Brian Walker, Bobby “Chief” Schwartz and a host of others. They could hit, night and day…

We also had an ace on our generally passable staff, big Cazzie, and when he was on the hill we were awful tough to beat (a state tournament-ending loss revolved around a blown call at second base involving yours truly with Caz on the hill). He was our Ervin Santana and that tourney loss might have been one of two defeats he suffered all year.

Ah, Glory Days, baby, as Boss Springsteen so brilliantly put to music! “He could throw that speed ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy…”

Yep, the Twins are living in the best of both worlds, as exemplified by their 14-7 offensive thumping of Baltimore which was followed by a 2-0 Santana gem and another Jose Berrios confidence builder, a 4-3 victory concluding Minnesota’s sweep of the Orioles. Look out Ma, the Boys have won four in a row and have led the Central for more days than any other team in the division. And with Cleveland’s best hurler, Corey Kluber, on the disabled list, there is no way the Indians are going to run and hide like last year

If the Twins have a solid June, they should stay relevant for the balance of the season – not bad for 2016’s worst team in baseball.

This year’s Minnesota team doesn’t have a bunch of cannons coming to the plate, but they can manufacture runs and even had a record tying 16-game home run streak. And while they are not going to flat-out crush you on most days (they’ve only scored in double figures a couple of times), they are led by the increasingly formidable Miguel Sano, who looks to be developing into one of the best power hitters in the game and is putting fear into American League pitchers – hanging around the league leaders in 4-baggers, slugging percentage, RBI’s and runs scored will tend to do that.

Sano leads the offense, brings a great attitude almost all the time, and is the unofficial leader of the Twins sizable Latin brigade. “Love to hit, love to hit…” he told a few of us after a strong game this spring. “Just doing my thing.” You can’t help but think of the one-time young Minnesota slugger David Ortiz when our big Miggy talks, smiles, hits etc…

The Latin thing is for real, with major contributors to offensive – and pitching – success coming from locations around the Caribbean. Jose Polanco, strong at shortstop and strengthening as a hitter; Kennys Vargas, potentially an important piece of a successful offensive ballclub; Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Santana, Berrios, Santiago, etc…etc…

These guys from the warm winter spots, although they exhibit occasional youthful inconsistency, can really play. And they’re a lot of fun to watch as they mature, playing much better baseball than last year.

It’s also fun to see Joe Mauer look like he’s enjoying the game a good deal more than he has the past couple of years. He had his first three-hit game since last August, ’16 recently, and Mauer’s glove has been just short of brilliant at first base. He’s both laughing AND leading – one can almost remember why we’re paying the man about $25 million a year.

Almost…Monopoly money aside, this is a team that mixes and matches their players well. “It’s a well thought out team,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter after being swept in the three game set. “You can see how the parts fit.”

Max Kepler is becoming a major leaguer, the solid Brian Dozier is strengthening and leading, and Jason Castro is the serious catcher that he was expected to be. In a word, he’s exceptional at handling pitchers. The Byron Buxton saga continues – and is going to continue for a long time, hopefully including some offensive production to go along with the Gold Glove center fielder. My sources say he’s getting close to being the steady offensive threat that is expected; all of us are waiting for the arrival of consistency at the plate.

Pitching wins more games than hitting, so they say. The Twins will need to add a few pieces on the mound and likely at the plate to truly contend for a pennant. But one has to give manager Paul Molitor credit; he has stayed patient while staying the course and keeping faith in his young squad – emerging, once again, as an early manager of the year candidate.

Back in Chi-town, in the glory days, things could have ended awful sweet…just a few outs away from a state title. There was something about a missed tag at second base, surely a blown call by a visionchallenged umpire, and a baseball dream that slipped away.

It was just one of those crazy things that happen in the sport, something like going from worst to first at the major league level. You just never know about about baseball, but I’ve got to tell you – I tagged him!

HE WAS OUT!

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins are thriving on the road

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By Eric Nelson
May 24, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•Travel-Tested: The Minnesota Twins apparently love packing their bags, hopping on jets and staying in hotels. After their 2-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night at Camden Yards, the Twins are 13-5 on the road, which is much better than their 11-13 home record. The Twins (24-18) continue to be an early season surprise as they lead Cleveland by one game in the AL Central…

•Mound Magic: Twins P Ervin Santana was outstanding against the Orioles, throwing a complete game, two-hit shutout. Santana (7-2) is tied with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and the LA Dodgers Clayton Kershaw for the most wins in MLB. Santana’s 1.80 ERA is the lowest in the majors…

•Sano Show: On Monday Miguel Sano put on a power display at Camden in Minnesota’s 14-7 win. Sano had four hits (including a home run), scored three times and drove in three runs. Sano has 37 RBI which is tied for the AL lead with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz

•Sunday Saturation: There was sports gridlock in the Twin Cities on Sunday. Kansas City and Minnesota played a double dip at Target Field, Gary and St. Paul played two games at CHS Field and the LA Galaxy took on Minnesota United at TCF Bank Stadium. The Royals-Twins games drew an announced 27,852 fans, the Railcats and Saints played before 7,511, while LA and Minn U attracted a crowd of 19,107. Not bad considering temps were in the mid-40’s and there was rain or mist coming down part of the day…

•Just Asking: What will happen first, the Golden State Warriors losing in the playoffs or Keuchel losing a game? The Warriors are 12-0 in the NBA’s postseason while Keuchel (currently on the 10 day DL) is 7-0…

•Ho Hum: The Minnesota Lynx (4-0) are off to another fast start. The Lynx squeaked by the Connecticut Sun 80-78 on Tuesday night in St. Paul. Sylvia Fowles scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds for the Lynx who have spoiled their fan base with consistent success…

•Hockey-Tonk: Music City is Hockey City now that Nashville has advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Predators are the 14th sun belt team to play for the Cup and suddenly have become a trendy team in Tennessee…

•Fun is Good: Kudos to the NFL for easing up on player celebration penalties. The stuffy and buttoned up league that frowned on dancing and frolicking, is now going to let players be more expressive. Goal post dunks, snow angels and choreographed end zone dances will be en vogue again thanks to rule changes approved at the NFL spring meetings in Chicago…

•Coliseum Upgrades: According to the LA Times, the historic LA Coliseum is going to get a $270 million renovation. USC – the venue’s primary tenant – has raised $225 million for the project which will be finished in 2019. The Coliseum makeover includes new seats, wider aisles in some areas, a tower with luxury boxes and club seats on the stadium’s south side. Coliseum capacity will shrink from 94,000 to 77,000. The LAC is also the temporary home for the LA Rams…

Los Angeles Coliseum

Los Angeles Coliseum

•Name Game: The Times also reports that Coliseum naming rights have been sold to United Airlines. That means the 94-year old facility will have a new name for the first time ever…

•Prep Palace: According to the Houston Chronicle, Legacy Stadium in Katy, TX opens this fall. The tab is $72.1 million – making it the most expensive high school football venue in Texas history. Legacy’s capacity will be 12,000…

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Major League Baseball is competitive

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By Larry Fitzgerald
May 23, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

In the NBA, 16 of the 30 teams qualify for the playoffs; same thing in the National Hockey League. In the NFL just 12 of the 32 teams reach the playoffs.

Major League Baseball has long refused to qualify half of its league for post-season play. They do play a lot, 162 games in the regular season from April to October, but just 10 of 30 teams get playoff spots.

Thirty teams, and just five from each league, the American and National, qualify for the playoffs. The American League has the designated hitter rule — the pitcher does not bat. The National League allows the pitcher to hit for himself. In the NFL, everybody plays by the same set of rules, as in the NBA.

The NHL has a strange overtime rule where each game has a value of two points for regulation, unless the game goes to overtime when an extra point is added if the teams tie after 60 minutes of regulation time. The winner in overtime or the shootout gets two points; the loser gets one.

Since scoring in hockey is more difficult than in all the other sports because of the speed, in my view, the playoffs seem to be more unpredictable because the value of each team’s total points can be misleading depending on how many regular-season overtime games a team plays. Usually it’s 10-15 games per team.

Last season, of the 16 playoff teams in the NHL, nine teams had 100 points or more. With four teams remaining in the battle for the Stanley Cup, only Pittsburgh and Anaheim remain that have accumulated 100 points or more. I believe the extra point for overtime games over an 82-game season distorts the true strength of a team.

MLB, like the NFL in my view, gets it right — the fewer playoff qualifiers the better. That’s why the NFL and MLB are both financially way ahead of the NBA and the NHL. Qualifying fewer teams for the playoffs helps strengthen your regular season and places greater value on each game. That identifies the stronger teams and improves your post-season competition.

So far, MLB is off to a great 2017 start despite some awful weather across the country. Eighteen of the 30 teams are .500 or better percentage-wise. The Cubs are the defending World Series Champions and are being challenged by Milwaukee and St. Louis in their division. The Twins are tied for first with heavily favored Cleveland in the AL Central, even though last year they lost 103 games.

It’s good to see the overall improvement across MLB. The teams appear to be stronger fundamentally, and that’s a good thing for baseball.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Golden State and Cleveland on collision course

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By Larry Fitzgerald
May 18, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

LeBron James says there is no rivalry between him and Stephen Curry of Golden State. They are not Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, Los Angeles vs. Boston. I disagree, and every playoff game played this post season by these two superstars has proven my point.

James is chasing another championship. He has three already to go with four NBA MVP trophies. Curry wants the championship back.

These two greats are different in terms of what they bring to the game. Their size and styles are miles apart, but their passion and fire and desire to win is as clear as day. And their teams win. Curry has two NBA MVP Awards back to back, including last year when he was a unanimous selection.

Curry scored 40 points in game one of the Western Conference Finals Sunday. The Warriors rallied from 25 points down and took advantage of a bad ankle sprain to San Antonio’s star Kawhi Leonard, who had 26 points when he left the game in the third quarter. The final score was 113-111 Warriors.

It was one of the mothers of all comebacks in NBA playoff history. Previously, when San Antonio led by 25 points or more in the regular season and playoffs under 20-year Head Coach Gregg Popovich, five-time NBA Championship coach of the Spurs, they were 316-0!

Golden State is now 9-0 in the playoffs; Cleveland is 8-0. Golden State and Cleveland have played the last two years in the NBA Finals. Two years ago the Warriors beat Cleveland four games to two in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James battles Draymond Green beneath the basket.

LeBron James battles Golden State’s Draymond Green

Last year, the Cavaliers rallied from down 3-1 to win a dramatic game seven at Golden State to snatch the crown, Cleveland’s first title of any kind in 54 years. Cleveland will play the game-seven winner between Boston and Washington Monday in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Wednesday.

Golden State rallied to beat the Spurs in game one. However, the Spurs were 2-1 vs. Golden State in the regular season. The Warriors are the winningest team in NBA regular season history over three years with one title to show for it so far: 67-73 and 67 wins, that’s 207 wins total.

Spurs have beaten the Warriors five times more than any other NBA team and had them down by 25 points Sunday until Leonard’s untimely injury. So it might be a bit premature to think the Spurs can’t slow down the Warriors and stop a potential Cleveland vs. Golden State three-peat in the NBA Finals.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins have flipped the script

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By Eric Nelson
May 17, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Minneapple....

•Turnaround Teams: Two of MLB’s early season surprises began a three-game series Tuesday night as Colorado knocked off Minnesota 7-3 in an interleague matchup in Minneapolis. After disappointing seasons in 2016, the Rockies (25-15, 1st place NL West) and Twins (19-16, 1st place AL Central) have flipped the script. Not many baseball pundits saw this coming because Colorado was 75-87 last season and Minnesota was 59-103…

•Rock Stars: Colorado’s top players are 1B Mark Reynolds (.317 batting average, 12 HR and 33 RBI), P Antonio Senzatela (6-1, 3.31 ERA) and P Greg Holland (17 saves). They are key cogs on a Rockies team that has baseball fans in the Mountain Time Zone excited about something besides the Denver Broncos..

•Ballpark Bargain: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland A’s are selling monthly ballpark passes in June for $19.99. Detroit, Houston, Minnesota and Milwaukee have sold similar packages for much higher prices…

•Play Ball: The St. Paul Saints open their regular season Thursday night when they host the Gary SouthShore Railcats at CHS Field. Popular Saints P Mark Hamburger is back with the team. Hamburger had 12 wins in 2016, which was tied for first in the American Association…

•NCAA Snub: Someone please explain how the top-ranked Minnesota Gopher softball team can’t get a number one seed in the NCAA tournament? The Gophers (54-3, 25-game winning streak) should be opening the tournament in Dinkytown – instead of Tuscaloosa, AL where they play Louisiana Tech (37-22) on Friday. This omission is purely comical…

•NFL Snub: It’s as clear as the Montana sky that Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed. There are currently 111 quarterbacks in the NFL and Kaepernick is not one of them. The 29-year old Kaepernick – who started five seasons in San Francisco, had playoff success and took the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII – can’t get a job. Meanwhile, Trevoyne Boykin, Case Keenum, Kevin HoganBryce Petty, Jake Rudock and other guys with far less accomplishments are in the league. There is clearly something fishy about this…

Colin Kaepernick

•NFL Politics: Of course, the roots of this exclusion go back to 2016 when Kaepernick took a stand by taking a knee during the star spangled banner. It was Kaepernick’s personal protest against police mistreatment of African-Americans. Kaepernick became a lightning rod, despite having no record and doing nothing illegal. All he did was exercise his constitutional right to free speech. Now Kaepernick is toxic and the league looks incredibly hypocritical because there are plenty of guys with rap sheets who are playing…

•Seattle-Bound: According to the Seattle Times, Seahawks HC Pete Carroll is exploring the possibility of bringing in Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III to back up Russell Wilson. If Kaepernick does get another chance it will probably be with someone like Carroll, who lets his players express emotion and opinion as long as they produce…

•Saluting Sylvia: Congrats to Minnesota Lynx star Sylvia Fowles, who will have her number 34 jersey retired by LSU this season. Fowles was an All-America player for the Tigers and is a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Seimone Augustus – who also plays for the Lynx and went to LSU – already has her number 33 jersey retired by the Tigers…

September 24, 2015: Minnesota Lynx Slvia Fowles (34)

•Rare air: Fowles will become the 12th LSU athlete or coach to have his/her jersey retired, which includes Pete Maravich and Shaquille O’Neal

•Splitsville: ESPN is breaking up Mike and Mike. Beginning in 2018 Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg will have new roles with the network. I say boo to this. Mike and Mike have been a solid tandem since 1998. They mix information with entertainment (infotainment) and it works. They are critical without being personal and they don’t have egos so big they need zip codes like other folks in the broadcasting business. If it isn’t broke why fix it? ESPN whiffed on this one…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Starters Hold The Key

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins are only a few games from being a quarter of the way through the 2017 season, and things are looking – and feeling – pretty good around Target Field. And well they should, as the squad holds onto a share of first place as of this writing.

Starting pitching has been pretty solid in general, with the recent upside surprise from Jose Berrios adding to the positive vibe. Of course, just about anything he delivered would have looked better than most of last year’s outings. Berrios was considered a key to a successful 2016 campaign and his miserable 8.00 ERA – in a fair sampling of outings – matched the futility of Minnesota’s entire baseball season, the worst in its history.

It’s awfully early in his return to offer predictions, but JB (as Brian Dozier likes to call him) looked like a different pitcher his first time out – pitching with the command and confidence that was sorely lacking last year. For the Twins to make a meaningful run in 2017, Berrios could be critical. Count me among those who think he’s going to continue on a new path this year.

Ervin Santana has been outstanding, with the exception of the blowout loss to the Red Sox, where he gave up a trio of four-baggers and poured a little gasoline for the bullpen to ignite. He’s throwing well, keeping the ball down and staying among the league leaders in ERA, innings pitched, and won-loss record. At least for now, Ervin is one if the best guys on the mound anywhere, and this true team player is enjoying it. Look for Santana, tough after the break last year, to keep his mojo going.

Of course, the Twins need to have a strong Santana because the other starters inspire significantly less confidence, despite winning records at this early stage. That does not include the departed Kyle Gibson, the number three hurler jettisoned along with his 8.20 ERA on May 4th. Gibson has good stuff, as he displayed during a strong spring, but move him up here and things have consistently turned frustrating – maddeningly so.

The great St. Thomas baseball coach Dennis Denning always preached, “work fast, change speeds, throw strikes.” A simple mantra that he demanded from his pitchers, and they were rewarded with results including a national championship. Gibson might have had trouble pitching D-3 for Denning, as he worked slow (frequently going deep into counts and taking his time doing it), struggling mightily to control his sinker while showing little confidence in his fastball – and generally getting rocked once he found himself in trouble.

“It’s not working. He’s putting us in a bad spot more times than not,” said manager Paul Molitor in sending him down. I’ve regarded Gibson as a key to the Twins success over the past couple years, given his tools and potential, but I could be completely done with him if Berrios can rise to the occasion. Jose has jumped into the number four starter spot, and we need him to perform well immediately – which he did! That said, good luck Kyle Gibson – here’s hoping you make it back to MLB – somewhere…

Starters Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago have benefitted from pretty good run support and fairly solid defense. That said, Hughes has had good command of his pitches despite giving up a lot of hits and runs, per usual. Phil has to use his multi-speed change-up effectively, and thus far he has, utilizing veteran knowledge and experience to make his less-than-overpowering stuff work for him. Watch his ERA, already high, and if it heads north expect the Twins to start heading south.

Same kind of thing with Hector Santiago, the new lefty who throws hard and can be outstanding when he is on. He’s a strikeout pitcher when things are right and is super-tough on left handed hitters with his delivery and pace. Molitor likes him and said earlier this year in Florida, “he’s a major league guy with big-league stuff who is going to help us this year.”

Hector is a competitor known for his intensity and is eager to have a great year; he should be, given his mediocrity after the Twins obtained him last year (but thanks for helping us dump Ricky Nolasco!). Santiago has always been around the .500 mark during his runs with the White Sox and the Angels, was 3-6 in Minnesota last year, and could break out this year. He needs to – and like Phil Hughes, if he stumbles badly the challenges will be great. But so far, pretty good…

Let’s hope the new rotation can hold things together.. The Twins need the starters to remain accountable, particularly given the uncertainties of the bullpen, led by the gutty closer Brandon Kintzler and a few guys named Moe (everybody else in the pen with ERA’s over four). Can this rotation stay solid? Clearly this is strictly a wait and see for Twins fans, but if Berrios can fill a big gap in keeping us off the Tyler Duffey feed-bag and win a bunch of games, things could stay tight in a winnable division.

And that’s because the offense is interesting. More on the lively Minnesota bats and the awesome Miguel Sano later this week.

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Twins showing good early signs

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By Larry Fitzgerald
May 11, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

Major League Baseball, being the original American pastime, is full of clichés like “Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint” — 162 games over six-plus months. Last season locally was a long season indeed. The Twins were 59-103, the worst record in the Major Leagues. Longtime general manager Terry Ryan was fired.

So far in 2017, a month and a week into the season, the Twins are playing better baseball. At no time during last year’s season did the Twins have a winning record. In fact, they started the 2016 season by losing their first nine games.

The American League Central Division might be the toughest Division in baseball. In fact, the last three years the Division Champion has reached the World Series — Kansas City in 2014-15, and last year Cleveland lost the 2016 World Series to the Chicago Cubs after leading 3-1.

This year the Twins are 15-14 and so far are hanging tough with 17-13 Cleveland, 15-15 Detroit, 15-15 Chicago, and last place 10-20 Kansas City. The Twins are playing great defensively, making the plays in the field and committing only 10 errors in 29 games, the fewest in the American League.

The Twins are getting a lot of walks, also. Their hitters have been disciplined and are not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. The Twins’ fielding is tops in the American League at .992.

The rest has fallen on the heroics of S & S — Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. Santana is 5-1; until Sunday his ERA was 0.66, and after Sunday’s loss it’s now 1.72. Sano was the American League Player of the Week last week. He’s hitting .300 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs, which leads the American League. Left fielder Eddie Rosario has had a team-best 15 game hitting streak and is hitting .302 for the season.

Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana has been consistently good in 2017

Manager Paul Molitor has made some changes in his coaching staff, and this young team has been playing consistent baseball. The starting and relief pitching for the most part have been good this season. The team ERA is 3.94, good for sixth in the American League.

Consistency and getting good pitching are the keys in baseball. We have a long way to go this season, but so far what I see I like. The Twins are showing the signs of a good young team working hard, sticking to the plan laid down by the coaches, and playing smart baseball.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: It’s a pinnacle moment for Minn U against Sporting KC

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By Eric Nelson
May 10, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Land of Loons...

•Signature Win: It took Minnesota United just 10 games to produce a pinnacle moment in their inaugural MLS season. Minn U blanked Sporting KC 2-0 at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, getting goals from Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez, and a shutout from GK Bobby Shuttleworth. SKC (18 points) is an MLS powerhouse and is tied for first in the Western Conference with FC Dallas. The much-improved Loons (11 points) have two wins, 1 draw and 1 loss in their last four games…

•Oh Canada: On Saturday Minn U battles another top-tier club as the Loons play Toronto FC in Canada. Toronto is on top of the Eastern Conference and has an MLS-high 19 points…

•Shock-Off: It was a stunning finish in Minneapolis Friday night. Joe Mauer hit his first career walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Boston giving the Twins a 4-3 win. The game-winning tater produced some rare emotion from Mauer, who pumped his fist into the air as he circled the bases. It was one of the most unlikely endings I have ever seen at Target Field…

•Hick Ups: NY Yankees CF Aaron Hicks is off to a sizzling start. Hicks is batting .338 with six home runs and 16 RBI, and making the Twins look silly for giving up on him…

•Well-Written: USA today MLB columnist Bob Nightengale recently wrote an outstanding article on the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the impact the violent uprising had on the city, the nation and sports in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

•Job Hopping: The Vikings have hired Tina Holmes as Chief of Staff and Strategic Advisor. Holmes has spent the last four years in a similar role at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota…

•Eight Ball: It’s looking more and more like the NBA Finals will be the sequel to the sequel. Cleveland and Golden State have already logged a pair of four-game playoff sweeps and are both 8-0 this post-season. The Cavs and Warriors are on an apparent collision course to meet in the Finals for a third straight season…

•Tip-Off Time: The Minnesota Lynx open their WNBA season Sunday night at 6 pm against the Chicago Sky. The game is at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, which is the Lynx temporary home this year while Target Center is being renovated…

•Juggernaut: Congrats to the U of M softball team. The 3rd ranked Gophers (51-3) won their first Big Ten title since 1991 and have a 22 game winning streak. Top seed Minnesota plays Northwestern or Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday in Ann Arbor, MI…

•Giving Back I: Minnesota Vikings LB Eric Kendricks will present a $20,000 check to The Sheridan Story on Friday at Westview Elementary School in Apple Valley. The Sheridan Story runs weekend food programs at more than 140 schools across the Twin Cities. The funds were raised in Kendricks’ “Sacks for Kids” campaign last season, which asked fans to pledge money for each Vikings sack…

•Giving Back II: The annual Taste of the Vikings charity event is Wednesday June 14 from 6:30-10 pm at US Bank Stadium. Second Harvest Heartland and Land O’Lakes are the main sponsors, which raises awareness and funds to combat childhood hunger. Minnesota players, coaches and alumni will be participating…

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