Twins among MLB’s surprise teams

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By Larry Fitzgerald
July 13, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

An old cliché that has stood the test of time is “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” With this in mind, look at the two best teams in baseball as we have reached the mid-summer classic.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are on fire with the best record in the big leagues, 61-29, winners of 26 of their last 30 games. Pitching ace Clayton Kershaw is 14-2 — that’s tops in MLB.

Rookie sensation Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees with 30 home runs is the talk of baseball. The slugger has hit several long home runs. For a franchise with a history of legendary sluggers, the buzz has many dreaming and comparing him already with the past greatness of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Houston has the best record in the American League, 60-29, with a 16-game lead in the AL West. The Dodgers are 39-11 at home and are +163 in runs scored. The Astros are +162 and 33-11 on the road. Both the Dodgers and Astros are clearly playoff-bound.

The 2017 All-Star Game is in Miami, Florida. The 45-43 Twins are two and half back of Cleveland in the AL Central and have three All-Stars this year. Third baseman Miguel Sano has carried this team; he leads the team with 21 home runs and 61 RBI.

Ervin Santana, 10-6, has been lights out, the ace of the staff. His ERA is 2.99 and he leads the Majors with four complete games. Closer Brandon Kintzler has 22 saves, among the best in baseball. Joe Mauer leads the team with seven game-winning RBI. His back has flared up on him, and he is currently on the disabled list.

With 30 teams in MLB and only 12 of those having winning records, the fight for the playoffs will be the story of the season’s second half.

I would like to see some of the teams that were expected to be in the playoffs play better, like the Chicago Cubs, who won 103 games last year and the World Series. So far they have been a major disappointment, 5½ games back of Milwaukee in the National League Central.

We have a long way yet to go, and I pointed out, it’s not always how you start but how you finish. However, some teams have dug some deep holes to climb out of in the second half. Just five teams in the National League have winning records. The Cardinals, Pirates, Blue Jays, Texas and Baltimore have not played consistently this year.

The Twins will have a chance to stay in the race in the second half; however, they need Mauer back healthy.

Pitching and defense have carried them so far. Young Jose Berrios is 8-2 and looking good. He and Santana give the Twins a solid one-two punch at the top of their starting rotation.

 

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: Northern exposure is great, but the Minnesota Gophers need to go north in the Big Ten West

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By Eric Nelson
July 12, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Post-It Notes…..

•Northern Exposure: U of M football coach PJ Fleck is trying to change things up at TCF Bank Stadium. Fleck wants the Gophers to switch from the southern sideline to the northern sideline. That’s great, but I will be more impressed if Minnesota starts going north in the Big Ten West standings…

•Doubling Up: All this sideline chatter conjures up memories of Milwaukee’s County Stadium and Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN. Green Bay occasionally played in Milwaukee and the Met was Minnesota’s original home. The bench areas for both teams at those venues were on the same side of the field…

•Name Change: Now that the U of M hockey team will be playing at 3M Arena it is time to clear up some rumors. The Gophers don’t have to use Scotch tape on their hockey sticks and HC Don Lucia does not have to draw up plays on Post-It Notes…

•Maiden Voyage: The state of Florida is used to hosting major sporting events. There have been 10 Super Bowls in Miami, four in Tampa and one in Jacksonville. There have been countless NCAA bowl games, PGA Tour stops and the annual Daytona 500. However, Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game in Miami was the first mid-summer classic ever played in Florida. Hard to believe considering that Florida has two MLB teams – Miami and Tampa Bay – and that 15 teams flock there every year for spring training…

•Good Show: Even though it’s just an exhibition, the MLB All-Star game still has juice. Compared to the NBA, NFL and NHL, MLB’s star show is actually worth watching…

•Candy Man: Now that Aaron Judge is the next NY Yankee superstar, does that mean he will get a candy bar named after him like Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson..?

•Standing Tall: Right now the only thing in NYC larger than Judge is the 104 story One World Trade Center…

•Ivy Costs: According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs are selling approximately 2,016 pieces of ivy that fell from the Wrigley Field outfield wall after the 2016 World Series championship season. The tab is $200 per leaf, plus $15 shipping and handling…

•One and Done: Based on the way the Cubs are playing in 2017, pedaling ivy won’t be an option next year. Chicago is 43-45 and 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central…

•Soccer Signing: Minnesota United has inked 22-year old midfielder Sam Nicholson to a contract. Nicholson played the last four years with Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premiership League…

•Cool Look: The more I see the Minnesota Timberwolves new logo, the more I like it. The “Aurora green” north star mixed with the “lake blue” basketball is a creative concept…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins at the Break…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Major League Baseball is now past the halfway point, with most teams having played well over half of their 162 game season. The Mariners and Rays have played 90 while the Angels have played 92. The Minnesota Twins are at 88, with a two-game losing streak heading into the All Star break while still a couple of games over .500 at 45-43.

The record would be good news, or at least better news, if the team wasn’t stumbling around the past 12 games or so (5-7), and revealing the overall pitching weakness that has plagued this club – for several years. With the starting pitchers, it is largely the same old story, with Ervin Santana consistently tough, followed by an emerging Jose Berrios, and then nothing but question marks among the starters.

In the final game of the first half against the Baltimore Orioles, starter Kyle Gibson reverted to the sorry pitcher he’s been for the past couple of years in self-destructing while unable to emerge from the fifth inning. Talk about a “head case” – – Sigmund Freud wouldn’t have a chance with this kid. Manager Paul Molitor is trying (watch the video of his intense mound communication during Gibson’s last outing), but remains frustrated by the lack of consistent performance from the talented, underperforming Gibby.

Now Minnesota has signed Bartolo Colon, the 19 year veteran who I wrote about in my book State of the Game when he was with the Cleveland Indians (of Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and CC Sabathia) 16 years ago. I remember asking Twins utilityman Denny Hocking that year who was the toughest pitcher he had faced in the Big Leagues, and he replied without hesitation “Colon.” Well, that was then and this is now…

Forty-four year old Bartolo isn’t getting guys out throwing the hard (98 mph) heat like he used to. And while he has had success the last couple of years, it’s been while throwing all kinds of off-speed stuff with exceptional control (among the lowest ratio of walks to innings pitched over the past three years).

Former hard-thrower Phil Hughes now has to dink around like that, with limited success, but it says here we need to give Colon a chance. Why? Because it has come to that! Despite his failures (2-8) in Atlanta this year, the veteran will get a chance here – I can assure you of that!

And I respect the front office – Derek Falvey and his people – for being willing to take a small chance on something that could help this season. They obviously didn’t sign Colon for the future.

After last year, it has to be considered an upside surprise that the Twins are over the .500 mark (just as the World Champion Chicago Cubs offer the downside at a disappointing two-games-under…). But it does feel like things could be better, and that has led to Molitor’s belief that his squad has another gear that it should be able to access in the second half. Of course, that remains to be seen, especially with the pitching.

“We’ve been searching to round out the rotation,” said Molitor on Sunday, realizing that what he has are green prospects, injured veterans like Hughes and Hector Santiago, with shakiness sprinkled in here and there.

The manager has lost some patience with former top-pick Gibson; “The pace of the game today was terrible. It was hard to watch.” And as for his starter walking the first hitter on four consecutive pitches, Molitor said “that kind of thing gets your attention right away.”

Expect Colon to get his opportunity shortly after the break. And cross your fingers that he can make a significant contribution. Berrios has rebounded from last year, and perhaps Bartolo can surge in the second half. Poor Mollie is running out of options, so if Colon could give them something and Adalberto Mejia and Santiago give the squad a little success, the improving offense should keep them in games.

And one more quick story… Yours truly was playing senior ball for the Apple Valley A’s back in the early 2000’s, competing against some of the top old-guy teams in the state.
One day, down in Rosemount, we ran into former Twins reliever Juan Berenguer in a contest where the almost 50-year-old was still bringing it. Our squad agreed that he was surprisingly tough with a good mix of pitches.

I think he was selling Lincolns and real-estate, which he is still doing, but he was still playing. Mixing it up and gritty, too, for seven innings. Rather impressive, the great baller still playing for the love of the game.

Colon came to Minnesota rather than the Mets, it is said, because he wants to win now – his final shot. It’s not about the money at this point, winning is the thing. Hopefully he and his buddy Ervin Santana can motivate and rally Minnesota’s inconsistent starting staff.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins are MLB’s most unlikely success story this season

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By Eric Nelson
July 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

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

•On the Rebound: The marathon MLB season has hit the halfway point. The surprise team so far is Minnesota. The Twins are 44-41 and just 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. This is an epic turnaround from 2016 when the Twins finished with a 59-103 record and couldn’t see the first place Indians with a telescope…

•Tater Time: Monday’s home run derby in Miami has the potential to be a great show. With guys like Miguel Sano, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton swinging for the fences, baseballs will be flying into orbit all night long…

•Ball Hawk: Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden was the LF ball boy for the LA Angels-Minnesota game on July 4 at Target Field. Gladden, who played on two World Series title teams for the Twins, is 60-years old…

•Changing of the Guard: I am not surprised Minnesota peddled Ricky Rubio to Utah. This was bound to happen. The Timberwolves were looking for greener grass in the PG pasture which is why they immediately signed Jeff Teague

•Playoffs or Bust: The future is now for the T-Wolves who look a lot better with the additions of Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Teague. Minnesota hasn’t been to the NBA playoffs since 2004 and that has to change this season. The Wolves can only expect their loyal fan base to wait so long…

•Money Ball: This just in – Steph Curry now has more money than the San Francisco mint….

•Cashing In: Last week Curry signed a 5-year, $201 million contract with Golden State – the largest deal in NBA history. Truth is, the Warriors got Curry for a bargain. Golden State can’t pay the two-time NBA champ and two-time MVP enough. Curry is the new face of the NBA – an incredibly popular superstar who fills up arenas. Curry has raised the value of the Golden State franchise and his presence is one reason why the Warriors are getting a new waterfront arena in downtown San Francisco in 2019…

•Coast-to-Coast Popularity: Forget about the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs or New York Yankees, Golden State is America’s team. Thanks to Curry and his superstar cast, the Warriors are ultra-popular across the US…

•Off-Season Bounce: The NBA Draft and free agency has been more exciting than the just completed regular season and playoffs. The Association has been NFL-like with a knack for staying in the news cycle and garnering media attention…

•Purple Stars: My top five all-time Minnesota Vikings based on impact and production are – Alan Page, Chuck Foreman, Fran Tarkenton, Randall McDaniel and Randy Moss

•Oh My: ESPN the magazine has come out with its 2017 body issue. The group shot of the US women’s Olympic hockey team is my favorite photo…

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Scott Taylor

If They Get Through August, These Twins Will Compete

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Twins take first two of July homestand…

MINNEAPOLIS – It was quite a July 4th Holiday for the Minnesota Twins. Not only did they win the first two games of a three-game series with the Los Angeles Angels, but they did it with all hands on deck.

The players who led the Twins to victory are the players you would suspect, but in the meantime, a couple of others that the organization has been waiting patiently for seemed to step up.

On Monday night, Adalberto Mejia won his third consecutive start, a 9-5 victory over a pretty decent Angels team (OK, not as good without Mike Trout, but still pretty good, nonetheless). Mejia (4-3, 4.32 ERA) gave up three runs on nine hits and a walk with five strikeouts. He threw 102 pitches and appeared to be ready to join Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation.

“It feels good to be able to hold a team like that,” Mejia said after the game. “I’ve been trying to go at least seven innings in my games and little by little it’s starting to happen.”

Joe Mauer hit a three-run bomb to centerfield while Max Kepler hit s line shot off the garden in right for a solo shot. Kepler had four hits and was the best player on the field. Brandon Kintzler shut down the Angels in the ninth to lock up the Twins 42nd win of the year.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Twins celebrated the holiday with a 5-4 win over the Angels to win the series. The story of the game was Byron Buxton. The Twins centerfielder entered the game hitting .197 and with three hits, including the eventual game-winning home run, he moved the dial to .206. Sure, it’s still lousy, but the fact is, he stole a base and made a tremendous catch against the centerfield wall on the first swing of the game.

Buxton could be a big league star if he could learn how to use his skills at the plate. He needs to bang the ball into the ground, bunt, beat out infield hits and simply use his legs. He easily stole a base after one single, turning a lead-off single into a double. He could be one of the Twins greatest if he could just  figure out how to get his legs involved in his hitting.

“I think he just has to remember during the game all the work he puts into his practice,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, when asked about Buxton. “When you get in the game, you can’t be overthinking that thing. You just kind of have to let it fly.”

On Tuesday, Kyle Gibson (5-6, 5.82 ERA) was the “good” Kyle Gibson. He went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on five scattered hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He threw 102 pitches before he was replaced by Taylor Rogers, who got a rude awakening from Albert Pujols, who hit his 12th homer of the year and the 611th of his career, 456 feet to straightaway centre.

The game was close, but Kintzler came on in the ninth once again, picked up his 22nd save of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.41. Perhaps the biggest snub of this All-Star season is leaving Kintzler out of the game. He might just be the best closer in the game.

At the end of the July 4th Holiday, the Twins were 43-40, just a game and a half back of Cleveland in the race for first in the Central Division.

Just two games into the second half of the season and the Twins are legitimately in the race. In fact, they’re tied with Kansas City and Tampa for the No. 2 Wild Card spot. If players such as Miguel Sano, Robbie Grossman, Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Mauer and Buxton continue to play as well as they have, the light at the end of that ugly tunnel might not be an oncoming train.

Sure, it’s early. Sure it’s only the first week of July. Sure, Twins fans all expect the bottom to fall out of this thing at some point. But right now, a team that was 59-103 last season is three games over .500 and right in the thick of the Central Division race.

If things are the same by say, the last week of August, it might be time to conjure up thoughts of Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and Kent Hrbek. Until then, it’s just fun to watch a young team with some very interesting players try to convince itself that it’s good enough to hang on.

 

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Thanks to AL parity the Minnesota Twins are in the playoff chase

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By Eric Nelson
June 21, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

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

•MLB Geography: Baseball is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. Because of that the Minnesota Twins have a chance to remain in the AL playoff chase. Yes, the Twins are far from a polished product, and yes they have slipped into second place (trailing Cleveland by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central). But, the division is mediocre and there are two wild card spots available. Houston is the only dominant team in the league – every other club has flaws. Being part of the parity-laden AL is a good thing if you have post-season dreams. The Twins are one of just six teams in the league with an above .500 record…

•Small Progress: The Twins got a rare win at Target Field Monday night as they out slugged the Chicago White Sox 9-7. Kennys Vargas (483 feet) and Miguel Sano (425 feet) hit monster home runs in the game. Minnesota is 15-24 at home in 2017…

•Brew Crew: Milwaukee is a major surprise in MLB this season. The Brewers (38-35) lead the World Series champion Chicago Cubs by a half game in the NL Central. 1B Eric Thames – who was playing in South Korea last year – is one of Milwaukee’s top players. Thames has 20 home runs, second most in the NL…

•Power Points: Thames and NY Yankees slugger Aaron Judge are two of the better MLB stories in 2017. Judge is a legitimate triple crown threat who leads the AL in home runs (24), is second in RBI (54) and second in batting average (.333)…

•Duke Connection: Two of pro basketball’s most powerful individuals share a common bond. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders both went to Duke. Borders was in the Twin Cities last week and watched the Connecticut-Minnesota game at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday…
•Tray time: For the first time in eight years, there will be a three-point contest at the WNBA All-Star Game. The event takes place during halftime of the game on Saturday, July 22 at KeyArena in Seattle…

•Draft Month: If you like sports drafts then June is your month. The MLB Draft was last week and the NBA and NHL Drafts are this week. This is a dream come true for sports geeks and analytic freaks who love this kind of stuff…

•Jerry’s Journey: The remarkable career of NBA legend Jerry West has come full circle. West is back in Los Angeles, the city where he starred for the Lakers and became a front office genius with a knack for building title teams. However, West’s new employers are the Clippers, not the Lakers – which should make their intra-city rivalry even more intense. West had been with Golden State as an advisor in the Warriors front office…

•Parade Payday: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Golden State owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob paid for the entire Warriors’ championship parade last week in Oakland. Normally a city covers some of the cost, but because Oakland has a huge budget deficit, Guber and Lacob picked up the tab, which was close to $4 million…

•Viva Las Vegas: After their parade in Oakland, the Warriors continued their celebration with a team trip to Las Vegas. The good news for Golden State fans is, unlike the Raiders, the Warriors visit to Vegas was temporary and they are returning to the Bay Area…

•Cool Refuge: Too bad the expansion Vegas Golden Knights aren’t playing NHL games this week. The temp in Las Vegas on Tuesday was a scorching 117 degrees and the forecast high for Wednesday is 115. T-Mobile Arena (the Knights new venue) has plenty of cool air and an ice rink – making it a perfect place to escape the heat…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Santana The Man

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

A couple of years ago the Minnesota Twins picked up veteran righty Ervin Ramon Santana with the hope that he could become the club ace and provide leadership to a young staff. Instead, they picked up a very expensive (four years, $55 mil) and challenging player situation, a man who was about to be suspended for half of the 2015 season on suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.

Santana was nonetheless able to contribute a little something to the Twins surprising team that year, finishing 7-5 for first year manager Paul Molitor’s overachieving (83-79) squad – all the while consistently denying the usage of anything illicit.

2016’s debacle season (59-103) was aided by Santana’s inconsistency and lack of support from the Twins offense, resulting in a weak 7-11 record despite an impressive ERA of 3.38 – among the top ten in the American League. Those of us who watched a number of his appearances in ’16 know that he pitched in hard luck on several occasions, but also gave up some crucial blows, at critical times, from the opposing side.

This year, our man Ervin is just right. His win in shutting out the Giants on a recent Friday gives him more wins than last year (eight) and one of the best all-around statistical seasons in baseball to this point, with one more shutout (three) than the rest of the league combined (two). Pretty amazing run thus far, and an All Star game start could well be just a couple more wins away.

(Interesting but little known fact: Ervin was actually born Johan Ramon Santana in La Romana, Dominican Republic – but there was a problem with that first name because, as most Twins fans know, there was already another Johan Santana – the formidable and established MLB star who throws from the left side. “I needed another first name, so I went with Ervin because it sounded good,” he said.

Against the Giants, he not only pitched the Twins to a 4-0 complete game shutout, Ervin also hit a bases clearing three-run double to greatly help his own cause. Not bad for a guy who rarely takes batting practice.

In serving up an exceptional 4-hitter, with 26 of 31 possible first pitch strikes and a triple San Francisco’s only well-struck base hit, he provided more evidence that, right now, he’s one of the best in the game.

Granted, recent two-time World Champion San Francisco has been having trouble this year, but the Minnesota road warriors continue their dominance away from home. When you think about it, the facts are nothing short of amazing; as of this writing the Twins are a baseball-leading 20-8 when visiting and a MLB worst 12-18 in the friendly confines of Target Field.

With a team not that much different from last season, they are in first place by two games in a division that looks like it could remain in play all summer. The defending AL best Cleveland Indians are struggling to find themselves, with some major cogs underperforming to this point. The White Sox continue a period (years) of struggle and the ongoing failure of Kansas City requires more study; the Detroit Tigers, for my money, could still be a team that emerges strong.

Minnesota has a bullpen that puts out fires with gasoline, including a closer in Brandon Kintzler who pitches with grit and technique rather than overpowering hitters. That said, and despite a couple of glaring blown save outings, his efforts have garnered 17 saves and the faith of manager Paul Molitor. “Brandon has to pitch to his spots, but he can be effective doing that,” said the Twins skipper. In other words, he “pitches to contact” – not exactly the classic flamethrowing bully called in to safely close out a win.

With Kyle Gibson finally giving a first-rate pitching performance and Jose Berrios looking like he has found his confidence on the mound, things are continuing to evolve with the starting rotation. Those two are the recent good news, with both garnering important wins of late. Early season starter Phil Hughes was disappointing in recent starts before he went on the DL, and erstwhile number-four man Hector Santiago has been Mr HR Dinger of late, with 12 home runs in 25 innings during his recent miseries.

Frankly, the starting pitching still has to be regarded as suspect, and the bullpen can be considerably worse. The cause for optimism is that this team finds ways to win despite clear challenges on the mound (former closer Glen Perkins won’t be back to help this year, if ever). And the offense can be darned explosive at times despite inconsistencies – more on that next time.

So back to the good news of Johan, er, Ervin Santana. With a great lead starter who commands confidence from the players behind him and strikes a little fear in the opposition, there are possibilities that good things can continue to happen in the Twin Towns. Or at least, perhaps, on long road trips for the battling squad that plays its home games near the banks of the Mississippi.

Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana leads the Major Leagues with 3 Shutout peformances thus far…

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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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