Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if the front office actually tried to win

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By Eric Nelson
August 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

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

•In the Mix: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if their front office actually acquired talent instead of trading away key players. Despite waving a white flag and becoming sellers in late July, the Twins have won seven of eight and are a half game behind the LA Angels for the AL’s final wild card spot…

•Rebound Season: Minnesota’s turnaround is one of the most remarkable MLB stories this season. In 2016 the Twins were 59-103, but this year they have bounced back in a big way. It’s mid-August and Minnesota has a legitimate chance to play post-season baseball. Paul Molitor is definitely in the running for AL manager of the year…

•Gold Rush I: Minnesota Twins CF Byron Buxton is a highlight waiting to happen. Buxton makes spectacular catches on a routine basis and covers more ground than a tarp. Buxton has already become one of MLB’s top defensive outfielders and has a chance to win his first gold glove…

•Gold Rush II: Twins 1B Joe Mauer could get a gold glove too. Mauer has been excellent in the field this season…

•Hall Call: OF Michael Cuddyer and GM Andy MacPhail will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame this weekend against Arizona. Cuddyer and MacPhail will become the 29th and 30th members of the team’s HOF. Cuddyer goes in on Saturday and MacPhail on Sunday…

•Intimate Gathering: Seattle and the LA Chargers played the first NFL game at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA Sunday night before a smallish crowd of 21,054. StubHub is the league’s smallest venue with a capacity of 27,000…

•Bad Sign: Granted it’s just the pre-season, but if the Chargers can’t fill up a boutique soccer stadium, then it means they are truly off the grid in So Cal. It’s not too late for the franchise to pack their bags, hop on I-5 and return to San Diego where they belong…

•Buyer’s Market: According to Vivid Seats, tickets for some NFL pre-season games are going for bargain basement prices. This week’s deals include, Baltimore at Miami ($3), Indianapolis at Dallas ($3), NY Giants at Cleveland ($3), Atlanta at Pittsburgh ($7) and Kansas City at Cincinnati ($8)…

•Wising Up: This is proof that NFL Nation actually gets it. Anyone who pays full freight for a meaningless exhibition game is throwing their money away…

•Sports Trifecta: There will be plenty of Minnesota-Seattle match ups in the next few days. On Wednesday the Lynx and Storm play a WNBA game at KeyArena in Seattle. On Friday it’s the Vikings and Seahawks in NFL pre-season action at CenturyLink Field. Then on Sunday, it’s Minnesota United against the Seattle Sounders in an MLS match at CenturyLink…

•On the Go: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Golden State superstar Steph Curry has had a hectic off-season. Curry has gone to Hawaii, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Turks and Caicos, golfed at a celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe and this week is hosting a tech summit in San Francisco…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Negro Leagues Baseball Conference – Harrisburg, PA

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

I’ve recently returned from the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, held this year in Harrisburg, PA – the capital of Pennsylvania and just 35 miles down the road from the historic battlefield at Gettysburg, while in the other direction lies State College and Penn State University.

Everyone is familiar with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the “major league” cities in the Keystone State (extra points if you knew that state nickname), but it is indeed Harrisburg that is the seat of government.

The Capitol of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s capitol 

Harrisburg, with its spectacular architecture and utterly magnificent capitol building located in the center of the downtown area (called upon completion “the most beautiful building in America” by no less than Theodore Roosevelt) is a gem, with a vibrant community supporting it.

Most everyone is also familiar with the fact that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, forever changing the landscape of Major League baseball. Branch Rickey and Robinson, along with others, defied the “gentleman’s agreement” that had kept baseball white for decades.

Harrisburg and its neighbor, Steelton PA (home of a massive and once thriving Bethlehem Steel factory), contributed mightily to black baseball by simply being the home of the Harrisburg Giants – and for a good chunk of the 1920’s, the host of HOF’er Oscar Charleston, critically underrated superstar Rap Dixon and the exceptional Fats Jenkins, among others.

During the first half of the 20th century, despite the ignominy of baseball’s separate but unequal state, tremendous baseball was played by black ballplayers throughout the country, with organized ball in numerous major cities well underway in the early 1900’s.
Think in terms of the Baltimore Black Sox, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants, Newark Eagles, Birmingham Black Barons and the powerful (also legendary) Kansas City Monarchs – among others.

The Harrisburg Giants team of the mid-1920’s was outstanding, with one of the great outfields of all time, led by Oscar Charleston and Rap Dixon. Oscar has long been recognized as one of the games all-time greats (as exemplified by his HOF status) but it is Dixon who was the focus of much research and study at the conference.

Graveyard marker of Harrisburg Giant, Rap Dixon

Graveyard marker of Harrisburg Giant, Herbert “Rap” Dixon

Rap hit the first home run by a black player ever at Yankee Stadium in 1930, was known to be one of the best defensive players in NL history, and had a record 14 consecutive plate appearances with a base hit – still the record as recognized by “major league equivalency.” What makes the mark all the more impressive is that it came in a series against the powerful Homestead Grays.

(It should be noted that Ted Williams reached base 16 consecutive times with a number of walks and hit-by-pitch appearances a part of that impressive total.)

Dixon is credited with a lifetime batting average of .315 with roughly 18 home runs, 27 steals and 125 runs scored for every 150 games played. Teams in the Negro Leagues did not have the 154 game schedule of white teams, partly for the simple reason that they were not allowed to play in numerous parks, and only on certain days in the yards that were open to them.

Despite adversity, the black game flourished for many years and created many legends of the game. Almost all of us are familiar with the legacy of HOF pitcher Satchel Paige, and many of us the superb baseball exploits of Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. But there are many more names that resonate in the cities that gave rise to the greatness of blackball.

Rap Dixon is just one of them, but what a player he must have been. They say he was a fine gentleman as well, who was sorely missed when he died, too young, at age 42 years.

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Scott Taylor

Twins Call it a Season at the Trade Deadline

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Kintzler is dealt as team…once again, looks to the future

It not so much that the Minnesota Twins gave up their last hope in this 2017 American League season at last week’s trade deadline. It’s just that they didn’t bother to do anything to challenge.

We wrote in a column here, back on July 4, that if the Twins could hang in the race until the middle of August, they might surprise some people in September. Today, they are three games below .500 (51-54), six games out in the AL Central and four games out in the Wild Card. They aren’t really in a race, but if they could string some wins together, they certainly wouldn’t be laying dead on the road either.

Still, Twins management decided to tell the fans at the non-waiver trade deadline last week that there was no real need to get too excited about the 2017 season.

They acquired Jaime Garcia from Atlanta, told people he was moving into the starting rotation and then dealt him to the Yankees six days later for two prospects. Oh, and the Twins will pay Garcia’s salary (OK, so they bought two prospects for $4 million).

Then, they traded soon-to-be-free-agent closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals in exchange for pitcher Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money (and, one supposes, six batting-practice baseballs and a broken Bryce Harper autographed bat).

Kintzler was 2-2 with a 2.78 ERA and 28 saves when he was dealt. He was an American League all-star and the most consistent thing in an inconsistent Minnesota bullpen.

He’s also 32 and was going to test the free-agent market this winter. He’s been a Major Leaguer for eight seasons and he’s never hit the salary jackpot. Sure, he’s making $2.925 million on his one-year deal this season, but with an all-star game on his resume and very likely 40-plus saves, he could pick up some legitimate dough this winter. Washington is much more likely to pay him what he’s worth than the Twins so he was as good as gone at a time when Minnesota could still get something in return.

Still, it’s not so much what the Twins gave up at the deadline as what they didn’t get. They didn’t get a veteran slugger or clutch hitter like, say Melky Cabrera (Kansas City) and they didn’t get a middle/top of the rotation starter like, perhaps, Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish. They didn’t get better.

For another July, the Twins were sellers. They didn’t make any drastic moves – fans barely knew Garcia had even arrived in Minneapolis while Kintzler was going to be gone this winter anyway – but they didn’t try to get better in the short-term either.

Sure, to be fair, they picked up some interesting prospects, but manager Paul Molitor has been told to ride out this year’s roster – without his closer – until the end of September.

So a team that is 3-7 in its last 10 and has fallen below .500 for the first time in a while, is now a team that isn’t as good as it was a week ago, but isn’t a whole lot worse, either.

Tuesday, they got a great complete-game pitching performance from Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.28 ERA) in a 5-2 win at San Diego (Santana himself had a hit and drove in two runs) and looked pretty good in the process.

But as we get deep into August, this is a Twins team that has two hitters (Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario) batting higher than .280, three hitters (Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Jason Castro) at the bottom of the order hitting below .230 and two power hitters (Manuel Sano, .269 with 25 homers, and Brian Dozier, .244 with 17 homers) who, on occasion, hit the ball high and deep, but only, it seems, on occasion.

This could be a good team, but somehow it’s just not quite.

And I guess that’s why the people who run the organization decided to, once again, look to the future. It was probably the right strategy, but, you have to admit, for people buying tickets, the strategy is getting a little old.

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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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