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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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: The Minnesota Twins are no longer April fools

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By Eric Nelson
May 2, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Trix...

 

•April Rebound: The Minnesota Twins were April fools in 2016 as they got off to a catastrophic 0-9 start that set the tone for a 59-103 season. This April, the Twins fared much better. They finished MLB’s first month of the season with a respectable 12-11 record and are just 1 1/2 games behind first place Cleveland in the AL Central. Minnesota capped off the month Sunday with a 7-5 win in Kansas City, and was 4-1 on the road trip to Texas and KC…

•Inv-A’s-ion: Minnesota begins a six-game home stand Tuesday night against Oakland (11-14) as former Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe returns to Minneapolis. Plouffe is batting .207 with four home runs and nine RBI for the A’s. Oakland LF Khris Davis has 10 home runs, which is tied for the AL lead…

Trevor Plouffe will return to Minneapolis as a member of the Oakland A’s – May 2, 2017

•Power Players: Minnesota and Milwaukee had two of baseball’s top offensive performers in April. Twins 3B Miguel Sano had an AL-high 25 RBI and Brewers 1B Eric Thames slugged 11 taters, which is tied for the MLB lead. Sano is the AL player of the week…

•Missing Aces: Two of the top pitchers in MLB are sidelined. San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner could be out until July after injuring his left shoulder in a dirt bike accident, and New York Mets star Noah Syndergaard is out indefinitely with a partially torn back muscle…

•Canada Dry: Montreal is the last team from Canada to win a Stanley Cup. That was way back in 1993 when the Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. Will Canada’s cup drought finally end this season? Possibly. Both Edmonton and Ottawa lead in second round playoff series. The Oilers are up on Anaheim 2 games to 1 and the Senators lead the New York Rangers 2-0…

•Ratings Game: If the Oilers advance to the Western Conference Finals and the Senators do the same in the Eastern Conference, NBC will start to sweat. No way the peacock wants Edmonton and Ottawa playing in the Cup Finals on their airwaves…

•Yard Tracking: Just a hunch, but I have a feeling Viking fans will keep close track of how many yards Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook gain in the season opener on September 11. AP makes his debut for New Orleans that night and the rookie Cook will play his first NFL game for Minnesota…

•Comedy Central: Isn’t it funny how all 32 NFL teams think they had a good draft? This is nothing new and is the familiar spin we hear from coaches and GM’s after they fill out their draft cards. The truth is only a few teams selected well, but we won’t know which ones until three or four years from now…

•Party Central: The Golden State Warriors are not happy about playing Utah in the second round of the NBA playoffs. According to ESPN, Warrior players were disappointed the Jazz knocked the Clippers out of the post-season because the nightlife in Salt lake City is not as good as Los Angeles. That’s an odd reaction since Golden State’s focus should be on playoff wins, not post-game parties…

•Sightseeing: Forget the club scene, the Warriors should soak up the postcard-like views of Salt Lake City and the nearby Wasatch Mountains. SLC is one of the most scenic cities in the USA…

•Missed opportunities: The Clippers have failed to pounce on their chance to become a serious player in LA’s cluttered sports market. The once almighty Lakers are in chaos, which opened the door for the Clippers to cut into their immense popularity. But the Clippers have been unable to go on a serious post-season run, which means LA is still a Laker town…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Looking North

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It certainly looks like the Minnesota Twins will be heading north with the same 1-2-3 starters that they left Fort Myers with last season; Ervin Santana in the number one spot (fresh off his loss for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic), spring training stud Kyle Gibson as the number two, and the ever-mediocre Phil Hughes in the three hole.

It appears that swapping starting spots between the tall (6-6), underachieving Gibson with the heavy-duty (6-5, 250) Hughes is the best we are going to see opening the 2017 season. Gibson, for all of his promise, has but 32 wins under his belt to date (plus a major arm surgery) and Hughes, considered a lock for MLB stardom when drafted by the Yankees years ago, shows inconsistency when not getting rocked while pitching for giant money (nine million dollars per) in Minnesota.

Big Phil used to gas the ball up to the plate in the mid-90’s, but now works to paint the corners in the high-80’s while relying heavily on his off-speed stuff, particularly the changeup. Why the team gave him big cash when he had already lost major league pace on his fastball remains a mystery, but it does reveal why Brian Dozier was being shopped for a starter during the off-season.

For a team that lost 103 games to trot out the same top-three starters doesn’t seem to most baseball people like a very good sign. And then mixing in guys with names like Santiago, Duffey and Mejia for the bottom three spots and you are going into the opener looking like a MLB squad destined for mediocrity. Nothing really looks better or improved in a substantive way. Only time will tell with these three, but for now the top Minnesota starters have not initiated a run on season tickets.

The bullpen doesn’t inspire major confidence either, with some tweaking and experimentation the most notable changes from 2016. Can Brandon Kintzler succeed as a closer and will the rehabbing Glen Perkins be any kind of factor in the pen this year?

Can righties Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle, along with lefthanders Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow, lead a youthful relief corps? Arms from the farm could emerge in the form of Alex Wimmers who impressed this spring or from the talented but underachieving Jose Berrios. Both could find themselves throwing to solid defensive catcher Jason Castro in Minneapolis this summer, should they perform up to expectations.

This is a team that is breaking camp while retaining most of the challenges of last year. While in Arizona at the SABR analytics conference, I had a chance to ask Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer (architect with Theo Epstein of the World Series champs) what he thought of new Twins leader Derek Falvey. He was unhesitating in his reply; “Derek is a great choice for that franchise, and he should do well. He’s very strong with pitching…”

That is what the man said, just outside the men’s restroom at the Phoenix Hyatt, following a panel discussion. More on that later. Then came another big statement from Hoyer: “It was time for a change up there. Terry Ryan is a friend, (but) the new leadership in place has a lot of potential. And I like Paul Molitor. They need help with their pitching.”

We will see what happens this year and into the future, of course, but the Minnesota Twins have gone the analytical path in bringing in bright young management – which is the way of the game now. Epstein won a couple of titles (2004 and 2007) in championship-deprived Boston while in his ’30’s and then ended Chicago’s 108 year drought in 2016 – age 42.

Jed Hoyer is also in his early 40’s. Derek Falvey just turned 34. He played a little baseball, low level stuff. He’s as different from Terry Ryan as night is from day. But so far, the pitching staff closely resembles what it looked like when Terry was running things, precisely one year ago. If Falvey has a special talent for finding/analyzing/understanding pitching – and pitchers – bring it on!

In the meantime, we will go Santana, Gibson, Hughes…

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