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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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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