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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 need a bounce back season

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By Eric Nelson
March 23, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

FT. MYERS, FL – Sports Nuggets from the southern tip of Twins Territory...

• On the rebound: The Minnesota Twins are hoping for a bounce back season in 2017. The Twins were historically bad in 2016 posting a 59-103 record and finishing 35 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. Putting that debacle in the rear view mirror and not repeating it, is the team’s main goal this year…

• Spring Cleaning: Minnesota is busy prepping for the upcoming season here in the Florida Grapefruit League. The Twins are focused on fundamentals such as defense and base running, and are trying to put together a pitching staff that can elevate the franchise back into contention. Hope and optimism bloom in the spring like the lush, green SW Florida landscape. The Twins believe they will be better. Goodness knows they better be better…

• The Great Unknown: Plenty of questions are swirling around the Twins. Can Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano fulfill their potential? Can Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson become solid starting pitchers? Can Brandon Kintzler be an effective closer? Will new school, sabermetric front office guys like Derek Falvey and Thad Levine micromanage every move of old school manager Paul Molitor? The answers will be revealed in the coming months…

• Off the Grid: Because of their woeful ways, there is little buzz about the Twins in the sports-saturated Twin Cities. They are getting lost in the shuffle. The only way to change that is to start winning ASAP…

• March Mellow: While NCAA March Madness whips the nation into a frenzy, Spring Training in Arizona and Florida continues at its own leisurely pace. One cool thing about the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues is that games are played in smaller, intimate minor league venues. Fans often mingle with their favorite players and ticket prices are cheaper than the regular season…

• Saluting Dallas: The Twins defeated the Phillies 4-2 on Thursday in Clearwater, FL. Before the game Philadelphia paid tribute to former manager Dallas Green who died earlier this week. The 82-year old Green was the Phillies skipper when they won their first World Series title in 1980…

• Baseball Marriage: Philadelphia has definitely had more than a spring fling with Clearwater. The Phillies have been training in the city since 1947…

• Bolt City: Btw, Clearwater has more lightning strikes per capita than any city in the US. Clearwater is part of the Tampa Bay metro area which often gets hit by lightning. Guess it’s no surprise that the NHL team is nicknamed the Lightning…

That’s Creative: Ft. Myers is located close to the iconic Florida Everglades. So, the ECHL hockey team based in this city is known as the Florida Everblades…

• Spectacular Span: Going from Ft. Myers to Clearwater means traveling up I-75 to I-275 and crossing over Tampa Bay on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This spectacular span is the world’s longest cable-supported concrete bridge…

• Panoramic View: The apex of the SSB is 430 feet high. The Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg are all visible from the top…

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