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Thomas U. Tuttle

These Losses Hurt

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins lost a couple of ballgames to the Baltimore Orioles heading into the All Star break, hitting the traditional midpoint of the season a couple of games over .500 at 45-43. After staying reasonably competitive to start the second half, the Twins headed out west to visit the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers (71-31) and have been outclassed while paying the price for the visit.

Three straight losses to LA, with blown leads in each defeat and an especially painful loss on Wednesday, have left Minnesota with a stumbling 49-51 record and in danger of becoming irrelevant in the Wild Card race. The Twins are now 5 1/2 games behind Cleveland and four behind the improved Kansas City Royals.

Manager Paul Molitor doesn’t believe this is a time for major concern (“With 62 games to play, no…” he said following the most recent loss) but fans can be excused for catching a bad vibe after this series. The team stays in California to play Oakland and then San Diego, with a strong need to get back on track immediately.

If this isn’t a crisis, it sure feels like one.

On Wednesday, Minnesota struck early and hard, taking a 5-0 lead before dropping the game 6-5. Ervin Santana started and failed to reach his 12th victory, giving up a couple of home runs in what could be considered just a fair start for the Twins ace. Still, they were in position to win before the Dodgers finished off Brandon Kinzler with three singles in the bottom of the ninth.

In the top half of that inning, Max Kepler led off with a double and advanced to third on a ground out. But the lack of clutch hitting that has hurt the club all season showed itself again when Jason Castro and Jorge Polanco struck out back to back, ending the threat.
Get that run across the plate and give a lead to Kinzler and let’s see what might happen?
Of course, that’s woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff…

After a day off, Minnesota faces Oakland with three starters who were not in the rotation, or in Molitor’s imagination, when the season started – Jaime Garcia, “Bert” Mejia, and Bartolo “I’m a young 44” Colon. This has to be concerning; with disappointing Kyle Gibson jettisoned to the minor leagues and starting pitching once again a guessing game, the Twins need a lot of things to go right to stay in the hunt.

Dan Gladden told me at the 1987 World Series team reunion night last week that the first couple of weeks after the All Star break are, in his opinion, almost always critical to a teams success going forward. I agree, and in that that light there is plenty of reason for concern.

While teams like Cleveland (8-2 in last 10) and Kansas City (8-2 last 10) are getting healthy, playing well and pointing for the postseason, there is a growing feeling that the Twins (3-7) are hanging on while trying to stop the bleeding on a fading season.

They play five more games in California before returning home to face Texas, and the likes of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, in a four game set. While Texas is something like 16 games behind front-running Houston (who had the Dodgers and the Astros as the best teams in baseball?), the Rangers feel capable of doing some playoff damage if they can somehow grab the second wild-card spot.

There is a belief that Minnesota needs to get on a winning track right now to remain relevant. There is danger in falling short these days, as the pack around the .500 mark will begin to separate. Blowing 5-0 leads, even against a team as strong as Los Angeles, can shake a teams confidence in critical ways. Now they need strong starts and clutch hits to hang around – items in short supply of late.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The X Games is X-treme fun

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By Eric Nelson
July 18, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Sota sauna..

•Xtreme Fun: I had a chance to see the X Games on Sunday in Minneapolis and was impressed by the product. There was a cool vibe inside US Bank Stadium and the athletes on skateboards, BMX bikes and motocross cycles put on a spectacular show…

•Airborne: The final event of the X Games was punctuated by Colby Raha, who took gold in the Moto X quarter pipe. Raha can elevate better than Michael Jordan and thrilled the crowd with gravity-defying stunts. Three times Raha raced his 250 pound motorcycle up a steep ramp and soared into the air reaching heights equivalent to the upper deck of USBS…

US Bank Stadium interior - July 2017

US Bank Stadium plays host to the X Games – July 2017

•Sealed Up: The only caveat to the entire experience was being stuck inside a dome on a gorgeous July day. Temps outside were in the mid-80’s, but inside the Glass House it was air conditioned and sterile. The pivoting doors on the west side of USBS were even closed – which absolutely made no sense. Opening the doors would have at least brought in some natural air to part of the venue…

•The Sequel: If you didn’t go to the X games, or couldn’t get enough of the event, there is good news. The 2018 X Games are also in Minneapolis…

•Flashback: The Minnesota Twins will salute their 1987 World Series title team this weekend when they host the Detroit Tigers. Many of the ’87 Twins alumni are scheduled to appear…

•Major Legal: NY Yankees star Aaron Judge is a perfect fit for MLB’s all-time legal name team. Others include David Justice, Vance Law and Matt Lawton

•Power Ball: We all know about Judge’s prolific power at the plate (he leads MLB with 30 home runs), but the guy has a bazooka too. Judge threw out Minnesota’s Brian Dozier at home plate in Monday’s game with a one-hop strike from right field…

•Vanishing Breed: New Twins P Bartolo Colon is the last active MLB player to play with the Montreal Expos. Colon – who is in his 20th season – pitched for the Expos in 2002…

•Goodbye ‘Kato: The Vikings long-time marriage with Minnesota State is coming to an end. Next season the Purple will move training camp to the brand new Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, MN. That means this will be the 52nd and final year for Vikings camp in Mankato…

•No Surprise: The decision to leave Mankato is hardly shocking. Once the Vikings began building their state-of-the-art facility in Eagan, their days of camping in Kato were numbered…

•Soccer-Centric: Blaine, MN is the center of the soccer universe this week as the annual USA Cup is being played at the National Sports Center. The tournament began in 1985 with 69 teams but has ballooned to a global event. This year there are 1,168 clubs from 15 nations, 5 Canadian provinces and 15 US states…

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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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