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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins have a trio of outfield talent

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By Eric Nelson
September 1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Minneapple...

•Talented Threesome: There are many reasons why the Minnesota Twins are making a splash this season and three of them are in the outfield. LF Eddie Rosario (25 years old), CF Byron Buxton(23) and RF Max Kepler (24) are young, athletic and have plenty of upside. They can hit, catch, throw and run…

•Gap Coverage: Minnesota pitchers clearly benefit from having this trio roam the outfield. Rosario, Buxton and Kepler cover lots of ground. They routinely run down potential extra base hits in the gaps, or race in to catch would be bloop singles…

•Flashbacks: The Twins have not had an outfield this good since the “Soul Patrol” of Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter and Jaque Jones, who played together from 2003-2005…

•Playoffs?: Apparently Twins Territory is not aware that their team has a legitimate chance of making MLB’s post-season. Target Field attendance for Tuesday’s Chicago White Sox-Minnesota game was just 20,530. On Wednesday the crowd was 21,172. Thursday’s match up drew 21,288…..

•Bidding Time: The Twins are doing their part to aid Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas. The Twins are holding a relief auction that runs through September 2. Items to bid on include, autographed cleats from Buxton, Kepler, Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano

•Giving Back: Minnesota United is also doing good things in the charity department. The Loons are hosting a back-to-school drive on September 9 before their match with the Philadelphia Union at TCF Bank Stadium. Supplies collected will be donated to St. Paul Public Schools – the district where Minn U’s future home, Allianz Field is being built. Fans who donate receive a buy-one-get-one ticket offer that can be used at the box office on the day of the Philadelphia match, or for either of the team’s last two games on September 23 against FC Dallas, or on October 7 against Sporting Kansas City…

•Raw Deal: There is plenty of hype surrounding new U of M football coach PJ Fleck – who could turn out to be a good hire. Of course, wins and losses will be the judge of that. That said, I believe Tracy Claeys did not get a fair shake from the Gophers and actually did a good job as HC…

•Claeys Data: For the record Claeys was 2-0 in bowl games and his Gophers were 9-4 last season. Minnesota’s Holiday Bowl win against Washington State in December was a signature win. Fleck is stepping into a good situation in Dinkytown. The cupboard is not bare and Claeys deserves credit for that…

•Fab Five: My top five NFL venues are … 1. Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City. 2. Lambeau Field, Green Bay. 3. CenturyLink Field, Seattle. 4. LA Coliseum. 5. Hard Rock Stadium, Miami…

•Shield Cathedrals: Arrowhead has incredible tailgating, cool architecture and fabulous gameday energy. Lambeau oozes history and is an NFL mecca. CenturyLink has a unique look, fantastic views of the Seattle skyline and is home base to Seahawk fans who shatter the sound barrier on a weekly basis. The Coliseum is an LA landmark that has plenty of tradition. Hard Rock’s new canopy protects fans from Miami monsoons and shields them from scorching South Florida heat, yet exposes the players to the elements…

•Stadium Criteria: Deciding on the top five stadiums was a challenge. There are plenty of fabulous facilities on the NFL map such as Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati), FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland), Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) and Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco). The only easy decisions were eliminating domes or retractable roof facilities. Blocking out the elements creates an artificial and sterile setting. Weather games usually garner huge television ratings because NFL Nation loves watching duels in the rain, ice and snow…

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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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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: Target Field has become a launching pad

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By Eric Nelson
June 14, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from the Twin Towns...

•Band Box: Target Field is turning into a launching pad. The last six games in Minneapolis have been high scoring affairs. On May 28 Tampa Bay won 8-6 over the Twins in a 15-inning contest. Houston then swept Minnesota, 16-8, 7-2 and 17-6. So far this week it has been Seattle 14, Minnesota 3 and Twins 20, Mariners 7…

•Hit Parade: The Twins had a team-record 28 hits in their 20-7 win on Tuesday night. Eddie Rosario slugged three home runs in the 90 degree heat as Minnesota put on an offensive fireworks show…

•Royce’s Reaction: There was plenty of shock and awe Monday when the Twins selected prep SS Royce Lewis with the first pick of the MLB Draft. According to the Orange County Register, Lewis was caught totally off guard and thought he would be chosen fifth by Atlanta. Even Lewis’ mom Cindy was floored by the selection. Lewis plays for JSerra HS in San Juan Capistrano, CA…

•Purple Props: Good move by the Minnesota Vikings to put Ahmad Rashad and Randy Moss into the team’s ring of honor. This is an overdue honor for Rashad and Moss is one of the most electrifying players in Viking history…

•Minnesota Impact: The Pittsburgh Penguins path to a second straight Stanley Cup title came with major contributions from two Minnesotans. 22-year old C Jake Guentzel (who grew up in Woodbury) was spectacular in the post-season with 13 goals, 8 assists and 21 points. Meanwhile, 40-year old C Matt Cullen (who played for Moorhead HS) was savvy and solid for the Penguins with 2 goals, 7 assists and 9 points in the playoffs…

•Rare Air: Go ahead and put Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on the NHL’s Mt. Rushmore. With three Cup championships and Hall of Fame stats, Crosby deserves all the accolades he gets…

•Two Titles in Two Days: For those of you keeping score at home, Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup on a Sunday night and Golden State won the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Monday. Two major pro sports champions crowned in a 24 hour span is pretty cool and very unusual…

•Just a Hunch: I am guessing that Kevin Durant and Rihanna won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year…

•Finals Foursome: Btw, I will be stunned if Cleveland and Golden State don’t play in the NBA Finals again next season. A fourth straight meeting seems inevitable…

•Bonus Soccer: On July 15 Atlas FC faces Minnesota United in a friendly at TCF Bank Stadium. Atlas FC is based in Guadalajara and plays in Mexico’s top division, Liga MX…

•Impressive Record: Congrats to Minnesota Lynx G Lindsay Whalen, who is now the WNBA’s winningest player. In 14 seasons Whalen has 295 wins on her resume. Whalen has won three WNBA titles with the Lynx and two Olympic gold medals…

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