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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Case Keenum makes his case for the Minnesota Vikings

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By Eric Nelson
September 27, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Bold North...

•Case Closed: Minnesota QB Case Keenum proved his skeptics wrong on Sunday with an outstanding performance against Tampa Bay. Keenum threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings convincing 34-17 win. Keenum was given plenty of time to throw by his purple people protectors on the offensive line, and was in sync with wideouts Steffan Diggs (8 receptions, 173 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Adam Thielen (5 catches for 98 yards). Keenum deserves all the accolades he is getting this week…

Vikings QB Case Keenum surveys the defense

Case Keenum surveys the Buccaneers defense

•Key Game: On Sunday Detroit (2-1) comes to Minnesota (2-1) for a crucial NFC North match up. The Lions swept the Vikings last season, which essentially kept the Purple out of the playoffs…

•Closed Doors: What’s the point of having pivoting doors at US Bank Stadium if they are rarely open? For Sunday’s Tampa Bay-Minnesota game at USBS the gigantic glass doors were shut. So what if it’s 90 degrees outside, let some natural air in the dome. The pivoting doors are a gimmick…

•Cowboy Unity: Of all the snapshots from the NFL’s week 3 protests, my favorite came on Monday night in Glendale, AZ before the Cowboys-Cardinals game. Dallas owner Jerry Jones took a knee with the Cowboys and then the entire team rose as one for the Star Spangled banner. It was a great show of unity and a remarkable pivot for Jones, who according to the Dallas Morning News, donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January…

•Pop’s View: San Antonio Spurs HC Gregg Popovich went rip city on the POTUS this week, criticizing his recent comments about the National Anthem and not inviting Golden State to Washington DC to celebrate their NBA title. My response: You go Pop. This is one guy who gets it…

•Epic Day: Kudos to the University of St. John’s, St. Thomas and the Minnesota Twins for putting on a great show Saturday at Target Field. A whopping 37,355 fans showed up for Johnnies-Tommies – a single game NCAA D3 attendance record. There was plenty of energy in the venue and the game had a big-time feel…

•Dirt Ball: One of the cool visuals was seeing a gridiron with infield dirt and green grass. That used to be a common site when MLB and NFL teams shared facilities, but now is only seen in Oakland with the A’s and Raiders. This looked like a throwback game…

•Gotham Showdown: The Minnesota Twins are close to clinching the AL’s final wild card spot. If/when that happens, the Twins will face the NY Yankees in a one-game playoff play-in at Yankee Stadium. Historically the Yankees have been kryptonite for the Twins and have dominated them in the regular season and post-season. But, a one-game winner-take-all scenario is different than a best-of-five, or best-of-seven series. With Ervin Santana on the mound Minnesota has a legitimate chance to spring the upset…

•Evil Empire: Minnesota and New York have met four times in the playoffs (2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010) and the Yankees won each series. The Twins were swept twice and lost the other match ups 3 games to 1. New York has also whipped up on Minnesota in the regular season, posting a 78-31 record since 2002…

•Twins Turnaround: Minnesota’s remarkable rebound is one of the top story lines in MLB this season. Going from 59-103 in 2016 to a possible playoff berth in 2017 is amazing. Paul Molitor could be AL manager of the year, and 1B Joe Mauer and CF Byron Buxton could win gold gloves…

•Flash Back: In 1987 the Twins stunned all of MLB by winning the World Series. Now, 30 years later, the 2017 Twins are trying to do the same thing. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. Could be an interesting October in the Land of Lakes…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if the front office actually tried to win

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By Eric Nelson
August 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•In the Mix: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if their front office actually acquired talent instead of trading away key players. Despite waving a white flag and becoming sellers in late July, the Twins have won seven of eight and are a half game behind the LA Angels for the AL’s final wild card spot…

•Rebound Season: Minnesota’s turnaround is one of the most remarkable MLB stories this season. In 2016 the Twins were 59-103, but this year they have bounced back in a big way. It’s mid-August and Minnesota has a legitimate chance to play post-season baseball. Paul Molitor is definitely in the running for AL manager of the year…

•Gold Rush I: Minnesota Twins CF Byron Buxton is a highlight waiting to happen. Buxton makes spectacular catches on a routine basis and covers more ground than a tarp. Buxton has already become one of MLB’s top defensive outfielders and has a chance to win his first gold glove…

•Gold Rush II: Twins 1B Joe Mauer could get a gold glove too. Mauer has been excellent in the field this season…

•Hall Call: OF Michael Cuddyer and GM Andy MacPhail will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame this weekend against Arizona. Cuddyer and MacPhail will become the 29th and 30th members of the team’s HOF. Cuddyer goes in on Saturday and MacPhail on Sunday…

•Intimate Gathering: Seattle and the LA Chargers played the first NFL game at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA Sunday night before a smallish crowd of 21,054. StubHub is the league’s smallest venue with a capacity of 27,000…

•Bad Sign: Granted it’s just the pre-season, but if the Chargers can’t fill up a boutique soccer stadium, then it means they are truly off the grid in So Cal. It’s not too late for the franchise to pack their bags, hop on I-5 and return to San Diego where they belong…

•Buyer’s Market: According to Vivid Seats, tickets for some NFL pre-season games are going for bargain basement prices. This week’s deals include, Baltimore at Miami ($3), Indianapolis at Dallas ($3), NY Giants at Cleveland ($3), Atlanta at Pittsburgh ($7) and Kansas City at Cincinnati ($8)…

•Wising Up: This is proof that NFL Nation actually gets it. Anyone who pays full freight for a meaningless exhibition game is throwing their money away…

•Sports Trifecta: There will be plenty of Minnesota-Seattle match ups in the next few days. On Wednesday the Lynx and Storm play a WNBA game at KeyArena in Seattle. On Friday it’s the Vikings and Seahawks in NFL pre-season action at CenturyLink Field. Then on Sunday, it’s Minnesota United against the Seattle Sounders in an MLS match at CenturyLink…

•On the Go: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Golden State superstar Steph Curry has had a hectic off-season. Curry has gone to Hawaii, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Turks and Caicos, golfed at a celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe and this week is hosting a tech summit in San Francisco…

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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: Peyton Manning can golf with President Trump if he wants and other sports stars can criticize the POTUS if they want

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By Eric Nelson
June 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•Playing Politics:NFL legend Peyton Manning is taking heat for golfing with President Donald Trump recently in Virginia. Many Manning fans are upset that he associated himself with a divisive guy like Trump. I am not a Trump fan and believe he has polarized the USA by sewing the seeds of hate. But, Manning did nothing wrong and does not deserve venom from the left just because he golfed with the POTUS…

•Two-way Street: Manning, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Bobby Knight and others can align themselves with Trump if they want. It’s their prerogative. Of course, it’s okay for LeBron James, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others to criticize Trump if they want. It is their prerogative too and they don’t deserve criticism from the right…

•Just Asking: What will happen first?… The Golden State Warriors losing a playoff game or Colin Kaepernick getting an NFL job…

•Kevin Can’t Wait: When it comes to chasing NBA championship rings superstars named Kevin have had plenty of success. First it was Kevin Garnett going from Minnesota to Boston and winning a title. Then it was the Timberwolves peddling Kevin Love to Cleveland where he won a championship. Now it looks like Kevin Durant will find Kevin heaven with Golden State after leaving Oklahoma City for Oakland…

•Rod’s Return: Minnesota Twins legend Rod Carew and his wife Rhonda return to Target Field on July 3 for the LA Angels-Minnesota game. It will be the Carew’s first trip to the Twin Cities since Rod had a heart transplant on December 16, 2016. The Carew’s will also be in Minneapolis on August 18 for Twins Hall of Fame Weekend and Donor Day against Arizona…

•Flashbacks: The Twins will salute Carew by remembering the 40th Anniversary of his magical 1977 MVP year when he batted .388, and the 50th Anniversary of his 1967 AL Rookie of the Year season…

•Party-Time: The Twins host their first-ever MLB Draft Party at Target Field on Monday. Gates open at 5:30 pm and Minnesota has the number one pick in the draft for the third time in club history. The last time the Twins had the top pick was 2001 when they chose Joe Mauer. Minnesota plays Seattle that night at 7:10 pm…

•Domination: The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are running away with their respective divisions. The Astros (42-17) lead the LA Angels and Seattle by 13 games in the AL West, and the Nationals (37-20) have a 12 1/2 game cushion over Atlanta and the NY Mets in the NL East…

•Title Starved: Btw, Houston and Washington have never won a World Series, so there is a chance that another baseball championship drought ends this season…

•Bar Brawl: According to USA Today Rex and Rob Ryan were involved in a bar fight in Nashville on Saturday. Too bad Rex Ryan’s Buffalo teams did not have that much fight when he was coaching the Bills…

•Puck Power: The NHL is on a roll as Nashville and Pittsburgh cap off a wonderful post season in the Stanley Cup Final. Hockey is also getting an assist from NBA icon Charles Barkley, who has been gushing about the sport. Barkley’s pro-hockey stance is definitely good for the game…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: It’s a pinnacle moment for Minn U against Sporting KC

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By Eric Nelson
May 10, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Land of Loons...

•Signature Win: It took Minnesota United just 10 games to produce a pinnacle moment in their inaugural MLS season. Minn U blanked Sporting KC 2-0 at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, getting goals from Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez, and a shutout from GK Bobby Shuttleworth. SKC (18 points) is an MLS powerhouse and is tied for first in the Western Conference with FC Dallas. The much-improved Loons (11 points) have two wins, 1 draw and 1 loss in their last four games…

•Oh Canada: On Saturday Minn U battles another top-tier club as the Loons play Toronto FC in Canada. Toronto is on top of the Eastern Conference and has an MLS-high 19 points…

•Shock-Off: It was a stunning finish in Minneapolis Friday night. Joe Mauer hit his first career walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Boston giving the Twins a 4-3 win. The game-winning tater produced some rare emotion from Mauer, who pumped his fist into the air as he circled the bases. It was one of the most unlikely endings I have ever seen at Target Field…

•Hick Ups: NY Yankees CF Aaron Hicks is off to a sizzling start. Hicks is batting .338 with six home runs and 16 RBI, and making the Twins look silly for giving up on him…

•Well-Written: USA today MLB columnist Bob Nightengale recently wrote an outstanding article on the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the impact the violent uprising had on the city, the nation and sports in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

•Job Hopping: The Vikings have hired Tina Holmes as Chief of Staff and Strategic Advisor. Holmes has spent the last four years in a similar role at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota…

•Eight Ball: It’s looking more and more like the NBA Finals will be the sequel to the sequel. Cleveland and Golden State have already logged a pair of four-game playoff sweeps and are both 8-0 this post-season. The Cavs and Warriors are on an apparent collision course to meet in the Finals for a third straight season…

•Tip-Off Time: The Minnesota Lynx open their WNBA season Sunday night at 6 pm against the Chicago Sky. The game is at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, which is the Lynx temporary home this year while Target Center is being renovated…

•Juggernaut: Congrats to the U of M softball team. The 3rd ranked Gophers (51-3) won their first Big Ten title since 1991 and have a 22 game winning streak. Top seed Minnesota plays Northwestern or Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday in Ann Arbor, MI…

•Giving Back I: Minnesota Vikings LB Eric Kendricks will present a $20,000 check to The Sheridan Story on Friday at Westview Elementary School in Apple Valley. The Sheridan Story runs weekend food programs at more than 140 schools across the Twin Cities. The funds were raised in Kendricks’ “Sacks for Kids” campaign last season, which asked fans to pledge money for each Vikings sack…

•Giving Back II: The annual Taste of the Vikings charity event is Wednesday June 14 from 6:30-10 pm at US Bank Stadium. Second Harvest Heartland and Land O’Lakes are the main sponsors, which raises awareness and funds to combat childhood hunger. Minnesota players, coaches and alumni will be participating…

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