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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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Thomas U. Tuttle

A Few Thoughts on the Twins

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Just when you think they are finished, wrapped up, cooked well-done and ready for slicing and dicing – here come the Minnesota Twins to surprise everyone but themselves! It’s been that way all year and has continued into the home stretch.

So here are a couple of thoughts on the 2017 season through late August:

* The fact that this Club is so resilient and determined makes it all the more difficult to accept the teams acquiring, and then jettisoning, a solid playoff run asset like Jaime Garcia – just the kind of accountable and tested starting pitcher a serious team acquires late in a contending season.

* It was also disheartening that new Twins management felt inclined to move closer Brandon Kintzler at the same time. The first time All-Star was having a solid year and seemed primed for a playoff push. His confident presence was also a big asset in the locker room/bullpen given Minnesota’s shaky reliever coterie.

* All of this has been hashed  over the past  few weeks, but the Boy Wonders (Derrick Falvey and Thad Levine) at the helm of the ballclub felt compelled to make moves that they believe will be beneficial to the future of the franchise. NOT the current squad. And that is a disconnect, according to one Twin, that speaks to disrespect.

* It’s the wait-till-next year attitude that has been around baseball for time immemorial. To essentially quit on a young team that has been entertaining – as well as competitive – for 100-plus games, well, that’s frustrated players, media, casual fans and season ticket holders alike.

* There is a powerful philosophy in baseball today that emphasizes Sabermetrics and cost-benefit analysis at the expense of baseball “feel,” if you will. It’s the old “Moneyball” philosophy first expounded by Bill James, executed (once) by Oakland’s Billy Beane, and accepted as Gospel by this new generation of baseball leadership.

* The Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s of the world have dictated strategy to fellow leaders like Falvey/Levine, with the youth contingent coming out of  a mold that views baseball metrics as essentially infallible. One of the great moments at the 2017 SABR analytics conference was HOF lefty Randy Johnson shrugging at the onslaught of information and saying, “I just threw my best heat and let them try to hit it. Did pretty good, too, for a country boy.” Classic…

* The Twins do have the potential for one of the best outfields in baseball for years to come. Max Kepler is underrated and Byron Buxton is figuring things out and Eddie Rosario could really be a powerful star if he hits up to his capabilities. You have to appreciate some of the other guys, too, like Zack Granite who tore up AAA Syracuse en route to the Bigs.

* Miguel Sano needs to watch himself as he emerges into the star Miggy already believes that he is. While his batting practice boomers are reminiscent of David Ortiz, so too are the youthful weight challenges overcome by Big Papi in Boston. Ortiz was not a great player until he pushed himself to become a complete athlete and fulfilled his great promise.

* The Twins essential Latin American guys, along with the Clubhouse in general, have respect for manager Paul Molitor and appreciate his style, among other things. Mollie goes easy on players – up to a point. He demands accountability but doesn’t hound the player who is working hard and playing solid baseball despite adversity and occasional youthful mistakes.

* This team is Molitor’s and the Twins skipper was not done any favors by the braintrust that eliminated a couple of his weapons. It wasn’t intended as a slap in the face, but probably felt like one to a gentleman who has to wonder how he’s ultimately going to fit in with these new management guys, fellows who could be his kids. Suffice it to say that the first ballot hall-of-famer has youthful superiors who are still figuring things out.

* It’s been a great run, considering the starting pitching has been shaky all year and the bullpen generally worse. This team believes in itself despite everything and keeps playing entertaining baseball. Kudos to the squad for having that never-say-die attitude in the face of daunting challenges and roadblocks placed by the front office. It ain’t over until it’s over, though the fat lady will likely be singing soon.

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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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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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