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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Jared Goff and Case Keenum have had bounce back seasons

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By Eric Nelson
November 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Land of 10,000 Lakes…..

•Loss Loss Land: In 2016 Jared Goff and Case Keenum were part of a Hollywood horror show that had a disastrous ending. Goff and Keenum shared the quarterback duties with the LA Rams and both put up sub-par stats on a sub-par team that finished 4-12. Simply put, it was a debacle…

•QB Revival: In 2017 Goff and Keenum are now part of amazing comeback stories – with each guy playing a key role in their team’s success. The Rams are 7-2 and Goff has made major strides in his second season. The Minnesota Vikings are also 7-2 and Keenum has been steady and sometimes spectacular for the Purple in a back up role. …

•Collision Course: LA and Minnesota play Sunday at US Bank Stadium and both teams are heating up. The Rams have won four straight and the Vikings have a five game winning streak. The winner will garner plenty of accolades and boost their playoff hopes..

•Case Closed: There are plenty of people huffing and puffing about who should be the Vikings starting signal caller, but this one is easy. Keenum is the guy and should play until he proves he can’t. Teddy Bridgewater’s day will come soon enough, but no sense tinkering with something that isn’t broken…

•Video Game Offense: The Rams are putting up cartoon-like numbers this season. LA has scored 296 points – the most in the NFL. The Rams have erupted for 51 against the NY Giants, rung up 46 on Indianapolis, 41 on San Francisco, 35 on Dallas, and scored 33 against Arizona and Houston…

•Coaching Contrasts: The Rams bounce back season has raised the profile of 31-year old Sean McVay, who is the youngest HC in NFL history. McVay comes from a football family and has a reputation for developing quarterbacks. Goff’s success is more proof of that. Meanwhile, LA’s DC is 70-year old Wade Phillips, who knows how to coach up a defense…

•Powerhouses: LA and Minnesota both have lofty spots in this weeks NFL Power Rankings. The Rams are number 2 and the Vikings are ranked 6th. Philadelphia is the top team…

•Deserving Honor: Congrats to Paul Molitor, who was named American League Manager of the Year after leading Minnesota to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Twins are the first team in MLB history to make the postseason after losing 100-plus games the previous year…

•Zero Hero: Minnesota G Devan Dubnyk is pitching shutouts at a rate that would make Clayton Kershaw envious. Dubnyk has three straight blankings after the Wild’s 3-0 win against Philadelphia on Tuesday night in St. Paul. Dubnyk has a team record scoreless streak of 195:05 and has stopped 103 shots on goal in the three wins…

•Breaking Up: After 18 highly successful years at ESPN2 and ESPN Radio, Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg’s run is over on Friday. Mike and Mike are moving onto supposedly greener pastures, but we will see how things play out…

•On-Air Chemistry: Mike and Mike worked because they clicked – which is a rare combination in the egotistical world of broadcasting. It’s too bad Mike and Mike are going away, because their product is still very good. ESPN should not be breaking up this tandem…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Molitor To Return

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins held a press conference the other day to announce that manager Paul Molitor had agreed to terms on a three year deal worth about four million dollars, or roughly one-sixth of what Joe Mauer makes in one year.

And while Mauer had a good year and earned his money (???) it was Molitor who held things together, forged trust and confidence among his diverse band of players, survived the use of 36 – yes, 36! – pitchers over the course of the season, won 26 more games than the previous year – and ultimately made the American League playoffs.

Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey followed Molitor to the podium and made it clear that he and GM Thad Levine were ultimately convinced that, via the long path of 162 games, the current manager of the ballclub was the right leader to take the Twins into the future.

“Over the course​ of the year, it felt like we were building a relationship,” Falvey said early is his remarks. And he followed that important comment with another revealing statement: “I’m not surprised by the class shown by Paul, given who he is as a person, that he handled things so well” – words spoken in recognition of the difficult position Molitor was in, essentially all year, working the final year of his contract.

And knowing, without much doubt, that expectations were that the new, post Terry Ryan braintrust would bring in their own brand-new outside guy to manage the club.

But Falvey and Molitor, as a pleased owner Jim Pohlad said Tuesday, “built a relationship over time (and) I had heard over the course of the year that was how it was going.” Indeed, growing mutual respect between the 61-year-old field general and the 34-year-old CBO was the theme of the day. “I understand that he (Falvey) is looking to build a long term, sustained, championship type program – and I’m all in with that!”

Paul Molitor and Sid Hartman in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse.

October 10, 2017 – Paul Molitor is interviewed by legendary Minnesota journalist Sid Hartman after signing a three year contract extension to manage the Twins.

Some press conferences don’t tell you much, but this one did. Paul was fairly relaxed and reflective, on a season recently ended and a future that could be bright. These guys can work together; Falvey was credited by Molitor with never really commenting, let alone interfering, in a game situation. And at the same time, the young chief respects Mollie enough to expect his observations and potential insights on player decisions, including additions and subtractions from the squad.

Thirty six pitchers is not necessarily a good thing, of course, although Molitor noted that it did give him a chance to evaluate “a lot of arms.” Indeed. The Twins put a stable team on the field, with ten players getting 400-plus at-bats – the most in all of baseball. But – and it’s a big but – the pitching MUST improve significantly or great hitting, like exceptional managing, won’t be able to overcome weak starters and a very modest bullpen.

It was interesting for me to watch Hall-of-Famer Molitor coach against my fellow Northwestern Wildcat baseball alum Joe Girardi. Paul was the greatest shortstop of his time while at Minnesota (and arguably the best ever in the Big Ten) while Girardi earned All American honors as well, behind the plate, about a decade later. He has won rings with the Yankees as a player and manager.

Paul was a big part of my book STATE OF THE GAME which came out in 2000. In it, I devoted a chapter to his special nature as a player and leader – but more than that, as a baseball man. My projection was that he would eventually manage, and manage well. Not that difficult a prognostication, I guess, although it took almost 15 years longer than I thought it would for him to take the helm. (He was offered the Toronto job years ago, but the timing wasn’t right.)

Girardi was much the same, and to watch them square off in a one-game playoff contest was a treat for me. I almost flew out to New York, but I’m glad I didn’t. Mr Confidence, Ervin Santana, laid an egg after being given a three run first inning lead. Walked the leadoff man, gave up a three-run homer minutes later, and deflated his team like a bench-clearing gasser.

Girardi heads to the AL championship behind excellent starters and a powerful bullpen. I’d sure like to see a 5-game or 7-game matchup between the two Big Ten all-star managers, maybe next year. But you have to get batters out at critical times, and the Twins are going to need to vastly improve in that critical department.

I’ll let you in on a little something; In July, I caught up with youthful (43) Chicago Cubs World Series winning General Manager Jed Hoyer. It was at the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) conference in NYC this summer. His words to me, when I asked about Minnesota’s new hire Derek Falvey, were these: “He will be a great fit, and he really knows how to build pitching.”

Let’s hope so. It would be good for Molitor to be able to get the number of pitchers used per-season below 36…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: It’s time for the Minnesota Twins to jump into the free agent pool

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By Eric Nelson
October 11, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

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

•Time to Commit: This is a critical off-season for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins arrow is pointing up and they have a young core of talent with building block players such as Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. However, the Twins are not yet a polished product. They need another starting pitcher (preferably an ace) and have to improve their bullpen. Now is the time for owner Jim Pohlad to go all in and do whatever is necessary to make the team better..

•Upgrades Available: Historically the Twins do not chase marquis free agents. It is not in their DNA and there is no guarantee that forking out huge dough for someone will translate into post-season success. But, it is an avenue teams can use to get better, and it’s time the Twins travel down that road. Jake Arrieta (Chicago Cubs) and Yu Darvish (LA Dodgers) are the pitching plums on this year’s free agent market. Both will want multi-year deals for approximately $20-25 million per season. Both also can instantly become an ace in a rotation and sell tickets. It’s time for Minnesota to take the free agent plunge and sign an Arrieta or Darvish – the potential rewards outweigh the possible risk. Go for it Twins, the future is now…

•Closing Time: Another option is for Minnesota to pursue a lights out closer. The Twins could go after Wade Davis – who has been a key cog in the Cubs success. Davis’s price tag would not be as high as a Darvish or Arrieta, but he would bolster the Twins bullpen…

•Casualty List: With star players such as JJ Wattt, Odell Beckham Jr. and Travis Kelce all suffering major injuries this week, it’s another harsh reminder that pro football is a risky business. It’s also another reason why players should demand guaranteed salaries when negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement. Despite NFL efforts to make the game safer, players continue to go down like bowling pins…

•Hypocrisy: Too bad President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence aren’t as focused on getting guns off the streets as they are on NFL athletes who take a knee. According to CNN, it cost taxpayers 250k for Pence to fly Air Force Two from Las Vegas to Indianapolis then to Los Angeles on Sunday. In a staged stunt, Pence showed up for the San Francisco-Indianapolis game, then left early because some 49ers did not stand for the star spangled banner…

•Just Asking: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says any Dallas player who does not stand for the national anthem will be benched. The Cowboys next game is October 22 against San Francisco in Santa Clara, CA. If the entire team takes a knee, will Dallas forfeit the game..?

•Evergreen State Success: In this week’s AP college football top 25, Washington is ranked fifth and Washington State is eighth. According to the Seattle Times it’s just the third time the Huskies and Cougars have been in the top 10 simultaneously. This year’s Apple Cup game between Washington State and Washington is November 25 in Seattle, and could have playoff repercussions…

•Signature Win: Btw, that’s the same Washington State team that Minnesota knocked off in the 2016 Holiday Bowl. Despite that impressive outing, HC Tracy Claeys was kicked to the curb by the current Gopher regime who did not want him in Dinkytown…

•Soccer Honor: Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino is the MLS Player of the Week. Molino scored a goal and had an assist in Minn U’s 3-2 comeback win last week against Atlanta United in Georgia. Molino has seven goals and a career-high nine assists this season…

•Trending Up: This season’s WNBA playoffs drew an average of 9,596 spectators per game, the most since 2010 (10,822). The WNBA Finals between Los Angeles and Minnesota on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 was the third most-watched Finals ever, averaging 559,000 viewers for the five-game series…

•Knight Time: Former Indiana coaching legend Bob Knight was in St. Paul last weekend for a Nike coaching clinic at the University of St. Thomas. Tommies HC John Tauer, Iowa State’s Steve Prohm and ex-NBA coach Mike Fratello were also at the clinic…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Vikings are getting plenty of northern exposure this month

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By Eric Nelson
October 4, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Trix...

•Northern Exposure: The Minnesota Vikings are smack dab in the middle of a three-game October run against NFC North opponents. It began last week with a 14-7 loss to Detroit, continues Monday night in Chicago, and finishes up October 15 in Minneapolis against Green Bay. This is a crucial stretch for the Purple, who can ill afford to go 1-2 or 0-3 against their division rivals…

•Diggs Route: Vikings’ WR Stefan Diggs has become an explosive player who gains yards in chunks and has a knack for making tough catches in traffic. This season Diggs has 22 receptions, an NFL-best 391 yards receiving and four touchdowns…

•Saluting Ahmad: Ahmad Rashad was inducted into the ring of honor at halftime of the Lions-Vikings game, something that was long overdue. Rashad was an impact wideout with Minnesota from 1976-81 and was a key cog in the Purple’s offense…

•Fantastic Finish: Rashad played in one Super Bowl and four Pro Bowls for Minnesota. His pinnacle moment came in December 1980 against Cleveland in Bloomington, MN. Rashad caught a last second desperation heave from quarterback Tommy Kramer as the Vikings stunned the Browns 28-23 to win the NFC Central Division title. The play is now known as “The Miracle at the Met…”

•Philly West: According to the LA Times, there were so many Eagles fans at Sunday’s Philadelphia-LA Chargers game in Carson, CA, that Philly players had to quiet the crowd when QB Carson Wentz was calling signals. A total of 25,374 showed up to the StubHub Center and most wore green jerseys…

•Tough Transition: The Chargers should cut their losses, hop on I-5 south and return to San Diego where they belong. Not only is LA ignoring the Chargers, but they are off to an 0-4 start – which does nothing to garner attention or interest in sports-saturated So Cal. The Chargers have also been on the short side of three squeaker games – losing by three to Denver, two to Miami and two to Philadelphia…

•KC Masterpiece: Rookie RB Kareem Hunt might be Kansas City’s most exciting player since Dante Hall – who was known as the “The Human Joystick.” Hunt leads the NFL with 502 yards rushing, has 157 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Hunt is a major reason why KC is a perfect 4-0…

•Waffle Kings: Hard to believe the Minnesota Twins have not given manager Paul Molitor a contract extension yet. What are Derek Falvey and Thad Levine waiting for? Molly took the Twins to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Enough said. Bring him back and give him a raise…

•Playoff Bonanza: Even though the Twins got bounced from the wild card game by the NY Yankees on Tuesday night, this is a great week to be a Minnesota sports fan. It’s not often when two Twin Cities teams are in the post-season at the exact same time. From Twins-Yankees to Sparks-Lynx, there were plenty of high stakes games to focus on…

•Sayonara Soccer: Minnesota United’s final regular season home match is Saturday against Sporting KC at TCF Bank Stadium. Minn U won 3-2 against Atlanta United on Tuesday and has 35 points this season. The Loons finish up on the road against Los Angeles on October 15 and San Jose on October 22…

•Crowd Count: Minn U is averaging 20,380 fans per match this year – 10th best in MLS. Atlanta United is the top-draw in the league with a per match average of 46,956, followed by Seattle (43,298) and Toronto (27,634)…

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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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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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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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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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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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Gameday Gold Radio – November 17, 2017 – s.6

An International Mishap & Honors that Confuse and Astound

Segment 6: What do President Trump, the Ball family, college basketball, and shoplifting have in common?  The guys discuss this near-miss of an international incident in China.  Colin Kaepernick gets an honor from a major magazine.  A couple of Twins (A.L. Manager of the Year Paul Molitor and Platinum Glove winner Byron Buxton) get some accolades for a season’s worth of work.

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Gameday Gold Radio – September 28, 2017 – s.1

This has been a wild week in sports.  From controversy to title hopes, there’s a lot for Eric and Larry to tackle.  They do so from the Downtown Minneapolis studio.  The Twins are back in the postseason for the first time in seven years.  How did they do it after last year’s disastrous run?  There’s no way they can go the entire show without touching on the NFL player protests last weekend.  GDG’s Tom Tuttle offers his opinion on whether this is the right way to go.  The Vikings rebounded against Tampa Bay.  Will the momentum continue against Detroit?  The Lynx are in a battle to win their fourth WNBA championship.  Plus, former Gopher football player and athletic director Dr. McKinley Boston joins the program to speak on the 50th anniversary of the last Gopher football Big Ten champ and his road to becoming Dr. Boston.

Twins Turnaround is Complete

Segment 1: You better believe it!  The Twins became the first team in MLB history to make the postseason a year after experiencing a 100-plus loss season.  Eric and Larry take some time to explain the remarkable turnaround at Target Field.  And whom would the guys name as the team’s MVP?

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Gameday Gold Radio – September 7, 2017 – s.6

Twins Holding Strong to Playoff Hopes

Segment 6: The pigskin isn’t the only thing stay front and center.  The Twins hover around one of the AL Wild Card spots.  Eric and Larry try to break down an important series in Kansas City.  You would think this effort is good enough to keep Paul Molitor on the bench next season.  Is it?  Plus, we hear a little more on P.J. Fleck’s Gopher debut and Giancarlo Stanton’s power-packed season.