Sunday

7-12-15 Twins Blog: Homestand Notes - All Star Break Edition


The Twins just finished a successful 7-game homestand, going 6-1 against the Orioles and Tigers and now begin a well-deserved break from the grind of the season as the All Star break is upon us.

As usual with this club there were surprises, frustration and more than a little bit of drama.

Let's dig in to some notes and musings from the homestand that was...


Sweeping The Birds...

The Twins began the homestand about as well as they could. Namely, with a 3-game sweep of Baltimore.

The sweep began with disappointment and a dramatic finish. The disappointment came in the fashion of finding out that Brian Dozier hadn't been named to the All-Star team. Sure, he was part of the Final Vote, but there were plenty of folks – especially in and around the Twins organization – that felt he was deserving of being selected by players and coaches for a spot.

Dozier made that point emphatically as he came to the plate in the 10th inning on Monday night with the game tied at two and Danny Santana on first. Baltimore closer Tommy Hunter was on the hill and served one up that Dozier proceeded to deposit in the Home Run Porch in left field.

After the game Dozier talked about his emphatic point towards the dugout when he knew it was gone.

“It was Pelfrey. He always says, 'do something, Rook,'” Dozier said, “I told him to sit right here, you got a free ticket, we call it 'souvenirs'. I coulda grounded out and I'd have still told him the next at-bat, 'hey just sit right here'. We always say it every at-bat, but it kinda happened this time.”

Turns out, that wouldn't be the only drama for Dozier on the homestand.

Game two wasn't as close as the Twins used a 3-run first and a 4-run fourth to give Kyle Gibson a comfortable cushion to work with.

Gibson didn't have his best stuff, but ground out six solid innings for a quality start and his seventh win on the season.

In the finale on Wednesday, Tommy Milone gave up just a single run over his seven innings of work to backstop the Twins to a 5-3 win. Dozier boosted the offense with his second homer of the series. The win provided the Twins with their fifth sweep of the season and their 14th series victory of the year.

The sweep was a big boost for the Twins who traditionally struggle with AL East clubs. They went 3-4 versus Baltimore last season, with two of their three wins coming at Target Field.


Bird Watcher...

Joe Mauer continued his hot hitting off Baltimore pitching. He entered the series hitting .343 lifetime off the Orioles and went 4-for-13 (.308) during this series, scoring 4 runs, and homering in the sweep-clinching win on Wednesday.

On Sunday Mauer had his 8-game hitting streak snapped. Over that stretch he hit .371/.389/.600 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 3RBI.

Mauer had some rough stretches to say the least earlier this season, but as he enters the heart of summer, he's starting to turn things around. His success will be key for the Twins in the second half.



Perk Is An All-Star Again...

Though there was initally disappointment over Brian Dozier not being selected to go to Cincinnati (the good news is coming – be patient), Twins fans were thrilled to see Glen Perkins get selected for the third time in his career.

Perkins earned the save in the 2014 All-Star Game held right here at Target Field, and now joins Camillo Pascual, Rick Aguilera and Johan Santana as the only pitchers in Twins history to be named to three consecutive All-Star Games.

Perk earned his 28th consecutive Save in Wednesday's finale, surpassing Joe Nathan for the longest consecutive Save streak in Twins History. That Save also gave him 116 for his career which tied him for third on the Twins All-Time list with his bullpen coach, Eddie Guardado.



Dominating Detroit...

The Twins came into their series with Detroit having gone just 2-7 against the Tigers in 2015, but finished it with a more-respectable 5-8 record.

The series began frustratingly as David Price dominated the Twins on the way to a 4-2 Tigers win. Price gave up just two runs in his eight innings of work. Minnesota managed just six hits off Detroit that evening, all singles and went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

More bad All-Star news came for Brian Dozier on Friday as it was announced that Mike Moustakas from the Royals had won the AL Final Vote and would be joining the All Stars in Cincinnati.

In Friday night's game, it looked like the Twins were well on their way to extending their futile 2015 record against the Tigers to 2-9 as they trailed 6-1 going into the 9th inning. Justin Verlander had 2-hit them for seven innings, and Minnesota had barely scratched out their lone run in the 8th.

But the Twins bats came alive in the 9th off of relievers Bruce Rondon and Joakim Soria. They strung together five hits, a walk and a hit batter to score seven runs and roar back for a 8-6 win over Detroit. A win that was capped off by yet another walk-off home run by Brian Dozier.

Dozier is only the second player in Twins history to record multiple walk-off homers in a single homestand. Roy Sievers is the only other hitter to do it in franchise history, accomplishing the feat back in July of 1958 when they were the Washington Senators.

The win was the first time the Twins had walked one off after trailing by at least five runs since May 27, 1997, when they erased a 5-run deficit against the Seattle Mariners.

That good vibe carried over to Saturday, when there was good All-Star news for Dozier as it was announced during the game that he'd been named to replace the injured Jose Bautista and was now officially an All-Star!

It's not a tough case to make that Brian is deserving of the nod: Dozier's 48 extra-base hits are the most by a Twins batter before the All-Star break in franchise history and he leads all MLB second basemen in home runs (19) and RBI (50), he's second in doubles (26) and walks (34), and he's second in all of baseball in runs scored (67).

The news came in the midst of another Twins win as they scored three runs in the 2nd inning and four more in the 3rd on the way to a 9-5 win. A win that guaranteed them at least a split with the Tigers. The win featured a third-deck bomb by Torii Hunter that his teammates joked was a result of “granddad pop”.

Hunter played along with the humor saying, “I told all the guys when I came in [the dugout], you gotta have kids in college to hit balls like that,” Torii said, “and they kind laughed, but they said I was old. Ruined the joke.”

In the finale, the Twins jumped out to yet another early lead with two runs in the first and four in the fourth on the way to a 7-1 win. Kyle Gibson had a superb day going 7 strong innings, giving up just 1 run and striking out 6 on the way to his 8th win of the year.

In all, the Twins out-scored the Tigers 26 to 16 over the course of the four-game set.



The Sano Era Has Begun...

As frustrating as Byron Buxton's big league start was (at least at the plate), Miguel Sano has made the transition fairly smoothly.

He started by collecting hits his his first seven career games, which matched the 3rd-longest such streak by a Minnesota Twin. The only Twins with longer streaks to start their career? Luis Rivas with an 8-gamer and Glenn Williams who began his career with a 15-game hitting streak.

Perhaps more impressively, he took six walks over that same 7-game streak. A feat only bested by Rich Becker who had eight walks in his first seven games.

Sano enters the All-Star Break hitting .378/.489/.649 with 4 doubles, 2 homers, 8 walks and 8 RBI. He has registered hit in 10 of his first 11 games as a big leaguer. He'll have to continue to adjust as pitchers find new ways to attack him. But if he makes said adjustments, he'll be a fixture in the Twins line-up for the rest of the season.


Torii's Climbing The Lists...

On Thursday night, Torii Hunter drove in his 758th RBI as a Twin which tied him for sixth with Gary Gaetti on Minnesota's All-Time list. On Saturday, he hit a monster 2-run homer to give him 760 and sole possession of 6th.

That homer also gave him 714 runs scored as a Twin, which passed Chuck Knoblauch and gave Torii sole possession of 7th place in that category.

And with one more home run, he'll tie the legend and one of his mentors, Kirby Puckett, for sixth all time in a Minnesota uniform.


Minor League Player of the Week...

This week the award goes to an interesting name that's familiar to Twins fans. Oswaldo Arcia appeared in eight games for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings this week, hitting .296 (8-for-27) with a double, five homers, 11 RBI, seven runs scores – and perhaps most impressively – four walks.

There's no question that if there were a clear opening in the Twins outfield (or even on the bench), Arcia would be called up. At the moment, there's not, but it won't be any kind of surprise if he gets that call sooner than later in the second half.


Next Homestand...


It's All-Star Break time. Glen Perkins is headed to Cincinnati for the Mid-Summer Classic. The rest of the Twins are off for a well-deserved rest. After the break it's a 6-game trip out west to face the Athletics and Angels. The Twins return home for a 9-game homestand starting on July 24th that features the Yankees, Pirates and Mariners.



Wednesday

3-11-15 Twins Blog: Spring Training Interview with Royals GM Dayton Moore


It's been four years of futility for the Minnesota Twins. But compared to some other MLB franchises, four years is a brief period of time compared to their struggles to compete for a championship.

One of those franchises, the Kansas City Royals, finally broke through last season, after having missed the playoffs for nearly the last 30 years.

So, could the long road back to relevance for Kansas City provide some lessons for the Twins? Or perhaps serve as a cautionary tale for Twins fans?

On a recent trip to their spring training home in Surprise, AZ, I had a chance to chat with Royals GM Dayton Moore about the process of bringing a winner back to KC, about his philosophy on building an organization and about the prospects for his club in the AL Central in 2015.


Do you see last season as a culmination of your plans to bring a contender back to Kansas City, or is that not a plan that every really “culminates”?

The truth of the matter is we modeled a lot of the things that we did after Terry Ryan and the Twins. Terry, I believe, took over in November of '94. I want to say it was about 6 years, maybe year 7 they were over .500 and year 8 they won the division and were in the playoffs and of course they had some consistency of being in the playoffs there for a period of time. I don't know if we will have that type of success. But we like our team a great deal. We've tried to maintain our strengths and hopefully we've even improved on them with Rios in right field. We think he's going to add something to our already quality defense. And with Hochevar and Frasor we think that's going to strengthen our bullpen. We probably can't replace James Shields, but Edinson Volquez had a terrific year and we think he's in his prime. We feel like he can keep doing well. And of course, Duffy and Ventura, we expect them to get better too.


Now that your club has tasted success, do the players feel pressure to get back to the playoffs, or has it made them more hungry?

I think they're more hungry. I just remember all those years in Atlanta, you couldn't imagine not being in the playoffs. You did everything to hopefully win a World Series. Now that our players have tasted that environment, played baseball on the biggest stage, that's all you dream about, that's all you think about. Their mannerisms, their routines this offseason, this Spring Training have been very similar, if not identical to years past. They love to play baseball. They'll be fine.


Fans don't tend to be patient. They want a winner and a consistent one at that. How much do you have to pay attention to the fan base in your decision making process?

Certainly you want to put a great product on the field for your fans to enjoy. I mean, that's very important. But I know that this group of players over the last two and half years has really captured the attention of our entire fan base, all generations. They love watching these guys play. I think the important thing is, you keep them together. They put on a good show every night with their energy and their effort to win.


How do you balance dedicating resources to free agents versus building through your farm system and does that change based on the success you have?

It's one of the more challenging things. You want to make sure that you're managing all the expectations that you have to at the major league level. That's paramount. But we also, in our market especially, you have to keep in mind the importance of building your farm system. You've got to be able to manage on both fronts and manage well. And then have production in all those areas to be successful, especially long term. So our farm system, the draft and everything we do internationally is obviously going to be very very important to our success.


How difficult was it to let a guy like Billy Butler, who's been a big part of this teams growth, leave as a free agent?

Billy's a terrific hitter and has been a terrific player for us for a long time. We knew it was going to be a challenge to re-sign him. So we just wish him well in Oakland. [Former Twin] Kendrys [Morales] is a terrific leader, great work ethic, loves to play baseball. He's going to get a lot of at bats this Spring Training. We feel like he can get back to his accustomed level, just because of his make-up. We're going to trust in who he is as a man.


Twins fans saw a little of Kendrys Morales last season, but it was struggle – perhaps because he didn't play the first half of the season. Do you think having a full Spring will get him back on track?

I think so. I mean, we have to believe that. That's for sure. That's why we acquired him. We're expecting him to do well. There's no doubt in my mind that a full Spring Training will help him.


It seems like first baseman Eric Hosmer took a big step in last season's playoff run, and has continued to become more of a leader this Spring. How have you seen him grow as a leader?

Hos” has been a great leader from day one. He leads himself well. He loves to play baseball. Obviously, the more experience you gain and the success you have, you earn more opportunity to lead. But he's certainly one of the leaders. We have several leaders. I view all of our players as leaders because, again, they love to play baseball. They lead themselves well and collectively, they play for one another.


Looking back at last season, you had the tying run at third in Game 7 of the World Series. Can you look back on last year as a success, or does it still sting to be THAT close to a championship?

It certainly stings. I mean the opportunities to play in the World Series are very rare. You realize that as you're experiencing it, so you want to win. That's for sure. But when you do get a chance to reflect, which isn't often in this game, you realize the success that we've enjoyed. We certainly remember a lot of the tough times too. But we're excited to get going in 2015. We're ready to hopefully go out and compete. The division is exceptional. A lot of great teams and great talent. It'll be a tough race.


I'd be remiss if for the “Twins Blog” I didn't ask you for your perspective on the Twins?

The Twins got a terrific club. I think they scored a ton of runs last year. Very athletic. Obviously Torii Hunter's going to help a great deal. Ervin Santana. It's a team that's full of a lot of terrific talent.




Tuesday

11-4-14 Twins Blog: Paul Molitor - Lots of Questions



On Tuesday the Minnesota Twins introduced the 13th manager in club history, Paul Molitor, and gave him a chance to address the many questions that have been floating around since he emerged early on as the front-runner for the job.

The new field boss takes over a team that's lost 90+ games for four consecutive seasons, and has serious questions to answer before they return to baseball relevance.

But for his part the new skipper seems undeterred by the challenge.

“I'm coming here to win,” Molitor said at his introductory press conference, “I think that it's very important to lay that out there right from the start. Things can change in this game very dramatically at this level very quickly.”

So how will that change come about? Both Molitor and his boss Twins GM Terry Ryan know that it comes down to pitching.

“I like some of the things we saw about our pitching,” Molitor said, “I'm sure Terry will tell you that we're always going to keep our minds open about trying to find ways to improve our roster – I mean who doesn't do that? - but I'm also prepared to look at what we have and say hey there are some good things there.”

“We've got to address a few holes here,” GM Terry Ryan said, “As you've heard me say many times, payroll's not everything, but it certainly helps, so we'll use it to our advantage. If there's somebody out there that we think is going to help us, we'll have the ability to go chase that player.”

While Molitor will certainly have input on the eventual 25-man roster, his job will be primarily be about coaching and managing whatever players Ryan gives him.

And since Molitor's never managed at any level before, there are some questions about his experience. Questions he's aware of an didn't shy away from.

“Playing, coaching, developing, it's not the same as being the leader at the top,” Molitor said, “I certainly was transparent with Terry about I know what I know … but you have to know where you're going to need help. I think assembling a staff that's going to be supportive, that's able to fill some of those gaps for me … will be very critical, and it's something that we plan to get started on.”

Asked if Molitor's lack of managerial experience factored in his decision-making, Ryan said he was certainly cognizant of it.

“If there's one thing that Paul wasn't experienced in, it's making out the lineup card,” Ryan said, “and that certainly crosses any general manager's mind about the hiring process. And then you look at some of the recent history of major league managers, there's many guys that are succeeding that haven't made out a lineup in their life. And after obviously knowing Paul for the many years that we have around here, that's secondary.”

Beyond experience, there are questions about Molitor's ability to connect with all of his players. There's a narrative in sports that players of Hall of Fame ability struggle to coach players who aren't as naturally gifted.

Molitor didn't sound overly concerned about it.

“We've seen successful athletes not have much success in management,” Molitor said, “If that happens, it won't be because I didn't think I did the right thing, or why would you mess – just leave a good thing alone. This is a different challenge, it's totally separate from my playing.”

He even quipped that the Hall of Fame reached out to him after he was announced as manager.

“I got a text from Jeff Idelson yesterday, the president of the Hall of Fame,” Molitor said, “and he said, 'Relax, enjoy this. No matter what you do, your plaque is gonna stay in the plaque room. Give you a little freedom.'”

What about the increased use of advanced metrics in the game? Will Molitor embrace the trend towards using sabermetrics to optimize his teams performance?

“It's changed a lot. Information has incredibly increased,” Molitor said, “ I will be open to using what's helpful to me. My concern is that there is so much out there that we try to pass on to players, that you see the smoke coming out of their helmet when they're trying to remember what this guy does on Wednesdays, in a three o'clock game when he has a guy on third base in the sixth inning with two outs.”

But perhaps the most telling answer Molitor gave on Tuesday was to a pretty straight-forward question: What will a Paul Molitor-managed team look like?

“I think that people will probably have their ideas on what it's going to be after they watch our team play for a year,” Molitor said, “Everyone's going to have their own little unique stamp hopefully that they put on their club. I don't know if there's going to be major changes in certain things that we do. Hopefully part of the stamp that I put on is trying to help these guys understand the critical aspect of being good base-runners and learning how to score runs.”

That answer is reflective of a simple truth: anyone who tells you they know what kind of manager Paul Molitor is going to be – including Paul Molitor – is speculating at best.

Until he gets out there and does it, no one really knows how this is going to work out.

Molitor won't be able to turn this thing around on his own. Unless the Twins starting pitching improves - giving the bullpen a break and maximizing the impact of the seventh-highest scoring offense in baseball last season – the difference in managerial styles from Ron Gardenhire to Paul Molitor won't show up much in the team's record.


Those looking for answers from Molitor on Tuesday got a few. But the answers to the most important questions won't start being answered until April 6th, when the Twins kick off their 2015 campaign in Detroit.


Sunday

10-26-14 Wild Blog: What Goaltending Problems?!


Coming into the 2014-15 season there was plenty of cautious optimism surrounding the Minnesota Wild.

Optimism because they'd added goal-scorer Thomas Vanek and kept the offensive-minded Matt Dumba in an effort to bolster an offense that ranked 25th (199G) in scoring last season. A season where they progressed to the Western Conference Semi-Finals before bowing out to Chicago in a series where many thought the Wild out-played the 2013 Stanley Cup champs.

Caution because for all the improvements on offense, and confidence in Mike Yeo and his staff, there were still plenty of questions surrounding the Wild netminders.

Last season began with a spectacular run by G Josh Harding, who amassed an 18-7-3 record with a 1.65 GAA and a .933 SV% before having to step away to deal with complications from his Multiple Sclerosis treatments. Niklas Backstrom was more than talented enough to pick up the slack, but his history of injuries proved prescient, and he was forced out of the lineup.

That left Darcy Kuemper and the newly acquired Ilya Bryzgalov to carry the Wild through the post-season. And considering that the result was the Wild's deepest run since the 2002-03 Western Conference Finals team, you could say they were fairly successful.

So why the caution over the goaltending this season? Harding seemed to be healthy coming into camp, but the club couldn't be sure if or when an issue with his MS might surface. Darcy Kuemper was a restricted free-agent and was at loggerheads with management over a new contract. Backstrom was healthy, but no one could know for how long and Bryzgalov, while still available, was closer to the end of his career than to his prime.

But as so often happens in pro sports things sorted themselves out quickly enough.

Harding came up with a broken foot which the Wild would only say was from an “off-ice incident” and was suspended from the team. That forced Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to drop his demand for a two-way contract with Kuemper (which would've allowed the team to pay Darcy significantly less money if he'd been sent to AHL-Iowa) and sign him to a two-year, one-way deal that would pay him $2.5 million.

Backstrom, who successfully got through the preseason without injury, would battle with Kuemper for the starting job, and Bryzgalov, who'd been signed to a try-out contract for the preseason was “wished well in his future endeavors”.

But even with things seemingly falling into line, goaltending was still seen as a potential weakness for the Wild.

So far, Darcy Kuemper has done all anyone could ask to counter that line of thinking.

After Saturday night's 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Kuemper is now 4-1-0 with a 0.80 GAA and a .966 save percentage.

It took him just four games to set a new career high in shut-outs with three, a number which also happens to lead the NHL. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's just the second goalie since the 1967-68 season to record shutouts in three of his first four games – the other being the Blue Jackets Pascal Leclaire in 2007-08.

During that run, Kuemper also set a Wild franchise record for the longest shutout streak at 163 minutes and 46 seconds

For his part, Kuemper is giving the defense playing in front of him the bulk of the credit.

“I definitely feel good out there, feeling confident,” Kuemper said, “they're [the defense] allowing me to do that by the way they're playing and making my reads easy. I think right now we've just got a good chemistry going between me and the d-men, the forwards are helping us out too. We've got a good thing going right now.”

And there's certainly something to be said for that.

Ryan Suter is playing at the elite, “in the discussion for the Norris Trophy” level that Wild fans have come to expect from him. The Wild think so much of his partner Jonas Brodin that they just inked him to a six-year, $25 million dollar extension. And Jared Spurgeon is tied for second on the Wild with 5 points (2G, 3A) and leads the Wild in blocked shots with 22.

So Kuemper's not wrong to credit his defensemen. But even if he won't say it, it's clear he's having a stellar start to the year himself.

“He's playing unbelievable you know, he's making that first save,” defenseman Marco Scandella said, “we're trying to make him see more pucks and he's doing the job right now. He's a big presence.”

The Wild are just six games into an 82-game schedule, and much will change between now and the end of the regular season.


But so far, the early concerns about the Wild's goaltenders are being allayed, and if that continues, Minnesota will almost certainly be a factor in the Western Conference playoff picture.