Posted by: gravessack | June 18, 2017

Twins Pitching A Concern

The Twins are doing better than many expected so far in 2017 (although they just got swept by Cleveland). Ervin Santana has emerged as the ace of the starting rotation, as he is 8-4 with a 2.56 ERA. Jose Berrios, after a rocky start to his major league career, is pitching well this season. However, the rest of the starting rotation (and the bullpen) is a different story.

Starting Rotation

After Santana and Berrios, there is a dramatic drop-off in terms of talent in the starting rotation. This past series against Cleveland was a good example of that. Because of injuries, rookie pitchers started for the Twins in each of the first three games. Nik Turley, basically unknown before coming to the major leagues June 11, allowed eight runs in just 4 2/3 innings! Turley is 0-1 in two major league starts with a 12.46 ERA!

Adam Wilk, another basically unknown pitcher, started the second game and allowed six earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings! Wilk was designated for assignment after the game! Adalberto Mejia started the third game and pitched better, lasting 4 2/3 innings (there was a rain delay) while giving up two runs. However, Mejia has been inconsistent so far in the majors.

Even when everyone in the starting rotation is healthy, it is still shaky. Hector Santiago began 2017 pitching well, but then faded and is now hurt. Phil Hughes is hurt and appears not to be coming back anytime soon. Kyle Gibson, who was one of the Twins’ top prospects about five years ago, has been ineffective and has a 6.56 ERA (he lost the series finale to Cleveland).

Bullpen

For much of the season, the Twins bullpen has been bad. Probably the biggest bullpen collapse this year was on May 29 when the bullpen blew an 8-2 eighth-inning lead and lost the game 16-8! Even the closer, Brandon Kintzler, has been shaky at times. The Twins have the worst bullpen ERA in the majors in 2017 (5.29)

What the Twins Need to Do

For the Twins to stay in the AL Central race, they need to get rid of multiple relievers, especially Matt Belisle. Belisle has a 7.56 ERA. Ryan Pressly also should go. He has an 8.18 ERA. The Twins also need to acquire at least one starting pitcher before the trade deadline July 31. Minnesota could trade Santiago or even Gibson if any teams wanted them.

If this team wants to surprise everyone by making the playoffs, they must improve the pitching!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | June 11, 2017

Twins Grab Heston From Dodgers; Cut Tepesch

Minnesota Twins pitcher Chris Heston pitching while playing for the San Francisco Giants

Minnesota Twins pitcher Chris Heston pitching while playing for the San Francisco Giants

It is mid-June and surprisingly the Twins are in first place! They are just squeaking by with only two reliable starters, a bullpen that has been sub-par, and a closer who looks unsteady at times. Seeing that there is no clear front-runner in the AL Central this year, the Twins architects are leaving no stone unturned and trying to bolster their pitching staff for the final three months. So when the Dodgers put pitcher Chris Heston on waivers last week, General Manager Thad Levine swallowed him up on June 7, then simultaneously cut reliever Nick Tepesch.

Over the past year, Heston never got into a rhythm with a single team. The 29-year-old was traded to Seattle in December, and then claimed off waivers by the Dodgers and Twins within the last month. Heston really struggled in his two Major League appearances with Seattle this year, which includes one start, posting a 19.80 ERA while giving up 12 runs in just 5 innings. His most effective year came in 2015 with San Francisco. Heston started 31 games that year, recording a 3.95 ERA with 141 strikeouts, while winning 12 games. However, excluding the 2015 season, Heston only appeared in ten Major League games over three years. The Florida native’s Twins debut was today, June 11, where he pitched an inning, throwing a couple pitches in the dirt and surrendering one hit. In Heston’s rocky start to his career, he has produced a 4.57 ERA with 151 strikeouts.

To complete the transaction, the club released Tepesch. Having been one of Levine’s first signings, he was hoping to have pitched more for the Twins. That was not the case. Tepesch only appeared in one game, a start in the second game of a doubleheader on May 6, going just 1 2/3 innings and giving up 7 runs. The pitcher was brought in with a minor league contract, but after that one outing, he was never seen again.

Based on Heston’s past, I am not sure why the Twins wanted him. There is a possibility that the Twins want him to start some games since the back end of the starting rotation seems to be in flux now, due to Hector Santiago’s shoulder strain and Kyle Gibson’s wobbly outings. I bet that Heston will land in the bullpen though to help win games that have a little uncertainty. Whatever role Heston gets, the Twins look like they are going all out as they see a potential route to the play-offs. If the Twins can win more games at home and keep close to first place into July, look for the Twins to make more moves to bolster their roster.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

The championship season for power soccer, a sport for people with physical impairments, is here! In just a few weeks, 29 teams from around the country will make the excursion to Hamilton County, Indiana to compete for their respective Cups.2017 MK Battery Conference Cup Championship Series logo with a soccer ball on top of an American flag with a drawing of the Jonathan Byrd Fieldhouse in the background. The USPSA and MK Powered logos are at the bottom of the image. Starting last fall, each team played at least twelve games to secure a slot in this three-day event. Things will be ramped up as this year’s extravaganza will be the predecessor to the United Sates hosting the Fédération internationale de Powerchair Football Association (FIPFA) World Cup just a mere two weeks later. The MK Battery Conference Cup Series will be held at the Grand Park Fieldhouse in Westfield from June 16 to 18.

The United States Power Soccer Association (USPSA) consists of three top divisions, which will all participate: the Premier and Presidents Conferences will bring in ten teams, while the Champions Conference will have nine teams partaking. “It will be great seeing 220 athletes playing all under one roof on six courts,” says Karen Russo, President of the USPSA. “It should be quite exciting!”

For the first day and a half, pool-play for each tournament will take place. After each conference’s pool-play concludes, seedings will be determined and the knockout stage will begin, which will continue into the last day. Adding to the uniqueness to this event, all three national championship games will start at the same time: 2:00pm C.T. on June 18.

The USPSA is hoping this Cup series will be the kick-off to the World Cup. “This national event is also the launching pad for Team USA as they will begin their journey to Kissimmee just 10 days later for the World Cup and their quest to be the only team in history to win three back-to-back titles,” suggested Russo. She really hopes “that membership will give them a thunderous send off and then join us in Florida to cheer them on!”

Among the teams attending, there will be three from Minnesota. Participating in the Premier Cup are the Magic and Shockwave, and in the Presidents Cup, the Northern Lights will be looking to steal the Cup. All these teams faired pretty well this year in their conferences, with the Magic having the best luck. Fans should also tune in to watch all three Minnesota athletes on Team USA’s World Cup team cruising up and down the courts. Those three include: Riley Johnson of the Magic, Pete Winslow and Nathan Mayer, who play for the Shockwave.

The weekend will be a fantastic opportunity to see the sport grow. If you have not seen the sport, make sure to watch and see for yourself what power soccer is all about. It should be amazing and you can be a part of it by watching the livestream starting at 8:00 a.m. C.T. of the first day of competition. In addition, feel free to view each Conference Cup schedule. Please spread the word about this event as we prepare for the FIPFA World Cup at the beginning of July!

An Extra Tidbit: I am on the Minnesota Northern Lights, and will be heading into the tournament with eight goals in ten games this season.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | May 23, 2017

“Speechless” Season 1 Concludes; Season 2 Confirmed

On May 17th, season 1 of ABC’s “Speechless” came to a close. However, ABC has confirmed that there will be a second season of the sitcom! The release date of season 2 has not been announced.ABC's "Speechless" logo

Season 1 Recap

Overall, Season 1 got very positive reviews (click for a list of how “Speechless” compared to other ABC shows in 2016-17). I also liked the first season. Disability-related stories can be overly sentimental, but “Speechless” has done a good job of avoiding that. So far, the show has also done a good job of being funny while being respectful of serious issues concerning disability. Kenneth, played by Minnesota native Cedric Yarbrough, is very funny and is my favorite character.

Looking Ahead

My only complaint about season 1 is that Maya, J.J.’s mom, has too much of a central role. In season 2, the show should focus less on her and more on J.J. and Kenneth. Even so, I am looking forward to season 2 and glad that ABC renewed the show. I am curious to see whether the show can continue to receive good ratings and can avoid becoming too sentimental. I hope it will!

What are your thoughts on season 1 and the renewal for a second season?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | May 20, 2017

A Young Pitcher’s Journey

When the Twins selected Jose Berrios in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, they were hoping he could be their ace someday. During these down years, fans were begging former General Manager Terry Ryan to bring him up. However, Berrios had to first fine-tune his pitches and fix his control problems in the minors. Last April, Berrios was promoted to the Major Leagues that finished in disappointment.

The new leaders decided to start Berrios in the minors this year despite his decent spring.  He once again proved that Triple-A was to easy for him and the Twins brought him up again earlier this month. Having a second crack with the big club, Berrios is now pitching like he wants a permanent spot in the rotation.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios pitching baseball at Target Field

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios

Berrios started his journey with two Rookie ball teams in 2012, making 11 appearances. He recorded a 1.17 ERA and had 49 strikeouts. The next season, he had an average season playing at Cedar Rapids. Berrios pitched to a 7-7 record in his 19 starts. He started to climb the ladder in 2014 where he played for three different teams, producing a 2.77 ERA. His big breakthrough came in 2015, when Berrios went 14-5 and had an ERA of 3.03 while recording 175 strikeouts for two teams. That season gave Berrios confidence for what was to come.

After just pitching 4.1 innings in spring training in 2016, the Twins started him at Triple-A. Berrios once again excelled, leading to his Major League debut in late April. The pitcher’s debut season was not all that impressive, as he went 3-7 with a 8.02 ERA in 14 starts. Berrios pitched much better at Triple-A when sent down, racking up 10 wins.

That set the stage for this year. The budding star again started in Rochester, bulldozing his way through line-ups, while racking up three quick wins before being called up on May 3. Berrios has looked outstanding in his first two major league starts this year, pitching 7.2 innings in each outing. He has struck out 15 batters, with 11 of those in his second start. Although it is just a couple of outings, Berrios has a 0.59 ERA, allowing just 2 base-on-balls. According to the Twins, the 22-year-old is only the third pitcher in thirty years to go 7.2 innings in their first two outings of the year. Berrios seems to get wild at times, but that is an effective strategy as he then can come back with a wicked pitch!

Berrios is showing us why the Twins chose him, and will just improve as he gets used to the majors. He is becoming the pitcher the Twins expected him to be, and that could be the rejuvenation the Twins need to get back to relevance. The Puerto Rican seems to be well on his way to being that number 1 starter that the Twins have been clamoring for, and if the youngster continues to roll, they will have found one! (And if Berrios starts to struggle, don’t blame me!)

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | May 8, 2017

Accessible360: Making the Web Accessible

Accessible360 logo
In addition to the issue of whether spaces are physically accessible, there is an access issue that is becoming more and more significant: Internet accessibility. Accessible360 is a relatively new company in Minneapolis that is dedicated to making the Internet accessible to all. Accessible360 does this by conducting accessibility audits of all different kinds of websites and working with clients to help their websites maintain accessibility compliance. This issue is becoming more and more important as people are now spending more and more time online. In addition, people with disabilities spend twice as much time online compared to people who are able-bodied.

For example, people who are blind or have significant visual impairments may find it difficult to navigate websites. To address this issue, there are devices called screen readers that can read the text on web pages. In order for screen readers to work, websites must have alt text (text that describes images in detail) associated with each image. If there are videos on websites, the videos must have closed captioning so that people with hearing impairments can read what is being said in the videos. Websites must be created so that it is possible to navigate by using only a keyboard. In addition, there are devices that make it easier for people with significant mobility impairments to navigate websites.

Because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed before the Internet existed, the bill does not address online accessibility. It is expected that the U.S. Department of Justice will introduce new website accessibility regulations under the ADA. With the help of organizations such as Accessible360, people are realizing that Internet accessibility is necessary to creating a more inclusive world.

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | May 4, 2017

The Magnificent Sano

The Twins have won 7 out of 11 games dating back to April 21. One reason for this is their bats are heating up, as they averaged more than three runs per game during that span. There is, however, one player in the line-up who is shining a little brighter than the others. Three years removed from Tommy John Surgery, Miguel Sano is finally showing us what made him the number 2 Twins prospect a while ago.

Sano’s start to the 2017 season has simply been amazing as he is looking more and more comfortable at the plate. He is spraying the ball to all parts of the field. Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano hitting baseball during baseball game at Target FieldIn 26 games, Sano is hitting .300 while driving in 27 runs and launching 8 home runs. Showing off his improved eye in the batter’s box, he already has 21 walks this year. Compare that to the last two years where he walked 53 and 54 times for the entire year!

The 23-year-old has especially been on his game recently, winning the A.L. Player of the Week on Monday, May 1. The ball must have looked like a beach ball to him as Sano was not missing anything. During the week of April 24, Sano provided some marvelous numbers in five games. The slugger hit .524, drove in 11 runs, had 11 singles, a double, and three homers. Sano recorded nine RBIs in the two games at Kansas City on April 28 and 30.

The fielding has improved too. Sano looks smooth at third base after looking kind of lost a year ago. Remember when he started in the outfield last year and gave us some bloopers? The Twins quickly moved Sano back to third, but he never had the skills to permanently replace Trevor Plouffe. In November, General Manager Thad Levine let go of Plouffe, giving Sano the third base job. Whatever Sano did over the off-season helped as he looks sharp over there. He is making great plays such as diving and making throws on the run. Sano looks more agile and his reaction time is splendid. He has 22 putouts and 29 assists at third this season.

Sano seems like he is getting the hang of the big leagues. It might have taken him a couple years to get to his full potential, but if he keeps producing like this and his fielding stays steady, Sano will really help the Twins get back to relevance and be in the middle of the line-up for a long time. KEEP ON SMASHING THEM, SANO!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 28, 2017

Santana Keeping Twins Respectable

After having a decent start to the season, the Twins have fallen back around .500. One of the reasons for this is that the offense has been sub-par, and the starting pitching has been less than desirable. Starter Kyle Gibson has been having control trouble, and Adalberto Mejia was sent to Triple-A Rochester April 22 after just three starts. However, there is some great news from the rotation: Ervin Santana is pitching extraordinary well and is keeping the Twins alive.

Santana, who pitched the Twins to an Opening Day victory April 3, has had a brilliant start to his season. Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana smiling with baseball cap off and sunglasses on in dugoutIn fact, it is the best start by a Twins pitcher in their 56-year existence. With Santana’s wonderful fastball-curveball combination, opponents look baffled against him. The 34-year-old has pitched with confidence, knowing his mechanics can produce outs if done effectively. Santana has pitched in five games so far, putting up these ludicrous numbers: a 4-0 record, an ERA of 0.77 and 36 strikeouts, while allowing just 3 runs on 13 hits. He is so much on his game right now that he has already recorded a complete game one-hit shutout against the White Sox on April 15.

The Twins have seldom seen pitching performances like this. Yes, former Twin Ricky Nolasco started the 2015 season with a 5-1 record before missing four months due to injury. Nonetheless, Santana has done something that the Twins have not witnessed since Johan Santana was on the mound for the Twins. According to the team, the two are the only ones in Twins history who have not given up 2 runs in five consecutive starts. Ervin Santana has a chance to surpass Johan in his next start.

Santana has five pitch types in his back pocket: fastball, two-seam fastball, change up, cutter, and slider. If he can keep command of his pitches, the Twins could have an ace on their hands, a luxury they have not had since the mid-2000s. Santana has been a big boost to this pitching staff since the last month of the 2016 season. Contrary to some, I feel that the Dominican is already the ace of the Twins, will guide his team to a way better record then last year, and will definitely make this year’s All-Star Game! To read more on Santana’s awesome start to 2017, click here.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 15, 2017

Why is Park in Rochester?

Minnesota Twins first baseman/designated hitter ByungHo Park hitting baseballTwins first baseman/designated hitter ByungHo Park had a very disappointing 2016 season after signing a giant contract the previous offseason. After Park was designated for assignment last winter, he was sent to the minors. However, Park had an impressive 2017 spring training, leading Minnesota with six home runs, and appeared to have earned a spot on the major league Opening Day roster. Shockingly, Park was sent to Class AAA Rochester a few days before Opening Day.

There is no reason Park should have been sent down. I think the Twins wanted another pitcher since the pitching was so bad last year, but why send your best hitter in spring training to the minors? It makes no sense! Plus, he has gotten off to a good start in Rochester this season, as he has six hits in 16 at-bats.

Park is currently injured (he has a hamstring strain that appears to be minor) but once he gets healthy and if he continues to perform well, he should definitely be called up to the majors! The Twins could send center fielder Byron Buxton to the minors (he has 20 strikeouts in only 37 at-bats!) and call up Park. Danny Santana could play center field, even though Buxton is a better fielder. Another idea is that the team could send a pitcher down.

The Twins’ offense has struggled a bit in 2017 and Park could provide a much needed boost. Click here for more on why Park should be in the majors.

What is your opinion on Park?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | April 10, 2017

A Phenom’s Struggles

Despite an outstanding 5-1 start to the season, the Twins have a problem that has to be solved in a hurry. In order for a team to win a lot, they need every player to hit some. It may feel like everyone is hitting, but that is not the case. The player who the Twins were hoping to lead the team in the future is looking lost again at the plate.

Center fielder Byron Buxton was hoping to start the season hitting like he was last September when he notched nine home runs. However, he has had a very disappointing start to 2017. To make the big league club, Buxton averaged .283 with 13 hits and 9 doubles this spring. But since the season started, he has looked completely overmatched, and sometimes lost, when hitting. Buxton is swinging at balls that are way out of the strike zone, which questions his capabilities of hitting major league pitching. Through six games this year, his offensive production has been nonexistent. Buxton has a .077 batting average to go along with 14 strike outs and two hits—and, miraculously, this in just 27 at-bats!

Buxton’s fielding expertise is saving him from being axed from the line-up. The 23-year-old has made some sweet catches to rob some runs. But making game-saving catches cannot be the only criteria for keeping him in the line-up.

In the first four games, Buxton was in the third spot of the batting order. When he kept striking out, Manager Paul Manager demoted him to batting seventh on Saturday, with Buxton remaining stagnant in that spot. Buxton’s struggles seem more prominent because he has come up with men on base more times than not and hasn’t been able to bring them in. If he keeps up this trend, the Twins should bench or send Buxton to Triple-A and bring up either Zach Granite or Daniel Palka.

As much as the Twins want to be patient with the Georgia native, they can’t afford any hiccups with this being their best start in years. Buxton will be General Manager Thad Levine’s first in-season, big decision that could indicate the direction of this year. Will Levine let him struggle or will we see a move made?

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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