Posted by: gravessack | September 7, 2015

Lookin’ Different

Labor Day signifies the start of the home stretch of the MLB season and when playoff races really get going. During the first five months of the baseball schedule, teams have been trying to position themselves for the final push to the post-season. The result: several teams could clinch who have not played into October recently. Here are four teams to keep an eye on this last month.

  •  The Houston Astros have not made it to the playoffs since 2005, when they lost to the White Sox in the World Series. Since 2007, the Astros have had a losing record 7 out of 8 years. Additionally, the club went three consecutive seasons with 100+ losses. But something happened this year, their third year in the AL. Currently, Houston is sitting atop of the AL west, 2.5 games up on Texas, with a 75-63 record. This year, Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, who is in contention for the Cy Young Award, has been dominant. Keuchel, who has won 17 games, has struck out 185 with a 2.29 ERA. With a lot of good hitters, look for Houston to make the party.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays, who currently sit in 1st place in the AL east, have not made the post-season since 1993. The Blue Jays were the World Series Champions that year when they beat Philadelphia. During this 23-year drought, Toronto has had a dreadful record only a couple of times. Toronto just had bad luck with the Yankees dominance and were hovering 10 games below and above the .500 mark 22 of those years. Toronto has been on a roll since the Trade Deadline, when they added Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. The Blue Jays are ready to make a serious run in October.
  • The Chicago Cubs last play-off berth was in 2007, as they lost to the Dodgers in the first round. Thanks to the controversial call in the 2003 NL Championship Series, the Cubs have not made it to the World Series since 1945. The Cubs have won the World Series twice which occurred way back in 1907 and 1908, both against Detroit. Thanks to new Manager Joe Maddon and their host of young talent, the Cubs hold the second NL Wild Card spot, up 8.5 games on Washington. The Cubs’ 79-57 record could be contributed to rookie third baseman Kris Bryant. Bryant, who is 23 years old, has jolted the Cubs this season, hitting .267 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs in 127 games. If the Cubs can clinch, I believe they can do some damage come post-season.
  • The last time the New York Mets made the playoffs was in 2006, when they lost in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals. The last World Series celebration for the Mets came against Boston in 1986. In 9 years since making it to October, the Mets finished below .500 6 times. The Mets, who made a drastic turnaround this season, currently sit in 1st place in the NL East with a record of 76-61. All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey has guided the Mets this year, posting a 2.60 ERA while striking out 158, resulting in a 12-7 record. Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson also added slugger Yoenis Cespedes at the Trade Deadline to add more power to the line-up. The Mets could make some noise in the playoffs, but will have a tough time getting around some teams.

Moreover, we will have Kansas City and Pittsburgh, who recently broke their own post-season drought, in the playoffs. Then, our hometown team is just a game and a half back of a playoff spot. Here’s a safe prediction: if St. Louis can lose in October, MLB will see a new champion that has not won in a LONG time!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 3, 2015

Our New Shutdown Bullpen

Do you see the similarities now in the Twins bullpen versus the dynamic trio in the Kansas City pen? I am starting to see one! The Royals have created a bullpen no team wants to face when down late, in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland. Those three pitchers have combined for 42 saves, 163 strikeouts, and 38 runs scored against them during the last three innings this season. The Royals set-up guy, Davis, has an unheard of ERA of 0.99 for the season. Meanwhile, Manager Paul Molitor and Pitching Coach Neil Allen could form their own concoction in the backend of the bullpen.

It took a player coming back from suspension and a couple of injuries, but the Twins might have found the perfect bullpen order (barring injuries). The set-up should look like this when everyone is healthy: Glen Perkins holds the lead in the 7th, Trevor May shuts the door in the 8th, and then let Kevin Jepsen put nails and locks on the door in the 9th. Teams must have a great bullpen to compete in post-seasons, especially a one-game do-or-die Wild Card game the Twins are aiming for.

When Perkins rebounds from his various ailments, he should be the 7th inning man. After a stellar 28-save first half, Perkins has mightily struggled, racking up a total of 2 blown saves in 6 opportunities while surrendering 10 runs since July 12. Moreover, since the break, Perkins has an ERA of 6.92. However, when the Twins moved him to the 7th inning, he regained his mechanics and composure, earning 2 strike outs in his previous outings. The thing is, Perkins can’t be reliable right now in the closers spot, and the 7th inning is a good place for him when he comes back.

Ever since Ervin Santana came back from his suspension, May has been relegated to the pen. The Twins have tried May everywhere, but his final destination should be the 8th inning. May’s ground ball and strikeout ability makes him a perfect fit. When May pitches in the 8th inning, he has a 2.08 ERA with 19 strike outs and just 3 walks in thirteen innings. The Twins should be wise and keep May in that role since he is dominant in the 8th.

Jepsen, the lone Trade Deadline addition, has been dominant after his first appearance with the Twins August 2. While relieving a couple of games, Jepsen has been taking over the closer’s role for Perkins. Jepsen has been perfect closing games recently, totaling 5 saves, an 0.00 ERA, 8 strike outs, and opponents are batting .115 in the 9th inning (7.2 innings). Needless to say, if the Twins have any chance of making the playoffs, they must keep Jepsen in the closer’s role even when Perkins returns in about a week.

The Twins have won 10 out of their last 13 games basically because of relief pitching. In the end, the Twins have a chance of making the playoffs. Our bullpen isn’t as good as the Royals, but comparisons can now be made. Hopefully, the coaches see what I see in the bullpen, and make adjustments when everyone is healthy again.

Written by: Michael L. Sack


Posted by: gravessack | August 24, 2015

U.S. Quad Rugby Team Makes Strong Showing At Parapan Am Games

Congratulations to the U.S. Quad Rugby Team, led by Minnesotan Chuck Aoki, on taking second place in the 2015 Parapan Am Games! The team, which took third place in the 2012 Paralympics, defeated Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia (twice), and Canada before losing to Canada when the two teams faced each other a second time in the finals. Well done, U.S. Quad Rugby Team!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | August 22, 2015

Twins Grab Pitcher From Milwaukee

After a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Baltimore August 21, the Twins made a stunning announcement. General Manager Terry Ryan has been on the hot seat lately for not adding depth to a playoff contending team. If the Twins have any hope at securing a wild-card spot, their bullpen must improve. Ryan delivered by breaking the news that the Twins have made a trade. The Twins acquired Milwaukee reliever Neal Cotts for a player to be named later or cash. Since it is August, Cotts had to be put through waivers and, therefore, the Twins claimed him.

The 35-year-old, 10-year veteran has been on 4 teams. Cotts came up with the White Sox, posting a 4.52 ERA with a 10-7 record and 169 strikeouts in 4 years. Cotts has a career record of 21-24 en route to a 3.96 ERA, 412 strikeouts, and surrendering 55 home runs. Cotts’ best year came in 2005 playing for the White Sox, where he went 4-0 in 69 appearances, adding up to an outstanding 1.94 ERA and 58 strikeouts. While with the Cubs in 2009, Cotts underwent the Tommy John surgery, ending his Cubs stint. After the surgery, he was away from MLB until Texas signed him in 2013 as Cotts was recovering from various surgeries.

Ryan hopes Cotts will improve his bullpen in a hurry. Twins manager Paul Molitor said that he will use Cotts in different bullpen roles. The Twins hope Cotts can help boost them into the post-season!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | August 17, 2015

Accessible Minneapolis: Revamping Downtown East

If you traveled through Downtown Minneapolis lately, you would have noticed that construction workers have been busy bees, particularly on the East Side. Starting in the last quarter of 2013, the area around the now-defunct Metrodome has been getting a major makeover. Yes, there is the construction of the new Multi-Purpose Stadium (future home of our Vikings), but so much more is taking over the area. Crews have been constructing several things over on that side of town; including 2 Wells Fargo buildings, a parking garage with a skyway into U.S. Bank Stadium, and a 4.2 acre park. Additionally, Minneapolis, with help from the Vikings, will be constructing a pedestrian bridge over the Light Rail tracks to enhance safety. However, these new additions won’t do much for disabled people if accessibility is unaccounted for.

Let’s start by talking about the two Wells Fargo buildings that are going up. There is going to be one elevator in each building, as it was made obvious looking at the structures before the walls were put up. Since these are new buildings, these should be ADA-friendly, meaning wide entry ways and halls, accessible rooms, and automatic door openers. In addition, a couple restrooms in the multi-storied complexes should be accessible to people using walkers and wheelchairs.

Now, going in across the street from U.S. Bank Stadium is a multi-layered parking ramp. This parking ramp will be for fans who are attending events at the stadium and maybe some Wells Fargo employees. The ramp should provide a few handicap vehicle spaces on each floor in the vicinity of the elevator. Each spot should be wide enough to let out a wheelchair from a van. In addition, there should be some extra accessible van spaces on the floor that the connected skyway into the stadium is on because it could be hard to cross streets during the wintertime, and that would diminish the stress for some people. Moreover, there should be automatic doors to get into the skyway, which also should connect to the Wells Fargo buildings.

The main piece of the rejuvenated Downtown East will be a two-block park that will be the front door of U.S. Bank Stadium. The yet-to-be-named park will feature art, a stage, a water feature, green space, courts, and a pavilion. The park will be used for a variety of events and will be open to the public on days when it is not reserved or is not being used by the Vikings. This large space will be fantastic for that area, but it has to be ADA-compliant. There should be several smooth paths around and in the park, with operable features low enough for wheelchair users to use. Where paths turn into grassy areas, there has to be no dip so that people on wheels can go on grass if they choose. As for the courts, they should be available for all sports in the summertime, including Power Hockey, Power Soccer, and Wheelchair Rugby. These sports are growing in popularity, and they can’t be overlooked in the newest park in Minneapolis.

In order to connect the park to the stadium’s plaza, a pedestrian bridge will be built over the Light Rail tracks for people to cross. This bridge is going in due to safety concerns and anticipated high pedestrian traffic. There will be stairs to get on and off the bridge, but I’ve been told that on each side there will be elevators. Although, I’m still hoping for ramps on each side of the bridge! In either case, this walkway will be a great safety feature in Downtown East.

Lastly, in my opinion, crews must repave sidewalks around the area to provide more accessibility. Currently, some sidewalks and curb cuts are bumpy! Fixing paths will just enhance the Downtown experience even more! Overall, I’m excited to see how the new Downtown East will look, but accessibility must be a key factor in revamping the area.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | August 3, 2015

Twins Tidbits

As we hit the final stretch of the baseball season, the Twins are positioned well in the AL Wild Card race. The Twins are currently sitting in the second Wild Card spot, just a game up on Baltimore and Toronto. However, major flaws have occurred in recent weeks. Here is the rundown on how the Twins can survive the season.

  • Hours before the July 31 trade deadline, the Twins made their one lonely and disappointing trade. The Twins acquired Tampa Bay’s reliever Kevin Jepsen in exchange for low-ball pitchers Chih-Wei Hu and Alex Tapia. GM Terry Ryan said he likes Jepsen because he is effectively wild. Jepsen, an eight-year veteran, has a career record of 15-24 with a 3.85 ERA. He also has 306 strikeouts while surrendering 20 homers in his career. Jepsen’s ERA is slowly getting better as each year goes by. Still, this trade has me a little worried because teams around the Twins made bigger trades; including Toronto adding Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere and LaTroy Hawkins while trading away 13 prospects. I wish we had Toronto’s GM!
  • Everybody (used to) loves Joe! However, if the Twins plan on being contenders down the stretch, veteran first baseman Joe Mauer needs to be benched! Mauer has looked miserable at the plate, batting just .160 with 7 strike outs during the past seven games. That’s not good for a hitter in the 3rd spot of the line-up! I feel like the Twins should call-up struggling slugger Kennys Vargas to give him a shot at first base. Ultimately, Mauer is holding the offensive production back from where it needs to be.
  • Since I can’t seem to find just relief pitching stats on the web, these next numbers look better than they really are. Since the break, Twins pitchers have an ERA of 4.77, while giving up 23 home runs, 146 hits, and 30 walks. Most notably, All-Star closer Glen Perkins has been off lately, recording an 11.12 ERA while giving up 4 long balls and 11 hits in his 6 appearances since the break. Now that starter Tommy Milone was placed on the 15-day DL on August 2 with a “mild left elbow strain”, the Twins’ bullpen needs to wake up to give the Twins any chance of staying in the playoff race.

It’s time for the Twins to play like they did in May, where they had a 20-7 record. The Twins are now in the perfect spot to make a run and clinch a playoff berth after 4 90+ loss seasons! Time to step it up!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | July 22, 2015

The Rumors Are Swirling!

Today marks the start of a long week of MLB trade rumors and crazy speculations leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Right now, the Twins have the fifth best AL record at 50-43. Heading into the deadline, it has been reported that the Twins are really looking at acquiring another catcher and/or relief pitcher. Relief pitching is really costing the Twins to secure a great record, costing the team precious wins this year.

During the last home stand before the All-Star Break, the Twins went 6-1, but just 1-3 afterwards. Ultimately this week will be big as it will decide what GM Terry Ryan wants to do before the deadline. In the meantime, here are some crazy and intriguing Twins rumors.

  • One of the most oddest and fascinating rumor that I started hearing this week is that the Twins have been talking with Colorado about, yes, Troy Tulowitzki. Even through Tulowitzki is having a down year (.316, 12 home runs, and 52 RBIs) for him, he would be an immediate upgrade at shortstop. Ultimately, the Twins would never bring in his large contract, or give the Rockies what they want (reportedly starter Kyle Gibson or even Miguel Sano). Supposedly, the teams are still talking so this will be interesting.
  • Former Twin Carlos Gomez has recently been connected to the Twins, after our club indicated the openness to a reunion. During six years in Milwaukee, Gomez has resurrected his career, hitting .268 with 87 dingers, 287 RBIs, and 120 doubles. In recent days, the Twins have been veering away from him, and Baltimore is now interested in Gomez.
  • We have just heard about one pitcher in the last couple weeks that the Twins have been interested in: San Diego reliever Joaquin Benoit. Benoit has been in MLB 14 years, posting a 54-41 record with a 3.88 ERA and 934 strike outs. I believe Benoit would be a good addition to the bullpen, but this report has lost steam so far.
  • The Twins are seriously considering trading for a catcher that could split time with the struggling Kurt Suzuki. The most notable names that have been connected to us are: Atlanta’s A.J. Pierzynski, Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy, and Detroit’s Alex Avila. All of these would be a great fit, but it would be crazy and fun to see the Twins reunite with Pierzynski. With the Braves this year, the 38-year-old is having a decent year batting .280 with 66 hits and 30 RBIs.

Let’s see where all these initial rumors lead us this week. It will be a fun week ahead – one of my favorite weeks of the year! So, let me get back to the Twitter and trade rumors world and I will be back if anything breaks! A question for you: Who do you want the Twins to acquire at the deadline? Anybody who you want to see traded?

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | July 12, 2015

Dozier An All-Star After All!

It has been quite a week for Brian Dozier. This past Monday, Dozier was left off the AL All-Star roster but was one of five AL Final Vote candidates, even though many thought he deserved to be selected on Monday. That night, he hit a walk-off home run as the Twins beat the Baltimore Orioles. Three nights later, after Dozier finished second in the AL Final Vote, he hit another walk-off home run in the Twins’ dramatic comeback against the Detroit Tigers. One day later, it was announced that Dozier would replace injured Jose Bautista and go to the All-Star Game after all. What a week!

Congratulations to Dozier, along with closer Glen Perkins, on making the AL All-Star team! Let’s hope both players play well in the Game on July 14 and have successful second halves of the season!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | July 11, 2015

Dozier Delivers!!

The title of this post may not make sense since it was announced yesterday, June 10th, that Brian Dozier finished second in the AL Final vote, meaning he won’t go to this year’s All-Star Game. Although that was disappointing, he delivered much more for the Twins later that night.

The game looked like a blowout. The Twins were losing 6-0 in the eighth inning to Detroit. Twins starter Ervin Santana got hit hard and the Twins could hardly do anything against Detroit starter Justin Verlander.

Then, something crazy happened. After the Twins came within 6-5 in the ninth inning and immediately following Danny Santana’s big two-run single, Brian Dozier hit a three-run homer to finish an extremely unlikely comeback and beat the Tigers 8-6! Target Field was insane!

I, like every other Twins fan, was very disappointed when Dozier did not win the AL Final Vote. But what he did yesterday and on June 6, when he hit another walk-off homer, is much more important than Dozier getting selected to the All-Star Game. Click for more on what Dozier means to the Twins. Let’s hope he can keep it up for the rest of the season!

Written by Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | July 8, 2015

Sano Is Making Serious Impact In Line-Up

General Manager Terry Ryan is throwing us fans surprise after surprise this season. On July 1, two weeks after he summoned Byron Buxton to the Twins, Ryan called up Minor-League prodigy Miguel Sano. Sano, who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, is known for his power but he is surprising us in other ways. The Twins were hoping to have Sano and Buxton in the same MLB line-up for the first time, but that must wait because Buxton is still out with a sprained thumb.

Sano, who replaced the struggling Kennys Vargas, has been impressive during his first week. Sano has hit safely in all seven games and has been smashing the ball. Sano’s first hit was an infield single to Kansas City’s third baseman Mike Moustakas in his final at-bat of the July 2 game. Ever since then Sano has been smacking the ball, including hitting a screaming line drive off the right field wall in his second game for his first double. His first seven games have provided a big jolt to the line-up.

Sano’s first week stats read like this: .455 batting average, 10 hits, 5 RBIs with one home run. Sano has also recorded 6 walks and 6 strike outs. I am impressed with his patience at the plate, especially for a young power hitter. I was at the game where Sano smashed his first home run off of Baltimore’s starter Kevin Gausman on Tuesday.

It will be exciting to see how Sano progresses this year. If this first week holds true, Sano will be fun to watch this year, especially when Buxton can join him. Ryan probably has more moves up his sleeve this year after already promoting four younglings. Let’s see when Adam Brett Walker (.268, 23 home runs, and 71 RBIs in 78 games in Double-A) gets the call! In the meantime, enjoy watching Sano smack that ball around. This is exciting!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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