Posted by: gravessack | October 11, 2017

Molitor Rewarded With New Contract; Allen Dismissed

When the Twins season ended in defeat October 3 at the hands of the Yankees, speculation started to swirl every which way regarding the future of Paul Molitor. The manager had just guided the team to an 85-win season, making it to the post-season for the first time in years. There were a few thoughts that Molitor would be fired just because usually new general managers want to hire their own guy. A few days of negotiations went by with no news. And then…

On October 9, the Twins and GM Thad Levine announced that Molitor had been signed to a three-year contract reportedly worth only $4 million amazingly.Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor standing on dugout steps and looking out on to baseball field The St. Paul native was thrilled to have his contract extended and is excited for the future. Molitor took over in 2015 when then-GM Terry Ryan extinguished the contract of Ron Gardenhire. Molitor’s first year was a bit of a surprise, as he orchestrated a team who lost 90 games or more the previous four years to 83 wins. In 2016. the season fell apart for him, resulting in 103 losses and the firing of Ryan. Molitor knew that the Twins were better than that, which was proven this past year. When his first contract expired, the 61-year-old had a managerial record of 227-259.

Additionally, just hours after the extension was finalized, the Twins announced that they let go of pitching coach Neil Allen. Allen, who was brought on with Molitor, had a rocky three-year stint. In his first year with the club in 2015, Allen’s pitching staff had an ERA of 4.07 with 1,046 strikeouts. During the maddening 2016 season, the pitching staff performed poorly, ending with a 5.08 ERA. Also, in May 2016, he was arrested in Minneapolis for driving while intoxicated. Allen was suspended for over a month. He had a bounce back year in 2017, coaching his pitchers to a 4.59 ERA with 62 quality starts. Ultimately, that would not save Allen, as Levine and Molitor will be searching for a new pitching coach to help smooth out the pitching kinks.

The Twins nailed both decisions. Molitor deserved a new contract, despite some questionable decisions. A candidate for the AL Manager of the Year award, he should have a good line-up back in 2018, with hopefully added quality starting pitching. Molitor, and myself, thinks this team is on the cusp of something special. With a new pitching coach on board next season, they can tweak the pitching to accomplish more than expected.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | October 4, 2017

Twins Squander Playoff Opportunity

On September 27, the Twins surprised the masses by securing a spot in the AL Wild Card game. At that point, they had gained recognition as the first team to lose 100 games and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. There were positive vibes, and Chief Officer Derek Falvey said this team could make a deep run. However, the daunting task was finalized a few days later: the Twins had to face the Yankees in the Bronx on October 3. That was trouble since their playoff losing streak was at 12 games, mostly at the hands of New York.

The Twins started the contest with a bang. Second baseman Brian Dozier hit a home run of starter Luis Severino in the first inning. A couple batters later, Eddie Rosario smashed a two-run homer to right. Severino was taken out after recording just one out. The Twins could had done more damage as they had two runners on with one out, but nothing more materialized. Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana throwing a pitchThis was setting up so nicely! But, then came the bottom of the inning. After a walk and a single, Twins ace Ervin Santana offered a meatball to Didi Gregorius for a home run. The winner-take-all game was tied at 3 at the end of the 45-minute first.

The Yankees retook the lead with a Brett Gardner home run in the second. After just two innings, Santana was done for the night, surrendering four runs on three hits, on his way to a disappointing 18.00 ERA. He had no command at all! However, the Twins came back again to tie it in the third. With the bases loaded, Byron Buxton grounded into a force play and beat out a would-be double play. Speaking of Buxton, he made a great catch in the 2nd inning, which eventually sidelined him after he stole second in the 4th. He was taken out due to a back injury.

Meanwhile, the Twins bullpen could not keep the game tied very long. Reliever Jose Berrios, who was given the loss, gave up a single to Greg Bird in the 3rd inning, bringing around the fifth Yankee run. New York crushed the Twins dreams in the 4th when Aaron Judge smoked a two-run homer to left field.

Minnesota Twins designated hitter Kennys Vargas watching AL wild card game in dugout with teammates

Kennys Vargas pondering what could have been after Tuesday’s loss.

The bullpen tried its hardest from there to keep the Twins in the game. It was not meant to be as relief guy Trevor Hildenberger walked former Twin Aaron Hicks to score the eighth run in seventh.

After that, the Yankees’ Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman shut down the Twins offense. Kahle gave up no hits in his 2.1 innings of work, earning a hold. Chapman and his 100 mile-an-hour fastball closed the game. After first baseman Joe Mauer singled with two outs, Jorge Polanco went down swinging to end a season of surprises and dashing hopes and dreams of fans and players alike. Twins personnel held their heads high knowing very few people had them making it this far.

And so, as this year has come and gone, decisions have to be made with the coaching staff, including the fate of Manager Paul Molitor. Will we see a coaching staff overhaul? Or will just a few be dismissed? If so, will Molitor survive? Stay tuned this week to find out!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | October 1, 2017

An Unexpected (To Say The Least!) Success

Minnesota Twins players celebrating and spraying champagne after clinching a playoff spot

Let the champagne fly!

I wrote an October 8, 2016 post recapping the Twins’ disastrous 2016 season. Other than Brian Dozier, who hit 42 home runs last season, nothing really went right for the Twins. The team finished 59-103, the worst record in franchise history.

Not surprisingly, there was not much hope among Twins fans going into the 2017 season. Although the Twins had replaced general manager Terry Ryan, Minnesota still had the same manager and, more importantly, many of the same players as in 2016.

The 2017 season started off as a nice surprise. The Twins were in first place in the AL Central for the majority of the first few months. At the end of July though, the season seemed to be falling apart. With Cleveland and Kansas City playing really well and the Twins playing poorly, Minnesota had slipped to third place and had traded starting pitcher Jaime Garcia and All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler.

But then out of nowhere, the Twins won 20 games in August! Then on September 27, the team clinched a playoff spot, something that was unimaginable at the start of the season! The Twins are the first MLB team EVER to lose 100 games one season and make the playoffs the next!

My prediction before the season was that the Twins would win 75 games this season and would finish fourth in the division, which was actually optimistic, was shattered as Minnesota finished the regular season today with 85 wins and in second place in the division! That is 26 more wins than last season!

Minnesota will play in the AL wild card game this Tuesday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN against the New York Yankees in New York. This game will be tough, especially as the Yankees have dominated the Twins in the playoffs in recent years. I do think though that the Twins have a better chance of beating the Yankees in the wild card game then in a playoff series.

Whatever happens on Tuesday (Let’s hope the Twins clobber the Yankees!), this has been a great season for Minnesota. Almost no one predicted the Twins to finish the season with a winning record, let alone make the playoffs! Paul Molitor has done a fantastic job managing the team this season after an awful 2016 season with many of the same players as he had this year!

While this is not at all likely, let’s hope that in a month we’ll be writing about the Twins winning the World Series! I’ve been wrong about Twins predictions before!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | September 28, 2017

100,000 Thank Yous!

When Sam Graves and I started this blog back in 2010, the goal since we wrote the first Two Men On post was to bring unique perspectives to you that included, but not limited to, baseball and accessibility-related issues.Sam Graves and Michael Sack of "Two Men On" at Target Field watching a baseball game We have been thrilled by all the support we have received through the years as we did not know what would come of this blog. That came to a climax, when on the morning of September 24, our blog reached 100,000 views after 92 months of existence!

We have had exceptional experiences since we started this adventure. For instances, being able to tour Target Field before the complex’s first-ever game, being interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, getting to attend Harmon Killebrew’s dinner in 2010 in the 573 Club, and throwing out the first pitch at Target Field in 2014. Last year, we conducted an interview with Speechless star Micah Fowler, which is the top viewed entry, and an interview with co-star Cedric Yarbrough.

We have had viewers from over 60 countries, which astonishes me. Just a reminder you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and we do take story suggestions. Do not be scared to tell us what you want us to find out. Thank you also to the 39,980 visitors so far who have read our blog through the years.

It is amazing and that we reached this milestone the same week the Twins clinched a play-off spot for the first time in seven years! Make sure to check back soon for Twins play-off coverage!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 23, 2017

Is The Front Office Hinting At Something By Firing Mientkiewicz?

When newly acquainted Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine started working together 11 months ago, they promised changes would be made to improve the Twins. The duo made that known when they fired two major league coaches right away, then gradually let go of several scouts. Not shockingly, their latest firing frustrated a lot of people; but more importantly, what does that mean for Manager Paul Molitor’s future with the club?

On September 15, the Twins parted ways with Single-A Manager Doug Mientkiewicz.Former Twins minor league coach Doug Mientkiewicz in dugout What enraged some people is how he was fired. Levine had one of his assistants call Mientkiewicz while he was picking up after Hurricane Irma in Florida. That assistant would not give a reason for his dismissal, frustrating him. Mientkiewicz was a head coach in the Twins Minor League system for five seasons with two teams.

In 2013 and 2014, he led the Fort Myers Miracle to the play-offs, winning the championship in the latter year. The 43-year-old jumped up to lead Chattanooga to a Southern League Championship the next year. This past year, he was demoted to manage at Single-A again. Mientkiewicz was dealt the blow, even after posting a 385-299 record. He can be credited for helping center fielder Byron Buxton through the system.

The departure should be a warning sign to current coaches that they are not safe, as Levine came here to change the direction of this ball club, and the Pohlads gave him free rein to do whatever he wants. My first thought of the firing was: Could this be a sign that Molitor’s time here is running out and that the Twins already have a plan?

When Falvey and Levine arrived here, Owner Jim Pohlad made it clear to them that Molitor will manage in 2017. Now in his final week of his three-year contract, Molitor must be feeling some pressure because managing the club to the play-offs for the first time since 2010 might not be the only factor if he is granted an extension. I would be in favor of them searching for a fresh manager only if they make the right choice. I prefer a leader who is enthralled in helping his team exceed expectations, is not afraid to tell his team what they are doing wrong, and can get the most out of his players.

Could that plan be interviewing and giving Mientkiewicz the opportunity to manage the Twins? That was one of my initial inklings, however, that does not seem likely now, as it was reported that the break-up did not go smoothly. Plus, he is now mad at Falvey and Levine. Due to this surprising news, there is no telling what they will do next and the major league staff is most likely their next project at season’s end.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 17, 2017

“Speechless” Season 2 Preview

ABC's "Speechless" logo (Photo: ABC.com)

Photo: ABC.com

It’s almost here! Season 2 of ABC’s sitcom “Speechless” will premiere Wednesday, September 27, at 7:30 p.m. CT. It will be interesting to see how Season 2 does after Season 1 received high ratings.

I hope that like Season 1, Season 2 is not too sentimental. The media will often make disability-related topics very sentimental and people may feel sorry for them. I felt that Season 1 did a good job of avoiding that for the most part, while respecting important disability-related issues.

I would like to see a little less of the mom, Maya, in Season 2 and a little more of J.J. and Kenneth (played by Minnesotan Cedric Yarbrough). Maya sort of dominated Season 1 at times even though J.J. is the main character. Kenneth, J.J.’s aide, is probably the funniest person in the show and my favorite character.

I am excited for Season 2 of “Speechless!” How about you?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | September 14, 2017

Bring “Big Sexy” Back!

When the Twins signed starter Bartolo Colon on July 7, fans were perplexed as to why General Manager Thad Levine would make such a move. Colon had been on a steep downhill slide and seemed to be on the brink of retirement. Meanwhile, on the Twins side,Bartolo "Big Sexy" Colon pitching in a Minnesota Twins game they were desperately looking for help in the rotation and the journeyman was available. To everyone’s surprise, the Twins swung the move and brought Colon to Minnesota. But, how would he perform?

The oldest pitcher in the game, at age 44, made just one poor start at Triple-A Rochester before debuting for the Twins on July 18. Colon’s three outings in July did not go well, as he just went 4 and 5 innings in his first two starts, giving up 24 hits and 10 earned runs. However, Colon seemed to get in the groove in August. In his first start last month, Colon shockingly pitched a complete game versus Texas, becoming the eldest to pitch a complete game since 1992. Colon’s magic continued as he went 4-1, pitching at least into the sixth inning all but one time. Colon made a decent start on September 5, but took a large step back last Sunday, as he gave up six runs on six hits in a measly 1.2 innings. The one other accomplishment that the Dominican made was completed August 20, when he defeated Arizona to get a win against every MLB team.

Dubbed “Big Sexy” a while back, presumably as a joke or because he has a bubbly personality, Colon seems to be enjoying his time here. When he is not on the mound, he is seen laughing with teammates in the dugout.Bartolo "Big Sexy" Colon exercising The happy-go-lucky pitcher just enjoys pitching, even with a very hittable fastball. Colon is a very fascinating person. Fans learned this year that as a kid he threw rocks at coconuts and mangos to build strength and that he rode his donkey to play baseball! “Big Sexy” on a donkey – a sight to behold!

Just over two months into his Twins career, the club will honor Colon tomorrow, September 15, with “Big Sexy Night.” Fans can purchased tickets in a deal that has an exclusive Colon shirt. If that is not an indication of signing him for next season, I do not know what is. Perhaps a one-year, $1.5 million deal would be appropriate. The Twins could try him in the starting rotation in 2018, and if that results in losses, move him to the bullpen until he decides to retire and ride a donkey off into the sunset. Pitching coach Neil Allen, if still with the team, could help Colon tweak his fastball to get hitters out.

If Colon does indeed decide to retire in three weeks, it was a pleasure to watch him in a Twins uniform and we should all thank him for bringing his talents to Minnesota to end his career. In my opinion, and as Justin Timberlake would say, the Twins should be “bringin’ Sexy back.”

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 9, 2017

MLB Games Must Speed Up

It has been well-documented that MLB has a problem with how long games last. Because I too believe MLB needs to speed up games, I’m going to keep this post pretty short.

According to startribune.com, as of September 5, the average MLB game in 2017 was 3 hours, 5 minutes, 5 more minutes than the average in 2016. An average Twins game in 2017 as of September 5 was 3 hours, 9 minutes. Click here for an article on MLB’s length-of-game problem.

This is WAY too long for a game! On weeknights, many people have to leave early because they either have to go to work or school the next day. Fans can get bored by the slow pace of the game. Players also can get bored if they have to stand around in the field for a long time and may not be as focused.

MLB has talked about adopting a pitch clock in 2018 (this may be for sure) and I am very much in favor of this. There is no reason for there to be 20-30 seconds between pitches! MLB is also considering limiting visits to the pitcher’s mound, another rule I would be supportive of.

I am a huge baseball fan, and I don’t think the game would be any less enjoyable with these changes (It actually should be even more enjoyable). Hopefully, these changes will happen and improve fans’ experiences!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | September 3, 2017

Momentum Is Building For An Electronic Strike Zone

Ever since the start of the 2014 season, Major League Baseball has been cracking down on how umpires are calling games. The umpire scrutiny started way back in 2008 when then–Commissioner Bud Selig approved a system where managers could ask umpires to review home run calls. The replay system since expanded to all sorts of reviewable calls, which includes out/safe calls, trapped balls, and fair/foul rulings. However, for years, it seems like the strike zone is obsolete as umpires have decided against using the standard zone and creating their own. Seeing the inconsistency, that may soon change!

There are 99 umpires in MLB that all seem to have different strike zones. Players are baffled and sometimes shocked about some of the strike calls they make. For example, a pitch that clearly looks like a strike is sometimes called a ball. The crying out came to a head August 12 when the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist was called out on strikes by umpire Mark Wagner on a pitch that was clearly low to end the game. Afterwards, Zobrist said that he was now in favor of instituting an electronic strike zone and, stunningly, Wagner admitted to reporters that he had blown the call.

Diagram of standard MLB strike zone

Here is a diagram of the old-fashioned zone.

To prove Zobrist’s point, umpires seem to have forgotten the letter-to-knee zone and have gone rogue with it. It has been too long since umpires got reprehended for making blown calls, although MLB did suspend Joe West for three games last month for calling Rangers’ Adrian Beltre the game’s “biggest complainer.” Soon though, the blown calls by umpires might come back to haunt them as an electronic strike zone may be in the works, even though Commissioner Rob Manfred is a little shy of the prospect.

Recently, there was an article saying that the strike zone idea could be implemented as soon as next year, which would relegate umpire’s duties. ESPN’s Buster Olney says that MLB wants a pitch clock, and that the players should get something in return. Several players said that they want a futuristic strike zone system if it would improve the game. Most think it would, except for San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who recently said after experiencing a blown call: “I’m not an advocate for the stupid electronic strike zone. I don’t even like replay.” Well, that is at least one player who is in support of the men in blue.

There is some uncertainty on how this type of strike zone would work, but in my opinion, this would be a brilliant and long-overdue idea. I will just throw a suggestion out there. Place an umpire behind the backstop in a booth with a monitor that has a strike zone display, the one Fox Sports or ESPN uses. Once the pitch registers on the computer, then he or she can make the RIGHT call. The plate umpire could still signal how many balls and strikes there are. For the close plays at home plate, we will have to figure that out!

It is frustrating seeing umpires call balls and strikes that are blatantly wrong. All I know is something has to be figured out and consistency of the calls must get better. This new tool would keep up the integrity of the game and it would prevent umpires from looking silly. If Manfred can get on board with the automatic zone, we may see a seismic shift as to how games are called! A question to leave you with: Do umpires simply need a mandatory refresher course or should Manfred really be considering computerizing the strike zone?

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | August 28, 2017

Gibson’s Future May Be Decided In September

The Twins are in a prime position to make a run for the play-offs. One of the keys will be how the starting pitching will hold up. When most of the starters pitch nowadays, the club feels that they have a chance to win. Nonetheless, fans get worried when Kyle Gibson’s turn comes up. Gibson’s struggles should be concerning, and should not be taken lightly in the last month of the season.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson holding baseball with baseball glove on other handThroughout this year, Gibson has not shown that he can be trusted. He does not seem to have command of his pitches and has not shown that he could be relied upon for important games. Gibson, who pitched two decent games recently, has a record of 8-10 with an ERA of 5.59. The 29-year-old has given up 150 hits, 76 earned runs, and 52 walks this season. Gibson, more times than not, throws pitches right down the heart of the plate where opponents, who have a batting average of .303 against him, can smack the ball.

Gibson has publicly addressed his poor performances this year. However, this is an ongoing problem for him during his five-year Twins career. Overall, Gibson has a 4.77 ERA, given up 758 hits and 368 runs. The bigger problem is that his stats and overall execution are getting worse, and the only reason that the Twins keep Gibby around is that they have nobody to replace him with.

With that said, though, September will be a huge month for the struggling pitcher. If Gibson continues to falter, Manager Paul Molitor should immediately take him out of the rotation. The Twins have kept trying to put Gibson out there, with minimal results. They can not afford another bad outing by him as they are in the midst of accomplishing something that has not been done since 2010. And at season’s end, if Gibson keeps struggling, or not, the front office should examine whether to keep the pitcher who kills momentums! I would advise them to release Gibson!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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