Posted by: gravessack | April 15, 2018

Snow Whomps Target Field In Weekend Showdown

Snow covered streets and cars as an April blizzard barreled by.

There was a competition over at Target Field over the last few days. The dual was not between any teams, but instead, mother nature came to play. In a month where baseball games have been put on hold by the weather, Minneapolis and its nine-year-old stadium were crushed by a wicked April storm.

After the Twins beat the White Sox in game 1 of the series on April 12, the Twins held out hope that they could play some this weekend. The weather forecasters gave a grim prognosis: Winter Storm Xanto, which was predicted to bring around 15 inches of snow to the Twin Cities, would be barreling in from the west starting Friday. Sure enough, sleet started falling in the afternoon, which turned into snow late in the evening. The Twins cancelled that day’s game around 3 pm.

Snow continued to roar down all night. As inches piled up, there was a game to be played at 1 pm Saturday, April 14. The storm was turning ugly, and it gave the club no choice but to postpone a second straight game. Around lunchtime, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Hennepin County, the first since 2005. Target Field’s state-of-the-art underground heating system was struggling to keep up. It was not melting the snow fast enough. Shovelers were also having tough time. In the end, the inner workings of the complex gave up, prompting the Twins to cancel Sunday’s match-up later that afternoon.

Over on Twitter, people were wondering if the Twins ever thought of installing a retractable roof on Target Field after it was constructed. LaVelle E. Neal, a Star Tribune columnist, put that to rest sarcastically, by saying “there’s no staging area for materials or equipment to build the thing. Unless you borrow technology from Captain America: Winter Soldier, and build a hovering construction platform to build it, then drop it on top of Target.” It should be mentioned that the Twins vetoed the idea of a movable roof because it would cost substantially more to build the stadium.

Also, on social media, there was a picture of Fernando Rodney having fun in the snow. Twins fans and players sure have creativity while witnessing a Target Field first, postponing three consecutive games!

No make-up dates have been announced yet. Meanwhile, as Twin City residents dig out, the Twins get to escape the state, and the country, as they are set to take on Cleveland Tuesday and Wednesday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With the temperature expected to hover around 85 degrees both days, Joe Mauer, a Minnesota native, will take a break from showing his new teammates how to cope in conditions not designed for baseball.

As I end this piece, snow continues to glisten down west of the Mississippi.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | April 13, 2018

Mauer Reaches Big Milestone

Joe Mauer batting for the Minnesota TwinsIn the Twins-White Sox game on April 12, bundled up fans witnessed history as fan favorite Joe Mauer collected his 2,000th major league hit!

Mauer, a St. Paul native, started high school at Cretin-Derham Hall in 1997. He made a huge impact while playing baseball, as he struck out just once in four years. That superb performance caused his hometown team to scout him. Ultimately, with the first pick of the 2001 MLB draft, the Twins picked Mauer.

April 5, 2004. That was the date when Mauer singled up the middle off Cleveland’s Rafael Betancourt to claim his first hit in the major leagues. He went 2-for-3 that day. Ever since then, the Florida resident has been hitting very well. Over the next decade, Mauer went on to win 5 Silver Sluggers, 3 Gold Gloves, 3 batting titles, and made 6 All-Star Game appearances.

However, in 2014, the Twins permanently moved Mauer from catcher to first base due to concussion and other health concerns. It looked like Mauer’s production was dwindling, but he rebounded to have a couple solid seasons, making this big occasion come to fruition.

Having singled already in that brisk game at Target Field, Mauer came to bat against White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer in the 7th inning with two men on. The count was 2-2, but that did not phase Mauer. Bummer tried to slither a fastball by him, but Mauer smoked the ball into center field with the infield in for a two-run single and the milestone hit. The hit also added key insurance runs. Once at first, the attendees gave him a standing ovation, and Mauer’s teammates applauded him. After the inning, Mauer reluctantly stood by first base as the patrons continued to acknowledge what had just transpired.

Mauer’s quest at achieving the celebrated feat took just a little more than 14 years. He ignored the complainers who said that he should be playing when he was experiencing nagging injuries. There were plenty of fans who thought Mauer was lackadaisical after signing the massive eight year, $184 million contract before the 2010 campaign. Knowing what he could accomplish, he proved his skeptics wrong. In his journey, Mauer also has doubled 405 times, tripled 19 times, and has hit 137 home runs, en route to an overall batting average of .309.

Our hometown hero now joins a list of 284 other major leaguers who have achieved the feat. Among Twins’ history two other players, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett, had more than 2,000 hits as members of the Twins.

Mauer’s 2,000th hit came in the year in which his contract is expiring. Over the years, he has appeared in commercials, been an amazing advocate for Gillette Specialty Healthcare, and took part in numerous community functions. The Twins should be smart about Mauer’s next contract, but they absolutely need to re-sign him. Mauer deserves to spend the rest of his playing days in the Twin Cities.

Little did we know that the boy who was playing around with his brothers, Jake and Billy, on St. Paul’s diamonds in the early 1990s, would become this great. Maybe one day, Mauer will have a statue outside Target Field! In the meantime, we would like to congratulate him on a momentous event that will go in Twins books forever!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 6, 2018

MLB Season Should Begin In April, Not March

Yankee Stadium covered in snow on day of baseball game in 2018

Photo: Associated Press

This past winter, MLB agreed on a new labor contract that will add four off days to each team’s schedule throughout the season. That part may sound good to the players, but because of the extra off days, MLB will be starting its regular seasons a week earlier than normal, until further notice. This year, the season started on March 29, the earliest start date ever (not including international openers).

In just one week, eight games have been postponed because of weather! No Twins games have been postponed, but the team did have to play in a game in Pittsburgh in the snow! The temperature was barely above freezing for the Twins home opener yesterday!

I do not agree with this decision by MLB. The extremely cold temperatures and snow for games in Northern cities make games unpleasant for fans, players, umpires, and coaches. When the Twins played in Pittsburgh in the snow a few days ago, there were hardly any fans at the game! Watch this one-minute video clip showing some of the extreme weather in MLB games so far this season, along with quotes from players and coaches about the bad weather.

The players may like the extra off days (probably not the cold weather!), but I think MLB should go back to the old schedule of starting the season in early April. The weather may still be bad, but hopefully it will be better than starting in late March!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | March 26, 2018

Twins Lose Vargas To Cincinna…Oh Nevermind!

Kennys Vargas sliding into a base during a Minnesota Twins gameThe Twins wanted to send first baseman/DH Kennys Vargas down to Triple-A Rochester. It turned into the team playing an epic game of cross-country ping-pong!

Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and Manager Paul Molitor made the decision to demote Vargas after a spring in which he averaged .281, had 9 hits, and struck out 10 times. Under Major League Baseball’s guidelines, when a player is out of options (as was the case with Vargas), he must be put through waivers before being demoted. When they sent him through the waiver system on March 16, the Twins were hoping that he would sneak past 29 teams, but the Cincinnati Reds scooped up Vargas six days later. The departure was gloomy because he is still learning the game and could still become a great hitter.

Ironically, the 27-year-old reportedly never made it to Goodyear, Arizona, the site of the Reds spring training facility, as he was in Puerto Rico for the birth of his child. Not knowing why the Reds picked him up, Vargas was put back on waivers. In a twist only made for a movie, the Twins plucked him right back up on March 24.

Vargas, who debuted for Minnesota in 2014, was supposed to be a power hitter in the middle of the lineup. In his first year, he played in 53 games, hitting 9 homers with 53 hits. Vargas was an exciting player as it seemed like he was productive most of the time. However, his numbers went down the next two seasons, hitting just 15 homers and had 37 RBIs.

Vargas rebounded, playing in 78 games last year, the most in his career. During the season, he slugged 11 home runs and drove in 41 runs, both career highs. The negative for the improving slugger, like other players who hit for power, is his strikeout rate. In 859 career plate appearances, Vargas has struck out 251 times.

It was a hectic week for Vargas. However, it might not be over since the team must waive him once more. When the Twins send him through later this week, let us hope nobody claims him, so Vargas can finally end up where he belongs: in Rochester.

I really want to see him succeed in the Twins organization, someday sharing the DH role with Miguel Sano. Vargas would also make for a satisfactory backup first baseman for Joe Mauer or Logan Morrison, if they are still on the major league team in 2019. Once his wild ride concludes, Vargas will probably settle in at Triple-A and try to encourage the Twins to bring him back up for good.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | March 21, 2018

Polanco’s Mishap Paves Way For Aybar

Erick Aybar batting as a member of the San Diego PadresWhen infielder Erick Aybar signed with the Twins on February 24, he knew that he had a fighting chance to make the team. Now, Aybar has a magnificent chance of going to Baltimore next week for the start of the MLB season.

The Twins have had a reasonably good spring. Players are getting their chances and getting better. Coaches have been putting together different strategies. Other than very minor injuries, they seem to be ready for the year. Then came the shocking news on March 18 that shortstop Jorge Polanco tested positive for a banned substance, dampening the enthusiasm of the start of the year. The substance, Stanozolol, also caused starter Ervin Santana to miss half a season back in 2015. The unfortunate news, which will result in Polanco missing 80 games plus the post-season, blew the shortstop competition wide open.

Maybe because of his situation, Polanco has had a rough spring. He has known of the incident for a month but held it back from the Twins. That seems odd to me. The 24-year-old has committed seven fielding errors in 13 games, a very poor output. However, he has posted decent offensive numbers. Having one of his best years in 2017, Polanco’s bat will be sorely missed in the line-up for the first three months.

There are several candidates to take over at shortstop: Ehire Adrianza and Eduardo Escobar will be considered. Even Nick Gordon’s name should be put forth. Yet, the one player that could take advantage of this unforeseen circumstance is Aybar, the 34-year-old former star. In his prime, he was an All-Star shortstop for the Angels. Debuting in 2006, Aybar spent 10 seasons in Los Angeles, becoming their prime shortstop. Aybar hit .315 and drove in 417 runs there. During his 2014 All-Star season, he slugged .278 with 164 hits, including 30 doubles. Alongside his infield mate, Howie Kendrick, in 2010, Aybar won his lone Gold Glove.

From there, Aybar played for three teams in two years. In 2016, he joined Atlanta for 97 games and had 101 hits. After posting a .242 average, he was traded to Detroit to finish the season. During the 2016-2017 off-season, Aybar joined San Diego. He had a pretty bland year last season, hitting .234 with 78 hits and just 22 RBIs in 108 games. However, Aybar wants to try to give it another go with the Twins.

Minnesota, and a major taboo, resulted in the situation Aybar is in now. Basically, if Polanco was not suspended, he would have just been at spring training as a way to garner more competition. The way this spring transpired has favored him, as Aybar has displayed decent offensive numbers. Aybar would most likely start the year backing up Escobar at short. However, the argument could be made that Aybar should have the starters role.

The Twins must inform Aybar by March 27 that he will make the team, otherwise he can ask to be released, effectively making him a free agent once again. Personally, I do not want to see that happen because he would be a good mentor to Adrianza and Escobar, while Aybar sees if he can rekindle his career. If Aybar can, he will be the most surprising roster finalist this year.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | March 12, 2018

Twins Land Top Pitcher For A Bargain

Lance Lynn pitching in a game as a member of the St. Louis CardinalsAfter signing first baseman/DH Logan Morrison February 28, Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey expected to not sign any more players this off-season. That did not mean he would stop fielding calls. In a year when free agency is going at a snail’s pace, stars are accepting shorter deals than projected. The Twins have really taken advantage of this unique situation. Not satisfied with how the starting rotation looks, Falvey snatched up the ninth best 2017-2018 free agent, according to mlbtraderumors.com.

After starting pitcher Lance Lynn declined a two-year, $20 million offer by the Twins last week, he kept talking to the club. When the chats ended, Lynn agreed to sign with Minnesota on March 10 for one year worth $12 million. That is a super sneaky deal that Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine constructed, since Lynn was projected to sign for $56 million in November. Without a doubt, players in Fort Myers were thrilled to see that the front office is still adding quality talent.

This will be Lynn’s seventh year in the major leagues. After being drafted by Seattle in 2005, he decided to forgo the opportunity and pitched college ball for three seasons. The 30-year-old re-entered the MLB Draft in 2008 and was chosen by St. Louis. 2011 was his first season in the majors, where he pitched in 18 games and had a 3.18 ERA. Quickly finding a groove, Lynn was selected to the All-Star Game the following year, when he went 18-7 while striking out 180. The Indiana native won at least 10 games during the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons, with a total of 546 strikeouts over those seasons.

Unfortunately for Lynn, he tore a ligament in his right elbow sometime in 2015 that required Tommy John surgery at year’s end. Even though he missed the entire 2016 season, Lynn bounced back and had a solid season last year. Not missing a beat, he started in 33 games and went 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and 153 strikeouts. With a fastball-first approach, Lynn has always been a 10-win guy throughout his career. He has been a solid pitcher, as his overall record is 72-47, and has a career ERA of 3.38 and 919 strikeouts.

This signing really says that the Twins are in it to do damage in the American League. Falvey has signed a bunch of proven players that will drastically improve the pitching department. Lynn will undoubtedly join a pitching staff that consists of Jake Odorizzi, now-injured Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and, apparently, Kyle Gibson. The rotation, especially when Santana returns towards the end of April, looks to be a splendid upgrade to years past when the Twins had to rely on Adalberto Mejia. We shall see if Lynn keeps pitching like he is capable of, and if he does, this could be one fun year!

The Twins are done bringing in players…or are they? The betting site Bovada predicted correctly last week that the Twins were favored to land Lynn at 9-to-5 odds. Interestingly, that same site also said the club is in the lead to sign starter Alex Cobb at 5-4. Odds can be deceiving at time, but as we learned this week, they can be a hint for what is ahead. That means we should follow Cobb, as he will want to join a team pretty quickly.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | March 7, 2018

Let The Paralympics Begin!

 

A few weeks ago, we watched the United States win gold in women’s hockey, men’s curling, and Jessie Diggins’ comeback victory in the women’s cross-country team sprint event. 2018 Paralympic Games logo Next up for Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the 13th edition of the Winter Paralympic Games, which will begin March 9 and come to a rousing conclusion March 18. Athletes from 48 countries will come together for a week of competition.

The Paralympics consist of participants with a variety of disabilities, mostly those with limb deficiencies and muscle impairments. Because of the athletes’ abilities, there are only six events that will take place: sled hockey, wheelchair curling, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon, and snowboard.

Those sports will take place in the same venues as the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee transformed each arena to make them accessible to walkers and wheelchair users. The sled hockey tournament will be held at Gangneung Hockey Centre, where a small adjustment was made to put in transparent boards where team benches and the penalty box will be located. The boards will lower the benches so that the sleds can get to and from the ice. Likewise, the wheelchair curling competition is at the Gangneung Curling Centre. At the curling complex, crews made “special efforts” to accommodate wheelchair users.

To the topic everyone is wondering about. These Paralympic Games will have the most coverage since U.S. television started broadcasting them. During the 10 days of festivities, there will be more than 250 hours of events shown on NBC, NBCSN, and the NBC Sports App. The network that will show the Games most days is NBCSN, from 1-4 p.m. CT.

In an enhancement, the sled hockey gold medal game will be aired live March 17 at 10 p.m. CT on NBCSN and on the app. For those intrigued to see how wheelchair curling is played, your first opportunity will be March 10 at 9 p.m. CT on the cable network. NBC is realizing more and more fans across the United States want to see the Paralympics, and the TV schedule this go around is a great step forward. Here is the full Paralympic viewing guide.

It will be a fantastic week of athletics! Medals are to be won and records are to be broken! For you early risers, do not miss the Opening Ceremony that is going to be aired live on NBCSN this Friday at 5 a.m. CT. The Paralympic Winter Games should be the most watched ever, and you can get all the info you want through the Paralympic website. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | March 4, 2018

My Spring Training 2018 Experience

Sam Graves with Torii Hunter at CenturyLink Sports Complex outside Hammond StadiumThis past week, I was in Fort Myers, Florida, for five days to see some of the Twins spring training. I went to two games and saw many of the regular players! Plus, it was a lot warmer than Minnesota!

On the day of the first game I went to, I met former player and current coach Torii Hunter (see photo) before the game! During the game, which the Twins lost 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays, Byron Buxton, who I predicted in a previous post to do well this season, robbed a home run and then hit a home run! He should be very fun to watch the rest of the spring and throughout the season, especially because of his blazing speed and his very good second half of last season.

The Twins won the second game I went to against the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1. Eddie Rosario homered and new Twin Logan Morrison played and got a triple. I sat in the first row by third base, practically on the field! When Brian Dozier was taken out of the game, he walked right by where I was sitting!

Unfortunately, I was unable to review Hammond Stadium’s accessibility features. I did write a post in 2015 about Hammond Stadium’s accessibility features, and not much has changed since. After one of the games I went to last week, I had to wait a long time for the elevator, mainly because lots of people were using it. Hammond Stadium should consider either adding more elevators or making them bigger. The elevators I used were fairly small and much smaller than the elevators at Target Field. There are fewer people who go to games at Hammond Stadium than Target Field, but the elevators still can be an issue.

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | February 28, 2018

Twins Snatch An Improved Hitter Off The Market

Logan Morrison while playing for the Tampa Bay RaysUp until recently, Twins General Manager Thad Levine has been signing pitchers at a slow pace and mainly focusing on bullpen support. Yet, there was still a point of interest in shoring up the starting rotation and provide competition in camp.

Within the past two weeks, the Twins signed pitcher Anibal Sanchez, traded for sure starter Jake Odorizzi, and brought in infielder Erick Aybar for a peek. Going into spring training, the Twins liked their offense and thought they were settled in that part. That is why it was a surprise when it was rumored that they were interested, and apparently sent an offer, to a hitter that may be on the verge to greatness.

Mere hours after the February 25 report, first baseman/designated hitter Logan Morrison agreed to sign with the Twins on a one-year, $6.5 million deal that includes a vesting option for 2019, which was officially announced this morning. When Odorizzi, who was formerly with Tampa Bay, arrived in Fort Myers, he contacted free agent pitcher Alex Cobb and Morrison to say they should join the Twins. It seems like that helped Levine wrangle in Morrison, although the GM is hesitant about Cobb.

Morrison, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 2005 draft, will be heading into his eighth season in the league. He debuted in 2010, when he played in 62 games. Over his four years in the Florida/Miami organization, the 30-year-old batted .249, clobbering 42 home runs and drove in 162 runs. After Morrison was traded to Seattle at the conclusion of the 2013 season, he advanced his offensive production. With the Mariners for two years, the Missourian hit 28 long balls and recorded 92 RBIs. Nevertheless, Seattle traded him before the 2016 campaign; he was headed east.

Morrison proved to them that was a mistake, as he batted .238 with 14 home runs and 84 hits in 107 games in his first year as a Tampa Bay Ray. Sometimes noisy, he changed his batting stance to try to better himself. Apparently, “LoMo” developed a new launch angle which was successful, as he had a huge 2017 campaign. In 149 games, the newfound slugger smashed 38 dingers, had 85 RBIs, singled 126 times, and had a slugging percentage of .516. Morrison’s superior success did not translate to the Rays re-signing him, making him a free agent.

Once connected to Mike Napoli, who just signed with Cleveland, the Twins brass never gave up on finding ways to improve an offense that made great strides in 2017. Morrison will fit well in the DH spot, especially if Miguel Sano has a tough time or if he is suspended because of the sexual assault case that happened in December. Also, Morrison will most likely be the first baseman when Joe Mauer needs rest. Morrison will add supplemental power when Sano is ahead of him in the line-up, making a dual threat for opposing pitchers.

This acquisition is a huge get for the Twins and it may be a signal of what is yet to come. If Morrison can keep improving, this move will be looked at as outstanding. Welcome to Minnesota, Morrison, but please do not hurt Minnie and Paul too much!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 22, 2018

New Rules Approved, Will Start This Year

Cartoon of two people writing rules on chalkboardAfter several negotiation sessions, the MLB and MLBPA have decided on new rules for the upcoming season. Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the agreement February 20. The directives mainly surround the pace-of-play situation, but stopped short of a complete overhaul. Besides attempting to change the speed of the game, MLB will install new phone lines in each stadium and “capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles.”

In an MLB.com article, Tony Clark, the MLBPA’s executive director, said that “players were involved in the pace of game discussion from day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans.” With the new laws, hopefully everyone will be satisfied and can enjoy a great season. Although some changes could frustrate players and coaches, and we could see some growing pains, a.k.a. arguments.

The most noticeable change is teams are only allowed six mound visits per game. A visit could be with a manager or a coach, and if a pitcher steps off the mound and talks to a position player. Clubs will be entitled to one additional meeting in each extra inning. If the home plate umpire deems that the pitcher and catcher are confused by their pitches, he can give permission to the catcher to have a quick chat with the pitcher. If the “cross-up” rule comes into play before the six conferences, that mound huddle “shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.”

Another aspect of the game that is changing is the in-between inning countdown clock. In the regular season, the breaks will now last 2 minutes and 5 seconds during local telecasts to just short of three minutes for post-season games. There will be a strict process that culminates with the pitcher pitching the ball when the clock strikes zero. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as if the ump believes an injury could result if extra time is not warranted or if there is a delay unrelated to normal baseball activity.

A third tweak in the rules that I found interesting is relief pitchers must immediately come in when appropriately called. They can not take any extra pitches in the pen! According to the memo, “during the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event.” The pitching change timer will start as soon as the reliever steps onto the playing field.

These, and other new tidbits, will be enforced by the umpires. If need be, the umpires will tell league offices and discipline will be recommended if players viciously violate the new rules that will officially debut March 29. It will be difficult for on-field personnel to get used to the new MLB pace-of-play rules, but I have confidence that each party made the right decisions in talking this through. Players will have to get used to this version, and do so professionally.

Thankfully, there will not be a pitch clock this year, since the MLBPA persuaded Manfred to not implement the 18-second timer!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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