Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wild keep on rolling – at the moment

The Wild have won eight games in a row, ranking second in franchise history as far as these streaks go. A 2-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at home Tuesday night was the latest in this string. Their last regulation loss was Nov. 29, and they’re 10-1-3 in their past 14 games, earning points in 13-of-14.

There’s depth to this success, too. Mikko Koivu (12 points in his last 14 games), Jason Zucker, Eric Staal (team points leader with 25 in 31 games) Ryan Suter (18 points, team leader at +22), Charlie Coyle (leads the team with 11 goals). Add your favorite guy to the list. They’re all playing some solid hockey right now.

Devan Dubnyk is playing some kind of amazing hockey in between the pipes, earning his fifth shutout of the season Tuesday when he really wasn’t even tested a ton.

The great thing about the two goals the Wild scored was the positioning of the goal scorers. On Coyle’s goal, it was Matt Dumba with the initial shot from the point, which bounced around Staal’s feet before kicking out to Coyle who easily scored on the doorstep of the crease.

Dumba grabbed a second assist on the second goal, which was credited to Koivu after he was right in front to pound home the rebound. Zucker was right there, too, sprawled on the ice trying to get his stick in there.

I just have a better feeling watching some of these plays develop. These were two goals that were finished off; they weren’t missed opportunities.

But back to the overall success of this team right now. They’re second in the Central Division with 42 points through 31 games, a mark that is second in franchise history by just a point. They started 20-8-3 in 2011-12. They’ve got the longest active winning streak in the league. Darn those Blue Jackets hogging some of the glory.

The home-win streak for the Wild has reached seven games, and they’ve outscored opponents 26-8.

This is all fine and good – and great hockey to watch – but there’s something else nagging me about it all.

Here’s the part in this post where I wave the yellow caution flag. I can’t help it. I’ve grown up around Minnesota sports, so this is what I do.

The holidays are coming up this week, and then January is just around the corner. This team has had a swoon for a few years now, including last year when the team performed with such a lackluster effort that it got its coach fired. A swoon should almost be expected, until the Wild prove they can get through a season without it.

The day after Christmas last year, the Wild faced the Pittsburgh Penguins at home. The Pens scored three in the second period for a 3-1 victory over a Wild team that appeared to have a holiday hangover. I was there with my family for one of the biggest crowds at the Xcel Energy Center last season, announced at 19,234. My dad still uses this loss as a benchmark for how much time he’ll invest into this team. It was a game where the Wild really didn’t show up to play, failing to execute passes, possess the puck or get any offense going.

The year before, the Wild lost the post-Christmas game at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets with a 4-3 overtime game. The Wild are 1-7-1 in their past nine games right after Christmas.

Looking ahead to the schedule coming up here, it’s not exactly full of easier customers like the Avs. There’s Montreal and the New York Rangers for road back-to-backs this week. Then they head to Nashville for that hold-your-breath after-Christmas game Dec. 27. New Years Eve is the setting for what could be a matchup of the league’s hottest teams with the Columbus Blue Jackets (won 10 in a row) coming to town.

We’ll see what happens in the next couple weeks and how the Wild will handle some stiff competition from the Eastern Conference.

The Wild players have proven they can play good hockey. This team has also proven it’s a master at limping into the playoffs after going into a midseason tailspin, then needing to play with backs against the wall. It really is fun to watch this team when it’s playing well. I mean, that’s obvious. I think the real X factor here is Bruce Boudreau. The Wild swooned with other coaches; will they do that with Bruce?

So, as I’ve cautioned in the past, let’s enjoy this Wild ride. Because at some point, it will end.

This was originally posted at

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Winning makes everything better

Originally, I thought about writing a piece about high school hockey. But when the Wild win five in a row, I suppose I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t write about these suddenly red-hot men in green and red. The Minnesota Wild are 16-8-4 overall, that includes three one-goal victories in the latest winning streak, an overtime win in Edmonton and a shootout (that probably went too many rounds) against Edmonton in St. Paul.

Times are good for the Wild. We need to be more positive when these situations present themselves. The other part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop because, well, a tough schedule and the month of January are coming up. Deep breaths.

Here are a few things that are going well lately:

Devan Dubnyk
You’re welcome, captain obvious.

Duby is simply on top of his game. He leads the NHL’s goaltending regulars in save percentage at .947 and GAA at 1.60. As much as I don’t like the “DOOOOB!” chant at the X for some of those routine saves, he deserves the love. Take the game against the Maple Leafs that the Wild won 2-1. Dubnyk pretty much single-handedly won the game, with 35 saves and 17 of those in the third period alone.

Another thing that’s been refreshing is not only is he not giving up many goals, but he’s not giving up the softies, either. (Thanks to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune for reminding me.) That was one of his major flaws last season. It was almost like the Wild were always in a 1-0 hole from the start.

One-goal wins
It’s encouraging that the Wild are winning some one-goal games, whether it’s in regulation or otherwise. The Wild came into play Tuesday 25th in the league in winning percentages for one-goal games at .389. Calgary leads the way at .769. So getting those couple victories this past week helps that mark.

This isn’t scientific, but it just seems to me like the Wild aren’t historically on the winning end of one-goal games. All those 2-1 games can be frustrating.

Racking up the points
I’m not just talking about as a team. There’s the individual efforts, too. Jason Zucker has 10 points in the past 10 games, including a two-point effort in Vancouver and an assist plus the fifth goal in the 5-1 victory over Florida that chased Roberto Luongo.

Eric Staal leads the team in points with 20. He scored on yet another breakaway versus Florida. The look on his face during the celebration was just gold. Staal went a dozen games without a goal before scoring in that Toronto game. With the goal against Florida, that gives him two goals and three points in the last four games. Nino Niederreiter also has nine points in 11 games.

Mikko being Mikko
Mikko Koivu has three goals in the past six games, adding to his season total of seven goals and eight assists for the season. That’s great to see, but his biggest and perhaps most underrated value is in the faceoff circle. He’s third in the NHL in faceoffs won, with 364. He’s a guy that seems to have very passionate fans in his favor, or those that are overly critical and want to “strip the C.” I’m glad to see he’s contributing though.

I’m sure I’m missing a few of the key elements on the recent success streak. What sticks out in your mind about this team lately?

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Coyle: May I have some more, please?

As the Wild head into the final game of the very lengthy Canadian road trip, I decided to take a look at the player stats sheet. At the top, there’s a tie with 17 points between Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal. Coyle leads the team in goals with nine. I’ll admit, it’s a little surprising.

Like some others out there, I’ve been critical of Coyle the past few years. It’s like we’ve been waiting for the “kid” to develop his hockey chops. Sometimes I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’d like to see more from him.

He’s in his fifth season in the NHL, though his first season he played 37 games in the NHL and 47 in the AHL with the Houston Aeros as a 20-year-old. So alright, he played 70 games the next season for 12 goals and 30 points. The last two years he’s played all 82 in the regular season, but in 2014-15 he only scored 11 goals in that full season. Last year was better, with 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points.

Now this year, too, he’s at the top of the team stats leaderboard. Granted, it’s not like he’s among the Blackhawks or Penguins, but it’s still worth noting. He’s done a good job so far this season contributing on the scoresheet. A bit of a quiet leader.

So why do I feel so underwhelmed?

He’s a little bit like Granlund in this respect: There are flashes of greatness. Why doesn’t that happen more often? There will be some great, athletic scoring play or a nice pass he makes. Something that makes you say “wow.” That’s what has me wanting more. If you can play like that sometimes, why not most of the time?

The big problem that many have acknowledged with this team is the lack of finishers. The lack of pure goal scorers. Coyle was supposed to be one of these guys, right? Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe he still could turn into something, too. Even though he’s played in the NHL for a few seasons, he’s still a young guy entering what should be the prime of his career. Sometimes that’s forgotten as the fan base gets impatient with the lack of results from the team.

I’m encouraged by Coyle’s season last year and what’s he has done so far in 2016-17. I’d like to see him continue to elevate his game and continue to put points on the board.

There’s another thing that digs at me with Coyle, too. I think I also like to point the finger at him indirectly for the lack of toughness on the Wild squad. This fella is a 6-3, 220-pound hockey player who could stand to capitalize on his size just a bit more. I’m not necessarily referring to fighting. Just a few more aggressive checks once in a while, or this concept of standing up for your teammates after the whistle might be up his alley.

Thank goodness there’s Chris Stewart to help fill that void, I suppose.

I don’t mean to be unfair to Coyle. I’m not trying to be a hater and say he’s just terrible. He isn’t. But again, there’s just something about him that I can’t put my finger on and leaves me wanting more. Maybe it’s being greedy, or maybe it’s just another nice thing we’d like to have in Minnesota sports.

What are your thoughts on Coyle? Am I being too hard on the leading goal scorer?

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wild roller coaster keeps on moving

In a bit of an odd game, the Wild lost to the lowly Canucks on Tuesday, 5-4. Each side blew that dreaded, two-goal hockey lead, and Vancouver scored the game-winner with 2:35 left to get the two points. Jason Pominville scored two goals for the Wild, Jason Zucker scored on a breakaway and neither of the Sedin twins scored (unless you count the goal that was disallowed). See, told you it was an odd night.

Pommer scored the first two goals of the night, one being quite the sniper shot and the other being in the right place at the right time in front of the net. With that 2-0 lead in the second, the Canucks got even before the period was up with a couple on the power play. Don’t worry about the Sedins; they had three of the four assists on those two goals.

Tie game going into the third period, which seemed like it would be an overtime game waiting to happen. It didn’t take long (1:09 and 2:08) for Vancouver to go up 4-2. That’s right. Four unanswered goals.

Then Zucker comes through just more than a minute later with his beautiful breakaway goal. Yes, he hit the net. Yes, it appeared he copied the page right out of the Mikko Koivu shootout book. The roller coaster continued. Later in the period with the Wild putting on the pressure, Erik Haula scored his fourth of the season to get the game tied up again. Holla, third line!

But once again the excitement was shortlived. A shot from the point was deflected past Darcy Kuemper for the winner. There were a few bounces and tips on both sides during the game. Not an excuse for anything.

Needless to say when a final score is 5-4, that’s not a great example of good defense or solid goaltending. Especially in the closing minutes, it looked like the Canucks were on some extended power play. Kuemper, obviously not in the nets every night, didn’t look sharp a few times throughout the night. He mishandled a puck that should have ended up in his glove and another time couldn’t freeze the puck leading to a goal.

Going by the ol’ on-paper scenario, the Wild had the edge with an 11-7-3 record compared to the Canucks near the bottom of the Pacific Division. But the Wild haven’t exactly done things the conventional way. Not like that should be any surprise.

This one was frustrating because the Wild were in decent shape up 2-0 and with a shot advantage, too. Then there’s the four goals. Then the high of tying it up, before the low of giving up the winner late in the game. But hey, the Wild didn’t give up an empty netter. So there’s that.

Add it to the list of weird results for the Wild. At least this one didn’t give two points to a division rival, even if a conference foe isn’t exactly great either. The Wild started November with a 2-1 loss to Buffalo, following that up with a 1-0 loss to Colorado. They also lost 3-2 to Philly, another 1-0 loss (Calgary) and another defeat at the hands of the Avs, 3-2.

This is also the same Wild team that is 2-0 against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, outscoring them 10-4.

I’ve always been curious about how teams will lose the games they shouldn’t and win the ones they shouldn’t. It’s what keeps thing interesting, really. If teams always beat up on the lowly opponents they were supposed to, it wouldn’t be as much fun and frustrating to follow them.

So, we always just come back for more.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Twins bring back Cuddy, LaTroy, Torii. Party like it's 2002!

The boys are back in town.

Monday, the Minnesota Twins announced they're bringing back three very familiar and fan-friendly faces to the organization. Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins and Torii Hunter, all former players with the club, will hold new job titles: Special assistant.

The trio only overlapped for three seasons with the Twins, 2001-03, but it was a very exciting time in Twins Territory. The team was just on the upswing of a great decade filled with division titles (and yes, playoff series losses to the Yankees). All three are going back to their original baseball roots, since it was the Twins that chose them in the draft.

They'll be key guys in the front office helping out with the trade deadline, draft, act as instructors in spring training and visit minor league affiliates throughout the season.

They all started in Minnie
Hawkins was picked in the 1991 draft and spent nine seasons with the Twins from 1995-2003. He pitched out of the bullpen and acted as the Twins closer for a time. He then spent 12 more years in baseball for a 21-year career.

Cuddyer spent most of his career in Minnesota, from 2001-11. He wrapped up his career with three seasons in Colorado before a year with the Mets. He was on the 2015 roster for the New York Mets when they lost the World Series to Kansas City.

Hunter is perhaps one of the most popular players in Twins history, rivaling the likes of Kirby Puckett after he followed in his center-field footsteps. He wrapped up a 19-year MLB career, including 12 years with the Twins, bookending his career in Minnesota in 2015 after a few years with the Angels and Tigers. He's a five-time All-Star who won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2001-09. He brought some energy into the clubhouse in 2015 with the #TwinsDanceParty. He was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame this past season.

With more than 1,000 career games, Hawkins no doubt has some pitching advice to offer. That's good, for a current rotation that could probably use the pep talks and advice. Hunter dazzled with his outstanding catches in center field that had everyone thinking back to the days of Puckett. Cuddy became one of the good guys, too, and developed quite a cannon in the outfield.

Remember when...
The nostalgia meter is running pretty high with the announcement yesterday. I think a lot of fans thought back to 2002, when the Twins won their first of six American League Central Division titles throughout the early 2000s. It was a fun time in the Twin Cities for baseball. They won a playoff series over the Athletics before losing to the eventual World Champion Angels in the ALCS.

That year, they finished 94-67 in the regular season. They had the core of Doug Mientkiewicz, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman and, um, David Ortiz on the roster. It was the start of some great baseball in the Twin Cities, regardless of the playoff results that came along with it.

For me, it was pretty special because this was just a couple years after I became a serious sports fan. I started watching the last couple years of Tom Kelly's tenure, just when the team was on the upswing after the abysmal 90s years. I learned about baseball and learned about these players. So, I guess I'm part of that nostalgic group that really has a special place in my heart to recognize this team.

Twins way?
Some criticize the so-called "Twins way" of doing things, bringing back people who've been in the organization or hiring within. There might be some validity to that in certain cases, but I don't think it's all that uncommon for teams across the league to bring back former players for roles like special assistants.

These aren't huge positions of power, after all, like a manager or general manager. These guys can offer support and draw on their experiences as a player for the Twins to help the current players so they can win more games next year. I'm sure they'll help with the ol' cliche "team chemistry," too.

So, welcome back, fellas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Back to life, back to reality

A few weeks ago, I wrote about all the goals the Wild kept scoring. Four goals a game, five goals. It was a simpler time. Predictably, the goal-scoring high has come crashing down. I knew it even as I penned that piece.
Now, it's pretty hard to sustain these goal outbursts for a long period of time. Once again though, this team proves it only rides at the very top and very bottom of the roller coaster. Not much in between.

The Wild were near the top of the NHL is goal scoring. Then the schedule fairy gave the boys big gaps between games (not making excuses here) and the scoring scaled way back. They sat in 19th in the goals-for category when I checked Monday night.

Take a look at the game scores
They started November with a 2-1 loss to the buddies of Buffalo, then a 1-0 loss in Colorado. Then there was a 4-2 victory over the Penguins. Huge win there. Right back down with a 3-2 loss in Philly. A 2-1 overtime win over the Senators was a breath of fresh air, since the Wild have struggled in the 3-on-3 format.

Then another 1-0 loss, this time to Calgary at home. They went nearly two games without a goal before a 1-0 victory when Boston came to town.

Really, the 1-0 victory over the Bruins last Thursday didn't feel like much of a celebration either. The Wild scored the goal with less than a minute left in the game, and it didn't even go in from a Wild player's stick. It went in off the opposing players. Part of me thought it was refreshing, since those types of goals usually get scored against the Wild. Not the other way around.

Anyway, that game felt like an overtime loss waiting to happen. So they squeaked away with the two points. Similarly, the 3-2 overtime loss in Dallas didn’t feel like much to write home about either. Two comebacks and getting the “moral victory” point. Big deal.

Of course, things were bad (and perhaps worse) with the 3-2 loss to the Avs Saturday. At home. Against a divisional foe. Ugh. The final score wasn't really the worst part. It was the fact that the Wild were up 2-0 before apparently deciding the dreaded two-goal lead was enough to coast through most of the third period.

Who’s carrying the team?
What I really want to touch on is the shift in scoring. Coach Bruce Boudreau bluntly addressed this in his presser of frustration after Saturday's loss. "When was the last time any of us had a multi-point game?”

He's got a point. Teams won't get too far in this league without some depth and guys that can have those multi-point games. Mikko Koivu has two goals so far this season – the same tally as Zach Parise (who’s been out a few games with an injury) and tough guy Chris Stewart. Jason Pominville has three goals. Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal lead the team with five goals apiece.

I'm trying to figure out what the problem is here. And I know if we could snap our fingers and fix it, we wouldn’t be here. Is it the lackluster power play? All those shots that go wide of the net? The shots they don't take? Just being the ever-popular "snake-bit"? I don't know. Maybe it’s the same old idea that this team just doesn’t have the finishers. It seems like we talk in circles with this.

I've grown so accustomed to watching this team that I'm not sure if this is a problem that is with the Wild or is something that all teams struggle through at some point in a season.

I see a lot of the same habits. Shots going wide, guys just not being able to pull the trigger in front of the net, waiting just another split second before shooting from the point, which allows the defender to predict it and usually block or deflect it.

These things are part of the game and will happen. It's just that everything obviously gets magnified when a team has trouble scoring goals.

So it goes with the Wild’s lack of scoring. We’ll just continue to be frustrated until they figure it out for a little while.

This was originally posted at

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Lots of down time lately

Somebody asked me yesterday: How’s hockey season going? I had to pause. Hockey season… Oh! That’s right, the Wild are in month No. 2 of this 2016-17 season. It can get lost in the shuffle when a team has oodles of days off.

Earlier this season, I wrote about back-to-backs in the schedule. Now, I guess it’s logical that I write a bit of a grumbling post about this extended break the Wild have in early November. The Wild have three games in 12 days. So far it’s been two losses before their game tonight. Their last win was Oct. 29 with a 4-0 victory over Dallas at home.

Hey, at least the weather around here has been nice. So I hope everyone has gotten out to enjoy it.

I realize again that this isn’t much of a productive piece, exactly. Schedules are what they are and teams and fans can’t change them. As much as sports fans like to complain about the quirks in the calendar, I’m pretty sure no one really envies the schedule makers either.

The benefits of a long break:
Guys can get a chance to heal from any nagging injuries. For some of the minor ones, it could mean less games missed. Not playing a bunch of games right together gives the body a little break, too.

Breaking in Bruce. There’s a learning curve that comes along with a new coach. Bruce Boudreau has made his presence felt already, but it’s a long season and there’s more work to be done so he can get to know his players and find the best formula.

The disadvantages of a long break:
Just don’t even look at the standings. Seriously, it has to be frustrating to sit idle while the rest of the teams in the league continue on with their games. Especially in the Wild’s case right now, since they lost their lost two games in regulation.

I seem to remember this issue of being behind in the games-played column happened last year, too, thanks to another early break. I’d check the standings and it seemed the Wild were always two, three, four games behind the rest in their division. Yes, I know all teams play 82 games and each game is worth two points. Things even out. It’s more mental than anything. Still, it’s hard not to think about.

It’d be logical to assume that these days off are so much worse when the momentum is the losing kind. So much time to dwell on the loss. On the other hand, it might be tough to have a win and then be disappointed that the positive momentum comes to a halt with a bunch of off days.

Anyway, hockey will be played again, so fear not. The Wild face off against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins tonight on the East coast. Plus, there’s always other hockey games on TV to watch on Wild off nights.

I guess I’m wondering if other people have thoughts about this schedule thing. Am I just making a big deal about nothing? Or is it a big bummer to have so much time in between seeing Bruce and the boys on the bench? What do you think are the pros and cons of these schedule quirks? I welcome your thoughts.

If nothing else, it seems to me this is a talking point. When there’s no game to talk about.

This was originally posted at

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Falvey, Levine usher in 'new era' for Twins

The Minnesota Twins lost 103 games in 2016, easily marking the worst record in baseball and setting a new Twins record. There were pitching woes, hitting struggles and blown leads. That's probably enough dwelling on that.

Monday, the Twins introduced a couple of fresh faces to the organization: Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Falvey, fresh off the near-victory in the World Series as a member of the Cleveland Indians front office (he started there as an intern), is the executive vice president and chief baseball officer. Levine, coming to Minnesota after a long stint with the Texas Rangers (hope he likes snow), is the senior vice president and general manager.

From left: Jim Pohlad, Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, Dave St. Peter

Job titles aside, I think these two will pretty much work together to make all kinds of great baseball decisions for the team. Falvey is technically the one in the higher position, but him being the boss is not the impression they gave at the news conference.

A whole new chapter
It's a fresh start for the Twins, after a very tough season that also saw the resignation of long-time general manager Terry Ryan around the All-Star Break. Fresh starts are good, and that's how the vibes felt Monday. Good.

Dave St. Peter, president of the Twins, offered up some of his excitement, too.

"I think it represents the dawn of a new era for our franchise," St. Peter said. "We couldn't be more pleased with where things landed. We believe Derek and Thad will form a very special partnership. They both have made significant contributions to successful franchises."

Besides Falvey's success this season, Levine and the Rangers won the pennant in 2010 and 2011. Funny thing is, which they acknowledged with a laugh at the presser, the Twins actually played some of their best baseball against Cleveland and Texas this season.

'We (will be) the champions, my friends'?
Anyway, a recurring theme throughout the news conference was championship-caliber baseball. What a ring to it, right? Falvey said he looks forward to bringing championship baseball back here. I don't remember 1987 or 1991 (I was around!), so this is the hope.

"This is one of the most proud, resilient franchises in baseball," Falvey said.

He added that the goal is "straight forward and measurable... to build a sustainable, championship-caliber team." Now, many people like to talk about the "Twins Way." No, not referring to the address. Actually, some people have turned it into a mocking tool. But when Falvey brought up the Way, he said it will be to thrive together, because the people in the Twins organization care about it on a very deep level. They'll focus on growth, he said.

Both men were very well spoken without talking just to talk. Levine made his mark early as a witty fellow, mentioning the favorable weather recently and adding Mother Nature to his list of thank-yous. He drew laughs from the full-house media core more than once, including when he answered the legendary Sid Hartman's question.

Levine, 44, said he'd like this to be the last stop in his career. Again, I hope he and his family don't mind the snow. He called this job a "dream come true."

"I'm quite confident the best chapter is yet to come, and it starts today," Levine said.

They've got their pulse on analytics in the game, for one thing. So, using that to build teams could shake things up a bit. It's a meaningful piece of the puzzle, Levine said. Falvey also said that there are building blocks here with some good players but that he also doesn't like to put time tables on teams. Patience will probably be key.

No time wasted
They didn't waste any time getting to work. Remember, they had to wait until Falvey's season was finished with Cleveland before he could start with the Twins. Thanks to a seven-game World Series, it was about as long as possible. Falvey and Levine flew out to Arizona for the general manager meetings that night. By Tuesday evening (in the middle of the election night drama), the team announced coaching changes. Hitting coach Tom Brunansky and first-base coach Butch Davis will not return.

I'm excited to see the moves this young duo makes. One key thing that I think people are excited about: They're from outside the organization. Whether that's a huge benefit remains to be seen, but it's not something that's typical of an organization that has had just a few managers over the years and hires many coaches from within.

Nothing will happen overnight. With so many losses last season, one would think there's nowhere to go but up for this team though. I'll be interesting to see how Falvey and Levine leave their mark to being that championship-caliber baseball back to Minnesota.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Games are 60 minutes

Let’s review: NHL games, in regulation, are 60 minutes. That’s three periods that are 20 minutes each. There’s a five-minute overtime period if the score is tied after those 60 minutes. Just so we’re all clear on that.

Just having a little fun, because I think fans and bloggers realize the length of a hockey game. I mean, I’ll take words over numbers any day, but this is math that even I can do. The real question is: Do the Minnesota Wild players understand this concept?

This comes up again and again with this team. The fact that they don’t seem to give their full effort throughout the entire game. How many times can everyone hear the same questions and the same answers in the intermission interviews? “We just need to come out with more energy. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted to…” It really gets old.

The pattern of poor starts appeared again in Tuesday’s game. The Wild managed just six shots on goal and got down 1-0 early. They recovered to play a bit better and tied the game. But eventually, the Wild lost 2-1.

It’s enough to play the what-if? game surrounding the first 20 minutes.

While making this argument, I also realize the season is 82 games. There will be off nights. There will be sluggish starts. It happens because everybody, no matter what they do, has an off night some time. I get that. Teams don’t go 82-0, after all.

But make no mistake, this is a pattern for the Wild. Maybe it’s a poor start. Maybe it’s a slacking second period after an energetic start. It happens more often than Wild fans would like to see, that’s for sure. I don’t know what the deal is, really. Do the guys have trouble getting pumped up for a home game? Is the particular opponent that night just astonishingly better? Jet lag? A lack of talent? I really have no idea. Or maybe it’s completely normal and every other team goes through this, too. Please weigh in if you think this is the case.

Here’s the good news: Bruce Boudreau.

After a bad loss earlier this season, Boudreau already put his new team through a hard-working practice. I’d like to think it’s something like that scene in “D2” when oily-haired, living-the-life Coach Bombay makes his young players skate the length of the ice over and over after Iceland creamed them in the Junior Goodwill Games. Then Charlie (Perhaps it would be Ryan Suter in this case for the Wild?) says: “This isn’t very much fun, coach.”

Anyway, it sounds like Boudreau put the boys through another tiring practice after the Buffalo loss this week. In Michael Russo’s blog, he referred to it as “a battling practice… designed to get the sweat pouring.” Man, that’s great. He also changed up the lines during practice, looking at a Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line.

The other thing Boudreau isn’t afraid to do, it seems, is to speak publicly when players aren’t doing well. This is a change for this team, and it’s one I’d view as a good and motivating one.

I don’t know if these are true cures for the Wild’s lackluster efforts that get put forth sometimes. I just think these moves by Boudreau are encouraging. After a loss like the one to Buffalo, a tough practice is totally warranted. It shows that he’s not willing to accept some lazy skating on game nights. I’m OK with that. The hope is it will be a wake-up call to improve play, come out buzzing from the start and give 100 percent.

Because after all, they should be at the top of their game for those 60 minutes each time out.

This was originally posted at

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

The one with all the scoring

First off, I hope some of you enjoy the headline. This Minnesota team is scoring goals so far this season. This is a big deal.

It may be a fundamental and pretty basic part of the game, scoring more goals than an opponent in order to get the win. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to accomplish, of course. That’s why we’re all here in the blogosphere.

Everybody loves scoring. Maybe more than Raymond. The Minnesota Wild has put plenty of pucks in the net this season, which is truly great to see. Mikael Granlund finally got himself in the G column Saturday against Dallas, thanks to a nice give-and-go feed from Mikko Koivu. Granny became the 17th Wild player to put the puck in the net this season. Talk about scoring depth.

You get a goal! You get a goal! 
With his goal Saturday, Eric Staal put himself into the goal lead for the Wild with four. Charlie Coyle and veteran D-man Ryan Suter are next with three tallies apiece. Seven other fellas have a pair each. Eighteen different players have a goal.

The team’s four-goal effort in the win over Dallas on Saturday pushed the Wild to the top of the NHL heap again in goals scored with 32. The undefeated (8-0-1) Montreal Canadiens and Philly Flyers are next in line with 31 goals each.

Let’s give that a full paragraph on its own to sink in: The Minnesota Wild is leading the league in goals.

They’ve won games scoring 4, 6, 3, 5, 4 and 4 goals this season. What’s great about this is everyone is getting on the scoresheet. For one thing, it helps win games. For another, it gives guys – and their lines – confidence going forward. There isn’t the same kind of pressure to put the puck in the back of the net when you already have a couple by your name so early in the year. We all remember how much Jason Pominville was a focus last season when he couldn’t score.

Zach Parise pressed a little bit last week, especially with the added pressure of getting his 300th goal against his former team in New Jersey. Then he scored two in one game, because when it rains, it pours. (And now it looks like the rain has turned into an injury storm.)

Even tough-guy Chris Stewart has a couple goals this season. That’s a bit of a surprise. Although if he still has the 2 by his name three months from now, that wouldn’t shock me either.

Joel, or however you say his name, is good
Much of the buzz lately has been rightfully focused on the 19-year-old Joel Ericksson Ek. Apparently his name is not pronounced like all of us Americans are used to, since he’s a Swedish lad. It just complicates all the drama that goes along with his nickname. JEEK, EEK, Young Jeezy… I guess I’m going with JEEK or EEK until I hear that there’s an official declaration on what the fan base is calling this guy.

Anyway, he’s really impressed so far with two goals and three assists in five games. It helps to get noticed when your goals look so pretty, too. It’s like how the Wild always want to get that highlight reel goal, which can result in too much passing or bad decisions with the puck. But Mr. Ek made it look good right away. His presence might be pretty helpful coming up, since it appears the injury bug is already biting Minnesota.

Let the good times roll
The Wild ranked tied for 18th in the NHL with 213 goals last season. They’ve been a defensive-minded team in the past, and sometimes the focus can be there a little too much. I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of the offensive zone play, for the most part, driving the net and scoring. Is that a Bruce Boudreau thing? I’d like to think that has something to do with it.

Some of the issues with this team still linger, like with those bad starts which look terrible compared to some strong second periods (or sometimes the other way around). Right now though, with the Wild playing well and pumping the puck in, it’s easy to feel good about where they are as a team.
I’ll take these high-scoring affairs and scoring depth as long as they last.

This was originally posted at

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't stress over back-to-backs

Consider this somewhat of a preemptive strike to speak out on back-to-backs, since we are still in the very beginning of the season. This issue is a bit of a carryover from last season when it was bothering me a bit. The Wild will face its first back-to-back test this weekend when it goes to New Jersey and then a visit to the New York Islanders.

Sports schedules aren’t perfect, and the NHL is a bit different than other major sports like baseball or football that play nearly every day or just once a week. It’s pretty predictable. Hockey varies. Sometimes a team will have a long road trip, sometimes it will play three games in four of five nights and sometimes it will get a four-day break.

This certainly mixes it up with opponents, too. For instance, the Wild hadn’t started its season yet, but the Blues played the night before in Chicago. So that’s a back-to-back with a travel day when an opponent was theoretically fresh. Of course, we all know what happened in that Wild v. Blues game. The Wild came out sluggish and the Blues held the momentum from the night before.

Back-to-backs this season
The Wild have 13 back-to-back games this season. All but one of them comes with travel. Already this season, two of the Wild’s first four opponents will have played the Wild on the second night of a back-to-back.

I guess my bottom line here is I’m sick of seeing this part of the schedule used as a reason why a team did or didn’t play well/win the game, etc. It’s part of the NHL schedule that you can’t change, so figure out a way to deal with it.

Sure, it can be a little annoying when a team plays for the second night in a row on the road against a team that’s been lounging at home all week. But just look past it. Look at the players on the ice and ask what they could do to improve their game, not sit there and blame the schedule.

How they did last season
Last season, the Wild had 15 back-to-back scenarios. Thirteen of those came with travel with either one game at home and one away, or both games on the road. The Wild went 12-13-5 (one shootout loss) in all back-to-back games, going 5-7-3 on the second night. Take it all with a grain of salt with the 38-33-11 Wild team last year, but I suppose you could say the Wild needs to improve in these situations, especially in the second games. Real hot take right there.

I don’t think the reason the Wild lost those 13 games solely had to do with the fact that they played the night before. Even if the fatigue was a factor sometimes, so what? It all evens out with your opponents over the course of a season because the skate is always on the other foot at some point. It’s like in tennis when it was a very gusty day on the courts. Both players have to deal with the wind and try and play their game.

So, this is just a friendly reminder to not get too stressed out about these back-to-back games this season. They’re just part of the schedule. That’s it.

This was originally posted at

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Hockey is back. Get excited!

A new season, a new coach, a fresh start. NHL hockey is back, and the Minnesota Wild start with a 0-0 record just like everyone else. The optimism is never higher than it is on day one, right?

Let’s face it: Everyone had a bad taste in their mouths after that Game 6 loss at home to the Dallas Stars in the playoffs last spring. There was the lackluster effort for most of the game, then that (called) no-goal that went against the Wild. Not trying to rehash what’s been done for months, just pointing out that it doesn’t even matter tonight. It’s all about 2016-17.

There’s been a lot of good content on from our talented group of writers surrounding predictions and expectations for players. Will they make the playoffs? Will the 24-year-olds make some positive strides? It’s all good stuff.

For me, the biggest reason for excitement is the new coach, Bruce Boudreau. It’s also why I’m having a bit of a tough time really nailing down some predictions about what will happen. Last spring, I wrote that I was excited for the Boudreau hire as the Wild’s next coach. It wasn’t a great market to pick from, but I thought he was the best choice.

I’m very curious to see how he will make a difference with this team. Yes, the players are responsible for how they play. Yes, I don’t expect Boudreau to snap his fingers and make the Wild a division-winning team overnight. I get all that. I think I’m really just hoping to see something positive, some key difference from the year before.

Really, that’s what it all comes down to for me. It sounds basic and simple, but I just would like to see steps forward on a lot of levels with this team, individual players included. I want to see that from the coaching perspective, too.

Perhaps the main thing I’ll look for is the Wild’s offensive zone setup. For years, and over the span of multiple coaches, this team’s system has done the same thing more times than I can count: Put three guys behind the goal line. I hope some of you know what I mean here.

I’m no x’s and o’s coaching expert; I just know what I see. They’ve got the puck in their offensive zone, passing it around, trying to set up plays. The puck goes behind the goal line, maybe there’s a battler for possession in the corner. Then a third player dives behind the line, too. When the puck finally gets loose, who’s out in front of the net to accept a pass and get a shot on goal? Usually no one.

This isn’t something that happens on every play. It’s just happened enough over the years that I’ve noticed it, and I know others have, too, because we’ve vented about it on Twitter together.

Like I said, I’m no coaching expert. I don’t know if this is a typical strategy that teams like to put in place, if it’s the players doing it or if the coaching staff is directing it. I just see it a lot and I don’t think it’s effective. I’ll be interested to see if this pattern continues.

Anyway, I’m cautiously optimistic about the team this year, because it’s the very beginning and easy to drink that positive Kool-Aid. I’d like to believe that Boudreau can carry over some of the regular-season success he’s had with other clubs and bring it to Minnesota. I’d like to see them avoid yet another mid-season swoon and have a comfortable entrance into the playoffs. That’s probably very wishful thinking right there, but it’d be nice, right?

Then again, the negative side of me knows what these players have shown in the past, knows injuries could be a real pain and knows the chances of them missing the playoffs are probably just as likely and wouldn’t shock me. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of negative takes on this team as the season moves forward.

For now, I’ll take the excitement of opening night with a new face behind the bench. Let’s play some hockey, boys.

This was originally posted at

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The positives from Target Field in 2016

We all know the Minnesota Twins ended 2016 with the worst record in their team history. Plenty of bad vibes and stats to go around. For a change of pace though, I decided to go through my stack of Twins notes from the home games this season, to recall some of the positive things that happened at the ballpark.

Because yes, there were some exciting moments. I promise.

2016 Target Field bright spots:

  • Joe Mauer started the season with a 28-game on-base streak. He did it again in May and June, marking the third time in team history that a player had two 28-plus game streaks in the same season. The last one was Rod Carew in 1977. 
  • Robbie Grossman went 3-for-4 v. the Blue Jays in his first game in a Twins uniform May 20. He doubled in his first at-bat and homered in the 9th inning.
  • Kurt Suzuki singled for his 1,000th career hit in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays May 22. That ranked him fifth in hits among active catchers in baseball. 
  • Mauer hit his 20th home run at Target Field v. the Royals May 23.
  • Eduardo Nunez hit his first career leadoff home run in a 7-5 Twins win over the Royals May 25. Right after that, Brian Dozier hit a homer. It was the fifth time in Twins history the team started the game with back-to-back home runs.
  • Taylor Rogers recorded his first MLB win in a 6-4 game v. the Rays June 2. He tossed two hitless innings with two strikeouts.
  • Nunez hit his first inside-the-park homer to start the game June 2. It marked the 50th inside-the-parker in Twins history. It was also the first time it came in the leadoff spot.
  • Buddy Boshers earned his first career win June 7 v. the Marlins in a 6-4 decision. He pitched 0.2 innings and fanned both batters he faced.
  • The June 7 game was a walk-off win with a Dozier homer in the bottom of the 11th. It was the fourth walk-off win of the season. It was Dozier's third career walk-off homer and fifth walk-off hit. 
  • Again in that Marlins game, Nunez hit two homers, in the first and fifth innings, for his first multi-homer game of his career.
  • Brandon Kintzler turned into the Twins closer this season, recording his first career save in a 7-5 Twins win v. the Marlins June 8. 
  • Max Kepler made his first career home run a dramatic one. It came in the 10th inning with two men on base to win the game 7-4.
  • Trevor Plouffe legged out a triple in a 14-10 victory June 21 over the Phillies. It was his first triple since Aug. 1, 2015.
  • Suzuki went 4-for-5 and just missed the cycle (no triple) in that game against the Phillies. He drove in six runs, a career-high, and matched his career-high in hits. It was his first four-hit game since 2010. All nine Twins starters reached base in that game. 
  • Fernando Abad (who was later traded) tossed 1.1 perfect innings for his first career save June 22 v. the Phillies.
  • Kepler had a two-homer game in a 17-5 victory over the Rangers July 2. They were each three-run homers. He ended up with seven RBI for the game, which is a Twins rookie record for RBI in a game. Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia and Tony Oliva each held the record previously with six RBI. 
  • Nunez went 4-for-5 in that 17-5 game, with a pair of doubles and his 27th multi-hit game.
  • Nunez was the lone Twins representative for the All-Star game. He held a .316 average, a career-high 13 homers and 35 RBI at the time. He didn't have an at-bat in the All-Star game, instead playing the infield for the 9th, helping to record a game-ending double play. He was traded away before the deadline.
  • After the latest start in Target Field history July 5 because of rain (a delay of two hours and 42 minutes, starting at 9:52 p.m.), Kennys Vargas and Kepler hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning. The Twins beat the A's 11-4. 
  • Ervin Santana threw a complete game v. the Braves July 26. He's the first Twins pitcher to toss multiple complete games in a season since Carl Pavano in 2011. Unfortunately, the Twins didn't offer any run support on this night, and the Twins lost 2-0. 
  • Mauer reached the 800-walk mark in a 6-5 loss to the White Sox July 30.
  • Another player got his first career save: Ryan Pressly in a 6-4 Twins win over the White Sox July 31. It came in his 152nd career appearance.
  • Catcher Juan Centeno hit his first career triple in a Twins 3-1 victory over the Astros Aug. 8. 
  • Vargas hit a pair of homers in game one of a doubleheader Aug. 11, one from each side of the plate. He was the fourth Twins player to hit homers from both sides of the plate. He was the first since Ryan Doumit in 2012. Roy Smalley and Chili Davis were the others. It was the first career two-run homer game for Vargas.
  • Dozier hit his 100th career home run Aug. 13 v. the Royals in a 5-3 Twins win. He was the 16th Twin, and first second baseman, to reach that mark and first since Mauer in 2013.
  • Mauer also reached the 800-RBI mark, driving in the milestone run in a Twins loss v. the Tigers Aug. 23. He's the sixth Twin to reach that mark.
  • Dozier set a new career-high for himself in home runs when he hit his 29th of the season Aug. 23. He hit 28 in 2015. 
  • Twins sent 13 batters to the plate in the third inning of a 11-3 win over the White Sox Sept. 3. Four Twins players homered (Dozier, Byron Buxton, Sano and Plouffe). They scored eight runs in the third alone, tying a team record for the most runs scored in that particular inning. The last time they did it (five total) was May 22, 2001 v. the Mariners.
  • They followed up that game with another four homers the next day, in a 13-11 loss. This time it was Buxton, Dozier, John Ryan Murphy and Sano with the homers.
  • Buxton's home run was hit first career grand slam, coming in the second inning. It was the second grand slam of the season for the Twins; Kepler hit one in Texas. Buxton went 3-for-6 and homered in consecutive games for the first time.
  • The man of the season was Dozier. He had a three-homer game Sept. 5 v. the Royals, giving him No. 36, 37 and 38 on the season. No. 38 means he had the most home runs by any Twins player since the legendary Harmon Killebrew hit 41 in 1970. Forty-six years ago. Dozier and Killebrew are the only Twins players to ever to hit at least 36 homers in one season. Dozier also became the sixth Twins player to hit three homers in one game and the first to do it at home.
  • Dozier homered in five straight games in September, which ties the great Killebrew for a Twins record. Killer did it three times. Marty Cordova also did it once, in 1995. 
  • Alex Wimmers got his first career win with a 6-5 Twins victory over the Royals Sept. 7. 
  • Twins hit homers in 11 straight games, a streak that ended Sept. 11. They hit 25 home runs in that time.
  • J.T. Chargois got his first career win with a scoreless 12th inning Sept. 10 v. the Indians. The Twins won 2-1. 
  • Mauer had just his second career walk-off hit in the 12th with an RBI single. His only other walk-off hit came July 15, 2007 v. the Athletics. It was his third career walk-off, however, because he earned a walk-off walk July 29 this season. 
  • James Beresford made his MLB debut after years in the minors. He started at third base and also got his first career hit, a single in the seventh inning. His parents flew all the way from Australia to see him play.
  • Sept. 22 in the first game of a doubleheader with the Tigers, Dozier set an American League record with his 40th home run as a second baseman. He also scored his 100th run of the season, reaching that mark for the third season in a row. The only other Twin to do that was Chuck Knoblauch in 1995-97.
  • Dozier had a 24-game hit streak that ended in the second game of the doubleheader. It's a career-high and was the longest for a Twins player since Brian Harper hit in 25 straight games in 1990. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sometimes, there's crying in baseball

I've been trying to think of what to write about the tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez over the weekend. I mean, I should write something, shouldn't I? Then again, it's one of those situations where everyone tries to come up with the right words and nothing really seems right.

We all woke up Sunday morning to hear about the tragic boat accident that claimed the life of the 24-year-old Marlins ace. I first saw the news from a friend's Facebook post. As I scrolled further, I found the news stories and read more about what happened. Then I saw the social media posts from the Marlins and Braves, saying Sunday's game was canceled.

I made my way to church that morning, a good place to be after you hear terrible news like that. Afterward, I saw more and more of the social-media outpouring of grief, shock and support for Fernandez and the Marlins.

MLB remembers together
Sunday, the rest of Major League Baseball went on with their ball games, many (including the Minnesota Twins) celebrated their final homestands. League-wide, there was a moment of silence before each first pitch. Teams also hung No. 16 Fernandez jerseys in their dugouts.

As often happens, his death opened my eyes to what kind of person and player Fernandez was during his short time on earth. That's how it usually goes, of course. People are remembered fondly and missed greatly once they are gone.

I'll be honest here. I didn't know much about him. Blame it on my tunnel-vision as someone who covers an American League team, I guess. Maybe that's why my thoughts on this really aren't that important. It's not like I have any kind of close connection really. But I'm a writer, so I wanted to share my thoughts anyway.

Still, even if I would have committed all his baseball stats to memory, I don't think I would have known about all his struggles and everything it took for him to live the life he built for himself. He tried multiple times to defect from Cuba to the United States, only to be thrown in jail. He jumped out of a boat to save his mother who had fallen overboard on the way over. He finally became of U.S. citizen in 2015.

His baseball numbers are another great story. He was a two-time All Star in 2013 as a rookie and again this season in his four-year career. He was also named the NL Rookie of the year in 2013. He was 16-8 this season with a 2.86 ERA in 29 games. The real amazing stat is his strikeout number. He fanned hitters 253 times this year, for a total of 589 career strikeouts. That's pretty good.

What a tribute, tears and all
But I think what I really wanted to touch on here was what's happened since Sunday morning. The support, the hugs, the grief, the tears. The famous line from Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own" is: "There's no crying in baseball." Well, sometimes there is. And that's totally OK.

The Marlins returned to the diamond for a game Monday versus the New York Mets. Every single Marlins player wore a the black Miami jersey with the 16-Fernandez on the back. They circled the mound in a pregame ceremony, touched the mound dirt. The Mets embraced the Marlins players in another emotional scene. Then, they got back to business: Playing baseball.

The most remarkable sequence came in the bottom of the first inning. Dee Gordon took the first pitch on the right side of the plate, in honor of his teammate. Then, he stepped to the left side of the batter's box. He drove the first pitch he saw there toward the right-field seats. 1-0 Marlins.

It wasn't about the score but about one special moment. Gordon trotted around the bases - and his emotions came rushing out. He sobbed uncontrollably as he was greeted by teammates near home plate and then in the dugout. He was met with hugs and applause. It was truly an incredible moment that will tug at anyone's heart strings.

One more thing: It was his first home run of the 2016 season.

Baseball = family 

See, the people you work often become your family because you're with them so much. It's no different, perhaps even more so, in baseball. It's family. These guys are together pretty much every day for months at a time. So, the Marlins lost a brother. All of baseball lost a brother and member of the family.

I'm not speaking from any kind of experience here, of what I know with absolute certainty to be true of baseball players. I don't want it to come off like I have some strong connection here in respect to what's happened and how everyone feels about it. I'm writing from my seat as a social media coordinator and blogger.

I see teammates - and baseball players all over the league - who are grieving for a guy that loved the game and was taken too soon. I see two teams that came together to play a baseball game and finish it up with a round of emotional hugs. I see the GIFs, photos and thoughtful words plastered all over social media from fans, baseball players and media members. I heard a little about the emotion of the past couple days from the Marlins social media coordinator. Kudos to her and the Marlins for doing a phenomenal and professional job with their social content.

Oh, and the Marlins won their game Monday. RIP Jose. #JDF16

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Play aside, 2016 has been a rainy one for the Twins

Rain delay at Target Field. Sept. 21, 2016.
Among other things, it's been a Minnesota Twins baseball season filled with rain - starting with Opening Day.

Call it a bad omen for the season. Or just some bad luck that no one has any control over anyway. Maybe Mother Nature just got royally upset at the Twins over the winter and decided to get revenge. 

Whatever it is, the rain that has plagued the Twins in 2016 is notable. No matter what you think about it. I've kept some of my own stats on the weather delays for the Twins this season (some credit goes to the Twins Game Notes, too). There's a lot of down time when you're waiting for baseball to resume at the ballpark.

Everything started with not one, but two, rain delays in Baltimore for the Twins Opening Day. It was a frustrating calamity of errors, really. All of us like to think we're weather experts, of course. The game didn't start for an hour and 40 minutes, because they were apparently waiting for some rain to pass. But the kicker was, it didn't rain.

It started raining once they finally started playing, then there was another hour-and-10-minute delay in the second inning. That kicked off the awful 0-9 start for the Twins, and things haven't improved much since. They had another delay in that series, too, just a brief one in the 7th inning.

By the numbers
Here are some of the stats I've kept during this rainy season:

10 games with rain delays at Target Field, plus three postponed games with delays
4 road rain-delayed games
17 total games with a rain delay this season
5 games where rain has fallen but not enough to delay the game (Two at home, three on the road)
2 split-doubleheaders

17 hours, 24 minutes of rain delay time at Target Field
7 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time on the road

24 hours, 52 minutes of rain delay time this season... and counting, because the season still isn't over and rain is in the forecast for the weekend.

Longest delay: 3 hours, 15 minutes Aug. 19 in Kansas City. This was actually 3:03 for rain, plus 12 minutes for a light delay when the lights went out after midnight. You can't make it up.

Shortest delay: 25 minutes. April 7 in Baltimore in the 7th and May 25 at home v. Kansas City to start the game.

Postponed games have been delayed an hour, two hours and 30 minutes, and an hour and 35 minutes before the games were called for the night.


There was another rain delay Friday. So, that means:

11 games with rain delays at Target Field, plus three postponed games with delays
18 total games with a rain delay this season

18 hours of rain delay time at Target Field
7 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time on the road

25 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time this season... and counting.

A notable season 
See? I told you I had some time on my hands waiting for baseball. It's not that I love this kind of stuff, or hate the open-air stadium (as one Twitter follower asked). It just seemed that there were enough rain-affected games this season that it was worth digging into just how much time has been lost to falling rain. Turns out, it's about a day.

What's interesting is that Target Field has had 31 delayed games and 15 postponed games since it opened in 2010. The longest delay was three hours. So, of those 31 delayed games in seven seasons, 10 of them have happened this year. My writer-math says that's about one-third. Two of the postponed games have happened this year.

So, there you go. Just thought I'd share some of the fun-filled rain delay statistics from this season. Yes, there's nothing you can do about the weather. Yes, predicting weather is hard. Yes, we all think we're experts.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dozier just keeps hitting homers

In my last post, I wrote about the Twins and their losing ways and one major positive: Hitting home runs. Those trends - losing ball games and hitting homers - have continued, with the main man of the hour being Brian Dozier.

First let's get this out of the way. The Twins nearly left a huge mark in franchise history, with a 13-game losing streak. It's just one shy of the franchise record 14 games, done by that 1982 Twins team. So, the Twins returned home last week to take on the AL Central-foe White Sox for a four-game set. The Twins snapped their losing streak and almost came away with a series victory.

#DozierGoesDeep x 3
Back to Dozier. In short, his bat has been absolutely on fire. He hit home runs No. 36, 37 and 38, the first two coming in his first two at-bats, versus the Royals on Labor Day. The first one came on the first pitch he saw in the 1st, for his 17th career leadoff home run. He's chasing Jacque Jones for that crown in Twins history; Jones hit 20. The second homer of the day went to the second deck, 446 feet, with Byron Buxton on base for a 3-2 Twins lead at the time.

That was crazy enough, right? Not quite. After coming up a couple times and not hitting a home run, he belted one even further in the 8th inning. That made three on the day for him. He improved on distance each time: Hitting them to the first, second and third decks in that left field/left-center sweet spot. It made 10 homers versus the Royals for him this season; no player has ever hit more against KC in a single season.

His last one came with nobody on base in a game that was already well in hand for the Royals, who led (and eventually won) 11-5. Dozier didn't look exactly thrilled as he turned the bases. No matter the score, Target Field fans were loving the Dozier show. So, their continued cheers got Dozier out of the dugout for a half-hearted curtain call. It was the second one in two days for the Twins; Buxton also got a much happier call after his grand slam Sunday.

Before I could get this blog posted (most of which I wrote after the first game with Kansas City), Dozier hit his 39th homer of the season to start the game off Tuesday, for his 18th career leadoff home run. This one was significant because he became the third Twins player to ever hit a homer in five straight games. Harmon Killebrew did it three times (of course he did). The other player? Marty Cordova in 1995. That's right.

Once again, Dozier's deep efforts were all for nothing, as the Twins lost 10-3 to the Royals for their 17th loss in the past 19 games. It wasn't a typical blowout like the score would suggest though. Closer Brandon Kintzler took the loss after he couldn't hold a 3-2 Twins lead in the 8th and 9th. The Twins paraded their 'pen out there and the Royals put up seven in the 9th.

A grand total of 22 Dozier home runs this season have come in games the team has lost. It's a stat that leads baseball. Coming into play Tuesday, no other player had more than 15 homers in this exciting category.

It's historic, even in a lost season for the team
Dozier's postgame comments after Monday's game weren't typically what you'd hear from a guy that just had a three-homer game - something no Twins player has ever done at home. It's understandable Dozier would be frustrated though. His team isn't winning these games where he keeps homering.

Whether he wants the acknowledgment or not, Dozier's latest tear should be celebrated. He's homered seven times in his last eight games. So really, once Dozier steps into the batter's box, be prepared for him to hit a home run, because it's been happening a lot.

He's ripping up the stats sheets with his home run barrage. Plus, he's found himself mentioned with one of the greatest Twins hitters to ever swing a bat: Killebrew. The Killer was the last Twins player to crush more than 35 home runs in a season; he did it eight times, the last in 1970 when he hit 41.

Basically, he's been a lot of fun to watch. I mean, how often do you watch a player come up to the plate and you think he'll homer every single time? That's pretty rare, obviously, but it's what Dozier has been doing. His 24 home runs since the All-Star Break lead all of baseball, and it's not a close contest.

Other Twins hitting 'em out of the park, too 
Dozier is hitting out of his mind right now, but he isn't the only one hitting the ball out of the yard lately. Entering play Tuesday, the team had homered in seven straight games. They haven't gone eight games since 2013.

In the White Sox series, the Twins hit four home runs in Saturday's game, then another four Sunday. It was Dozier, Buxton, Miguel Sano and Trevor Plouffe. Then Buxton and Dozier again, John Ryan Murphy and another from Sano. Oh, and Buxton's grand slam Sunday was the first of his career and second of the Twins' season. At that point, Buxton homered in three of the four games since he was recalled from AAA Rochester at the start of the series.

It's been nice to have the home run excitement to focus on recently, especially since the Twins lost Sunday's game 13-11 in 12 innings (a game where both closers faltered and the bullpens weren't exactly stellar). The Twins also got shelled 11-4 to the Royals, when Dozier had his duo blasts.

Of course, this comes back to pitching. It doesn't how many runs a team puts on the board. They have to be able to stop the other team from doing that, too. Expert analysis right there, I know. But pitching is really a whole other can of messy worms that I won't get into right now.

Let's just enjoy the Dozier home runs. #DozierGoesDeep

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Twins, despite some home run success, remain on the losing track

The month of August started out so promising.

The Minnesota Twins won a few games, and they were doing something that's not exactly a traditional Twins trait: Hitting home runs. At one point a few weeks ago, they led all of baseball in home runs hit since June something-or-other. Max Kepler hit three in one game, for crying out loud, before going into a homer drought until the final day of the month. Brian Dozier has also swung a hot bat since late June.

In some ways, the homer total is one of the only good things about the ball club. They won a pair of games in Atlanta Aug. 16 and 17, giving themselves a five-game cushion on baseball's worst team for most of the season. After Aug. 30, these two feisty teams were tied in the Major League basement at a whopping 49-83. That's because the Twins dropped a dozen games after leaving Turner Field for the final time. (The Braves will move into a new ballpark next season.)

The Twins lost again to wrap things up in August, and a Braves win meant Minnesota found itself alone in that basement. 13 straight games. That's the longest losing skid of any MLB team this season by at least a couple games. It's the second-longest, single-season losing streak for the Twins since the ball club moved to Minnesota in 1961. That year, the Twins also lost 13 straight games. The 1982 squad holds the franchise record with 14 consecutive losses.

The team from 1982 keeps coming up this season when it comes to losing stats. They must have been pretty bad, too. #BeforeMyTime

These are some tough times for the club
When teams struggle, and we know that all teams do at some point, there's that saying, "finding new ways to lose." That's been the case lately. Whether it's giving up an inside-the-park home run (officially scored as a triple with an error) to lose the lead and then the game to the Blue Jays, or a pitching staff that just can't get the job done, it's always something.

There have been a few outfield collisions the past couple weeks. Shortstop Jorge Polanco and left fielder Robbie Grossman - nearly twice in one game. Eddie Rosario and Grossman. The latest was Danny Santana, playing center field, and Grossman. That one over the weekend turned out to be costly. Santana, who left the game the next inning, suffered a shoulder sprain. He's done for the season.

Fundamentals, kids. Talk to your teammates in the field so you know who's going to catch the baseball.

Bunting is another aspect of the game that has really plagued the local nine all season. I don't know that I've ever seen more fouled-off bunt attempts, poorly-executed bunts and especially bunts popped up for outs by one team in a single season. Then there's the situations. Bunting at a time that isn't ideal, when you look at the runners on base or number of outs. Like a red-hot hitter trying to bunt. I'm not sure if it's that coaches giving the go-ahead, or players trying to make something happen on their own, but it's frustrating to watch. People keep talking about how weird it is because manager Paul Molitor was such a good bunter as a player. It's gotten to the point where I just cringe when I see anybody bunt anymore. Ever.

Still, good things are happening, too
Let's get back to some positives though.

Dozier really turned his season around after a tough April and May. He couldn't buy a home run, it seemed. But in August he reached the 30-homer mark, plus he set career highs in home runs and RBI for a season, breaking the highs he set just last year. He smacked 24 extra-base hits in August, a franchise record for a calendar month. He hit 13 homers in August, the second-most all-time in Twins history, up there with the likes of Harmon Killebrew.

It's just a shame that Dozier's success with the bat hasn't been enough to turn the team's season around. Hey, he matched his August homers with the Twins current losing streak. That takes some talent, right?

With the trade of shortstop Eduardo Nunez, Jorge Polanco has found a comfy spot in that position with the Twins. Though he didn't play shortstop in the minors at all (weird, I know), he's done alright there. A couple errors here and there, but the Twins have plenty of those to go around.

Polanco was called up at the end of July and has been a fairly consistent hitter. He started out with a 12-game hitting streak. Welcome back, kid. Overall since his latest call-up, he has hits in 24 of the 28 games he's played. He's driven in 13 runs (There's that number again.).

1 month left. Finish it off, fellas.
Other than that, there are a lot of things that just aren't going well. Starting pitching has been a struggle for those not named Ervin Santana. Top prospect Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey were both sent down to the minors after their continued struggles. The overworked and heavily-relied upon bullpen has had its own problems, including injuries. Tommy Milone, Trevor May and Buddy Boshers all went down the same week, actually.

The games lately has just been so predictable, too. They often have the vibe of the beginning of the season, when it was pretty tough to have confidence that the Twins would pull out a win. Leads get blown, if they're obtained at all. Plus, in games where the bats are alive and well, the pitching fails them. And vice versa. Big Erv pitched a gem of a game in Kansas City during the losing streak, but the Twins lost 2-1 because they could find the hitting shoes.

We've reached September, which is always hard to believe since we want to hang onto summer. There's a month of baseball left for this team. We'll see how they finish it out. Don't forget: They're still in the process of hiring a general manager to replace the fired Terry Ryan.

It should be quite the offseason and spring training next year.

Friday, August 19, 2016

IndyCar returns to Pocono a year after Wilson's tragic crash

The IndyCar Series returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, a little less than a year since last year's race when the sport lost another great driver: Justin Wilson.

It's always difficult to reflect back on the drivers the sport has lost. This near-anniversary comes on the heels of the death of Bryan Clauson, who died Aug. 7 after a midget race crash in Kansas. Clauson, 27, had a large racing resume as a USAC champion, and he also started three Indianapolis 500s.

With Wilson's crash last year, he was the victim of a freak accident, in my mind. Sage Karam hit the wall, sending car parts flying in the air. It happens all the time. Except in this case, his nose cone came down right on Wilson's helmet, knocking him out and causing his car to hit the inside wall. He was in a coma and died the next day, Aug. 24, 2015.

Driver safety is still top priority 
As race fans, we'd like to think the sport is as safe as it has ever been. When you compare it to the measures in place from decades past, I think this is still true. SAFER barriers are in place, HANS devices are mandatory and safety crews have no doubt saved lives with their responses on track.

Still, losing one driver is losing one too many. And at the same time everyone involved with the sport knows it's a risk every time drivers strap into the car. It's a weird balance, really. After Dan Wheldon died in 2011, I remember seeing a video clip of him where he'd previously talked about this possibility of dying in a crash. He said something like: "Could it happen to me? Absolutely. Do I think it will? No. But at the end of the day, when you're number's up, it's up."

Not only do we have Wilson, Clauson and Wheldon recently, but drivers James Hinchcliffe and Dario Franchitti barely escaped some horrific crashes. Franchitti's 2013 fence-catching wreck in Houston left him seriously injured, enough that doctors told him he would not be able to race again. Hinchcliffe is just an amazing story; he crashed at Indy in 2015 and nearly bled to death on the historic oval, which has claimed the lives of many over its historic century.

So where is Hinch? Back in a race car, of course. He worked extremely hard to get back for the 2016 season. So hard that he wrote a storybook ending for himself at Indy, grabbing the pole position for the 100th running of the Indy 500 this year.

Drivers do what they love 
I've heard people refer to this need for speed as an addiciton for drivers. Obviously I can't speak from their perspective, but I can understand it as best as I can from the stands. They love what they do. Racing is what they were meant to do, so it's worth the risk.

I wrote a similar blog like this last year after Wilson's death, trying to explain and justify why racers race. A lot of the same thoughts are still true. I guess I just want to keep the reminders fresh. Auto racing is a sport that still is not that popular, and I think tragedies like this heighten that, because that's the only time people hear about the sport, when a driver's death makes the news.

This weekend, IndyCar drivers will have two drivers on their minds: Wilson, who would have turned 38 on July 31, and Clauson, since this is the first race they've run since his death earlier this month. They'll be thinking about them, then they'll go into race mode, pushing the emotions out of their mind when they turn laps on track. That's the mindset they have to create for themselves as they continue to fuel their passion.

RIP #BadassWilson.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Olympics have been more than just fun and games

The Olympics happen every two years, alternating between the summer and winter game. It's about traditions, stories and making your country proud. There's excitement becuase you have no idea what will happen - even when you think you do.

Call me a cynic, but it seems these summer games in Rio have been overshadowed by a few things, like the TV coverage from NBC, safety in Rio, spoilers and plenty of controversial remarks and hot takes. Full disclosure here: I haven't watched a ton of the Olympics this time around mostly because I'm working during the primetime coverage. However, don't underestimate how informative your Tweetdeck can be when it comes to following the action. I follow enough news accounts and sports peeps that I can basically keep up with the play-by-play of what's happening, plus get plenty of video clips and GIFs, too.

Coverage and spoiler alerts
That leads in to the whole spoilers debate. It's 2016 and social media is as prevelent as ever. The days of not getting spoiled on the results that will be shown in the primetime slot are over. You'd have to avoid all media outlets and all social media if you don't want to know. Even then you risk overhearing a conversation at the gas station about something that happened at the games (This happened to me for one of the Minnesota Twins playoff games once.). It's just the way it is. In a 24/7 news cycle with loads of competition, news stations and papers will report on results as they happen. Sure it's kind of a bummer, but just accept it and move on.

Then there's the coverage itself. 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on NBC each night of the most noteworthy events for the day. I'm no expert on how this is selected, but you'll generally get swimming, track and field, and gymnastics as the big three. I've noticed that at least at the past couple Olympics, they break up the taped coverage, I'm sure as a way to get people to watch the entire four-hour block. So the coverage might start off with a good chunk of team gymnastics events, then show some swimming before heading back to the gymnasts to see how the medals are dished out.

Other than that, there have been a lot of critical takes about the coverage. Too many swimming premlims shown, skipping out on medal ceremonies, going over the allotted four-hour time slot (which makes no sense for taped coverage), showing in-studio interviews with athletes rather than show more events. And so on. Then there's the Ryan Seacrest variety hour after the late local news. No thanks.

Controversy reigns
Again, I'm not TV exec, but it seems I've seen way too many stories with a controversial focus, some justified and some not. It started with an NBC executive making a comment essentially saying that more women watch the Olympics than men, and women care more about the journey than the results because they aren't sports fans. That's a paraphrase, but it pretty much takes care of the point. It was not a good job of getting his point across, whatever that was.

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas has been ripped to shreds online because she was the only one on her team who didn't stand with her hand over her heart while the national anthem was played during the medal ceremony after her team won gold. She stood there respectfully on the podium. There's no law that says you have to put your hand over your heart. Let her savor that moment how she wishes.

Then people were upset because apparently she didn't cheer adequately enough for her teammates during the all-around competition. This comes from people in the United States, where cheering, applause and especially standing ovations have lost meaning, in my opinion. So, I guess because she didn't stand and cheer with a smile on her face throughout the competition, she was being a poor sport or something. I just think it's a shame that these issues have taken such a focus.

Simone Biles is one of America's sweethearts in these games, dazzling us all with her nearly flawless performances in her gymnastics routines. Then I heard about one of the NBC commentators referring to her parents as "not her parents," because she was adopted by her biological grandparents. Probably not the best choice of words, and then it sounds like he tried and failed to defend his words via Twitter. But again, just too bad this is something that happened and gained attention.

Take a moment and enjoy it
Anyway, I've enjoyed watching what I could of the Olympics. I always enjoy the gymnastics and swimming events. I've missed most of the diving for some reason, which is also fun to see. The gymnastics team from Team USA does not disappoint. As has been said, it's often hard in sports to live up to such high expectations, but they did. So Biles only got a bronze on the balance beam. She's still amazing.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte competed in what I hope will be their last games. They are phenomenal swimmers. I say their last games because I hope they can go out on top. If they were to come back, I could see it pressing their luck. Lochte already fell off a bit this time around. I compare Lochte being in the Phelps era to  Andy Roddick in the Roger Federer era.

No matter your thoughts on the Olympics, your favorite sports or what you like to watch for, it's still an exciting event that comes around for a couple weeks every four years. Enjoy the good stuff, and take the rest with a grain of salt.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Shake-up has begun for the Twins

I don’t know how it’s possible that the end of July is here already, but it is, sneaking up on everyone just like it does every summer. That means there are only two months left of the MLB regular season and also that the trade deadline is just about here, too.

The Minnesota Twins had a wee bit of momentum going into the All-Star Break, scoring loads of runs and beating up on one of baseball’s best in the Texas Rangers. Somewhat predictably, the break squashed the momentum the Twins had going. Or, it could be that a baseball team 25 to 30 games under .500 will just struggle no matter what.

Still, the Twins were one of the top teams in baseball in runs scored for the month of July. That’s pretty impressive for a last-place team, really. The run support and runs-per-game went up. They even went into Boston for four games and earned a split in that series. David Ortiz got to the plate with the bases loaded and *didn’t* hit a grand slam. #blessed

As it goes so often in sports, things don’t always have a rhyme or reason. After the Boston series, the Twins returned home to play the NL-worst Atlanta Braves for two games in a nostalgic rematch of the 1991 World Series 25 years ago.

The Twins and Braves have kept pace all year, usually within a couple games of each other for the worst-team-in-baseball title. Well, the Braves promptly came in and took both games. Ervin Santana pitched a stellar game – a complete game – and surrendered just two runs.  Unfortunately, his teammates with the bats only managed five hits, no runs and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Something had to be done 
With a team that has held one of the worst records in baseball all season, there are bound to be changes. The reminder can't be said enough in times like these that sports, although entertaining and fun, is a business.

The first, and actually pretty shocking, move was the firing of  Twins general manager Terry Ryan. It was announced the Monday after the All-Star Break and just after the Twins Hall of Fame weekend at Target Field.

Here’s what I shared on my social media sites when it happened, along with an article about the firing:
This came as a shock to the Minnesota Twins community today. It’s an unfortunate situation. The Twins, based on the W-L record, are the worst team in the American League and have been among the worst in baseball all season. When that happens, some kind of change will most certainly follow. Sports is a business, after all. 
I’m sure there are fans who are celebrating that the Twins made this move. The ol’ “Fire Terry Ryan!” crowd. That’s also unfortunate. My purpose here isn’t to analyze and judge all the baseball decisions he made. 
Some of you might know that Terry spent 10 to 15 minutes with the media before Twins games. Just an informal gathering over the dinner table in the media dining room about a half hour before game time. I thought that was normal, but when I asked a colleague last year, he told me this was a pretty cool and rare thing to see from a general manager. 
Earlier this season, Sid Hartman came over to the group, playfully grabbed Terry by the shoulders and with a smile said something like: You’re still doing this, huh? 
Terry, in a serious tone, responded with: “Gotta be accountable.” 
I often scoff at public figures who refuse media interviews after something doesn’t go their way. If you talk when the going is good, you should talk when the going gets tough, right? Then there was Terry, with a ball club that made one of its worst starts in franchise history. There was no obligation for him to hold these Q and As with the media, but he was there anyway. Win or lose, and there have been a lot of losses this year. 
My time around Terry is a very small sample size compared to some of the people within the Twins organization and the local media core, of course. But when you hear or read about the kind words regarding Terry Ryan’s character, I hope this is an example shining a light on it. The job aside, Terry Ryan is respectful and accountable.

Then the next shake-up move came a couple days ago.

Trading the All-Star
Promptly after the Twins, the worst team in the American League, beat the Orioles, the best team in the American League, news of a trade came in. I saw it first via LaVelle E. Neal's Twitter: Eduardo Nunez had been traded to the San Francisco Giants.

In return, the Twins acquired left-handed pitcher Adalberto Mejia, a 23-year-old who stands at 6-3 and is listed at 220 pounds. He's rated as the 91st best prospect according to Baseball America's Midseason Top 100 prospect list. He's played double-A and triple-A ball this season, holding a combined record of 7-3 with a 2.81 ERA, 101 strikeouts and 27 walks in 18 starts.

Of course, Nunez, 29, was the lone All-Star for the Twins this season. He's a utility guy in the infield but earned his playing time as a regular shortstop. In a season where so many things have been below expectations, Nunez has provided the bright spot, with his bright smile and helmet-losing antics. His average was consistently over the .300 mark this season, though it just recently dipped to .296. He has 12 homers, 47 RBI and stole 27 bases - two in what ended up being his final game with the Twins.

Early indications from some of my sports colleagues via the Twitter machine point to this being a good move for the Twins.

It's a baseball move 
Mejia was sent to the Twins Triple-A club in Rochester for now; rumblings are that the organization hopes he'll be a contender for the starting rotation next season. That's something the Twins will need.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking this Nunez deal might be a possibility. It makes sense for a struggling team to make a major move. It was still a little disappointing (mostly for selfish reasons, because Nunez provided the best reaction GIFs for me to use on social media).

Now, unlike many Twins fans displaying their displeasure on social media, I fully understand this was a good baseball move that needed to be made. I think you can understand that and still be disappointed as a Twins fan that it came to this in a season that held so much promise in spring training. There's a line there.

The MLB trade deadline is Monday. We'll see what other moves, if any, the Twins make before the exchanging madness is over. In the meantime, fans will try to relish things like a 7th walk-off win for the Twins, coming in 12 innings Friday over the White Sox.