Twins authority Roy Smalley believes his former team can win a dozen more games in 2017 than last season, and also be a fun club to watch, but he said it won’t happen without better pitching from starters Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes.
Smalley played shortstop for the Twins for 10 seasons and now does analysis of the team on TV. He singled out veteran pitchers Gibson and Hughes when asked about the upcoming season and the likelihood for improvement. Minnesota was 59-103 in 2016. Gibson’s record last season was 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA. Injuries forced Hughes to miss much of the year and his record was 1-7 with a 5.95 ERA.
The Twins five-man rotation will be led by Ervin Santana, 7-11 with a 3.38 ERA a year ago. Santana is considered a No. 2 or No. 3 level starter but on the pitching-poor Twins, he is the stopper. Other starting pitchers for the rotation will be Gibson, Hughes and Hector Santiago, acquired in a trade with the Angels last season for Ricky Nolasco. He had a 3-6 record and 5.58 ERA record with Minnesota. The fifth starter is to be determined.
“Every team plays the way they pitch,” Smalley said. “The starting pitching is the most important thing on any team, so having not made any changes other than Hughes coming back (he didn’t pitch after June 9), the starting staff is virtually the same.
“You’re looking for Ervin Santana to be Santana. You’re looking for Phil Hughes to be better. You’re looking for Kyle Gibson to be better. If Hughes isn’t better and Gibson isn’t better…then it almost doesn’t matter what the other keys (for a good season) are.”
Gibson, who is 29 years old, was 11-11 with a 3.84 ERA in 2015. Hughes, 30, was 11-9 with a 3.40 ERA that year. Gibson’s best victories total with the Twins was 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA in 2014. The best Hughes has done was the same year, when he was 16-10 and had a 3.52 ERA.
“Gibson has got to be no longer a .500 pitcher,” Smalley said. “He can’t be 12 and 12 any more. His M.O. has been he will win 10 or 12 games, and in those games that he wins, his ERA is like 1.80 or something. And in the 10 or 12 games he loses, his ERA is 6. It’s been a Jekyll or Hyde kind of deal. He’s either really good or he’s out in the third inning.”
Smalley believes this season Gibson can “flip” several games that have been losses in prior years. “(A record of) 15-10 is not only doable but necessary for Kyle Gibson. I think he has to win 15 games, and Hughes has got to be a 14, 15 game winner for them (the Twins) to take a really big step.”
Smalley’s expectation is that the three leading winners in the rotation must win “between 40 and 45 games” for the Twins to make that improvement of winning a dozen or more games this season than last. Good relief pitching, defense and hitting will be important, but Smalley emphasized the starting pitching in his interview with Sports Headliners.
If the starting pitching is at least average, then it makes the club’s potential offensive power much more relevant, Smalley believes. Second baseman Brian Dozier looks like a solid bet to produce a lot of home runs after hitting 42 last season, and this could be the year much-hyped prospects Miguel Sano (third base) and Byron Buxton (center field) emerge as major run producers.
“Then you’re going to have a really fun team to watch,” Smalley said. “…Because those guys can supply enough offense along with other guys that are around them. Guys like (right fielder Max) Kepler and (shortstop Jorge) Polanco who I think are terrific hitters, or are going to be. I mean you got a chance to have some really fun offensive production.”
Minnesota Wild season ticket holders receive priority on purchasing playoff tickets, so the club is encouraging other fans to join the GameDay Tickets text notification list at wild.com/gamedaytix. Fans on the list receive a SMS text message on playoff game days if tickets are available. The Wild’s first round playoff details will be announced after the NHL regular season ends April 9.
Defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. recently rejoined the Gophers and impressed coach P.J. Fleck on Saturday after a two-hour practice. “He’s been leading our secondary,” Fleck said. “He hasn’t been out here that long obviously—but, man, did he take over our defense today. Very proud of him. I love his how, I love his effort. He shows incredible leadership out there. You can tell that young man loves to play the game. …”
Fleck has several candidates for the starting quarterback position. He is looking for a starter who is going to “command the team on offense,” and make decisive and exceptional decisions.
The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is expecting record attendance this year for its annual clinic March 30-April 1, but is still accepting reservations. This year’s speakers at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park will include Fleck, Duke’s David Cutcliffe and North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman.
There will also be a Youth Coaches Clinic March 30 and April 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel. Sessions will include ideas for building a youth football program, practice planning, and much more.
For more information about the clinics and other details regarding the MFCA, click on the advertisement on this page.
A Creative Charters fan bus had taken Gene Lindahl and others to Milwaukee for the Gophers opening NCAA Tournament game against Middle Tennessee State earlier this month. On the ride home a passenger near Lindahl wondered out loud what states all the basketball players from the NCAA Tournament teams come from.
“…Nobody took him seriously that anybody would actually be dumb enough to sit and do that (calculate the answer),” Lindahl said with amusement. “I got home and started thinking about it.”
“Hell, I can do that,” Lindahl told himself. “You just go to all the teams’ websites, and copy and paste (names and hometowns).”
Lindahl lives near Faribault and is a retired high school basketball coach. It required eight to 10 hours to come up with the origins of players from not only the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament, but also the 32 NIT teams. He researched 1,319 players.
Any surprises? “I was surprised that (the state of) Minnesota had as many (players) as they did,” Lindahl said.
There were 31 Minnesotans on various teams, and Minnesota’s total ranked behind only 12 other states. Minnesota finished ahead of neighboring Wisconsin (No. 29 with 14 players) and Iowa (No. 30, 13 players). Minnesota also had more players than more populous states like No. 15 New Jersey (30 players), No. 16 Pennsylvania (29 players) and No. 27 Washington (16 players). At No. 13, Minnesota trailed these states and their totals of players:
1. California, 119
2. Texas, 111
3. Illinois, 86
4. Florida, 75
5. North Carolina, 70
6. Ohio, 69
7. Georgia, 68
8. Indiana, 60
9. New York, 53
10. Virginia, 52
11. Maryland, 46
12. Michigan, 38
The Gophers’ roster has six Minnesotans, including starters Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch. Jarvis Johnson is a scholarship player from the state who didn’t play last season, but could be counted as a seventh Minnesotan.
North Dakota’s roster has five Minnesotans including starting guards Geno Crandall and Quinton Hooker. They played prominent roles for their team as did some other Minnesotans including guard/forward Sanjay Lumpkin at Northwestern and guard J.P. Macura with Xavier.
After searching over 150 team websites, Lindahl also compiled a breakdown of countries. In addition to the United States, 56 other nations were represented by 178 players on the 100 teams. Only four of those countries had double-digit totals of players—Canada, 29; Australia, 23; Nigeria, 13; and Senegal, 10.
Lindahl shared his findings with Creative Charters who distributed the information via email to those who made the trip to watch the Gophers. The research and email came as a surprise but was appreciated.
“Nobody would expect somebody to be as stupid as I am,” Lindahl repeated.
Collegead.com reported on Monday the current “NCAA Tournament is the most-watched in 24 years through the first Sunday (March 19), with an average of 9,325,000 million viewers, up 10% from 2016 (8,513,000).”
Horse racing enthusiast Steve Erban emailed that Malagacy, a top 10 contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby, has a sister who is a Minnesota bred racehorse. Classy Shackles sold for $26,500 in a Minnesota thoroughbred yearling sale last year, Erban wrote.
Erban’s Creative Charters, based in Stillwater, annually offers a trip to the Kentucky Derby. He said this year’s trip to the May 6 Derby in Louisville is sold out.
The Star Tribune named its All-Metro boys basketball teams this week and the first team included Maple Grove guard Brad Davison and Lakeville North forward Nathan Reuvers. Both will play for Wisconsin next season and are high potential college players. The Gophers could be second-guessed about their recruiting if the next few seasons are successful for Davison, Reuvers and the Badgers. Wisconsin, a program that hasn’t finished below fourth in the Big Ten standings since 2001, has a history of using Minnesota-raised talent in its starting lineup.
Jerry Krause, the legendary general manager who shaped the rosters of the Chicago Bulls NBA title teams in the 1990s, died this week at age 77. I met Krause at Met Center when he brought the Bulls to Minnesota for an exhibition game I helped arrange. He was all business and demanded the Bulls’ fee before tipoff—or the team wasn’t taking the court.
Jacob Isaia, a highly regarded offensive lineman from Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, has offers from the Gophers and many other colleges including Michigan State, UCLA and Utah, according to a Tuesday online story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Isaia is originally from Hawaii and is the grandson of Bob Apisa, the starting fullback on the 1966 national champion Michigan State team. A senior in high school next fall, Isaia has 13 college offers and is being nationally recruited, according to the Review-Journal story.
With Cordarrelle Patterson leaving the Vikings via free agency to the Raiders, Laquon Treadwell has more opportunity to figure in Minnesota’s plans for its wide receivers. Treadwell, the team’s first round draft choice in 2016, wasn’t ready to play last season and caught only one pass for 15 yards. Former Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart told Sports Headliners this week that Treadwell can become a “fine player.” Treadwell doesn’t turn 22 until June 14.
The Gopher hockey team will try to win the Northeast Regional this weekend, and advance to the Frozen Four and compete for the NCAA title. Minnesota has a NCAA-best 37 national tournament appearances, but what frustrates many fans is the Gophers have won just two national championships since 1980. The Gophers were NCAA champions in 1974, 1976, 1979, 2002 and 2003.
Jason Shaver, the Apple Valley High School alum and son of Gophers radio play-by-play man Wally Shaver, is the TV voice of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves. Jason’s grandfather is the legendary radio voice of the North Stars, 89-year-old Al Shaver who is retired and living on Vancouver Island.
White Bear Lake’s Phil Bonin, a well-known hockey name, passed away from cancer on Monday. Phil was a youth hockey supporter and father of Brian Bonin, the former Gopher hockey player and 1996 Hobey Baker Award winner. Condolences to family and friends.
Wally Shaver has been the radio play-by-play voice of Gophers hockey for 16 years. He thinks the Minnesota team that is only two wins away from earning its way into the Frozen Four could win a national title. “I think this team is talented enough to get it done,” he told Sports Headliners Monday.
The Gophers won national championships in 2002 and 2003 under coach Don Lucia. Three years ago Lucia’s team lost in the Frozen Four finals to Union. Shaver believes the 2017 Gophers compare favorably to past Minnesota teams.
Minnesota has seven players with 10 or more goals. No other major college team can match that. “They’re a very balanced team and deep in scoring,” Shaver said.
Minnesota, as usual, has exceptional players like sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy, who is the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to college hockey’s best player. Senior Jake Bischoff is the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, while sophomore goalie Eric Schierhorn is the conference’s goalie of the year for a second consecutive season. Joining those three on the All-Big Ten first team is senior forward Justin Kloos. That collective talent is backed up by other productive players and means opponents can’t concentrate much on controlling just one or two players, or lines.
A hot goalie in college hockey’s playoffs always determines much of a team’s fate. Shaver said Schierhorn had his “ups and downs” during the long season but he suggested the Alaska native “hit the reset button” during Christmas time. Schierhorn has a .935 save percentage in his last nine games. “There is no question he is peaking at the right time,” Shaver said.
Last Saturday Schierhorn stopped 59 of 63 shots in a double overtime loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. “He was the best player on the ice,” Shaver said.
In that game a penalty set up a winning power play goal for PSU. Shaver cautions that if the Gophers are to advance this weekend and beyond, they must keep penalties to a minimum.
Minnesota, the regular season Big Ten champion, will play Notre Dame on Saturday in one of two games in Manchester, New Hampshire as part of the Northeast Region. Cornell plays UMass-Lowell in the other game, with Saturday’s winners meeting on Sunday in Manchester to determine who advances to the April 6 Frozen Four in Chicago against champions from three other regions.
The Gophers, 21-11-3, are the Northeast Region’s No. 1 seed and the favorite to win two games in Manchester, but Notre Dame, 21-11-5, impresses Shaver, too. He said the Fighting Irish has only one senior and if underclassmen don’t leave the program Notre Dame could be the “odds-on” favorite to win the Big Ten Conference title next season.
“It’s a very good regional and a great matchup for us to start with against Notre Dame,” Lucia said. “We know them, and they know us. We’re excited to get back into the tournament and compete for a national championship.”
The Gophers and Irish didn’t play against each other as nonconference opponents this season but have been frequent foes with Minnesota having a 27-15-3 record in the rivalry. Notre Dame plays its first Big Ten season in 2017-2018, increasing league membership to seven teams. The goal is to become an eight-team hockey league but there is no indication the Big Ten is even close to determining another member.
Minnesota boys’ high school basketball fan Ken Lien has seen thousands of games over the years, and he was asked by Sports Headliners to name the teams he believes will win state tournament titles this week. His predicted champs are: Class 4A Champlin Park; Class 3A DeLaSalle; Class 2A Minnehaha Academy; and Class 1A Minneapolis North. His runner-ups, starting with Class 4A, are Apple Valley, Marshall, Crosby-Ironton and Goodhue.
A grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration is scheduled today at MSP International Airport to introduce the new Minnesota Twins sports bar and restaurant. Twins Grill is located in Concourse C of Terminal 1, and displays memorabilia and graphics recognizing the franchise’s past and present. The 220-seat restaurant offers traditional ballpark food and local craft beers.
Commissioner Bill Robertson and other leaders of the Edina-based WCHA were elated last Saturday when the league’s championship playoff game between Bowling Green and Michigan Tech drew a capacity crowd of 4,466 in Houghton, Michigan. Tech won the game in an electric atmosphere that represented a stark contrast to past years when the WCHA’s playoff title game was hosted in large venues like the Xcel Energy Center in front of meager crowds.
“I have watched a lot of professional, college and high school games, but that environment was one of the best I have ever seen,” said Robertson, who celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday.
George Stewart, the former Vikings wide receivers coach, now is special teams coordinator and assistant head coach with the Chargers. After about 34 years as an assistant coach in college and the NFL, Stewart still thinks about becoming a head coach. “I have a burning desire to do that at some point,” he told Sports Headliners Monday.
Stewart is 58 and head coaches are usually younger, but he mentioned Mike Zimmer was the same age when the Vikings hired him in 2014 as their football boss. Stewart said he wants an NFL head position, and the only head job in college that interested him was at his alma mater, Arkansas.
Stewart worked 10 seasons for the Vikings before deciding earlier this year to move on. When Stewart was a young coach with the 49ers, the legendary Bill Walsh told him 10 years was often long enough for an assistant to stay with one organization. An assistant coach’s instructions can become stale in talking with players after a long period, Stewart said, while explaining why he left the Vikings.
It doesn’t look like Chad Greenway, the newly retired Viking linebacker, is in any rush to decide what’s next in his life. Another former Vikings linebacker, Scott Studwell, told Sports Headliners he would advise Greenway to take six months to consider his future.
Condolences to Greenway and his family after the death last week of grandfather Michael Schoenfelder from Mount Vernon, South Dakota.