Twins Win Tonight Won’t Surprise
A Tuesday notes column, with analysis and reporting on the Twins, Vikings and Gophers.
The Twins have been surprising both supporters and critics all season. They could do more of that tonight in their American League Wild Card game against the Yankees in New York.
While fans and oddsmakers understandably dwell on the Yankees superior overall personnel, few will argue the underdog can win in a one-game playoff to determine who advances in the postseason. For that to happen tonight, the Twins most probable path to victory is a dominant performance by starting pitcher Ervin Santana.
Close to ideal will be six or seven innings from Santana, with him yielding a run or two at most. Twins hitters need to produce at least a few runs in the game’s early or middle innings. What Minnesota wants to avoid is playing from behind and facing the Yankees superb bullpen.
Look for the Twins to strategically be prepared. This season it seems like the organization has improved its advance scouting including the use of metrics. Maybe that hasn’t translated into more victories during the regular season against the Yankees (New York was 4-2 versus Minnesota) but it could pay off tonight. There are so many subtleties in baseball that might impact the outcome of a game. Things like how to position fielders, or strategic pitching to a batter with two strikes.
This Twins team has told the baseball world all season “don’t sleep on us.” Critics buried them before the season started and during the summer when the club’s decision makers dumped All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler on July 31. If there was a Minnesota postseason bandwagon back then it was pretty empty, but the last two months of the season the Twins played some of their best baseball.
During the month of August the Twins were 20-10 and hit .280 as a team. The overall ERA was 3.78. The club had some big wins in September too but was 0-3 against the Yankees. Last Sunday the Twins finished a turnaround year where they won 26 games more, and lost 26 fewer, than in 2016.
The Twins made believers out of their fans and media. Whatever happens tonight is another positive in a successful year. And if you’re looking for a good omen consider this, the 1987 World Series champion Twins went 85-77 during the regular season, just like the 2017 club.
Mike Zimmer is in his fourth season as head coach of the Vikings and the ultimate goal is to play in next February’s Minneapolis Super Bowl. The odds are against that happening because of injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook that are limiting the Vikings offense, but it would be ironic if Zimmer could win the Super Bowl like his mentor Bill Parcells did in his fourth season as Giants head coach.
The Giants won the 1986 Super Bowl, defeating the Broncos. Later when Parcells was coaching the Cowboys, Zimmer was his defensive coordinator. He worked four seasons for Parcells who usually texts the Vikings head coach after games.
“I have a book…of things he told me to remember as a head coach,” Zimmer said. “He talked a lot about field position. He talked about doing your job the right way, preparation and making players accountable and things like that.”
The Vikings are 2-2 after four games and their record characterizes the parity of the NFL. After four weeks the 4-0 Chiefs are the league’s only undefeated team. The opportunities most immediately ahead for the Vikings are winning in Chicago next Monday night against an inferior 1-3 Bears team, and then playing consecutive home games against the Packers and Ravens before visiting London and facing one of the league’s worst teams, the Browns.
No definitive news on whether Bradford’s troublesome knee allows him to play against the Bears after missing the last three games. Bradford excels under pressure from defenses, even setting an NFL single season record for completion percentage (71.6) last season despite playing behind a leaky offensive line. Profootballfocus.com reports that backup Case Keenum was “4-of-11 for 63 yards while under pressure” in Minnesota’s 14-7 loss to the Lions last Sunday.
Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant told Sports Headliners yesterday that Benny Sapp III, who is out for the season because of meniscus surgery on his left knee, should be recovered by late this year, but not in time to play for the Eagles. Sapp, who has also had two ACL surgeries on the same knee, is verbally committed to the Gophers as part of their 2018 recruiting class.
The loss of Sapp, a playmaker at cornerback and receiver for Grant, is unfortunate but the 5-0 Eagles could still win the 6A state title. Among their interesting standouts is running back Solo Falaniko who rushed for 187 yards last week against Maple Grove. Falaniko missed practice time this summer when he returned to his native Samoa after the death of his grandfather.
The Gophers’ fragile path to enough wins for bowl eligibility took a hit with their loss to Maryland last Saturday. Minnesota, 3-1 and 0-1 in Big Ten games, probably can’t withstand another defeat this Saturday in a winnable game against Purdue. Here is how Sports Headliners ranks the Gophers, Boilermakers and the other 12 Big Ten football teams starting with the West Division:
1.Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0). Badgers are good but are playing Charmin-soft nonconference and league schedules.
2. Iowa (3-2, 0-2). Hawkeyes have elite defense but struggle to score against quality opponents.
3. Nebraska (3-2, 2-0). Unpredictable Cornhuskers will answer more questions at home Saturday against Wisconsin.
4. Northwestern (2-2, 0-1). The Wildcats have gone from West Division title dark horse to the Big Ten’s most disappointing team but don’t discount the possibility of a mid-season comeback.
5. Purdue (2-2, 0-1). The best new coach in the Big Ten might be Purdue’s Jeff Brohm who took over a horrible program and has impressed in losses to nationally ranked Louisville and Michigan.
6. Minnesota (3-1, 0-1). Yup, P.J. Fleck, maybe not Brohm, could prove to be the league’s best newcomer in 2017, and he can boost his resume with a win Saturday at Purdue.
7. Illinois (2-2, 0-1). Year two in the Lovie Smith coaching experiment and he receives no vote of confidence from this keyboard.
1.Michigan (4-0, 1-0). It’s Harbaugh time in Ann Arbor, with the Wolverines probably winning their first conference title under “coach Khaki” this fall.
2. Ohio State (4-1, 2-0). Yes, the Buckeyes are loaded with talent but lost a few too many players to the NFL last spring.
3. Penn State (5-0, 2-0). Defending Big Ten champs get upset at Northwestern on Saturday. (Maybe).
4. Michigan State (3-1, 1-0). The college football world knew the Spartans and feisty coach Mak Dantonio weren’t going to have another 3-9 season.
5. Maryland (3-1, 1-0)). The Terps have an athletic roster and road wins at Texas and Minnesota.
6. Indiana (2-2, 0-2). IU used to be all about offense, and now the strength is more on defense, but Hoosiers still don’t have the balance and personnel to contend in the East.
7. Rutgers (1-4, 0-2). Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill coached in the press box for the first time last Saturday but the hapless Scarlet Knights lost 56-0 to Buckeyes.