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Twins Winning But No ‘Cartwheels’ Yet

May 24, 2022 - (0) comments


With a 26-16 record and 4.5 game lead in the American League’s Central Division, the Twins are one of baseball’s surprise teams after completing about 25 percent of the 162-game schedule.

Minnesota has won five straight and is 22-9 since April 21.  The Twins, who finished last in the division in 2021, are 14-8 at home and 12-8 on the road.  Minnesota is 13-3 against division opponents, 6-5 versus the AL East, 7-6 against the West and 0-2 versus the National League.

Despite early success club president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners recently he’s not going overboard. “It’s a long season.  Nobody is doing cartwheels or doing victory dances yet.”

The Twins have dominated division opponents and can build on that now.  They swept the Royals in a road series last weekend and play only division games thru June 2, including a home-stand against the Tigers that started last night with a ninth inning win, 5-4.  Minnesota had an improbable comeback win in Kansas City Sunday, rallying from a 6-0 deficit for a 7-6 victory.  It was the kind of win that is often part of a championship season.

Yes, the Twins’ schedule hasn’t been daunting.  The Central Division is no powerhouse, although the White Sox were ranked among baseball’s most talented clubs before the season. The Sox, who the Twins swept in their only series so far, are one of four teams on the Minnesota schedule with a winning record currently.  The Twins lost all three games to the Astros, went 0-2 against the Dodgers and won two of three versus the Rays.

Probably most impressive has been the consistent defensive performance.  The Twins don’t falter much in the field and beat themselves.  With regularity Minnesota fielders make pivotal and sometimes spectacular plays.  The stellar defense starts with a middle core at catcher, shortstop, second base and center field. Most rivals can’t match Minnesota’s defensive personnel in that group.

The hitting has been spotty and at times the Twins struggle to score but that has been a problem for most MLB clubs.  Speculation about a less lively baseball, the impact of a shortened spring training and unfavorable weather are all subjects offered up to explain the production drought in the majors.  Still, the Twins have done more than many clubs with timely hitting and their lineup includes Byron Buxton who is among the league leaders in home runs and Luis Arraez is hitting a nifty .349 with a .876 OPS.

The Twins appeared almost desperate for pitching help before the season but overall results from both starters and relievers is exceeding expectations.  “Some of our pitchers have had success,” St. Peter said. “Some of our pitchers have had some struggles but we think that there is more depth here.

“And the good news is I think we’re really excited about the young core that we’re developing.  Some of those guys are already at the big league level; some are fast approaching the big leagues, whether they be at Double A or St. Paul (Triple A).  So we like our chances of having more of a home grown pitching staff. That’s always the goal and I think we’re positioning ourselves for that in 2023 and beyond.”

In 2021 the Twins were coming off a season-shortened 2020 when they won their division.  Expectations were high but the Twins finished with a 73-89 record. There was pessimism during the summer the local favorites were headed toward a major rebuild of the roster and could be a losing team in coming seasons.

Dave St. Peter (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

St. Peter, front office leaders Derek Falvey, Thad Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli made an assessment.  “We talked openly and honestly about the state of our system,” St. Peter said.  “Where our major league team was and where our farm system was, and where we were. Ultimately within the construct of that conversation it was pretty clear that ownership, along with Derek, Thad, Rocco and others, felt like we had a path toward competing in 2022.

“And thus the plan was enacted to re-sign Byron, to sign him to an extension, and try to work over the course of the offseason to put this team in a better position to rebound from a really tough 2021.  I know there was a narrative that we were going to rebuild, but that was never the focus internally.”

Worth Noting

Injuries have already forced the Twins to use many players not on the opening day roster.  Technology has played a role in contributing both to injuries and their prevention in baseball and other sports.  Advancements in training push the human body to extremes not known in the past, while medical diagnostics provides accurate analysis regarding injuries.  The result is injuries sidelining players today that wouldn’t have done so decades ago.

With an injury comes caution from the player, his agent and team. “Players are not encouraged to play through injury like I think they once were,” St. Peter said.

Mike Grant talking about his father Bud Grant who turned 95 last Friday: “Everything that has gone on in his life, he remembers every one, and he remembers everything.  That’s a real blessing to have that, you know.”

Former University of Minnesota regent Michael Hsu, a leading proponent of monetization for college athletes, attended a Washington D.C. symposium last week featuring three panel discussions.  The topics: unionization, Name, Image and Likeness, and a college athletes bill of rights.

The Sack Symposium is named after Allen Sack, a national expert in the college sports culture.  Sack was a backup tackle at Notre Dame to former Vikings’ great Alan Page.  Sack’s college roommate, former U athletic director Joel Maturi, also attended the symposium.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told Sports Headliners he is open to retiring Kevin Garnett’s jersey.  Garnett has been critical of Taylor but the owner says the organization is open at anytime to honoring the NBA hall of famer and has extended past invitations.  “So we’re leaving that up to him,” Taylor said.  “But I would be as nice and helpful to him as I would be (to) anybody. It’s kind of on him right now.”

The Gophers, averaging 2,899 per home date, finished No. 7 in attendance among the nation’s Division I wrestling programs this year, according to figures from the National Wrestling Media Association.  Minnesota has been top 10 in attendance since 2002.

Iowa led all programs, averaging a capacity 14,905 in its arena.  That’s a record for the Hawkeyes who have been national attendance leaders since 2007, per NWMA.


Wolves’ Glen Taylor: No Comment on GM

May 22, 2022 - (0) comments


It’s evident the Timberwolves want someone with a high profile resume to become the leader of basketball operations in the front office. Sachin Gupta has been the interim boss since last September when Gerrson Rosas was dismissed for reportedly having an inappropriate relationship with an office employee and fostering a tense office environment.

Asked recently by Sports Headliners about developments in naming a leader of basketball operations, owner Glen Taylor said, “No, I don’t have any comments on that.”

Publicly, Taylor has remained noncommittal about Gupta who was a top assistant to Rosas. In a March interview with Sports Headliners Taylor said in regard to Gupta’s status “we’ll wait and see how this year goes.”

While Gupta is highly regarded in the organization, he has never led an NBA team as its GM or president of basketball operations. Perhaps prompted by aggressive ownership partners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, multiple media reports are that the franchise is in pursuit of a proven decision maker.

The list of best NBA basketball execs is short and it isn’t a slam dunk for the Wolves to draw interest. Things can be complicated by existing commitments or the fact candidates don’t see the Wolves franchise as a desirable destination.

Media reports have Minnesota talking with Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly who has been in Denver for almost 10 years. There is speculation Lore and Rodriguez have signed off on Connelly but any deal would need the blessing of majority owner Taylor.

Connelly is an NBA lifer whose team next season will rank among contenders to win the Western Conference. It’s reasonable to think the Wolves will pay the right executive $10 million annually. That’s believed to be far more than Connelly earns in Denver. Whether money talks loud enough for Connelly or another top leader to change residences will likely be known in the next seven days.

The NBA Draft is June 23 and with that date looming a candidate like Connelly will want to settle soon on where he is working. For now Gupta, with the title of executive VP of basketball operations, is running the pre-draft process for the Wolves. If ownership’s pursuit of a big name leader falls short, Gupta may see his title change to president of basketball operations—at least for awhile. Taylor, Lore and Rodriguez could be shopping again next spring.

The process leading to majority ownership by Lore and Rodriguez appears on track for their takeover in December of 2023. “They haven’t asked for any changes,” Taylor told Sports Headliners last week.

Glen Taylor

In that interview Taylor described Lore and Rodriquez as “wonderful guys.” Lore, an aggressive entrepreneur, is expected to bring innovation including technology to the franchise. “He’s a big thinker,” Taylor said.

Rodriquez was an MLB superstar who transitioned successfully to business. Taylor anticipates Rodriguez’s background as a player will bring a new perspective to Wolves ownership about how players want to be coached, and how players can best relate to one another. “A-Rod is just very likeable,” Taylor said.

While the new owners say they’re committed to keeping the franchise in Minneapolis, Lore and Rodriguez have made it known Target Center (opened in 1990) needs to be replaced with a new arena in coming years. “I think we’ll have to do something,” Taylor said. “I think it will be more their priority than mine.”

Of more immediate concern is the draft when the Wolves will select at No. 19 in the first round and then have three second round picks. Asked what the Timberwolves are looking for in the first round, Taylor identified power forward as a priority. Another need could be a backup for starting center Karl-Anthony Towns.

With draft choices and trades, this offseason could see roster changes. Regarding potential trades, do the Wolves have untouchables? “I would put Karl on there, that’s for sure.” Taylor said about his NBA All-Star

Does 20-year-old Anthony Edwards receive the same label? “I sure would,” Taylor answered about Edwards who led all NBA rookies in scoring a year ago.

While the Wolves earned their way into the NBA playoffs this spring for only the third time since 2004, the experience left Taylor unsatisfied. He said “quite frankly” his team could have won the best of seven series against the Grizzlies, instead of losing 4-2.

“We just had letdowns that affected our whole team. Players just backed off on defense and didn’t do what the coach expected of them and that really hurt us. They did that kind of by quarter. They just had periods of 12 minutes where they didn’t do it and it’s just enough to lose the game.

“…I saw some really great things that they could do and they did do, so I am a little disappointed that important games like what we had in the playoffs the guys couldn’t carry through all 48 minutes.”


U Looks on Track with Jaxon Howard

May 17, 2022 - (0) comments


How are the Golden Gophers doing in pursuit of the state’s No. 1 football prospect in the class of 2023?  “I think Minnesota truly is in the thick of it for Jaxon (Howard),” Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners Monday.

Burns is the Gopher Illustrated and 247Sports authority who tracks U football year round.  Howard, a potential college tight end or defensive lineman in college, has LSU, Miami and Minnesota among his preferred destinations.  The Robbinsdale Cooper star will make official campus visits to all three schools next month, per Burns. And yesterday on Twitter Howard announced those three programs and Michigan comprise his final four list.

Jaxon and his dad Willie Howard, the Cooper coach and a former NFL defensive lineman, have a close relationship so that could be a factor in the college choice.  As a hometown prospect, Jaxon has witnessed positive developments with the Gopher program including two of the last three seasons winning nine games or more.  Hopkins alum Boye Mafe stayed home to play defensive end for the Gophers and was drafted in the NFL’s second round this spring.

The Gophers also have four verbal commits from Minnesotans in their class of 2023.  Jerome Williams, Reese Trip, Greg Johnson and Martin Owusu are the state’s No. 2, 4, 5 and 6th ranked prep players for 2023, per 247Sports.  Knowing the state’s better prep prospects appear Minnesota-bound could influence Howard.

Burns said 2023 commit Darius Taylor, the running back from Walled Lake, Michigan who Iowa and Wisconsin offered, is friends with Howard and has been encouraging him to become a Gopher.  The two spent time together at the spring game and Taylor has been pitching on social media for Howard to stay home.

Head coach P.J. Fleck and his assistants are recruiting now.  After a short break around Memorial Day, recruiting intensifies for power five schools like Minnesota with the staging of camps during June.  The Gophers will host two camps in June, according to Burns, and will attend others out of the state to evaluate talent.

Burns thinks Anthony Brown, the four-star wide receiver from Ohio who was a prize verbal commit before backing off his pledge, will be interested in earning an offer from Ohio State in June when he attends a Buckeyes’ camp.  Brown’s brother Michael BrownStephens plays wide receiver for the Gophers and Anthony was wooed at the U spring game, but Burns isn’t wagering he will take up residence in Dinkytown. “They’re in the mix. (But) I don’t anticipate a reunion between the two parties. …”

The Gophers passed the football less than any other power five school last season and that was a red flag to Brown. If he doesn’t commit elsewhere before Signing Day in December, Brown could be watching the Gophers this fall to see if they revive their passing attack.

Perhaps the Gophers will end up with high three-star wide receiver recruit Tamarcus Cooley from North Carolina.  “Minnesota has been pushing for him tremendously hard,” Burns said.

Ryan Burns

Gopher assistants Greg Harbaugh Jr. (he has North Carolina ties) and Matt Simon are in pursuit of Cooley who is expected to visit campus next month.  “I think the offer list (for Cooley) would be just as comparable to someone like Anthony Brown,” Burns said.  “I think it will be very interesting to see how much of an impact they can make on that June official visit with…Tamarcus Cooley.”

Burns also said Simons watched Georgia WR Jarvis Hayes work out recently and the Gophers have offered a scholarship.  Hayes has shown his athleticism with a high jump of 6-feet four-inches, per Burns, and the Gophers “pretty badly” want him.

Hayes and West Fargo defensive lineman Karter Menz are two names Burns mentioned when asked who may make verbal commitments to Minnesota during the summer.  Nebraska has also offered a scholarship to Menz.

247Sports ranks Elinneus Davis from Moorhead as the state’s No. 3 prospect and the defensive lineman’s college offers include the Gophers and Washington. He could project as a 300-plus nose tackle on the next level.  “Academics are going to be important to him,” Burns said.  “I know Minnesota wants him tremendously bad.  I think they’ve got a pretty legitimate shot at him.”

The Gophers’ on-campus camps will be June 5 and 15, with official visit weekends for recruits June 10 and 17.  Burns doesn’t expect any verbal commits during the busy month of June, but that will change in the summer and fall.

Worth Noting

What was the biggest positive Burns took from watching spring practice? “The passing game looks like they know what they want to be,” he said.

Burns’ evaluation is that under 2021 offensive coordinator Mike Sanford the Gophers continually tried something different in the passing game.  With the return of previous coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca the expectation of Burns is a return to the RPO passing game “that was so prolific in 2019.”

Major concern? Burns wants to see the emergence of playmaker receivers beyond senior Chris Autman-Bell now in his sixth season with the program.  The candidates are Dylan Wright, Michael Brown-Stephens, Daniel Jackson and Brevyn SpannFord.  “I just want to see with my own two eyes that when the lights come on Saturdays that those four guys are ready to help Tanner (QB Morgan) and his passing game take a step forward.”

Worth watching too in fall camp and early games will be the status of veteran running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts.  Both were injured and missed most of last season, and then had no risky contact in the spring while they recovered.

Ibrahim is recovering from an Achilles tear and that’s serious business for a college running back, although he always relied more on his strength, toughness and savvy in finding holes than he did speed.  He does need to be able to make decisive cuts as he did in the past as a 2020 All-American.   “I am hopeful we see him at least 90 percent,” Burns said. “I think that’s realistic.”

Potts’ injury was never publicly disclosed but Burns said it didn’t involve soft tissue. He predicts a “100 percent” likelihood of Potts being able to perform as in the past.

Wishing the best for former Minnesota Mr. Basketball chair Ken Lien in his convalescence following 10-plus days in the hospital.

The postseason results for men’s pro sports franchises in Minneapolis-St. Paul has been discouraging for years and the first round exits by the Wild and Timberwolves this spring add to the woes.  Check the records back to October 1, 2004 and the combined postseason winning percentage of the Timberwolves, Twins, Vikings and Wild is 28 percent—32 wins, 71 losses.

In Game One of the AL Division Series on October 5, 2004 the Twins defeated the Yankees in New York 2-0.  Since then the Twins haven’t won a postseason game, compiling 18 consecutive losses and a 1-19 record.

The Timberwolves are 3-8 during the period referenced, with two playoff appearances.  The Vikings 4-7 and the Wild 24-48.

The Vikings announced Monday they have released a player with one of the best football names I recall: linebacker Tuf Borland.  He played in two games last season for the Purple.


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