Sunday, July 31, 2011

CONTEST/GIVEAWAY: 1991 World Series DVD Sets

The folks at A&E Home Entertainment are making the rounds in the Twins Blogosphere by offering fans the chance to win some great DVD sets that commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the 1991 World Series, "The Greatest World Series of All Time."

Here at NoDak Twins Fan we are having a very simple contest surrounding the release of the DVD sets on August 2nd. The two items that the winner will receive are great prizes that capture the heart and soul of the magical series that inthralled the entire Upper Midwest. The two prizes are shown here and you can find a more detailed description of each item at the bottom of this post (valued at $89.90):


Here is what you have to do to get yourself qualified for the contest:


2. Retweet any of my tweets that mention this contest to all of your followers

3. Leave a comment or story on this post about your favorite memory from the 1991 World Series

4. Sit back and hope your name is the one that is randomly drawn to win the DVD sets on Friday (the first home game that in the 1991 World Series Celebration weekend at Target Field)

It is as simple as that...

I have a copy of the 1987 World Series set produced by this company and it is a great item to have on hand. My twelve year old cousin knew very little about the Twins first World Series and with that set I was able to teach him about that magical 1987 Fall Classic. I can't wait to share the 1991 set with my cousin and eventually with my own children. 

Below you will find the official press release about both of the prizes that will be given to the winner. 

Enjoy the contest! And make sure to check out www.twinsbaseball.com for all of your Twins ticket and merchandise needs.

NEWS RELEASE ANNOUNCEMENT
"The whole series was like a storybook"
--Twins Manager Tom Kelly, after Game 7

THIS AUGUST, COMMEMORATE THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE THE MAGICAL FALL CLASSIC ESPN CALLS "THE GREATEST WORLD SERIES OF ALL TIME!" WITH TWO UNFORGETTABLE DVD RELEASES

&

STREET DATE: AUGUST 2, 2011

PROGRAM DESCRIPTIONS

In 1991, the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves in seven grueling -- and unforgettable -- games to capture their second World Series championship since moving to The North Star State in 1961. Now, catch every historic moment of this championship series with THE MINNESOTA TWINS 1991 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR'S EDITION, a handsomely packaged 7-disc set. Packed with bonus footage and all seven games in their entirety, this is sure to be a must get for not only Twins fans, but baseball fans everywhere as the Twins get set to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this milestone series.

Was it really the greatest Fall Classic ever? Five games were decided by one run. Four of the games were won on the very last plate appearance. Three games went to extra innings. Two managers played a seven-game chess match. One run was scored in the Game 7, 10-inning masterpiece. Add in Kirby Puckett's Game 6 for the ages, a power-hitting third base tandem, Kent Hrbek providing a lift at first, a rookie rising above the tension, veteran power, clutch pitching led by the wizened Jack Morris, plus a relentless and dynamic Atlanta Braves team --and yes, it was the Greatest World Series ever played.

This beautifully-packaged seven-DVD collection contains every pitch, hit, sterling defensive play, and ear-popping Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome memory along with each glorious Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series championship moment. The collection displays the heroics of Dan Gladden, Gene Larkin, Chuck Knoblauch, Chili Davis and Brian Harper, plus the steadying leadership of Manager Tom Kelly. A special DVD audio feature allows fans to watch the World Series television broadcast and listen to the Twins Radio Network announcers! Yes, it was the greatest World Series and the proof is in the seven games digitally preserved in this DVD trophy. 

MAGIC IN MINNESOTA: REMEMBERING THE 1991 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP
In more than 100 years of World Series play there have been many that could be considered memorable and a handful that might be classified as unforgettable. But only one can be called the best ever -- and for many the 1991 World Series between the Atlanta Brave and Minnesota Twins was just that.

MAGIC IN MINNESOTA: REMEMBERING THE 1991 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP revels in the mesmerizing masterpiece of Jack Morris' 1-0, 10-inning Game 7 and Kirby Puckett's unbelievable heroics in Game 6. This commemorative DVD, timed to the Twins' 20th Anniversary celebration, salutes the contributions of superstars, support players, and the deafening, intimidating Minnesota Twins fans who electrified the Metrodome like never before and includes extensive game highlights and interviews with two-time World Champions manager Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek, Gene Larkin, Dan Gladden, and John Gordon. As an exclusive bonus, the DVD also includes footage such as the final outs from from four Twins 1991 ALCS victories plus celebration footage after winning the 1991 American League Pennant; a vintage 1991 Minnesota Twins commercial; the footage of the '91 Twins meeting the President at the White House and Kirby Puckett's Hall of Fame induction speech.

MAGIC IN MINNESOTA is more than just another film about just another championship team. It's about the Twins -- your Twins -- and perhaps the greatest World Series of all time.
**Prizes courtesy of A&E Home Entertainment/MLB Productions. To claim prizes, the winner will need to provide his/her mailing address to representatives of AEHE/MLBP and prizes can only be shipped to addresses in the Continental US. NoDak Twins Fan is not responsible for delivery of prizes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pirates targeting a Kubel trade

The hottest trade rumor around the Twins as the trade deadline approaches has been the Span-Storen trade that I touched on earlier today. Besides that possible trade, the Twins have a few other rumblings throughout the organization.

John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus reported that Jason Kubel is the top player that the Pirates are looking to acquire at the trade deadline. There are other players that the Pirates are looking at before Sunday but Kubel sits as the number one player on their board.

Now with Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran having been moved, the amount of available outfielders has become smaller. This could leave some teams in a desperate situation over the weekend as they look for the one player that can help them to a division title.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com also mentioned that the Pirates have been looking to add Kubel to their outfield in the next couple days. Stark also notes that the Twins are reluctant to trade any players unless it is making the club better for the current season. The AL Central is still in reach for the team and trading Kubel could set back the mood in the clubhouse.

Stark also talked to Twins GM Bill Smith and he told him that the Twins are:
"trying to make our club better, we still think we're very much in contention, and we're excited to see where we go in the next two months."
This seems like the right thing for the GM to say while his team is still negotiating trades on multiple fronts. It is a very vague statement that does not really give any insight into what the team is thinking or doing at this point in the trade deadline process.

When Span returns, the Twins will have an outfielder to spare on the MLB roster. It will be interesting to see if all of the outfielders survive the trade deadline weekend and wake up as Minnesota Twins on Monday.

UPDATE: MLB.com is also reporting that the Pirates are seriously interested in Kubel. It still remains to be seen if he is available at the trade deadline.

Span-Storen trade hitting a crucial point

The biggest trade rumor surrounding the Minnesota Twins this week has been a deal in which the Twins would send center fielder Denard Span to the Washington Nationals in exchange for relief pitcher Drew Storen. With the deadline being only a couple days away, the talks might have hit a crucial point in the negotiation process.

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Nationals might be upping their offer to the Twins by adding Roger Bernadina to the mix. He also notes that Bernadina might not be the only other player that will be added to this trade. This opens even more speculation into the players that could be involved and what each team is asking for in return for some of their young MLB talent.

Bernadina is only a career .243 hitter with an OBS of .308 but he does have the ability to steal bases with 16 steals in only 71 games played this season. At this point in his career, he has struggled to get playing time with the Nationals so it will be interesting to see if the Twins feel this is a welcome addition to a Span-Storen trade.

The talks may have reached a breaking point earlier today with each team expressing their concern over different sides of the deal. The Twins want more in return for Span, one of the best lead off hitters in the game and a very good defensive center fielder. On the other side, the Nationals are worried about the concussion that Span suffered at the beginning of last month.

Both sides seem to want the best deal possible and I think each side would be content with keeping the players that they currently have on their roster. The Nationals seem to be the ones that are pressing the issue as reports have noted that the Twins had no interest in trading Span. The offer the Twins get is going to have to be one that the team feels works highly in their favor.

Span offered his own own comment regarding the trade rumors that have been swirling around the young outfielder. It is pretty funny take for a man whose future and career could be taking a drastic change in the next couple days.

Twins not close to signing Harrison, Boyd

Last week I wrote a post that discussed the Twins being close to signing their first round pick Levi Michael from the University of North Carolina. He has already been to the Twin Cities to take a physical and should sign for a bonus around $1 million. It seems that both sides are still close to a deal and hopefully it can get done in the next week.

After the Twins picked Michael, they had two other picks in the supplemental round of last month's draft. With those picks, the Twins took two high school players, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd. The deadline to sign players that have college eligibility left is midnight on August 15. That date is fast approaching and according to LaVelle E. Neal, a deal is not close for either of these players.

Harrison has committed to the University of Southern California but the signing bonus and prospect of becoming a professional baseball player could be enough to sway him away from that commitment. At Tustin High School in California, Harrison hit nine home runs in his first 22 games. He ended the season with a .486 BA to go along with 12 home runs. His ability to hit for power is what drew the Twins to him and the team might be forced to overpay for that raw power ability.

Boyd went to high school close to the Twins training facility in Fort Myers, Florida. He is a big right handed pitcher that is listed at 6'2" and 235 lbs. Most reports on Boyd tell that he has two pitches that are major league ready. His fastball is consistently in the mid-nineties and his curveball is in the mid-seventies. The third pitch in his repertoire at this point is a change-up but that pitch is still developing. Depending on how his pitches develop, he could end up a starter or a relief pitcher.

It will be interesting to see if the Twins are able to sign both of these players before the deadline in mid-August. Some of the supplemental picks that have already signed with their teams have been getting higher signing bonuses than they were slotted to receive.

Here is an updated look at the players around Boyd and Harrison and what they got for a signing bonus:
47. White Sox - Keenyn Walker - agreed to terms for $795K
48. Padres - Michael Kelly 
49. Giants - Kyle Crick - signed for $900K
50. Twins - Travis Harrison
51. Yankees - Dante Bichette Jr. - signed for $750K
52. Rays - Blake Snell - signed for $684K53. Blue Jays - Dwight Smith Jr.
54. Padres - Brett Austin
55. Twins - Hudson Boyd
56. Rays - Kes Carter - signed for $625K
57. Blue Jays - Kevin Comer
58. Padres - Jace Peterson - signed for $624,600

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Morneau suffering from migraines

As if Morneau did not have enough to worry about after a concussion last season, a wrist injury this year, and a recovery from neck surgery, now he is dealing with recurring migraine headaches. Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com has reported on Twitter the last few days that Morneau has been held back in his path to recovery.

On Monday, Morneau was working out and had to stop because he was suffering from migraine headaches. Morneau went to visit doctors on Tuesday and took the rest of the day off to recuperate. The Twins training staff must have felt that Morneau needed one more day of rest on Wednesday. The team has announced that the headaches are not related to his concussion from last year or from his neck surgery from this year.

Morneau battled through a neck injury for most of the first half of the season while many other members of the Twins were on the disabled list. It was clear that Morneau was not fully healthy and the team decided that neck surgery was the right path to follow. At the time of the surgery, the team doctor's estimated that Morneau would be out until mid-August.

In recent weeks, Morneau has begun to resume baseball activities but to date he has yet to swing a bat. This could be the biggest step for the Twins to know how Morneau's body is reacting to the neck surgery. The violent motion of a swing can be hard on the neck and his reaction could go a long way to deciding if he will return to the Twins this season.

Hopefully, the days off this week will not be a major set-back for Morneau and the Twins. He was already due to be out until mid-August so any major set-back could mean that the team would be forced to shut him down for the rest of the season.

Are the Twins shopping their top outfield prospects?

Joe Benson hitting for the Twins in Spring Training.
Earlier this week, La Velle E. Neal wrote a piece for the Star Tribune that focused on the trade strategy for the Twins as the deadline approaches this weekend. The Twins are in the middle of a stretch of games that is going to be pivotal for the team to decide to trade off parts or add pieces for the stretch run. The clock is ticking for deals to be made and that same clock is ticking on what is left of the season for the Twins.

In part of the article, Neal mentioned that the Nationals have been perusing the Twins organization for a center field prospect that could be acquired in a trade. Many sources have noted that the Nationals have acquired about dealing for Denard Span but the Twins might not have him on the table.

If Span is not available in a trade, would the Twins be willing to part with one of their top outfield prospects in a deadline deal?

The Twins have three highly ranked centerfield prospects in the organization that have shown promise this season. Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks have both shown tremendous ability during their 2011 minor league seasons. At the same time, Ben Revere has been showcasing his skills at the major league level. Each of these players could be part of the long-term plan for the Twins organization.

Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net, the top Twins minor league blog on the web, answered some Twitter questions that concerned these players. He felt that many teams would be asking for these prospects in a deadline deal but a top ten prospect is not worth a relief pitcher. Later in the post, he mentions that he does not expect Benson to get traded this year and that he could be starting for the Twins by 2013.

As someone that keeps a close eye on the Twins minor league system, I would hate to see any of these top prospects exit the organization. The Twins roster in a few short seasons could include Hicks, Benson, and Span as the starting outfield with Revere serving as the backup outfielder.

That sounds like a great outfield line-up to write in everyday for the Twins and it sure is not worth trading that away for a relief pitcher.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top prospect Gibson out with soreness near elbow

Kyle Gibson was scheduled to start on Wednesday for the Rochester Red Wings but word came out yesterday that the Twins top pitching prospect will miss that start with soreness near his elbow. This is not good news for a pitcher that could be expected to make an impact on the Twins sometime in the next season.

For any pitcher, the elbow area can be a scary situation to deal with when it comes to an injury. The dreaded phrase "Tommy John surgery" can be thrown around when there is an injury to that part of a hurler's arm. Obviously, the hope is that this is just some soreness from the season and not a more serious injury for Gibson.

In his recent starts, Gibson has not looked like he was right on the mound. He has not won a game since the end of May and he has struggled to go more than five innings in most of those outings. In Gibson's last eight starts, he has given up 34 runs for an average of 4.25 runs per outing. He also allowed five walks in his last start which is very uncharacteristic for the pitching prospect.

The rest of the season for Gibson is something that the organization and fans will keep a close eye on. The Twins organization has invested lots of money and time into their first round pick from 2009. This investment comes with added pressure to preserve the player for the future of the organization.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about the doubts growing over Gibson debuting this season. This new injury in the elbow area only adds to that doubt for the Twins. The hope is that Gibson can right himself by the end of this season and be ready to make a big impact on the 2012 Twins.

Span misses rehab start, trade now doubtful?

On Tuesday night, there was a significant name missing from the line-up for the Rochester Red Wings. Denard Span had taken his scheduled day off on Monday night but his absence from the game on Tuesday could be cause for concern. A tweet from Span on Tuesday evening might have calmed some of the worries:
I feel good today. Will be back in the line up tomorrow
Span has been inching closer to a return to the Twins after suffering a concussion in a play at the plate on June 3. His playing time in games has been increasing incrementally during his rehab stint. On Sunday during his sixth rehab start, he went seven innings in CF for the Red Wings.

During his time in Rochester, Span has not exactly been hitting the cover off of the ball. He current has three hits in 20 AB for a .150 BA in the International League. None of those hits have been for extra bases and he has one steal in six games.

Ben Revere has been filling in admirably for Span in CF for the Twins. The speed and defense that Revere brings to the roster has been fun to watch. Revere's inconsistencies in the batter's box are hard to ignore; especially compared to the numbers Span was putting up before his injury.

In the last couple days, there have been trade rumors that have started to surface surrounding the starting center fielder for the Twins. Ken Rosenthal reported that the Twins and the Nationals discussed a trade that would included the Nationals getting Span and the Twins receiving shortstop Ian Desmond and a relief pitcher. With Span missing a start on his rehab assignment, the talk of this deal is most certainly dead. Even though, there are doubts that this deal would have taken place.

The Twins have Span under a contract through the 2014 season with a team option for 2015. The Twins have seen what concussions can do to a player and the focus continues to be getting Span healthy for the future.

And that future looks like it can be a bright one with the Minnesota Twins, if these concussion worries can be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cuddyer provides a fun moment in a miserable game

Last night's Twins game was a tough one to watch for any fan of the Minnesota hometown nine. None of the pitchers seemed to be able to record an out and the defense of the Twins was doing no favors for those pitchers with three errors. Overall, it was the worse loss on record during my lifetime and an opportunity for many of the Twins flaws this season to stand out.

The loyal fans that stuck around until the end of the debacle last night were rewarded by getting to see something that has not happened very often in the history of the Twins organization. In a move of desperation, Michael Cuddyer was asked to pitch the final defensive inning for the Twins. He became the fifth position player to pitch for the Twins in the club's 51 year history.

Cuddyer had this to say after the first pitching appearance of his career:
Obviously I hated the circumstances, but (I) would be lying if I said that I didn't have fun on the mound tonight!
While on the mound, Cuddyer attempted to throw a variety of pitches. He told Twins beat writer Rhett Bollinger that "he threw some sinkers, one cutter, one curveball, and three changeups." Not a bad assortment for a player that looked much more comfortable on the mound than some of the other members of the Twins pitching staff. He did have a lot of movement on some of his pitches and his fastball topped out at 88 mph.

Even after a loss like last night, it is important to remember that baseball is just a game. The Twins were getting destroyed by the Rangers but Cuddyer was able to offer a little fun at the end of the contest. The relief pitchers seemed to be having a good time watching him warm-up. Joe Nathan could be seen giving Cuddyer a few pointers before leaving the bullpen. Even manager Ron Gardenhire had a smile on his face when Cuddyer came off the mound without allowing a run.

Today's a new day for the Twins and let's hope no other position players are asked to toe the rubber in Texas tonight.

Madison Boer is ready for Beliot

The Twins used their second round pick in last month's draft on a native Minnesotan from Eden Prairie. Madison Boer was a standout pitcher for the University of Oregon and he was surprised that his hometown team selected him that early in the draft. The junior right-handed pitcher had proven himself in the college ranks and the Twins felt confident enough to draft him with this high of a pick.

Boer signed quickly with the Twins and was immediately sent to join the Elizabethton Twins, the organization's high rookie level team. Since joining the squad in Elizabethton, Boer has proven he can hold his own against the talent in this level of the rookie leagues.

Stats Summary
G: 11
W-L: 2-1
ERA: 2.19
Saves: 7
IP: 12.1
K: 25

Boer has been overpowering by averaging at least two strikeouts per inning. Out of his 11 appearances, he has a win or a save in nine of the outings. In his worst inning of work, he allowed two runs on three hits and he gave up a home run. That is the only home run he has allowed and he has only allowed one other run to cross the plate in all of his other appearances combined. 

After throwing 99 innings during his college season this spring, the Twins have been using Boer in the late innings of games. He was used as a starter in college but the Twins are trying to keep his innings pitched down for the rest of this year. This could allow Boer to get a little extra on his pitches since he only asked to go an inning per game. 

Word came out yesterday that the Twins have agreed to terms with third round pick Corey Williams. With his signing, Williams will most likely be sent to pitch with Elizabethton. This leaves room for the Twins to advance Boer to the lower A level with the Beliot Snappers. 

There is a good chance that Boer will have an innings limit that will be set by the Twins for the rest of this season. Most teams tend to shut down some of their top pitching prospects when they have reached their innings limit for the season. Boer could reach that plateau in the next few weeks but he has proven dominant in the Rookie Appalachian League and the Midwest League is his next proving grounds. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Could Slowey provide a boost in the stretch run?

The trade deadline is less than a week away and the Twins recent homestand did little to help decide if the Twins will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. With the deadline looming, there have been many names that have been many Twins players that have been rumored to be part of deals. Players like Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, and Denard Span find themselves in the heat of the hot stove conversation.

The Kevin Slowey saga has been an interesting story line to follow since the beginning of the season. During Spring Training, he became the odd man out in the battle for a role in the starting rotation. The Twins felt Scott Baker needed more time to warm-up than Slowey and this gave Baker the last spot in the starting rotation. In hindsight, this looks like a great decision since Baker has been the Twins best starting pitcher this season.

From that point, Slowey was relegated to the bullpen to fill various roles for the team. He only made six appearances with the Twins during the months of April and May. Those appearances were separated by different stints on the disabled list with various injuries. In the early months of the season, Slowey let the Twins know that he was uncomfortable pitching out of the bullpen. The Twins placed Slowey on the DL with an abdominal injury and he has now be sent to pitch in the rotation at Rochester.

The starting pitching for the Twins has been very inconsistent over the course of the season. There have been signs of life from the rotation but the starters have struggled to put together a string of consistent outings from the pitching rubber. These inconsistencies could lead to an opportunity for a player to get a chance to show his worth to the team. Anthony Swarzak and Scott Diamond have both shown positive signs in their brief chances with the team.

Could Slowey be the next player given an opportunity to provide a boost to the Twins during the stretch run of the season?

Just a month or two ago this would have been one of the most far fetched ideas for the Twins in 2011. Slowey and the Twins organization seemed to be having a falling out and it looked as if Slowey may never pitch in a Twins uniform again. Both the Twins and Slowey seemed to be handling the situation like boys fighting over matchbox cars on the playground of their elementary school.

The Twins need some kind of help for a pitching staff that is faltering in the dog days of summer. Some in the Twins organization think top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson will not be called up this season because of some of his recent troubles. This leaves very few starting arms that could be ready to help from the AAA. Slowey is the only proven option that has big league experience and he is already on the 40-man roster for the Twins.

Tonight in Rochester, Mr. Slowey will take the mound for what could be his last start in the Twins organization. There will be many scouts on hand to see what Slowey has to offer their own teams in the heat of the pennant race.

The idea of bring Slowey back into the fold for the Twins could be very far fetch. There seems to have been some bridges burned between the two parties that could be very hard to repair. Also bringing Slowey into a clubhouse with decent chemistry could offset the balance of a team trying to stay in the pennant race.

But the thought of having a pitcher with a lot to prove to the world is an idea that is worth exploring...

No matter how far fetched it may seem.

Doubts growing over Gibson debuting this season

At the beginning of the season, there was a dull roar over one prospects that stood out above the rest last season. Kyle Gibson had shown the Twins organization in 2010 that he was the kind of prospect that could be something special. In one season, he had flown from Class A all the way to Class AAA. At each stop on the journey, Gibson showed the ability to get hitters out and to be a quality starter.

What a difference a year can make?

The 2011 season has not been all the Twins could hope for from young Mr. Gibson. In his first full season at the AAA level, he has stubbled to a 3-8 record with a robust 4.81 ERA. These are not exactly the standout numbers the Twins were looking for when Gibson was invited to big league camp for this year's Spring Training.

The team in Rochester has struggled throughout the season for numerous reasons. Because of injuries, the Twins have been forced to rely on Rochester for multiple players. This means that the line-up behind Gibson on any given day might not be the best defensive and offensive unit that could be combined at Rochester. This could be one reason for some of his struggles this season but there are other signs of his struggles.

Just looking at the last eight games for Gibson can give a fan a good idea of some of the struggles that have plagued him in recent weeks. In those eight starts, he has pitched over five and a third innings in only one of the starts. He has given up five home runs after only giving up six home runs in the entire first half of the year. The amount of walks that Gibson is allowing has also increased including five walks in his last start.

There is something missing from Gibson at this point in the season. There could be some issues with arm fatigue and the organization has been cautiously watching him in recent weeks. The team gave him extra time off before and after the All-Star break to give his arm a rest. Last season, he had 152.0 IP and this season he has managed 95.1 IP, the most for anyone on the Red Wings.

The team's concern over Gibson could hold back the high ranking prospect from making his major league debut in 2011. The Twins seem complacent to stand with the starters that have gotten them to this point in the season. Anthony Swarzak has also showed that he can be relied on for a spot start and to eat innings when a starter falters early in a game. There might be no reason to call up Gibson for the 2011 campaign.

I am a big fan of Kyle Gibson and I can not wait to see him in a Twins uniform. At the beginning of the season, it was one of the things that I was most looking forward to in the 2011 year for the Twins. For now, it might be best for Gibson to get himself right by the end of the season. If he can make it hard for the Twins to keep him out of the rotation for next season, that will be a great end to the 2011 season for Gibson.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blyleven enters the Hall with class

On Sunday, Twins fans watched with anticipation to see one of their own be enshrined into the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Bert Blyleven was selected earlier this year to be a member of the Class of 2011 in Cooperstown, NY. During the induction ceremony, he gave fans a great speech that was full of laughs and tears along the way.

In his speech, Blyleven took fans all the way back to his youth with stories of listening to Dodgers games with his father. He wanted nothing more than to throw a baseball with anyone that would catch it from him. It was clear to see that Blyleven's family had a huge impact on him while he was growing up in southern California.

There were somber moments in the speech when Blyleven made sure to mention some of his former teammates that were no longer with us for his induction. Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Bob Feller, and Kirby Puckett all passed on before getting to see Blyleven take his rightful place along side the greats in Cooperstown.

The biggest absence on this day had to be Bert's father, Joe. His father passed away seven years ago after battling Parkinson's disease. Blyleven's love of baseball and his hard work ethic came from his father and it is a disappointment that he could not be there to witness this crowning moment for his son.

There were great stories of his call-up to the big leagues and some problems at the hotel on the first night. He told the story of the first batter he faced with the Twins, Lee Maye, who hit a home run during that at-bat. Blyleven would go on to give up many more beyond that initial home run but at the end of the day he is still a Hall-of-Fame pitcher.

Blyleven is the first Dutchman to be elected to the Hall-of-Fame and the fourth member wearing a Minnesota Twins cap to be enshrined. His love of his homeland and his love of the Minnesota Twins are traits that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

Now he can also carry the title of Hall-of-Famer...


Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame plaque:
"DETERMINED, DURABLE AND FUN-LOVING DUTCHMAN WHO BAFFLED BIG-LEAGUE BATTERS WITH A CRUEL AND KNEE-BUCKLING BREAKING BALL. PITCHED 22 MAJOR LEAGUE SEASONS, RECORDING 287 CAREER WINS, 242 COMPLETE GAMES, 4,970 INNINGS PITCHED, AND AN ASTOUNDING 60 CAREER SHUTOUTS. RECORDED 3,701 STRIKEOUTS, THIRD MOST ALL-TIME WHEN HE RETIRED. FANNED AT LEAST 200 BATTERS EIGHT TIMES. A TWO-TIME WORLD SERIES CHAMPION WITH THE 1979 PIRATES AND 1987 TWINS. POSTED A 5-1 MARK IN EIGHT CAREER POSTSEASON GAMES."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blyleven kicks off busy HOF weekend

This is a weekend that Bert Blyleven has waited for since he retired from Major League Baseball. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend in Cooperstown, New York. This event will wrap-up a busy schedule that has accompanied Blyleven since the Twins retired his number 28 last weekend at Target Field.

Sunday will mark the official induction ceremony for Blyleven in Cooperstown. The Twins have already announced that the start time for the team's game on Sunday will be pushed back two hours so fans can watch Blyleven's induction speech before the game.

The events of this weekend start much earlier than the induction ceremony on Sunday. Many of the members of the Hall of Fame have already arrived in Cooperstown for events that are held through out the week.

Here are some of the events that will include Twins players this weekend:

Friday, July 22: PLAY Ball with Ozzie Smith and special guests Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, and Whitey Herzog: This is an event to raise funds for the Hall of Fame's education and public programs. There is a limit of 40 people for the event and the cost is $600 per person. It sounds as if participants will get close interactions with each of the players that are at the event.

Saturday, July 23: Hall of Fame Spotlight Series: Current Hall of Fame players will discuss a variety of topics in an interactive setting. This all day event (11 a.m.- 3 p.m.)  will feature many former players and coaches including Paul Molitor of the Twins. Some of the topics include talent evaluation and the batter's eye, two topics that Moitor would have great insights on from his career.


Parade of Legends: There are scheduled to be 53 Hall of Famers that return to Cooperstowns for this year's ceremony. Many of these players will take part in the parade through the streets of the city. This could be the first event that will give fans a good chance to see many of the players that have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. 


Sunday, July 24: Induction of the Class of 2011 to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: The inductions of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, and Pat Gillick will begin at 12:30 p.m. Central. The ceremony will be shown on the MLB Network or fans can watch the event on the Hall of Fame's website. There are sure to be some memorable quotes from Mr. Blyleven during his induction speech.

Monday, July 25: Voices of the Game- Inductee Memories: Each of the three newly elected members to the Hall of Fame will share their best memories from the events of the weekend. The perfect way to cap the memorable events of the previous days.

Outfield shuffle set to begin with Kubel's return

Jason Kubel is set to rejoin the Twins on Friday night at Target Field in the middle of an important series with the Detroit Tigers. Kubel has been absent from the Twins since injuring his left foot in a game at Detroit on May 30th. He was the team's best hitter for the first two months of the season and he looked like he could have been on the way to an All-Star appearance.

On his way back from injury, Kubel has been rehabbing with the Rochester Red Wings and the Fort Myers Miracle. Kubel's recovery featured one set back at the beginning of the month and the team was forced to pull back the reigns on his rehab. Some extra rest since that time has helped Kubel to be ready for a return to the Twins.
Stat Summary (w/ Rochester)
G: 5
BA: .333
DBL: 1
HR: 1
OPS: .984

His return to the Twins means there will be some shifting among the players that have been getting consistent playing time in recent games. Kubel will get playing time in the outfield and in the designated hitter role. Resulting in the Twins will have four outfielders for three spots (Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Ben Revere, and Kubel). This mean Ron Gardenhire will have an overflowing outfield of players that deserve playing time.

The Twins are lucky enough to have players in this group that can play multiple positions. Cuddyer will likely get some time at 1B with Justin Morneau still out of the line-up. Kubel and Jim Thome can spend time at DH and Gardenhire has emphasized that Thome needs days off to stay healthy. The line-up cards that are handed in before each game will depend on the pitcher on the mound and the track record of the players for the Twins.

Another kink in the outfield shuffle is the looming return of Denard Span in the next week and a half. He has also been down in Rochester rehabbing with Kubel. The return of Span will mean the Twins have even more of a logjam in the outfield. With this many quality players to fit into a line-up on a given day, Gardenhire is in a better position than the AAA line-ups he was creating in the first half of the year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Giants have expressed interest in Cuddyer

Andrew Baggarly, a beat writer for the San Francisco Giants, is reporting that the Giants have inquired about a trade involving Michael Cuddyer. This is an interesting note since earlier in the week the Twins announced that Cuddyer would not be traded and that the team was interested in resigning him in the offseason.

It sounds as if the Giants are interested in Cuddyer for his right-handed bat and his ability to play second base. In his 1,092 games played at the big league level, Cuddyer has only played 75 as a second baseman. The Giants would most likely only be looking to rent Cuddyer for the last few months of the season since his contract expires at the end of the year. There is a good chance that Cuddyer would be a viable option at second base for that short amount of time.

Since the Twins have made it known that they have no plans to trade Cuddyer, any team interested in their All-Star is going to have to make an offer that "wows" the organization. The steep asking price for Cuddyer could go down as the trade deadline approaches. By that point, the Twins should be close to having Denard Spand and Jason Kubel back in the line-up. With Ben Revere and Delmon Young also in the mix, one of these outfielders could be on their way out of the Twins Cities in the next ten days.

An interesting situation to imagine is one where the Twins trade Cuddyer before the deadline and then resign him after he becomes a free agent in the offseason. The Twins might have to suffer through the short-term without Cuddyer but the players the team acquires could help the organization in the long-term.

It is hard to imagine a situation where Cuddyer would not be part of the Twins line-up down the stretch. He has been in the middle of so many of the team's successes in recent memory. His leadership skills have been well documented after his recent selection to the All-Star Game. Those leadership skills could be the biggest thing the Twins struggle to replace if Cuddyer is dealt in the next week and a half.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Twins close to signing first round pick Levi Michael

The Twins are close to finalizing a deal with first round pick Levi Michael out of the University of North Carolina. The multi-tool infielder was picked by the Twins with the 30th pick in the first round of last month's draft. His college team made a run to the College World Series so this prevented the Twins from being able to negotiate with him.

Michael has already visited the Twin Cities to take a physical for the team. This visit took place at the end of last week and it is one of the main signals that a deal is close to being finalized.

Only seven of the first 33 picks have signed with their respective clubs so far from the 2011 Draft. Both of the picks in front of Michael have signed with their teams and a couple of the picks after him have completed their deals.

28. Braves - Sean Gilmartin - signed for $1.13MM
29. Giants - Joe Panik signed for $1.116MM
30. Twins - Levi Michael
31. Rays - Mikie Mahtook
32. Rays - Jake Hager signed for $963K
33. Rangers - Kevin Matthews signed for $936K

By looking at the chart above, it is easy to tell that Michael will sign for a bonus between $1-$1.1 million. That figure is also close to the signing bonus that is suggested by MLB. 

The Twins also need to work on signing both of their supplemental round picks from this past year's draft. There were 27 players taken in this portion of the draft and almost half of the picks have agreed to terms with their respective clubs. Travis Harrison, the 50th pick, and Hudson Boyd, the 55th pick, should get over $625,000 to sign with the Twins. 

Mauer's bat continues to heat up

The Twins suffered through most of the first half of the season without their $23 million man. The offensive woes of the team were punctuated by the absence of the team's biggest superstar. Joe Mauer has now returned to the middle of the line-up for the Twins and he has provided an offensive spark for a team struggling at the plate.

Since the All-Star break, Mauer has been on a tear for the Twins with four multi-hit games during that stretch. In his 24 AB since the break, Mauer has 12 hits for a .500 BA in seven games played. This has come in one of the most important stretches of games for the Twins in 2011.

The month of July has been a month that has seen Mr. Mauer flourish when the team entered AL Central play. At the beginning of the month, Mauer was sitting at a .241 BA with a .573 OPS. The low point in the month came after a series against the Rays in which Mauer went a combined 0-8. After this series with the Rays, Mauer's BA was .223 and he had a .548 OPS for the 2011 season. Mauer has increased those numbers to a .291 BA and a .700 OPS since the team started playing other AL Central teams.

With Mauer swinging a hot stick, there is more urgency for the batters ahead of Mauer to get on base. Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla can light up the base path if they get on ahead of Mauer. During the Cleveland series, the problem has been that these two players have failed to get on base. Revere and Casilla have combined to get one hit in 25 AB; while during those same games, Mauer has gotten seven hits in 11 AB.

For the Twins offense to be successful, the other players around Mauer are also going to need to find their stroke. The starting pitching of the Twins has kept the team in games but without scoring any runs it is going to be a challenge to win. Mauer is back in top form and the other hitters need to follow suit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Morneau returns to baseball related activities

Even with the sweep by the Indians on Monday in the doubleheader, the Twins received some positive news on the injury front. Justin Morneau was on the field to take grounders, play catch, and run around for the first time since having surgery on the pinch nerve in his neck.

It has been three weeks since Morneau went under the knife and the initial reports had Morneau missing at least six weeks. That means that Morneau would not return to the Twins until mid-August at the earliest. With Morneau returning to baseball activities, he could be ahead of the timetable the team laid out before his surgery.

The next step for Morneau is to start swinging a bat and that could be the hardest part of the rehab process. There is a lot more twisting of your body and neck during a swing than during other baseball related activities. Once Morneau reaches this part of his rehab, the Twins will have a better idea of when he will be able to return to the playing field.

The plethora of injuries that Morneau has suffered since 2009 are hard to ignore. He missed time in 2009 due to back surgery, a concussion cost him most of 2010, and neck surgery ate up part of this season. All together, he has only played in 271 of the last 486 games for the Twins.

It is hard to imagine Morneau being able to return to his MVP form of 2006 and the first half of 2010. Morneau is a competitor and he will work his tail off to get back to that form at some point in his career. Fans are left to wonder if he will regain that form while he is still wearing a Twins uniform.

Heat allows for different views of Target Field

The weather was scorching in the Twin Cities on Monday with the heat index reaching well over 100 degrees. This was not the best weather for playing a double header at Target Field but the Twins and Indians still accommodated the fans that were braving the elements.

Sitting in the sun became unbearable for many fans throughout the ballpark during the first game of the doubleheader. Fans would leave their seats in search of liquids and air conditioned areas to cool off from the heat of the high noon sun. This mass exodus of fans from their sun scorched seats gave me the opportunity to view a baseball game at Target Field from a wide range of angles.

Here is a breakdown of the sections I sat in and some of my thoughts on the views around Target Field.

First view: Section 119 on the 3B side
I sat high in this section to stay out of the sun but I still wanted a good view of home plate. I watched the first couple innings from this position and it offered some good shots of the downtown skyline. It was great to be able to see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. The Twins were not firing at all cylinders at the plate so I decided another view was in order to get the bats moving.

Second view: Section 130 next to the RF foul pole
The metal bleacher seats in this section were very warm from being in the sun. This meant that there were plenty of open seats to find a view I liked down the foul line in right field. The front row was wide open and I slid in next to the foul pole. This seat offered some good shots of the outfield but the area in front of the scoreboard in right field was hard to see. This angle allowed me a great shot of Joe Mauer making a stab to his left at first base. There were hornets swarming around the foul pole so it was time to migrate to another location.

Third view: Section 334 in the furthest seat from home plate
During the memorial service for Harmon Killebrew, Jim Thome was seated in the furthest seat away from home plate at Target Field. This spot is the only place in the ballpark that a ball can reach the distance of Killebrew's 500 foot shot at Metropolitan Stadium. This was quite a high perch over Target Field and it offered a great shot of the downtown skyline. Needless to say, it was very hard to see the action from this spot in the stands. The best play I witness from this spot was Valencia reaching into the stands and catching the ball in the middle of the fans. The elevation from these seats made it tough to handle and it was time to move once again.

Fourth view: Section 128 next to the LF foul pole
I had sat next to the RF foul pole so it was only fitting that I explore the view from the the opposite foul pole. This foul pole seemed a little more squished with the stone wall being directly to my right. I preferred the openness around the RF pole over the feel around the LF pole. From this spot, the third baseman would sometimes get in the way my view of home plate. The heat of the day started to catch up with me and this spot seemed to be much hotter than the others I had been in during the day.

Fifth view: Section 109 on the 1B side
My final view of the day allowed me to witness two home runs being hit in the last inning of play. Matt Capps was not well received when he entered the game and the boo birds came out in full force when he  allowed a home run to the first batter he faced. Fans started to make their way to the exits after Capps allowed the home run and this allowed me to get even closer to the action. Even without the full view of the downtown skyline, I enjoyed my seats on this side of the field. It also helped that Cuddyer ended the shutout with me sitting in this section.

Overall, it was a hot and muggy day in downtown Minneapolis but the views of Target Field were fun to take in. Exploring the different seating levels and views of the game was an experience that I will not soon forget.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wimmers moving in the right direction

The Twins selected Alex Wimmers with their first round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. The organization had dreams that the college pitcher would follow the same path as Kyle Gibson, their first round pick from the previous year. The first full professional season for Wimmers has not lived up to the path that Gibson lay ahead of him. 

In his first outing of the season with the Fort Myers Miracle, Wimmers did not manage to record an out and he walked in three runs. Overall he faced six batters, walked them all, and was charged with four earned runs. He threw 28 pitches and only four of them were strikes. There was obviously something lacking from this young pitcher in his first start of the year.

Since that horrendous outing, the Twins have pulled back the reigns with Wimmers and have gone back to basics with their valuable pitcher. The organization brought Wimmers back to extended spring training to work on his mechanical issues. For the last three months, Wimmers has been working on his physical and mental flaws in order to get back on the playing field.

In the last week, there have been some major milestones in the return of Wimmers to professional baseball. His return to the mound came for the GCL Twins where he was asked to pitch one inning out of the bullpen. In that one inning of work, Wimmers walked one batter and struck out one batter. During this first step back, Wimmers did not allow a run for the Twins.

Following this inning of work, the Twins promoted Wimmers back to the team he struggled with earlier this year in Fort Myers. He returned to the mound for the Miracle yesterday by pitching a scoreless inning. In the inning, he walked one batter and allowed zero hits. This was another step in the right direction for Wimmers.

The Twins will continue to keep a good eye on Wimmers after his severe control problems at the beginning of this season. During his college career, there were no signs of control issues with Wimmers as he was a highly touted prospect. The organization hopes Wimmers can continue to work through his problems and become a highly touted prospect once again.

Diamond will debut in doubleheader

During the offseason, the Twins organization saw something in Scott Diamond and they felt it was worth selecting him during the Rule 5 Draft. Diamond, a 24-year old left-handed pitcher, came to the Twins from the Braves organization. He moved his way through the minors and spent part of last season and all of this season at the AAA level.

Monday night will mark Diamond's major league debut and the start will come in a very import spot for the Twins. The Twins can ill afford to lose ground to the clubs ahead of them in the standings and Diamond will be trying to prevent that from happening on Monday.

The Twins thought very highly of Diamond when he joined the organization this offseason. He provided the Twins with a left-handed starting pitcher that was ready to produce at the AAA level. Diamond has shared plenty of ups and downs for the Twins during the 2011 campaign. 
Stats Summary
W-L: 4-8
ERA: 4.70
IP: 92.0
H: 107
BB: 30
K: 68
BA: .291

The month of May was a time to forget for Mr. Diamond. In the six starts during that month, Diamond had and ERA of 7.18 and was charged with the loss in four games. Opponents also hit a blistering .358 off of Diamond in the month of May.

July has been a little more forgiving to Diamond. He has made two starts in the month of July and he has allowed a combined four runs in those two starts. The first outing he pitched eight innings while giving up one run. The second outing he pitched seven innings and gave up three runs. 

The Twins are hoping that Diamond can continue his recent turnaround when he makes his debut at Target Field on Monday night. Anytime a team has a chance to pick up two games in one day on a first place team, it can be a huge lift to the season or a deflating moment.

Diamond will look to provide that huge lift in his MLB debut.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Twins announce Cuddyer won't be dealt

The end of the July signals a hectic time in the baseball season. Teams are fighting for their playoff lives and to make the final push for the playoffs, teams need to make the right moves at the trade deadline.

The Twins find themselves five games out of first place in the Central with one of the teams tied for first coming to Target Field for a four game series. This series with Cleveland could go a long way in deciding the Twins fate at the trade deadline. Will the team be buyers or sellers?

Over the weekend the team announced that one of the players that is not available in a trade is their All-Star representative Michael Cuddyer. Even if the team falls out of contention in the coming days, they plan to keep Cuddyer around for the rest of the season. It also seems the organization will be attempting to resign Cuddyer during the offseason.

The Twins are still a fourth place team with outfielders to spare at the current moment. It is hard to imagine if the right offer came along that the team would not jump at the opportunity to help bolster the team for the future. Cuddyer could be a valuable trade piece that would take $5 million off the payroll for the rest of the season.

Even with that being said, Cuddyer has been the best hitter on the Twins team for the duration of the season. Cuddyer leads the team in most offensive categories and he has provided a variety of clutch hits that have lead the Twins to wins. He is also a leader in the clubhouse and that is a quality that might be hard for the team to replace in a playoff push.

During the last month, Cuddyer has said he would waive his no-trade clause if the team was in position to trade him. It seems as if the team will have to get a deal that knocks their socks off in order to pull the trigger on a Cuddyer trade. Clubs looking for an outfield bat by July 31st are going to have to look in another direction or at the other players on the Twins roster.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pitchforks and torches out for Capps

Many writers have spoke of the importance of the stretch of games that the Twins find themselves in after the All-Star break. Down the stretch of the 2011 season, the Twins will need to play near perfect baseball to find themselves in contention. The Twins won the first game of their series against the Royals and the team was in position to win the second game on Friday night.

Matt Capps looked to support the tremendous starting effort of Nick Blackburn by closing out a 1-0 win at Target Field. Capps ran into trouble right out of the bullpen. He walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches and all of those pitches were fastballs that missed the zone. Capps would coax two outs from the Royals before giving up a 2-run shot to Eric Hosmer, the Royals star rookie.

The Twins have turned to Capps for 22 save opportunities and out of those chances he has converted 15 saves. His strikeouts per nine innings have dropped significantly this season from 6.7 per nine innings pitched to 4.8 per nine innings pitched. Opponents batting average and his WHIP are right around his career marks during this season. He has already given up more HR this season than in all of last season in less than half of the appearances.

After the game, Ron Gardenhire was forced to stick up for his closer after another tough loss. Capps did not come through for the team but Gardenhire made sure to let reporters know that the team did not come through in various offensive opportunities.
"We scored one run tonight, all right? We had plenty of chances to score more. Everything gets thrown on the closer-- sure he gave it up in the end, but a lot of people misfired too. The young man's a very good pitcher and our closer."
The Twins cannot afford to give up games in the late innings if the team wants to stay in contention for the playoffs. Both Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins are waiting in the wings to provide a late inning spark for the Twins. Gardenhire could be forced to make a mid-season closer change for the second season in a row.

Twins fans have their pitchforks and torches ready to hunt down Capps with every hit, walk, and blown save that he is compiling. But for the Twins to be successful, Capps will need to play an important role in the bullpen.

With every appearance, it looks as if that role could be a set-up spot for another closer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leach becomes a forgotten man from '91 team

Twenty years ago the Twins went on a magical run to win their second World Series title in five seasons. There were 35 players that played for the Twins that season. There are everyday players, part time players, and various other players that fit into the puzzle during the campaign.

Since it is the 20th anniversary of the 1991 World Series, the Twins will be offering a variety of commemorative activities. During a weekend series on August 5-7, there will be an on-field ceremony and a unique bobblehead doll giveaway that features the infamous play between Kent Hrbek and Ron Gant.

The Twins will also be raising money for the Twins Community Fund by selling a set of bobblehead dolls that includes every player for the World Series team and the Twins manager, Tom Kelly . The problem is the list of players that was sent to the factory did not include every player that played in the World Series for the Twins. One man got lost in the shuffle...

Terry Leach was a middle reliever for the Twins in that season and he played an important role on the way to the AL West title. Out of all of the relief pitchers, he made the third most appearances and he managed a 3.61 ERA. He was the elder statesman in the bullpen as he was four years older than the next oldest reliever.

Leached pitched in two games during the 1991 World Series. Both of these games were loses for the Twins but Leach still made contributions to a World Champion team.

World Series Game 3
Leach was asked to enter the fifth inning of Game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta during a very sticky situation. David West had entered the game and given up back to back walks. This pushed Atlanta's lead to 4-1 and it meant Leach was forced to try and get the last out with the bases loaded. Leach struck out Lemke to end the inning and keep the game close for the Twins.

World Series Game 5
The next game that Leach pitched in was Game 5 and the Twins were already down four to nothing. Back to back singles to start the inning lead to Leach giving up one run in the inning.  The Braves could have scored more in the inning because they had a runner on second with only one down. Leach would coax two popflies to end the inning. The Twins would cut the lead to two in the top of the sixth so Tom Kelly let Leach go back out for the bottom of the inning. Leach had a quick inning and the Braves went down 1-2-3 to end the sixth.

The Twins have done their best to rectify the bobblehead situation by saying that Leach will be added to the set. Initial reports say that the list of players that was sent to the factory was only the players that competed in the 1991 ALCS vs. Toronto. Initially Leach was offended that he had been left off the list but now it seems as if the waters have been calmed. Leach will be added to the bobblehead set and he will be honored on the field with the rest of the members of the '91 team.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blackburn looks to improve upon recent struggles

On Friday night, the Twins will look to keep their recent hot streak going in the friendly confines of Target Field. The man toeing the rubber for the Twins will be Nick Blackburn and he is looking to overcome some recent struggles on the mound.

In Blackburn's last three starts before the All-Star break, he was never able to pitch longer than five innings. Blackburn was only able to average a little over four inning pitched in those outings. During this rough streak, Blackburn managed an ERA of 12.15 and opponents had a .433 BA with him on the mound.

The problem for the Twins is that Blackburn is a sinkerball pitcher who relies on ground balls to get batters out but those ground balls have disappeared. The three starts before the All-Star break saw Blackburn giving up a home run in each outing. In these starts, he also saw his ground ball percentage decrease in comparison to other parts of the first half of the season. This means he is leaving the ball up in the zone and that is not what the Twins want from a sinkerball pitcher.

The season has been a roller coaster ride for Blackburn as a starting pitcher. He struggled through the first month of the season by losing four of his first five starts. The next month and a half were strong for Blackburn because he had a streak of five straight decisions without a loss. His ERA on the season dropped all the way to 3.15 and he looked like he could be part of the Twins turnaround.

Hopefully the All-Star break provided Blackburn with some time-off for him to refocus and to improve upon his recent struggles. The team needs consistency out of Blackburn and for him to stay off the roller coaster ride he was on in the first half.

Twins players to watch in the second half

Tonight the Twins will start a stretch of games that could very well be the deciding factor in their chase for a third straight Central Division title. The Twins will start a tumultuous stretch of twelve games in eleven days in front of their hometown crowd at Target Field.

There have been many players that have spurred the recent run that the Twins have been on as they climbed out of the cellar. For their run to continue, there are going to need to be a variety of players to step up their game for the stretch run. Now is the time to separate the men from the boys as the teams race for supremacy in the Central.

Here are three players to watch in the second half for the Twins. There is one starting pitcher, one position player, and one relief pitcher that could have a large role in the success of the Twins in the second half.

Francisco Liriano
The early months of the season were rough on Liriano and the Minnesota Twins team. He struggled out of the gate by losing four of his first five starts with a 9.13 ERA. Since his no-hit game at the beginning of May, there have been signs of Liriano improving. In that stretch of time, he has six starts that he went at least six innings and allowed three earned runs or less.

Just a season ago the Twins relied on big wins from Liriano to power them to the postseason. Following the All-Star break last season, Liriano did not lose a game until September 19th. A remarkable stretch that saw him win eight straight games in which he was given a decision. In the eleven starts he made in that stretch, the Twins only lost one of the games he started. The Twins need another fantastic stretch run like that from Liriano.

Joe Mauer
In Spring Training 2010, the Twins made Mr. Joseph Patrick Mauer a very wealthy man by giving him a mega contract to be the face of the franchise. This is his first season under that mega contract and he has struggled through injuries during the first half of the year. The beginning of the year was full of ground balls and weak swings as Mauer tried to play through his issues. 

Now there have been 22 games that Mauer has played in since he returned from injury and it looks as if his swing is finally starting to make a return. Looking at the last ten games, Mauer has an average of .306 with a .724 OPS. This is a far cry from the .235 BA and .554 OPS he averaged before heading to the DL. With Justin Morneau out of the line-up for the third straight year, the Twins will turn to their hometown star to power them offensively. Look for Mauer to show fans that he deserves all of the money he is making. 

Joe Nathan
The Twins did the right thing coming out of Spring Training by giving Nathan the opportunity to be the closer for the team. He deserved the chance to show the team if he could still handle the role and the job was his to lose. The beginning of the year was rough for Nathan as he adjusted to life without the dominating fastball he had possessed before Tommy John surgery. His ERA climbed as high as 11.37 and he eventually need to spend some time on the DL.

Nathan returned at the end of June and has looked increasingly better in his appearances. He has been used as the set-up man for Matt Capps (and/or Glen Perkins) and he has recorded five holds while only allowing one earned run since he returned. His location has been better and the movement on his pitches has been much improved. The Twins will need reliable options to get some tough outs in the late innings of games. As Nathan's confidence and pitching continue to improve, he will have an increasingly more important role in the second half.