2016 Minnesota Twins Season Preview – Going Deep

TwinsTakes.com 2016 Minnesota Twins Season Preview

Will the Minnesota Twins contend in 2016?

For the 2016 Minnesota Twins, that’s the big question. Will they contend in 2016? After winning 83 games in 2015 and surprising pretty much everyone, except maybe themselves, by being in the hunt for the playoffs until the final series of the season, can the Minnesota Twins build off of that and make it to the postseason dance in 2016? We do know they enjoy dancing!

The Twins competed in 2015. First year Manager Paul Molitor was a big part of that. He got his players to believe they could compete with and beat any team in the league. They appeared to have that never say die attitude in every game and kept playing hard no matter what. That compete level might be the biggest thing for any team or player. When the Twins were losing 90+ games a season not so long ago, they didn’t look like a team that believed they could win. Once they got down a few runs, their heads would lower and the confidence to come back was not there.

Mike Zimmer, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, has talked about every team going through 4 Stages of Success or 4 “learns”, Learning How to Compete, How to Win, How to Handle Winning and How to be a Champion. At the time, early November of 2015, Coach Zimmer said the Vikings were between stages 2 & 3, learning how to win and how to handle winning. He also said his team wasn’t “tight or a nervous kind of team. They’re confident but focused on the job.” The Twins might be in exactly the same position as the Vikings were about 5 months ago and we saw how that turned out, a division championship and pushing the reigning champs to the edge of defeat. This Twins team doesn’t just want to win, they expect to win.

Going Deep*

The biggest reason this team is ready to contend is they have more and better depth in all areas. Some of that depth might be younger players who are still learning the game at this level but they are ready. They have nothing to prove in the minors anymore. When injuries hit like they always do, that depth will come in handy. They still have plenty of prospects too. Some good players were sent down to the minors. The AAA Rochester Red Wings could have a very good season in the young Twins prospects keep developing like they have up to this point.
*Going Deep has multiple meanings. Of course there’s Going Deep as in hitting the ball out of the park. There’s Going Deep as in the Twins having more depth this season than they’ve had in a long time. Then there’s Going Deep as in Deep as getting down and dirty on how this Twins team will do in 2016!

Better Starting Rotation

We’ll get a full season of Ervin Santana, a rebound year from a lighter Phil Hughes, another year of Kyle Gibson improving, a full year of Tommy Milone and maybe a year of Ricky Nolasco actually earning his money. That means the Twins had to send Tyler Duffey, who was probably the Twins best pitcher down the stretch last season, to AAA. They still have Jose Berrios waiting in the wings and he is very close to being ready if or when the rotation falters or injuries hit.

The Bullpen Will be Better

I said will, not is! It might not happen immediately. They are better than what the Twins had at the beginning of last season and they can be good. That bullpen last season overachieved in a lot of ways, especially early in the season. You still can’t believe how good Blaine Boyer was pitching. Aaron Thompson was pitching great too. The bullpen was a reason for a lot of losses last season. Those losses loom large knowing the Twins missed the playoffs by 3 games.

The Twins will start 2016 with Glen Perkins as the closer once again but they now have Kevin Jepson as a setup man along with a healthy Casey Fien and Trevor May as options from the right side. Ryan Pressly is also healthy again and an out of options Michael Tonkin is in a long relief role motivated to stay on the club. From the left side there’s Fernando Abad, who had a great 2014 then struggled in 2015. Can he get back to how he pitched in 2014? Or was that an outlier season? Is he a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy)? A 7th inning guy? Is he better than Brian Duensing as a lefty out of the pen? If he can get back to something resembling what he did in 2014, the Twins got themselves a nice lefty option in their bullpen.

That bullpen could get better as the season goes on as well. There’s some heat down on the farm very close to being ready. Those flamethrowers are the reason the Twins didn’t sign a free agent reliever to a long term deal. The amount of money those relievers were getting was a little bit crazy. You can probably thank the Kansas City Royals for that. KC’s bullpen has changed how teams view relievers. The Royals didn’t have great starting pitching but if those guys could get them through 6 innings, they would almost always close the door, saving the game or giving the Royals bats a chance to come back.

The Infield is Set

For the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Twins infield is set with four players that should be the starters for the whole season. There wasn’t any battles for 1st, 2nd, 3rd or SS in Spring Training. We can only hope that 1B Joe Mauer, 2B Brian Dozier, 3B Trevor Plouffe and SS Eduardo Escobar will be able to stay healthy all season long.

Joe Mauer is looking, with sunglasses on, for a rebound from his worst season in 2015 when he had career lows in batting average (.265), on-base % (.338) & OPS (on-base plus slugging %) (.718). He did play in a career high 158 games though. He’s still working his way back from his concussions that forced a move to first base. Did playing more and lingering concussion symptoms play a role in having a bad season? That’s incredibly hard to answer as concussions affect everyone differently depending on the severity of the concussion and how many they’ve had previously.

Brian Dozier is developing into a leader and could improve on his outstanding 2015 season. Could he top 30 HRs? We know he’s going to score runs as he is the most valuable baserunner in the American League. He plays gold glove caliber defense and he’ll keep dancing after Twins wins! Dancing! Dancing! DANCING!

Eduardo Escobar, after taking over the shortstop position the last two seasons, is finally getting the chance to be the starting shortstop for the Minnesota Twins right from the start of the season. He’s been a doubles machine and has shown unexpected power while playing above average defense. Can he do it for a full season now?

Trevor Plouffe will be the same solid 3rd baseman he’s made himself into through plain hard work. You’ll get some power and some clutch hits out of his bat as he will be in the cleanup spot most of the time. Will he have to deal with trade talk during the season? Paul Molitor & Terry Ryan believe Trevor is an important piece to this Twins teams. The obvious question is if there will ever be some Sano at 3rd base? It will depend on how Miguel does in right field.

Outfield of Dreams?

The Twins will start the 2016 season with an outfield of young prospects that could make for the most exciting outfield in the league. Eddie Rosario will be in left, Byron Buxton in center and Miguel Sano will take over right field. That young outfield should definitely bring some excitement at the plate, especially if Byron Buxton starts to show signs of how he’s performed offensively in the minors.

It didn’t take long for the league to see how legit the bat of Miguel Sano was as he pummeled pitches again and again to the tune of a .530 slugging percentage that included 18 HRs, 17 doubles and 1 triple! He hit .269 for average, .385 OBP and a .916 OPS in just 78 games or roughly half a season. He did have 119 strikeouts in those 78 games but he also had 53 walks. Will he be better in a full season? Will the switch to the outfield affect his at-bats? Will he be able to stay healthy playing the outfield?

Eddie Rosario lead the league in triples with 15 last season and was tied for 2nd in the league with 16 outfield assists. A low OBP and a high number of strikeouts is worrisome but Ed can flat out hit. This young outfield could make or break the Twins season.

Catching Up

In November, the Twins traded former 1st round pick Aaron Hicks to the New York Yankees for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. They needed an upgrade at the catching position as Kurt Suzuki struggled in his 2nd year with the Twins and the backups were…well…backup catchers, meaning they provided very little offense and decent defense. The Twins got a catcher for the future in the 24-year-old Murphy, an everyday catcher according to the Yankees GM. Their bullpen coach, Gary Tuck said this about him:

“He’s different, he’s special. He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever had—and that’s 40 years of some of the greatest catchers who have ever been behind the plate,” said bullpen coach Gary Tuck, an ex-big league catcher and longtime catching instructor, to Dan Barbarisi back in May. “A championship player. And I don’t say that about many people. He’s right there—Joe Girardi, Jason Varitek, John Ryan Murphy. A championship player.”

That’s pretty good, huh?

Going Deep in Korean

The Twins went out and got Korean slugger Byung Ho Park as a right-handed bat with some power. He looked good in Spring Training adapting to a new country and a new league but, of course, it’s always difficult judging what a player does in Spring Training.

Byung Ho Park is a big reason why the Twins had to move Miguel Sano to the outfield but he could also be a big reason why the Twins can give Joe Mauer a break from playing in the field more often to see if that helps him come back from a career worst season.

Closing

The bottom line is it always comes down to pitching and the Twins have had trouble with pitching for a long time! If the rotation struggles early and the bullpen gets overworked, it could mean trouble. The offense looks good but there’s still some young pieces that could struggle in their second season in the Major Leagues.

I believe this team will compete. Brian Dozier will be the team leader on & off the field and they could take another step this season. It will be a fun season and this is just the start of something big for the Minnesota Twins!

THANKS for reading! We’d love to hear your ‘Takes on the 2016 Minnesota Twins so let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page, on Twitter and/or on Google+

After all, it is Our ‘Takes, Your ‘Takes….

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Minnesota Twins Call Up Miguel Sano – Look at the Stats

Miguel Sano's Career Stats from MiLB.com

Miguel Sano’s Career Stats from MiLB.com

The Minnesota Twins have called up their #2 prospect Miguel Sano from their Double-A affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts. Add Miguel to the list of top 10 prospects* already called up this season by the Twins, Eddie Rosario(#8), Jorge Polanco(#4), Alex Meyer(#10) and Byron Buxton(#1.) Although he’s listed as the #2 prospect, he might be the most anticipated prospect to come up for the Twins in a very long time and maybe ever because of what he can do with the bat in his hands.
*Rankings from TwinsDaily.com

Miguel Sano is one of those prospects that changes a franchise, a player a team can build around because he changes the game. The stats will show it a little bit but there’s nothing like actually seeing it happen. Most of us have not had the pleasure of seeing him play other than on the highlight videos. Now we should be able to watch him every day on live television and at Target Field. That should bring even more fans out to see these Twins.

Unfortunately, in order to keep track of your favorite organization’s minor league teams and prospects, you really have to rely mostly on the stats. We do have many options of what we can look at though. You actually can tell a lot from the stats, especially if you dig into the splits and game logs of any player. Just looking at the total stats might not paint the full picture.

This season is a good example of why just looking at the total stats doesn’t tell you the whole picture. Unless you’ve been paying attention to Miguel Sano the whole season, you wouldn’t know how he struggled early and how he’s recovered from those struggles and developed into a better hitter and player. Looking at the monthly splits is a good start but digging into the game logs can provide a better look into his season and see where he may have started getting on a roll.

The Sano Splits*

Spreadsheet with some split stats of Miguel Sano’s AA season in 2015

Miguel Sano’s 2015 AA Season Splits.

Spreadsheet with some split stats of Miguel Sano’s AA season in 2015

After missing the entire 2014 season to repair his right arm with Tommy John surgery, it took Miguel a while to get back in the swing of things (Pardon the pun.) He hit .159/.303/.381 (AVG/OBP/SLG)* in April going 10-for-63 with 2 doubles, 4 home runs, 9 RBIs with 12 walks and 22 strikeouts in 18 games. He had more than one hit in only one of those games. A year off is sure to mess with your swing, your timing, your eye at the plate and just about anything to do with playing the game.
*Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage also known as a player’s triple slash.

And then the calendar turned. Miguel was 3-for-17 in the first 5 games of May with one double and one home run but “on the 7th day…”, Miguel Sano went 3-for-5 for his 1st multi-hit game in 15 games and only 2nd of the season. All three hits were singles but 2 games later he would go 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and a walk. Next game, 2 hits, a double and 4 RBIs. That turned into an 11-game stretch where he hit .385/.458/.718. He was 15-for-39 with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs with 7 walks & 8 strikeouts. He would go 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts in the next two games but that didn’t stop him from Sano-ing the ball.

From May 7th until June 29th, Miguel Sano slashed .329/.413/.621 going 53-for-161 with 15 doubles, 1 triple, 10 HRs and 36 RBIs scoring 41 runs while drawing 23 walks and striking out 40 times. That raised his season triple slash from .163/.299/.388 to .274/.374/.544. That’s a good run, huh?

On June 10th, Jorge Polanco was called up for one game with the Twins and on June 14th, Byron Buxton was called up. It’s safe to say Miguel Sano seeing his teammates called up before him might have served as some motivation to turn it up even more. In 16 games from June 10th to June 29th he went 21-for-61 with 8 doubles, 5 HRs and 13 RBIs with 10 walks and 16 strikeouts. He also scored 17 runs. That’s an average of .344, an on-base percentage of .438 and a slugging percentage of .721. Not hard to figure out why the Twins promoted him, right?

*Doing the splits in the snow is very dangerous! It’s slippery and IT’S THE SPLITS! Why would you even want to do that? Don’t try it at home or anywhere really! I don’t even like thinking about it!

Are there any reasons for concern with Miguel Sano, things that could cause him to struggle in the Majors? There’s always something, right? The high number of strikeouts is an easy target to zero in on and, of course, you can’t talk about strikeouts without bringing up walks. He has improved in both areas so far this season, increasing his walk percentage and lowering his strikeout percentage.

How ‘bout the glove? He’s had a lot of errors while playing at 3rd base in the minors, 15 in 2015 while playing 3rd base for 63 games in Chattanooga. This may be why the Twins are bringing him up to replace Kennys Vargas as the Designated Hitter. That way he can concentrate on his at-bats and not have to worry about his defense. I’m sure he’ll get some chances at the hot corner though. He’s a 3rd baseman, not a DH. Trevor Plouffe had to work on his defense for a few years to become the solid 3rd baseman he is now.

Thanks for reading our ‘Takes on the Twins! We’d love to hear your ‘Takes on Miguel Sano’s call-up so let us know in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ after all, it is…

Our ‘Takes, Your ‘Takes, TwinsTakes.com

 

P.S. Do yourself a favor and watch Pelotero, the documentary about what Dominican baseball players go through to become ballplayers. It follows the signing of Miguel Sano and what he went through to achieve his Big-League dream. It’s very good and it’s on Netflix.

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Weekly TwinsTakes – June 29th, 2015 – How do you spell relief?

Minnesota Twins bullpen struggles in June

American League Relief Pitching stats in June 2015 from FanGraphs.com

The Minnesota Twins had one of the greatest months in franchise history in May, going 20-7 and putting themselves in the conversation for the American League Central Division. Unfortunately, they’ve gone 10-16 since then with only a couple games left in June and now see themselves 5.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals in the division and 1 game back of an American League Wild Card spot.

The bats have quieted down in June and the bullpen has come back down to earth. A big reason for the 20-win month of May was that everything seemed to be clicking. Starting pitching was very good (3.66 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), the offense was scoring 5.15 runs per game and the relievers were finding ways to get guys out and get the game to closer Glen Perkins.

In June, the starting pitching has actually been better (3.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) but the offense has only scored 3.38 runs per game and the bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball, 13th in the AL & 27th overall. In May, the bullpen was 8th in the AL & 14th overall.

The primary relievers other than Glen Perkins have been Blaine Boyer, Aaron Thompson, Ryan Pressly & Casey Fien when it comes to close games. You can put Brian Duensing in there too but he’s primarily a lefty one-out guy (a LOOGY.)

Looking at those names doesn’t bring a lot of confidence in getting the job done for a lot of reasons. The main reason is most of them are not power pitchers with the ability to strikeout hitters when they need to. Ryan Pressly and Casey Fien have that ability but Pressly is still developing at the major league level and Fien has been dealing with injuries most of the season.

Aaron Thompson started out great and that curveball was helping him get guys out but it hasn’t been as sharp lately and the hitters have adjusted to his stuff and he’s now getting hit hard, really hard. Blaine Boyer started out terrible and was everyone’s pick to be sent down, released or just shown the door one way or another. Everyone wondered how he was still on the roster but then Boyer the Destroyer showed up and he was lights out in May as the setup man in the 8th inning. Now, he’s getting hit around a little bit again and fans are starting to wonder why the Twins haven’t done anything about it.

To me, baseball is not really a game where making quick judgements of players works. You set your lineup, pitching rotation and bullpen and see how it goes for awhile and tweak it as you need to. The bullpen and relievers are probably the hardest to figure out because they could have one bad outing and you don’t know how that will affect them the next time they pitch.

Relievers aren’t guaranteed to pitch the next day or even the day after that. They don’t know the next time they’ll get on the mound. A hitter will get in the next game or have another at-bat coming within a few innings. A starting pitcher knows he’s pitching every fifth day so they can prepare for it. How does that change how a relief pitcher pitches when he gets in a game?

Nobody could’ve guessed that Blaine Boyer would turn into the Destroyer the way he began the season. You have to give a player some time to play through their struggles and figure things out. We don’t know if there was something wrong with him injury wise or if he was just struggling with command because he’s changing the grip on a pitch or still working on that pitch.

Can the Twins do anything to change their bullpen situation?

They can look in the minors for some relief (pardon the pun) but there’s really not much in AAA Rochester to help them out. The only option I see is A.J. Achter, who is currently the closer for the Red Wings. In 34.2 innings in AAA this season, A.J. is 3-2 with 12 saves and he’s allowed only 14 hits and 9 runs (5 HRs) with 7 walks and 34 strikeouts. He was up with the Twins at the end of last season as a September call-up. He pitched in only 7 games but got his first major league win in the last game he pitched on September 26th. His fastball only touches 90 but he also has a cutter, a slider and a changeup.

There’s the option of trying to pick up a reliever via trade. The starting rotation will start to get crowded pretty quickly with Ervin Santana coming back shortly so what better time to get something from Mike Pelfrey’s great season or Tommy Milone pitching well lately. They could always trade some prospects for something too.

There’s also the option of moving one of the starters into the bullpen but that doesn’t usually help the late innings of a game. Starters going to the bullpen usually end up being long relievers so that won’t help.

It may be just a wait and see approach for the time being. We’ll find out.

That’s my TwinsTake! What’s your TwinsTake? Let us know what you think in the comments, on Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+.

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Some TwinsTakes on Twins vs White Sox – May 22nd, 2015

Twins vs White Sox - May 22nd, 2015

Minnsota Twins lose 3-2 in Chicago. White Sox come back after early 2-run deficit.

Is Joe Mauer back?
Joe worked an at-bat to a full count and drove a pitch to left center field for a double. Some would call that a “Patented Joe Mauer Double!” That was another hit with Runners In Scoring Position (RISP) that scored Hunter from 1st base in the first inning. Mauer then steals 3rd base because Jeff Samardzija never looked at him before throwing the pitch. That’s just good awareness from a baserunner and I’m sure is something Molitor has pointed out to his players. It shows the Twins are ever aware of areas they can take advantage of offensively.
Joe ended up striking out his next 2 at-bats and swinging at the 1st pitch in the 9th against closer David Robertson to ground out to 1st base. Swinging at the first pitch is very rare for Joe. 10 times out of 170 plate appearances this season according to baseball-reference. I doubt that includes first pitches he swung at and missed.
So “back” is probably not a good word to describe Joe Mauer yet? That, of course, could depend on what you think is “back” to. I think of “back” as getting back to the hitter we’ve all seen Mauer be. Is that still possible?
Defense Changes Games
In the first inning, Adam Eaton doesn’t get a good read of a ball hit by Torii Hunter and it ends up falling for a hit. The next Twins batter, Mauer, hits a double to the gap that scores Hunter. Then Mauer, at 2nd base, takes advantage of the pitcher by stealing 3rd base. The next batter, Plouffe, hit a sac fly to right center that brings Mauer in from 3rd base. The next batter flew out to right field to end the inning. Two runs score because of two bad defensive plays.
On the other hand, the Twins or, at least, one Twin, stopped 2 runs from scoring with one defensive play. Aaron Hicks’ spectacular diving catch stops at least one run from scoring and probably two if that ball gets past Hicks.
Aaron Hicks with the glove

Aaron Hicks makes one of the greatest catches you will ever see!

In the 4th inning, J.B. Shuck hits a soft dribbler that just goes under Hughes’ glove for a single. If that play is made, the inning is over but it isn’t made and the next batter, Geovany Soto hits a double down the line that ties the game at 2.
Pitching Can Change Games Even More
Jeff Samardzija gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and had to throw 28 pitching in the first inning. After that 1st inning, he went the next 7 innings giving up only 1 hit on 90 pitches striking out 9 and walking 1 batter. David Robertson followed that with a smooth 9th to close out a 3-2 comeback win.
Phil Hughes was taken out after the 7th with 89 pitches because two left-handed hitters were coming up to face him so Paul Molitor brought in Aaron Thompson, lefty vs lefty matchup. Thompson got LaRoche but Gordan Beckham pinch-hit for Conor Gillaspie and he was walked in 4 pitches. He came around to be the winning run. Would you rather Phil Hughes face the left-handed hitters instead of Thompson? I’m not saying it was the wrong move, just asking what you would do. I thought for sure Hughes was coming out for the 8th.
The bullpen couldn’t hold the game and give the Twins offense a chance to win.
Those are my ‘Takes from the game. What do you think? After all, it is….

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TwinsTakes – Balking at controversy? Talk the Balk!

Balk the Balk? Talk the Balk!

Click the pic to see video of the play! Balking the controversy! Talk the Balk!

Stealing Home – can you balk the balk?

Last night during the Minnesota Twins game against the Kansas City Royals, there was a controversial play in the top of the 2nd inning. With the Twins up 3-0, the bases loaded and 2 outs, Kennys Vargas was at the plate, Torii Hunter was on 3rd, Joe Mauer was on 2nd and Brian Dozier was on 1st. The count was 0 and 1 after Vargas fouled off the 1st pitch of the at-bat.

 

As Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie started his wind up for the pitch, Torii broke for home to try to steal a run. Guthrie sped up his delivery, throwing a perfectly placed ball to get Hunter a few feet before he slides into home.

 

Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor came out to get an explanation on the call as you can’t argue or review a balk. The umpires huddled together for a minute or so and explained the call, Hunter was out. End of the top of the 2nd inning.

 

The balk rule seems to always cause controversy and in this case, it involves a few things that are out of the ordinary for a pitcher’s motion to home plate. Guthrie starts his windup and isn’t paying attention to Torii at 3rd base. He’s actually looking down as he starts his windup. As soon as he notices Torii breaking for home, he speeds up his delivery and actually throws the ball before his front foot touches the ground.

 

This, of course, sparks a discussion about the balk rule and how to interpret it. Feel free to go to TwinsDaily.com‘s article “Was this a Balk?” to get in on the conversation. I commented quite a bit for a balk as the “alteration” of Jeremy Guthrie’s delivery is the reason the play was made. So, I’m either interpreting the rule wrong, just plain wrong or they need a better explanation of some of the rule. There’s plenty of players, managers and umpires in baseball that disagree with what a balk is so I’m not discouraged that I have yet to figure it out.

 

What about the actual play?

We can argue until we run out of oxygen about how to interpret the balk rule but we may be missing the bigger picture of the play that was attempted. Torii Hunter, with the bases loaded, 2 outs and powerful Kennys Vargas at the plate, ended the inning by getting caught stealing. That’s pretty much always frowned upon and a bad play. I know I reacted negatively about it think what was he thinking?

 

After the game, Paul Molitor did say he gave a nod to Torii so it wasn’t just Torii trying to steal home by himself. After having some time to think about it and hearing Paul Molitor’s thoughts on the play, I changed my thinking about it. Bear with me!

 

Obviously, it’s a negative play because we don’t know how Kennys Vargas’ at-bat ends up. He could get a hit that should score two runs. A double probably clears the bases and, of course, a Grand Slam would be the ultimate result. There could be a wild pitch, a walk a balk (sorry!) or a hit by a pitch as well. Of course, those are the positives that result in some type of score happening but it could go negative too. He could strikeout, ground out, fly out or pop out too.

 

Kennys Vargas was 3-for-27 hitting from the left side against right-handed pitchers before that at-bat and the 3rd hit happened in the 1st inning. So, Paul Molitor knows the situation with his hitter struggling against righties and has the awareness of the situation to look for the opportunity to steal home there. More importantly, he has put that awareness in his player’s minds too. No, it didn’t turn out the way they wanted but it’d good to know the Twins are looking for the opportunities to score in any way possible.

 

That makes two nights in a row that Paul Molitor has made a managerial decision that means this will be a different kind of season for the Minnesota Twins. Last night, he brought in closer Glen Perkins in the 8th inning of a tie game to try to get the Twins out of the inning. That means he used his best pitcher in a tough situation.

 

That’s my Take on the Twins for today. Let us know what your ‘Takes are in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+! After all out slogan is….


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