Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Twins will play 76 games against the AL Central in 2015, and another 20 against the NL Central, the team and Major League Baseball announced Monday.
The 2015 season will open in Detroit on Monday, April 6, and the first game at Target Field will be one week later, on April 13 at 3:10 p.m. against the Royals, according to the Twins' preliminary schedule.
Minnesota's annual home-and-home series against Milwaukee will be three-game series played on weekends next season, rather than the midweek two-game sets that the natural rivals have played the past two years. The Brewers visit Target Field on June 5-7, while the Twins travel to Milwaukee on June 26-28.
The Twins will visit four of the five NL Central cities, missing only Wrigley Field in Chicago. In addition to Milwaukee, the Twins will play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on May 19 and 20; at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (for the first time since 2009) on June 15 and 16; and at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park on June 29-July 1.
Besides the Brewers, NL Central teams coming to Target Field include the Cardinals on June 17-18; the Cubs on June 19-21; and the Pirates on July 28-29.
For the third straight season, the New York Yankees will visit Minnesota in July; in 2015, the dates are July 24-26. The Red Sox are at Target Field on May 25-27. The Twins close the 2015 regular season at home on Oct. 4 against the Royals.
For the complete 2015 Minnesota Twins' schedule, click here.
It was a gorgeous day at Target Field on Sunday -- for everyone but the Twins. Here are a trio of leftovers.
WILSON WHIFFS: Joe Mauer struck out twice against C.J. Wilson, the first one on a 3-and-2 cutter that Mauer thought was high. Plate ump John Tumpane disagreed. Mauer swung at a high fastball to end the fifth inning, a whiff that was his 10th against Wilson in his career. That made Wilson just the third pitcher ever to strike out the three-time batting champion 10 or more times, joining C.C. Sabathia (19) and Justin Verlander (11). Mauer is now 3-for-30 in his career against Wilson.
SMALL PROGRESS: It's a little hard to see, considering his ERA entering Sunday's game was 8.25 and actually rose, but Logan Darnell felt he made some small progress against the Angels, after two ugly starts against the White Sox earlier this season. He struck out Mike Trout and Albert Pujols back-to-back in the first inning, and had an easy fourth inning, too. He held a 3-1 lead at one point, and could feel his fastball command improving. "I thought I located my fastball better than I had in the past," the rookie left-hander said. "I made a lot of good pitches. ... But I made mistakes, and they seemed to make me pay for the ones I threw today." Especially Howie Kendrick, who blasted an upper-deck homer on a two-strike curveball. "He hit a good pitch, I thought. It was a two-strike curveball that I didn't get down enough." Darnell walked Trout in the fifth and was removed for A.J. Achter, who allowed the baserunner to score.
OFFICIALLY, THEY'RE DONE: It's been a mere formality for more than a month now, but the Twins were eliminated from the AL Central race on Sunday, and they could formally vanish from the wild-card chase by Tuesday. Minnesota's "magic number" for elimination remains at two, by the traditional formula, but as Steven Patent, developer of Pennant Solutions clinchings software points out, it's already impossible for the Twins to catch both Kansas City and Detroit due to the six games remaining between them. As for the wild card, only two more Seattle victories and one by Oakland, which could come by Tuesday, are required to lock Minnesota out of the postseason for a fourth straight season. More timely: The Twins are 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for fourth place, and headed to U.S. Cellular Park for three games this weekend, a pivotal series if they hope to avoid their third last-place finish in four years.
For the first time since July 20, Danny Santana isn't in the lineup for the Twins today, and it's amazing how different the batting order looks without him. Brian Dozier is back in the leadoff spot after thriving at No. 2 for a couple of months, and Eduardo Nunez, filling in for Jordan Schafer in left field, is batting second. While not exactly slow, that's not the speedy lineup the Twins are used to, but there is little choice.
Santana strained a muscle in his left lower back while making a throw from center field on Saturday, an injury that isn't considered serious, but hasn't disappeared yet, either. The Twins have a day off Monday, so the chances are probably good that he's back when the Twins open their road trip in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Logan Darnell makes his third career start today; his first two, both against the White Sox, didn't go well, and Darnell carries an 8.25 ERA into today's game. He'll face C.J. Wilson, who is 4-0 against the Twins since 2011.
There are 20 games left in the season, 10 at Target Field and 10 on the road. Minnesota needs to go 12-8 to avoid 90 losses this year, a real challenge considering they went 6-14 over their last 20 (and 3-11 in their last 14).
Here are the lineups for today's 1:10 p.m. start:
A couple of leftovers from Target Field on Saturday:
BEST CONTROL EVER: Phil Hughes has now struck out 165 batters this season, the most by a Twin since Francisco Liriano whiffed 201 in 2010. And he's issued 15 walks this year, giving him a crazy walk-strikeout ratio of 11.0 -- trying him with Bret Saberhagen in 1994 as the best in major-league history (dating back to 1900). Best. Ever. Just remarkable. Hughes is working on another long stretch without a walk. He's at 155 straight hitters now since his last walk. Earlier this season, he went 178 straight. (The Twins' record is Brad Radke's 191 in a row in 2005.) Saturday's game marked the third time this season that Hughes has left the game with a lead, and wound up getting no decision. It hasn't happened since May, but Hughes' 15 wins could be as many as 18 in what has become a remarkable season.
LIKE A SUPER BALL: The Twins have been taking extra practice all week on fielding caroms off the new padding in the outfield, but this is clearly going to take some getting used to. Howie Kendrick drilled a shot off the center field wall in the eighth inning Saturday, and when Aaron Hicks raced back to retrieve it, the ball bounced back too quickly for him to track it down. "You all saw what we're talking about now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That thing bounced back like a super ball." It did, and by the time Hicks caught up to it, Kendrick was on third, one more base than he likely would have had with the old padding. It probably won't be a big deal after the Twins have more practice with it, but it cost them on Saturday.
GET 'EM IN, NOT OVER: After Joe Mauer's leadoff double in the eighth inning, I assumed that the Twins would ask Kennys Vargas to pull the ball to right field off Joe Smith, in order to move the go-ahead run to third, where a sacrifice fly would score him. But Gardenhire said he had no plans to do so. "He's in the cleanup spot to drive the baseball. 'Get 'em over' is for the little guys. 'Get 'em in' is for the big guys," the manager said. "He's just trying to put the barrel on it and hit it hard. If the guy makes a mistake, he will hit it in the seats. To try to tell him to slap the ball to right, I won't do that." Didn't matter anyway. Vargas fouled off a couple of fastballs from Smith, then was froze by a slider for strike three. Two groundouts followed, and the opportunity was lost; the Twins were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Twins' bullpen was on the field before the game running pass patterns in the outfield, catching baseballs from "quarterback" and strength coach Perry Castellano. There is plenty of talk about fantasy teams and eliminator pools. And with Trojans alum Tommy Milone and USC fans Michael Tonkin, Trevor Plouffe and Aaron Hicks in the clubhouse, there were six television sets showing the USC-Stanford game before batting practice.
Yes, it's football season at Target Field, too.
But three weeks remain in the baseball season, and the Twins are trying to keep everyone healthy down the stretch. Jordan Schafer is still sore after running into the left-field wall during the eighth inning of Friday night's game, and he can't do anything more than pinch-run tonight. Glen Perkins is still suffering from a sore neck that he first reported after pitching Thursday night, and the Twins aren't going to use him for a few days as a precaution, manager Ron Gardenhire said. Casey Fien took a shot off his right forearm last night, "flush on the muscle," he said, but he feels OK today and said he can pitch.
The Twins hope to keep tonight's game simple: Score a few runs for Phil Hughes and let him be, as Gardenhire said before the game, the Twins' "guiding light." Hughes is 5-1 since August 1, with an 0.84 ERA; on the other hand, he hasn't beaten the Angels since 2010.
Here are the lineups for tonight's 6:10 p.m. start against the Angels, owners of the best record in baseball:
Four hours and 30 minutes of baseball tonight, and here's some of what I can remember of it:
ONE INNING TOO MANY: Glen Perkins was not available Friday night, Minnesota athletic trainers determined before the game, due to a sore neck, which is why eight Twins relievers, but never their best one, were summoned to pitch. Without Perkins, the Twins shifted Jared Burton into the closer's role, which on this night meant he pitched the 10th inning. And while he only gave up one hit, "it's hard to match up with [the Angels] when they get to the top of the order," manager Ron Gardenhire said, a fact that was borne out by the fact that, even after striking out Mike Trout, Burton couldn't get through the inning unscathed. Erick Aybar, an All-Star in this ballpark two months ago, delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Angels their final lead.
HEALTH WARD: Friday's game took its toll on the Twins. Jordan Schafer made a leaping catch as he collided with the left-field wall, a run-saving, potentially game-saving, catch to end the ninth inning. But he bruised his ribs doing so; as he stood on the on-deck circle in the bottom of the inning, he couldn't swing normally, and was removed from the game; he's day-to-day. So is Casey Fien, who took Brennan Boesch's line drive off his forearm in the eighth inning, then walked Chris Iannetta, sparking the Angels' three-run rally. "He obviously wasn't throwing the ball right after that," Gardenhire said, a fact that set off the Twins' four-pitcher inning. And the condition of Perkins, Fien and all the relievers who had to pitch on Friday put Logan Darnell's start Sunday in question. Darnell will be in the bullpen on Saturday, just in case. Phil Hughes will start, so Darnell remains the likely Sunday starter, but the Twins won't know for sure until after Saturday's game.
IN RICKY'S DEFENSE: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Mike Trout is four RBIs from becoming the first player since Ty Cobb in 1909 to reach 100 steals, 300 RBIs and 500 hits during his age-22 season (Trout turned 23 on Aug. 7.) But that might not even be the most amazing stat I saw tonight. How about this one: Ricky Nolasco gave up his first unearned run tonight. That one floored me, because I've twice asked Nolasco some version of the question, "how hard is it to focus after a defensive mistake." It seems like he has been the recipient of most of the Twins' defensive shortcomings all season, and tonight was another example. Trevor Plouffe kicked a grounder. Danny Santana missed a ball hit right at him. And Oswaldo Arcia allowed a ball off the limestone to carom past him, then took an awful route and an awkward jump to a fly ball, a two-base error that finally cost Nolasco that first unearned run. Nolasco hasn't been good this year, it's true, but he sometimes doesn't get much help, either.
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