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.

Twins go to Chicago with bright spots, sore spots

Posted by: Phil Miller under Twins game coverage Updated: July 6, 2011 - 7:52 PM

 

Despite the loss -- which again exposed several nagging shortcomings (mental mistakes, a haggard bullpen) --the Twins head to Chicago with some legitimate bright spots.

Bright spot No. 1: Michael Cuddyer is doing the best he can to single-handedly strap the team's fate on his back and help carry it to the promised land. In the past five games, the right-fielder / first baseman has been named an All-Star and is hitting .500 with three home runs, the last of which was crushed in Wednesday's fifth seventh inning -- a clocked offering to center field that tied the ballgame and looked for a minute like it might inspire a gutsy Twins win like the one seen on Sunday (alas, it did not). Cuddyer laughed after the game when asked if this was one of the best weeks he could remember in his career, but the performance -- in light of all the injuries the Twins are suffering -- couldn't be coming at a better time.

Bright spot No. 2: Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been looking decent for a few days now, hitting his first extra-base hit since June 21 on Monday while smoothly executing some tricky plays defensively, and on Wednesday, he had hands-down the most solid game he has had in a Twins uniform.

Is any of this a sign that he is turning a corner? Nishioka says maybe. Before Wednesday's game, he said he sat down with batting coach Joe Vavra, who gave him several mechanical and psychological tips. The psychological ones he would share -- mostly Vavra advised him to "not have so much thought," he said through translator Ryo Shinkawa. The mechanical ones? "Those are a secret," Nishioka said with a grin. In any case, Nishioka seemed buoyed by the conversation and the outing, and important notation in and of itself.

Of course, it's not all flowers and rainbows. Francisco Liriano's shaky performance was simply another reminder of just how much the Twins need the suddenly heroic Scott Baker -- who got an MRI on his throwing arm on Wednesday afternoon, but will not discuss the results until tomorrow. If the Twins are looking to compete with the AL Central's elite -- and it's elite starters -- they will likely need a semblance of an ace (especially when you're dealing with an overused and underperforming bullpen). Baker has been the closest thing to that for them this year.

With those thoughts, Amelia Rayno (@AmeliaRayno) and Alex Prewitt (@Alex_Prewitt) will relinquish this commandeered blog back to Joe. Thanks Joe for letting us get in here and spout! La Velle will be in Chicago for the four-game series with the White Sox and then in Phoenix for the All-Star Break. After the Break, Amelia will head up coverage from Target Field for four games against Kansas City.

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