Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Time for the too-early-to-possibly-be-right-but-predictions-are-silly-anyway Twins predictions for the near future:
I’m seeing so much young talent in Twins’ camp, and so much pitching depth, that I’m ready to be overly optimistic.
I see the 2015 Twins winning 84 games.
I see the 2016 Twins winning 90.
I see the 2017 Twins winning 93 and having a chance to make a postseason run.
Look at it this way: When the Twins traded Denard Span for Alex Meyer, they did so because they desperately needed to rebuilding their farm system and organizational pitching depth.
This spring, Meyer might have the best stuff in camp (with the possible exception of Jose Berrios). And he might not even win the fifth starter’s job. He may wind up in the bullpen.
Throughout history, the Twins have won when their starting staff has given them nothing more than quality starts. The team finished seventh in the big leagues in run scored last year even with Joe Mauer having one of his worst seasons. Danny Santana is already a polished big-leaguer. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should debut later this season.
I never blamed the Twins’ losing on Ron Gardenhire or his coaches, but I do believe the clubhouse atmosphere had grown stale and unproductive.
It’s unpopular to say this given the Twins’ horrific four-year stretch, but this is a team on the rise. While so many people focus on payroll, farm systems are usually what win championships. Within the next five years, I believe you’ll see the Twins, Astros and Cubs vying for places in the World Series.
So, I had Torii Hunter on my podcast at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
He told me about the time Corey Koskie hid in his car after a game, and Hunter almost stabbed him.
And what Eddie Guardado used to wear while pitching. (Think Victoria’s Secret.)
And how he became friends with Magic Johnson.
That and more available at SouhanUnfiltered.com (or subscribe for free on Itunes ,or listen at Souhan-Unfiltered through IHeartRadio).
I’ll have Eddie Guardado on later today to let him fire back at Hunter.
Between the Wolves' shootaround and their opener in Memphis, I spoke with a handful of people connected to the Twins' managerial search. No hard news to report, but here's a summary of what I learned...
-Paul Molitor definitely wants the job. This is not a situation where he's being passive aggressive, or saying, ``I'll do it if you want me to.'' He knows this might be his last, and best, chance to be a manager, and perhaps his only chance to manage his hometown team. He's all-in as a candidate.
-If Terry Ryan has made a final decision. he hasn't told many people, even in the Twins' inner circles. His search, or at least his decision-making process, appears to be ongoing.
-Even if Ryan came to a decision soon, the Twins would not likely hold a press conference on Thursday, when the Wolves will be holding their home opener. Friday is Halloween. Unless news leaks and the Twins feel they have to rush to throw together a press conference, next week makes more sense in terms of timing an announcement.
-Ryan is known in scouting circles for his due diligence. This is the first time he has displayed it during a managerial search. The last time he chose a manager, Ron Gardenhire and Molitor were the front-runners, and Gardenhire became the choice in part because of his long tenure as a coach, and in part because key people outside of baseball operations believed that Gardenhire would be ideal as a friendly face of the franchise ,and someone willing to do all of the media relations and marketing outings the Twins value. That is one question about Molitor: Will he be willing to submit to the media and marketing grind? Managers have brutal schedules even without all of the extras.
-Ryan is in Arizona, where he watched top prospect Byron Buxton break his finger. Ryan could certainly fly home quickly to hold a press conference, but there were no indications as of Wednesday afternoon that he planned to do so.
-I've thought all along that Molitor should and will get the job, but the longer it goes, the more I have reason to doubt that he will be the hire.
One thing a few key people said to me today: A lot of the national speculation has been off-base, because few know what's going through Ryan's head right now.
Jerry Zgoda and I are in Memphis covering the Wolves' opener tonight. Just spoke with coach Flip Saunders, who said that Kevin Martin has a sore ankle, and that he might be replaced in the starting lineup.
Saunders is in good spirits. He said this is an unusual situation because this is his first team that won't be judged by wins and losses, but by gradual improvement of younger players.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN at a different time tomorrow - 9:45, while I'm on a layover heading back to the Twin Cities.
Greg Maddux will be inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Here's an interview I did with Twins closer Glen Perkins after he worked with Maddux at the WBC:
Fort Myers, Fla.
Glen Perkins had just arrived at the World Baseball Classic and was eating dinner in the hotel bar when Greg Maddux, the Team USA pitching coach, walked by.
“I told him, ‘I’ll be here a while,” Perkins said, and later that night, Perkins and his favorite pitcher spent 90 minutes talking Zen and beer, Confucius and situational pitching, forever altering the way the Twins closer views his craft.
“He will always have me thinking,” Perkins said. “That is a conversation I will not forget.”
Monday morning, as he prepared to pitch, Perkins spoke of Maddux the way a fledgling guitarist in the 1960s might recall a conversation with Jimi Hendrix.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m sitting here talking pitching with Greg Maddux,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t seem like real life to me. Not only was he the best pitcher of probably all time, but he was a guy I grew up watching. People talk about Babe Ruth being great. Well, I never saw Babe Ruth. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs when I was at my peak of fandom.”
During their conversation, a spring training game played on the TV. Maddux glanced up, saw a groundball single and said, “That was a stupid pitch.”
“I didn’t even know he was watching, but he picked up on everything,” Perkins said. “A guy had swung late at an outside fastball. The pitcher came back with a breaking pitch, and the guy rolled a single through. Maddux was saying that if you throw a fastball and the batter is late, throw another fastball. That’s why he thought it was a stupid pitch.”
During another at-bat, a pitcher threw two fastballs out of the strike zone. Maddux told Perkins the next pitch should be a changeup. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re behind 2-and-0, the next pitch should be a fastball for a strike, to avoid a walk.
Maddux turned conventional wisdom on its head.
“I said that everything I’d been taught was that you had to have the hitter swing at a harder pitch, then throw the changeup off of that,” Perkins said. “Maddux said that if the hitter was expecting a fastball, you threw a changeup because of the hitter’s expectations. I had never heard that before. It made so much sense.”
Maddux recommended that Perkins begin watching video of himself and opponents.
“He said he threw every pitch of his career with maximum conviction and concentration,” Perkins said. “I think that’s part of why I didn’t succeed as a starter, because I had a hard time concentrating that much. I think even as a reliever there are times I still throw a pitch just to throw a pitch, to get to the next pitch or the next hitter.
“He didn’t do that. And he didn’t do that for 18, 20 years. For 3,500 or 4,000 innings. So he faced 20,000 batters, threw about 60,000 pitches and never let up on a pitch. I think I probably throw about 500 pitches a year now.
“If I break it down like that, I should be able to do all right concentrating on every pitch.”
Perkins kept that in mind Monday, when he struck out the side in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex.
Maddux fared better than that against Perkins, in at least one at-bat. The two faced each other in 2008 in San Diego, when Perkins was still a Twins starter and Maddux was pitching in his final season. Maddux made solid contact once. Perkins admitted he might have let up on that pitch.
“He said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to catastrophe,’ ” Perkins said. “Here’s Greg Maddux quoting Confucius. Later, I said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to disaster,’ and he corrected me.”
Maddux never has worked as a full-time pitching coach. With Team USA, he wound up throwing in the outfield, sometimes licking his middle finger and making the ball swerve like a small bird.
“Maddux said he never did that in a game, but he could make the ball cut any way he wanted,” Perkins said. “I’ve been back from the WBC for two days, and there have already been times when I thought about things he said.
“So yesterday, when we were practicing fielding, I licked my middle finger, and threw a cutter to the catcher.’
I'll co-host Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM from Mankato. I'm also on the station at about 12:15 on weekdays.
What a week. I thought Minneapolis and Target Field put on a great show all week, from the Futures Game through Glen Perkins getting the save last night.
All week, Perkins talked about pinching himself, that he wasn't sure this could be real - a local boy pitching at an All-Star game in his home ballpark.
Here's the link to the column I did this spring on the turning point in Perkins' career:
Or, if you prefer text, here's the text:
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Glen Perkins is an All-Star closer who has spent his entire life in Minnesota. He is the rare Twins player who lives in state year-round, has become a centerpiece of the Twins’ marketing campaign and has vowed to play for them as long as they will have him.
It’s easy to forget that three years ago the Twins considered trading him, and only Perkins’ intervention led to what he calls “a great life.”
Perkins butted heads with his coaches at the University of Minnesota, then quarreled with his Twins bosses. He was on his way to becoming another first-round bust when, late in the spring of 2011, he walked up to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Anderson said. “He came to me right here and said, ‘Can I talk to you? I was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve spent my entire life in Minnesota, I want to be a Twin. I want to be a better teammate, I want to be a better pitcher, don’t give up on me.’
“There was some talk of making a trade, then all of a sudden he saw the light.”
Perkins remembers traveling from Fort Myers to Clearwater, Fla., with the Twins and not pitching.
“That’s the first time that had ever happened to me,’’ he said. “I was angry.”
He walked into manager Ron Gardenhire’s office and asked why he hadn’t been informed he had made the team.
“I told Gardy, ‘I want to play here, if you’ll have me,” Perkins said.
Gardenhire said he would call Perkins later in the day. Perkins figured that was a brushoff. He picked up his father-in-law and headed to Sanibel to fish.
“The phone rang before we got to the causeway,” Perkins said. “Gardy said, ‘Pack your bags, you’re going north with us.’ ”
Perkins had a similar experience with the Gophers. The Stillwater High School product made lousy grades during his first semester in college. The Gophers redshirted him, and he spent his second semester “figuring out how to be a college student.” One day, Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes called him about a rumor that Perkins wanted to transfer.
Perkins said that if he was going to leave, he already would be gone.
“I think that was the moment for Todd where he said, ‘OK, he’s committed, he just needs to figure out how to do it.’ I never had any more trouble.”
Why so much conflict? “I guess it’s a character flaw of mine,” Perkins said.
Now he’s Mr. Minnesota, or at least hangs out with someone vying for that title.
Perkins and Joe Mauer played for the USA in the World Baseball Classic and for the American League in the All-Star Game last year. They could play in the next All-Star Game, at Target Field.
With Mauer having twin daughters and wintering in Minnesota instead of Fort Myers, the two were able to enjoy the Polar Vortex together. “We played hockey,” Perkins said. “Well, it was more like ice dancing. No sequins, though.”
They talked about their kids. They talked about their futures, with Perkins signed through 2016 and Mauer through 2018. They talked about how losing feels, and what winning at home would mean.
“We agreed that if we had crappy season after crappy season it would be worth it if just once we could win it all here,” Perkins said. “That’s the carrot dangling in front of us. The experience of winning a World Series in your hometown — what Kent Hrbek did — makes it all worth it.
“I want to be the closer of this team when we get to the playoffs. I got to see Joe Nathan do that a whole bunch.”
In the last few days, Perkins became the centerpiece for Twins television and radio commercials, and has dined with the Gophers baseball staff, with the team playing in Florida. One conversation changed him from an anti-authoritarian trade chip into a representative of all that is right in Minnesota sports.
“Either I hinted to them that I didn’t want to be here, or they got that impression,” Perkins said. “I think they appreciated what I had to say. For a guy to say, ‘This is where I still want to be,’ no matter how rough the going was, I think they respected that.”
The Twins reached the All-Star break at 44-50 after beating Colorado on Sunday.
Here's how that compares to their record at the three previous All-Star breaks:
Slightly better starting pitching, due mostly to Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, has made the Twins a little better this season despite vital injuries to key hitters, like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, and the failure of Aaron Hicks to become a useful big-league hitter.
But the Twins' chances to finish strong could be handicapped by the innings limit on AAA pitcher Alex Meyer, and the expectation that the Twins will trade away a few valuable players as the trade deadline approaches.
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