Three thoughts from a weekend that got a lot of hockey players a lot closer to fishing and golf season:
• If we can now look at the evolution of this Wild-Blues series with the benefit of hindsight, it’s becoming clear that Game 1 was a damaging loss in so many ways.
It wasn’t just that Blues goalie Jake Allen stole the opener at Xcel Energy Center by making 51 saves — wiping out home-ice advantage gained over 82 games with just one dominant performance. It wasn’t just that losing that game meant the Wild needed to win four of the next six, a daunting task.
In addition, that game created an illusion about the series. Fans and perhaps even players themselves came out of that game thinking Minnesota was clearly the better team and that once Allen was solved the series would turn.
Instead, Games 2 and 3 were far more evenly matched. Allen was still brilliant, but the Blues’ overall stifling defense — a trademark of coach Mike Yeo — was just as important.
• If the Twins are going to break through at some point in the future to become a consistent contender, they likely are going to need some of their high-end young pitching talent — Jose Berrios and Co. — to develop into top-of-the-rotation starters.
To bridge the gap between 2017 and the time some of those promising arms are truly ready for the big leagues, though, it’s no secret they need some of their higher-priced veterans to come through.
Through 12 games, three of those pitchers are doing just that.
Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago — three of the Twins’ five highest-priced players overall and their three most expensive pitchers this season — have combined for 52 innings and just nine earned runs allowed this season.
Santana pitched well last season but received little run support in winning only seven games. Hughes was hit hard early before his season ended with injuries. Santiago was ineffective in initial starts after being acquired for Ricky Nolasco but pitched well enough down the stretch to be brought back.
Among Santana, Hughes, Nolasco and Santiago last season, only Santana had an ERA below 5.00 for the season and the Twins received just 15 total victories from those four pitchers. They might eclipse that win total before the end of May this year.
History suggests Santana, Hughes and Santiago won’t stay on their current trajectory for the entire season, but even if the runs allowed come up a bit while the innings stay the same, it would go a long way toward making 2017 a relative success while charting a course for more success in the future.
• The Twins offense entered Sunday tied for the MLB lead in walks (53), and it’s no secret those free passes have fueled a lot of rallies for the team.
Also of note, though: The team has cut way down on strikeouts. The Twins entered Sunday with 84 — the seventh-fewest in MLB. That’s a far cry from last season when they fanned 1,426 times — the sixth-most in MLB.