The Twins beat Texas three out of four over the weekend, which is an accomplishment that looked a lot better a week ago, when the Rangers hadn’t lost nine straight games. But that said, the Twins shouldn’t have won on Thursday, and nobody should have won Sunday’s game, when both teams repeatedly beat themselves with horrible mistakes; finally the Twins won , in 13 innings, with - of all things - a walk-off walk from Michael A. Taylor, who is basically impossible to walk under normal conditions.
The weekend’s most notable performances might have come out of the bullpen. Sunday, it was Dallas Keuchel, who pitched five scoreless innings in relief as the Twins worked their way out of an early 5-0 hole. Pitching five scoreless innings in relief is something that normally only happens by accident - usually it’s in a situation like “the starter gave up ten runs in the first inning and we are just trying to bridge the gap to letting the right fielder throw eephus pitches for an inning at the end of the game.”
I guess it’s possible that this was the original intent with Keuchel on Sunday as well, but Royce Lewis hit a grand slam and got the Twins back within 5-4, and Minnesota was hoping to rest its overworked bullpen anyway (a plan that went down the drain when the game went to 13 innings).
The other notable performance was on Saturday, when Griffin Jax entered in the ninth inning of a tie game, gave up two singles, then proceeded to hit a guy and then walk in two runs. It was hard to watch and yet riveting, like watching a drunk stumble into a lamppost in slow motion.
Jax joins Emilio Pagán and possibly Dylan Floro in the “you’ll never feel good about this guy coming into a close game, no matter what” wing of the Twins bullpen, one that also is beginning to include Jhoan Duran. Maybe for the postseason they can just have a starting rotation made up of Sonny Gray, Pablo López, and Bailey Ober, and then a bullpen entirely consisting of Joe Ryan, Kenta Maeda, and Keuchel.
The Twins are now 13 victories away from 81, with 31 games to go. If they can get to 81, they’ll win the division - especially if a few of those victories come in the six times they play Cleveland over the next ten days. If they even win two of the six, you’d have to think that they’d be virtually a lock for the division title.
At Allianz Field - stop me if you’ve heard this one before - the Loons put together yet another 1-1 draw, this time with Seattle. It was their seventh draw in 11 home games, and six of them have been 1-1 (the other one was 1-0).
MNUFC is two different teams this season, realistically. The away team completely cedes possession, plays with eight people behind the ball at all times, and tries to score on the occasional counter-attack. That team has six wins and a draw in 13 games.
The home team, meanwhile, is trying to actually do something with the ball - Adrian Heath referred to this as “trying to give the fans something to get behind” on my friend Michael Rand’s podcast - and they are pretty much terrible at it.
Trying to build through possession tends to blunt some of the genius of Emanuel Reynoso, since he’s facing five or six defenders who are facing him rather than two or three who are running backwards toward their own goal, and the Loons just do not have any other offensive horses that can pick up the slack.
Their fullbacks, DJ Taylor and Ethan Bristow, are fine at running in straight lines, but neither is especially shifty with the ball, nor is either particularly good at sending in crosses (the two were approximately 0-35 on connecting against Seattle). Their two central midfielders - in this case, Wil Trapp and Jan Gregus - mostly stay at home defensively, and in any case aren’t much for passing the ball. Teemu Pukki looks entirely lost at forward, mostly because at home he’s relegated to standing still at the top of the penalty area and occasionally running forward in the hope that one of the many team’s many crosses actually lands somewhere within twenty feet of him.
I think the Allianz Field faithful would love it if the Loons could hold onto the ball and slowly pick apart defenses like Pep Guardiola-era Barcelona, but that’s not going to happen - and I think that, even if they have 26% possession, fans would mostly like it if the team won occasionally at home.
The Minnesota Lynx lost 111-76 at home to New York on Saturday, and somehow it was still only about their third-worst home loss of the year. They gave up 113 to Las Vegas earlier this year, and also lost by 40 to Dallas at home, and so losing by 35 and giving up 111 points - a hundred and eleven points in one game! - only slightly registers.
Minnesota has the worst defense in the league this year, giving up 85.2 points per game, and is tied for the second-worst point differential, and somehow is 17-18 and still only two games out of a home playoff series, with five games to go in the year.
Saturday’s game was also Minnesota’s last game this year against a team with a winning record, so at least in terms of strength of schedule, the Lynx are poised for a playoff run. That said, given the rest of the year, they are fully capable of giving up 90-plus points to every team and losing four out of five or something like that.
Gopher volleyball lost its first set of the season on Friday, against TCU, and I admit that my first thought was “wow, it could be a long year.” TCU is one of the few unranked opponents on Minnesota’s nonconference schedule this year, and if they were going to struggle with TCU, then all those upcoming games - #1 Texas, #3 Stanford, et cetera - were starting to look a little bit daunting.
Anyway, Minnesota won the next three sets, then came back Saturday and beat #15 Baylor in straight sets, so maybe everything is actually fine.
Mckenna Wucherer was the MVP of the weekend, which technically was the “Big 12/Big 10 challenge,” and had 30 kills in the two matches combined. The Gophers held Baylor to a .000 hitting percentage for the match on Saturday; I do enjoy volleyball stats, I must say. TRIPLE ZEROS, BAYLOR.
Setter Melani Shaffmaster also made the all-tournament team, as did middle blocker Phoebe Awoleye, who is helping to replace Carter Booth (who transferred to Wisconsin and also made the all-tournament team, so I guess everybody wins there). Libero Kylie Murr was also on the all-tournament team, and it’s a reminder that “libero” is one of the great position names in any sport.
We’re already at 40,000 words for this post, so let’s just say that the St. Paul Saints split their series down in Omaha, against the terrible Storm Chasers, which dropped them down to fifth in the second-half International League standings.
I’m fully experiencing the strangeness of minor-league baseball in this stretch run, in the sense that I want the Saints to make the playoffs, but also want them to drop out of the race so that there’s no reason to feel bad if the Twins call up Louie Varland and make him a long reliever, or whatever.
There’s a reason that the groundbreaking baseball writer Bill James once called minor league baseball “an abomination in the sight of the Lord,” and this is it. “If you’re selling a sport and the players don’t care about winning, that’s not a sport. That’s a fraud,” said James. So I’m working on caring whether the Saints win, not whether they are particularly helping the Twins win.
TWINS vs Cleveland, 6:40pm
LYNX at Washington, Tuesday
GOPHER VOLLEYBALL vs #1 Texas, Tuesday
SAINTS vs Columbus, Tuesday
LOONS vs Colorado, Wednesday
GOPHER FOOTBALL vs Nebraska, Thursday