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Injury-riddled Twins on the outside looking in

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When they write a wrap-up about the 2011 Minnesota Twins in seven weeks there will be a lot of fans who will be writing off the season to injury problems.

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No one can deny the injury bug has chomped down hard on the Twins this season. The Twins started the season with broken legs, concussions, bad knees, and saw it get worse. After a bad April and a terrible May they managed to put together a decent June before losing the magic after the All-Star game in July. They were four games back at one point. August has been a bust and the boys who cover the Twins day-to-day have stuck a fork in them.

There is no use crying about a season like this one. The Twins are not always going to win the division and they are not always going to get hit with this many injuries. Had they avoided all those injuries, the AL Central field would have been chasing them right now. At this point an educated guess would be that the Philadelphia Phillies are going to take the pot in October.

The most important player the Twins have seen too little of this season was Justin Morneau. The big first baseman has not been around for the playoffs for several years for one reason or another and it has cost the club plenty. It might be possible to pull out a miracle comeback in and win the AL Central but outside Minnesota the Twins have not done much to earn any respect come playoff time. The Twins should have been able to play with the Yankees in the post-season last year. The Yanks did not have the pitching and the Rangers proved that when they booted them down the stairs in the ALCS.

Once the team's Iron Man, Morneau has hit a stretch of bad luck since being beaned in Toronto July 7, 2010 as he slid into second base. At the time, Morneau was heading for another MVP season like the one he put together in 2006.

Morneau is the RBI man the Twins need healthy every season and yet this is the fourth straight year he has not been playing his best baseball at season's end. The fact that the Twins have made the playoffs twice without him in 2009 and 2010 might be the most remarkable thing about those teams. Many of us knew before the season began that Morneau was the one player we needed healthy and productive to make 2011 another winner.

Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Alexi Casilla, Michael Cuddyer, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Joe Nathan have all been injured this season and down time adds up to a lack of consistency in any ball club. It is like a bolt of lightning hit the team bus.

Of course the fact that the Minnesota bullpen has not been holding many leads this year has not helped the situation. Bullpens have been a strength of Minnesota teams in the past. Manager Ron Gardenhire was able to pull a starter after five innings and turn it over to his set-up men and closers. If the Twins have to improve anywhere in the off-season it is in the bullpen. Their starters can be great occasionally but the Twins lack a true ace.

Third time's the charm?

The Bertha Blazers are going to try and make their third straight trip to the Class C tournament the charm Sunday when they take on Fairfax at Glencoe.

Steve Riewer's club takes a 23-7 record into their 7:30 p.m. game against the 13-10 Cardinals.

One key player for the Blazers will be Mike Riewer, who earned Region 14C Tournament MVP honors. Riewer is hitting .465 with four homers, 35 runs and 42 RBIs. Other big sticks have been Nathan Haase and Patrick Riewer. Haase is swinging a .406 bat for the Blazers with 11 doubles, 28 runs and 25 ribbies. Riewer leads the team in runs with 37 and is hitting .319 in the No. 3 spot.

The Blazers are also going to throw a new lead-off man at the state tournament field. Marcus Riewer is back with the team after playing for Duluth in the Northwoods League. Riewer was hitting .391 for the Blazers when he joined Duluth and is eligible for the state tournament.

The Blazers also have .300 hitters in Ryan Denny (.350), Dakota Aeling (.309), Kyle Zirbes (.304) and Carl Amundson (.303).

The Blazers can throw five good right-handed pitchers at the competition. John Hartung is the ace of the staff with a 7-0 record, Amundson, Denny and Michael and Pat Riewer have also been strong on the mound. The Blazers have drafted two strong lefties in New York Mills' Jeff Hamann and Nimrod's Alex Brockpahler.

"The key for us is for our pitchers to throw strikes," Riewer said.

Thome in baseball's 600 Club

Talk about exclusive company! You can look at all of the baseball players since Abner Doubleday invented the game and only find eight guys who have hit 600 home runs in their career.

Jim Thome became the oldest player to ever accomplish that feat Monday when he smashed two round-trippers against Detroit in a 9-6 victory. The late, great Harmon Killebrew, who visited Wadena on Men's Night Out in 2010, ranks No. 11 on the all-time home run list with 573.

The Twins were after Thome when he was the starting third baseman for Cleveland earlier in his career. How great would it have been to have his bat in the lineup when he was averaging 30-40 homers a year? There might be another World Series pennant on the wall if that trade had worked out.

Young trade

The Twins finally freed up room in their outfield by swapping Delmon Young to Detroit for a big, young lefty - Cole Nelson.

Young has never been a favorite with Twins fans. We had to give up Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for him and that price was just too high. His outfielding skills are mediocre by most standards. The fact that he drove in a team-high 112 runs last year landed him a one-year contract this season worth $5 million. The Twins always planned to bring Ben Revere up to the majors at some point and Young gave them a good excuse by failing to produce big numbers at the plate.

Is it smart baseball to trade a 25-year-old former No. 1 draft pick for a couple of minor leaguers? Perhaps it was the bean counters who really made this decision. The Twins have to sign Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to new contracts and if Young had stuck around they would have had to dish out big money for him too.

Volkmann triumphs

Jake "Christmas" Volkmann decisioned Dany Castillo Sunday night in a UFC battle at Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis. and in the process won his fourth straight decision.

The former Otter Tail Central three-time state wrestling champion was a walk-on at the University of Minnesota and won All-American honors twice for the Gophers. Now 30, Volkmann fights out of White Bear Lake where he operates a chiropractic business.

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