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So can the Twins do it this year or not?

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There was a lot of flapping in the trees from Minnesota commentators about the second half of the season as the Twins wrapped up their series with Colorado July 13.

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It sounded like the main reason the Twins were 10.5 games out of first and sitting in the AL Central cellar was a freakishly tough schedule.

The Twins placed 19 of baseball's 30 major league teams during what can loosely called the first half, including 10 with winning records and five - Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee and the L.A. Dodgers - who are were sitting in first at the All-Star break so yes, they played some good baseball teams. They also played cellar-dwellers like Boston and Texas and a lot of teams that will finish the season as also-rans.

Put the Twins down as a long shot if they manage to come up with the talent they need. The players want a chance at a playoff berth but what about management? With first baseman Joe Mauer and starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfry on the disabled list, the Twins went into the second half with players making a combined salary of more than $40.5 million unable to contribute. It is a good thing that salaries do not necessarily dictate how a team is going to fare. Minnesota's payroll overall this season is $86 million so nearly half of it is sidelined.

The Twins will play all of the same American League teams again in the second half but the only National League club they face is cellar-dwelling Arizona.

Bird numbers, hunting spots will be up this fall

If you hunt ducks you have to be smiling about the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report that an already healthy duck population is up eight percent from 2013.

The Trends in Waterfowl Breeding Population is a comprehensive study which the U.S. and Canadian services have thrown their data into since 1955.

According to the report there are a record 49.2 million breeders on the summer nesting grounds and good to excellent nesting conditions from Alaska to Newfoundland. Some of the best nesting habitat this year can be found directly north of Minnesota in the province of Ontario.

Long-term average numbers of shovelers and gadwall, if you enjoy hunting these two dabbling ducks, are up 114 and 102 percent.

Numbers on popular ducks like mallards, blue-winged and green-winged teal, redheads and scaup are up while canvasback and pintail are down.

The federal report comes on the heels of a somewhat discouraging spring report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This DNR estimated the mallard breeding population population at 257,000 - 12 percent below last year's estimate of 293,000 mallards, The blue-winged teal population also saw a drop from 144,000 to 102,000.

Minnesota was also down in ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads. Their combined numbers rang up at 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than 2013.

The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.

It is practically a cinch the DNR will allow hunters six birds in their daily bag limit this season. With wetland conditions up 33 percent in Minnesota and the pond count on the breeding grounds of North America up 40 percent, duck hunters should find themselves with some good hunting the opportunities - depending how fickle nature chooses to be.

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