Ex-Twin ByungHo Park smashes four bombas in one game in Korea

Even former Twins in different leagues are getting in on the home run parade in 2019.

Remember ByungHo Park? The Twins won exclusive negotiating rights to the slugger from Korea before the 2016 season, essentially paying about $25 million for four years between posting fees and a contract to bring him to the majors.

It wasn’t the most expensive gamble in the world, but it didn’t quite pay off. Park hit home runs, but not much else, during the 2016 season. He wound up in Class AAA Rochester for the rest of 2016 and 2017 before the Twins released him so he could return to Korea.

Park, who was the KBO League home run champ every year from 2012-15 before joining the Twins, has resumed his mastery of pitching in that league. He hit 43 homers last year, just one short of the league lead.

And he crushed four home runs in a game earlier this week to take over the league lead in homers with 28. Per this account from Korea JoongAng Daily, which I read regularly (not true — it was sent to me by a colleague), he hit homers in the first, third, fifth and ninth innings, and it was the second time he’s hit four homers in a KBO game. Per the story:

Park’s performance is especially impressive as he didn’t have the best start to the season. During the first three months, Park hit just 13 home runs. Although that is not a bad number, considering his slugging ability, it was a disappointing result. … But Park’s bat exploded this month. He has hit 10 home runs with a 0.288 batting average and 24 RBIs, as of Tuesday’s game.

The Bomba Squad is in full effect in Korea, too.

But as noted, Park previously excelled in Korea so it’s not like this is a huge surprise. And to be fair, Park delivered on his power potential stateside — he just didn’t do much else at the plate.

Twins fans tend to draw unfortunate and uncomfortable comparisons between Park and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese infielder who struggled mightily with the Twins, at least in part because both arrived during the two worst Twins seasons in recent memory (the 99-loss 2011 season for Nishioka and the 103-loss “Total System Failure” 2016 season for Park).

Nishioka finished with a .507 OPS in 254 career plate appearances and was below average in the field. He was a disaster — hardly the only one for the 2011 Twins, but a disaster nonetheless.

Park smashed 12 homers in 244 MLB plate appearances — early in 2016 there was even some Rookie of the Year chatter, and Park had a .900-plus OPS into mid-May — and hit 36 homers combined between the Twins and Class AAA Rochester in 750 at bats. But he also struck out 242 times in those 750 at bats. Park didn’t work out as pitchers figured out the holes in his swing, but he had some value.

Maybe it’s just as well that it didn’t work with Park. He was primarily used as a designated hitter in 2016, the first of a four-year contract. If he was still on the roster in 2019 — the last year of his four-year contract — performing at an acceptable but not star level, would the Twins have pursued Nelson Cruz (who has 33 homers in just 354 at bats this year) in the offseason?

When you think about it that way, maybe the KBO’s bomba gain was also the Twins’ gain, and all is right with the home run universe.

Studio host/reporter Katie Emmer announces she’s leaving FSN

Katie Emmer, who was hired full-time by Fox Sports North as a studio host and reporter for almost exactly a year ago, announced Wednesday on Twitter that she is leaving the local regional sports network for “a new adventure and a new step in my career.”

Emmer, 24, is a St. Cloud State graduate. She wrote that she has “mixed emotions” about leaving and thanked FSN for “the opportunity to cover the same teams I grew up watching as a kid and giving me an outlet to grow.”

She didn’t specify in her tweet what her next stop will be. But Mike Dimond, senior vice president and general manager at FSN, said Emmer is headed to Philadelphia for a “great opportunity.”

Dimond added: “She left on great terms. She has a strong work ethic and is a good person. She has a very bright future and we wish her all the best.”

Michael Pineda’s 5 strong innings were a modern masterpiece

Michael Pineda had completed five strong innings for the Twins on Tuesday, at which point Minnesota held a slim 2-1 lead against the White Sox. He had thrown 89 pitches and had good enough stuff to strike out eight batters while allowing just four hits.

A few years ago, Pineda might have been asked to pitch at least another inning. Another generation or two ago, seven innings would have been the expectation — regardless of Pineda’s injury history or other circumstances.

But on Tuesday, five innings and 89 pitches was it. Maybe it wasn’t enough to mollify baseball purists who like to see starters work deeper in games, but it was a modern masterpiece of sorts.

It also was a good example of how a 5-inning effort from a starting pitcher isn’t really indicative of any sort of weakness on the part of pitchers these days. Rather, outings like that are becoming the norm thanks to a series of circumstances and strategic changes.

*As of 2014, per The Ringer, the average starting pitcher went about 6 innings — around where it had been for two decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was more like seven innings. This year, the number is 5.25 innings. That’s skewed a little by the use of “openers” and bullpen games, but most of it comes from traditional starts.

But consider this: In 1988, for example, the average plate appearance lasted 3.58 pitches. This season, it’s 3.93 plate appearances as batters work deeper into counts while hunting walks and not fearing strikeouts. Over the course of an average 6 inning start, that adds about 9-10 pitches to a starter’s workload — helping partly explain how innings pitched are going down.

*Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, but they’re also throwing fewer fastballs.

Per FanGraphs, starting pitchers threw fastballs about 57% of the time a decade ago. That number now has dipped to more like 52%. Average fastball velocity, meanwhile, has jumped from just above 90 mph for starters a decade ago to more like 92 mph now.

As FanGraphs notes, that’s largely in response to higher home run rates: Batters slugged .441 against fastballs in 2015 and .359 against everything else. When every little dinky fly ball starts turning into a home run, it’s only natural to start throwing a few more breaking pitches.

Throwing harder likely means pitchers get tired more quickly. Breaking balls also involve both wear-and-tear and deeper counts since fastballs have a slightly higher strike percentage than breaking balls. Even with Pineda pounding the strike zone (60 of 89 strikes) on Tuesday, it took him a lot of pitches to get through five innings (including 29 in the fourth inning, which likely sealed his five-inning fate).

*There’s not much data that I can find on this, but I’m also of the mind that modern starting pitchers face more high-leverage innings than they used to for two reasons: Lineups are stacked deeper with more power hitters, so there are fewer “easy” innings. And more teams are in playoff contention deeper into seasons thanks to the evolution over time from one to five teams from each league that make the postseason, meaning more games matter.

*There IS data, however, on what happens to pitchers when they face a hitters for a third time in a game. This year, for instance, batters have a .724 OPS in their first plate appearance vs. a starting pitcher, but that increases to .780 the second time and .799 the third time. Hitters are smart and can adjust by then.

Pitchers are wearing down. Why not go to the bullpen? There’s a whole crew of fresh arms down there, ready to throw even harder than starters while only giving batters one look (usually) per game.

That’s what the Twins did Tuesday, getting a single scoreless inning from four different relievers in a 3-1 win. That they used five pitchers is hardly unusual; teams on average are using 4.27 pitchers per game this season, way up from previous generations.

It’s not wrong. It’s just different — and explainable once you really examine it.

Trigger warning: Blair Walsh misses practice field goal wide left

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where the more things change … let’s get to it:

*I’d like to see Blair Walsh succeed. I believe there should be a limit to human suffering, to the prison of one’s own mind, and that somewhere within Walsh there lives the kicker who was dominant as a Vikings rookie in 2012 — absolutely an underrated reason that Christian Ponder-led team went 10-6 and made the playoffs — but has fought the yips periodically since then and particularly after missing wide left in the playoffs after the 2015 season.

Walsh is the subject of one of the funniest and most sincere moments I’ve ever witnessed at Vikings training camp, and he did not run away from his lowest professional moment. He met it head on.

As such, it gives me no particular joy to report that Walsh, who kicked for Seattle in 2017 but was out of the NFL last season, does not seem to be seizing his third chance after being added recently to the Falcons camp roster.

I cannot confirm the distance of this attempt captured on video from Tuesday’s practice by ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, but I do know that it missed wide left. Trigger warning. Here it is:

That was just one of four kicks Walsh reportedly missed in practice Tuesday.

It has Falcons fans (and maybe even owner Arthur Blank) thinking fondly of Matt Bryant, the 44-year-old kicker who made 95% of his field goals last season for Atlanta and 88.7% over the last decade but was cut in February.

As a reminder: The Vikings and Falcons meet in Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium, a mere 11 days from now. Neither team’s kicking situation is anywhere near settled.

*I told you Tuesday morning that Christian Yelich was trying to tell a fan named Roxane to relax about his tasteful nudes. The Brewers slugger turned his at-bat music into a subtweet, upping the ante in a big way Tuesday night.

*Andrew Luck has received a lot of headlines lately for his retirement, but remember Rob Gronkowski? Yeah, the other in-his-prime (age: 30) NFL star who retired? He, too, did so because of the pain.

“I don’t feel like they really understand what the beatings can truly do to your body,” Gronk said this week. “How they can affect your overall life, and how they can take away joy from your life because your brain is just trying to focus on healing a body part because you took such a massive hit.”

*The Lynx clinched a playoff spot for the ninth straight season with another nice win Tuesday over Chicago. The battle now is for the chance to host a first-round playoff game. Minnesota (16-15) is in the No. 6 spot by a half-game over Seattle (15-15) and a game over Phoenix (14-15), but the three teams are tied in the loss column.

Phoenix plays both the Lynx and Seattle at home before the season ends. Seattle would win a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Lynx. The No. 6 seed hosts a single-elimination first-round playoff game, while the Nos. 7 and and 8 seeds are on the road. It should be a fun end of the regular season.

Remember: The Lynx finished 18-16 last season with Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus playing key roles. This year, Moore is sitting out, Whalen is retired, Brunson hasn’t played because of lingering effects of a concussion and Augustus has played sparingly because of knee troubles. Making the playoffs with what should be a nearly identical record to last season but with a largely new cast of characters is a feat.

Ex-NFL players telling their stories in support of Andrew Luck

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where solidarity is key. Let’s get to it:

*A lot of current and former NFL players have applauded Colts QB Andrew Luck in his decision to retire a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday as a result of an accumulation of injuries — and the joy that has been sapped from him — endured in his career.

But perhaps the most interesting things I have read on the subject are from a pair of retired offensive linemen, both of whom detailed just what it feels like to be constantly injured and constantly rehabilitating those injuries, as Luck did.

The first is a series of tweets from Rich Ohrnberger, who played parts of five seasons with the Patriots, Cardinals and Chargers between 2009-14. Unlike Luck, who retired having already made close to $100 million, Ohrnberger’s career earnings (per Spotrac) are around $3.6 million.

He details chronic pain bad enough that he had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and crawl to the bathtub at the start of his day just to be able to walk. He retired in 2015 to little fanfare.

Ohrnberger concludes: “Over the course of my career, I was drafted in the 4th round, went to a Super Bowl, played in a playoff game, snapped footballs to 2 Hall of Fame QBs, made lifelong friends, and lived a dream. but the trade off was significant. I’ve had both shoulders operated on, part of a clavicle bone removed, spent a season on IR due to a concussion, ruptured my MCL, and had back surgery. That’s the abbreviated list … Football is about dealing with pain. It’s unavoidable. … but it wears you down.”

Geoff Schwartz, who spent 2012 with the Vikings as part of a career that lasted from 2009-15 and netted him about $10 million, wrote a long piece on SB Nation in which he detailed his three offseasons spent rehabbing injuries and the toll they took:

That was just three years of rehab. Luck practically spent his entire career doing this. He’d fix one body part, and another would be broken. Imagine you’re fixing a car. The engine busts. It’s repaired, but then the belt breaks. Then the brakes go. Over and over. Thus, it’s no surprise his joy for the game, or more distinctly, his joy of the process of preparing, has faded. It’s human nature. Eventually, you are over it. Luck had enough and he’s courageous for calling it quits when he decided it was time.

*ESPN announced the lineup for this year’s “body issue” magazine, and a segment  of Twitter was sent into starry-eyed happiness with the inclusion of Brewers MVP Christian Yelich. There was at least one naysayer, though … and Yelich addressed her personally.

*Deadspin has a good overview of baseball’s attendance problem, which includes one interesting idea that I hadn’t considered:

There is one complicating factor here that may be worth noting: MLB attendance took its first big step backwards in 2009, in the first full year of the recession, and has never recovered. There’s reason to believe that baseball might be more susceptible to an economy where falling real wages have seen most Americans have to work longer hours just to tread water. If you’re an NFL team with just eight games a year, or an NBA team with fewer tickets to sell per game, you can maybe rely on selling to one percenters and the occasional splurge from a non-wealthy family; with 81 home games a year and 40,000-plus capacities, MLB teams have to rely on repeat customers without trust funds, and those are increasingly tough to come by in the modern economy.

As the piece lays out, it’s more complicated than a simple issue. But it is worth pondering whether baseball’s attendance decrease is less about the sport itself and more about its customers.

*Wolves rookie Naz Reid had his 20th birthday on Monday, and Karl-Anthony Towns brought him a piece of cake.

*Don’t set up your live shot next to the sprinklers. That’s a good lesson for this Tuesday.

Averages, outliers, comparisons and Byron Buxton: How should we really feel about Twins pitching?

It’s human nature to make comparisons and gauge our own status (and that of others) as a result. If you get a $50 bonus for some task, for instance, you feel pretty good about it without any other context.

You feel even better in many cases if you find out someone else only got $25, but an anger swells in some cases if you find out someone else received $100 – even though you have the same amount in every scenario.

We can do the same thought exercise with a real example: the Twins pitching staff (though I’ll take $50 if anyone is offering).

If you simply compare the Twins pitching staff to the rest of MLB over the course of the entire season, the news is flattering. Minnesota had the eighth-best ERA in baseball entering play Monday (4.18), which firmly classifies the Twins as “above-average” in that category.

But if you isolate on monthly comparisons, your smile turns to a frown and your postseason panic level goes up a few notches.

Their team ERA in August is a much less flattering 4.91, which over the course of a full season would rank in the bottom 10 instead of the top 10 in the majors. The starting pitching is even more troubling: a 5.34 ERA this month, compared to a 4.07 mark for the year.

The Twins as a team this season have been remarkably good at maintaining a steady level of confidence regardless of whether they are temporarily performing above or below expectations.

Perhaps players more than fans innately understand how averages work – that they are not flat lines of performance but fluctuating lines full of peaks and valleys. Just as you should never assume you can walk across a river that is on average 4 feet deep — as it might be up to your ankles in spots and over your head in others – don’t confuse a 4.18 team ERA as a constant output.

Here’s the best guess about the Twins starting pitching (which has maintained most of the same cast of characters while the bullpen has evolved quite a bit): They overachieved in May (3.08 ERA) and have underachieved in August (aforementioned 5.34 ERA). Those are outlier months. During March/April (4.21), June (3.91) and July (4.16) they performed to expectation.

That doesn’t necessarily predict what will happen in September and perhaps the postseason, only what would happen if they pitch as expected.

Of course, there are two other comparisons worth noting.

One: Even with the eighth-best team ERA in baseball, the Twins rank below fellow American League playoff contenders Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Houston and Oakland. They might like their pitching in a vacuum, only to find it doesn’t measure up in a series against one of those teams.

Two: The Byron Buxton factor. Counting all runs (earned and unearned this year), the Twins are allowing four runs per game during Buxton’s 78 starts in center field this season, but that figure swells to 5.7 runs per game in the 52 games he has not started (either due to rest or injury).

Some of that is probably coincidental – Buxton was healthy in May but has missed almost all of August – but there’s no doubt his defense helps save runs.

Buxton should be activated soon. If he’s healthy for the stretch run, maybe Twins fans will start liking their team’s chances a little more compared to everyone else.

Ghosts of kicking past are set to haunt Vikings early this year

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes the stars are misaligned. Let’s get to it:

*Of course Blair Walsh is getting another chance in the NFL, this time as late competition in Falcons camp for the kicking job in Atlanta. And of course every story about Walsh this weekend referenced his 27-yard miss against Seattle in the playoffs.

But most of all: Of course if Walsh wins the job, he will be kicking against the Vikings in Week 1 of the regular season at U.S. Bank Stadium.

This is how it works with Vikings and kickers, or at least how it seems to work. Like a shortstop going through a streak of bad fielding, the ball always seems to find them.

It’s not enough for the Vikings to struggle with the kicking game. The latest, in case you missed it: Kaare Vedvik, the big-legged kicker/punter acquired for a fifth-round pick a couple weeks ago, missed both his field goal tries in Saturday’s 20-9 preseason win over Arizona. That was hardly the biggest concern (hello Kirk Cousins and the first-team passing offense), but it did lead Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to say in regards to Vedvik and the kicking game “I’m at a loss on that.”

But no, it’s not enough for the Vikings to have their own struggles. They must be reminded of past failures — potentially with Walsh in Week 1 and almost certainly in their second home game during Week 3 when they face the Raiders and second-year kicker Daniel Carlson.

Carlson, of course, was a fifth-round pick in 2018. He missed three field goals during a Week 2 tie with the Packers, and he was dumped. The Raiders scooped him up and he went 16 for 17 the rest of the way. Dan Bailey, the seasoned veteran brought in to replace him (with pretty much the 100 percent backing of everyone who follows the Vikings) missed seven field goals last year and was shaky enough in camp this year to usher in the Vedvik trade and competition.

Maybe the Vikings will make what proves to be the right decision this time, but history suggests otherwise.

And if you don’t think there is high potential for something weird to happen in the kicking game to determine the outcome of Week 1, Week 3 or both, you haven’t been watching Vikings football for very long.

*Jim Souhan wrote about the Twins’ starting rotation and its descent into mediocrity, which is all well and good. But let’s zero in on the end of the column, when relief pitcher Sergio Romo talks about tacos.

Win, you eat tacos,” Romo said. “Don’t have a good day? Eat tacos. Makes me feel better. The first thing I did when I got to Minnesota was ask, ‘Siri, find me some good tacos.’”

Sergio Romo is a treasure.

*Former Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, now with the Rams, wasn’t exactly thrilled to leave Green Bay.

I was kind of taken aback, because I thought I’d always be back there, whether it was at a cheaper price [or not],” Matthews said. “So that was kind of a shock, because [my family] stayed out there and had our third child in the offseason, and I was hanging in town training there and everything. And yeah, that was kind of a surprise to me because I just figured I would be out there a few more years. People say, ‘You chose to go to L.A.’ I didn’t choose. They told me there was no room for me.”

Ron Gardenhire barreling toward 6th straight 90-loss season as manager

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where the good old days weren’t that long ago. Let’s get to it:

*For the first nine seasons of Ron Gardenhire’s managerial career, he could do very little wrong in the regular season.

The Twins had winning records in eight of those nine years from 2002-2010. They won six division titles in that span and lost out on another in 2008 after a Game 163 loss to the White Sox.

The 2011 season was supposed to be more of the same … but then everything fell apart. Injuries robbed Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau of both time and production. The starting pitching regressed. Hope started to wane, and the end result was a 63-99 mess.

If 2012 started with the hopes that that was a blip on the radar and not the start of a new trend, a 6-16 April squashed that idea. The Twins would lose at least 90 games every year from 2011-14, the last of which was Gardenhire’s final year as manager.

Gardy got another chance with the Tigers in 2018 in what looked from the outset like a major rebuilding project. Detroit made the postseason every year from 2011-14 as the Twins faltered, but by 2017 they lost 98 games and were starting over.

Gardenhire’s Tigers lost 98 games last season. And this year? Poor Gardy and Detroit bring MLB’s worst record into Target Field on Friday: 38-87. Gardenhire will lose 90 games for the sixth straight year. He is almost certainly going to lose 100 for the first time, and right now Detroit is on pace to lose 113.

And get this: The Tigers actually started 7-3 this year. They are 31-84 since then. These three weekend games are the last of a 10-game road trip that is 2-5 thus far, though we should say this: Those games were against playoff contenders Tampa Bay and Houston, and they were highly competitive — three one-run losses, two by walk-off, and a near-miss at an unlikely rally Thursday night in Houston.

The Twins can’t afford to take this series lightly; they won’t always be able to lose two of three to a lesser AL Central team (as they did against the White Sox) and still gain ground in the division race (as they did in growing the lead to 3.5 games when Cleveland was swept by the Mets).

As for Gardenhire, he has already a tied a career-high with eight ejections this season — giving him 83 all-time as a manager. Short of pulling an upset or two at Target Field this weekend, maybe he’ll break that record for the Target Field crowd.

*Speaking of this weekend’s MLB action, it’s time for Players Weekend again — and the odd uniforms and nicknames that go with it.

*The Vikings still haven’t settled on three important special teams jobs — who will punt, hold and placekick — but if all else fails maybe they can turn to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team? Star player Carli Lloyd recently drilled a 55-yard field goal at an Eagles practice — with plenty of accuracy and some distance to spare.

*And speaking of the Vikings’ kicking carousel, the headline from the Packers’ 22-21 loss to the Raiders in Winnipeg was the end zone field concern that led the teams to play on an 80-yard field. But don’t forget the game-winning field goal for Oakland was drilled by Daniel Carlson, the former Vikings rookie kicker last season who was cut after missing three kicks, including a game-winner, against Green Bay.

How will Wild GM Guerin use analytics? Perhaps Jason Zucker provides clues

Near the end of his formal introduction as general manager, long after the Wild’s new dog Breezer tried to upstage him, Bill Guerin was asked the all-important question about analytics and their use in hockey.

“I’m all in with it. … It’s another way to look at what’s going on,” Guerin said, adding that he’s not a number-cruncher himself but he appreciates the data he receives. “The more information you can have, the better. We were extremely big on it in Pittsburgh.”

This will certainly please a certain subset of Wild fans, particularly those who believed former general manager Paul Fenton wasn’t of the same mind. But I should also caution that talk is cheap and that Fenton offered an answer 15 months ago at his introduction that was fundamentally different than Guerin’s but also similar in some ways.

“I don’t believe that any decisions are going to primarily be made by analytics, but it will support everything we do with our eyes,” Fenton said when he was introduced in May 2018. “That’s the most important thing. I will use every resource that we have.”

A growing number of sports fans, I think, have come to equate analytics with “good” or at least “smart” in recent years.

But “analytics” can be a catch-all word that gives people with a vague understanding but leaves them short on specifics or concrete examples.

Recognizing that there is a healthy debate to be had about how to best use data — and how useful it is — in a free-flowing sport like hockey, let’s nonetheless take a crack at trying to identify how analytics might be used to view one very specific and interesting player: Wild forward Jason Zucker.

Zucker was a player who clearly fell out of favor with Fenton, to the point that the former GM nearly traded him twice. The second of those near-trades was with Pittsburgh – where Guerin was assistant GM before taking the Wild job.

What might make an organization like the Penguins, where analytics were “extremely big” as Guerin said, value Zucker more than the Wild — which didn’t appear, at least, to value data as much under Fenton? Here are some possibilities:

*The Penguins might have looked at Zucker’s 2018-19 season, when he dropped from 33 goals the previous year to 21, and saw quite a bit of bad luck, pressing or both.

Zucker’s puck possession metrics actually improved last year from the previous year. He also attempted 60 more shots last year (398 vs. 338) than the year before, but a whopping 184 were either blocked or missed the net. Of the shots that reached the net, Zucker scored on just 9.8% of them compared to 14.9% the year before and his career average going into last season was 12.8%.

Perhaps the Penguins concluded that Zucker is more likely to settle in as a 30-goal scorer than a 20-goal scorer based on that and other data (courtesy of Hockey Reference).

*The Penguins might have also looked at a study that suggests forwards play at or near their peak performance between the ages of 24 and 32, then experience a decline.

Zucker is 27 and has four years left on his contract (at $5.5 million per year), which should be during his peak years.

The primary forward the Wild was set to get in return — Phil Kessel, who vetoed the trade — has three years left on his contract (at $6.8 million per year) and turns 32 in October. Kessel has scored at least 20 goals each of the last 11 seasons and has averaged 30 in that span. But he might be due for a decline.

Data never tells the whole story, of course, which is something upon which Fenton, Guerin and even the most die-hard believer in analytics would agree.

But it will be interesting to see how and if it is incorporated during Guerin’s time as he tries to undo some of the damage from the last 15 months.

Bullpen angst? Cleveland fans feel pain after another blown save

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where the weather forecast for the State Fair is the best news of the year. Let’s get to it:

*Twins starting pitchers have had a lot of outings recently that were either too brief, ineffective or both. Jake Odorizzi’s five-inning effort Wednesday in a 4-0 loss to the White Sox (eight hits, four runs, three earned) was the latest example.

But complaining too much about the starting pitching – or the overall staff, for that matter – is indicative of focusing too much on recent events. Overall, the Twins through Wednesday have the ninth-best ERA in MLB (4.15), while their bullpen is a (perhaps surprising) No. 12 in baseball despite all the angst.

For an even more amazing level of fan angst and recency bias, though, look directly at the Twins’ biggest rival in the race for the AL Central division title.

Cleveland has the third-best overall ERA in the majors and holds the very best bullpen ERA of any team. Lately, though, the sailing hasn’t been quite a smooth — particularly for closer Brad Hand.

Hand has given up seven runs in his last four outings and blown three consecutive save chances — the latest coming Wednesday when Carlos Santana (again) gave the Indians a 3-2 lead in the 10th inning with a clutch home run before the Mets rallied for two in the bottom half in a walk-off win that kept the Twins’ lead at three games.

Hand, the Chaska native who has turned into one of baseball’s top relievers, had a 1.05 ERA in his first 35 outings — but he has an 8.10 ERA in his last 18 appearances spanning the last couple months. That’s certainly cringe-worthy, but overall his ERA is still a respectable 3.35 (better than Cleveland’s league-leading team bullpen ERA of 3.44).

But when the top reliever in the best bullpen struggles, things get ugly on social media.

Hand has seven outings in which he recorded four outs or more, and it’s possible a lot of high-leverage innings are taking their toll. Or this could just be a rough stretch that he will work through. I’m sure a lot of Cleveland fans are giving great consideration to the latter possibility.

*The Tigers — next up at Target Field on Friday — have been awful this season and almost surely will lose well in excess of 100 games. But they beat Justin Verlander and the Astros on Wednesday in the largest betting upset in the majors in the last 15 years. The Tigers were +435 underdogs, meaning you only had to wager $100 to win $435.

*The Packers and Raiders are playing Thursday night in Winnipeg, something I still don’t understand. What I do know for sure: Winnipeg is in the province of Manitoba.