Neal: Sorry, Minnesota sports fans, you don’t deserve this

·5 min read

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.

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The Stanley Cup has been claimed, with Tampa Bay becoming the first repeat champion since Pittsburgh in 2016 and '17.

Phoenix has a 2-0 NBA Finals lead, so that series against Milwaukee could be over by midweek.

This is a tough time of year for Minnesota sports fans as they witness other cities celebrate titles while the local championship drought continues for teams in the four biggest leagues. Of that group, the Twins have the only two titles, and those came a generation ago in 1987 and 1991.

Thank heavens for Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx, who won four titles in 2010s. It was good, too, to see Minnesota United threatening last year to reach the MLS Cup.

This success, however, doesn't completely fill the championship void. The wrinkled, graying men and women who have followed the largest pro sports franchises for decades, the ones teased many times with the possibility of a storybook ending, they deserve more.

Tampa, for goodness sake, had just one pro team — the NFL's Buccaneers — 30 years ago (thirty!) when the Twins were last champions. Now they are the city of champions. In less than 11 months they have won two Stanley Cups, one Lombardi Trophy and an American League pennant.

Minnesota teams can't even make a little bit of a playoff run before exiting the postseason — if they qualify for the playoffs at all.

Back in the day, the Vikings would occasionally reach a Super Bowl before losing. Now their heartbreak takes place in the conference championship game. Still, they might be the closest of this group to have a shot at a title with the Wilf family committed to winning, a defense that should have more bite and top skill position players in Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson.

The Wild is the next closest, with a solid core and a couple of promising youngsters in Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy on the way. The team needs to avoid a big hit in the upcoming expansion draft, and for Kirill Kaprizov to stay in America. Then: Acquire a top center, and squeeze out whatever talent Zack Parise has left in him.

The Gersson Rosas regime gives the Wolves hope. Anthony Edwards will be a star before we know it. Karl-Anthony Towns has to prove Jimmy Butler wrong and raise not only his game but that of his teammates. There's no doubting that they still need some pieces — like a frontcourt partner for Towns — but things are no longer utterly hopeless.

The Twins, frankly, have ruined everyone's summer. They were supposed to contend for their third consecutive division title but assembled an underwhelming pitching staff. Throw in injuries and outbreaks of bad defense, and you have the most disappointing team in baseball.

Look for the Twins to move Nelson Cruz before the trade deadline. This team will not sniff a World Series until they assemble the right arms and come up with a true ace.

Which comes first, the Twins finding an ace or the Wild acquiring a top-line center? My money is on the pucksters.

Fans of the big four in Minnesota purchase expensive season tickets and install remote starters in their cars so they can get to and from arenas and stadiums in January. They endure 2-1 ballgames that last 3½ hours. They observe the annual replacing of the tiles at U.S. Bank Stadium.They deserve more. They need evidence that this championship drought might be ending.

The Lynx have had a terrific month. They are legit contenders again. They aren't drawing well — 2,300 Wednesday — but they are winning.

With the Twins failing to remain relevant, title-starved fans have two choices: start Filling up that sparse Lynx bandwagon again, or scour training camp reports later this month while looking to the Purple for signs of hope.

All-Star to watch

The Twins visited the Angels in May 2018, and a few players made a point of watching Shohei Ohtani take batting practice.

"It was pretty special," Brian Dozier said afterward. "I didn't know the guy can run, too. I say let him hit while he pitches."

Well, the Kraken has been released. He is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA on the mound. At the plate, he's batting .279 while leading the league with four triples, 32 home runs and a ridiculous .700 slugging percentage.

He will compete in the Home Run Derby on Monday, with livelier balls not kept in a humidor. It will be appointment television, as Ohtani could belt a couple 500 feet.

Buyer's remorse?

Forward Ramon Abila is scheduled to receive $1.1 million in total compensation this season, according to Spotrac, making him one of the highest-paid Loons. And Abila finally made headlines Wednesday — when he was sent off for punching a Colorado player while the Rapids set up for a free kick.

Abila had not played in three months when he joined the Loons from Boca Juniors, where he reportedly had groin surgery. He's looked rusty in his nine games, just one of them a start. He has scored two goals, one on a rebound of his penalty kick.

The Loons need Abila to get on the field, stay on the field and score. Or he is going to be one expensive mistake.

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AND TWO PREDICTIONS ...

Suns too hot

Milwaukee heads into Game 3 Sunday trailing Phoenix 2-0 in the NBA Finals. The Bucks should get a boost from playing at home, but a comeback seems unlikely against an inspired Suns team with a top coach in Monty Williams. Suns in five.

Twins will make trades

Look for the Twins to make at least two deals before the deadline, with Nelson Cruz and Andrelton Simmons the most likely moves. But they should resist offers for Taylor Rogers. On a team that has struggled against lefthanded hitters, he's valuable.

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