Sorting Through the BS

A whole LOT of sports stuff has been going on over the past week or so.

Whether you’re a Twins fan, a Vikings fan, a college football fan or a fan of one a team in one of those sports leagues I don’t really give a crap about like the NBA and NHL, there’s been so much stuff happening, that you could spend almost all day reading stories on every major sports site, just to try to understand all of it.

Who has time for that?

Well, I do, of course. I have time for pretty much anything. For me it’s just motivation that’s lacking. I just don’t WANT to read all that crap.

But I’ve read enough that I’m going to perform a public service and cut through all the bullshit and tell you what you really need to know about the things we care about. So let’s get started.

Since the focus of this site has been baseball related and, specifically, Twins baseball related, let’s start with Twins stuff.

Twins GM That Levine is talking like the Twins are going after the big free agent fish in this season’s free agent pool. Don’t believe it.

You may have heard that the Twins have a real shot at landing Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.

He’s the guy that would become the next Harmon Killebrew AND the next Johan Santana rolled into one if the Twins could sign him.

That is BS, of course, but it doesn’t matter because the Twins won’t land this big fish.

I can just hear you now. “But Thad Levine said on the radio…”

I know. That was BS, too.

Listen, no matter what you hear about all the stuff that Minnesota could offer Ohtani from his supposed “list” of things important to him, remember this: The New York Yankees can offer all of it, too. All of it.

I figure the Twins are expressing interest to drive up the price and make sure the Yankees have to pay every nickel possible, up to and including having to cough up some bodies from their heralded farm system to get more international bonus money to make sure they get Ohtani.

Come to think of it, the Twins have a bunch of international bonus money that could be made available in a trade.

Say… you don’t suppose that’s what Levine had in mind when he went on about how serious the Twins are about Ohtanom do you? No, of course not.

Anyway, Ohtani will be a Yankee, so that’s all you really need to know.

Part of the Ohtani chatter also involved speculation that the Twins would also go after starting pitcher Yu Darvish.

Yeah, that isn’t happening, either. Not because they can’t afford it (they can), but because they’re the Twins.

The Twins don’t sign premier free agents and premier free agents don’t have interest in signing with the Twins. Don’t waste your time hoping that will change.

The Vikings have a similar amount of BS swirling through their fanbase. Seems they have won football games week after week after week… to the point where they have the second best record in their conference.

This has people excited. Not so excited that they aren’t willing to toss the quarterback who led the team to all those wins overboard for a guy who hasn’t taken a snap in forever, but excited nonetheless.

But real Vikings fans know we can cut through the BS because we know what’s going to happen. We’ve been here before. Doesn’t matter the QB or the coach or the stadium. We know how this ends.

When it matters… when it REALLY matters… a kick will sail wide of the uprights and the Vikings’ season will be over.

If you accept that inevitability right now and just enjoy the ride until that happens, it will make life so much easier.

I’d write something about the Wild or the Timberwolves if I really cared, but I don’t.

I’m not really sure anyone in Minnesota cares, either. All I hear about the Wild is that they suck. Always. But at least fans are consistent on the Wild, I keep hearing how the T-Wolves are great – or suck – or are great – or suck – except when they’re great.

Bottom line for both teams is, when they show signs they can win something, someone let the rest of us know, so we can start paying attention. And since nothing matters less in pro sports than what happens in the NHL and NBA regular seasons, don’t bother talking about it until the playoffs or the offseason, whichever comes first for these two organizations.

That leaves major college football.

I know it really isn’t fair to talk about big time college football when I’ve just said the NHL and NBA are irrelevant for these purposes, since both the Wild and T-Pups have been relevant since the last time the same could be said about Gophers football.

However, since so many of the best Minnesota high school football players are on rosters in Wisconsin or other locations where football IS relevant (like North Dakota, for instance), it’s understandable that Minnesotans still pay attention to the goings-on in the Big Ten Conference and elsewhere.

If you haven’t paid attention since back when the Gophers mattered, you may not be aware that the National Champion in football is no longer decided by who finishes first in the polls.

Years ago, something called the BCS was formed to match up the top two teams in the nation and that evolved into the current “final four” playoff system for it’s major college programs.

There’s a committee whose responsibility it is to decide who the top four teams are and then those teams play a mini-tournament in January to determine the National Champion.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Here’s what really happens: the Committee gives one of the four spots to Alabama, one to the ACC Champion and one to the B1G Champion, then picks the one other team that they think have the best chance to give Alabama a game.

You may have heard that the teams the committee ranks at the top keeps losing the following week. This is true. In fact the top two teams lost this weekend and one of those teams was Alabama.

Now everyone is talking and writing about how the Tide won’t even be in the SEC Championship Game, so is unlikely to be in the playoffs.

Don’t believe that BS.

There are few things more certain in life than Alabama being in the college football playoffs.

There have been three playoffs since the current system replaced the old BCS “one vs two” system. Alabama has been in all three. They were also in three of the last five BCS Championship games. That’s the next best thing to a sure thing.

The SEC Champion has been in the playoffs in each of the past 11 years – the final eight years of the BCS and first three years of the current playoff system. The inclusion of the SEC Champion is damn near the very definition of a “sure thing.”

Of course, that won’t be Alabama this year. But before you think for a moment that it means Nick Saban’s team will get left out of the party, keep in mind that the Tide didn’t win the SEC in 2011, either, but that didn’t stop the powers-that-be from matching them up in the BCS Championship game against LSU, the team that DID win the SEC title.

Yes, even though they could select only TWO teams, they chose Alabama over the champions of every other conference in the country. And you think that now, with four spots available, they won’t plug in Alabama over… well… pretty much anyone else? Fat chance.

When the teams are announced, here’s what you can be pretty certain will happen: The four teams will be the SEC Champion, the ACC Champion, the B1G Champion and… Alabama.

When it comes to Alabama being selected, it will happen for one reason: It always happens. Always.

Just like how the Vikings will always break your heart and any free agent that the Twins and Yankees both want will always sign with the Yankees.

Until one of those things doesn’t happen, we should just assume that anyone who tries to tell us otherwise is feeding us bullshit.

Kernels Home Opener in Photos

The Cedar Rapids Kernels jumped to an early 6-1 lead in their home opener against the Beloit Snappers on Saturday evening, but by the end of the night, only the bean counters in Cedar Rapids could call the night a success.

Thanks to a large walk-up, certainly helped by 76 degree temperatures, the Kernels set a franchise record for attendance at a home opener, but the Snappers played spoiler by rallying three runs in the visitors’ half of the ninth inning to top the Kernels 7-6.

Kernels starter Sean Poppen worked seven solid innings, surrendering three runs (only two of the earned run variety), while striking out seven Snappers without a walk.

The offense was led by DH Travis Blankenhorn who doubled and added a three-run home run.

Shane Carrier also homered while Jaylin Davis and Caleb Hamilton added triples.

Davis may have contributed the defensive play of the game, gunning down Beloit’s Nate Mondou at the plate,

In fact, let’s start our photo set with a series of shots showing catcher Ben Rortvedt’s tag of Mondou.

(All photos by SD Buhr)

All of that in the first inning before the Kernels even came to the plate!

Now, let’s back up to pregame activities.

Volunteers with the American flag prior to the game.
Kernels manager Tommy Watkins meets with the umpires and Snappers manager.
A record Home Opener crowd of 3,508 watches leadoff hitter Aaron Whitefield step into the batters box.
Starting pitcher Sean Poppen

Now let’s look through the Kernels’ staring lineup.

CF Aaron Whitefield
SS Ariel Montesino
DH Travis Blankenhorn
1B Lewin Diaz
RF Jaylin Davis
C Ben Rortvedt
LF Shane Carrier (watching his 2nd inning home run sail toward the wall)
Caleb Hamilton
2B Brandon Lopez

 

Are You Ready For Some Baseball?

Yes, it has been a while since I posted anything, so I’ll be surprised if anyone still remembers we have this blog, but I’m back home after a couple of weeks in Florida and it’s almost time for the baseball season to begin. So, let’s fire up the blog again and see whether we, as Twins fans, have enough this season to even be worth talking about.

We are not off to a great start.

First of all, the new Twins front office did virtually nothing in their first offseason on the job to improve the team. I was asked during a brief radio interview on KMRY in Cedar Rapids this week what I felt about the Twins’ fortunes in 2017 after spending time at their spring training site in March. I’ll say the same thing here that I said in response during that interview.

The Twins did nothing to improve their team in the offseason, so any improvement will have to come from further development of their existing young roster, guys like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, et al.

The good news is that there is every reason to believe that Buck, Max and friends like Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario should indeed mature and see their games improve.

The bad news is that none of those guys can pitch. (Well, Buxton probably COULD, but it ain’t happening.)

This morning, many of the final roster moves were announced and we found out that the Twins will start the season with 13 pitchers and without the player that perhaps had the best spring training of anyone in camp, Byung ho Park, who was sent down and will apparently start his season in Rochester.

That leaves the Twins with just three bench bats and none of them are guys you would want to see come to the plate even as a pinch hitter.

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that the new front office is scared to death of their pitching staff. I understand that because I think most of us have been afraid of this pitching staff for a long time. But they had all offseason to address their obvious pitching needs and did virtually nothing to improve it.

So, to tell us they sent Park down because they felt they ended up needing more pitchers is really an indictment on their poor work in obtaining pitching during the offseason. Fans should not let them off the hook easily if this all blows up.

Now that I have that rant out of the way, let me just pass on some observations I had down in Fort Myers.

As always, I spent a fair amount of time on the minor league side of the complex watching past and future Cedar Rapids Kernels work out.

My sense, as I shared Tuesday on the MN Sports Weekly podcast, as well as the KMRY interview, is that the Kernels will have a better offensive lineup this season than they had a year ago and it appears that at least half of the team’s pitching rotation that finished the 2016 season will be returning to start 2017.

Lewin Diaz and Shane Carrier should add pop to the middle of the order and, for now anyway, it appears that Travis Blankenhorn and Jaylin Davis will return to start the new season in CR. That group could produce some runs if other guys can get on base with regularity.

It doesn’t look like slugger Amourys Minier will break camp with the Kernels at this point, but he should help out when he arrives later in the season, as could other bats such as Trey Cabbage and Wander Javier.

Jermaine Palacios will return and be among a large group of middle infielders worthy of getting opportunities in Cedar Rapids during the season.

Let’s wrap up with a few pictures from my time in Fort Myers.

Fort Myers Beach – yes there is something other than baseball to do on a mid 80s March day in Florida.
IF Aaron Whitefield and C Ben Rortvedt
Tyler Beardsley should be returning to Cedar Rapids
Ariel Montesino makes a bare handed play as Wander Javier looks on.
Byron Buxton goes deep in the first inning against the Orioles.
Jorge Polanco gets congratulated after a grand slam home run.

 

Twins and Hawkeyes and Vikings, Oh My

I bet you’re shocked to find I’ve posted a new article here, aren’t you? If it seems like I’m never posting anything new any more, it’s only because I haven’t been posting anything new any more.

Why not? It’s pretty simple. I haven’t felt like writing anything. And if there is one thing I’ve figured out in my 15-ish months since retiring, it’s that retirement means you no longer have to do much of anything you don’t feel like doing.

But a few days ago, I wrote a new article (for which I had to actually get presentably dressed and go conduct a real interview!) and the process reminded me that I kind of enjoy writing.

(As for the article in question, you’re just going to have to wait until the 2017 Twins Prospect Handbook comes out to read it. I’m not sure when that will be, but I got my article submitted ahead of deadline, so if publication is delayed, it’s not my fault!)

Anyway, as I’ve reflected on the past few months, I’ve decided it’s time for me to speak out about some things, so let’s get on with it.

If you are familiar with my sports fandom at all, you probably are aware that I’m a devoted, if occasionally somewhat irrational, fan of the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings and Iowa Hawkeyes.

The mix is a result of spending my youth in the 1960s living in Minnesota and virtually the rest of my six decades on this planet in Iowa. I guess I also did spend brief periods in Arkansas and Wisconsin that were, at the same time memorable and forgettable, but I digress (this is about 2016, not my bizarre path through the mid 1970s).

Twins

Baseball is conducting their annual Winter Meetings at one of those giant Gaylord Resorts again, this time in suburban Washington, D.C. I’ve been there for conferences a couple of times, as I have to Gaylords in the Nashville, Orlando and Dallas areas.

I’m not a big fan of the Gaylords, but I can see why their ginormous size makes it an attractive venue for ginormous conferences, like the Winter Meetings. You can literally spend four days there, eating and drinking in a different place every night, without ever having to step out to breathe fresh air. I’m just not sure that should be considered a good thing (unless you happen to own a Gaylord, which I do not.)

targetfield
(Photo: SD Buhr)

Everyone involved with Twins baseball operations who is anyone is undoubtedly at the Winter Meetings, as are representatives from their minor league affiliate front offices. The dance cards of new Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will be full, I’m sure. I hope they are a lot better at remembering the names of new people they are introduced to than I am.

If they struggle with remembering names, I would offer one piece of advice: Prioritize. Specifically, if the person you were just introduced to can throw a baseball well enough to miss a bat, THAT is someone you want to remember. You’re welcome.

A lot of speculation is circulating concerning the possible trade of Brian Dozier. If the chatter among Twitter feeds of people who should know about this kind of thing is accurate, there are several teams showing more than idle interest in obtaining Dozier and his team-friendly contract.

I like Brian Dozier and I wish the Twins were good enough that keeping him made sense, but they aren’t so it doesn’t.

Dozier’s value will never be higher, so Falvey and Levine (can we just call them “Falvine” until we figure out which of them is playing the bigger role in roster decisions?) need to make the best deal they can and hopefully that will include some high-ceiling near-MLB-ready pitching.

With all due respect to their signing of free agent catcher Jason Castro, fair or not, the return they negotiate for trading Dozier will establish their first impression approval ratings among a sizable contingent of Twins fans – and we all know how first impressions work in this organization. A bad first impression means you’re pedaling uphill to ever get respect from within the Twins community, while a good first impression could mean you’ll have a job for decades.

Good luck, guys. We’re all rooting for you. Until you screw up and we don’t root for you any more.

Hawkeyes (and, I guess, Vikings)

Let’s get this out of the way first – it’s going to be a very tough basketball season for the Hawkeyes.

The football team, however, is headed to Tampa to play the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on January 2.

If you had told me that was going to happen a few weeks ago after the Penn State debacle, I’d have said you were nuts. I wouldn’t have bet money the Hawkeyes would even end up being bowl eligible, much less finish 8-4 and going somewhere warm to ring in the new year.

(Photo: SD Buhr)
(Photo: SD Buhr)

What I forgot, as I tend to do almost every season, is that Iowa usually plays their best football in November.

Now, to be fair, that Penn State game was in November and it was a stinkbomb (that I fortunately did not witness, as I was attending the Arizona Fall League’s Fall-Stars Game that night), but the Hawkeyes used the following game against Illinois (which has come to be known as the “B1G West Division’s Second Bye Week”) to gear up to upset Michigan and destroy Nebraska in the season’s final weeks.

It has been an interesting football season for me. While Iowa was losing to North Dakota State and Northwestern, the Vikings were being inked into the NFL playoffs and even projected by some as a Super Bowl contender.

Wow, did that change in a hurry.

Ironically, it was an article on Nebraska football by Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel that provided some clarity to me concerning the difference between the fortunes of the Hawkeyes and Vikings.

The point of Shatel’s column (to me, anyway) was that, while Husker fans tend to look down their noses at the “vanilla programs” at Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska needs to emulate the Badgers and Hawkeyes, putting their past Big 8/12 days behind them, and figure out how to establish a similar physical identity.

Shatel wrote, “Wisconsin and Iowa know who they are and like who they are and don’t care what you think of them. It works for them.”

That’s mostly true. Sure. many of us wish a Kirk Ferentz team would show a little bit of offensive imagination (or, really, ANY imagination), but we’re also smart enough to know that no coach is likely to recruit four-star (much less five-star) skill position high school studs to play football in Iowa City (while staying within NCAA rules, anyway).

Iowa’s best chance of occasionally making noise on a national level is to bring in the biggest, baddest two-and-three-star linemen and linebackers it can find, spend a couple of years making them bigger and badder, then unleash them to terrorize the Nebraskas and Minnesotas, while battling Wisconsin for supremacy of the B1G West.

If you’re lucky, every once in a while, you’ll put together a group that will also give the big boys in the B1G East a challenge, too.

It’s seldom aesthetically pleasing to many of today’s college football fans, but Ferentz has taken 14 of his last 16 Hawkeye teams to bowl games and 11 of them were January bowl games (including two Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl), so you can’t say it hasn’t worked.

Which makes me wonder if there’s a parallel between the Vikings and Cornhuskers.

Like many Vikes fans, I’ve been waiting for the next Culpepper-to-Moss combo to show up. Instead, we’ve watched as a parade of quarterbacks and receivers have failed to stretch NFL defenses, to the effect that almost the entire career of one of the most gifted running backs to grace an NFL field in decades has been wasted.

Yes, the Vikings lost the services of Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater before the 2016 season even got underway, but I can’t imagine any combination of skill players being successful behind the current offensive line. And I don’t want to hear about injuries to the O-line, either. Every team has linemen lose significant time to injury. Successful teams develop depth.

A moderately successful college program like Iowa, who must spend a couple years developing players to get a year or two of high-level contribution, can have its season derailed by critical injuries to upperclassmen linemen. But an NFL team that doesn’t have a constantly revolving recruiting cycle to contend with, should be able to develop and maintain enough depth to withstand some injuries on the line without seeing a promising season turn to crap the way Minnesota’s 2016 has.

The Hawkeyes will never be the Buckeyes, just as the Vikings are unlikely to ever become the Patriots. But if the Vikings will focus on developing beasts two-deep at each line position, and making that focus a part of their DNA going forward, maybe they’ll give the best the NFL has to offer a run for their money on a semi-regular basis.

Given the futility my fellow Vikings fans and I have endured the past couple of decades, I’d take that.

World Series Game 7 – Apocalypse Nigh

So there is much discussion about tonight’s improbable story conclusion of the World Series matchup between the perennially excluded teams of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.

incredible-thome-photo2In fact, there was a very funny post about the Second Coming of Christ.

However, the most interesting news I have heard about tonight’s game – which I will be watching – is the designee to throw out the ceremonial first pitch:

None other than our own Mr. Incredible – Jim Thome!!!