Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The First Round of the Year

Now, it isn't as if I'm clamoring all winter for the fairways to clear up so I can get on the course again, but when its warm enough, and my dad and I have the day off, we go golfing. That's just the way it is. I'm not much of a golfer, but I'm coming around, so a round of golf isn't too much of a stress anymore.
Today was the first day we both had off, and the weather was cooperative, so we decided to hit a local short course in order to get my bearings on the links again. My first tee shot of the season was, frankly, atrocious, a little squibber that would have been embarrassing on any other hole, on any other course. I recovered, chipped and had an easy two putt. My dad didn't fair so well, and he shot a 5. I was ahead by one stroke.
The next shot, I was worried. The first tee had sent shotting pains in my back, reminding me that I was too young for arthritis, but instead, I sent a beautiful 7 iron to right behind a tree. At least I had been able to take a full swing without wincing. Small victories. My chip shot came up, and I expected to bump the ball under the tree, but I got a little too much air under it and it instead went in between the tree trunk and the lowest branch. And it it stopped 6 feet from the pin. This was going to be my day.
And it was. I shot a mere 6 over par, which for me is thrilling. I didn't lose a ball, except for a tragic accident while walking up a hill, three or four fell out of my case and rolled off into oblivion. I think I have a quota for lost balls per round. The most important statistic though, is that for this season, I'm up 1-0 on my dad. And for this summer, I'm hooked on golf. - Ryan

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Big Ticket

I don't know much about the NBA, and I don't have a lot to say about it, but since I have a blog, I figure I can throw my two cents in real quick about the only team and player I know a whole lot about, Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves. The big controversy right now is whether or not we should trade him over the offseason. I find the debate to be relatively interesting, and against my better judgement have come to a couple of opinions. Here I go.
Now, you know how I feel about Kirby Puckett, and it seems to me, someone who isn't a professional basketball fan, that Kevin Garnett is filling the void of Minnesota sports hero. He's hard-working, passionate, easy to interview, active in the community, loyal, and a perennial all-star. Namely, he likes us, and for that, we like him.
The fundamental difference between Kirby and KG, of course, was that Kirby got rings, and KG hasn't. So what do we do? How do we get Garnett those rings he so desperately deserves, and we, the people of Minnesota, want him to have? The popular opinion espoused by the major sports media outlets is that Garnett should be traded, and in some sense, a lot of local fans agree. With the trend the Timberwolves have been following, it may be the only way to get Garnett on a winning team. But is it really?
At best, the team we trade Garnett to gives up a few draft picks and a young player. In other words, they sacrafice their future in order to get him, so Garnett gets only one, maybe two years to get to the promised land on this new team before his new team turns into a barren wasteland. Worst case scenario, the new team has to give up so much of its present that it drops from the elite status that Garnett wished to attain. I think the best thing to do, both for his own personal psyche, as well as for his championship aspirations is to stay in Minnesota.
But is that the best thing for the Timberwolves? Yes and no. Yes, quite simply, because Garnett seems overvalued. They could pull off an epic trade and have a solid, core to build on for the future. It was what the Twins did with the Chuck Knoblauch trade in the mid nineties, acquiring starter Eric Milton, sparkplug Cristian Guzman and Brian Buchanan, all members of the Twins squad that eventually turned it around (Milton and Buchanan have since been traded for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett).
But then there is the landscape of Minnesota sports. The Vikings are mired in the Loveboat Scandal, The Twins are tumbling from their seat atop the AL Central and the Wild decided against spending money and were mired in the NHL basement this year. The Timberwolves don't want to end up on Patrick Ruesse's bad side by getting rid of Minneapolis' premier athlete. Ticket sales would plummet, as would the respectability of the franchise.
I think the most appropriate thing for the Wolves to do is keep Garnett and be very aggressive this off-season on the free-agent and trade market. They do need to make a trade for another draft pick for another athlete in the backcourt to pair with Rashad McCants, or another lanky outfielder. Then, they need a better option at point, and a big man in the middle so KG can use his athleticism outside a little more. It's a lot to do, but if I can write an entire post on the NBA, I think the Wolves can start to turn things around this off-season. - Ryan

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Twins, the A's, the Dome

This post was originally intended to be placed on Is It Sports, and refers to a game played on April 12th

My folks have season tickets, and for that, I am eternally grateful. On days that one of them can’t make it to a Twins game, I typically luck into the spare ticket. This season, the first of their tickets fell into my hands.

So my day began in tiny Willmar, where I was working at their depressing Home Depot. I had missed the home opener, because the Holiday Inn I was staying at didn’t have Fox Sports, so I listened to it on the radio while I watched Sin City on Starz (I enjoyed quite a bit, which surprised me). The Twins fell behind by four early, and I focused instead on Jessica Alba.

Then the Twins won, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Well, anyways, the day began in Willmar. The job sucked, the store was depressing and I had a 2 hour drive back to the Cities to look forward to. Needless to say, when my mom said we were leaving early in order to hit Hubert’s on Chicago before the game, I leapt at the opportunity. My mom and I, along with some of her friends, were drinking greedily, and going into the game, the result was really unnecessary.

I left Hubert’s early, because I wanted to get to the game on time. I missed the National Anthem, which appeared to have been sung by a youth choir, but made it in time for the first pitch. The honoree was the Target mascot. Needless to say, he threw it to TC Bear. A mascot throwing the pitch to another mascot. It was rather surreal.

Our tickets were right by first base, about 20 rows up, and 19 rows up (right in front of me) were a pair of Oakland fans. Now, these guys weren’t the pompous, drunk fans that everyone has been conditioned not to like. They were good, they talked baseball among themselves, and they cheered at the appropriate spots. Except, the volume of cheers never really fit the situation. For example, on Nick Swisher’s first of two homeruns, they clapped politely and kept talking about Ken Macha. But every time there was a called strike against the Twins, they roared with delight. Maybe they were there for the umpires. I’ll never know.

In any case, with that intro out of the way, I thought I’d give you a few thoughts on the game and both teams in some bullet points. For the record, the final was 6-5 Twins.

  • The 34 in centerfield was a fitting tribute for Kirby Puckett. The fact that it was in the dome was the most important part to me. For a man who spent his entire career there, there was no other building I would have rather had it in. Right now, though, now that that is over with, I think it’s time to start considering a new stadium. Carl Pohlad and the Twins started that line about 7 years to soon.
  • The sleeveless uniforms, the vests that the Twins were wearing? Most atrocious article of sports clothing I have ever seen, and that includes the 80’s Padres.
  • Scott Ullger was the hitting coach for the Twins last year, which isn’t much to brag about. Well, just watching him do stupid things like tell Tony Batista to steal third makes me think last years atrocious offensive performance wasn’t the result of a lack of talent. Fortunately, the A’s also sent Adam Melhuse to steal second, so stupid baserunning decisions canceled themselves out. Nevertheless, if the Twins had lost by one, I would have put it all on Ullger’s shoulders.
  • Shannon Stewart, just because he doesn’t jump out at you, seems like a tradeable commodity, or someone to get rid of. But in this game, he just carried himself differently. I think after a couple of years of being an important cog in the machine, he’s loosened up and is now an important member of the clubhouse as well. Of course, I don’t know that for sure, it’s just the way it seems.
  • Luis Castillo’s addition will become important, but I think it’s going to be a while. He’s just not seeing the ball well yet.
  • Joe Mauer is.
  • Rondell White is on the verge of breaking out. He’s batting around .100 right now, but he hits the ball extremely hard and doesn’t give cheap outs. I give I a week before he has a 4/5 game. He may not be the right fit for the #4 hitter, but I think by the end of the season, he will still be batting in the middle of the order, and he stands a good chance of leading the team in RBI. Clearly the hardest hitter I’ve seen with the Twins in some time.
  • Torii Hunter is the heart and soul of the Twins. I think with Kirby Puckett’s passing, he is taking it on himself to be a leader in the same manner as Puckett. Easy going but hard working. Also, over the off season, he developed the ability to hit in the clutch. Alas, he homered in this one.
  • Justin Morneau has the same swagger as Shannon Stewart. He is visibly more relaxed and playing with confidence. Hopefully that will last and he won’t lapse into a slump like he did for about 5 months last season. It’s good to see him tattooing the ball like we know he can. Morneau will be batting clean-up by the end of the year.
  • I don’t know where to begin with Tony Batista. He gets a bad rap as a poor fielder and a poor average hitter. I’ll give you that. But the real problem is, he has no idea what “situational hitting” is. If he sees a pitch he likes, he’ll swing hard at it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3-0 and the pitch is down and away, Tony will swing because that’s what Tony wants to do. That being said, I’m highly attracted to the 30 homers he’ll hit this season, because they could come at absolutely any time.
  • There is still something wrong with Jason Kubel’s knee. I definitely don’t believe he is as slow as the player we saw Wednesday night. There was absolutely no hustly, and I doubt someone freshly in the majors would dog it like that if there wasn’t a problem.
  • I knew there was a reason Juan Castro is in the lineup every night, and I definitely saw it Wednesday. Castro does all the Little Things. He makes plays at short, he gets the bat on the ball when he needs to, and he knows exactly how to take out the guy trying to turn a double play. I seriously doubt Jason Bartlett would provide that this season.
  • If our starters continue the way they have, the bullpen is going to get worn out way too fast.

And those are my thoughts on the early season Twins, based on the one game I was at. I like the squad a little more than I had even imagined. Now all we need to do is plug Ruben Sierra into the lineup a little bit. - Ryan

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Playoffs

Ok, that's it, I will talk about the playoffs. The NHL Playoffs, of course. I don't particularly care about the NBA PLayoffs. I don't know if I've mentioned that yet. In any case, let's look at the playoffs, series by series.

1. Ottawa Senators vs 8. Tampa Bay Lighting - This is going to be a fun series to watch, especially if you like goal scoring. The Senators and Lightning each have fleet, adept goal scorers, but the Sens just have more, not to mention incredible, all star defenders, namely Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara. I give the Sens the nod.

2. Carolina Hurricanes vs 7. Montreal Canadiens - I suspect the Canadiens will be better than expected, with David Aebischer and Cristobal Huet in net. They won't be an easy team to score on. But give the Hurricanes a shot, what with their being the highest scoring team in the league. Hopefully they have Eric Cole back in time for the series. Nevertheless, the Canes will win this series.

3. New Jersey Devils vs 6. New York Rangers - What an absolutely incredible first round matchup. Two bitter rivals whose fight for the Atlantic division went down to the wire. I think the Rangers will pull this series out, just because they have more individual playmakers. The Rangers, however, will be so worn out by the end of the series, they won't get past Ottawa in the second round.

4. Buffalo Sabres vs 5. Philadelphia Flyers - The Sabres and Flyers each go two deep at center, but the Flyers are worn out, and playing hurt. The Sabres can afford an injury here or there, because Lindy Ruff's system is so well ingrained. This series will end quickly, and is truly the least interesting out east.

1. Detroit Red Wings vs 8. Edmonton Oilers - Just like the old NHL, the Red Wings are on top of the NHL. They were buildt for the New NHL before there was a New NHL, with gifted goal scorers and defensemen who moved there feet, played the puck and not the body. The Oilers, just like always, it seems, are the eight seed, and will assuredly give the Wings fits in the first round, but in the end, the Wings will pull this series off.

2. Dallas Stars vs 7. Colorado Avalanche - Looking at this matchup, you are probably thinking that this could be an upset. But these Avs aren't the same ones as you're used to. They don't have the second superstar now that Peter Forsberg is in Philadelphia, and they don't have a clutch, reliable goaltender in net, no matter what you think of Jose Theodore. The Stars aren't as good as their record indicates, especially in a short series, but they are better than the Avs.

3. Calgary Flames vs 6. Anaheim Mighty Ducks - This is the last series for the Mighty Ducks. They are looking at changing their name next season, since they are no longer owned by Disney. And they aren't particularly mighty, either. They lack the offensive force that it needs in the playoffs, and the Flames will move on to face the Stars.

4. Nashville Predators vs 5. San Jose Sharks - The addition of Joe Thornton to this roster cannot be understated. He led the team in assists, because he played on the same line with Jonathan Cheechoo, the leading goal scorer in the league. This wouldn't have happened without Thornton. And the Sharks would have home ice if they had started the season with him. The Sharks will eliminate the Preds quickly.

The following matchups would happen, if things go as I plan. Ottawa vs New York, Carolina vs Buffalo, Detroit versus San Jose and Calgary vs Dallas. We'll talk about that later, however. - Ryan

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Vince Young is an idiot, and other talking points.

So, the NBA season is coming to a close, with the playoff picture shaping up. Adam Morrison has declared for the draft, and the ESPN lottery game is the most entertaining flash game on the internet, despite it lacking any real purpose. And quite frankly, I could care less.
So let's talk football. More specifically, let's talk about the draft. But we'll only talk briefly, because I don't have much to say.
The Texans, first and foremost, should not draft Reggie Bush. In fact, they shouldn't draft Vince Young either. Their best option, with this pick and their needs, is to trade away the top pick for something they really need, offensive line help. They need to give up the pick to someone who needs some offense and a low pick, like say, the 49ers, and use the 49ers' pick to select D'Brickashaw Ferguson, if he's still available. The Texans already have a running back, as well as a decent quarterback (if he would get some pass protection) so why waste a pick on something you don't particularly need anyways? The only reason I would keep the pick is if you can get a team to overpay for Dominick Davis.
Another topic I want to chat about real quick is the quarterback issue. The talking heads lead us to believe that there are three top flight quarterbacks in this draft. And I have to wonder, are there really? Let's look at the three in question.
First, there is Matt Leinart, former Heisman winner, who has shown he can play in the big game and handle media pressure. He's a pocket passer with a good arm. Basically, his the prototypical NFL quarterback, and I think his best fit would be in Tennessee with his former offensive coordinator Norm Chow or in New York, as I suspect he feeds on media hysteria. Leinart is a bona fide future NFL QB.
Then there is Young. While I think the Wonderlic is a little overrated, since it can't really test resolve, athleticism and poise, which Vince Young clearly has. What he doesn't have is an NFL ready style. The Texans have to much skill in other positions to rely on a quarterback who would act more as a running back. The place that comes to mind as a good fit for Young would be Chicago, a team desperately in need of an explosive playmaker. But Young won't end up in Chicago. And Young won't have a great impact in the league.
Lastly, Jay Cutler from Vanderbilt has mysteriously risen to the status of a top ten pick. There is no in the top 10 that is equipped to have him come on. Sure, a standout college quarterback from a small or non-traditional school has worked out well in the past, as with Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. And it would help if he could get a couple years in before they made him the starter, as with Carson Palmer and the Bengals. But there are no well built teams just waiting for a starting QB, and there aren't any top 10 drafting teams that can allow Cutler to receive the tutelage he needs. The most feasible team I see picking Cutler and making him successful is Oakland, but I suspect he will be gone before then.
Other than that, I will be waiting with almost unbearable anticipation to see where Brandon Kirsch goes (Europe, probably) and to see who the Vikings pick. I'm guessing it will be a second team all SEC linebacker. It's destiny. -Ryan

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Postseason and awards

Now that we are a couple weeks into the season and my division by division standings are out there, it's time to get on to my postseason predictions and a couple possible awards. Am I a little late with these? No. Absolutely not. Shut up.

AL Playoffs:
Yankees over A's - The Yankees, I think, have the offense needed to overcome the A's pitching in a short series. Especially since the A's offense is critically sparse this year, compared to other playoff teams.
Indians over Angels - After watching the Indians versus the Twins, it's clear. The Tribe is a dangerous, scary team, that if they get hot a the right time, they won't be stopped in the playoffs, kind of like the Florida Gators in the NCAA tournament.
Indians over Yankees - I'm riding the Indians to the end. I had them coming on strong last year (which I was ridiculed for) and I think they are scarier this year. Forget the Yankees. They'll have to wait until next year.

NL Playoffs:
Braves over Padres - This will be an interesting series. The Padres will win or come very close to winning their home games but won't stand a chance in the games in Atlanta. Of course, Atlanta will be the higher seed, so they will go to the NLCS.
Mets over Cardinals - As I said, I just have a feeling about the Mets. They will bug me all season. As it is, Beltran or Delgado, one of the two Carloses will come through. There will be some good pitching and the Mets will smoke the Cardinals. The Cards just don't have playoff quality pitching.
Mets over Braves - The Braves, like every year, will win their division, then fall apart in the playoffs. So the Mets, with their superior offense will face th Indians in the World Series.

World Series:
This is one of those classic matchups. You have the store bought team, with some proven veterans who haven't played together before, and then you have the emerging team with guys who have played together for a while. And in all of these stories, the veterans win the first time, and then the up and comers win about 9 titles down the road. So this year, I think those annoying Mets will win in an unusually good World Series.
Mets over Indians in 7

AL MVP - Victor Martinez - Indians
NL MVP - Andruw Jones - Braves
AL Cy Young - Johan Santana - Twins
NL Cy Young - Pedro Martinez - Mets

And that's that. Perhaps a non baseball related post sometime soon.

Monday, April 10, 2006

National League East

Last year's most competitive division has seen some seperation among the teams, and it will be a little bit easier to project. Like the AL East, however, this is a talent rich division, so I would expect some major deals coming out of the East at some point this year. Even though the hierarchy is already set, this should be a fun division to keep an eye on.

Atlanta Braves - This is the most boring pick I have ever made in my entire life. That's saying something, since I picked a science major in college. But with Bobby Cox managing, you could throw out Andy Van Slyke, a used shoe box and my grandmother and you would still win 81 games. The fact that Cox has some talent to work with makes another Braves pennant a sure thing.

New York Mets - Despite their history, I can't help but pick the Mets to finish second, and in the Wild Card. They have too much stockpiled talent not to win a few games. The best part is, there is so much to work with there, they can even plug a few holes in the event of an injury, which is less likely, now that Mike Piazza is in San Diego. The Mets will be the team whose postseason coverage will annoy me the most, and I'm calling that right now.

Philadelphia Phillies - The Phitin' Phils are going to have to be the Hittin' Phils, as don't happen to have any real pitching depth. Only so many spots can be filled with prospects, and the Phillies have one too many. Not to mention one filled with Cory Lidle. Philadelphia does, however, have ample offense which should propel them past Washington for third place this year.

Washington Nationals - The Nats addressed their most pressing need this offseason, acquiring a homerun hitter in Alfonso Soriano. The tough part is, Soriano doesn't like his situation in D.C. and things won't end well there. The pitching appears to remain solid, but the offense is just as abysmal as it has always been.

Florida Marlins - The Marlinshave been reduced to a couple great players (Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera) and a few promising prospects and half a million fans waiting for football season to begin.

National League Central

The Central is always an interesting division, not so much because there is an abundance of talent or because it is an even, competitive division, but because there are 6 teams. They all have to keep playing each other, and the familiarity of all those teams can make things interesting and level the playing field quite a bit. Let's take a look at this division.

St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals continue to be the class of the Central, with an extremely potent offense and an unflappable defense. They have 5 adequate pitchers (given the offense that will score 6 runs a game on average) in their rotation, with a bullpen that is servicable. In addition, they are playing in a new stadium, which is always a nice kick for the home team to overachieve, and at the trade deadline, overspend, in order to get to the playoffs.

Milwaukee Brewers - This is Milwaukee's year. They have about 5 very good players coming into their own and primed for a breakout, and they have a solid rotation for such a young team, with Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano headlining. If it wasn't for that pesky East division, the Brewers could very feasibly sneak into the playoffs for the first time in the National League.

Houston Astros - The Astros have a classic order, with a couple of speedy, high average guys at the top, like Willy Taveres or Craig Biggio. Then they have bigger bats in the middle of the lineup, like Lance Berkman, and then solid contact hitters like Brad Ausmus at the bottom. So why doesn't the offense work? The offense should, (and had better) run more effectively in Houston this year, but the loss of Roger Clemens drastically affects this team, and they could lost 10 more games than last year because of the weakened pitching staff.

Chicago Cubs - Here is the problem with a Cubs team that looks pretty good on paper. But they will get hurt. Look at that Cubs team on paper again and imagine Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster as the 2 and 3 starters and you begin to see what I'm talking about. When they are healthy, they'll be setting the world on fire, but I wouldn't expect that to be a frequent occurrance.

Cincinatti Reds - The Reds, especially with Ken Griffey's resurgence last year, look to be a formidable spoiler in the Central this year. They lack the pitching to make any serious noise, but they will, without a doubt win more games than last year, especially against teams sleeping against them. Another thing to look for is a trade. The Reds should be in the market for another pitcher, and they have plenty of depth in the middle infield, and I would look for Ryan Freel to be dealt for some help. A trade like that could either reinvigorate the Reds, or, it could be disastrous.

Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates have pitching, and that's always important. They need to make sure their young arms, like Zach Duke, can hold up to the pressure. It is that uncertainty that could completely sink the Pirates. But if the pitching holds, new acquisitions Jeromy Burnitz and Sean Casey could help augment a young lineup. Much like the Reds, the Bucs main role will be one of spoiler, but a dangerous one to be sure.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

National League West

The Barry Bonds Division, or rather, the National League West, should be a little more competitive this year, as the Dodgers will be healthier, the Giants will have Bonds back, and the Padres have added some skill players in key positions.

San Diego Padres - I'm going against popular opinion on this one, and let me tell you why. Despite the Padres abysmal, league winning record last year, they now have experience down the stretch. In addition, they made quite a splash in the trade market, acquiring good players for their home stadium. Petco, as is often mentioned, is a premier pitchers park. So the Padres went ahead and acquired some cheap, flyball pitchers in Chris Young and Chan Ho Park. Then, they got another rangy outfielder to go with Dave Roberts in Mike Cameron, improving that outfield defense. This clearly isn't the most talented team, maybe not even in the NL West, but I like the way they are built to win their home games. They should do enough on the road to win some the division.

San Francisco Giants - The Bay Area Bondses drastically improve their lineup with the return and good health of the most feared hitter in the league, Barry Bonds. They also have some good pitching, with more familiar names Noah Lowry and Jason Schmidt, and newcomer Matt Morris, to go along with Barry Bonds. And also, Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds.

Los Angeles Dodgers - The good news for the Dodgers is that they have a very strong bullpen. This is even better news, as they will probably be used 4 innings a game, unless Grady Little continues with his famous inability to replace pitchers. Their lineup consists of many quality veterans. Their season hinges on weather or not these veterans play as veterans or if they play as just plain old.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Every prospect report I read seams to have half a dozen Diamondback farmhands mentioned.This year Conor Jackson, one of those prospect all-stars will be the everyday first baseman. Chad Tracy, another young talent, will do an excellent job on the opposite corner. Unfortunately, there are still some holes on this team, and some players who are on their last legs. This Diamondbacks team is still a year or two away.

Colorado Rockies - The Rockies, like the Diamondbacks, have a lot of young hitters (Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Matt Holliday) but unlike the D-backs, they don't hve adequate pitching. The Rockies are about 4 years away.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

American League East

This is an exciting division, but in truth, it isn't. There is a lot of talent at play here, but the likelihood is, the placement at the end of the season will fall just as everyone expects it to.

New York Yankees - The Yankees don't have much pitching, but that's ok, because neither does anyone else in the East. What the Yankees do have is hitting, to go along with their experience and tradition. There weren't any major additions, despite what you think about Johnny Damon. All he will provide is an object for other baseball fans to hate, which will be nice as it takes some of the heat off of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jason Giambi. It's the potent offense that will propel the Yankees into first.

Boston Red Sox - The Red Sox are full of former Marlins, like Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Matt Clement. Keep in mind, that the former Marlins all have World Series Rings. The Sox are full of question marks, but have had a tendency to pull through when it matters, which should be enough to get them to at least second in the east. Sometimes, questions have good answers.

Toronto Blue Jays - The Blue Jays have the best pitching in the east, top to bottom, with maybe a little weakness in the middle. What they don't have is a solid offense. Sure, they added the overrated Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay, but that, in conjunction with Vernon Wells is hardly enough to overtake the much harder hitting Yankees and Red Sox.

Baltimore Orioles - The O's are so lacking in pitching, that it's more likely they end up last in the East than it is they will finish third or higher. Their offense is unhappy, which means that they aren't going to play well. Tejada wants out, Javy Lopez doesn't want Ramon Hernandez around, and the ramifications remain to be seen. It doesn't look like the Orioles will have the hot start they did last year.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays - The Devil Rays could surprise a few teams this year. No, really. They finished hot last year, playing above .500 in the second half, and now they have a manager that believes in them. Their pitching staff is atrocious, featuring Scott Kazmir and Casey Fossum as starters 1 and 2, but with guys like Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Jorge Cantu and Julio Lugo who put up solid stats every year. Combine them with Joey Gathright and Rocco Baldelli, the Devil Rays have a solid offense for the future, or at least, good trade chips to get there. But that will be in the future, not this year.

American League Central

The Central is going to be tough division to call ths year. The Indians and White Sox are both extremely qualified contenders, with the Twins and Tigers as able bodied spoilers. The Roylas shouldn't be as terrible as they were last year either, assuming their pitching comes along. Let's take a look at these teams.

Cleveland Indians - Last year, when I picked the Indians to finish second, everyone laughed at me. But now they are a proven threat and have the youngest, least likely team to suffer a crippling injury this season, so they are my choice to win the AL Central. From a strictly talent perspective, the Twins have better pitching and the White Sox have better bats, but I really doubt their ability to stay healthy long enough this season to put it together. With the Indians relying on younger guys like Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez, I find it hard to believe that they will be far off the pace if they don't finish first.

Minnesota Twins - I'll admit it, I think the Twins are going to finish here mostly because of sentiment. But hear me out. They have improved their pitching through the subtraction of J.C. Romero and Joe Mays, as youngsters Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano are able to step in. The only every day player to move out of Minnesota was Jacque Jones, while the Twins added Luis Castillo, Tony Batista and Rondell White. While the Twins won't be painting the town red, they will be improved, and shouldn't fade at the end of the season.

Chicago White Sox - I know that I will catch some flak for putting the White Sox this low, but hear me out. Their pitching didn't drastically improve with the addition of Javier Vazquez, and Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras could, for all we know be one hit wonders (I don't really believe that for Contreras), and their lineup is dependent on some guys with whom an injury could be devastating. If Konerko or Thome go down, the White Sox are in a lot of trouble, and that's exactly what worries me about this team. However, if this team stays healthy and they don't get comfortable, they could just as easily take the division again.

Detroit Tigers - Just think, a few years ago, this team was the laughingstock of the league. Now, they are neither so bad nor good that anyone notices them. Until they can get another good young hitter to step up when Magglio Ordonez inevitably goes down, or a true ace to lead the rotation, the Tigers appear to be stuck in fourth for the next several years.

Kansas City Royals - The Royals lineup actually improved fairly dramatically over the last year, with the addition of Reggie Sanders, and their defense is better with Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz. David Dejesus and Emil Brown provide promising chips for the future. Unfortunately, they still feature a rotation that has Scott Elarton as the ace. Things are not going to go well out there in Kauffman Stadium this year.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

American League West.

OK, it's finally time. It's time to get to my baseball preview, and we'll start with the American League West.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - The Angels look to be in good shape, with solid veterans Chone Figgins, Orlando Cabrera, Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson, Juan Rivera and Darin Erstad in the lineup and Bartolo Colon heading a very good rotation. And should any of those players go down, the Angels have a deep system, in which to call up promising youngsters to fill holes and keep the Angels in contention. The fact that they do, in fact, have a solid rotation to go with an excellent line up puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the division.

Oakland Athletics - The A's are the trendy pick to win the AL West, but I'm not buying it. Staff ace Barry Zito has been in a steady decline since his Cy Young in 2002. The do have Rich Harden and Danny Haren to give them a solid 2 and 3, but Esteban Loiaza is ever flaky and Joe Blanton isn't fully developed (or is, which would lead to further problems). They don't have a very formidable lineup either, as it is anchored by Frank Thomas, who will probably end up on the DL by May. The rest of their "hitters" are of the .275/20 homer group. Not exactly the cream of the crop. In this mediocre division, though, it stands to reason that the A's will garner enough wins to pull down the Wild Card.

Seattle Mariners - The Mariners are going to improve with a pair of additions, namely, Kenji Johjima and Jarrod Washburn. That solidifies a passable rotation and gives the M's a bat towards the bottom of the order. Also, having a fellow countryman on the team may help Ichiro relax, and then we would really see what he can really do, scary as that sounds. There is enough raw talent on this team, what with Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson that the Mariners should go on a couple of solid runs to propel themselves into third in the West.

Texas Rangers - It's almost comical now. It's like the Rangers are trying to make their pitching worse and get power hitters. The Rangers ace, Kevin Millwood, is coming off a very good year, statistically, but it wasn't any better, really, than any other year in terms of his stuff. He just got lucky, playing at the Jake in front of a good defense. Then there is the offense, which will hit in the neighborhood of 3.5 billion homeruns this year. It won't be enough. The Rangers are doomed to the AL West Cellar.

Downtown Minneapolis

If you'll forgive me, I would like to talk about something fairly serious tonight. Allow me the indulgence for my birthday, or for the sake of it being my damn site anyways.
Last Friday, I was a block away from a murder. Derick Holliday was arrested for shooting Alan Reitter in the head after Holliday left a movie. It sounded horrifying, and it was. It was completely heinous and arbitrary.
Then the details of the crime came out and led to several more issues. The first was the rap industry, as the movie Holliday had gone to see was ATL, a movie about growing up in and persevering through the ghettos of Atlanta. It starred, most notably, rappers T.I. and Big Boi. There was outrage on some local radio networks about irresponsible rappers and the rap community. I'll get back to this later.
The second was the lack of a police presence and the danger found in downtown Minneapolis. Now, the shooting occurred in Block E, an entertainment district downtown, and the police presence is stepped up more there than anywhere else in the downtown area. And were this such a dangerous part of town, I find it unlikely that Block E would be so popular or that a homicide in this part of town would dominate the headlines for almost a week.
Now, the real problems in Minneapolis are these. If you'll recall, I mentioned that race was an issue in Minneapolis. Now, I'm not saying that race was the motive for Holliday firing into a crowd of white people, but I will say this. Holliday, from North Minneapolis, a predominantly black part of town, clearly suffered from a mental defect. He claimed to have started shooting because cheese was spilled on him. Now, if you don't think someone living in the suburbs would have been diagnosed and treated at this point in his life, you're fooling himself. Instead, he is labeled a bad seed, a "gangbanger", and nothing is done to deal with him until he shoots someone in the street.
Race also plays a role in the theory that the movie caused Holliday to want to emulate it. Gangbangers, (a term coined by local idiot and radio host Tom Bernard) would go to this movie and start shooting, they said. But the movie was about getting past this type of incident. But people like Bernard assume that that's all urban people care about: drugs, sex and violence. There is an idea people that are facing adversity prefer. They want to get out. And that was what the movie is about, should Tom Bernard actually see it. Mr. Holliday wasn't emulating anything. He is just insane.
So the problem, then, isn't with police presence, or movies. The problem is the identifying of truly disturbed persons, and making sure they don't get their hands on lethal weapons.

I'll be back with your regularly scheduled blogging in a couple of hours.

Twins, 2006

The baseball season has started, and I am tardy. I wanted to give a baseball preview, but I was a little behind, so this week, I plan on blogging like a madman. I'm going to go division by division, while throwing in a little tidbit on something else, here and there. We'll see how this goes.
But now, let's talk Twins.
As with any year, the Twins' strength lies in their pitching, so I'll start there. Johan Santana is unquestionably a brilliant pitcher, despite his early season troubles. Given a decent team, he won't be stoppable in the post season. Brad Radke is a man I worry about. He's getting older, losing some velocity, and historically has had a propensity for giving up the long ball. I fear this trend will only continue this year. Carlos Silva is another guy I worry about, but not as much. He relies on ground balls, instead of strike outs. He'll always give up too many hits, but he gets through it by allowing very few walks. The rest of the potential starters, currently labeled as Kyle Lohse and Scott Baker, still need to come into their own before they can be fully trusted. The starting pitching is still good, however there are more question marks here than any Twins fan wants to believe.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is set. No more J.C. Romero, no more Terry Mulholland. Instead, they have been replaced by the top prospect in the Twins system, Francisco Liriano, and for the moment, young Willie Eyre, who will only get better (instead of deteriorate, like Mulholland). The bullpen will be the pitching salvation if they are used correctly.
The highlights of the offense will be the top three, Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer, as one of those three will always be on base. Rondell White is a better cleanup hitting option than the Twins have had in years, although Tony Batista has the power they would like to put in the four spot, if he could only bat above the .230 mark. Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau will bat in between White and Batista, and both will bat at around .260 with 25 home runs, unless Morneau can maintain his current Team Canada/Spring Training stroke, in which case he could top 30 dingers with a .280 average. If thats the case, expect him to replace White as the cleanup hitter. Jason Kubel is a question mark batting 8th. Will he be healthy, and if so, will he live up to the hype? A lot remains to be seen. Juan Castro bats ninth, and is obviously in the lineup for his defense.
Speaking of defense (nice segue!), the Twins will be solid up the middle, and a little questionable on the corners. The team has good fielding pitchers, and Luis Castillo and Juan Castro in the middle infield should be formidble for bleeders trying to sneak through for singles. Not to mention Joe Mauer at the plate and the serviceable (note the understatement) Torii Hunter in the outfield, the heart of the Twins defense will be reliable. At the corners, though, there are question marks. Tony Batista's defense is best left unspoken of, and Shannon Stewart throws like a girl. And not one of those softball playing, good throwing girls either. Jason Kubel in right raises some questions too, as he missed all of last year after destroying his knee. Does he have the range to play out there? Justin Morneau is a pretty ok defensive player, but he still ranks number 5 in terms of defenders on this team.
The bench is pretty good, mostly for defensive purposes, which seems a waste to me since, as I have mentioned, the Twins have an above average defense. Lew Ford, Luis Rodriguez, Nick Punto and Mike Redmond are all predominantly defensive replacements. The only guy in the system who would be a good pinch hitter is Ruben Sierra, who is starting the season in Rochester.
I predict that some players, like Tony Batista, Justin Morneau and Kyle Lohse will exceed expectations. This will help the Twins gain one of the top two spots in the division, while the Indians get the title. I think the Twins are finally addressing their needs, which is a good sign for a mid season acquisition. I'll be back later with a completely unrelated post.