Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nfl Preview, NFC North

Holy crap! It's football in less than a month! You know what that means? That's right! It's time to lose most of my baseball fan readers by doing a whole lot of preview posts! 9 of them, to be exact! With even more exclamation points! ! !!!!!

I've clearly had some issues with time management lately, and I've fallen disastrously behind on my NFL Previews. They'll likely keep coming even after the season has started, but that just means better accuracy. Right? I'm hoping. In any event, this is the division that most of you readers will care about. And I've got bad news for all of you. It won't be any fun to watch.

Chicago Bears: The Bears remain the epitome of the old black and blue division that the NFC Central used to embody. I always worry about teams that transition from the two back offense to the one back. Hopefully for the Bears, Adrian Peterson the Lesser will be able to spell Cedric Benson and the offense will be just barely good enough to get them over the hump. The defense may be the best in the league, and will do it's part to put points on the board, even. The special teams give the Bears the edge in the division. That is assuming of course they don't let Lance Briggs drive the team bus.

Green Bay Packers: I find it hard to pick against a team that still has Brett Favre at quarterback. This season will be like the last, wherein Favre may have a rough start, but then catch fire for a few weeks and the Packers will go 7-9 or 8-8 and just barely miss the playoffs. The defense still isn't great, but it's improving and Vernand Morency is about the 27th best starting running back in the league. I still believe Favre can get it done in such a dismal division.

Detroit Lions: The Detroit Lions have the best offense in the NFC North even if Calvin Johnson is a complete bust. John Kitna has proven himself to be, if not a good quarterback, certainly one who is capable of succeeding if he has assets surrounding him. He was able to put up decent numbers with Mike Furrey as his leading receiver last year, for heavens sake! Kevin Jones is an underrated back, so defenses won't be able to key solely on the pass. I mean, if it weren't for the fact that Mike Martz was calling plays. The Lions are still working to patch holes on defense, so they may not be ready to make the leap, but it appears GM Matt Millen may have accidentally built himself a playoff team for next year.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are the only team I'm certain won't be making the playoffs out of the NFC North. The other teams have a shot. The worse news is that the Vikings aren't so bad that they'll get a premier pick this year in the draft. The offense is going to be terrible. I'll come out and say it. Sure, they have two good running backs in Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson the Greater, but their quarterback still hasn't won an NFL game, or, for that matter, an NCAA D-1 game. His receivers aren't very good. Travis Taylor is a good route runner but can't catch. Troy Williamson is fast but can't catch. They added a ton of other guys to try to catch that can't get open. How will Taylor and APTG get going if defenses can put 9 men in the box every single play? The teams secondary is among the best in the league, which is irrelevant because nobody needs to pass to get ahead or stay ahead against the vikings. The linebackers and ends are also subpar, meaning other teams will off-tackle the heck out of Minnesota, and they'll go ahead and go 6-10.

As I mentioned, there are 3 teams that could sneak into the playoffs out of this division. The games will all be ground out and fairly boring. Get ready for a ton of Ron Pitts called games.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Early AM posting!

Since I'm preparing to work overnights at my Real Job, I'm up at 2 in the morning, ready and available to break off a post for you at this early hour. If things work out they way I hope they do, you'll have this post ready to be read bright and early before you go to work, and then you can discuss it with all your coworkers at the watercooler.

ITEM ONE: The Twins are going streaking! Joe Morgan, of all people had a good point about the Mets (this makes sense, trust me, just follow along) who haven't had a winning streak of longer than 4 games all year. He stated that it was a sign that they were consistent, which led to their status as NL East leaders. He's right. The Mets' consistency is enviable, while the Twins have been anything but consisten. A depressingly futile offense has given way to a potent attack that can actually score runs. The pitching staff has actually improved recently, meaning the Twins technically are a better team, but the fact that they need lengthy streaks like this to stay alive belies their overall team malaise. I don't think a word of what I just wrote makes any sense.

ITEM TWO: I should probably weigh in on the Michael Vick thing. I think dog fighting is bad.

ITEM THREE: As you can tell, it's been a pretty slow week. Don't believe me? Check out the "news" box from Sunday afternoon. Look at that for a minute. We have an article on Track and Field, the Cleveland Browns, golf, Major League Lacrosse and the kicker, two on open wheeled racing. These guys can't wait until football season starts..

ITEM FOUR: We did recently enjoy one of the greatest Little League World Series competitions in some time. It seemed like every night I caught highlights there were two or three walk off homers. The funniest part for me is how many people have said that they enjoy it because of the kids and the emotion they display. Essentially, they are saying they like the Little League World Series because they enjoy watching little boys cry. It's not like grownups can cry, otherwise the Orioles surely would have been bawling last Thursday. (I like the headline. Understatement of the century.)

ITEM FIVE: Speaking of crying, I personally believe that some U.S. Americans cry because they don't have maps. Such as... uh, South Africa and Iraq.

I'm out of irrelevant things to say for the morning.

Monday, August 20, 2007

So angry...

Before I begin, I thought I would answer a question I had in the comments. There will be 9 football preview posts because there are 8 divisions, and a post on the postseason. It all works out. Now, on to the official week in review.

ITEM ONE: People have always used tragedies or climactic events as leverage in their fight for whatever cause they have. Scott Soshnick at Bloomberg has taken the Minneapolis bridge tragedy and spun it against publicly financed sports venues, saying that that money would have been better used to improve city infrastructure. Of course, the stadium didn't draw any money away from transportation improvements, as it will be funded by a .015% tax increase, rather than by diverted funds. Additionally, the funds for the bridge rebuilding will come from federal coffers, which were opened up because it was deemed a disaster. The stadium isn't siphoning funds away from other projects.
Also, he decries the fact that there were no public referendums on the stadium bill. Why do we need a referendum on a .015% tax increase? Is there a threshold for this type of thing? And haven't we had tax increases like this before? Why do stadiums come under this kind of scrutiny anyways? Personally, I would think that a venue that can attract up to 45,000 people a night would be something that should be publicly financed. We don't seem to complain when smaller parks get supported by our tax dollars, and they attract a much smaller number of residents. Sure, the Twins will make money on the stadium, but they are also spending money on it. I've seen private vendors at city festivals and fairs who have to pay a nominal fee to use the land. The Twins are investing a lot more into this venue. Clearly, I'm a political novice, but the argument provided by Mr. Soshnik makes no sense to me.

ITEM TWO: The other Twins story this week was Johan Santana's outing yesterday, striking out 17 batters. While this is a wonderful event, it put Santana back into the forefront of baseball's all seeing GMs. Buster Olney at ESPN (Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors, since I don't have insider, and I assume you don't either) thinks the Twins should trade him this offseason. Well, thanks Buster, but how do you propose the Twins try to sell that to the fans buying tickets at the new stadium which may or not be there thanks to people like Scott Soshnik?
No, the Twins need to work their tails off to try and resign Santana. We can field a roster of Morneau, Mauer and Santana with 22 rookies and it will still be worth it, because the Twins farm system is good with fundamentals, and those three will put butts in seats. The Twins need to be winners when that stadium opens, not a crapfest that has even Joe Mauer questioning his decision to stick around.

ITEM THREE: I'm so angry today! Let's look past the festering rage today, and think about hockey. Yay, hockey! My favorite hockey blog, Barry Melrose Rocks (you can see the link over yonder on the sidebar) has done 2 great things. First, Kevin, the writer there, linked to me, in thanks for my linking to him. Second, he has already started there own wonderful team by team season preview, which is much better than anything I could ever do. So pop on over there.

ITEM FOUR: In my entirely too long Twins post a while back, I realized I'm no good with money. I added some inconspicuous ads down in the bottom left corner. Click on them, and I make money. I like money. Maybe I would stop being so angry if you click on my ads.

That's it. I'll be out of Victoria Times commission for a little while, but then I'll be back with NFL Previews that someone out there has to like. Right?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

NFL Preview, NFC West

Holy crap! It's football in less than a month! You know what that means? That's right! It's time to lose most of my baseball fan readers by doing a whole lot of preview posts! 9 of them, to be exact! With even more exclamation points! ! !!!!!

We'll start with the NFC West, just to ease my way into this. The NFC has a lot of young players playing in important roles, which should make things interesting. The younger players tend to want to make big plays rather than grinding it out, often with disastrous results. I guess that's the theme of the NFC West. Disastrous results.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are fairly one dimensional on offense, but that's OK, because the one dimension they have is pretty good, what with Shawn Alexander headlining the ground game. Oh by the way, the Hawks have the best D in the West. Also, they feature a coach that looks like a walrus and a quarterback who looks like Scott Hamilton. The depressing thing is, that doesn't really add up to being all that interesting. They should win out West fairly easily, mostly because the other teams have the same major flaw, namely, incredibly porous defense.

St. Louis Rams: Undoubtedly have the best functioning offense. The Cardinals may have better talent, but the team isn't quite clicking yet, which means the Rams should hold on to the second spot in the division for at least another year. As I said, the problem with this division is defense. The Rams reflect this by having almost no talent at linebacker. I would fear this team if they were a threat to stop the run (not a huge concern in this division) or put some pressure on the quarterback (a little bit of a problem). Steven Jackson is among the elite running backs in the game, but it remains to be seen if he will be used properly.

Arizona Cardinals: One day, someone is going to realize that Denny Green, while maybe not a top flight coach, should be a guy involved in your draft process. New coach Ken Whisenhunt may be able to work out some of the problems the offense, but the defense is still a nightmare. The talent on the offensive side of the ball could have overcome their problems, but the defense will definitely pull this team back. They should hope for some 56-49 games.

San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are all right. They have a guy so many people have said is underrated that I think he's reaching overrated status in Frank Gore. They improved at receiver and on defense, but it may be a while before the team gels as a whole. Give this team a little while, however, and they may just challenge for a playoff spot.

After reviewing this division, I am fully convinced that my picks could be flipped totally upside down, and I wouldn't be surprised. This division is the definition of parity. Maybe this wasn't a good way to ease into the previews.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

7 Things for the Twins to do this offseason

In case you haven't noticed, I have been a little ornery lately. The Twins have been playing like crap, something even a fledgling blogger like myself had seen coming after the trade deadline. I am, of course, ill equipped to be a GM for many reasons. I'm not that good with money (for example, I'm not making any money doing this and can't figure out why. Oh. Right. No ads), I often feel the necessity to change for change's sake. GM's often get up before 1 in the afternoon.
But then, the downfall of the Twins this season, and my prediction of it makes me think that hey, maybe I could pull off the GM thing. Not lost in this arrogance and self assured naivete is a voice in the back of my mind saying "holy crap the Twins are doomed! Do something!" So, what can I do? I can turn off the TV and start throwing myself into work and personal relationships, and realize that it's just a game, forgetting about the Twins now and then to preserve my sanity. Or I can write a lengthy post about what I would do, given the reins to the Twins this offseason. In case you haven't looked to the bottom to see if Beth has commented yet, I opted for the second choice.
So here it is, my list of things that I would do if I were Terry Ryan this offseason.
1. Resign Carlos Silva, first and foremost. No, really. At this juncture, Carlos Silva is the single most important free agent the Twins have, and it has nothing to do with his talent, which, admittedly is less than excellent, but still reliable. Resigning him is important for reasons on the field as well as in the clubhouse. On the field, a veteran workhorse pitcher saves a young bullpen from wear and tear as the season progresses. Off the field, Silva is one of Johan Santana's best friends on the team. In case anyone hasn't heard, Santana is fairly disgruntled with the Twins personnel approach of late, and has made no attempt to hide his displeasure. Signing a player to stay on the roster that Santana likes may be just the ticket to keeping him here.
2. Sign Santana to an extension. Whatever it takes. If he wants a third kidney, for example, he can have mine.
3. Trade Joe Nathan. The Twins deepest asset is their pitching, particularly in the bullpen, where Rick Anderson has and can groom any arm into a suitable reliever. Nathan is pricey and expendable. Moving Nathan will do one of two things. It will either free up some payroll to make a free agent acquisition or to sign Torii Hunter to a new contract. Otherwise, he can be traded for a needed bat, like Garret Atkins. I know it's unbelievable that the Rockies didn't want Juan Rincon for Atkins, but the Twins may have to pony up a little more for anyone they want to acquire. For the record, I'm not sure we could get Robert Atkins for Juan Rincon.
4. (Naughty word forthcoming!) Trade one prospect. Just one fucking prospect. Once. Please. Our heralded farm system has been cracking out a whole lot of top flight pitching prospects lately. We've got Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Glenn Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, and Francisco Liriano all ready to win the AL pennant for the Twins. But wait. The Twins already have Santana (and hopefully Silva) in the rotation. Even if we didn't, that would be 6 players ready to take over the rotation (assuming we can move Pat Neshek to the closer spot and Carmen Cali remains in the bullpen), making at least one of those prospects expendable. The best option to trade would be Liriano, who was dominant, but is often injured. Not unlike Darren Dreifort. And how many titles did Dreifort win? That's right, zero. Trade Liriano and Nathan, and you have yourself quite the bounty, and it may put enough bats in the lineup that we won't even have to proceed to step 5.
5. Re-sign Torii Hunter. As I've mentioned, the Twins can't hit. Like, at all. This is why Hunter is important. His skills in the field are waning, but his skills with the lumber are improving drastically. While the squad can't hit, they can flash the leather, so we can deal with a slowing Hunter, as long as his bat stays at a 30HR clip. Of course, if we add another bat or three with our trades, Hunter, too, can be let go. Barring that, we should re-sign him, and maybe Jacque Jones, for the same reason as we kept Carlos Silva. Torii hunter is one of the more popular Twins, and it would be a shame to have him wearing another team's uniform when the new stadium opens.
6. Never ever ever ever let Nick Punto be an everyday starter. Ever. There's really no reason for it. Alexi Casilla can play second, I suppose. His ,247 average is still better than Punto's. Brian Buscher can play third. He seems like the only hitter the Twins have produced in their system since Justin Morneau. The sample size is small, so I would prefer a different bat in that role. Not Tommy Watkins. I'm not sure who that is, and that's bad. Punto is, of course, a wonderful player to have on the roster. He keeps everyone loose, and he plays well in the field. When he isn't put out there every day, he can be quite the sparkplug. Every day? Ouch.
7. Begin contract negotiations with Justin Morneau. Again, this should be obvious.

So there you have it. Let's say this all works out as I have it planned. This is the lineup and rotation I come up with, after trading Joe Nathan for Garret Atkins and Francisco Liriano for Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. Totally fictional and made up trades. (By the way, that would mean the Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski eventually for Boof Bonser, Garret Atkins and Matt Kemp. Still an excellent deal).

1. Casilla 2b
2. Mauer C
3. Atkins 3b
4. Cuddyer RF
5. Morneau 1b
6. Hunter CF
7. Kemp LF
8. Kubel DH
9. Bartlett SS

Jason Tyner, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher and Luis Rodriguez on the bench. Don't forget, Kubel can play the outfield too, so we aren't exactly short in that department.

Starting staff.
1. Santana
2. Silva
3. Baker
4. Garza
5. Bonser

MR Carmen Cali, Dennys Reyes, LR, Glenn Perkins, Matt Guerrier CL, Pat Neshek.

By Golly, we're still two roster spots short, but the Twins will manage to find to other middle relievers out of Spring Training. I know it sounds a little egotistical, but I think that is a fairly imposing lineup, particularly compared to what is being put on the field today. Will any of this happen? It depends. Will the Twins contact me and make me their GM?

Monday, August 13, 2007

The doldrums of summer

This past week, I've paid a lot more attention to the weather world than I have to sports world. Of course, I am a meteorologist by trade, and there has been wave after wave of strong storms rumbling through the area. Today will be no different, which is good, because Monday's in August are the place where sports have no meaning.

ITEM ONE: Speaking of having no meaning, why are the Twins even bringing their bats to the plate any more. Let's just let the other team keep batting. The games will go by a lot faster with the same result. They have won 1 game in their past 7, and in their 1 win, they scored more than they did in their 6 losses combined. It's been ugly out there. Now, we're calling up prospects I've never even heard of (Tommy Watkins? Wasn't that the kid that beat me up in grade school?) and making me long for the days of Tony Batista. Yeah. I said it.

I'm guessing this October may be like the last one, in which Minnesota teams managed two wins at the Metrodome. The two other residents, the Gophers and the Vikings, are equally allergic to offense. The Vikings can't really expect to get two or three defensive touchdowns a game, and their offensive scheme is still a little muddled. They have the wrong quarterback running it, for one thing, and if you are going to have possession receivers like Travis Taylor, then at least make sure your possession receivers can catch. Grinding the ball out would be a wonderful idea if the defense didn't know that was coming every single play, and if your star rookie running back wasn't constantly on the verge of a catastrophic injury. The Gophers on the other hand, lost many of their key offensive starters to graduation, and they lost a few quality defenders due to sexual assault charges. This squad is going to be lacking in the talent department, which is too bad, because now Tim Brewster will have a valid excuse when the team goes 2-9.

ITEM THREE: Oh right. Barry Bonds hit his record breaking homerun. Good for him. Maybe I'll say something about it later, but probably not. I don't really mind the whole "steroids" thing so much as I mind the "arrogant douche" thing, which is what really makes me indifferent to it all.

ITEM FOUR: Tiger Woods won his 13th Major. I hate him so much. I hate all golfers. Why can't I do what they do?

Ok, it's time for this meteorologist to go and baby sit the radar (with an eye to the MLB game tracker, of course)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hockey invented scandal

Just a few weeks ago, we were puttering along in the sports world, waiting for three seasons to start and mostly enjoying baseball season, before a set of stories rocked the sports world, the Michael Vick dog fighting story, the Tim Donaghy NBA referee gambling story, and Barry Bonds chase for Hank Aaron's record, marred by steroids. Days later, the hockey playin' Staal brothers were arrested in Lutsen, MN, for getting drunk, standing in the highway and screaming at motorists. People pointed at this and laughed, saying "Ha! Hockey can't even do scandal right!" Really?
First off, let's make one thing clear. There isn't a group of young men I know that HASN'T got blasted and started taunting someone at 4 in the morning, especially Canadians. I've done it from my apartment balcony with no shirt, on Easter. Not something I'm proud of (Wait. Yes I am.) but it happens. To everyone.
And that's another point, I suppose. The Staal incident got so much publicity because these things don't generally happen with hockey players. Players on one team in the NFL have been arrested for things like public intoxication and drunk driving 12 times in the past year. You can hardly say the dog fighting arrest sullied the image of the league, or, for that matter, was all that remarkable for a professional athlete (see: Qyntel Woods). The Staals were breaking new ground for the NHL, dirtying an otherwise pure name, and isn't that what scandal is all about?
No, you say? Well, let's make another point then. Given that this behavior isn't particularly new or secretive, I think that the dogfighting allegations can be filed under controversial, such as with the steroids debacle. Everyone knows there are steroids out there, but nobody knows what to do with the confirmed or alledged users of steroids. Not particularly scandalous.
The closest we have to a real scandal is in the NBA, with the referee's gambling fiasco. I, along with many other people, have always had a sneaking suspicion that the NBA was fixed, ever since I watched Michael Jordan take 14 steps after picking up his dribble. But for those who don't question the sanctity of the game, I suppose this was a scandal.
And that takes us back to hockey, the inventors, and still title holders of the "scandal king" crown. Just check out these soap opera worthy scandals. You want romance gone right? How about Candace Cameron and Valeri Bure? Gone wrong? How about Anna Kournikova stringing along Sergei Federov and Valeri's brother Pavel? A good gambling fiasco? Look no further than the Rick Tocchet/Janet Jones (Wayne Gretzky's wife) debacle? And the coup de grace? How about the Mike Danton murder mystery, in which he hired someone to kill his former agent?
Any of these would make an excellent made for TV movie. I don't expect to see anything about dogfighting on Lifetime in the near future.
The most amazing part? All of these incidents happened withing the past 5-10 years. I had to remind everyone of all this because the NHL is humble. They shouldn't have to go around bragging about something that they are clearly the best at.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How come only bad news gets to me when I don't have cable?

Aside from all bridge related news, this past week was filled with only two stories here in Minnesota, and the ramifications of them. At least, that's what I can tell. I've been largely detached from the news of the world. This week in review, thusly, will only cover those two stories.

ITEM ONE: The big news from Minnesota for much of the world has been the trade of Kevin Garnett last week to the Boston Celtics for 5 players, 2 draft picks, a piece of parquet floor, the town of New Bedford and One of Boston's McHale era title banners. I don't really have any insight on the trade, but I just wanted to let everyone know that if you see this man out on the street, please, for all that is holy, run the other way.

ITEM TWO: The trade deadline came and passed on Tuesday, and while I spend a lot of time grousing here on a website about the inability to add a bat, but there's a reason that I'm not out doing Terry Ryan's job and instead spending my time grousing on a website, but I'm concerned when the team's premier players, like Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, pending free agents, go to the media and express their displeasure with the direction of the team. It would be one thing if there was one player saying this, because he could be labeled a malcontent, however when Hunter and Santana, who heretofore had offered the team discounts to stay begin raising the issue, questioning the teams dedication to a championship after trading away Luis Castillo, I worry that there is discord in the Twins clubhouse, and we're looking at the beginning of the end for this incarnation of the Twins, rather than simply the beginning. How are we going to pad the lineup if we won't give up prospects or sign free agents? Granted, the Twins are on a bit of a streak and have found themselves in contention, but I wonder if they can keep it up with such a young rotation and such a light hitting line up.

It's interesting how much I look forward to baseball season, and how stressed out I get by it somewhere around the end of July.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A terrible day in Minneapolis

Wednesday was an odd day. I was supposed to have my cable set up so I could finally get back to some regular posting, start watching TV again, and finally feel like the new apartment was really home. In a bizarre twist, the cable installer and the property manager had an argument that frustrated the installer so much that he left. Without setting up my cable. (For the record, I'm siding with the landlord after hearing both sides and from the cable company) I was still in the dark. Then, at around 630, my phone beeped, letting me know I had a message. For whatever reason, I couldn't get to my voicemail, and such was the case for at least two hours. I finally was able to get to it and heard the horrible news. The I-35W bridge had collapsed. Was I all right?
I called my mother back, assuring her that I was fine and got some of the background information on what had happened to what had been the busiest bridge in the state of Minnesota. I then proceeded to call back several other worried friends, and worried about some of my own. There were roughly 200 people on the bridge at the time, assuring that everyone in the metro would know someone involved somehow with the incident. For me, fortunately, there have been now fatalities, and the friend I was most concerned about happened to be 30 miles away from the bridge when it fell. A woman in my aunts book club remains unconcious at the Hennepin County Medical Center, my employer's cleaning woman has a sister who was on the bridge as it fell, and thankfully she walked away. The cleaning woman even got an interview with Katie Couric. Most closely, my cousin's husband who is a firefighter in South St. Paul made a tragic discovery, finding one of the deceased in a submerged vehicle.
This has been compared to 9/11, and to the country, there is no comparison, but in a way, this incident is similar in scope to Minneapolis as to the Trade Center attack was to New York. Everyone drove on 35W, just as everyone saw the Twin Towers on the New York skyline. This could have been anyone. The loss of life is no comparison either, and for that we have the September 11th attacks to thank, as the emergency responders were organized and trained as they never had been before to respond to a disaster of this magnitude.
There were of course many sports connections to the disaster, from Flip Saunders being yards away from the bridge to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor having a granddaughter go down with the bridge (and thankfully survive). The Twins continued playing, and there are several images of fans caught amidst the rubble. The decision to play was wise, keeping those in the Dome off the streets where they would make it more difficult for rescue efforts. One thinks of the Royals, who happened to be in town on the worst of days for Minneapolis, and the Indians who followed.
I wanted to highlight another team however, for their compassion in this time, because I don't think enough behind the scenes good acts get mentioned, especially by bloggers. My employer has a contract with the Boston Red Sox, and though we must be a relatively minor partner with the team, a representative of the organization called to ensure that everyone with my company was all right. It seems like such an easy and minor act of compassion, but of the many companies and organizations we work with across the country, the Red Sox were the only ones to check on us. I just wanted to put it out there that as much as most Minnesotans don't like Boston sports right now, the Red Sox have to be among the classiest teams in professional sports.
My prayers and best wishes go out to those who have been more dearly impacted by this tragedy.