Wednesday

Couple of Pitching Gems & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody.

Pardon me if I'm a bit brusque today. You see, I work in a building that was built sometime around the turn of the 20th century and the climate control system hasn't been upgraded much since then. So every now and then during the summer, the air conditioning decides to work in only about 80% of the building. And it seems that Studio 6, where I spend 8 solid hours keeping the WCCO radio bus out of the ditch, is part of the unlucky 20%. So if you're tuned in to the big 830 today and you hear what sounds like 5 fans running in the background, you're not hearing things. They're actually there. And it's not even so much the heat that annoys me. It's knowing that it's going to take forever to get it fixed. We've been without a CD player in the studio for about 3 weeks now because there's some "requisition process" that the fine folks who run the place have to go through to replace the one that broke down. Oof.

(End of "Job Rant")

Today I'm going to recap a couple of pitching gems from last night. There was a near no-hitter in Boston (though not by the Red Sox, whom I hate) and a not-quite-as-near perfect game in San Diego (also by the visiting pitcher... that coincidence just dawned on me). Then it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment.

The squeaking wheel doesn't always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.
- Vic Gold, (even Google couldn't tell me who this guy is, but I love the quote... are you listening Manny Ramirez?!)

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We'll start today's column by traveling to Boston where the Los Angeles Angels made the top of the sports news yesterday for two reasons. First they made what's likely to be the last big-name trade before tomorrow's 3pm CDT trade deadline.
(Ed.'s Note: And of course, after I wrote that, news came down the wire that the Yankees have acquired C Ivan Rodriguez from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for RP Kyle Farnsworth. I've got a $10 bet with a colleague that the Yankees won't make the playoffs. This doesn't help.)
Atlanta sent 1B Mark Texiera to the Angels in return for 1B Casey Kotchman and a minor league pitcher. Then last night Angels pitcher John Lackey threw 8 1/3 innings worth of no-hit baseball before pesky Red Sox (whom I hate) 2B Dustin Pedroia broke it up with a single to left field. Had Lackey completed the no-no, it would've been the 3rd no-hitter in a row to take place at Fenway Park and the first by a visiting pitcher in 50 years.

Lackey came into last night's contest with a record of 8-2. He's a quality starter, but had been troubled by injuries at the start of the season. Apparently he's back and better than ever. He befuddled the Red Sox (whom I hate) for 8 solid innings, walking two and hitting another batter for the only three baserunners Boston (whom I hate) could muster until the ninth inning.

Lackey started the ninth inning well enough, striking out Jacoby Ellsbury with a wicked slider. But then came Dustin Pedroia. If Pedroia didn't play for Boston (whom I hate) he'd be one of my favorite players. It's not that he's un-athletic per se, but he's not on anybody's 5-tool player list either. He just works hard at every at bat, at every play in the field, every day. And it's impossible not to respect a guy that plays that way.

So Pedroia comes to the plate recognizing that Lackey is having a lot of success with his slider. So instead of taking those and looking for a fastball to hit, Pedroia went up looking for the slide-piece and shot the first one he saw into left-field to break up the no-hitter.

Throwing a no-hitter is an incredibly mentally-taxing effort. Once you get past the 5th or 6th inning with those goose eggs on the board, there's no way that it can be ignored anymore. So not only does the pitcher have to focus on pitching the game the way he always would, he has to do so while trying to shut out the "Oh my God, I'm throwing a no-no" thoughts. So often after a pitcher gets his no-hitter broken up, there's a tendency to relax. Once the stress of a no-hitter is gone, it's "take a deep breath time". The trick is to re-focus quickly after that deep breath. And that's where a lot of pitchers get tripped up.

As did Lackey last night. After Pedroia's hit, Lackey threw a cookie to Kevin Youklis. And Youk didn't miss it, hammering the pitch over the green monster for Boston's (whom I hate) only 2 runs of the game.

So Lackey still got the win to go to 9-2, and offered the usual platitudes after the game: "A no-hitter would've been nice. You know what's going on, but it wasn't affecting me. I just wanted to win the game."

The second pitching-gem of the night was turned in by Arizona's Doug Davis as the Diamondbacks visited the San Diego Padres. Davis was perfect through 6 2/3 before giving up a soft single to left by Brian Giles. Davis got through the rest of the 7th without incident.

But then came the 8th when manager Bob Melvin just about blew Davis' outstanding performance for him. After getting the leadoff batter, Davis allowed a walk and a single to bring his pitch-total to 116. It was pretty clear that he was gassed at this point. I was really shocked that Melvin didn't take him out right there. If Melvin had, Davis would've been guaranteed at worst a no-decision, as he'd have only been responsible for the two runners already on base. Therefore if San Diego had tied it, or taken the lead, Davis couldn't be responsible and couldn't take the loss.

But instead of taking him out, Melvin sent pitching coach Brian Price out to the mound to check on Davis, who naturally said he had enough left to get a couple more outs. Well he got one more before walking another Padre to load the bases and raise his pitch total to 124. At this point, Melvin had no choice and took Davis out. But now, instead of bringing in John Rauch with the tying run at the plate, he came in with the tying run already on first. Believe it or not, that's a significant difference.

The next batter was Jody Gerut who crushed a Rauch fastball to the deepest part of Petco Park. And it was only a spectacular running catch by Alex Romero that saved the game from being tied. If you'd care to see the catch, which in my opinion was reminiscent of Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch, click here and scroll down to the bottom where it says "Romero makes a great catch in right-center".

My point is, had Melvin taken Davis out with only two on, a mistake-pitch like that wouldn't have come so close to costing the D'backs the game. I admire Melvin for showing faith in his pitcher, especially when Davis had pitched so well. But it's specifically because he pitched so well that Melvin needed to yank him a couple of batters earlier and protect his outstanding performance.

As it turns out, Arizona held on for the win and Davis moved his record to 4-5 on the year and closer Brandon Lyon picked up his 22nd save. You might recall a previous column where I talked about games where you can pick up a win even though you haven't played well enough to really deserve it? This was one of those games for the Padres. The D'backs made a mistake with how they handled the pitching staff and opened the door, but the Padres couldn't quite walk through.

Kudos to both John Lackey and Doug Davis on their performances.

Finally today it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment, where I compare the current MLB standings to my pre-season picks, and you all laugh at how horribly I'm doing!

NL East: NY Mets, 58-49 (Dan's Pick: Mets)
I'd love to crow about this one, especially given how far the Mets have come from earlier this year. But given that they have only a half-game lead on the Phillies, this one's far from over. And believe it or not, Sportsline.com has already started publishing magic numbers (the combinations of division-leader wins and second-place team losses required to clinch a division title) for each of the 6 MLB divisions. The Mets magic number? 56. Somebody at CBS must be really bored.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 63-44 (DP: Cubs)
First off, allow me to offer my apologies to you Brewer fans. I really didn't want to put the whammy on you by picking your club to take 3 of 4 from the Cubs. I thought maybe this would finally be the call where I broke my curse. Apparently not so much. The Cubs have taken the first two games of the series by beating the two best pitchers that the Brewers have. Ouch. Sorry 'bout that. The good news is that the Cubs' magic number is 53. There's still plenty of season to go, right? Right?!

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 54-52 (DP: D'backs)
Wow. 3 for 3 in the NL. Anybody else feel the other shoe about to drop? The D'backs moves have panned out so far. Tony Clark has been a solid fill-in at first base. And John Rauch has started to stabilize the back end of the bullpen. The result? Arizona's won 7 of their last 10. The Dodgers are still hanging around only 1 game back, making the 4-game series that starts Thursday between the two clubs all the more important.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 63-44 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 2.5 Games Back)
The Rays had something of a swoon prior to the All Star break, but have steadied the ship here in the second half. The Red Sox (whom I hate) are having all sorts of PR trouble courtesy of Manny Ramirez who isn't intelligent enough to realize that challenging your team to trade you doesn't have the best effect on your clubhouse. Manny? Shhhhhh. Just hit, son. Just hit.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 59-46 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 5.5 GB)
The Tigers just can't seem to get that deficit below 5 games. And with the Twins staying right with the White Sox, that'll make Detroit's climb towards the top all that much more difficult. I won't mind being wrong here if the Twins take the division. But some key finger-injuries (Tolbert, Cuddyer and now Alexi Casilla) makes that prospect just a bit dimmer. I shouldn't complain though. The Twins have taken the first 2 of a 4-game set with Chicago. So I'm guaranteed at least the split I predicted. See Brewer fans? It's not all bad when I make picks!

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 66-40 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 26 GB)
0-3 in the AL? Now that's more like it! I still have only 3 entries in the "How many Games Back will Seattle finish?" contest. Get your entry in now to: dcook93@yahoo.com. Big prizes people. Big prizes! Okay, maybe not, but you get bragging rights anyway! The Angels have the best record in baseball and just got a lot better with the addition of Texiera. Predictably, they have the smallest magic number: 45.

That's all for today folks. Hope you come back on Friday for more of the wonder that is The Sports Take. Until then, thanks, as always, for reading!

Monday

Pair of Important Series & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Well the bad news is the IMAX screening of The Dark Knight that I was set to attend sold out before I got there. The good news is, I saw it again anyway on a larger-than-usual screen so it wasn't a total loss.

The film was just as brilliant the second time and I appreciated Heath Ledger's performance even more the second time around. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I don't usually gush about movies. This one's worth it and then some!

Right... Moving on...

Today I'll run down the match-ups for a couple of very important series in the world of baseball. Then it's this week's Sports Take Mailbag question. Speaking of which, the mailbag's getting a little light, so I encourage you all to submit your questions to: dcook93@yahoo.com. Remember, there are no dumb questions, just dumb ways to handle your unretirement!

People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.
- A.J. Liebling, American journalist


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Tonight marks the opening games of 2 significant 4-game series. The Twins host the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox while the Brewers host the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs. The Twins and the Brewers are both well within striking-distance for the division lead. 3 out of 4 for the Crew would land them in the division lead. The Twins would need a sweep to wrest the AL Central lead away from the Pale Hose.

Here are the pitching match-ups for the Twins/White Sox series:

Monday: CHW Mark Buehrle 8-8, 3.56 vs. MIN Kevin Slowey 6-7, 4.41

Tuesday: CHW Clayton Richard 0-0, 9.00 vs. MIN Glen Perkins 7-3, 4.08

Wednesday: CHW Gavin Floyd 10-6, 3.57 vs. MIN Livan Hernandez 10-7, 5.31

Thursday: CHW John Danks 8-4, 3.18 vs. MIN Scott Baker 7-3, 3.38

And here are the match-ups for the Brewers/Cubs series:

Monday: CHC Ted Lilly 10-6, 4.49 vs. MIL CC Sabathia 4-0, 1.36

Tuesday: CHC Carlos Zambrano 11-4, 2.96 vs. MIL Ben Sheets 10-3, 2.87

Wednesday: CHC Ryan Dempster 11-4, 2.99 vs. MIL Manny Para 9-3, 3.72

Thursday: CHC Rich Harden 0-1, 1.04 vs. MIL Dave Bush 5-8, 4.51

The game that leaps off the page is obviously Tuesday's match-up of Zambrano and Sheets. But both series feature the clubs' best pitchers, so it should be a pretty true test of which are the better teams at this point in the season.

I debated about making picks, because I don't want to put a whammy or reverse-whammy on anybody heading into perhaps the most important series for these clubs so far this year.

Then I figured, ah, the hell with it. I'm making them anyway!

The Twins rebounded fairly nicely from the good ol' fashioned country ass-whippin they took in New York by taking 2 out of 3 on the road in Cleveland. So there's some momentum heading into this crucial series with the White Sox. Mark Buehrle has had varying levels of success against the Twins over the last few years, but he's left-handed and lefties have managed to stymie Minnesota this year. Clayton Richard is making only his second start of the season, but that means there's not much of a book on him, so Twins hitters will be going up there without much of an idea of what kind of stuff the kid has.

Bottom line, this series has split written all over it. I'd adore seeing the Twins take 3 of 4 here, but if I have to make a call, I'd say 2-2 and the standings remain the same come Thursday night.

As for the Brewers, after sweeping the Cardinals, the Crew might have been looking past the Astros over the weekend, while looking forward to the Cubs series. The result was losing 2 of 3 versus Houston. But the Brewers do start the series with their 1 and 2-pitchers, so the opportunity to get off to a strong start is there. I know some of my friends in Wisconsin will cringe when I say this, but I like the Brewers to win at least 3 here. The match-ups are certainly in their favor. If the offense can keep rolling, they have a chance to make a real statement in this series.
Sorry, Crew fans. I know you'll kill me if the Cubs work you over in this series. But at least you know I'm strong enough to take it!

Next up, it's time for the Sports Take Mailbag! This week's question comes from Craig in Burnsville, MN:

Now that Kevin Garnett has won an NBA title do you think the Twin Cities will hold a parade for him much like the City of Boston did for Ray Bourque after he won a Stanley Cup in Colorado?

Obviously I got this question a while ago, but other questions were of a more timely nature, so this one got shoved back a little bit.

Small-picture, the answer is no. Kevin was extremely popular in Minnesota. But he was also extremely private and wasn't nearly as integrated and associated with the community as Ray Borque was in Boston. So I don't think the Timberwolves fan base would be motivated to give him anything more than the standing ovation he got when the Celtics came to Minnesota earlier this year.

But I think the big-picture question here is, what does a fan base owe a star athlete after they've left for greener pastures? (if you'll pardon the pun... Boston? Green? Get it? Damn you Lon!)

I think the answer is: nothing. Professional athletes are extremely well paid for what they do. And as long as a fan base is willing to shell out the money they do to watch them, the athletes deserve the money they get. But once they leave, whether it be via trade or free agency, I don't think that a fan base necessarily owes that athlete any kind of loyalty or adulation, whether they win a championship someplace else or not.

There are always special cases where a given athlete has done an extraordinary amount of charity work and community service. Where they've become so synonymous with a given city that even if they leave, they're still considered part of that original community. The only athlete in Minnesota that I can recall having that kind of status was Kirby Puckett. Though I think a large part of why Puck was so revered in this town was because he didn't leave when he had the chance to as a free agent.

But even in those cases, it's a conscious choice made by the fans themselves. I don't think it's out of any sense of obligation.

Perhaps some of you disagree. And if you do I hope you'll step up and let me know!

Again, as always, if you have a question you want addressed, please email me at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

That's all for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more of the Sports Take goodness you've come to depend on! Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

Minor League Melee & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

We've reached the end of another work-week. The promised-land as it were. Hope your week has gone by quickly and that you have fun plans for the weekend. My plans include an IMAX screening of The Dark Knight. If you're reading this and still haven't seen that movie yet, stop reading and just go see it!

You can thank me later.

As for today's column, I'm going to talk about a brawl last night in a Dayton, Ohio, minor league game that crossed a pretty big line. Then it's the weekly installment of the DFTU!

"A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the word you first thought of."
- Burt Bacharach, award-winning American pianist and composer


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Last night, there was a brawl in a Class A game in Dayton, Ohio, that resulted in the ejections of 15 players and both managers. Perhaps you saw the video on SportsCenter. If not, read the rest of the description and then go check it out.

I've talked before about batters getting hit and opposing teams responding. And apparently that's what started it. Only the club doing the responding decided to send a couple of messages instead of a straight tit-for-tat exchange. So one manager comes out to argue that the offending pitcher should be tossed, which prompts the opposing manager to come out to defend his player. That's where the video picks up.

The managers start arguing with each other which leads to some pushing and shoving. And then all hell breaks loose. Apparently somebody from the Dayton dugout shouted something, because Peoria pitcher Julio Castillo decided to fire a baseball in the general direction of said dugout. That's right, he reared back and chucked a fastball towards a dugout full of players. Makes perfect sense, no?

The problem was, Castillo didn't account for the adrenaline rush he was feeling. The ball he threw sailed on him. In fact, it sailed over the top of the dugout and drilled a fan who was injured to the point that they were taken to the hospital. The injury was significant enough that the local gendarmes took Castillo into custody after the game and he now faces a count of felonious assault.

Perhaps one of you can point out a previous instance, but this is the first time I've heard of a baseball player being arrested for something that happened in the field of play. And judging by what I'm seeing in the video, I'm all for it.

Look, fights happen in sports. I'm not saying they're right or appropriate, but there's no way you're ever going to completely eliminate them. Minimize them? Sure. But they're not going away and at some level, that has to be accepted. But the moment that those brawls spill over into the ticket-buying public, a very strong line has to be drawn. I understand that Castillo was trying to throw the ball into the dugout, but the fact that his aim was bad doesn't excuse his actions. There's a phrase in the legal world, "intent follows the bullet". It means that it doesn't matter who you were aiming at, if you shoot somebody, you're prosecuted as though you were specifically trying to injure that individual.

In Castillo's case, that means that regardless of where he was trying to throw the ball, he's criminally liable for the damage it caused.

I'm not familiar with the Ohio sentencing guidelines, so I can't really speculate on what kind of criminal punishment Castillo should, or will face. And though I'm sure there will be a civil action as well, I obviously don't know what kind of penalty he's facing there.

But I think it's safe to comment and speculate on what kind of professional penalty he faces. People's first reaction will be to say that the kid should be banned from pro ball permanently. And I can certainly understand that. But I'm not sure that's going to work. Though Castillo's not protected by the Major League Players Union, he does have certain professional legal protections.

If you'll recall there was an incident back in 2006 where current Minnesota Twin Delmon Young (a minor leaguer at the time) was suspended 50 games for having thrown a bat at an umpire. Young had struck out looking and had some words for the umpire afterwards. As he turned to head back to the dugout, the umpire tossed in one last comment. Delmon's response was to toss the bat behind him. It flipped end over end and struck the umpire in the shoulder. The umpire was unhurt, but clearly it was an act that couldn't be tolerated, hence the 50-game suspension.

There were similar calls for Delmon's banishment from professional baseball at that time. But cooler heads prevailed and Delmon's gone on to establish himself as a reasonably well-behaved major leaguer. Based on some media members I've heard from, I won't call him a "model citizen", but neither have there been any incidents anywhere near along the lines of his "bat toss".

My point is that banning a guy for one mistake like this is an over-reaction. Certainly what Castillo did is reprehensible, and a strong message needs to be sent. Using Young's 50-game suspension as a precedent, I'd say Castillo should get somewhere around 100 games. And that suspension would not run concurrently with whatever jail sentence he might receive.

People make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes have tragic consequences. So yes, I agree with his arrest. And I hope that the injured fan is able to seek compensation for their injuries. But banning him from baseball is a bad idea. If for no other reason that banning him will prevent him from making the kind of money necessary to sufficiently compensate the injured fan!

Feel free to flame me if you disagree!

Next up it's everybody's favorite segment, the Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 55-46, in second place in the AL Central and 2.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

Okay, the trip to New York was a disaster. I think that's a fair description when you get swept in 3 games by a combined total of 25-7. I don't know what it is about that ballpark, but the Twins have never fared terribly well there. So in that sense (and really in that sense only) I'm glad they're tearing the joint down.

But in baseball you put a bad series behind you and move on to the next one. For the Twins? The next series is in Cleveland. But even though the Indians are having a rough go of it this year, this won't be an easy one. The Twins start the series facing Indians' ace Cliff Lee. Minnesota beat him the last time they met (a game I attended at the Metrodome). But now they're back at the Jake, and Lee's still 13-2 on the year. Not a gimme by any stretch.

The other intriguing storyline in this series is the return of Cleveland fireballer Fausto Carmona on Sunday. Carmona's been on the DL since July 14th and his presence has certainly been missed. He's the reason that Cleveland was confident enough to deal CC Sabathia to the Brewers in the first place. So that ought to indicate the value he has to the Indians.

So it's not an easy go for the Twins this weekend, but it is an opportunity to shake off the bad mojo from New York. Hopefully they take advantage.

After the weekend series in Cleveland, the Twins return home for a 4-gamer versus the division-leading White Sox. Yeesh. That's a tough stretch. But it'll damned sure be interesting!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 50-51, in first place in the NL West and one game ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

Under .500 and in first place?! Talk about a back-handed compliment!

But hopefully the tide is turning for the Snakes. They've made a couple of solid additions in IF Tony Clark and RP John Rauch. The offense is finally showing signs of life. The bullpen is still something of a mess, even with the temporary addition of Micah Owings. Give it a week or so and I'm thinking the addition of Rauch will slot the rest of the bullpen into more comfortable roles.

And now they're coming off of a series victory over one of the best teams in the NL, the Chicago Cubs. Now it's time to make some hay inside the incredibly weak NL West. Tonight's the start of a classic West Coast Trip for the D'backs. Okay, it's not as much of a "trip" as it would be for most clubs, but it's still an important road excursion!

They start tonight in San Francisco for 3 against the Giants. Then it's 3 games in San Diego, followed by a critical 4-game set in Los Angeles. No one stretch, or series or even game makes a season. But as stretches go, this one's pretty important.

That's all for today folks. Have a wonderful weekend and I'll be back with more Dark Knight raving on Monday! Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Mets Meltdown & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump-Day to you all. I don't know about the rest of you, but this week has flown by. Of course, now that I've written that, the next couple of days will drag on forever. I was just kidding time gods... really... just kidding.

So today I'll look at the big tilt last night in New York (no Twins fans, that one *wasn't* so big). And then it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment!

"Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about."
- Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and author of short stories


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Last night, a game of great import was played in New York. And believe it or not, it didn't involve the Yankees. The Mets hosted the Phillies in a battle for first place in the NL East. It was Johan Santana against Joe Blanton. The former 2-time Cy Young Award winner against the recent stretch-drive acquisition. It was set up to be quite a game.

And it certainly didn't disappoint.

Santana pitched a gem. The Mets lefty went 8 innings surrendering only 2 runs on 8 hits with no walks and 4 strikeouts over a tidy 105 pitches. I mentioned it in a previous blog, but Santana has always been a 2nd half pitcher. And even though he struggled in his last outing, this makes 2 outstanding outings for him since the All-Star break. There are several NL pitchers who've had outstanding seasons to date, but I wouldn't count Johan out of the Cy Young race just yet.

Unless...

Unless his manager continues to make mystifying decisions like taking Johan out of the game last night after 8 innings when he knew that Mets closer Billy Wagner wasn't available. It's one thing to lift a superstar pitcher in a pivotal game when you've got a lock-down closer ready to finish the deal off. But last night, the Mets were closing by committee. And based on their results, that committee ought to be disbanded!

In case you missed it, the Mets led 5-2 going into the 9th inning and then proceeded to go through 4 different relief pitchers while giving up 6 runs and blowing the game.

Generally I don't discuss specific games in a segment like this, but I found this one particularly interesting. Not only because it was for the division lead. But because the result will likely have a large role in how this division race plays out.

If you're the Phillies, you know you were fortunate to win this one. Tom Kelley once said that there are about 25 games every year that are available for you to win even though you haven't played well enough to really earn the victory. And if you can win more of those than you lose, you've got a pretty good shot at a special season. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel is cut from much the same cloth at TK, and I imagine he was using a theory like that to try and turn last nights win into a inspiration for his club.

If you're the Mets, there are really two ways to go. The first, and unfortunately most likely, is to say "here we go again". Remember, the Mets blew a big lead down the stretch to the Phillies last year. Included in that debacle was an 0-8 record against Philly in the closing weeks. So it's certainly understandable that if you're in that New York dugout, you're wondering if that other team doesn't just have your number. There's a solid chance that the Mets could tank off a loss like that.

But they could also use that loss as a rallying point. It's not terribly common, but every now and then you'll see a team take a tough loss and use it to unify the club and motivate better play. The Twins have made several seasons off of exactly that kind of turn-around. I'm not sure the Mets have the kind of clubhouse to pull this off (too many "me" guys). But the opportunity is certainly there for them, if they can step up and take advantage of it.

We'll start to get some answers tonight when the Mets and the Phillies go at it again. If you're as curious as I am, they'll be on ESPN's Wednesday Night Baseball. So check it out! Brett Myers for the Phillies faces John Maine for the Mets. Won't be a pitching classic like last night, but it should be an interesting ball game anyway!

Next up, it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment, where I compare my pre-season picks to the current MLB standings.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 59-41 (Dan's Pick: Boston (whom I hate), 1 Game Back)
The miracle of St. Petersburg continues. Troy Percival is back off the DL for the Rays who were able to reverse a tough pre-All Star break losing streak without him. Boston (whom I hate) has been a bit schizophrenic. Some days they look near unbeatable. Other days Manny Ramirez is doing his beached-whale routine landing on top of the ball in left field. I still think that Boston (whom I hate) is the team to beat here. But I'd never be happier to be wrong.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 56-43 (DP: Detroit, 5.5 GB)
The Twins got to a half-game back of the White Sox. And then they boarded a plane to New York. As I type this, the Twins are in the midst of their third-straight thumping at the hands of the Bombers. This team struggles on the road, especially against teams with big line-ups (remember that trip to Texas earlier this year? oof). As for the Tigers, they're treading water, having gone 5-5 in their last 10. Still not out of it. But not making enough noise to make me confident in my pick.

AL West: L.A. Angels, 61-39 (DP: Seattle, 23 GB)
The Angels are now the proud owners of the best record in baseball. Thanks for rubbing it fellas! Really, I appreciate it! I've only received one entry in the "How Far Back Will Seattle Finish" contest. Come on folks! This is your chance to win something out of the Sports Take prize closet! Email me at: dcook93@yahoo.com and tell me how many games back the Mariners will finish. The winner will not only receive the admiration and adulation of Sports Take nation, but I'll come up with a nearly-legitimate prize as well!

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 54-46 (DP: NY Mets, 1 GB)
I talked about this race plenty earlier. Don't forget the Marlins are only one game back too. What kind of ratings would a Marlins/Rays World Series get? Oof.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 58-42 (DP: Cubs)
Vive le Brewers! The Cubs have thrown the door open by losing 6 of their last 10 and Milwaukee has taken advantage. The Crew are now only a single game back and in sole possession of 2nd place in the NL Central. That also means that they're the current Wild Card leader in the NL as well. I said it on Monday. If they can get some bullpen help, the Brewers are in prime pouncing position here.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 50-50 (DP: D'backs)
Courtesy of 2-straight home wins over the Cubs (you're welcome Milwaukee), the D'backs have climbed back to .500 and into sole possession of first place in the AL West. Admittedly, they're the best team of the worst division in baseball, but somebody's got to win it! And give Arizona credit. G.M. Josh Byrnes is making moves trying to shore up his club. I mentioned last week the acquisition of a veteran bench player in Tony Clark. This week they acquired late inning reliever John Rauch from Washington. I'm not sure if Rauch will be "the answer" in the bullpen. But at 6-11, he along with Randy Johnson (6-10) and Tony Clark (6-7) would make a helluva front line in an intramural volleyball team!

That's all for today folks. Back at you on Friday with this week's DFTU! Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Another Brewer Trade & Monday Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the start of another week. Hope you had a good weekend.

Generally I limit most of my chattering to sports, but I wanted to throw in a quick plug for The Dark Knight. Wow. I saw it Friday night and I still can't quite find the words to describe it. Heath Ledger's getting all the Oscar buzz - and he certainly deserves it, he's brilliant - but if the director, Christoper Nolan, doesn't win a bushel-full of awards for this movie, there is no justice! If you enjoyed Batman Begins, this blows that movie away. Really, it's not even close. Do yourself a favor. Go see this movie.

My definition of an expert in any field is a person who knows enough about what's really going on to be scared.
- P.J. Plaguer, author and entrepreneur

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Well Crew-fans, the wheeling and dealing continues. Fresh off a 3-game sweep over the Giants, the Brewers announced a deal for Giants' 2B Ray Durham. Milwaukee gave up two minor leaguers for Durham. None at the level of the prospect that they traded to Cleveland for CC Sabathia.

So on the surface, it's a solid deal for the Brewers. They add a veteran presence that will be able to spell Rickie Weeks, who's been struggling mightily for the Crew, hitting .218 with 8 home runs. Durham brings a .293 average and a .385 on-base percentage. I presume that Ned Yost will platoon the two guys, at least for the balance of the regular season. But if the Brewers make the playoffs, I'd look for a healthy dose of Durham as your starting second baseman.

I'd also imagine that this isn't the end of the wheeling and dealing for the Brewers. They've come this far, so I'd be fairly surprised if they didn't manage to cut a deal for some late-inning bullpen help. The bullpen is still the Achilles heel of this club, so if they don't make some moves to shore that up, then the trades for Sabathia and now Durham will be fairly well wasted.

I like what your club's doing Brewer fans. Now if they'd just cut bait with Gagne, I could actually start rooting for you fellas!

Finally, today's Sports Take Mailbag question comes from David in Milwaukee:

What in God's name is going through Brett Favre's head? Ted Thompson's? This is going to end very, very badly.

I've addressed the beginning of the Favre saga in an earlier Mailbag question, but a lot has happened since then.

The last time I talked about Brett, I chastised him for not being more direct and making a more definitive public statement about his desire - or lack there of - to return. Well the Fox News interview that he did pretty much took care of that.

(Aside: Did anybody hear an explanation as to why the hell he was on Fox News for that interview? Isn't that like John McCain going on SportsCenter to discuss his latest domestic policy issue?!)

Brett made it quite clear, I thought, in that interview that not only does he want to come back and play, but that he has no intention of doing so as a backup.

That leaves the Packers in a tough situation. They've already named Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback for the upcoming season. So do they bring Brett back and cut Rodgers' legs out from under him? Or do they keep Rodgers and trade Brett away, potentially losing out on the better of the two quarterbacks?

Brett might have made that decision process slightly easier by the comments he had about the Packers organization. He essentially called Packers G.M. Ted Thompson a liar. And intimated that he'd have preferred it if Green Bay had hired Steve Mariucci over current head coach Mike McCarthy.

Not exactly the kinds of statements that are going to endear you to an organization.

It's my suspicion that these comments were calculated to have exactly that effect. Brett realizes that he's probably not going back to Green Bay as the starter, so he wants to affect a trade as soon as possible. And what better way to do that than to take a blowtorch to whatever bridge he might have had back to the frozen tundra.

So now what is Ted Thompson thinking? Well the first thing he's thinking, is something that I won't put in print. After all, this is a family-rated blog! But my guess is that he's working on trade scenarios. Preferably, he'd like to send Brett to an AFC team (hence the rumors to Baltimore). If he can't work a worthwhile deal with an AFC club, then he surely will want to send Brett someplace outside of the NFC North. The last thing anybody in Wisconsin wants is for Brett to come back and stick it to the Packers twice a year.

That brings us to the "tampering" charge that the Packers have levied against the Vikings. The NFL has a rule that disallows teams from speaking to players under contract with another club about trying to engineer a move to their team. This is a rule that's violated nearly as often as the rule against filming other teams signals was prior to Spygate.

So Green Bay, in an effort to nip any such activity in the bud, found the most likely violator and sent a formal letter to the league office charging the Vikings with tampering. The accusation is that Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevel had several inappropriate conversations with Favre to determine his interest in joining Minnesota. Bevell was formerly the Quarterbacks Coach with the Packers, so he has a pre-existing relationship with Favre. And while this provides the logic the Packers will use to create the tampering charge, it's also the fact that will render such a charge impossible to prove. If both Bevell and Favre claim that the conversation was strictly personal, and that no discussions about joining the Vikings were had, how do you prove them wrong?

Instead I think this move by Thompson is more about signaling to other clubs that the Packers are watching this situation very closely, and aren't the least bit afraid to file formal charges if another team has those kinds of talks with Favre.

Ultimately, I think the Packers will move Favre somewhere. But they want to create the perception that they're doing so on their terms, not Brett's.

It's too bad there wasn't an amicable way to work this out. And I think most of the fault for that gets put on Brett. Yes, he deserves to come back and play if he's decided that retiring was a mistake. But there are plenty of less-acrimonious ways he could've gone about it.

Remember, if you want your question answered in the Sports Take Mailbag, email me at: dcook93@yahoo.com with your question. And remember, creativity counts!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more Sports Take wonder. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

All-Star Review & Trades, Signings and Grumblings


Hello again everybody...

Sorry I didn't have anything for you on Wednesday. Bottom line, it was my birthday and I had other stuff to do. But I'm back and feeling better and wiser than ever!

So today I'll review this week's All-Star festivities for you. And then run down the flurry of trades and signings this week. As well as offer an opinion on some grumblings from the agent of a Twins pitcher.

"I don't believe what I just saw!"
- Jack Buck, after Kirk Gibson's game winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series


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I'm sure I wasn't the only one reflecting on Buck's classic call as I watched Josh Hamilton launch moonshot after unbelievable moonshot into the stands at Yankee Stadium in Tuesday night's Home Run Derby.

For those of you who missed it, or missed the news, Texas OF Josh Hamilton set a new Home Run Derby record by hitting 28 Home runs in the first round of the competition (the previous record belonged to Bobby Abreu - 24 in 2005). Included in Hamilton's 28 first round homers were 13 on 13 successive swings and 3 shots that surpassed 500 feet. It was an amazing performance in the ultimate baseball setting.

Unfortunately for Josh, those 28 might have taken a little too much out of him and he ended up losing to Minnesota's Justin Morneau in the final round.

First of all, let me offer kudos to Morneau who handled the situation with a lot of class. In the post-Derby interview, Morneau said, "I was lucky that we got reset after the first two rounds. He [Hamilton] deserved to win it. I was lucky he got a little tired. That was one of the most amazing displays I've ever seen."

Well said Justin. He was honored to win it, but clearly understood that the bigger story was about Hamilton's record-setting round. Oh, and for those folks who think that Derby rules should be changed so that totals aren't reset for the final round?

Shhhhhhh. Take that thought and just let it go. Keeping running totals sucks all the drama out of the event. Yes, Hamilton's first round was fantastic. But if they didn't reset for the finals, they might as well have ended the contest right there. Nobody was going to catch him.

And not only would running totals take away the drama of the finals, but it eliminates the strategy involved too. You want to go for a record in the first round? Be my guest. But if you're too tired to win it in the final round, that's your own fault.

It was a classic event and probably the best Derby I've ever seen.

And speaking of classic contests, the All-Star Game itself was quite the battle. The American League came out on top for the 11th time in the last 12 years (thank you Bud Selig's tie), winning 4-3 in 15 innings. Sure it went on longer than most viewers would've liked, but there was a series of amazing plays made by the NL to keep them in the game. And in fact, the game-winning run - scored by Justin Morneau, wow, what an All-Star break for him - was on an extremely close play at home-plate.

The true problem was that both sides were down to their last pitcher. And in the case of the American League's Scott Kazmir (Tampa Bay), it was a guy who had just thrown over 100 pitches on Sunday and wasn't supposed to appear except in an emergency. In All-Star game parlance, 15 innings is an emergency. So okay, guys like Kazmir and Arizona's Brandon Webb, who'd similarly pitched on Sunday, had to pitch in the All-Star game. But what would've happened if the game had gone 16, 17 or even 18 innings? Who pitches then? Position players?

Not a good idea. And you can't have a tie anymore. Not now that MLB has decided to place this ridiculous "Winner Determines Home-Field Advantage in the World Series" stipulation on the game. What are you going to do if you declare a tie? Flip a coin?!

Perhaps the most popular solution is to expand the rosters and add a couple more pitchers per side. The problem with that idea is that All-Star managers already feel compelled to make sure everyone who can play, gets to play. So if you expand the rosters, they're just going to try and jam that many more guys into the expected 9-inning game.

I think the best solution is to allow the managers to bring a couple of pitchers from their own teams. Not guys who are voted as All-Stars, but guys that the managers feel deserve some recognition, and are brought along for the expressed purpose of pitching only in long drawn out extra-inning games. Make it a starter and/or a long-reliever. Someone who can soak up some innings once you get past the 10th or so and make sure that guys like Webb and Kazmir don't risk hurting their arms needlessly.

Call it a privilege for the All-Star managers. Sure the Players Association will want those guys' contractual All-Star clauses to kick in. But that can all be negotiated out without much difficulty.

One way or the other, MLB has some tweaking to do, or they will end up with another mess on their hands sooner or later.

Next up, I'm going to run down a few transactions that have occurred during the break:

- The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired 1B Tony Clark in a trade with the San Diego Padres for a minor league pitcher. I love this move for the D'backs. Sure, Tony's only hitting .239 with 1 home run and 11 RBI. But he's only gotten 88 at-bats with San Diego, and will get far more opportunities with Arizona. Far more important than his numbers is his presence. This is exactly the kind of "veteran presence" I've been saying that the D'backs need for ages. And kudos to Arizona G.M. Josh Byrnes for not being so egotistical that he can't admit it was a mistake to let Clark go in the first place.

- The Philadelpia Philles acquired P Joe Blanton in a trade with the Oakland A's for 3 minor leaguers. Blanton certainly isn't the front-line starter that CC Sabathia and Rich Harden were. But he's a nice piece to have. And with the surge the Mets have been on as of late, the Phillies were wise to make a move now. And considering that the centerpiece of the trade for the A's was a minor league 2nd baseman who had no shot of getting to the big leagues with the Phillies (Chase Utley isn't changing positions any time soon), it really worked out well for both clubs.

- The New York Yankees signed free agent 1B/DH Richie Sexson who'd been cut by the Seattle Mariners. This move makes a ton of sense for the Yanks. With LF Hideki Matsui's bat out of their line up indefinitely, the Yankees need a guy with the potential to generate some power. Sexson can definitely do that. Yes, he struggled this year with the Mariners. But in Seattle, he was one of the core guys. In New York, he's just another part of the line-up. Probably no more than a 7-hole hitter. Not nearly the same kind of pressure. And if it doesn't work out, the Yankees are only on the hook for a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum salary. Thanks to the wonder of baseball's collective bargaining agreement, the Mariners are on the hook for the rest of Sexson's $14 million salary. God bless guaranteed contracts I guess.

And finally, I have to throw in a quick 2-cents on Fransico Liriano. Yesterday, Liriano's agent, Greg Genske, formally asked the Players Association to investigate why the Minnesota Twins haven't called Liriano up from AAA Rochester, despite 3-straight solid outings. Apparently the agent is suspicious that the Twins are trying to limit Liriano's service time to push back his arbitration eligibility.

As my co-worker Don Shelby might say, hogwash.

The Twins haven't recalled Liriano because there's no room for him on the major league roster. The popular candidate to be replaced, Livan Hernandez, is also the only starting pitcher the Twins have with any significant starting experience. And I promise you, if Minnesota's in the hunt down the stretch, that experience will be invaluable. So sorry to those of you looking to give Livan the boot, he's not going anywhere.

And you can add to that the fact that each time the Twins have tried to rush Liriano back from one of his many maladies, it's only served to exacerbate the problem. So the Twins are well served in this case to let Liriano get as many innings in as he can at AAA, so long as he isn't directly needed with the big club.

I don't put this on Francisco. He's a young guy who doesn't know any better than to let Genske run amok like this. Unfortunately, this is another example of an agent creating an adversarial relationship between a player and the club that simply doesn't need to exist.

On Monday I mentioned Liriano as a possible trading piece for the Twins. So maybe Genske thinks this will move the Twins closer to making a trade that will land Liriano in the majors with another club. Unfortunately for him, I think all this does is make it less likely that the Twins will recall the left-hander any time soon.

That's all for today ladies and gents. Have a wonderful weekend. Don't forget to go see The Dark Knight! I'll be seeing it in just under 7 hours myself. Not that I'm counting!

I'm back on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

ST Mailbag & Home Run Derby


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the start of another week. The slowest sports week of the year thanks to the MLB All-Star break. Both the DFT's are off til Friday. But tonight we've got the Home Run Derby and tomorrow's the Mid-Summer Classic itself.

Today I'll bring you the latest nugget from the Sports Take Mailbag, plus a preview of the Home Run Derby. Off we go!

When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
-Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC), Roman orator, author and politician


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Of course, Cicero ended up getting decapitated by his political enemies. So maybe he should've talked a little more. Who knows?

Today's Sports Take Mailbag question comes from Kurt in Eau Claire, WI:

The Twins have the makings to be a very good team, way better then they've been. If you were the GM or coach, what would you do to make the Twins a contender? What player or players would you bring in, (make sure you talk about players that the Twins could get!), and how would you use them?

July 31st is the non-waiver trade deadline, so the All-Star break is an appropriate time to talk trades. I've written plenty of times about what the Diamondbacks need to acquire in a trade, but I haven't written about the Twins in that fashion.

So here goes. When I look at the Twins' roster, I see two glaring needs. One, they could really use some help on the left side of their infield (shortstop and/or third base), particularly of the right-handed-hitting variety to help balance their line-up a little. Two, they could use another relief pitcher, especially with late-inning experience.

So if I was Twins G.M. Billy Smith, I'd be on the phone with the Colorado Rockies trying to figure out what it'd take to land 3B Garret Atkins. According to the Rockie Mountain News, Atkins is one of the players that the Rockies are shopping. Colorado's always looking for pitching help, so I'd dangle Francisco Liriano (who'll likely never have better trade value than he does right now) in front of them and offer up a lower-level prospect in addition if it helps get the job done.

Atkins is a 29-year-old, right-handed 3rd baseman. He's hitting .304 with 14 home runs and 54 RBI this year on a team that's struggling mightily. And he's not a bad fielder either. For his career he has a .954 fielding percentage. This year he's made 9 errors in 195 attempts for a .964 fielding percentage.

The best part for the Twins is that Atkins won't become a free agent for 2 years, so they know it won't be a standard rent-a-player situation. The other edge of that sword however, is that it'll put the Rockies in a position where they can ask for more in terms of prospects for that same reason. But it's my hope that putting Liriano in the deal will counter-act that somewhat.

As far as the bullpen goes, there aren't a lot of great options out there. Between Dennis Reyes and Craig Breslow, the Twins are set for situational lefties, so they'd be looking for a right-handed reliever who could step into the set-up role. This eliminates lefty Brian Fuentes of Colorado, who's perhaps the best relief pitcher on the market.

So my short list of options would be: Jason Frasor of the Toronto Blue Jays, Saul Rivera of the Washington Nationals and Eddie Guardado of the Texas Rangers. Yes, I'm suggesting taking a look at Eddie G. I know he's left-handed and I just said the Twins don't need a lefty, but Eddie's intangibles overcome that contradiction. Plus it would be a nice homecoming for him. Frasor would be my first choice. But I'm not offering anything above a AA prospect for any of them.

For the record, the latest Twins rumor-mill has them talking to the Mariners about 3B Adrian Beltre. Beltre had a monster year in 2004 for the Dodgers when he hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI. That season earned him a large free-agent contract with Seattle. But since 2004, Beltre hasn't hit above .280, hasn't topped 30 home runs in a season, and hasn't reached 100 RBI. For my money? I'd rather pay a little more and get a Garret Atkins on the way up, rather than pay a little less and get Beltre on his way down.

So Kurt, I hope that adequately answers your question. Thanks for sending it in! Remember, if you have a question you want answered, send me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

Next up it's the Sports Take preview of this year's All-Star Home Run Derby.

Here are tonight's participants:

For the American League: Josh Hamilton, Tex (21 HR), Evan Longoria, TB (16 HR), Justin Morneau, Min (14 HR), and Grady Sizemore, Cle (23 HR).

For the National League: Lance Berkman, Hou (22 HR), Ryan Braun, Mil (23 HR), Dan Uggla, Fla (23 HR) and Chase Utley, Phi (25).

So on the surface, the National League should have a clear advantage. But anyone who's seen Derby's in the past knows that it doesn't much matter how many Home Runs you come into the contest with. It's more about your ability to relax in the face of the glare of so much attention and having the right batting practice pitcher.

That said, my pick to win the contest this year is ..............

Chase Utley of the Phillies. Utley's a veteran player who won't be phased by being the center of attention. And his swing is so smooth and pure, that he shouldn't have any problem hitting enough out in the early rounds to get him through to the late stages.

The sexy pick this year is Josh Hamilton of Texas. And while he's a great story, and can hit some monster shots, I'm concerned about his pitcher. The story is that he's going to have a former little-league coach of his throwing to him. Now maybe the guy will surprise me and be able to consistently put the ball where Hamilton wants it, but my fear is that he'll be nervous and all over the place and that will cost Hamilton his shot.

The homer in me would love to see Justin Morneau make a deep run, since I don't think he gets the national attention that he deserves as a former MVP and strong candidate for this year's award.

But if I have to make a pick, it's Utley. Which I guess means that I should apologize to Philly fans since I probably just put the ST-whammy on the guy. Sorry about that!

That's all for today folks. Back on Wednesday with... well, I don't know what yet. Like I said, it's a slow time of the year. But rest assured I'll come up with something! Until then, thanks as always for reading!

Friday

DFTU & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the end of another week. It's a steamer here in Minnesota and we're staring down the barrel of our second consecutive day of severe weather. But tomorrow's still Saturday and that's always going to make today okay by me!

Today I'm catching up on a few of the regular Sports Take segments. We'll kick it off with the DFTU where I'll explain why wins last night by both my Favorite Teams were so important. And then it's the weekly Peek at the Picks segment. Enjoy!

“The rhythm of the weekend, with its birth, its planned gaieties, and its announced end, followed the rhythm of life and was a substitute for it.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 - 1940), American Writer


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We kick things off with everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 51-41, in second place in the AL Central and 2.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

It was a rough beginning of the week for me. The Twins got swept by the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). It started out well enough. The Twins dropped a 1-0 decision to the Red Sox (whom I hate) Monday night in one of the best games I've seen all year. It was one of those well-pitched, crisply-played games that you hate to see either team lose. Unless one of those teams is Boston (whom I hate), in which case I'd always like to see them lose. But they didn't. Still, I didn't feel so bad since both teams played really well.

After that, things got bad in a hurry. The Twins held a 5-2 lead going into the 8th inning Tuesday night, but the bullpen came unglued and they lost 6-5. That one stung. But then just to add insult to injury, after jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the wheels came completely off the Twins wagon as the Red Sox (whom I hate) held in-game batting practice on the Twins pitching staff and completed the sweep with an 18-5 victory.

So in the end, it not only felt like you just got beat up by the bully on the playground, but he threw in an atomic wedgie at the end to really humiliate you. Not good.

Immediately following the Boston (whom I hate) series, the Twins boarded a plane for Detroit where they played a rare Thursday, start-of-a-series day-game. One of the beauties of baseball is that no matter how poorly you played the day before, there's always another game tomorrow. Another opportunity to erase those bad memories. But it's a double-edged sword. If you're on a bad streak where you could really use a day off to rest and re-group, there's also always another game tomorrow.

In this case, things worked out well for the Twins. They got behind 6-2 in the early goings against Detroit. But this time the bullpen came through and held down the Tigers while the offense put together enough runs to send the game to extra innings, where MVP candidate (yes, he's a candidate now) Justin Morneau hit a game-winning home run in the 11th.

So not only were the Twins able to end their mini-losing streak, but they did so in a way that immediately corrected the problems they'd been having over the last three games.

I'll admit it. I was in full-on panic mode after the sweep by Boston (whom I hate). But the boys reminded me why one series does not a season make. Thanks boys. I needed that!

The Twins continue their 4-game series with the Tigers through the weekend before the All-Star Break. And then the Twins actually get a 4-day break before starting a weekend series at home versus the Rangers (and the potential Home Run Derby winner, Josh Hamilton. Seriously, if you can see this guy take BP, go do it).

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 46-46, in first place in the NL West and 1 game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

First of all, I'd like to say, "Kudos!" to D'back G.M. Josh Byrnes for announcing that the Snakes will not be pursuing free-agent outfielder Barry Bonds. You just made a significant portion of your fan-base very happy Mr. Byrnes. Thank you!

That being said, Arizona is still in need of some significant line-up help. LF Eric Byrnes likely won't be back this season. And may the good Lord bless C Chris Snyder who's on the DL with what's been described as a "fractured testicle". Now I have no idea how you fracture something that doesn't contain a bone, but damn that sounds painful! Get well soon Chris! And now RF Justin Upton is out with a sore oblique muscle which could lead to a DL stint for him.

So clearly, the D'backs need some offensive help in a big way. And a little help in the bullpen wouldn't hurt either. Look for some serious movement not too long after the All-Star Break.

Last night Arizona also came up with a big win. Dan Haren pitched a brilliant game, carrying a 2-0 lead into the 9th. After allowing a couple of base-runners, he was lifted in favor of closer Brandon Lyon, who promptly blew the save and allowed the Nationals to tie up the game and send it to extra innings. In the 10th inning the Snakes' offense came through with 3 runs to give Arizona a 5-2 lead. That lead was promptly blown by Tony Pena in the bottom of the 10th when Washington tied it up again.

Now after having two game-winning leads blown in a matter of two innings, there are two ways to look at he situation. One, a team could say, "this just isn't our day" and fold up shop and head for the plane for Philly. Or two, a team could view this as an opportunity. The line-up could say, "Okay, our bullpen is having a bad day. They've picked us up before. Today we're going to win one for them." And that's just what they did. The D'backs came out in the 11th and put 2 more runs up on the board and this time, Chad Qualls made it stick.

Those are the kinds of wins that can galvanize a team. When hitters can pick up pitchers who've failed, or pitchers can pick up hitters who've failed, or even when bullpens can pick up starters who've failed, it can inspire the other players to pick up their game. "That guy saved my butt, so next time I have a chance to save his, I'm going to bear down and try that much harder."

Look, the Nationals are god-awful. They're a team that a division-leader should beat like a drum. But I still hope that this kind of win can be a benchmark for the rest of the season. I hope that's a game that can be pointed to at the end of the year as the game where guys started playing for each other which is what you have to have to be successful.

Yes, I just got done saying that one series (and by extension, one game) doesn't make a season. But one game can be a starting point for a solid run. And I hope that was it for the D'backs.

Arizona heads to Philly for 3 starting tonight. Then they also enjoy 4-days off for the All-Star break before hosting a critical series against the Dodgers.

Finally for this week, let's take a Peek at the Picks!

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 50-43 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 1.5 Games Back)
Don't look now, but I think Johan Santana just started his traditional second-half surge. He pitched 5 brilliant innings Wednesday night before being removed after a rain delay. And don't underestimate the motivating power of getting left off the All-Star team. If he gets hot, the Mets could grab first place sooner than later.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 55-37 (DP: Cubs)
In response to Milwaukee's trade for CC (he doesn't want the periods anymore) Sabathia, the Cubs picked up Rich Harden from the A's. The Cardinals are hanging in there, but this could soon be a 2-team race for the Central. And with the moves the Cubs and Brewers have made, it should be a fun race to watch.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 46-46 (DP: D'backs)
Covered this earlier. But the series with the Dodgers after the All-Star break looms very large.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 55-36 (DP: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 1.5 GB)
The Rays have lost 4 in a row, and the Red Sox (whom I hate) are coming off their sweep of the Twins. Now the Rays know what it feels like to have a target squarely on their backs. We'll see how they respond.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 53-38 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 7 games back)
I'd still like to see the Tigers cut that to 5 or so by the All-Star break to really feel like they're in contention. Then again, they're playing the Twins, so scratch that last! Detroit's made gains of late, but they've still got quite the mountain to climb if they're going to fulfill the promise of my picks!

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 55-37 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 19 GB)
Okay, time for a contest. Email me at: dcook93@yahoo.com and tell me how many games back you think the Mariners will finish. And as a tie-breaker, what they're final record will be. I have no idea what the winner will get, but I'll come up with something!

That's it for this week. I'm back with you on Monday to talk All-Star festivities. Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday

All Star Rosters & Be Careful What You Ask For


Hello again everybody...

It's a beautiful middle of the week here in Minnesota. Hope things are looking as good wherever you are. Today the Twins are trying to salvage a game out of their 3-game set with the Red Sox (whom I hate). Monday night's game was a brilliantly pitched 1-0 win by Boston (whom I hate). Tuesday night the Twins' bullpen gacked up a 5-2 to lose 6-5. So hopefully the Twins can keep the brooms from coming out of the closet!

Today, I'm going to run down the AL and NL All-Star rosters, comparing them to the official Sports Take ballot I gave you last week. Then it would normally be time for the Peek at the Picks segment. But a special circumstance has force me to kick that to Friday. That's right, it's time for another Sports Take Open Letter!
“To play 18 years in Yankee Stadium is the best thing that could ever happen to a ballplayer.”
- Mickey Mantle (1931-1995), New York Yankee Hall of Famer


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This past Sunday, the AL and NL Rosters for the 2008 All-Star game were announced. The game will be Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in New York. The final All-Star game at the "House that Ruth built" before the Yankees open their new stadium next year.

So without further ado, here are the rosters along with the official Sports Take ballottees:

AL

1st Base: Kevin Youklis, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate)
Youklis was the official Sports Take selection. Justin Morneau of the Twins was a close second in the scoring system, and by rights he makes the AL Roster as a backup. As the only other 1B on the roster, Justin should absolutely get in the game and should get a couple at-bats at least.

2nd Base: Dustin Pedroia, Bost Red Sox (whom I hate)
Ian Kinsler of Texas was the official ST selection, and he made the team as the sole backup at 2nd base. I don't have a huge problem with Pedroia. He's a scrappy, smart player who produces well for Boston (whom I hate). He made 2nd place in the ST scoring system, though that was well behind Kinsler.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
This was a popularity pick, plain and simple. Jeter's around .280 with 4 home runs and 35 RBI. Easily below par for his career and hardly All-Star starter numbers. Michael Young of Texas was the official ST selection. He makes the team as a backup, but far and away should be starting over Jeter.

3rd base: Alex Rodruigez, New York Yankees
Alex is also the official ST selection. No word if he's left Box Seats for Madonna or not (yes, a cheap shot, but he has it coming). So the AL infield is comprised of 2 Red Sox (whom I hate) and 2 Yankees. Think the sports media is a tad biased? I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin... Your backups at 3rd are Joe Crede of the White Sox and Carlos Guillen of Detroit.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Baby Jesus was also the ST selection. No question that Joe deserved the start here. His talent level is such that as long as he remains healthy (furiously knocking on wood), he should be your All-Star starter for the next decade or so. Dioner Navarro of Tampa Bay and Jason Varitek of Boston (whom I hate) are your backups. Varitek was voted in by the players, which is something of a head-scratcher since he's mired in a career-worst slump.

Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers; Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate); and Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Hamilton was an official ST selection. Milton Bradley, another ST selection, was placed on the team by manager Terry Francona, to replace David Ortiz as the starting DH (more on that below). Jermaine Dye, the final ST selection, has not been placed on the team, but is on the "last chance" ballot that allows fans to decide the final selections for each club. Go to http://www.mlb.com/ and vote early and often! The deadline is Thursday at 4pm Central Time. Ramirez belongs on the team, though I'd argue not as a starter. Ichiro is a stretch, but again wins his way on via popularity. J.D. Drew of Boston (whom I hate), Carlos Quentin of Chicago, and Grady Sizemore of Cleveland are your backups.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate)
Aubrey Huff of the Orioles was the official ST selection. And unfortunately is the only American League ST selection who won't make the team. The Ortiz vote is a farce. He's been on the DL for over a month and had done nothing to warrant an All-Star selection prior to that. So because he's injured and can't play, AL skipper Terry Francona gave the start to Texas OF/DH Milton Bradley. Here's to hoping that Kansas City broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre won't be in attendance!

Pitchers: (Fans don't get to vote on these, but here's the list) Justin Duchscherer, Oakland; Roy Halladay, Toronto; Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay; Cliff Lee, Cleveland; Joe Nathan, Minnesota; Jonathan Papelbon, Boston (whom I hate); Mariano Rivera, New York; Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles; Ervin Santana, Los Angeles; Joe Saunders, Los Angeles; George Sherrill, Baltimore; Joakim Soria, Kansas City

NL

1st Base: Lance Berkman, Houston Astros
Berkman was the official ST pick and a virtual lock for this spot. His numbers are Triple Crown contenders and there really wasn't any other 1st baseman who was close. Adrian Gonzalez of San Diego and Albert Pujols of St. Louis are your backups.

2nd Base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Utley was the official ST pick and as much of a lock as Berkman was. He's also an MVP candidate which would make the 3rd Phillie infielder in a row to win the award. Dan Uggla of Florida is your backup.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Ramirez was also the official ST pick. Damn, I'm doing better than I thought I would! I was reminded the other day that he came to Florida in a trade with Boston (whom I hate) for P Josh Beckett and 3B Mike Lowell. So do I hate players formerly with the Red Sox (whom I hate)? Nah. Once they leave it's like getting a repreive from the Governor. They earn a ticket out of the Pantheon of Hate. Cristian Guzman of Washington (this year's official "well we've got to pick somebody from that team" award winner) and Miguel Tejada of Houston are your backups.

3rd Base: Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves
Well the streak couldn't last forever. Even though Chipper scored the best on the ST system, I voted for David Wright of the NY Mets, because I thought Jones was injured and wouldn't play. Alas, I was wrong and Chipper will be your starter. Wright is on the "last chance" ballot, so while you're voting for Jermaine Dye, cast a vote for Wright as well! Aramais Ramirez of the Cubs is your backup at 3rd.

Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
Bengie Molina was the official ST pick and will not be on the club. I have no real problem with Soto as he's a likely Rookie-of-the-Year winner. Backups are Russell Martin of Los Angeles and Brian McCann of Atlanta. I'd have picked Molina over Martin naturally, but I won't complain too loudly with these selections.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs; and Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
Braun was an official ST selection. Carlos Lee is on the "last chance" ballot, and probably deserves your vote more than David Wright, but I'll leave that decision up to you fine folks. Ryan Ludwick was the other official ST selection and made the team as a reserve. Soriano and Fukudome are "popularity" picks. I give Fukudome a pass since he's a starter on my "Best Baseball Names" team. Soriano? Not so much. Matt Holiday of Colorado and Nate McClouth of Pittsburgh are your other backups.

Pitchers: Aaron Cook, Colorado; Ryan Dempster, Chicago; Dan Haren, Arizona; Brad Lidge, Philadelphia; Tim Lincecum, San Francisco; Ben Sheets, Milwaukee; Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati; Billy Wagner, New York; Brandon Webb, Arizona; Brian Wilson, San Francisco; Kerry Wood, Chicago; Carlos Zambrano, Chicago

So to sum up, 9of the ST 17 votes turned out to be starters and 12 (and potentially 14 depending on the "last chance" ballot) made the team as a starter or reserve. I'll take those numbers!

Now I have to address an unfortunate story out of Arizona. According to the Arizona Republic, it seems that OF Eric Byrnes may be shut down for the rest of the year. This isn't a huge shock as he's been on and off the DL for most of the year with various hamstring-related injuries. The thing about hamstrings is once they get hurt, they really need several months of inactivity and treatment to fully heal. They'll trick you and stop hurting after a bit, but if used in any kind of strenuous activity, they'll blow right out on you again.

That leaves a fairly significant hole in the Arizona line-up. Which is an opportunity to bring in the veteran presence that I've been calling for, for weeks. Unfortunately, it seems that one option G.M. Josh Byrnes is considering is one Barry Bonds. That would be a mistake. So, as I felt compelled to do when Twins G.M. Billy Smith was considering bringing in Frank Thomas, I offer up the following Open Letter to Josh Byrnes:

Mr. Byrnes:

First of all, allow me to congratulate you on your club's first-place performace over the first half of the season.

That said, as you are well aware, the Diamondbacks offense has been in free-fall over the last month and a half. And with the latest news on Eric Byrnes, you now have a hole in left field that is not easily filled. I know you're examining options outside your organization. I encourage you in that effort since it's my opinion that your club could use some added veteran leadership.

But I must also express my extreme consternation at the news that Barry Bonds is among the players you're considering. This would be a huge mistake for your organization for several reasons.

First of all, you have a very young club. Players that are still trying to find their way at the major league level are suceptible to influence from veterans. Sometimes this can be helpful. And sometimes it can be very hurtful. Bonds' presence in your locker-room would be more hurtful than helpful. While they might pick up a nugget or two of hitting advice, they'd have to fight through the walls that Bonds surrounds himself with to get them. And in the end, what they'd end up learning is to play for themselves and only for themselves. And that kills a ballclub.

Secondly, you'll recall that Bonds is facing a perjury charge. Do you really want to involve your club with that kind of PR nightmare? Every time there's an update on his case, he'll be referred to as "Arizona Outfielder" Barry Bonds. So your club's name would be synoymous with legal woes. This was one of the major reasons that San Francisco refused to re-sign him in the first place!

Finally, baseball is starting to emerge from the shadow of the performance-enhancing drug controversy. Bringing Bonds back to the game only serves to dredge up all of those demons and renew disussions of asterisks that are better left in the past.

So I implore you to resist the lure of signing Bonds. Yes, he has the potential to spark your offense. But the negatives I outlined far outweigh the positives he might bring.

Thank you for your time and good luck with the rest of your season.

Dan Cook, Long-distance Diamondbacks Fan

Good heavens I hope that works!

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Friday with a make-up Peek at the Picks and an official DFTU. Until then, thanks for reading!



Monday

C.C. to the Crew & Monday Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Hope you enjoyed your 4th of July weekend. My dad took the photo of my brother, nephew and me at Sunday's Twins/Cleveland tilt. A 3-run rally in the 7th won the game for the home 9 (10... damn you DH). That win got the Twins a sweep of the Tribe and leaves them 1 game behind the White Sox for the Central lead, and a half-game behind Boston (whom I hate) for the Wild Card. And lo and behold, Boston (whom I hate) is exactly where the Twins are headed for their next 3 games. For those of you outside of Minnesota, tonight's contest is on ESPN... weird... a Red Sox (whom I hate) game on ESPN?! That never happens!

Sorry to go all DFTU on you in the opener, but since there's no official segment today, I had to drop that in. Instead, I'll bring you my thoughts on the whopper of a trade that officially kicked off the the race to the trading deadline in baseball. Then it's this week's Sports Take Mailbag segment.

"I'd say we're going for it, that's the way I look at it."
- Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers General Manager


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In what I think can only be described as a bold move, the Brewers officially announced a trade today for Indian's ace-lefty C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia's contract expires at the end of this year, and a trade out of Cleveland has long been rumored. But Milwaukee wasn't high on most people's lists of potential destinations for him. But Milwaukee's package of 4 minor leaguers - OF Matt LaPorta, P Rob Bryson, P Zach Johnson and a player to be named later - was enough to win over Indian's management and get the trade done.

From a Brewer perspective, this trade is sure to generate a lot of debate. LaPorta was one of 3 highly touted prospects in the Brewer farm system. I've seen some say that he wasn't the best, but he was clearly one of those top 3. Various outlets have reported that Melvin told the Indians that they could have their pick of one of those 3 guys, but that the other two would then be off-limits. So the Indians chose LaPorta, who hit .288 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in 84 games for Double-A Huntsville.

The risk for the Brewers is that there's no guarantee that they'll have Sabathia beyond this season. So in the end, they'll have given up 4 players including a top prospect for potentially 4 months of Sabathia and the sandwich draft pick they'll acquire if C.C. signs someplace else in the off-season. Sure the Brewers *could* sign him, but they've been struggling all year to come to a contract extension agreement with P Ben Sheets, and Sabathia is sure to command more on the open market than Sheets will. So the odds are against the Crew in that regard.

So the question becomes, if C.C. helps the Crew make the post-season for the first time since 1982, is that value enough for what they gave up? Given the talent the Brewers still have in their farm system after this deal, I'd say yes. If they make the post-season, they're well positioned to make some noise. I wouldn't want to be the team that has to play the Brewers when Sabathia and Sheets are pitching 3 of the 5 or 4 of the 7 games in a given series.

And right now, they're in prime position to make the post season. Currently 49-39, the Crew are 3.5 games behind the Cubs for the NL Central, and in a tie with the Cardinals for the NL Wildcard.

But what happens if they don't make the playoffs? Well there were some rumblings about manager Ned Yost's job security earlier in the season. If the Brewers can't make the post-season after this move, he might be out of luck entirely. And this also puts G.M. Doug Melvin squarely in the line of fire. The thing about bold moves is, if they work, you're a genius. If they don't, you often get fired. I'm not saying he'd deserve the axe, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he got it.

So good luck to you Crew fans. I hope this works and we get to see a Arizona/Milwaukee showdown in the NLCS!

Now it's time for this week's Sports Take Mailbag segment! This week's question comes to us from Mary in Plymouth:

I have a question for the Take! It's really simple: What the hell?http://www.madison.com/wsj/blogs/Packers/294432

For those of you who've been living under a rock, last week reports from various media outlets claimed that Packer QB Brett Favre is seriously considering ending his brief foray into retirement life. This, of course, sent the sports media into a frenzy.

Will Brett play for the Packers? If not, will Green Bay grant him his release so he can play for someone else? How would his teammates receive him if he came back? Why does God like to mess with Aaron Rodgers?

I have to tell you, none of this surprises me. Favre's been creating "will he/won't he" drama surrounding his retirement for years. Case in point: when ESPN's Chris Mortenson sought comment from Favre about the reports, he received a text message from Brett that said, "It's all rumor." And when asked about a potential media frenzy surrounding the story, Brett texted, "No reason for it".

Now if those aren't the non-denial denials of all time, I don't know what would be.

So maybe this is Brett trying to gauge what kind of opportunities he'd have if he did come back. Or maybe it's just a pathetic plea for attention. Until Brett makes more of a public statement, we won't really know.

A lot of Green Bay fans that I've heard from wish Brett would just go quietly into that good night. But personally, I'm very hesitant to say that. The thing about football is, once you're done, you're done. There really is no such thing as a successful comeback after you've been out for a year or more. So if a player is going to retire, they'd better be really sure. And I can completely understand if a player wants to play for a year or more than perhaps they should because they'd rather play below their peak performance for a year or two than sit at home and wonder if they still had it in them or not.

What I object to is the High-School-Musical-drama-ness of it all. If Brett has changed his mind, fine. Talk to Green Bay, work out a deal and make whatever announcement you like. But don't leak this out there, and then send these silly, non-descript text messages and leave those as your only public comment. Come on Brett. Be better than that.

So now the likelihood is that we're in for yet another summer full of "will Brett/won't Brett" stories and debate. Thanks alot for that Mr. Favre.

I agree with you Mary... "What the hell?!"

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Wednesday breaking down the All-Star rosters as per the official ST ballot. Plus the weekly Peek at the Picks segment. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

Happy 4th of July!


We here at The Sports Take would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy 4th of July!

We hope you have an enjoyable and safe holiday weekend.

The Sports Take returns on Monday with more of the wonder and madness of your favorite sports!

Wednesday

Official Sports Take All Star Ballot(s) & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump-Day to you all. Hope you're looking forward to the long holiday weekend as much as I am. I need the break after my vehicle decided to up and die on me last night! Fun!

Today I'll present to you the official 2008 Sports Take All-Star Ballot. I should've done this earlier since voting ends at midnight tonight, but better late than never! And then I'll bring you this week's Peek at the Picks segment.

"It's (being selected to an All-Star Team) right up there with lobster."

- Gary Gaetti (1958- ), former major league 3rd baseman.


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So I placed my 25 votes online yesterday at http://www.mlb.com/ for the 2008 All-Star Game. Each year I do one "homer" ballot and then fill the rest of my 25 votes with the players I think are most deserving. This year I developed a system for determining who those players are. I ranked the top 5 players at each position (except the outfielders, where, since you have to pick 3, I ranked the top 10) by batting average, home runs and RBI. Then added up each of their 3 rankings. The player with the lowest total score (1 being the best possible score) got my pick.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

AL

1B: Kevin Youklis - Boston Red Sox (whom I hate)
This was by far the toughest pick I had to make. Youklis and Twins 1B Justin Morneau were neck and neck in the scoring system, but Youklis ended up ahead by a point. And to maintain the integrity of the system, I swallowed my pride and made the vote. For your information, my pride tastes very bitter.

2B: Ian Kinsler - Texas Rangers
Not really a suprise here. Kinsler has been playing at a high level since he entered the league just a few years ago. He ended up 7 points ahead of his nearest competitor in the ST scoring system. He'll make a fine trading chip when Rangers management decides to start their next fire sale.

SS: Michael Young - Texas Rangers
Young's the other half of Texas' formidable middle-infield. Young was also far and away the winner at his position, 6 points ahead of his nearest competitor. You can pretty much cut and paste everything I said about Kinsler for Young as well.

3B: Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees
His alleged "Madonna-daliance" aside, A-Rods had a pretty stellar first half. He's hitting .322, with 16 home runs and 44 RBI. None too shabby. Added to his popularity (insert punchline here), I'd be shocked if he's not your starting 3rd baseman.

C: Joe Mauer - Minnesota Twins
Dioner Navarro of the Tampa Bay Rays scored a close second to Mauer, but Mauer's .323 average and 34 RBI were enough to put him over the top. "Baby Jesus" should be your starter at catcher come July 15th.

OF: Josh Hamilton - Texas Rangers, Milton Bradley - Texas Rangers, Jermaine Dye - Chicago White Sox
Wow, you'd suddenly think I was a huge Rangers fan! But remember, this is an objective scoring system. It pained me to vote for Bradley since I think the guy is half a psycho, nut-job. But the only guy with a better score than him was Hamilton. Again, I decided to err on the side of the integrity of the system. Interestingly enough, Dye is the only player on my AL ballot who plays for a 1st place team. What does that say about the division leaders? Perhaps they're vulnerable.

DH: Aubrey Huff - Baltimore Orioles
The O's had a nice start to the year, but have come back to earth rather roughly. But Huff's having a solid year and scored best for DH's. A full 4 points ahead of Big Papi. How's that wrist David? What a shame.

NL

1B: Lance Berkman - Houston Astros
Lost in Chipper Jones' quest for .400 has been the incredible start for Berkman. Houston made some noise in May, but has since slipped back. Still Berkman was one of only two players to have a perfect score via the ST Scoring System. So voting for him is a complete no-brainer.

2B: Chase Utley - Philadelphia Phillies
Conveniently enough, Utley was the other player with a perfect ST score. Utley was touted as a potential MVP candidate in the pre-season, and his first half numbers have done nothing to dispel that notion. Yet another no-brainer of a vote here.

SS: Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins
Not a perfect score, but he leads players at his position in home runs and is second in RBI. Not too shabby. Still he finished only a point ahead of Houston's Miguel Tejada. Even with that though, Ramirez should be your starter. Questions about Tejada's inclusion in the Mitchell report should keep him from getting the starting nod. I hope.

3B: David Wright - New York Mets
This pick was difficult on several levels. First of all, Atlanta's Chipper Jones had the highest score. But I heard he was on the disabled list and assumed that meant he wouldn't be available to participate in All-Star festivities. But after I voted, it turns out he started last night, so now who knows? Maybe he will be available. But the best information I had at the time said he wouldn't be, so I moved on to the second place player. Make that "players" since Wright and Arizona 3rd basebman Mark Reynolds were tied for second. As a tie-breaker I went to their defensive stats. Wright has a .942 fielding percentage. Reynolds is at .922. So Wright got the vote.

C: Bengie Molina - San Francisco Giants
This pick was also fairly complex. Molina and Brian McCann of the Braves tied for first place. So again, I went to the defensive stats: Molina has a .994 fielding percentage. McCann has a .994 fielding percentage. Woops. That's not gonna work. So then I went to their Caught Stealing Percentage. Molina has thrown out 31% of the runners who've attempted to steal on him. McCann has thrown out 27%. Not a huge difference, but it's enough to tip the scales in Molina's favor.

OF: Ryan Braun - Milwaukee Brewers, Carlos Lee - Houston Astros, Ryan Ludwick - St. Louis Cardinals
Braun and Lee were far ahead of the rest of the NL Outfielders. Ludwick was the best of a group of about 5 players including Pat Burrell of the Phillies, Adam Dunn of the Reds, Xavier Nady of the Pirates and Matt Holliday of the Rockies. Braun and Lee most of you are familiar with. But if you're like me, you have little to no knowledge of Ludwick. He's one of a group of little-known players that have helped the Cardinals hang in the NL Central race. And his .285 average, 16 home runs and 56 RBI get him one of my three NL All-Star Outfielder votes.

So there's my ballot. Like I said, I submitted that one 24 times and then for my 25th ballot, I submitted one replete with Minnesota Twins in the AL and Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL. Since they give me 25 chances, 1 "homer ballot" can't hurt can it?

Finally for today, it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment, where I compare the current MLB standings to my pre-season picks. Let the mockery begin!

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 51-32 (Dan's Pick: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 2.5 games behind)
Brace yourselves. The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in baseball. You could've won a whole mess of money if you'd bet me that I'd be typing that at some point this year. But there it is. A combination of quality young pitching and timely offense have propelled Tampa into a legitimate contender. For how long? That's debateable. But tonight they have the opportunity to sweep the Red Sox (whom I hate). So for tonight at least, I'm a believer!

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 48-35 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 6 GB)
Suddenly everybody in the Central is hot. The Sox have won 7 of their last 10. The Twins and Tigers are winners in 8 of their last 10. And even the Royals have gotten into the act, also winning 7 of their last 10. Obviously interleague play was a big part of this. And with four of the five teams squaring off against divisional opponents now, those numbers will change quickly. I still say the Tigers aren't out of it, but they're going to have to play better than they did against the Twins this week in order to fufill their promise.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 50-34 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 17.5 GB)
Torii Hunter Watch: .272, 9 HR, 37 RBI
How long has Torii been stuck on 9 home runs? Seems like almost a month. At this point, I'd be surprised if Torii's headed to New York for the All-Star game. Not the kind of season I'd predicted. Though based on my pick for this division, that can't really be a surprise!

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 45-39 (DP: New York Mets, 3.5 GB)
The managerial change has officially failed to spark the Mets. But even with that, they're hanging around. Philly had a shot at putting some distance between them and the Marlins/Mets, but has failed to do so. This division is a far cry from being decided. I'm not out of this yet!

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 50-34 (DP: Cubs)
Look. Crew fans. You dumped Julian Tavarez's sorry ass. Can't you just admit the mistake and do the same with Gagne? How long has he been "hurt" for now? Come on. You can do it! The race here has tightened considerably. St. Louis is only 2.5 back and Milwaukee's closed to 4.5 back. I'm glad to still have at least one pick still be correct at this point. But I'm not feeling comfortable at all. Not at all.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 42-42 (DP: D'backs)
Are you serious?! A .500 record leads a freaking division? How sorry is that?! Shame on you "rest of the NL West"! And don't get cocky Arizona! You're not looking too good either! The D'backs and the Brewers have split the first 2 games of their 4-game set. Game 3 is tonight. Seth McClung vs. Micah Owings. Strap in Crew fans. I like the D'backs chances!

That's all for today folks. There's a slight chance I'll have something for you on Friday. But it's far more likely that I'll be out enjoying the holiday weekend. Hope you can do the same!