Friday

Peek at the Picks & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of another week. And at the end of the week, not only do we have some serious match-ups in baseball, but college football is underway and we have our first full slate of games on Saturday. Think I'm excited? Just a little bit.

So today I'm making good on the Peek at the Picks segment I missed on Wednesday along with the regular Friday DFTU segment. So I'm not going to waste any time. Let's do this...

"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs."
- Christopher Hampton (1946- ), Academy Award winning British playwright, screen writer and film director

Thankfully writing isn't what I do for a living, so this doesn't apply to me!

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First off, it's time for this week's Peek at the Picks segment where I compare my pre-season baseball picks to the current MLB standings. Do I have any shot finishing .500? Or am I condemned to more mockery? Let's find out!

NL East: NY Mets, 74-60 (Dan's Pick: Mets)
I'm really not sure how the Mets are still in first. Their bullpen is a mess and yet somehow the Phillies can't get it together enough to pass them. With a month to go Philadelphia will still have it's fair share of chances, but I might just sneak this one out yet! Either way, it's probably going to come down to the last week of the season, and that kind of excitement is what baseball fans really want anyway. Met's Magic Number: 28.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 84-50 (DP: Cubs)
Good gawd are the Cubs rolling. Six in a row. Eight of their last 10. Makes you wonder if anybody's going to be able to beat this team. Oh, and did I mention they have the best record in baseball? Sure, Milwaukee's not out of it at 6.5 back. But if I was a Brewer fan, I'd be focusing more on that lead in the Wild Card standings rather than where you're at in the Central. But that's just me. Chicago's Magic Number: 23.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 68-65 (DP: D'backs)
Dammit. I thought we were done with this "near-.500 team leading a division" nonsense. The bright spot for the D'backs is as bad as they've been, the Dodgers have been worse. Neither of these teams are making a solid claim at being a playoff team. But somebody has to win this division. This weekend will go a ways towards determining whom as the two squads face off at Chase Field in Phoenix. Arizona's Magic Number: 26.

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers, 77-56 (DP: L.A. Dodgers, 12.5 Games Back)
The Brewers have a 3.5 game lead over St. Louis, 4.5 over Philadelphia. And let's be honest Brewer fans, this is where your focus has to be. A playoff berth is a playoff berth and it's been proven plenty of times that a Wild Card team can win the World Series. So there's no reason to fret not winning the division. Besides, the upshot of being the Wild Card is that you won't have to see the Cubs til the NLCS! Milwaukee's Magic Number: 26.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 81-51 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 4.5 GB)
The Rays keep a'rolling. And I have no idea how. Young, inexperienced pitching. Key injuries to important position players. And yet they keep winning. I don't get it. But I dig it! And remember this, the Rays were the worst team in baseball last year. The last time a team went from the worst record to the best record (yes, they trail the Cubs, but not by much) was in the 1889-1890 seasons when the Louisville Colonels accomplished the feat. The Rays are a shining example of what's right in baseball. It's easy to root for this team. Easier when they're kicking dirt on the grave of the Red Sox (whom I hate). Tampa's Magic Number: 26.

Al Central: Chicago White Sox, 76-57 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 12 GB)
I said at the beginning of the Twins' 14 game odyssey that if you offered me 7-7 I'd take it on the spot. Eight games in, at 3-5, that offer looks even more attractive to me. I just don't get how this team can be so schizophrenic. They're a completely different club at home than they are on the road. Needless to say, it's frustrating to watch. The White Sox have not been able to put much distance between themselves and the Twins however, currently holding just a 1.5-game lead. And now the schedule tilts slightly in favor of the Twins at the Sox head to Boston (whom I hate) for a big weekend series. Remember, we're not rooting for the Red Sox (whom I hate) to win. We're rooting for the White Sox to lose! Chicago's Magic Number: 28.

AL West: L.A. Angels, 81-52 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 31 GB)
The Angels still hold a 16-game lead over the Texas Rangers, so they've still got little to worry about in terms of making the post-season. But going 5-5 in their last 10 has to give some folks pause. At one point they were absolutely the team to beat in baseball. Now the Cubs have wrested that designation away. Now the Angels are locked in a battle over home-field advantage in the AL. And the Rays are giving them all they can handle. It'll be interesting to see how manager Mike Scoiscia handles his roster down the stretch. Is home-field really that important? Or is he going to try to guard his team's health? And if so, will that put some rust on them before the playoffs start? Did I mention I love me some baseball?! L.A.'s Magic Number: 13.

AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 77-56 (DP: Cleveland Indians, 11.5 GB)
As we've previously discussed, this is down to a 3-team race. The Red Sox (whom I hate), the Twins and the White Sox are all vying for this spot. And obviously one of the two latter teams is guaranteed a spot with the AL Central title. The Red Sox (whom I hate) currently hold a 2.5-game lead over the Twins. The big Sox (times two) series this weekend could provide some separation. We shall see. Boston (whom I hate) has a Magic Number of: 27.

So there's still a lot of baseball to be played. But only one division (maybe two if you count the NL Central) has been locked up. So there's still a lot of exciting baseball to be played. My odds of getting to .500 on my picks? Not good. And since I'd have to pull for the Red Sox (whom I hate) to get that done, I'm going to go ahead and wave the white flag on that one. But I'm still enjoying giving you quality NL picks anyway!

Finally this week, it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 75-59, in second place in the AL Central, 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox, and 2.5 games behind the Red Sox (whom I hate) for the Wild Card.

As I hinted at earlier, the fear I had going into this 14-game road trip has been fairly justified. After starting out with two strong wins against the Angels, the Twins have gone 1-5 since. Not the kind of performance you'd want considering that 4 of those games came against the woeful Mariners and less-than-stellar A's.

Thankfully, the White Sox have been unable to take full advantage. And realistically, the goal of this road trip was just to stay in the race. And so far, the Twins have done just that. Still 6 games to go though, and they've never enjoyed a trip to Toronto that I can recall. So we shall see.

Searching for any positives I can find, at least the starting pitching has remained solid. The Twins have moments of offensive-juggernosity (I think I just melted down the spell-checker with that one), but so far that's been lacking on the road-trip. It'd be nice to see them 10-run somebody just once to help boost the confidence.

The Twins finish out their 4-gamer with Oakland before moving on to Toronto for 3 and then finally home-sweet-home!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 68-65, in first place in the AL West and 3.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

I'll say it flat-out. The Snakes have been awful. They've lost six of their last 10, including the last 4 in a row. And it's not like they've been playing powerhouse teams either. The starting pitching hasn't been it's dominant self. And "offensive-juggernosity" is not going to be applied to this team any time soon. Add in a still-shaky bullpen, and it's amazing to me that the D'backs have actually increased their lead over the last couple of weeks.

But that's because the Dodgers have been terrible. Suddenly Manny Ramirez has realized he's the only player who can hit regularly in that line-up. Missing Dustin Pedroia ahead of you and Big Papi behind are you Manny? Awww. My heart just breaks.

Wow. That's as scathingly sarcastic as I've been in a while!

Fortunately, Manny's a waste of a ton of talent, so I don't feel too bad about it!

The D'backs kick off a 3-game series with the Dodgers tonight. And Sunday night's game is on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, so check it out! After that the Snakes welcome St. Louis for 3 (we'll do what we can for you Milwaukee). And next weekend? 3 more with the Dodgers, this time in Chavez Ravine.

So it's a tough time for the ol' DFTU, but I take heart in the fact that my teams are still right in the thick of it. The glass is half-full, right? Right?!

That's all for this week. Enjoy some lovely weather. Enjoy some baseball. Enjoy some college football. Just enjoy! And I'll be back next week (maybe even on Monday since I'm one of the 12 people who actually has to work on Labor Day). Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

2008 College Football Picks: Week 1


"I'm back baby!"
- George Costanza

Appropriate on several levels isn't it?

The day has finally arrived. The 2008 college football season begins in earnest tonight and I'm so giddy I can barely contain myself. Don't worry though, I'm about to begin another full day of State Fair broadcasts, so my giddiness will be tempered shortly.

But it won't be completely eliminated. College football just jazzes me up like that. I can't be stopped, they can only hope to contain me! And that's how I feel about this year's picks. I'm thinking that last season was a warm up, and now I'm ready to hit my stride!


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For those of you who weren't on the email list last year, here's basically how it works. Each week I select 3 games to pick against the spread. I not only offer you, my dear readers, my picks, but solid arguments to back them up.

But I don't just stop at 3 picks. Oh, no, no, no. In addition to the 3 standard picks, you get a bonus "Flyer Pick of the Week". Last year's email recipients will recognize that as my "exotic pick". This is where I make a pick that I have no legitimate argument for, but rather am picking based on pure emotion (and that can be positive or negative). If I win, I'll crow about it the following week. If not, I don't mention it. Fair? Probably not, but it's my blog and I write the rules baby!

So let's not dilly-dally. Without further ado, I give you the Week 1 edition of The Sports Take's 2008 College Football Picks.

Were recreational gaming legal, and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd put my money on:

Minnesota -8.5 vs. Northern Illinois: The Gophers won one game last year. The Huskies won 2. Is "Clash of the Titans" copyrightable in this case?

The Gophers are in the second year of head coach Tim Brewster's spread offense, so the players, led by sophomore QB Adam Weber should be far more comfortable with the scheme than they were in last year's opener. And that should give opposing defenses a pause. Even with their horrible record, Weber averaged 292 total yards per game. Now he's got a year of experience under his belt and more talent around him.

The Huskies had all kinds of problems on defense last year, surrendering an average of 494 yards per game. And it doesn't look like they've significantly upgraded their talent.

Put those two factors together, and there's no question the Gophers are going to score points in bunches. The only question is whether they can keep NIU off the board enough to cover the 8.5. As bad as the Gopher defense was last year, I think they have enough to get that done. Brewster has a big-time freshman class and brought in a bevy of junior college transfers. There should be enough talent there to upgrade the defense. Somewhat.

I'm going to this game, so if I can manage it, there'll be a running game commentary next week!

Next...

Hawaii +34.5 @ Florida: Yes, I picked the Gators to win the SEC. Yes, I think they'll smoke the Rainbows. The talent-gap here is large. And there's no question Florida will win by multiple scores.

But it's rare in these games that a huge margin like that gets covered. If for no other reason than eventually Florida head coach Urban Meyer will start putting 2nd and 3rd-string players into the game to get them some experience.

That should allow Hawaii - how far have they fallen? - to keep the margin of loss under 35 points, giving us a win.

Take the Rainbows, take the points and chalk up a win.

Thirdly...

California -4.5 vs. Michigan State: It was suggested to me by a loyal reader that I didn't give Cal enough love in my preview yesterday. Hopefully this helps mollify him.

Cal's a talented club, they just happen to reside in a league with a lot of talented clubs. They could easily be the 3rd place club this year. Especially if Oregon's QB situation remains the mess that it is currently.

Michigan State went 7-6 with a bowl berth last year under first year head coach Mark Dantonio. There's every reason to think that the Spartans will improve as they digest his system.

But Week 1, on the road at a solid Pac 10 school? I'm not sure they have enough to hang with the Cal offense.

The Bears win by a touchdown and cover the 4.5 and we go 3-0 in Week 1.

Think I'm wrong? We'll see next week!

Finally, it's time for the Flyer of the Week pick:

Nebraska -14.5 vs. Western Michigan: This is the kind of game that Nebraska used to win 63-doughnut. Not so much the past few years. But now former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini returns as head coach, so Husker fans are praying for a change in fortunes.

Now let's get down to why I'm really picking this game. For those of you who didn't catch the comment yesterday, my good friend, loyal Husker fan, and Sports Take reader Lon from Forest Lake wrote the following:

I have extremely mixed feelings about you having mentioned Nebraska. :-)

On the one hand, "Yay! Nebraska!"

On the other hand, "Dan mentioned Nebraska..."

So there you go. Now if I win, I'm officially Nebraska's good luck charm and he has to suck up to me. And if I lose, then it's his fault for taking the cheap shot in the first place! See?! This is one I can't lose! And those are the best picks of all!

That's it for this week's picks. Generally I'll do a Monday column recapping how my picks worked out, but since Monday's Labor Day, you can expect that column on Tuesday.

But The Sports Take isn't done for this week. Tomorrow I'll be back with the Peek at the Picks and the DFTU. Be sure to check back for those. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Instant Replay Begins & 2008 College Football Preview


Hello again everybody...

Lots to talk about today, so I'm going to skip the normal preamble. Instant replay begins tomorrow in baseball, so I'll talk about it. Then it's time for my Major Conference College Football Preview. In fact, there's so much involved in just those two that I'm going to move the usual Wednesday Peek at the Picks segment to Friday. So let's get right to it...

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth--anonymously and posthumously.
- Thomas Sowell (1930 - ), American economist, social commentator, and author

He probably should have added, "or via video feed from New York".


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That's right, Baseball's grand plan for the use of instant replay starts tomorrow. And in typical MLB fashion, it's complicated and confusing.

Here are the important details:

- Replay will only be used for home run calls. Whether a ball cleared a fence or not. Whether it crossed in front of or behind a foul pole. Or whether a fan interfered with a ball that was an apparent home run.

- It will not be used for balls that land close to a foul line on the field. It will not be used to determine whether a ball was caught on the fly or trapped. And it won't be used to determine whether a runner was safe or out.

- Replay review will be instituted at the discretion of the on-field Crew Chief. Not by the video office in New York. And not by any kind of "coach's challenge". If the Crew Chief decides that a play needs to be reviewed, the entire umpiring crew will leave the field and go to the replay monitor. They'll discuss the call with the replay officials in New York, but the on-field Crew Chief will make the final call. Once that call is made, any player, coach or manager who leaves the dugout to argue the call is subject to automatic and immediate ejection.

So there you have it. That's the plan. For the most part I have no problem with it. I think it's somewhat convoluted to have officials in New York, and yet require the Crew Chief on-site to make the final decision. But the umpires union was adamantly opposed to anyone other than an on-site official making the final decision. So that is what it is I guess.

The important thing is to get calls right. And there's no question that there have been several calls blown this year that could've easily been corrected via a replay system. Even one as limited as this.
What'll be interesting to me is how much of a delay these reviews cause in a game. NFL games were clearly slowed down by instant replay. But people gave the NFL a pass because they preferred getting the calls right to having games that were 5 minutes faster. It's my hope that the same thing will hold true in baseball.

I've heard some curious rumblings as to why they're changing the rules mid-stream of a season. And that's a good question. To me, this feels a lot like a trial run. They can give it a shot for the last month-plus of this year and if it works out, continue it into next season. If it fails, then they'll bag the idea and start over without it next year. I'm a little surprised that they couldn't devise a way to test it in the Arizona Fall League or something. But perhaps the technology involved was too cost prohibitive for those games. I doubt many of them were set up for TV coverage anyway.

So we'll see how it goes. It'll certainly get baseball some extra publicity as the NFL season approaches and the college football season begins. And maybe that has more to do with starting it now than anything else.

Speaking of college football, here it comes! Games start tomorrow night and I'm almost as excited as I get right before opening day in baseball. Those are really my two favorite times of the year: spring training/opening day in baseball and the start of college football. Perhaps that's because they're both harbingers of my two favorite seasons: spring and fall. The only thing nearly as good as basking in the warm sunshine of spring and smelling freshly cut grass for the first time in 5 months as you take in a baseball game, is heading out on a cool, fall Friday night or Saturday afternoon to take in a high school or college football game.

So in the interest of getting folks excited for the coming football season, here's my preview of the 6 major Division I football conferences:

Big Ten: I start with the Big Ten only because it's the conference I know the most about. Unfortunately for most fans, I have to pick Ohio State to win the conference yet again. QB Todd Boeckman is back with more experience under his belt and their RB Beanie Wells is being touted as a Heisman trophy candidate. The Buckeyes are tough again on defense with LB James Laurenitis leading the way. With Michigan in rebuilding mode, I'm not sure I see anybody in the league that can prevent OSU from winning yet another title (and oh yeah, they'll be in the National Title mix again). Wisconsin has a puncher's chance since they host the Buckeyes at Camp Randall, but they'll still be underdogs in that game.

Top 3: 1. OSU, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Illinois

Team to watch: Michigan. Rich Rodriguez is rebuilding the Wolverine roster to fit his spread-option offense. There's still plenty of work to do, but Rodriguez isn't used to losing. Michigan might be better than people think.

ACC: The only league with less national success than the ACC is the Big East. And I don't look for that to change much this year. The Coastal division should be particularly weak. In fact, this might be North Carolina's best chance in years to make some noise. Virginia Tech can't decide on a quarterback and Miami is struggling to keep it's players out of jail. That may create an opportunity for Butch Davis and his Tar Heels. In the Atlantic division, Clemson's the class of the conference. But don't count out Wake Forest either. The Demon Deacons caught some people by surprise last year. This year, they'll have to deal with expectations and not being able to sneak up on teams. I look for Clemson to emerge as the conference champion. We'll learn a lot about the Tigers this week when they take on Alabama at the Georgia Dome.

Top 3: 1. Clemson, 2. Wake Forest, 3. Virginia Tech

Team to watch: North Carolina. Butch Davis doesn't have the Tar Heels ready to challenge on a national level. But there's enough talent there to scare the dickens out of the rest of the Coastal Division.
Big East: Here's the other lightweight in the major conferences. The Big East is far better known as a basketball conference, but their recent reorganization has made the football a bit better. Rutgers, Louisville and South Florida have all made noise in recent seasons. But the team with the most success as of late has been West Virginia. The problem for the Mountaineers is that the man who brought them that success now coaches in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's one of the reasons I like the Bulls from South Florida to win the conference. They got a taste of success last year, and that experience will prove invaluable this year. I'm not saying they'll be in the National Title mix, but it's my bet they'll play in a BCS Bowl for sure.

Top 3: 1. South Florida, 2. West Virginia, 3. Pittsburgh

Team to watch: UConn. The Huskies aren't a traditional football powerhouse, but in this league it isn't a long trip from the outhouse to the penthouse and UConn has enough athletes to win some games they probably shouldn't.

Big 12: This league was better balanced last year than in years previous. Missouri and Kansas were both in the National Title picture at various points late in the season, but neither could seal the deal when the time came. How they rebound from those disappointments is anyone's guess. They both return their talented signal-callers and in this day and age of the spread offense, there's no reason to think they can't repeat their offensive success of last year. But as Oklahoma showed in last year's Big 12 Championship Game, you need more than a high-octane offense to win in this league. It should be the same cast of characters battling it out in each division this year (Kansas and Missouri in the North, Oklahoma and Texas in the South). And ultimately, I see the same result. Oklahoma wins in the Championship contest.
Top 3: 1. Oklahoma, 2. Missouri, 3. Texas

Team to watch: Nebraska. Bo Pelini returns to try and rescue Cornhusker Nation from the depths that Bill Callahan took it to. The West Coast attack was a flop in Lincoln. We'll see how much Bo Knows about turning a program around. They could win 9 games, and if they do, they'll give Missouri and Kansas a serious headache in the North.

Pac 10: USC, USC, and more USC. There's a reason Pete Caroll's squad has owned this conference for years. They're in LA. He's got a system that suits itself to preparing college athletes for the NFL. And did I mention they're in Los Angeles? There's no reason to think things will change much this year. Dennis Erickson has Arizona State on the right track, but they still don't have enough to topple the Trojans. Rick Neuheisel's hiring at UCLA should create a rebirth of their rivalry with USC. Eventually. But not this year. Oregon's another club that could challenge, but they can't keep their quarterbacks healthy, so I don't see them getting it done either. So it looks like another Pac 10 title for the Trojans. The only question is whether they'll be in the BCS Title game. They'll be in the mix, but they'll have to keep Mark Sanchez healthy to get there.

Top 3: 1. USC, 2. Arizona St., 3. UCLA

Team to watch: Arizona. The Wildcats haven't been to a bowl game under Mike Stoops. And if he doesn't get that done this year, he'll probably be looking for work. They're as talented as they've been under his watch, so this is the ultimate now or never situation.

SEC: This is the toughest to handicap because it's by far the best conference in college football. There are at least 3 teams that could win the league (maybe more), and it's an odds-on bet that whoever does will be playing in the BCS Championship game. Georgia is a sexy pick to win the whole thing, and with good reason. RB Knowshon Moreno is another Heisman candidate and is definitely the real deal. And the Bulldogs are tough on defense as well. LSU is obviously another candidate to win the conference. Remember them? Last year's National Champs? Somehow they're not getting the attention you might think they deserve. That works just fine for me since I think their coach is a jerk anyway. But I'm picking the Florida Gators to win in the SEC Championship game. QB Tim Tebow won the Heisman last year and head coach Urban Meyer has surrounded him with even better talent this year. Critical games against Georgia in Jacksonville and versus LSU in Gainsville will tell the tale of Florida's season.

Top 3: 1. Florida, 2. Georgia, 3. LSU

Team to watch: Alabama. Nick Saban's charges have a chance to make a statement right away this Saturday with a neutral-site game against Clemson. The Tide don't have quite enough talent to challenge for the conference title yet, but I never bet against Saban winning a game he's not supposed to. And it might start in Week 1.

So there you have it. My 2008 College Football preview. The official Sports Take Picks column comes out tomorrow. For those of you who got the emails last year know what to expect. Those that didn't? Trust me, it's the finest in College Football prognostication! Okay, maybe not the "finest" per se... but I promise to make it as entertaining as I can!

That's all for today. Check back tomorrow for the picks and then Friday for the usual Sports Take goodness. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Fair Update, AJ's at it Again & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Back to the grind, but the weather's downright perfect in Minnesota, which somehow makes it much easier. I have no idea how, since I'm stuck inside for 8 hours a day. But it just does, so I won't question it too deeply.

Today I'm going to give you a brief rundown of my day at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday. Then I'll describe the latest chapter in "The Annoying Antics of A.J. Pierzynski". And finally it's this week's Mailbag question. And this one has me pretty vexed, so be sure to check it out! Onward...

He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865), 16th President of the United States

(I don't know who Abe was referencing here - I suspect Stephen Douglas - but it struck me that we all know someone for whom it would fit. And before any of you get any ideas, I'm not talking about Don Shelby. Really. I'm not.)


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So my first item today has nothing to do with sports, but some of you have been asking about it, so I thought I'd describe a bit of my workday at the State Fair yesterday. It began with a bus ride most of the way there, because the estimable bean counters at CBS Radio have cut back on our ability to run a shuttle between the station and the Fairgrounds. I say "most of the way" there because the main drag that runs out to the Fairgrounds was a parking lot when my bus approached. So I had to get out about 8 blocks early and hoof it the rest of the way.

This actually turned out to be a slight blessing because it allowed me to burn about 1/16th of the calories I was about to consume. I didn't go terribly overboard mind you, because I'm going to be out there again next Sunday. But I'm fairly certain that those cheese curds took a few months off of my life expectancy.

(By the way, is that really a bad thing? I'm not trying to be insensitive, but based on the quality of life I've seen my grandparents - may they rest in peace - have towards the end of their lives, I'm not so sure I'm not happy to shave a few months off here or there. But that's just me.)

In any case, I got to the Fair, got to the WCCO Radio Booth and proceeded to spend the next 5 hours people watching. Some genius somewhere came up with a "People Watching Bingo" card that we have in the booth. I can't describe all of the items to you because this is a family blog. But some of the printable favorites were, "double/triple-wide stroller", "mullet/she-mullet", "mesh top/cut-off jersey", and "wife-beater wearing hairy guy". There were plenty more, and some of them were even funnier, but like I said, my Mom reads this blog and there's no way I'm discussing certain unfortunate-female-clothing-choices in front of her!

The important point is, somebody needs to copyright this bingo idea, because it made the whole day immensely more enjoyable. I'm fairly certain that nobody's getting paid for this idea currently, but they should be. It's a good one!

So I made it through the day with no major incidents and only a minor amount of gastrointestinal discomfort. All in all a win for me. Now if I can just get through next Sunday, I'm home free!

Next up I have to talk about the ballplayer everybody loves to hate, Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski. There are some Twins fans that look back fondly on A.J.'s time in Minnesota. But I'm not one of them. The guy's basically an extreme pain in the ass. It's borne out of a strong competitive spirit - and I'm all for that - but A.J. takes it too far, too often.

So in yesterday's game with the Rays, A.J. was trying to advance to third on a ground ball to the left side of the infield - a base-running no-no - and ended up in a run-down (or hot-box, or pickle, choose whatever term you like). As A.J. retreated towards second, it appeared he was tagged out after slipping and falling. But oh no, that wasn't the case. Or so said second-base umpire Doug Eddings.

(Aside: Some of you will recall A.J. taking first after striking out in a 2005 playoff series against the Angels. A.J. acted like the ball had hit the dirt, even though it hadn't. The umpire froze and eventually ruled that the ball had hit the dirt and A.J. was allowed to take the base. That umpire's name? Doug Eddings. Eerie ain't it?)

In yesterday's incident, Eddings ruled that A.J. was interfered with by Rays 3B Willy Aybar. Looking at the replay, there absolutely was contact between Pierzynski and Aybar. The problem is, A.J. initiated it. If you saw it, or can find a replay somewhere (sorry, I tried with no luck), you'll see A.J. give Aybar a forearm shiver as he falls down. But according to third-base umpire Ted Barrett, it was still interference:

"As a runner, you're allowed to do that. What Doug ruled at second base was, even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way. So A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third. So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner, which is what Doug ruled happened. And in a rundown, even though A.J. was going back to second, the rule of obstruction during a rundown is he gets his next advanced base and that's why he was rewarded third base. If Aybar's got the ball, there's no obstruction. You protect the fielder when he's in the act of fielding. Once that ball's released and out of his hand, he has to vacate."

I guess that makes sense. But it seems to not account for the spirit of the rule. And any subjective interpretation of the situation would have to conclude that there's no way Aybar interfered with Pierzynski's ability to get back to 2nd base, or turn and get to third. So to make a ruling based on what "might have" or "could have" happened seems rather silly to me.

Only in baseball... and only A.J.... craziness.

Finally for today, it's this week's Sports Take Mailbag question. Today's question comes from Mary in Plymouth:

This is a bit of a The Lady or the Tiger conundrum: Do you root for the Boston Red Sox (whom you hate) when they are playing the Chicago White Sox, when a Boston (whom you hate) win means the Twins gain the top of the division?

Wow. That's such a good question, I barely know how to answer it. But since the White Sox are hosting Boston (whom I hate) this weekend, it's a terribly relevant one. (And you get extra points for including the correct moniker after "Boston".)

If I were to rephrase the question, "does my love of the Twins exceed my hatred of the Red Sox, or is it superseded by it?"

I can't root for Boston (whom I hate) to win under any circumstances. I just can't do it. The hatred is so deep, so ingrained that I'd pull some sort of musculature were I to try and cheer for them to win. And yet I'm a big Twins fan. I want the boys to complete what they've started and make it into the playoffs in a year where no pundit - including yours truly - thought they could. So how do I deal with this conundrum?

(Ed's Note: The word has just come into the Sports Take offices. The Twins have re-acquired relief pitcher Eddie Guardado. Eddie G back in the house! I have no idea if this will help, but I love it.)

It requires some nifty psychological tricks on my part, but here's how I deal with it: I ignore the Boston (whom I hate) end of the equation completely. I simply can't root for the Red Sox (whom I hate) to win, so instead I root for Chicago to lose.
Yes, intellectually I know that one can't occur without the other, but baseball is a matter of the heart and soul and in my heart and soul, I can separate the two quite easily thank you.

So it may seem like a total cop out on my part. And it probably is. But it's the only way I can explain it where it makes sense. To me it feels perfectly natural. Hopefully not as many of you are scratching your heads as there were when I began this answer.

Hopefully.

Thanks for the question Mary. Remember, you can send your questions to the Sports Take Mailbag at: dcook93@yahoo.com. There are no dumb questions! But the answer just might leave you dumbfounded. Sometimes even in a good way!

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Wednesday with some College Football previews (the picks start Thursday) and assorted other Sports Take wonder. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

Big Weekend Series & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the end of another week. Another blissful weekend is on tap... for some of you. For me? I'm on the go all day Saturday and then out at the State Fair on Sunday. And I can't wait (insert massive amounts of sarcasm here).

But that's okay, the summer weekends are quickly dwindling, so we ought to be out there taking advantage of them before our dear friend Old Man Winter bears down on us right? Right?!

Oof. But I digress...

Today I'm going to give you a quick thumbnail sketch of several big series occurring this weekend in the world of Baseball, and why you should peek at the outcomes. Then it's this week's version of everybody's favorite segment, the DFTU! So let us away...

My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of the pessimists.
- Jean Rostand (1894 - 1977), French biologist and philosopher

(Wow, and some if you think *I'm* cynical!)


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There are about 5 weeks left in the baseball regular season. That means if your club isn't right around 5 games away from a playoff berth, you might want to start making some golf reservations. That being said there are 4 series this weekend that are seriously important in further defining the playoff picture:

L.A. Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies - The Dodgers are locked in a tight race with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Currently the boys in blue trail by 2 games. And all of L.A.'s energy is focused on the NL West title since they're too far out of the Wild Card picture. The Phillies are currently 2.5 games behind the Mets. And while they're closer in the Wild Card race, their best bet is to catch New York and win the East. The best match-up of the weekend is probably tonight when Greg Maddux makes his debut for the Dodgers as he takes on Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies.

Florida Marlins @ Arizona Diamondbacks - As previously mentioned, the D'backs are trying to fend off those pesky fellas from Chavez Ravine. So far, so good. But it's a big series this weekend as they host the Marlins. Arizona has a significant stretch of home games in the offing, and it's important to take advantage as the Dodgers have a tough road stretch. The Marlins are in serious danger of falling out of the NL East race. They're currently 6 games behind the Mets. And if you're looking for reasons why, look no further than 2B Dan Uggla who's hitting around the Mendoza line since his awful outing in the All Star Game. And now superstar SS Hanley Ramirez has a bum thumb. Not good. The best match-up of the weekend is Sundays tilt when Florida's Ricky Nolasco takes on Arizona's Doug Davis.

Chicago White Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays - The White Sox are locked in an epic struggle with the Twins for AL Central superiority while the Rays are the story of the 2008 season. The Whities maintain a slim 1/2-game lead on the Twins as they head down to the Trop. Chicago's been on a massive offensive roll lately scoring 13 or more runs in 3 of their last 4 games with 14 home runs in that stretch. They'll need to keep that hitting going as they take on a tough young staff in Tampa. The Rays enjoy a 4.5 game lead over the Red Sox (whom I hate). Carried by their pitching, they'll be severely tested by Chicago's hot bats. The best match-up of the weekend is Saturday as Javier Vasquez hurls for Chicago against Tampa's Scott Kazmir.

Minnesota Twins @ Los Angeles Angels - This 4-game series actually began last night, but continues throughout the weekend. The Angels have the AL West all but in the bag, but are still vying with the Rays for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. L.A. has stumbled a bit of late, losing 3 of 4 in Tampa before dropping the first game of this series last night. Still, they have a ton of talent and will provide a stern test for the Twins. Minnesota's win last night moved them within a half-game of the White Sox for the division lead. They're one game into their 14 game road trip that will take them up the West Coast and into Canada before they return to the friendly confines of the Metrodome. The best match-up of the weekend comes Sunday as Minnesota's Kevin Slowey deals against L.A.'s Ervin Santana.

Plenty of these games will be available both on local and national TV, so catch what you can!

Finally today, it's time for this week's edition of Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 73-54, in second place in the AL Central and a 1/2-game behind the White Sox.

What can I say about what a huge win last night was for the Twins? Their MVP candidate Justin Morneau has been scuffling lately, and yet this team is still winning. I really don't know that I can tell you how either.

Look at the 11th inning last night. The Twins have runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out and are facing LHP Darren Oliver on the mound. Left-handed hitting 3B Brian Buscher is due up, which screams "find a right-handed pinch hitter". So who does Ron Gardenhire come up with? That's right. Randy Ruiz.

How in the world can a team keep winning like this, when in a critical situation, the best option they have is a 9-year career minor-leaguer?! I think if you're Ron Gardenhire, and you look down the bench and your best option is Ruiz, you're allowed to openly weep. No matter what Jimmy Dugan said about "no crying in baseball".

In any case, the Twins small-balled their way to a 2-1 win in 12 and are 1-0 on the road trip. If you could promise me 7-7 on this road trip, I might take it right now. There's certainly an opportunity to clean up in Oakland and Seattle, but Twins fans remember what happened the last time the boys visited the Emerald City. So there are no guarantees.

As mentioned, the Twins finish this weekend with 3 against the Angels before travelling to Seattle for 3 days of saying, "Wow, Ichiro is good!"

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 67-60, in first place in the NL West and 2 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

Finally... Some breathing room! Yes, it could disappear in the blink of an eye, but this is as comfortable as Snakes fans have been in a while.

A big part of the reason for that comfort has been the addition of Adam Dunn. I'm not going to argue that Dunn cancels out the Dodgers' addition of Manny Ramirez, but he certainly mitigates it somewhat. Dunn's hitting .296 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in 9 games since joining Arizona. None of those numbers leap off the screen, true. But how about these: in those same 9 games, Dunn's walked 14 times while striking out only 7. 14 walks, are you serious?! That's ridiculous. And it goes to show Dunn's value. And it means that Connor Jackson and Mark Reynolds are seeing much better pitches hitting ahead of and behind Dunn. That can only help Arizona's beleaguered offense.

The pitching of course, still leads the way for the D'backs. Brandon Webb won his 19th game of the season last night and has slapped a veritable rear-naked-choke-hold on the NL Cy Young Award. Yes, Brewer fans, CC's been phenomenal. But so has Webb and he's been in the NL all year. End of debate.

A somewhat less publicized story has been the quality of starts given by Randy Johnson of late. The Big Unit had a rough start to the year, but has finally found his groove and is now 10-9 with a 4.16 ERA and a gaudy 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And remember, he's currently sitting on 294 career wins which makes it possible that he'll get to 300 before the year's out. Not that RJ's not a lock for the Hall of Fame already, but reaching 300 would further add to an already amazing resume.

Arizona may not have a great record relative to the rest of the NL contenders. But do you want to be the team that has to find a way to get 3 wins against Webb, Haren and Johnson in a 5-game series? Ah, no thank you!
The D'backs start a 3-gamer tonight with the Marlins before taking a short trip up to San Diego where they'll challenge the same Padre squad they just got done sweeping.

That's all for this week folks. Have a wonderful weekend and I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take magnificence. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Preseason Football & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump-Day to you all. Today's my last Fair/RNC-less day until September 4th. I'm really not trying to whine about it. Really. It is what it is. This is my 7th State Fair working at the mighty 830, so by now it should be old hat, right? Yeah, something like that.

If any of you are planning to be out at the great Minnesota get-together on either of the Sundays it's in session, stop by the 'CCO booth on Carnes Ave. between 1 and 6pm and say hello. I don't mind working out there all that much. We generally amuse ourselves counting the number of mullets (male and female) or the number of hairy guys wearing wife-beaters. If you can get past the "testing your faith in humanity" aspect of it, it's actually quite entertaining.

But on to today's Take. Today, I'm going to give you my rant on pre-season football. One I hope most of you will agree with. Then it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment. Things are getting tight in plenty of divisions as we head towards the last month of the season. And my picks are surprisingly hanging in there. Well, in the NL they are anyway!

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832), German writer.

Are you listening Jeff Kent? Are you?


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I've told you in the past that I'm really not sure how much NFL I'm going to be covering this fall. Those of you who received my college football emails know that I sprinkled a little NFL into those, so it's entirely possible I'll tack a note or two on when I start my college football columns.

(Aside: Can you believe the first college football games begin a week from tomorrow? Expect my first column on the wonder of NCAA pigskin that day, August 28th.)

But I do have to give you this one NFL rant. We're about halfway through the exhibition season and I'm already bored to tears. In my mind there's nothing more pointless than pre-season NFL football.

The players who become so compelling over the course of the 17-week regular season, play on average a quarter and a half or so. After that it's guys who'll be delivering pizzas until the Arena Football League season begins. Why should I sit down and commit myself to 3 hours of watching football when I don't know half of the guys who are playing, and more importantly when I don't need to know who they are because they won't be making the main rosters?

Another thing that drives me crazy is the sloppy play. In the short amount of time that the starters are actually in the game, there are all kinds of errors as new teammates start to get used to each other's timing. And the rest of the time you have less-skilled players in the game, so of course there are going to be all kinds of mistakes. Clearly, that's not any fun to watch. Plus coaches are so desperate to save their best plays for the regular season, that the plays they do call are so vanilla that even without mistakes it's boring to watch.

And lastly, one of the things that makes football so compelling is the small number of games. In the NFL you play 16 and in college you play 12. Compare those to baseball (162) and hockey or basketball (82) and you can easily see why each game in a football season takes on such a high level of importance. But that drama is completely missing in the pre-season. None of these 4 games matter. As a fan, you're basically holding your breath for the first half, hoping none of the front-line players are seriously injured. And strangely enough, you almost breath a sigh of relief if your starting running back rolls an ankle in the first game, because it's not a serious injury and just to be safe, you know they'll keep him out of the rest of the pre-season games, which in turn will prevent him from getting more seriously hurt.

How freaking convoluted is that?!

You hear rumors from time to time that the NFL's considering shortening the exhibition season to 2 games and lengthen the regular season to 18 games. To which I say, "Hell yes!" The sooner the better. Two exhibition games aren't odious. And adding two games to the regular season won't significantly reduce the drama of each single game that I referenced earlier.

The only potential downside that I see is that it would make it more difficult for someone to come along and have a perfect season and finally shut those idiots from the '72 Dolphins up!

Finally today, it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment where I compare my pre-season baseball picks to the current MLB standings. And then you, my dear readers have the opportunity to mock and ridicule my prognostication skills. Like you need the excuse!

NL East: New York Mets, 69-57 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets)
The "other" team from New York is once again on top of the East. 1.5 games isn't a huge margin over Philadelphia. But those pesky Marlins have finally dropped to 4 games back and dropping 6 of their last 10 seems to have finally dropped them out of the race. But even though the shocking season in Tampa has overshadowed the Marlins' season, what Florida has done so far this year shouldn't be overlooked. Anybody who tells you that any team has "bought a championship" is full of it, and the Marlins are a big part of the evidence to back you up. Met's Magic Number: 36.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 77-48 (DP: Cubs)
The Cubs are tied with the Rays for the best record in baseball. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd type! That's like typing "perennial Big Ten contender, Minnesota Golden Gophers". Sorry Goldy, it's a cheap shot, but it's true. The Cubbies have opened up a 6-game lead on the Brewers and a 8.5-game lead over the Cardinals. I'm not saying they have this thing sewn up, but somewhere there's a plus-sized gal with a Chicago accent warming up her voice. Chicago's Magic Number: 31.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 65-60 (DP: D'backs)
The D'backs haven't fallen out of first place, but they've spent plenty of days sharing it with those pesky boys in blue out of L.A. As of today, Arizona holds a one game lead over the Dodgers, but I have little doubt that'll continue to vacillate over the next few weeks. It's my opinion that Arizona's superior starting pitching (even with L.A.'s addition of Greg Maddux) will make just enough of a difference to keep them in first when it counts. But I don't expect their final lead in the standings to be any more than 3 games. Arizona's Magic Number: 37.
NL Wildcard: Milwaukee Brewers, 72-55 (DP: L.A. Dodgers, 7 Games Back)
Well I can't get all the NL picks right? I mean God wouldn't allow that to happen. 72-55? I didn't really realize that the Crew was having a season quite that impressive. I suppose that happens when you have a club like the Cubs in your division. But still, Milwaukee fans have to be pretty damned pleased. The Brewers have a 2.5-game lead over the Cardinals and a 4-game lead over the Phillies. I wouldn't consider either of those margins a lock, but I definitely like the position that Milwaukee's in. Milwaukee's Magic Number: 33.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 77-48 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 4.5 GB)
I have to admit, I'm more than a little surprised. Tampa lost OF Carl Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria in the last couple of weeks and hasn't missed a beat. They've even lengthened their lead over the Red Sox (whom I hate). And it's not like they've been playing soft teams. Tonight, they're going for a sweep of the Angels who have the second-best record in the AL. Boston (whom I hate) hasn't exactly been stuck in neutral, winning 7 of their last 10. But the Rays have flat out been better and right now, I'm not sure what's going to slow them down. As for the Yankees? Better luck next year fellas. Tampa's Magic Number: 33.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 72-53 (DP: Detroit, 10.5 GB)
I said it last week, but I'll reiterate it: Detroit's dead. They've got no shot at making the playoffs which flat-out floors me given the moves they've made in the off-season. I'm not sure what kind of shake-ups are going to occur when this season's done, but I'll be surprised if everybody keeps their jobs in Motown. The Whities have a 1-game lead over the Twins. And based on the scores of today's day-games, that doesn't look like it'll change before Minnesota hits the road for their epic 14-game road trip. Working in the Twins favor over the next couple of weeks are the relative schedules. While the Twins are playing L.A., Seattle, Oakland and Toronto on the road (3 of which they're clearly better than) the White Sox are playing Tampa (at home), Baltimore, Boston and Cleveland (all road games). I'm not saying the next two weeks will decide the division, but they certainly have the potential to. Chicago's Magic Number: 37.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 76-48 (DP: Seattle, 30.5 GB)
Obviously this one's in the bag. What's surprised me is the way that the Halo's have been handled in Tampa. One series does not a playoff preview make, but one does start to wonder if the Angels aren't getting a tad bored with their 15.5-game lead in the Western division. It seems to me that Mike Scoscia is way too good of a manager to let that happen for long, but I do wonder... L.A.'s Magic Number: 22.

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 73-53 (DP: Cleveland, 15GB)
I'm not going to get off the mat on this one either. But it is an interesting race. Boston (whom I hate) is in the lead, but it's an ever-narrowing margin as the Twins are only 1.5 games behind them. I suppose you could call it a 3-team race really between Boston, Chicago and Minnesota. The Yankees are 6.5 games back and they're about to get passed by the Blue Jays who are only a game behind them. While I'm sure that a post-season without the Yankees or the Red Sox (whom I hate) would have Fox Sports executives leaping from 30-story buildings, I think it'd be rather enjoyable. Tampa/Minnesota, L.A./Chicago? I'd watch those! Boston (whom I hate) has a Magic Number of 36.

So I'm 3 of 8 on my predictions. Those of you who saw my college football picks last year are nodding your heads right now. For the rest of you? Trust me, this is par for the course.

That's all for today. Hope you have a wonderful mid-week. I'll be back on Friday, bitching about the Fair I'm sure. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Notes and Sports Take Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the start of another week. It's going to be a tad hellish around the Sports Take offices over the next couple of weeks. Thursday marks the start of the Minnesota State Fair, from where WCCO Radio will be broadcasting live for 11 straight days. Usually it's twelve, but starting on Labor Day this year, the Republican National Convention will be in downtown St. Paul (and by extension, downtown Minneapolis). So tack on 4 more days of all-day remote broadcasts. So basically for two weeks starting Thursday, I'll be considering what life would be like on a window ledge somewhere whilst holding an automatic weapon.

Okay, it's not that bad. But it's not fun. So forgive me if the next couple weeks-worth of Takes have an angry, exhausted tinge to them. Just know that I'll be endeavoring each and ever time to meet your lofty expectations!

So today I have another series of random notes. None of which cause me to rant for a seriously long time, but they rankle me enough to mention them in a shorter form. Then it's this week's Sports Take Mailbag question! So off we go...

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long.
- Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990), American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist


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First of all today, some Notes:

- Dodger 2B Jeff Kent is an idiot. It was predicted after Manny Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers that eventually Kent would pop off because he can't stand anyone suggesting that other players influence his numbers. Not only did he pop off, he took after Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully in doing so:

"Vin Scully talks too much. We all love you Vin, but you still talk too much. Listen, I'm so tired of talking about this stuff. It diminishes my whole career and all the hard work. I take it as an insult."

Atta boy Jeff. Just ignore the fact that Vin's actually right. That your average has gone up more than 20 points since Manny joined the team is pure coincidence. No right-thinking baseball fan would connect those two things! And why not go after a legend if you want to make a point! Nobody will think less of you if you take a run at a guy who's given more to the game than you ever will. Just keep flapping those gums son! I'm sure it'll all work out well for you in the end.

What a dope.

- Did you see Jason Giambi's grand slam on Sunday? Yeah, me neither. And it's not that the home run itself was significant. But it was Giambi's 14th career tater with the bases loaded. That number ties him for 14th on the all-time list with Gil Hodges, Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza. Apparently shaving the mustache had a good effect on the Giambino.

14 grand slams doesn't lead his own club however. Alex Rodriguez holds that designation (big surprise) with 16 career Salami's. I think that Giambi still leads A-Rod in "number of mentions in a Jose Canseco book" though. So Jason has that going for him!

- Speaking of tied records, Seattle pitcher R.A. Dickey tied one against the Twins on Sunday with 4 wild pitches in a single inning. Throw in a passed ball and catcher Kenji Johjima had a heckuva workout.

Bob Uecker has my all-time favorite quote on catching a knuckleball, "The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up."

That advice didn't work so well for Kenji on Sunday. But it's still terribly entertaining. Well, for those who aren't Mariners fans anyway.

Finally today, it's this week's Sports Take Mailbag segment.

Today's question comes to us from David in Milwaukee (a loyal and oft-contributing Sports Take reader):

CC Sabathia has been absolutely unreal - can you win the Cy Young with only 15 starts?

That's an excellent question David. My gut instinct is, "no". But let's dig into this a little bit.

You're right, Sabathia has been nothing short of phenomenal since he was traded to the Brewers. In 8 starts, he's 7-0 with a 1.55 ERA and 60 strikeouts with only 13 walks and a gaudy WHIP of only 0.969. The Brewers certainly couldn't have expected any more.

But can he keep up that pace? And if so, will half a season of outstanding statistics make him worthy of Cy Young consideration? And finally, if both of those questions are answered in the affirmative, will he actually win the damned thing?

First, can he keep up that pace? I don't see any reason that he can't. CC has regularly pitched around 200 innings and in 2006, he threw 241. Translation? The guy doesn't wear out much. You can keep running him out there start after start and he's not going to break down on you. So unless he suffers a freak injury, or suddenly loses track of his mechanics, I don't think there's any reason he can't keep going at the pace he's at.

Second, will he have enough appearances to justify consideration for the award given he's been in the NL for only half a season? Believe it or not, there is a precedent for this situation. In 1984 Rick Sutcliffe won the NL Cy Young Award after being traded by Cleveland to the Cubs mid-season. Sutcliffe started 20 games for the Cubs that year, posting a 16-1 record with a 2.69 ERA, 155 strikeouts, 34 walks and a 1.078 WHIP.

So if we're going to say that 20 starts is a relative baseline, then how many will CC end up with? If you go through the Brewer schedule and say that CC will start every 5th game, then he'll have 8 more starts (including tonight's game against Houston which I believe is going to be on ESPN)for a total of 16. But considering that the Brewers are in the thick of a playoff race, my guess is that Brewer managers Ned Yost will take every opportunity he can to skip his 5th starter and get CC more work. That means he'll end up with more like 18 total starts. And that certainly seems close enough to earn him consideration.

Finally, given that I've decided on positive answers to the previous two questions, will CC actually win the 2008 NL Cy Young award? Unfortunately for Brewer fans, I think the answer here is "No". Not through any fault of CC's mind you. But there are too many pitchers having monster years in the National league for him to sneak through on half a season. Arizona's Brandon Webb is probably the leading candidate with his league-leading 18 wins and sub-3 ERA. But close on his heels are San Francisco's Tim Lincecum (13 wins, league-leading 2.60 ERA), Cincinatti's Edinson Volquez (though he's slumped some lately) and even Arizona's Dan Haren is in the mix.

If the race were more wide-open (see: 2008 AL MVP race - can you name a clear favorite? I can't), then CC would have a strong shot. And I still think he'll get strong consideration. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if he finished 3rd. Maybe even 2nd. But I don't think he'll win it.

It's a hell of a story if he does though! Thanks for the question David.

Remember you can submit your question to: dcook93@yahoo.com. There are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. But I'll try to make them entertaining anyway!

That's all for today folks. Hope your week is off to a rousing start. I'll be back on Wednesday with more Sports Take wonderment. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

Let there be Big Ten Network & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Once again, we come to the end of another week. And for those of you in the upper-Midwest, it's supposed to be a glorious weather weekend, so try to get out and enjoy it! Once again, I'm endeavoring to see The Dark Knight in IMAX this weekend. I hate to keep teasing you with a forthcoming IMAX-version review, but I really think it's going to happen this weekend! I think...

In any case there's always plenty to talk about in the world of sports. Today I'm going to discuss the debut of the Big Ten Network on Comcast, and what that means in the larger world of sports-broadcasting. Then it's time for this week's DFTU segment. So let's rock and roll...

"In all recorded history there has not been one economist who has had to worry about where the next meal would come from."
- Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist."


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Today is the debut of the Big Ten Network on Comcast cable. BTN actually began broadcasting last year, but was available only to satellite television customers (elitist jerks... just kidding... mostly). So for last football- and basketball-season there were several games that were essentially blacked-out in most Big Ten markets.

As a Wisconsin fan, this was obviously quite problematic for me. Especially when it turned out that last year's Wisconsin/Minnesota football game was going to be on BTN. The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe wasn't on my cable system?! Not good. So I was forced to find another venue to go see the Badgers put yet another country ass-whipping on the Gophers (Thank you Canterbury Park Card Club).
But that won't be the case this year. For those of you with Comcast digital cable, you'll now be able to see all the games you're used to seeing. Check your local listings (for people in the west metro, it's Channel 255).

This comes as a result of a deal Comcast cut with BTN this past June. It allows Comcast to put BTN on any tier it desires outside of traditional Big Ten markets. Inside those markets however, BTN must be placed on Comcast's expanded basic service through the end of the 2009 Big Ten Basketball season, after which it can be moved to a digital tier. According to the agreement however, BTN can not be placed on the "Sports Tier" for which Comcast customers have to pay extra.
So BTN gets near the level of placement that they were looking for and Comcast gets flexibility with placement outside of Big Ten Markets as well as a reduced per-subscriber rate inside those markets. So everybody wins, right?
Well, almost everybody. For cable subscribers, they'll now see an increase in their bill. A modest one to be sure - only $.70 per month - but an increase none-the-less. And outside of Football and Basketball, what are we really getting?

As I write this, BTN is showing Michigan vs. Northwestern Football circa 2000. Classic games are fun to re-watch. I can dig that. In fact, coming up at 10:30pm tonight, they're showing Wisconsin vs. Ohio State from 2003. I'll definitely be tuning in for that!

But in between classic games? We get practice sessions from Northwestern and Illinois, along with their "Year in Review" programs. And outside of football and basketball season? That's when BTN ramps up its "non-revenue sports" coverage. That's right. All the volleyball, wrestling and track & field coverage you can handle! Oof.

So can the Big Ten really make money on this endeavor? Can non-revenue sports broadcasts draw enough advertising to make the Network solvent? That's a good question. And I'll tell you who'll be monitoring the answer very closely: every other major college conference in the country.

And therein lies the real danger. If this works for the Big Ten, you can count on the Pac 10, SEC and Big 12 following suit quickly. And the Big East and ACC won't be far behind. Which means that a whole host of games that we're used to seeing on the ESPN's and FSN's of the world will no longer be available outside of add-on Sports Tiers.

What we're really headed for here is a-la-carte cable. The cable companies are fighting this tooth and nail because they claim it'll be more expensive all-around. And maybe they're right, I don't really know. What I do know is that programming is becoming more and more fractured by the day. And there's no way that the traditional structure of subscriber fees is going to be able to handle it all. A new model is required. And some form of a-la-carte format seems to make the most sense.

If I want to have all the regional sports network, while giving up Lifetime, Oxygen, Food Network and all of the useless versions of MTV, so be it. Other customers could customize their coverage how they see fit. Like I said, I don't know exactly how the price structure would work, but there's got to be some way to make it happen.

And things like the BTN are going to force someone far smarter than me to figure it out.

Finally this week, its time for the Dan's Favorite Teams Update segment:

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 67-53, in second place in the AL Central and one game behind the Chicago White Sox.

"Beat the Bombers!" That was the cry heard in the Metrodome this past week as the Twins took 2 of 3 from the Yankees. The major sports networks all chose to focus on the stumbling that the Yankees were doing. And I can understand that. There's a gentleman in the WCCO Newsroom who'll owe me $10 when the Yankees miss out on the post-season. So I don't really mind.

But what really stood out for Twins fans was the emergence - finally - of Delmon Young. Delmon had an outstanding series, hitting two 3-run home runs. One that tied Tuesday night's game in the bottom of the 9th. And the other which gave the Twins a lead they'd never surrender Wednesday afternoon.

Young came to the Twins along with Brendan Harris in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was supposed to be the power-hitting, right-handed bat to replace Torii Hunter in the Twins lineup. So far? Not so much. While Delmon is hitting a respectable .290, he has only 7 home runs and 52 RBI. Not the power numbers the Twins were hoping for. But perhaps he's coming around. All 7 of his home runs have come since June 1st, during which time he's hitting .315 with 37 RBI. So clearly his second half has been far better than his first half. This is especially important since it seems that Michael Cuddyer won't be available til the last week of the regular season or so.
Now the Twins have a chance to get revenge on the Seattle Mariners for the series lost out in Seattle last weekend. The Mariners visit the Dome for 3 before the Oakland A's do likewise. After that it's the epic 14-game road trip which could make or break the Twins season as they make way for the RNC.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 62-59, tied for first place in the NL West with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The big news for Arizona fans this week was the acquisition of OF Adam Dunn for minor league pitcher Dallas Buck along with two "players to be named later". One of which is apparently Micah Owings according to reports out of the Arizona Republic.

I'm of two minds on this deal. On the one hand, I like the fact that the Arizona brain-trust has decided to go for it this year and try to win now. Every fan wants that kind of attitude from their team.

And there's no doubt that Dunn adds something to the D'back lineup. Dunn is tied for second place in all of baseball in home runs with 32. He's also second in the NL in walks. What that means ultimately is that he's in a position to help protect other players in the D'back lineup. If an opposing pitcher knows Dunn is on-deck in a critical situation, it forces him to throw fatter pitches to the batter ahead of Dunn, because he knows Dunn's in a position to hurt him if he makes it to the plate.

On the other hand, Dunn has the 4th-highest strikeout total in the NL. So while opposing pitchers must respect his power and eye at the plate, they also know that he'll swing and miss if they make the appropriate pitch. And this is especially problematic seeing as how the Diamondbacks already had 2 of the top 4 strikeout leaders in the NL. So now they have 3. Joy.

So ultimately it's hard to say how much of a benefit this is going to be. And if it's true that Arizona's giving up Buck and Owings along with a third un-named player, it's tough to give this deal a firm thumbs-up.

It's the ultimate sports-writer cop out, but I'll use it anyway: only time will tell.

The D'backs begin a 3-game series in Houston tonight before returning home next week to face the Padres and Marlins.

That's all for this week ladies and gents. Hope you all have a fabulous weekend. I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take wonder. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Olympics Note, Free-For-All at the Fens & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

This is getting out kind of late in the day. My apologies for that. Unfortunately, work intruded upon my usual blogging time. I wish they'd time these things better. But they don't consult me first. Go figure.

Things have calmed considerably anyway, so it's on to today's Take. Today I've got a short bit on the Olympics. Then I've got to talk about a wild night in Boston (whom I hate) last night. Finally it's the weekly Peek at the Picks segment. Off we go...

"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."
- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893 - 1986), Hungarian physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937.


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First off today, the Olympics. I've had several people email with various questions and comments about the Beijing games, wondering when I'm going to put some Olympic talk in the blog. Unfortunately I'm really not all that into the Olympics.

I recognize these people are fabulous athletes and they've gone through amazing amounts of training for years on end to prepare themselves for this specific competition. But I've just never been all that drawn to it. Oh there are events here or there that'll catch my attention (women's beach volleyball, naturally) but for the most part I just don't get all that excited.

Take Michael Phelps for example. The American swimmer is breaking records left and right, winning gold medals and dominating sportscasts globally. But I'm really not that interested. Can't really tell you why. I just don't care all that much. And if I can't be bothered to care, it's awfully difficult for me to comment too directly on it. So sorry about that.

What I can can comment on is a marvelous new technology this year's Olympics has introduced. Have you seen the green "World Record" line in the swimming competition? That I like. It's the next evolutionary step from the yellow "First Down" line you see on football broadcasts. In the case of the Olympics, the green line moves along the pool showing the pace at which a swimmer would need to travel to match the current world record.

I'm not sure what it means that I'm more interested in the broadcast technology than the race itself? But there you go. Has anyone heard if they're going to have something like that in the track and field events? That might actually get me to watch some of those too!

Moving on...

Did you see the score in the Boston (whom I hate)/Texas game last night? The final was 19-17 with the Red Sox (whom I hate) picking up the victory. Normally I hate games with scores that high. It usually means a lot of walks, i.e. poor pitching, and poor play doesn't interest me as a spectator. But this game was the exception to the rule.

The Red Sox (whom I hate) put up 10 runs in the first inning. Included in that deluge were 2 3-run home runs by David Ortiz. That tied an AL record for most RBI in a single inning. Ortiz also became just the 5th player in Major League history to hit two home runs in the first inning.

Scott Feldman was the Texas pitcher who gave up the 10 runs. He was also the first pitcher to give up 10 runs and not take the loss since Gene Packard did it for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1918. Oh by the way, Packard actually picked up the win. Feldman actually lasted 2 2/3 innings before being lifted for Josh Rupe, who gave up 4 runs in his 2 1/3 innings of work. Oof.

Texas ended up taking a 15-14 lead in the 6th inning. Marlon Byrd had 5 hits for the Rangers. Ian Kinsler and Chris Young both contributed 4 RBI a piece.

But it wasn't enough to secure the win as Boston (whom I hate) came back on the strength of a Kevin Youklis 3-run homer to go ahead for good in the 8th.

Oh and one more record. The teams' combined 36 runs tied an AL record set in 1950 when the Red Sox (whom I hate) beat the Philadelphia Athletics 22-14.

Wow. That's a helluva game.

Finally today, it's time for this week's Peek at the Picks segment where I compare the current Major League standings to my pre-season picks and offer you, my fine readers, the opportunity to mock and ridicule me... unless I was right... was I? Let's find out...

NL East: Philadelphia Philles, 64-55 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 1 Game Back)
It looks like the lead out East could change hands several more times before everything is said and done in September. Oddly enough, other than the Nationals, every team in the NL East is 5-5 in their last 10 games. Holy static standings Batman! (Ouch. Where did that come from? I think my allergy meds are making me a little punchy. Apologies)

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 72-47 (Dan's Pick: Cubs)
So let me get this straight. The Cubs have the second-best record in baseball and Lou Pinella picks now to say he might replace slumping LF Kosuke Fukudome (*member of the Sports Take All-Name Team) in the lineup unless he starts hitting? It's almost like he's bored and feels like he's got to shake things up just to keep it interesting. C'mon Lou. Relax. It ain't broke. Don't fix it. And why is it every time the Brewers go on a 7-game winning streak, winning 8 of their last 10, the Cubs have just won 7 of 10 and the Crew can only pick up a game in the standings? Bad Karma? I don't know.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 61-58 (Dan's Pick: D'backs)
2 for 3 in the NL and I'm a game from being 3 for 3. I like it! The D'backs made a surprising deal on Monday adding Adam Dunn's prodigious bat to their lineup for a relatively cheap price. On the surface I like the deal. It at least will make some pitchers think as they go through the Arizona batting order. On the other hand, the D'backs now have 3 of the top 5 strikeout leaders in their lineup. Mark Reynolds, Chris Young and now Adam Dunn all collect more than their fair-share of K's. However it works out, it'll sure keep things interesting down the stretch. The Dodgers are still only a game out. Oh, and Manny Ramirez's average with the Dodgers has plummeted to a mere .476 along with his 4 home runs and 14 RBI. That's in 11 games. Damn!

NL Wildcard: Milwaukee Brewers, 69-51 (Dan's Pick: L.A. Dodgers, 8.5 GB)
It was pointed out to me by a loyal reader that I should be including a Wild Card glance in my PatP segments. I think we're far along enough in the year that it makes nothing but sense, so here we go! This may be the Crew's best shot at the playoffs. They've now built a 4-game lead over the Cardinals. The Dodgers? Yeah, they'd better hope they pass the D'backs, or they'll be golfing come post-season time.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 71-47 (Dan's Pick: Boston Red Sox, whom I hate, 3 GB)
This is one of two AL picks I'm now flat-out rooting to be wrong on. Unfortunately for Tampa, they not only lost Carl Crawford, but now rookie sensation Evan Longoria is on the DL with a wrist injury. Not good. Boston's also dinged up, but they just added Paul Byrd in a trade with Cleveland to bolster their rotation. I want to be wrong here folks. I really do. I just don't know if Tampa has it in them to hang on.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox/Minnesota Twins, 66-52/67-53 (Dan's Pick: Detroit Tigers, 8.5 GB)
I've only called one other race in my PatP segment. Now I'm going to make that two. The Tigers are officially dead. 8.5 games are just too many to make up in the last month and a half of a season. Esepecially considering that they've got to pass two teams to pull it off. Truly shocking considering how good they looked on paper coming into the season. But as the cliche goes, that's why they play the games. Incidentally, the tie at the top of the division will change by this evening when Chicago plays Kansas City. Go Royals!

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 75-43 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 30.5 GB)
Best record in the majors... 15-game lead on their nearest competitor... presumptive favorite to win the AL pennant... blah, blah, blah. At this point, manager Mike Scioscia is just praying that nobody gets hurt. Otherwise this one's in the bag.

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 69-51 (DP: Cleveland Indians, 14 GB)
Yeah. Not so much with the Tribe either. The Twins/White Sox loser is Boston's (whom I hate) closest competition. Both teams being 2 games behind. The Red Sox (whom I hate) still have their eye on the Eastern Pennant though. So if Tampa's injuries cause them to fall off the map, that throws open the door for a AL Central Wild Card entrant.

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Friday with your end-of-the-week Sports Take wonder! Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Injurious Weekend & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

It's the beginning of another week. And I still haven't seen The Dark Knight in IMAX. Plans fell through this weekend. So now I'm aiming for next weekend. Fortunately for me, they're going to leave this sucker in the theaters until they suck every last dime they can out of it. So I'll still have plenty of opportunities. I know how much you all are rooting for me on this!

Today, I'll run down an unfortunately long list of injuries that occurred over the weekend. Several of which could have a major impact on various division races. Then it's a double-dose of the Sports Take Mailbag. The people must be heard! Off we go...

"Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic."
- Dan Rather (1931- ), journalist and former news anchor for the CBS Evening News.


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Before I get to the injury report, we here at The Sports Take would like to congratulate the Tampa Bay Rays on setting a new team record for victories yesterday. Their win over the Seattle Mariners moved their record to 71-46. The franchise's previous win record came in 2004 when they went 70-92. Amazing. A team that's never had a .500 or better record in their history, is now contending for their division title. That snapping sound you just heard? That was Rays manager Joe Maddon putting a lock on the Manager of the Year trophy.

Speaking of the Rays, we start the walking-wounded report in Tampa Bay where Rays OF Carl Crawford was sidelined with a hand injury. The diagnosis is that he'll be out 6-8 weeks, and quite possibly his season is over. Crawford had been a significant part of the Rays lineup, often batting 3rd and hitting .273 with 8 home runs and 57 RBI. Tampa's been winning with a "we before me" mentality, so the loss of any one player shouldn't spell doom for them. But when the Barry Bonds rumors spring up immediately after a guy goes down, that tells you how significant he was. By the way, Tampa brass has already said ix-nay on the onds-Bay speculation. Thank heavens.

Next we're off to Boston (whom I hate). The hated Red Sox said that knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will miss his next two starts to rest a sore shoulder. Pitchers get sore shoulders all the time, usually it's not a big deal. But when a guy who regularly throws in the low 70's gets a sore shoulder, my ears perk up a little bit. Over 23 starts, Wakefield has put together a 7-8 record (not that impressive) with a 3.67 ERA (pretty darn good). If this turns out to only be the two missed starts, then it's not a big deal. But if it's something more serious, then the Red Sox (whom I hate) will have a large hole in their rotation.

Finally for the AL, we come back home to Minnesota, where rehabbing OF Michael Cuddyer suffered a broken bone in his foot on a freak play. Cuddyer was on base when Garret Atkins hit a screaming line-drive at him. Cuddyer thought he'd leaped over the ball, but it caught him flush on the foot, breaking a bone. Perhaps if Cuddyer had attended the annual "Kelley Father's Day Weekend Trench Extravaganza", he could've improved on that vertical enough to avoid the ball.

(Aside: Okay, I know only about half of you are going to get that reference, but trust me, it's written with the snarkiest of intentions.)

In any case, Cuddyer's now out for 4-6 weeks which puts his season in serious jeopardy. If the injury heals as expected, he may be able to rejoin the club with 2 or 3 weeks left in the year. But with the Twins current depth in the outfield, I'd imagine the club will err on the conservative side.

Next we go to the National League, specifically the Arizona Diamondbacks. 2B Orlando Hudson suffered a dislocation of a bone in his wrist as he tried to tag out a sliding Brian McCann. Hudson had successful surgery today, but will now miss the rest of the season. This is a fairly sizable blow to the D'backs lineup. Hudson had spent most of the season hitting third. And while he's not a classic 3-hitter, he was batting .305 with 8 home runs and 41 RBI. The silver lining in all of this for the D'backs is that Orlando got hurt late last year and missed the pennant-run, so they know they can win with out him. But that's still a lot of production to lose out of the middle of their lineup. Plus, Orlando was one of the few above-average defenders amongst Arizona's regulars. And that may be the biggest loss of all.

(Ed's Note: It just crossed the wire that the D'backs have acquired Adam Dunn from the Reds for some minor-league prospects. Wow. Talk about adding some pop to your lineup. More on this deal Friday in the DFTU.)

Finally, we travel to Houston, where Astros LF Carlos Lee was hit by a pitch and broke a pinky finger. In fact, he broke it badly enough that it required surgery to reset it. And because they had to open him up, Lee will likely miss the rest of the season. The Astros were pretty much out of playoff contention anyway, but losing Lee makes them much less threatening to the rest of the NL Central. That means that beating the Astros becomes something the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals should do rather than could do. So who takes better advantage of the situation may go a fair ways in determining who wins the division.

So there's your cavalcade of casualties. Anybody else remember a weekend where so many players from contenders went down in such a short stretch? I sure don't.

Finally for today, it's a double-helping of the Sports Take Mailbag. Today's first question comes from Jeff in Des Moines:

Being one of the few Cardinals fans reading your column, and no disrespect to the Wisconsinites, how in the world are the Cards staying competitive and when will Isringhausen be fired or traded?

Good question Jeff! How are the Cards still in this thing? 5 words: Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. LaRussa may not win the NL Manager of the Year award (those pesky Marlins are making Fredi Gonzalez a leading candidate), but he's a perennial candidate. The magic that Tony and his pitching coach Duncan work with their staff on a yearly basis is incredible. These are the guys who got a solid year out of Jeff Weaver for chrissakes! No one else in the big leagues was able to do that.

Look at what they've done this year with Kyle Lohse: 13-4 with a 3.80 ERA and a better-than-2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Lohse's previous high for wins was 14 in 2003 with the Twins and has never finished a season with an ERA below 4.23. He's nearly a half-run below that so far this year.

I can't tell you exactly how these guys do it, but they get as much, if not more out of their pitching staff as anyone in the majors. And when you have solid pitching and decent defense, you have a pretty good chance to win. I'm not sure that the Cards have enough to catch the Cubs, but they'll give Milwaukee fans ulcers as they compete for the NL Wild Card.

Oh, and as far as Isringhausen goes, I think you're pretty much stuck with him for the rest of this season. Not necessarily as your closer, but a definite part of your bullpen. Maybe in the offseason they'll be able to cut bait with him. But at this point, you'd better hope that Adam Wainwright will be able to come back from his injury and be the same closer that led his club to a World Championship in 2006.

Thanks for the question.

The second question today comes from David in Milwaukee:

Just out of curiosity, any thoughts on making recommendations on obscure Olympics betting lines??? I bet you have it in you to play the odds on the Men's javelin . . . . .

Well if I had gotten to this earlier, I'd have told you that the guy from the Czech Republic was a big time overlay in the Mens Trap Shooting event.

As for the Men's Javelin throw? You can never go wrong betting on the Finnish in that event.

Good luck David!

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

Friday

Random Notes & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of yet another week. Since I had a long weekend last week, I fully expect this weekend to fly by. I'll blink and it'll be Monday, I'm sure. But I think I'm going to give The Dark Knight in IMAX another try this weekend, so hopefully I'll have that to report on come Monday!

So in today's Sports Take, I'll give you a series of random notes. None of the subjects inspire me to write a full-blown segment, but they're worth passing along in a shorter form. Then it's this week's DFTU. So let's get to it!

A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.

- Ring Lardner (1885-1933), American sports columnist and short story writer best known for his satirical takes on the sports world, marriage, and the theatre.

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*First off, I want to pass along Cathy in Maple Grove's thanks to those of you who went out and bought a Blizzard on Miracle Treat Day yesterday. This was a brilliant promotion. Not only did it raise a ton of money for a worthy cause, but it gave us all a wonderful excuse to indulge ourselves in something we would've wanted anyway!

*Next up, I have to disappoint ST reader Jeff in Des Moines by mentioning the F-word. That's right, the Favre saga has come to a conclusion. And what a dud of an ending! Of all the possible endings to this melodrama, Farve ending up in New York is the least climactic one I could think of. He doesn't have a better-than-average chance to win a Super Bowl. He doesn't get to play against the Packers. Sure it adds some spice to the Jets/Patriots rivalry, but I don't know that it changes much in the power structure of the AFC.

And make no mistake about this one point folks: the Packers won. They didn't have to take Brett back after they'd moved on organizationally. They didn't have to trade him or release him to a division rival. They didn't even have to trade him to another team in the NFC. They got a reasonable return from the Jets - they're virtually guaranteed a third-round pick and very likely will get a second rounder out of the deal. And they can be reasonably assured that though they may not win the way they did last year, neither will Brett.

Sorry Jeff. But I had to get that out.

*I also want to direct you to a brief column and chat session by ESPN's baseball analyst Jerry Crasnick: http://proxy.espn.go.com/chat/chatESPN?event_id=21838

In the column Jerry gives you his opinion on who'll win the AL Central and why. Plus there's some interesting debate in the chat session. I think there are very valid arguments for both the Twins and the White Sox. But I fear that the mega-road trip that the Twins have to take to make room for the Republican National Convention may cost them their shot. Either way, it's going to be a damned fun race to watch! Check out the article. It's a nice short read. And for the record, just because I think the White Sox have a slight edge doesn't mean that I'm taking Keith's bet (check out the "Comments" on Wednesday's column if you don't get the reference).

Sorry Keith. No bet.

Finally today it's this week's DFTU (Dan's Favorite Teams Update)!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 63-51, in second place in the AL Central and a 1/2-game behind the Chicago White Sox.

I know my Minnesota readers are going to be disappointed in my saying that I think the White Sox have a slight edge down the stretch. And I understand and welcome your criticism.

But consider the following numbers. The Twins have 48 games left heading into play tonight. 21 of those are at home where they're 39-21. 27 of those are on the road - including a 14 game trip at the end of August/start of September - where they're 24-30. If they maintain those paces, they'll finish the final 48 games 26-22. That gives them a final record of 89-73.

Could that win the division? Possibly. But keep in mind that over the last five years, the AL Central champ has won an average of 94.6 games, and never less than 90.

And, though I don't want to overwhelm you with numbers, keep this last one in mind as well. The Twins starting rotation, as currently constituted, won exactly 13 games last year. Combined. That's a stunning lack of experience for a starting staff on a contending team. And it's why I was moderately surprised when the Twins cut ties with Livan Hernandez (who's now pitching for the Colorado Rockies - D'backs fans rejoice).

I do remain hopeful. The Twins have defied convention throughout this season. So it's entirely possible that they'll carry that to the end and win the division. But realistically? I have to also be skeptical. Chicago has a lot of talent and plenty of guys left from their 2005 Championship run.

Hold on to your hats Twins fans. The stretch-drive cometh!

The Twins are in Kansas City for 3 games before returning home for a 9-game homestand in front of that 14-game mega-road trip.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 59-56, in first place in the AL West and 1.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

Manny Ramirez is hitting .565 with 4 home runs and 9 RBI in 6 games for the Dodgers. Be afraid Arizona fans. Be very afraid.

Fortunately for the Snakes, they have only 6 more games left with the Dodgers. And 3 of those are at the friendly confines of Chase Field. But all that means is that Manny probably won't kill them directly.

Indirectly however, he has L.A. right in the thick of this race. And contrary to some dopey pundit I heard the other day, the NL Wild card is not coming out of the Western division. Sorry folks, but it's division title or bust.

So what do the D'backs have to do to win it? First of all, they have to maintain their pace within the division itself. Against NL West opponents, they're 29-15. 28 of their last 47 games are against division opponents. So if they keep up their current pace, they should walk with the division title.

Secondly, they have to figure out their bullpen. Brandon Lyon is fairly well entrenched in the closers role. And John Rauch seems set as their set-up man. But the middle-relief is still a mess. Tony Pena has been rocked in his last few outings and Chad Qualls has vacillated between lights-out, and lights-very-much-on. Juan Cruz is finally back off the DL, so hopefully his presence will help to settle things down.

Arizona made the playoffs last year based in large part on their incredible success in 1-run games. You win 1-run games because your bullpen keeps you close enough for the closer to wrap it up, or for the offense to catch up in the end. So the D'backs have find a couple of guys to regularly bridge the gap between the starters and the back-end of the bullpen. Of course, that's far easier for me to say than for Bob Melvin to do. Good luck Bobby!

I'm also mildly concerned about starting pitcher Dan Haren. I'm all for the reasonable extension that Arizona signed him to this week. It's always a risk signing a pitcher to a long-term contract (see: Zito, Barry), but Haren's as deserving as any pitcher can be. But he hasn't had his best stuff over his last couple of starts. He's gotten enough run support to earn wins in both of those games, but they haven't been easy wins by any stretch.

It could be just a rough stretch for him. Or he could be a little gassed. Either way, if he doesn't bounce back strongly in his next couple of starts, it'll be time to get really worried. The bullpen's shaky enough. If one of their ace starters starts to falter, things could get ugly in a hurry.

Arizona wraps up a 4-game series with the Braves this weekend before heading to Colorado (please let Livan pitch in this series, please) and Houston.

That's all for this week folks. Have a comfortable and relaxing weekend and I'll be back on Monday with more of the finest throne-room material you can find in the blogosphere! Until then, thanks for reading!