Tuesday

Twins @ White Sox, 6:37pm CST


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to a special Tuesday version of The Sports Take. Writing 5 blogs in a week is a bit of a task, but given the circumstances this week, it has to be done.

So here we are. The Twins and the White Sox have played 162 games and finished with identical 88-74 records.

First, let me address yesterday. Yes, I was rooting for the Tigers. But realistically, they had nothing to play for, and it didn't surprise me a bit that Chicago was able to win that game. At least it was rookie-of-the-year candidate Alexi Ramirez that did the damage, and not one of the uber-annoying White Sox veterans. Sure, it's small consolation, but I've got to cling to something.

That brings us to today. For the 12th time in Major League Baseball history, there's a tie breaking game to be played before the playoffs begin. And for the first time ever, the Minnesota Twins are involved.


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I've heard some Twins fans bemoan the situation, thinking that the Twins should've locked up the division when they had the chance. I've heard some folks whine and grumble about the fact that the site of the game was determined by something as arbitrary as a coin-flip. And yes, I'm aware that the Twins are 2-7 at US Cellular Field in Chicago this season.

I say bollocks to all of that.

This is as exciting as it gets. If you're a Twins player, you've played 162 games to reach this moment. Now you've got one game to win. One win and you become one of the 8 playoff teams. Fail, and you can stew on it til Spring Training next February. The only "win or go home" situation that's going to be any more intense than this is Game 7 of the World Series. And that's saying something.

So let's break it down. How do we assess what's going to happen tonight?

I like to use a theory proffered by former Twins manager, and 2-time World Series champion, Tom Kelly:

"If you pitch it a little bit, and catch it a little bit, then you give your team a chance to win."

So let's use that.

"If you pitch it a little bit..."

Starting for the Twins tonight is rookie right-hander Nick Blackburn. Though at this point in the season I'm loathe to call anybody a "rookie", I can't discount the fact that a year ago at this time, Nick was preparing to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Tonight is just a touch higher on the intensity-scale. So let's look at Nick's numbers:

Overall: 11-10, 4.14 ERA

On the road: 3-7, 5.20

At night: 7-8, 4.64

On grass: 3-6, 4.86

In an open-air ballpark: 3-6, 4.72

In the month of September: 2-2, 6.75

Versus the White Sox: 2.2, 5.67

Last Start: defeated the White Sox, 5 innings pitched, 8 hits, 2 earned runs

There's not a lot to love amongst those numbers except for his last start. When the pressure was on, Nick came through with a serviceable - if not spectacular - start. He's starting on full rest, so there should be no concern about being tired. And frankly, if you can't get energized for a game like this, you don't belong in the big leagues anyway.

His counterpart tonight for the White Sox is left-hander John Danks. Let's look at his numbers:

Overall: 11-9, 3.47

Home: 4-6, 3.96

At night: 4-6, 4.61

On grass: 9-8, 3.58

In an open-air ballpark: 9-8, 3.58

In the month of September: 1-2, 4.44

Versus the Twins: 1-1, 7.91

Last start: lost @ Cleveland, 4 innings pitched, 7 hits, 7 earned runs

Okay, I'm starting to feel more encouraged. Even though the Twins traditionally struggle with left-handers, it appears they've gotten after this guy pretty good. Like Blackburn he's struggled in the month of September. Unlike Nick, he got shelled in his last start. And Danks' numbers aren't appreciably better at home, so hopefully that will remove some of the home-field advantage from the White Sox.

"... and you catch it a little bit..."

Defense is going to play a crucial role in this game. Unfortunately, neither of these teams has especially good defensive numbers:

Minnesota Twins: in 6132 total chances, the Twins have committed 108 errors for a fielding percentage of .982 which ranks 12th out of 14 American League teams.

Chicago White Sox: in 6176 total chances, the Sox have also committed 108 errors for a fielding percentage of .983 which ranks 11th out of 14 American League teams.

Advantage? Well nobody really. Which only makes tonight's defensive performance more critical. Count up the defensive mistakes on each side. Whoever commits the most will most likely lose the game.

"... then you give your team a chance to win."

That's the bottom line. Pitching and defense give you a chance to win. But they only give you a chance.

After that it's who wants it more? Who makes the sacrifices? Who does the little things correctly? Who handles the pressure? Who comes through in the clutch? Who lays it on the line for their playoff lives?

These are the questions viewers will be asking themselves starting at 6:37pm central time (4:37 pacific - come on D'backs fans, join me!) tonight on TBS (check your local listings).

As you can probably tell, I'm a wee bit excited for tonight. And fortunately for me, WCCO radio is carrying a Wild pre-season game against the Blackhawks starting at 6:35pm, so I'll be able to focus a solid 90% of my attention on the Twins game!

So enjoy the game tonight. Experience the drama of "win or go home" baseball. And root for the Twins!

I'll be back tomorrow with my regular Wednesday column. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Weekend Notes, Week 5 Post-Mortem & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another week of Sports Take goodness. There's a ton to get to today including some thoughts about what transpired over the weekend, the Week 5 Post-Mortem on my college football picks, and this week's version of the Sports Take Mailbag. So let's rock...

"Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."
- Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944), English astrophysicist

I think you could replace "the universe" with "baseball" and you'd be just as correct.

Which leads me to some thoughts from this weekend:

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Twins/White Sox: Well, it could've been worse I guess. It's tough to think that had the Twins stepped up and won even one of the first two games against Kansas City, they'd be in the playoffs now instead of waiting for this game in Chicago to start (it's currently in a rain delay as I write this - joy).

But the bottom line is that the Twins had to at least match the White Sox to make sure they'd be no worse off than having to go to Chicago on Tuesday for a play-in game, and they did exactly that.

Kudos to Cleveland for helping the Twins out by the way. I still wish they'd helped by not sweeping the Twins a week or so ago, but that's water under the bridge at this point.

So it's come down to this. Chicago hosts the Detroit Tigers this afternoon (weather permitting) to make up a previously rained-out game. If Chicago wins, then the White Sox and the Twins will play a play-in game on Tuesday with the winner travelling to Tampa to start an ALDS series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. If Detroit wins, the Twins are automatically in and will wing their way to Tampa tout de'suite!

So if you're reading this Monday afternoon, turn on ESPN2 and root, root, root for the Detroit Tigers!

Brewers/Mets: Crew fans, you did it. I'll admit to doubting. I'll admit to not rooting for you after dumping your skipper with 12 games left. But ultimately, your club proved me wrong and on the strength of CC Sabathia's mighty pitching arm, the Brewers are in the playoffs. They start a NLDS series against the Phillies Wednesday.

As for the Mets? Oof. Not so much. Another year. Another lead with 17 games to go. Another collapse. It wasn't quite as catastrophic this year, but it still had to be terribly disappointing given the additions they made in the off-season. Perhaps a full year of Jerry Manuel's managing efforts will make a difference. Perhaps.

Wisconsin Badgers: I can't talk about this. The wounds are still too raw. More to come on Friday.

Moving on...

It's time now for the Week 5 Post-Mortem on my college football picks!

Minnesota +18 @ Ohio State: Final Score - OSU 34, Minnesota 21

Well, I covered, so I should be happy. But the game didn't go at all like I thought it would. Don't get me wrong, Ohio State was far from dominant. But they made plays when the Gophers gave them opportunities. And frankly, the Gophers scored a couple of touchdowns in garbage time when the result had already been decided.

What Dan Learned: The Ohio State defense is better than I thought. Actually, they're as good as I thought they should be at the beginning of the year. They've rebounded nicely from some sub-par efforts early in the year. On offense, Terelle Pryor still has learning to do, but man is he going to be special in a year or two. And I'm still not sure Chris "Beanie" Wells is back all the way, but he certainly changes the way you defend the Buckeye offense with his presence alone.

So I was a tepid 1-0... but hey, that's still 1-0!

Next...

Ball State -18 vs. Kent State: Final Score - BSU 41, KSU 20

The Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week came through. Thanks go to ST reader Scott in Eau Claire who suggested this pick in the first place. If you missed his reasoning on Thursday, you can read it here.

What Dan Learned: Listen to your friends, but only when you feel their reasoning is sound. And if nothing else, make it your Flier Pick of the Week. That way you don't have to count it if it falls through!

2-0. What a start to the week. Let's keep it rolling!

Thirdly...

Auburn -6.5 vs. Tennessee: Final Score - Auburn 14, Tennessee 12

Okay. Apparently it's impossible for me to start 3-0 on a given week. One week Auburn's offense scores 20+ on last year's national champs, the next, they can only scratch out 14 against a team that's now 1-3. Oof.

What Dan Learned: I'll leave this to ST reader - and resident Vols fan - Jon in Maple Grove...

"I haven't seen Auburn play this year, but if they leave a crack open anywhere...Tennessee can score points on them. (Probably running. I don't trust this qb yet.) Will TN probably lose? Yeah. They suck. lol. But they suck with talent. And that is unpredictable. Will they all pull themselves together and get the SENIOR offensive line to start acting like it and stop fumbling and get Crompton to stop throwing like a curling major and finally win something? Maybe.

As I understand it, -6.5 still means everyone expects Auburn to win. :) But Tennessee has enough unknowns in there to drive people nuts. Trust me...I've watched them for 20 years."

"They suck with talent." That pretty much sums it up.

Finally...

Stanford +3.5 @ Washington: Final Score - Stanford 35, Washington 24

I thought the Cardinal would win this one outright, and they did. Getting the points was nice, but I'd probably have picked Stanford if they were giving 3.5 in this game. Washington's just that bad.

And now this thing's likely to snowball. I feel bad for Washington head coach Ty Willingham. I think he's a good man. But Washington's a proud program with a strong history. And I doubt their boosters are going to put up with this for much longer. It's sad.

What Dan Learned: Not much. This one went exactly how I thought. That's not cocky is it? Nah.

So another 3-1 week in the picks department. This is getting downright encouraging! 3-1 this week moves me to 12-8 (.600) on the year. All we do here at The Sports Take is make the people money! (On college football picks, this year, and this year alone.)

Finally today it's this week's edition of The Sports Take Mailbag. This week's question comes to us from ST reader Craig in Burnsville:

With the rumors of Lane Kiffin getting fired by Al Davis very soon, at what point does he start acting like George Costanza when he wanted to get fired by the Yankees so he could go to the Mets. I mean if you were Kiffin and knew that Al Davis wants you to resign so he didn't have to pay you, wouldn't you push the envelope as far as possible forcing him to pull the trigger. These are the kinds of thoughts that keep me up at night.

Good question Craig.

First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with the Seinfeld reference, I'll give you a quick recap. During an episode where George was working for the Yankees, he was approached by the Mets to be their Director of Scouting. But in order for the Mets to actually offer him the position, he needed to get fired by the Yankees, otherwise it constituted tampering. The gag was that no matter how hard George tried to get fired he couldn't. Viva la Steinbrenner!

Back to the matter at hand.

Lane Kiffin is the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. This past off-season it was leaked to the media that owner Al Davis wanted to make a coaching change, so he asked for Kiffin's resignation. Kiffin refused. Usually, this would lead to a firing. But because Davis would be on the hook for the rest of Kiffin's contract if he fired his coach, Davis refused to fire him. In the meantime, Kiffin wanted to make a change at defensive coordinator, but Davis refused to make that change as well.

So now you have an owner that doesn't want his head coach, a head coach who doesn't his defensive coordinator, and a defensive coordinator with a severe confidence problem. Sounds fun doesn't it?

I'm all for Craig's suggestion. If I were Kiffin I'd start doing crazy stuff, just to get Davis to fire me so I could get paid and get the hell out of that insane asylum.

It could be as simple as play-calling: "And the Raiders line up in the Wishbone?!"

Or it could be a wardrobe issue: "Is Lane Kiffin wearing a headband with 'Davis' written on it?!"

Or he could be the first coach in NFL history to be completely honest in a post-game press conference: "We suck. We're a terrible football team and we're not going to get any better while I'm around. I should be fired. Really. I should."

Kiffin won't be the first coach to be fired this season, St. Louis' Scott Linehan earned that honor today. But I think Lane isn't going to be far behind him. Just win baby!

That's all for today folks. It's now 2:30pm central as I write this, and the Chicago/Detroit game is still in a rain delay. Oof. The game has to be played though, so stay tuned. They'll get to it eventually! I'll be back Wednesday with the final Peek at the Picks segment for this baseball season and the official Sports Take Baseball Playoff Preview! Until then, thanks for reading!


Friday

Four Scores & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

It's the end of the week, but that's not even close to being foremost on my mind today. I've never been so pumped to write a blog before. Seriously, I lost sleep last night as I pondered the various ways I could approach what happened last night. In my seven and a half years at WCCO Radio, I don't think I've ever lost sleep over being excited for the next day at work. I've lost plenty dreading the next day at work, but never from excitement. Maybe I'm in the wrong business...

But that's another tangent. Today I've got to discuss what happened in the world of sports last night. Amazing stuff. I know that not everyone who reads this is a sports fan, and I respect that. But I honestly don't know how anybody could fail to get wrapped up in the excitement of last night. So I'll quit babbling and get right to it!

"Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else."
- Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971), American poet

First of all, let's discuss what happened last night...


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Minnesota Twins 7, Chicago White Sox 6 F-10
Holy crap what a baseball game this was. The Twins came into the game 2/3 of the way through the sweep they had to have if they wanted to have a solid shot at the playoffs. So the pressure was still squarely on their shoulders. And it showed in the 4th inning.

The Twins were leading 1-0 heading to the top of the 4th when the wheels seemed to come off. Orlando Cabrerra hit a solo shot off of Kevin Slowey to make it 1-1. Two batters later, Jim Thome hit a ball to deep right center that should have been caught. Only it wasn't because CF Carlos Gomez failed to call off RF Denard Span and the two ended up colliding while the ball dropped harmlessly to the turf. That, naturally, was followed by Paul Konerko grounding out to score another run.

Two batters after that, Alexi Ramirez reached on an infield single to score a third run. And two batters after that, Juan Uribe reached on a shot off of Slowey's arm. That was tough enough, but it was followed by a throwing error as Slowey tossed wide of first. That error scored 3 runs and suddenly it was 6-1 Chicago and you could've heard a pin drop in a stadium known for breaking decibel meters.

6-1. Oh my god. All that hard work. And just like that (insert snapping sound effect here) it seemed to all fall apart.

But this was when I remembered what's so beautiful about baseball: there's no clock. Whether it takes two hours and ten minutes, or four hours and ten minutes, a team has to record 27 outs. And until they do that, you can keep scoring runs. And it was in this spirit that I turned to WCCO Sports maven Mike Max and said, "Well at least they have five and a half innings to chip away at it." (Ask him, he'll confirm my story)

And chip away they did. Gomez made up for his top of the fourth gaffe by tripling-in Brian Buscher in the bottom of the fourth. That was immediately followed by a Denard Span double and suddenly it was 6-3. Never say die!

They tacked on another run in the 6th, which set up for the drama in the bottom of the 8th. By this time, I'd gotten back home from work and was able to watch the rest of the game in the comfort of the Sports Take home offices. Once again, it was the Gomez/Span-show as Carlos singled home Brendan Harris to make it 6-5. Span wasn't to be upstaged and tripled home Gomez to tie the game and suddenly Metrodome was rocking.

(Aside: My brother will want me to point out that after Span's triple, we were on the phone as he begged the Twins to get that run in - runner on 3rd, 1 out. I said, "can you conceive of a way they won't?" - assuming that either Alexi Casilla or Joe Mauer would come through. My brother immediately accused me of putting the whammy on the club. And after Casilla and Mauer failed to get the run in, my brother sent me several text messages which I can't reprint. Fortunately, my positivity won out in the end!)

Neither team scored in the 9th which sent them to extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Twins closer Joe Nathan came out for his second inning of work and promptly set the Sox down in order.

In the bottom of the 10th, the Twins won the game as only they can do. After a lead-off ground out, Nick Punto worked out a walk. Carlos Gomez grounded out to move Punto to second.

Then, on the first pitch to Denard Span, Chicago closer Bobby Jenks bounced one in front of catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The ball didn't get far away from A.J., but an alert Punto recognized the wild pitch, and knew A.J. couldn't throw me out on the base paths (I know that sounds like exaggeration for effect, but prior to last night, runners had attempted 102 steals on A.J. and he threw out exactly 11.... oof), and took 3rd.

Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen decided he didn't want Span to beat him and had him intentionally walked. That brought Alexi Casilla to the plate with runners on the corners and 2 outs. 'Lexi had 2 hits in the series coming into that at-bat, so it seemed like an astute move by Ozzie. It seemed that way right up until Casilla dumped a base hit into right field to score the game winning run.

I never saw the ball hit the ground. As soon as Casilla hit it, I knew it was going to be a hit and started jumping up and down, hooting and hollering in my apartment. My neighbors either thought that Rocky had returned, or that I had forgotten to take some important medication.

It was an incredible comeback to cap off a critical sweep and set the Twins up to win the division and make the playoffs in a year where most pundits (myself included) had written them off.

Wow.

Milwaukee Brewers 5, Pittsburgh Pirates 1 F-10/ NY Mets 7, Chicago Cubs 6
Prior to the Twins magical walk-off single, the Brewers came up with some walk-off wonder of their own. Tied at 1 with the Pirates in the 10th, the Brewers knew they had to win to keep pace with the Mets who'd already beaten the Cubs. Coaches and players will tell you that they don't scoreboard-watch. Hooey. I promise you every player, coach, trainer and equipment manager in the Brewers dugout was acutely aware of the Mets having won.

Turns out the pressure brought out the best in the Crew. They loaded the bases for LF Ryan Braun in the bottom of the 10th. And Braun came through with a moonshot walk-off grand slam that kept the Brewers tied for the Wildcard lead.

Overkill? Perhaps, but Miller Park was rocking every bit as much as the Metrodome would be about a half an hour later.

Oh, and a note about where a playoff game would be played should the Brewers and Mets/Phillies end up tied for the Wildcard. Thanks go to David in Milwaukee who passed along the following:

Brewers lost coin flips to both Philadelphia and NY, so if need play-offs with either one will be an away game.

So there you have it. If necessary, the Twins and the Brewers could end up on the road for a play-in game.

Oregon State 27, USC 21
Call it the curse of the Sports Take Poll, I guess. The day the Poll debuted, the number one team in the country vomited all over themselves on the road and quite possibly put to rest any chance they had at the national title.

I didn't see too much of this game as I was engrossed in the Twins comeback. But I was able to catch some in snippets. And from what I saw, it was clear that USC came out flat and unprepared. And that comes down to coaching.

Everyone wants to anoint Pete Carroll as one of the top football coaches in the country. And it's certainly hard to argue with his recruiting record. But this is now the second year in a row that he's had a team favored to win it all, which has gone on the road and lost to a clearly inferior team. I'm not sure how he could allow that to happen, but he did.

And now the trick for USC is that they play in one of the worst conferences in the country. That means that there aren't any marquee wins left for them on their schedule. So unless a whole mess of teams lose 2 games, the Trojans may be on the outs when it comes time to pick two teams to play for the title.

Incredible. Nights like that don't come along often folks. I hope you caught a piece of it, because they don't get much more exciting than that!

Now it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 87-72, in first place in the AL Central and one-half game ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

"In first place in the AL Central." If you'd asked me in April what the odds of me being able to type those words in relation to the Twins on September 26th were, I'd have said 100-1 minimum.

But here we are. The Twins have 3 regular season games left against the Kansas City Royals at Metrodome. The White Sox return home to face the Cleveland Indians for what could be their final 3 games.

I say "could be" because should the Twins or the White Sox finish with only a half-game lead, Chicago will have to play a make-up game with Detroit on Monday to even out the records. Should Minnesota and Chicago be tied after that, then a play-in game will take place in Chicago on Tuesday.

Being as Minnesota has no control over what happens in Chicago this weekend, they need to focus on their business against Kansas City. If they sweep the Royals, then any loss by Chicago hands Minnesota the division.

This is where I have a small bit of concern. The Sox series was so emotional that I'm concerned for the Twins' ability to refocus themselves for tonight's game against KC. Last night I envisioned a scenario where the Twins players went back up into their clubhouse hooting and hollering, cranking the music and celebrating. Then in the midst of that celebration, a veteran like Mike Redmond or Eddie Guardado would call for the music to be shut off and everybody to calm down. They'd announce that the Twins haven't won anything yet. There is still a job to do. There are still three games to be won. Enjoy last night, but then come back focused to whip up on the Royals tonight.

I hope that happened, I really do.

It's Fransico Liriano tonight, Glen Perkins tomorrow and Scott Baker (if necessary) on Sunday.

God I love baseball!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 79-80 and have been eliminated from the playoffs.

*sigh*

What can I say? I adopted this team because of family ties and my desire to see a team make the playoffs since I started the season believing it was impossible for the Twins to make it.

Turns out I was dead wrong.

It's especially disappointing for Arizona fans given the tremendous start the Snakes had. A brilliant April turned into a mediocre May which descended into a gawd-awful June. And it just got uglier from there.

I give D'backs management a lot of credit. They made moves and did just about all you could ask them to in order to get this team to the playoffs. But in the end it just wasn't enough.

So now Arizona enters an off-season with a lot of questions. Brandon Webb has a contract to be worked out. Eric Byrnes has to decide whether he'll be healthy enough to play again. Orlando Hudson is a free agent. And his departure could start a lot of shuffling of the D'back infield. Randy Johnson is a year older. And it needs to be decided whether Max Scherzer can be a major league starter or not.

It'll be a challenging off-season. And the decisions general manager Josh Byrnes makes will determine just how competitive this club is next year.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 3-0 (0-0 in the Big Ten).

Wisconsin is coming off of a bye week, so there's not a lot to talk about. Other than what they're about to face.

Tomorrow marks the start of the Big Ten campaign for Bucky as they travel to Ann Arbor to face the "transitioning" Wolverines of Michigan. The Badgers enter the game as 6.5-point favorites. I can't argue with that.

Clearly Wisconsin has had a better non-conference journey than the Wolverines have had. But it's still a road-game in the Big 10. It's still the Big House. It's still Michigan. So I assume nothing.
Kickoff is at 2:30pm tomorrow. I'll be locked in.

That's it for this week folks. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back on Monday, hopefully celebrating another Central Division championship! Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

ST Top 10 College Football Poll & 2008 College Football Picks: Week 5


Hello again everybody...

I'm really excited for today's column for a lot of reasons, so I'm going to skip the usual preamble and get right to it!

First off, even though Thursdays are, and will continue to be, focused on college football, I have to toss in a couple of quick baseball notes:


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- Twins 3, White Sox 2
2 up and 2 down for Minnesota. Game 1 was a blow out. Game 2 was a nail-biter. The Twins played classic small-ball and received solid pitching performances not only from starter Nick Blackburn, but also from a recently beleaguered bullpen. It was the kind of gritty performance you love to see as a fan when you're team's battling for their playoff lives.

Now comes the key game. Win tonight and the Twins are in first place. Lose, and they're 1.5 games back and the last two nights go for naught. And here comes Gavin Floyd (16-8, 3.84) for the White Sox. Floyd's been a Twins-killer this year with a 3-1 record versus Minnesota with a 1.86 ERA. If there's any hope for the Twins, it's that Floyd's been better at home than on the road where he's 7-5 with a 4.05 ERA. The Twins counter with Kevin Slowey (12-11, 3.85) who's done his best work at Metrodome (7-4, 3.04).

Now that the Dodgers Magic Number has been reduced to 1, the Twins are the last DFT hope. Come on boys, don't leave me bored during the playoffs!

- Milwaukee 4, Pittsburgh 2/ Chicago 9, NY Mets 6 F-11
I doubted you Crew fans, and now you've done it. By virtue of the two scores above, the Brewers have tied the Mets for the Wildcard lead. Each team is 87-71 with 4 games remaining. If the race ends in a tie, a playoff game would be held Monday. And to be honest, I haven't heard where it would be played yet. Perhaps one of my Wisconsin readers could clue us in?

If you're not having fun watching these races, I'm not sure what I can really do with you. Really...

Right... moving on...

I'm perhaps more excited by the next segment than any other I've introduced since I started this blog back in April. It's time to unveil the first ever Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll!

Before I get to the results, I'd like to thank the loyal ST readers who participated in this week's voting. There's always room for more voters, so if you're interested in participating next week or in future weeks, please drop me a line at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

So without further ado, here are the results of polling after four weeks of college football action:

1. USC (5) - 94

2. Oklahoma (2) - 78

3. Florida - 74

4. Georgia (2) - 71

5. LSU (1) - 61

6. Missouri - 54

7. Texas - 42

8. Alabama - 30

9. Wisconsin - 20

10. BYU - 9

Others Receiving Votes: Penn State 6, Texas Tech 6, Ohio State 3, Wake Forest 2

I don't think there are any major surprises in the poll. A surprise of the minor variety to me is that USC only got 5 of a possible 10 first place votes (the numbers in parentheses). I guess I expected that to be higher. But overall I thought the voters did a heck of a job. And nobody even tried to sneak a 4-0 Minnesota in at number 10! Too bad Gopher fans, that was your last shot this year! (Ooooh... cheap shot!)

Again my thanks to the voters. It seems like people had fun doing it. So let the debating begin! See something you see is out of whack? Add a comment to the blog and let us know why! Another version of the poll comes out next Thursday.

Finally today it's time for my Week 5 College Football Picks! This week I'm tweaking the format a little, listing the games in chronological order rather than in "order of confidence". I'll still point out which is the "Flier Pick" and which one I like best. With that...

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

Minnesota +18 @ Ohio State (11am): The Gophers are 4-0 (0-0). The Buckeyes are 3-1 (0-0).

I'm going against two wagering maxims here, so you can predict what the "What Dan Learned" paragraph will look like on Monday if this doesn't work out for me. One, I'm taking the road underdog, and two, I'm going against the money. This game opened at OSU -17 and moved to -18.

(Recreational Gaming 101 - The line moves in response to where the money goes. In this case, if more people are betting on OSU, the spread gets larger in an attempt to get betters to take Minnesota. If more people bet Minnesota, the spread gets smaller in an attempt to get betters to take OSU.

Sports Books want to balance the money they get on any given game, because that covers their losses. Here's how it works. If I wanted to bet this game, I'd have to wager 11-10 on the team I chose. For example, I'd have to bet $110 on Minnesota to win $100. That difference is called "the Vig". The Vig is how book-makers make their money. If a book-maker takes in $1100 on OSU and $1100 on Minnesota, then they take $1000 from the losing side to pay the winning side, and keep $100 for themselves. This is an extremely simplified example, but you get the general idea.)

So in this game, more money's being bet on OSU to win -18 points, than on Minnesota to win +18 points. I have no clue why this is.

Minnesota's offense has proven it can score points, while Ohio State's defense has proven it can give up points. That makes it tough for me to believe that OSU will win by 18+.

Yes, I know that Chris "Beanie" Wells is making his triumphant return for the Buckeyes this week, but I find it terribly difficult to believe he's all the way back to 100%. There still hasn't been anything remotely resembling full disclosure on his injury, and that still says to me that he's hurt worse than OSU has let on. Freshman QB Terrelle Pryor showed glimpses last week why he was so highly recruited. He's got tons of talent. But he's still a freshman. And that makes him vulnerable to mistakes.

Apparently other people are seeing something here that I'm not, but I'm going with my instincts and taking Minnesota +18 here.

Next...

Ball State -18 vs. Kent State (11am): Ball St. is 4-0. Kent St. is 1-3.

Loyal ST reader Scott from Eau Claire has been sending me picks of his own since Week 1. Unfortunately, he's imitating my picking ability from last year, so I haven't used any of them. But this week, he and I are thinking along the same lines. To wit, here's his reasoning on this game:

"I know it's a bunch of points, but here's my logic-
(Each team has a win versus a Division 1AA team, but here are the results not counting those)

Ball State (4-0): 12-point win versus Navy; 17-point win at Akron; 22-point win at Indiana.

Kent State (1-3): 21-point loss versus Boston College; 20-point loss at Iowa State (ISU's only win versus a Div 1A team); 17-point loss at Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL's only win versus a Div 1A team)

Not only is Kent State losing, it is losing to bad teams. Ball State is at home, and more than that, it's Ball State's Homecoming weekend! The stadium will be filled to capacity and the Homecoming crowd will be deafening. This will keep the Cards amped all afternoon. The Cardinals need impressive wins to get into the "BCS Buster" talk, I think this one could be ugly."

I can't refute any of that, but I'm going to hedge my bet and make this the official Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week. So let's give the 18 and take Ball State!

Thirdly...

Auburn -6.5 vs. Tennessee (2:30pm): Auburn is 3-1 (1-1). Tennessee is 1-2 (0-1)

This is another line that left me scratching my head. Yes, I still do that even with the limited amount of hair I have to scratch!

Auburn went toe-to-toe with LSU, last year's national champs, and only lost in the closing minute. Tennessee got worked by Florida at home, and lost on the road to a UCLA team that's been crushed every game since. Auburn's at home and motivated coming off a loss. Tennessee's wondering if their head coach is going to survive the season.

How is this line not Auburn -14?!

This seems pretty straight-forward to me, so we're giving the 6.5 and picking Auburn to win.

I should also mention, this is another pick Scott from Eau Claire agrees with me on, so take that into account before you bet the retirement fund on this game.

Finally...

Stanford +3.5 @ Washington (9pm): Stanford is 2-2 (1-1). Washington is 0-3 (0-1).

Two road underdogs in the same week?! Am I mad?!

Perhaps, but this one seems logical to me. Washington is horrible. The game against BYU sucked the soul out of them. And now people aren't asking if Ty Willingham will keep his job, they're asking who'll be the next head coach. Not a good sign.

Stanford is 0-2 on the road, but both of those games were against legit teams: Arizona St. and TCU. Again, I'll remind you, Washington is awful. As long as head coach Jim Harbaugh keeps his charges from looking ahead to Notre Dame, I think Stanford wins this game outright. And getting the 3.5 is just icing on the cake.

So there are your 4 picks for this week. Enjoy the games on Saturday and look for the Week 5 Post-Mortem on Monday!

That's all for today. I'm back tomorrow with more baseball. I'll either be jubilant with the Twins in the lead of the Central, or I'll be desolate and trying to figure out the math on how the Twins can avoid elimination. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Battle for the Playoffs & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

For those of you wondering, I don't have a new Rocky story. Sorry about that. But as near as I can tell, the little rascal hasn't made his way back into my humble abode. And in the mean time, I've got two new screens sans "Rocky entrance flaps". Thank heavens.

So on to today's column. There are 3 critical series being played in the world of baseball right now. All of which have direct impact on who'll be playing next week and who won't. I'll discuss each of them. Then it's the penultimate version of the Peek at the Picks segment! Let's get to it...

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia."
- Charles M. Schulz (1922 - 2000), American cartoonist

Leave it to Charlie Brown to offer a little perspective!


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Three big series continue tonight in Major League Baseball...

Minnesota Twins vs. Chicago White Sox: The Twins defeated the White Sox last night 9-3 to shrink Chicago's lead in the AL Central to 1.5 games. P Scott Baker went 7 solid innings for the Twins surrendering only 1 earned run. DH Jason Kubel was the offensive star, going 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and a triple.

Chicago's starting pitcher, Javier Vasquez was cooked before he ever threw a pitch. In that style that only he can pull off, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen referred to Vasquez as "not a big game pitcher".

Let's see. You're going into the biggest series of the season with your playoff hopes on the line. And you, as the manager, decide to call the guy who you started last week on short rest just so he could start this very game, "not a big game pitcher"? Really Ozzie? I mean I've heard of reverse psychology and all, but this is just ridiculous.

And even more ridiculous is the fact that when Vasquez was asked about the quote, he basically agreed that he didn't have a history of coming through in the clutch.

How in the name of all that's holy is a team this dysfunctional in first place? Good god.

Game 2 is tonight and it's just as much of a "must-win" situation for the Twins as last night's game was. Minnesota needs to sweep this series to have any real shot at the playoffs. A sweep would put the Twins in first place by a half-game. Winning 2 out of 3 would leave the Twins 1.5 games behind with 3 to go. That wouldn't eliminate them, but would require the White Sox to lose 2 out of 3 over the weekend for the Twins to have any shot.

So clearly the Twins are in "must win" mode. Nick Blackburn (10-10, 4.15) takes the hill for the Twins against Chicago's Mark Beuhrle (14-11, 3.87). There was a long stretch of time a few years ago where the Twins had no shot against Beuhrle. But this year he's only 1-2 against the Twins with a 5.79 ERA. So the Twins certainly have a shot.

To win they'll need Blackburn to step up his performance. He has an ERA over 10 in his last 3 starts. Another outing like that would be costly.

Thursday's outing might be the best match-up of the three games as Minnesota sends Kevin Slowey (12-11, 3.85) to the hill to counter Chicago's Gavin Floyd (16-8, 3.84).

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: The bad karma of firing your manager with 12 games to go aside, the Brewers are still in the race for the NL Wildcard.

The Crew beat the Pirates last night 7-5 to stay within a game of the Mets, who hold the Wildcard lead.

Tonight, Milwaukee comes back with CC Sabathia (9-2, 1.81) on short rest against the Pirates Paul Maholm (9-8, 3.68). Sabathia is clearly Milwaukee's best shot down the stretch, since Ben Sheets is out with an injury. But in his last 3 starts Sabathia is 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA.

And then there's the short rest bit. For better or for worse, modern starting pitchers are used to four days of rest between their starts. And being creatures of habit, it can seriously screw with their performance if you start them with less than those four days of rest. But big time pitchers perform in big time games regardless of the rest. And I expect one of those style performances from CC tonight.

Milwuakee hasn't announced a starter for Thursday's series ender as they're still hoping Ben Sheets could be available.

It's not as critical for the Brewers to sweep the Pirates. But Pittsburgh's a bottom-feeder. And if you're going to be a playoff team, you're supposed to clean up on the bottom-feeders. With only 5 games left, maybe a sweep is critical!

New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have their playoff spot sewn up. The question remains, will the Mets be joining them? In fact, if the Mets do win the Wildcard, they'd open up in Chicago, so we could be seeing a Division Series preview!

The Mets won the opener over the Cubs last night 6-2. Johan Santana stepped up and showed why the Mets gave him the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history by throwing 8 innings, surrendering 2 earned runs and striking out 10 batters. That's an ace. That's a stopper. That's Johan in the clutch.

The Cubs counter tonight by sending their ace, Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.77) to the mound against Odalis Perez (10-7, 4.10). It's hard to know what to expect in this game. Zambrano followed up his no-hitter against the Astros by getting shelled by the Cardinals and lasting only 1 2/3 innings. I'd imagine it's hard to get psyched up for games now that Chicago has clinched their division and has all but sewn-up homefield advantage through out the NL playoffs.

Thursday's game pits the Cubs' Rich Harden (5-1, 1.66) versus New York's Pedro Martinez (5-6, 5.50).

Chicago manager Lou Pinella says he's not going to wholesale rest his players because he feels it'd be unfair to the teams still battling for playoff spots. But it's still got to be tough for his guys to be giving 100% when they're not playing for anything. Meanwhile, these games are critical for the Mets who still have a shot at the NL East.

Finally today, it's the penultimate Peek at the Picks segment, where I compare my preseason picks to the current MLB standings, and you all make fun of how poorly I did! Don't ever say I don't entertain you!

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 89-69 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 1.5 Games Back)
I still haven't given up the ghost on this one. If the Mets win the division, that just about ensures that Milwaukee won't make the playoffs, so my Wisconsin friends aren't going to like me pulling for the Mets. But as poorly as I'm doing in the picks, I've got to cling to what I can!
Philadelphia's Magic Number: 4

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 95-61 (DP: Cubs)
The Cubbies clinched over the weekend, so this is the first - and possibly only - pick I've officially gotten right. Milwaukee's still hanging around the Wildcard race. The rest of the Central teams are dusting off the golf clubs.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers, 82-75 (DP: Arizona Diamondbacks, 3 GB)
This one's very near to over. The D'backs aren't eliminated yet, but their loss last night with the LA win was a killer. If they could've kept that deficit at 2 games, they'd still be right in it, but being 3 games behind with 5 to go is almost impossible to overcome. Never say die Arizona! Right? Oof.
L.A.'s Magic Number: 3

NL Wildcard: New York Mets, 87-70 (DP: LA Dodgers, 5 GB)
Crew fans you're still in this. But that Magic Number is starting to dwindle. The killer part of the Magic Number when you're behind is that even if you win, it can shrink. It goes down a game every time the Mets win. And if you combine a Mets win with a Milwaukee loss, that would about end it. I always get nervous depending on a starter who's going on short rest, but this is CC Sabathia, and this is why you traded for him.
Mets Magic Number: 5

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 95-62 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 3 GB)
This one's just about over and I've never been happier to be wrong. No one and I mean no one saw this coming out of Tampa. It's by far the best story in baseball this year and some hardware will be coming Tampa's way because of it (manager of the year trophy, division pennant, etc.). Boston (whom I hate) won last night to seal up their entry into the playoffs. Normally this would annoy me to a great degree, but by eliminating the Yankees, I won $10 from a guy in the news room. So I'm not quite as peeved. I do however still hate the Red Sox.
Tampa's Magic Number: 3

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 86-70 (DP: Detroit, 15 GB)
The only real race left is between the White Sox and the Twins. I discussed it ad nauseum earlier, so I won't belabor the point. The Tigers meanwhile are tied for last place in the division. Unreal. Tampa's a bigger surprise, but there's no way anyone saw this train wreck coming either.
Chicago's Magic Number: 5

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 97-60 (DP: Seattle, 39 GB)
This one's been sewn up forever. All the Angels are trying to do now is make sure everyone's healthy and prepare for either the Red Sox (whom I hate) or the Rays. Unfortunately for those of you who entered the "How far back will Seattle finish" contest, they've outdone all the guesses at this point. One of you still has a mathematical shot, but it's not looking good!

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 92-65 (DP: Cleveland, 13 GB)
Boston (whom I hate) is in the playoffs, the only question is whether it's as the Wildcard or the AL East division champ. Odds are it'll be as the Wildcard. But it's not a mortal lock just yet.

So I've got 1 pick right. And I'm alive in 3 others, though one of them is on serious life-support. But the odds are this is going to be a "less than .500" season for the Picks. Oh well, I'm still kicking tail at college football right?!

That's all for today. I'm back tomorrow with the Week 5 College Football picks. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Rocky II, Week 4 Post-Mortem & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

It's the last day of my vacation, so once again I'm writing to you from the ST home offices. Those of you who read Friday's column know about the invasion of the home offices by one Rocky the squirrel.

Apparently, he's a tenacious little bugger.

Sunday morning, I awoke to yet another noise that was clearly emanating from within my apartment. Still on guard from Friday's episode, I immediately sprang from bed to find Rocky had returned.

How could this happen? Didn't I learn from Friday? Well, partially I did.

I shut my sliding glass door so he couldn't enter the way he did on Friday. I didn't shut the other window in my living room however. So this time the resourceful rodent climbed along the deck railing and onto my window ledge where he proceeded to chew and claw his way through the screen covering that window. And once again, Rocky was trying to set up shop in my apartment.

Feeling incredulous that this could possibly happen again, I went and got my broom to shoo him out. This time, he got the message, and as I returned, he was already in the process of scampering back out the way he came.

So now I have matching holes in my screens. Joy. The maintenance folks are never going to believe this.

Moving on...

Today, I've got the post-mortem on my Week 4 college football picks. A promising start to the day didn't finish as planned. Then it's this week's version of the ST Mailbag. So let's get to it...

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), German-born theoretical physicist


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Some would say that my picks results so far this year are mysterious. Would they remain so after Week 4? Let's find out!

Alabama -9.5 @ Arkansas: Final Score - Alabama 49, Arkansas 14.

This was a good start to the day for me. The biggest spread I picked covered. I didn't get to see the game, but from what I read it wasn't as close as the score indicated.

That being said, it also wasn't the offense explosion the score might lead you to believe. The Tide had 2 interceptions for touchdowns. So the defense pitched in and did their part in the Alabama rout.

What Dan Learned: Arkansas is bad... just bad. I fully expect them to be nearly 30-point underdogs next week against Texas. Maybe they'll progress as the season goes along. Clearly Bobby Petrino has his hands full. And as they play in the SEC, they might be an easy pick to not cover the rest of the year though.

So I was 1-0 and off to another solid start.

The "Flier Pick of the Week" was up next...

Florida -7.5 @ Tennessee: Final Score - Florida 30, Tennessee 6

By the time Saturday rolled around, I'd honestly convinced myself that this game was going to be a lot closer than it turned out.

And if you look at the stats, it probably could have been.

Tennessee had more total yards than Florida in the game, but they also had massive turnover issues. They turned the ball over twice inside Florida's 5 yard line. And as I recall, the Gators turned both of those turnovers into points. So it ended up being something like a 24-point swing in favor of Florida. Those kinds of mistakes are nearly impossible to get over.

And Tennessee didn't.

What Dan Learned: I'm not going to predict Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer's demise just yet - I made that mistake last year, and the guy got his club into the SEC Championship game. But he's now 0-4 against Florida's Urban Meyer, and something like 4-11 in his career against the Gators. That can't be sitting too well in Knoxville.

So now I was 2-0 and feeling fantastic... until...

North Carolina -3 vs. Virginia Tech: Final Score - Virginia Tech 20, North Carolina 17

This game was actually going quite well for me to start. NC led 17-3 in the third quarter. Their offense wasn't dominant by any means, but their defense was playing well.

Then Tarheels QB T.J. Yates got hurt and everything changed.

Suddenly the North Carolina offense stalled completely and the Hokies were given a new boost of confidence.

17 unanswered Virginia Tech points later, it was 20-17 Hokies and I was cursing the injury gods.

What Dan Learned: You can't control injuries. You can use all the logic and reasoning in the world to come up with a solid feel for a game, but in the end if a QB tweaks his leg, you can still lose. Welcome to the wonderful world of recreational gaming!

So that moved me to 2-1 and reliant on Mississippi to try and stay above .500 for the second consecutive week.

Mississippi -7.5 vs. Vanderbilt: Final Score - Vandy 23, Ole Miss 17

Oof. That didn't work out so well.

Either Jevan Snead isn't the quarterback that I thought he was, or Vandy's defense is a lot better than I figured.

I didn't see the game, so I can't make that kind of judgement.

What I can tell you is that the Rebs turned the ball over 6 times, 4 of which were on Snead interceptions. That's beyond awful. Someone could check, but I'd be willing to bet that no team has ever turned the ball over 6 times in a major conference football game and won that game.

What Dan Learned: Vanderbilt is better than I thought. Ole Miss isn't going to win the SEC, but any road win in that league (outside of Arkansas perhaps) is a heck of an accomplishment. Vandy's reputation may be enough to earn us lines that are higher than they should be for the next few weeks. I'll have to think seriously about taking them as an underdog.

So, another week of 2-2. Oh well. .500 isn't the end of the world. Overall I'm 9-7, which is still a vast improvement over last year.

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

Today's question comes to us from Mark in Maple Grove:

Is it possible that it could be argued that three of the four major end of the season awards (for sure two) should be won by players dealt for mid season…

Manny – NL MVP…no player has had a bigger impact on his team than he has in the second half except for maybe…

Sabathia – NL Cy Young…he has been dominant!!!

And this one might be a stretch…but it could be argued…

Teixeira – AL MVP…they were pretty good before he got there…but he has been a force in that line up since he got there.

I guess I hadn't really thought of it like that - outside of Sabathia - but it's an interesting point.

The races are so wide open that it's certainly within the realm of possibility that all three could be the winners of their respective awards. And near as I can tell, that would be unprecedented.

I'll be handing out my personal awards ballot after the regular season is done. So I won't reveal those names here.

I will say however that I think it's unlikely that any of those 3 will actually win their respective awards.

More importantly though, we have to ask what it means that 3 guys can change leagues mid-season and be considered for those awards?

I think it means one of two things. Either we're in a down-cycle in terms of dominant talent in baseball. And that means that in a few years, we'll be back to having clear-cut winners.

Or it means that we're starting to achieve the level of parity in baseball that we see in the NFL. That the talent is so evenly spread over the league, that it's become near to impossible to have the kind of dominant season that we've seen in the past.

I guess I'd surmise that it's the former rather than the latter. But that remains to be seen!

Either way, the awards list will be something of a surprise this year.

Thanks for the question Mark!

Remember, if you want your question answered by the ST staff, just send an email to: dcook93@yahoo.com.

That's all for today. I'm back on Wednesday with more on baseball! Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

9-19-08: End of an Era & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

I'm writing the column today from The Sports Take's home offices. I know you're all terribly concerned about how my vacation time is going. Well so far it's been fairly unproductive, and that's just how I like it. Not all vacations are about getting "other" things done. Some are just about rest and relaxation. That's mine, so far.

Outside of one little incident this morning that is...

I awoke this morning to a strange sound which seemed to be coming from my living room. In a "I'm kind of awake, but not really awake" style fog, I managed to convince myself that it was the neighbors getting something out of their storage closet in the hallway and promptly fell back asleep. That is, until I heard another sound. And this one was definitely coming from my living room.

Now understand that I live on the 5th floor of my building. The odds that a prowler is going to climb up the decks to break into *my* apartment are slim. So I usually leave my windows, including the sliding glass door which leads to my deck, open except for the screens. Especially when we're having such lovely weather. So I wasn't afraid I was going to find someone trying to steal my TV.

The concerns I did have were confirmed however, when I rounded the corner and saw a bushy tail go scampering into the kitchen. That's right, the squirrel (whom I've nicknamed Rocky) who up until now has been content with occasionally hanging out on my deck, decided I needed a roommate and had clawed his way through my screen door and taken up residence in my living room. The noises that I'd heard were him checking out the various furniture. Joy.

So I tried to herd him back towards the door while explaining to him that if he couldn't help with the rent, he didn't get to stay. But while Rocky seemed more than willing to leave, he'd apparently forgotten how he got in originally. He just sat by the door and sort of stared at it. So I backed off and let him start to wander again, went and got a broom, just in case Rocky decided to take a stand, and skirted my way around him to throw open the screen door. Then I circled back around and started trying to shoo Rocky towards the door. This time he got the message and scampered out, after which, I shut and locked the sliding glass door.

Sorry Rocky, but I don't' need a roommate.

So that was my morning cup of coffee. How are y'all doin?

With that, I suppose I should get to today's actual column. Sunday marks the end of an era as the final game will be played at venerable Yankee Stadium. I have a few thoughts. Then it's this week's version of the DFTU. I call it the "Never Say Die" edition. So let's get to it!

"I didn't really say everything I said."
- Yogi Berra (1925 - ), former Major League Baseball player and manager

The quintessential Yogism. Which leads to the first topic...


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Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth built. Home of the Bronx Bombers. The curtain closes on Sunday. The New York Yankees, proud owners of 26 World Championships and 39 American League Pennants will move to their new facility, the new "Yankee Stadium", beginning next season. So Sunday's final home game is also the final game for the original facility.

The move is rather metaphorical I think. Change is inevitable. Progress must be made. But what makes baseball such an attractive sport I think is that even in the process of change, great efforts are made to pay homage to the past. And the history of the sport, it's players, and it's edifices are lovingly preserved.

Yankee Stadium opened in April of 1923. And in the intervening 85 years, has seen more significant moments in baseball than any other piece of architecture in the world.

It saw Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. It saw Roger Maris hit 61.

It saw Lou Gehrig give his famous retirement speech. And it saw Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin trade words of a more infamous nature.

It saw Joe DiMaggio hit in 56-straight games. And it saw Mickey Mantle get his 500th hit.

It saw perfect pitching from Don Larsen, David Cone and David Wells (against the Twins dammit). And it saw Roger Clemens throw a bat-shard at Mike Piazza.

But it wasn't just Yankees that created memorable moments at the Stadium. The Dodgers' Sandy Koufax set the strikeout record there. The Royals' George Brett had a mild disagreement with an umpire over the correct placement of pine-tar on a bat there. And the Red Sox (whom I hate) had a pitcher named Curt Schilling who ruined a perfectly good sock by bleeding on it there.

And those just scratch the surface. There are hundreds more memories that have been and will continue to be written about, discussed and argued over for the rest of time.

I never got to go to Yankee Stadium. But I know folks who have. And their descriptions of Monument Park, the bleachers in right, and the roar of the Bronx faithful are as vivid to me as if I'd walked the grounds myself.

So if you have a chance Sunday evening, flip on ESPN. Take a look around the old ballpark. Picture Mantle and DiMaggio in center field, Maris and Jackson in right, Gehrig and Mattingly at first base. Picture Yogi Berra behind the plate and Phil Rizzuto at short. Picture Whitey Ford on the mound, handing the ball to Goose Gossage or Mariano Rivera to seal the win.

Take it all in. Because it's the last time you'll ever see a game played there.

The new Yankee Stadium is said to be a baseball palace. And given the Yankees owners penchant for spending money, I have no doubt it's exactly that. I also don't doubt that great care will be taken to honor as much of the history you've just read about as humanly possible.

But it's not the House that Ruth built. And it won't ever be. Life goes on.

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

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 83-70, in second place in the AL Central and 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

I mentioned to a friend the other day, "The Twins' playoff chances are on life-support, but Chicago refuses to pull the plug". Which is a pretty apt description if you ask me.

I can't imagine how a team that's in the playoff hunt can go into Cleveland, get swept, and somehow manage to stay in the race. That just shouldn't be possible. But there you have it.

The Twins got broomed by the Tribe to start the week, but the Whities couldn't take advantage as they dropped 3 of 4 to the Yankees (thank you Bombers). Combined with the Twins' comeback victory over the Rays last night, Minnesota remains where they started the trip: 1.5 games back.

Why is that such a critical number? Because if the Twins can get it down to a half-game before the White Sox come to town next week, then winning 2 out of 3 in that series gives them the division lead. Putting themselves in a position to not have to sweep Chicago is huge. And the task continues this weekend as the Twins take on the AL East leading Rays.

The White Sox on the other hand are spending the weekend in Kansas City. On paper that would seem to be a huge advantage for Chicago. But so far this year, White Sox pitching has surrendered 52 runs to the Royals in 6 games at Kaufmann Stadium. Hopefully it remains a House of Horrors for the Sox this weekend.

As I said, the Twins continue their 4-game set with the Rays this weekend. Then they're back home on Tuesday for 3 critical games with Chicago. Damn baseball's fun, ain't it?

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 76-76, in second place in the NL West and 3.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The boys are trying Snakes fans. They've won 4 in a row and have managed to claw their way back to .500. Too little, too late? Perhaps. But as I keep saying, the Dodgers aren't running away and hiding. And until they're mathematically eliminated, the D'backs are gonna give it a go.

Witness the gritty effort by Randy Johnson last night as the D'backs beat Cy Young candidate Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants. That's not a game most pundits would chalk up as a win for Arizona, but they gutted it out, made the most of their opportunities and got the win.

It's going to take several more of those types of efforts, as well as some help from the Dodgers to get the D'backs into the playoffs. But it's still possible!

If the Rockies could do it last year, why not the D'backs this year? Am I right people?

The D'backs travel to Colorado over the weekend and then to St. Louis on Monday. Maybe Albert Pujols will rest his elbow or something. C'mon Al. Help us out here!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 3-0 (0-0) after defeating Fresno State on the road, 13-10.

It wasn't a pretty game by any means. And there weren't a lot of highlights that will be destined for the archives. But it was a win. And sometimes that's all that really matters.

This was a game that Wisconsin was supposed to win, yet many of the pundits out there picked Fresno to upset the Badgers. Wisconsin certainly doesn't have overwhelming talent, and the Bulldogs are a good team. Plus they had the home-field advantage.

But in the end, Wisconsin's defense got the job done, stopping Fresno on their final drive of the game and securing the 13-10 victory.

The game wasn't without controversy however. In the 3rd quarter, a Fresno tight end made a catch and was stripped of the ball by Wisconsin LB Jonathan Casillas. The Badgers recovered the fumble and were still celebrating when Fresno State head coach Pat Hill threw his challenge flag and asked that the play be reviewed. The review officials decided that the Bulldog player never really had full possession of the ball and overturned the call on the field.

The only problem was, the call on the field was correct. That's been confirmed by far more unbiased eyes than mine. The receiver clearly controlled the football, "made a football move" as they say, and then was stripped of the ball. Wisconsin should've had the ball deep in Fresno territory and had the opportunity to salt the game away.

Thankfully the blown call didn't cost them the game.

The Badgers have their bye week this week, giving them two weeks to prepare for their trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on the "transitioning" (copyright Hammer) Wolverines. It's another game the Badgers should be favored in, and another game they ought to win. More on that next week.

That's all for this week folks. Hope you've had a good one, and hope you have a fantastic weekend. I'm off to watch some High School football tonight (go Crimson!). I'll be back on Monday with the Week 4 Post-Mortem and a special double-Mailbag! Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

2008 College Football Picks: Week 4


Hello again everybody...

Well not so much with getting the column up early, but as promised, here are my week 4 picks. Remember the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll starts after this week's games. If you'd like to be a voter, email me at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

So without further ado, let's get to pickin!


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As always, were recreational gaming legal, and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:

Mississippi -7 vs. Vanderbilt: This one has shoot-out written all over it. Neither team has scored less than 24 points in their first 3 games.

Vanderbilt is 3-0 (1-0 SEC) with a moderately impressive win over South Carolina at home. The Commodores are usually doormats in the SEC, but every now and then they jump up to bite people.

Mississippi is 2-1, with this being their first SEC match-up of the year. Their toughest match-up of the year so far was at Wake Forest, a game they very nearly won.

But now they're at home and in need of a good start to the conference schedule. I like their QB Jevan Snead a lot. He's a transfer from Texas where he was barely beaten out by Colt McCoy.

Combine that with home-field advantage (not to mention the fact that this game has gone from -5 to -7, which means the money's going squarely on Ole Miss) and I feel okay giving the points and taking Mississippi in a shoot-out.

Go Rebs!

Next...

Alabama -9.5 @ Arkansas: Yes it's the road team, but at least they're favored!

And in my opinion, Arkansas is the worst 2-0 team in the nation. In fact, I was 100% prepared to pick against them last week as 20+ point underdogs to Texas before Hurricane Ike intervened.

So while they've technically had 2 weeks to prepare for 'Bama, the first week was spent trying to figure out what was going to happen to the Texas game, so no advantage there.

And no real time to fix what ails them. Yes, the Razorbacks are 2-0, but they've beaten Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe by a combined 5 points.

Meanwhile the Tide have been rolling (if you'll forgive the pun). After hammering ACC-favorite Clemson in Week 1, they've beaten Tulane and Western Kentucky soundly since.

So I like Alabama to keep cruising and win this game by 14 minimum.

2 picks, 2 favorites. Will the trend continue?

Thirdly...

North Carolina -3 vs. Virginia Tech: I may be out of my mind for continuing to pick ACC games, but I really think Virginia Tech continues to be over-rated.

The Hokies are 2-1 (1-0) with victories over Furman and Georgia Tech after a season-opening loss to East Carolina. This team has all kinds of issues deciding on their quarterback, and their usually stout special teams have been sketchy so far this year.

North Carolina is 2-0 (0-0) after destroying Rutgers on the road last week. That got people's attention very quickly. Now it's time for head coach Butch Davis to show people whether his program's for real or not.

3 points isn't much to give at home, and I can easily see UNC winning by a touchdown or more. So let's give the 3 and take the 'Heels!

Finally...

It's time for The Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week:

Florida -7.5 @ Tennessee: Sorry Jon... but I have to do it.

It's been a tale of 2 games for the Vols. A major upset on the road at UCLA and then home to crush Alabama-Birmingham. So which is the real Tennessee? We should have a better idea after Saturday.

Meanwhile the Gators have had 2 weeks to prepare for their first road contest of the year. They're rested and healthy. And it sounds like they're ready to turn uber-frosh Percy Harvin loose against the Vols defense.

Tough to give up nearly 8 on the road in a rivalry game. But I think Florida rolls here.

There's your picks for this week. I'm back tomorrow with the usual Friday goodness. Until then, thanks for reading!

Baseball Notes & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

It's the middle of the week for most of you. But for me it's Friday baby! These are my first non-illness-inspired days off since the Fair/RNC and I can't wait to not work! Okay, okay, I won't rub it in. I dearly hope the rest of the week goes smoothly for the rest of you. But not too fast. I want to enjoy my time off as much as I can.

To wit, I fully intend to get my regular Thursday Picks Column and Friday Column up as per usual. The plan right now is to have them up earlier than usual actually since I have plans Thursday and Friday afternoon. But you know what they say about "the best laid plans". So we'll see. One way or the other, I'll get them up there though. Count on that!

With that, let's get to today's docket. Today I'm going to run down a series of notes from the world of baseball. Then it's this week's Peek at the Picks. So let's get to it...

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."
- Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), Tuscan (Italian) physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher

Guy's got a point there doesn't he?


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Here's some random thoughts from the world of baseball:

Houston Whiners: There was a lot of sobbing coming out of the Astros clubhouse over the weekend. Because of Hurricane Ike, and the necessity of playing the games, two games from the Cubs/Astros series were moved from Houston to Miller Park in Milwaukee. Houston manager Cecil Cooper so objected to playing a "home game" in a park that was 90 miles from Chicago, that he sent his team out in their "road" uniforms in protest of the situation.

My thought? Shut up and play. Miller Park didn't no-hit you in the first game. And the fine citizens of Milwaukee didn't 1-hit you in the second game. I think Cooper made such a stink about it leading into those games that he basically psyched his team out. And it may have cost them their shot at the playoffs.

And even if you think the Astros are justified in their griping, they're upset at the wrong person. Houston owner Drayton McLane had to approve this move. These were his games. There's no way that Bud Selig could force the Astros to move those games without McLane's approval.

Houston, you created your own problem. Ya dopes...

Next...

Target Field: The Minnesota Twins have announced the name of their new ballpark set to open in April of 2010. Target Field. Color me underwhelmed. Intellectually, it makes a ton of sense. Target Corporation is a strong Minnesota-based company that has strong ties to the community. Plus Target also has the naming-rights to the Timberwolves arena (Target Center) which is located in close proximity to Target Field. So there are all kinds of synergistic opportunities with the two facilities.

But anyone who knows me, knows I was campaigning for another name. I wanted it to be called "Best Buy Ballpark". Obviously I'm a sucker for alliteration, so that scratches my grammatical itch nicely. Plus Best Buy is also a strong local company with plenty of community service that would jive nicely with what the Twins are looking for.

But mostly, I wanted the term "ballpark" in the name. I think it's important to distinguish this facility from the multi-purpose "stadiums" we've had here in the past. I think fans are going to be blown away by the experience of being in a baseball-only facility (or in the case of the U of M's TCF Bank Stadium, a football-only facility). That's something we've never had here in Minnesota. At least not at the major-professional level. Met Stadium in Bloomington was designed for both the Vikings and the Twins. The HHH Metrodome was designed for both of them as well. Plus it hosted the Gophers, Timberwolves, College Basketball Tournaments and hundreds of other events. But Target Field is baseball-specific, even if the name doesn't quite make that clear. I wish they would've made that more distinct.

The other name possibility that I had started to warm up to was "Land O' Lakes Field". Not as good as the "B", but I liked the idea of being able to say, "Let's go to The Lake" and mean you were going to a ballgame. But as Sports Take reader Rob in Milwaukee pointed out, the acronym would be L.O.L. which in text-messaging parlance means "laugh out loud" which would not go over well if the team found itself in a slump!

So Target Field it is. Eh. I don't hate it. And I'm sure I'll get used to it. But it wasn't what I was hoping for.

Thirdly...

Ned Yost Fired: Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers made the unprecedented move of firing their manager while they're tied for a playoff spot in September. Like most folks, I'm not terribly upset by the move because I had no great love for Yost's managerial skills. I am however puzzled by the timing of the move. If you were going to make this move, shouldn't it have been a month ago when interim manager Dale Svuem would have had some time to settle into the job? Now he's down to 11 games or so left and he's got to get this thing turned around in time to save the season. Not good.

Brewer's GM Doug Melvin is taking the company line and saying this was a decision he and owner Mark Attanasio made together. Horse-hockey I say. Melvin's been a good baseball guy for far too long. There's no way he doesn't see this as the "too little, too late" move that it is. This is a panic move by an owner who's seeing his club choke away a playoff berth for the second year in a row and wants to be seen as trying to save it.

Kudos to Ned Yost who's taken the high road (copyright Dennis Green) in his post-dismissal comments. While he acknowledges his disagreement with the decision to let him go, he's been nothing but complimentary of the players, organization and fans in Milwaukee. It may be a calculated move on his part, but it's a smart move and will likely land him another managerial opportunity sooner than later.

I hate to say it Brewer fans. But there is such a thing as "baseball karma" and a move like this isn't likely to bring you the good kind. You're now a 1/2-game behind the Mets for the Wild Card. Not good... not good.

Finally today it's time for this week's Peek at the Picks segment where I compare my pre-season picks to the current MLB standings. Do I really have to do this to myself? I've done it all year, so it's time to stand up and taking my whipping like a man! (Mommy... help!)

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies, 84-67 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 1/2 Game Back)
Yeesh... The Mets have tanked as of late, while the Phils are on a roll. Philly's won 7 of their last 10 including their last 5 in a row. That's the run you go on when you want to take control of your playoff destiny. Some teams are doing that. Others aren't. (No, that's not a shot at you Milwaukee... Minnesota? You should be listening.) The East is far from decided however. Philly's Magic Number: 12.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 91-58 (DP: Cubs)
This one's almost in the bag. The Brewers have gone into "Titanic" mode. The Astros are too busy whining about where they're playing to actually get a hit. And everybody else in the division's been cooked since mid-August. The Cubs ought to clinch by early next week at the very latest. Chicago's Magic Number: 4.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers, 79-72 (DP: Arizona Diamondbacks, 4.5 GB)
I'll give the Snakes credit. They've won 2 in a row and are trying to pull out of the swoon that has put their playoff chances on life-support. 12 games is an awfully short time to make up a 4.5 game deficit though. But if you have to be chasing a team from that far back, the Dodgers are the best one to have to chase. Considering the start the D'backs had though, and the moves they've made to try and shore up their weaknesses, manager Bob Melvin had better hope they do make up that deficit. Or he may need to dust off that resume. L.A.'s Magic Number: 8.

NL Wildcard: New York Mets, 83-67 (DP: Dodgers, 4.5 GB)
Does it count if the Mets make the playoffs even if they don't win their division? Probably not. And it wouldn't much matter. 2 of 8 isn't much more impressive than 1 of 8. Oof. The Brewers are only a 1/2-game behind the Mets, so they're not out of it. But it isn't looking good in Milwaukee. Not good at all. Mets' Magic Number: 12.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 89-60 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 1 GB)
To all those folks who said that Boston was about to overtake the Rays and that it was really okay because the Rays would still have a huge lead in the Wild Card race? Shut up! Don't think for a second that it's not important for the Rays to win the division. Not only does it prove that they can beat (not just contend with, but beat) the big boys in the East. But it also means that they'll host the AL Central winner. That's a vast improvement over travelling to meet the Angels. So don't expect Tampa to let up off the gas for one second until they've sealed the deal in the East. Tampa's Magic Number: 12.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 84-66 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 14 GB)
The Twins have slipped to 2.5 games behind the White Sox and are perilously close to falling out of contention. No, 2.5 games isn't insurmountable, but if the White Sox play .500 ball in their last 12 games, the Twins would have to go 9-2 in their last 11 to pass them. You see where the math starts to get tricky this late in the season. There's still a 3-game series between the two clubs next week. But if Chicago maintains this lead, that forces the Twins to sweep. And that's not a likely scenario. Suddenly, I'm depressed. Chicago's Magic Number: 10.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 92-58 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 35 GB)
Still the best team in baseball, the Angels have long-since clinched their playoff spot. Francisco Rodriguez has broke the season-saves record. And now it's just a matter of staying healthy and figuring out who's coming to L.A. for October. The important thing, of course, is whether anyone wins the "How many games back will Seattle finish" contest. There are a couple of contenders left. Only a couple weeks left til we find out!!!

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox, whom I hate, 89-62 (DP: Cleveland Indians, 15 GB)
Damn you Cleveland! You have no shot at anything this year, but instead of rolling over and letting the Twins catch the White Sox, you beat the bejabbers out of them. You're not the Red Sox (whom I hate) but you're not far off at this point! Curse you all! Okay. Deep breath. I'll be okay. Boston, whom I hate, has a Magic Number of 5.

So 1 of 8, huh? Wow. This baseball prediction stuff is harder than I thought. Thank God, I'm above .500 in my college football picks, huh?!

Shut up, I have to cling to something!

That's all for today folks. Like I said, I'll be back tomorrow with my college picks, and hopefully earlier than usual. Until then, thanks so much for reading!

Monday

Announcement, Week 3 Post-Mortem & ST Mailbag


Hello again everybody...

It's the start of another work-week and I hope you had a good weekend. Mine was excellent, as you're about to read (*cough* 3-1 *cough*). Plus I've got a short week this week as I have some vacation time coming, so you'll get no complaints from me!

Before we get to the main body of the column today, I have an announcement to make. Now that we're starting to get into the meat of the college football season, it's time for the debut of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. That's right, we're going to have our very own poll, the AP and ESPN/USA Today be damned! I've spoken to some of you privately to gauge your interest, but there may be some of you that I haven't reached yet that would be interested in becoming a voter. It's terribly simple. All you have to do is let me know you're interested and I'll email you a ballot on Monday, which you'll need to return to me by Wednesday. The poll results will be released with the picks on Thursdays.

So if you want to be a voter, send me an email by Monday at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

For the rest of today's column, I'll be conducting the Week 3 Picks Post-Mortem, and then be answering another of your questions in the Sports Take Mailbag. So let's get to it!

"In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress."
- John Adams (1735 - 1826), second President of the United States.

Adams was a fascinating curmudgeon. And this sums his attitude up pretty well. Oh and by the way, he was the lawyer that defended the British soldiers charged after the Boston Massacre. And he was also one of the founding members of the Continental Congress. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin...


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Starting us off this week it's time for the Week 3 College Football Picks Post-Mortem!

USC -10.5 vs. Ohio State: Final Score - USC 35, OSU 3

This one went nearly exactly how I figured. Star Buckeye RB Beanie Wells didn't play (which you'll recall I predicted). And the Ohio State offense was extremely ineffective as a result. Todd Boeckman is a serviceable quarterback, but when you're relying on him to win you a football game, you've got problems. And freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor certainly has the potential to become a dynamic play-maker, but he wasn't going to be able to get it done against USC's defense in only his third game.

Meanwhile, USC QB Mark Sanchez was efficient and accurate. After a bit of a spotty start, he and the USC offense got into a rhythm and moved the ball nearly at will against OSU's defense. And what kind of superlatives can accurately describe the play of the USC defense? Granted, I just called the OSU offense quite ordinary. But to only give up 3 points to a team that played in the National Championship last year? That's impressive.

What Dan Learned: Not much honestly. This one went pretty much to form. OSU's highly over-rated without Wells and USC's one of the best teams in the country.

1-0 and looking good.

Next...

East Carolina -13 @ Tulane: Final Score - ECU 28, Tulane 24.

Woops. Sports Take reader Lon in Forest Lake said it best: "13 points is too much to cover". Especially when you're an emerging team on the road.

(Unrelated Aside: Word has just made it to the Sports Take offices that the Milwaukee Brewers have fired manager Ned Yost. Apparently losing 7 of 10 in a late-season Wild Card race will do that. Ouch. More on this Wednesday.)

I didn't see the game, so I can't talk too much about the specifics, only that the Pirates had to make a late-game comeback to earn the win. So ECU goes to 3-0 and retains their status as a potential BCS Buster.

What Dan Learned: No matter how anemic Tulane's offense looked against Alabama, I can't give up 13 points when taking a team like ECU that relies as much on heart and good coaching as it does on talent. At least when they're on the road that is!

1-1. .500, thy name is Sports Take. Oof.

Thirdly...

Notre Dame +2 vs. Michigan: Final Score - ND 35, Michigan 17.

This was a lot uglier than the score would indicate. I only saw bits and pieces of the game, but there was something like 6 turnovers by the Wolverines 4 of which turned into Notre Dame touchdowns. Ouch.

For those Michigan fans out there, I'd love to point out that it was raining most of the afternoon in South Bend, and that had a lot to do with the ball-protection issues, but it rained on the Irish sideline too, and they managed not to put the ball on the ground as much as Michigan. Sorry Hammer, I tried.

What Dan Learned: This was my "home field matters" pick of the week. And it held up. Because honestly, if this game was in Michigan, I'm not sure the score wouldn't have been exactly reversed. There's no way anyone can really argue that the Irish are 18 points better than the Wolverines at this point. Michigan had a bad day to be sure. But it's a lot easier to have a bad day on the road than it is at home.

2-1... please Georgia Tech... I'll root for you the rest of the year if you get me to 3-1!!!

Finally, it's the Sports Take Flyer Pick of the Week:

Georgia Tech +6.5 @ Virginia Tech: Final Score - Va Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17.

Yes! We did it! The Yellowjackets had this game tied late at 17 and as I told Sports Take reader Josh in Shoreview, "We're rooting for field goals!!!" And it worked out. The 6.5 we were getting was enough to get us the win.

Again, I didn't get to see any of this game, so I can't give you much in the way of details. I'm just gonna be happy with the win.

What Dan Learned: Sometimes you can bet on a road dog. You just have to be sure that the team they're playing is struggling and the team you're betting on has it in them to surprise people. It worked this week anyway!

So that's 3-1 this week and 7-5 on the year. Those of you who were with me last year know how astounding this is. Those that weren't? Just take my word for it. This is an amazing turn-around from a tough season last year. I only hope I can keep it rolling. Please God? Please let me keep it rolling?

Finally today, it's this week's version of The Sports Take Mailbag. This week's question comes from Mary in Plymouth:

"What the heck is with the Gophers? Is this a sign of the apocalypse?"

What Mary (a proud Badger fan) is referencing is that the U of M Golden Gopher football team has experienced a Sports Take-like turn-around from their 1-11 season last year and are 3-0 as they go into their last non-conference tilt of the year this week against Florida Atlantic.

No Mary, we aren't experiencing the End of Days just because the Gophers are beating teams they ought to beat.

But it is a marked improvement from what was a dismal year last year. So what's the difference? A couple of things I think.

First of all, I think head coach Tim Brewster has a much more realistic idea of what he faces running a program like Minnesota than he did last year. Part of what got Brewster the job in the first place is the sheer force of his personality. There's no question that Brewster can sell it. The question is whether he can coach it or not. And I don't think we've had that sufficiently answered. At least not yet.

But there's been a distinct downgrade in the hype that was coming from the head coaches office this season. While it's true that there's still a piece of "Rose Bowl Turf" growing in the Gopher locker room, you don't hear hear the cries of, "Why not this year" that were being tossed around last year.

And before you can turn a corner with a program, you have to have a realistic idea of what you've got and who you are. It seems to me Coach Brewster has a much better grasp on that this year.

The other reason is that they've upgraded some talent. It's been highly publicized that big time recruits like Sam Maresh and Marquise Gray aren't available to the Gophers this year for various reasons. But Brewster brought in a bevy of junior college transfers to try and upgrade the speed and talent on his team. And it seems to be working.

To a point.

Remember, the Gophers have beaten Northern Illinois, Bowling Green and Montana State. Granted Bowling Green beat a 25th-ranked Pittsburgh in Week 1. And beating them on the road was impressive given where the Gopher program has been. Eventually, that's a win you should expect to get, but nobody who watched that 1-11 squad last year could realistically have automatically chalked this game up as a win. But NIU is not a good program and Montana State is an FCS team (the division formerly known as I-AA).

So 3-0 is 3-0, sure. But if they get to 3-0 in the Big Ten, given that Ohio State and Illinois are 2 of their first 3 conference games, then we can start worrying about brushing up on the Book of Revelations!

Thanks for the question Mary. Remember, if you want your question to make it into the Mailbag, drop me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

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