Friday

5-29-09: DFTU & Stanley Cup Finals

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the end of another week. I know this has been short for most of us due to the Memorial Day holiday, but it still feels good to arrive at the end, doesn't it?

Hopefully you have some fun stuff planned for this weekend. I don't have anything on the docket as of yet. That generally means I'll come up with a sizable list of things I should do, but won't. This is one of the many reasons that it's better that I don't own a house. I'm a man of inertia ladies and gentlemen. Get me going, and I can do just fine. It's the getting going that's the trick!

Today's column is the usual weekly version of the DFTU. Plus, if you're *really* good readers, I might have the Hammer's final predictions for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs! I'll give you a hint. The Red Wings are in the Finals, and Hammer really likes them.

Off we go...

"It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues."
- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865), 16th President of the United States


I love this quote for several reasons. On it's face, it's very true. But it also has resonance from a historical perspective. Lincoln's been so mythologized and hero-worshiped, that it's easy to forget he was a human being with plenty of flaws. There's a movement in Minnesota right now to overturn a law signed by Lincoln in 1863 that banned Dakota Indians from the state. Sure, overturning it is largely symbolic at this point, but it goes to show you that not everything Lincoln signed turned out to be the Emancipation Proclamation. Even "Honest Abe" swung and missed once in a while.

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It's Friday and that means that it's time for your weekly fix. You've waited patiently all week to get it, and now I'm here to provide for you, my people! It's time once again for...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 24-25, tied for second place in the AL Central, 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

Speaking of the standings, a couple of people have asked about my "Peek at the Picks" columns from last year. Yes, I intend to bring those back (though not on a weekly basis). And not only am I going to bring them back, but I'm adding a formula that accounts for all the picks, not just the division leaders - try to control your excitement! Anyway, look for that next week.

For this week, it's hard to know how to feel about the Twins. On the one hand, they're coming off of a 5-2 home stand which included a sweep of the Brewers over the weekend. Hard to feel bad about that.

And then there's the continued ascendancy of our favorite Baby Jesus, Joe Mauer. Over the last week, I've been accused of having a man-crush and of trying to start a bromance with Joe. I know I've been gushing, but it's hard not to given what he's been doing. He was named AL Player of the Week last week, and if he doesn't win the Player of the Month award for May, I'll be shocked.

This week, I'll limit my extolling of his virtues to a quick look at his stat line:

.407 BA, .496 OBP, .824 SLG, 1.320 OPS, 11 HR, 32 RBI

Coming back down to earth a touch, but still amazing numbers. I'll give you one stat by way of comparison. The league average for OPS? .756. Having a OPS that's nearly twice the league average? Yeah, that's pretty good.

So that's the good. Now the not-so-good:

2-5, 2-6, 7-1, 4-2 and 1-3.

Those are the records of Minnesota's starting rotation. Take out Kevin Slowey's 7-1 record and the combined record of the 4 other pitchers who began the year in the rotation is 9-16.

Yeesh.

I heard a reliable baseball pundit say at the beginning of the year that he wondered if the youth of the Twins' staff would take a step back after having their first extended experience in the big leagues. That certainly seems to be playing itself out on some level.

But all's not lost. Rookie call-up Anthony Swarzak has been outstanding in his first two big league starts. Mind you, that's only two starts and the advance scouts haven't gotten a chance to break him down yet. But it's encouraging to know that the team will have options once Glen Perkins comes back from the disabled list.

I don't think it's time to panic over the starters by any means. Given some time, I fully expect guys like Baker and Liriano to come around. They had better anyway. It's not like the Twins are in a position to trade for a front-line starter. You might be able to snag a guy who'd work at the back end of your rotation, but if Baker and/or Liriano aren't anchoring things for you, it's going to be tough for this team to make the post-season.

The Twins are on the road this weekend, visiting the cavernous confines of Tropicana Field in Tampa for 3 games. The Rays aren't playing at the level they did last year, but the Trop has been a house of horrors in the past for the Twins. And given their performance on the road so far this year, I'm not brimming with optimism. Then next week, the Twins begin June with a mini-home stand against Cleveland before heading out for their first West Coast trip of the year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 21-27, in fourth place in the AL West and 12.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

It just struck me. The Diamondbacks are 2.5 games behind the Twins if you compare their records. Yet the Twins are considered viable contenders and the Snakes are considered just this side of cooked.

Amazing what a little perspective will do, isn't it?

I was *really* hoping that losing Manny would bring the Dodgers back to the pack. Not so much. 5-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing Juan Pierre has stepped in and the Dodgers haven't missed a beat. Pierre's hitting .407 with 20 RBI, with the bulk of his action having come since Manny was suspended. It's awfully tough to compete in a division with a juggernaut like that leading it. Especially when it's a juggernaut with a team ERA of 3.72, second best in the National League.

Okay, let's try and find some positives, shall we?

Arizona's 6-4 in their last 10. That's at least turning in the right direction. And Dan Haren's still having an outstanding season. His record's only 4-4. But that's more indicative of a lack of run support than of his contributions. His ERA is 2.54. That's definitely above average. But if you really want to know how locked in he's been, look at his strikeout to walk numbers. So far this year, he's struck out 71 batters and walked only 9. 8-to-1?! Amazing. If Arizona was scoring runs for him, Haren would be right at the top of the NL Cy Young list.

So far, he hasn't been getting that run support. Though to give the boys credit, they got 5 for him last night against Atlanta's Derrick Lowe - no slouch himself. I hate to point to one game and say "look, they're turning things around", but there are enough positive signs to cling to some optimism.

Justin Upton has started hitting of late. He's currently batting .346 with 9 home runs and 29 RBI. Filipe Lopez has been solid all year at the top of the line-up. And though Mark Reynolds is still striking out at an alarming rate, when he *does* make contact, the ball tends to fly a long way. He leads the team with 13 home runs.

One last note. It just crossed the wire that the Colorado Rockies have fired manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with bench coach Jim Tracy. I'm going to have to do some research, but that has to be the earliest two teams in the same division have replaced their skippers in a single year. Feast or Famine? Thy name is NL West!

Arizona continues their four game set with the Braves over the weekend before heading up to take on the division leading Dodgers for three starting Monday. After that it's off to San Diego for some sun, surf and baseball. Not bad, huh?

That's your DFTU for this week. But we're not done here at The Sports Take. Oh no. Guest-columnist, the Hammer, has been bringing you his NHL Playoff predictions for several weeks now. And his success rate has been commensurate with what you'd expect from ST predictions. To whit, he went 1-1 in the Conference Finals. And that leads us to the Stanley Cup Finals. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Hammer...

What started with sixteen teams a month and a half ago has now been reduced to two teams, Detroit & Pittsburgh, who have earned the right to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. If you recall two weeks ago I gave you my predictions for the conference finals. In the West I predicted Detroit in 5 over Chicago and I hit the nail on the head. In the East, not so much. I predicted Carolina in seven only to watch Pittsburgh break out the brooms and sweep the Canes in four. That leaves my record for the post-season at 8-6 so I am guaranteed a winning record in the post-season. If you think I am going to stop there you are mistaken. I’ve come this far, it’s only right I give you my prediction for the Stanley Cup Finals. The best way for me to do that is to go to the tale of the tape.


Forwards:

Pittsburgh has the most dangerous one-two punch in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and both have played well this post-season. Detroit’s two best forwards are Henrik Zetteberg & Pavel Datsyuk. Zetteberg has been good this post-season while Datsyuk has had trouble finding the back of the net. That being said Detroit’s forwards have done a great job stepping up and scoring goals for the Red Wings. Because of their depth I give the edge to Detroit.
Edge: Red Wings


Defensemen:

Pittsburgh’s best defenseman Sergei Gonchar has battled a knee injury since the Penguins game 7 win over Washington. Detroit’s best defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has missed the last two games with a lower body injury. The health of these two players may determine who wins this series. As for the rest of the defenseman in this series, Rob Scuderi & Brooks Orpik have played well for Pittsburgh while Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart & Niklas Kronwall have been good as usual for Detroit. Detroit’s depth on defense gives them the edge here.
Edge: Red Wings


Goaltending:

I am a firm believer that the team with the better goaltending wins the Stanley Cup. This year is no different. Marc-Andre Fleury was the number one pick overall by Pittsburgh in 2003 and he has lived up to that status playing brilliantly in the last two post-seasons. A lot of people, myself included, thinks it is only a matter of time before he wins a Stanley Cup. Detroit’s Chris Osgood has been solid as usual in net for the Red Wings. Of course it helps to have Nicklas Lidstrom playing in front of you. While Osgood has not been spectacular he doesn’t need to be. All he has to do is be solid in net, make the easy saves and let the team do the rest. I think Fleury is on his way to being an elite goaltender but right now I like Osgood better. When in doubt take the guy with the Rings
Edge: Red Wings but it’s close


Power Play:

Crosby and Malkin with a man advantage, I’m scared to even think about it. Detroit has a good Power Play also but the thought of Crosby & Malkin together on the ice gives them a slight edge for a reason you will see below.
Edge: Penguins


Penalty Kill:

Detroit had gone 14 games in a row giving up a Power play goal before game five against Chicago. They are 14th in Penalty kill this post-season. They will need to be better against Pittsburgh. The Penguins have been good this post-season on the penalty kill. The numbers don’t lie.
Edge: Penguins


Coaching:

Since 2003, Detroit’s Mike Babcock has the best winning percentage in the postseason and has coached in two Stanley Cup Finals winning one in 2008. Pittsburgh’s coach Dan Blysma has been behind the bench since early March.
Edge: Red Wings


Home Ice advantage:

Pittsburgh’s crowds have been great this post-season. Any crowd that does a white-out (obligatory tribute to the Winnipeg Jets) should be appreciated by a true hockey fan. Detroit, which goes by the name Hockeytown, has been hit hard by the recession and sales for tickets have been slow. However sellouts are being reported for Games 1, 5, and 7.
Advantage: Push; there are no winners here.


Prediction:

If you think I am going to be completely biased and pick the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup, you’re right. I am going to pick the Red Wings. However I will say this, if Nicklas Lidstrom is hurt and misses any games that gives the Penguins a huge edge. That being said, I’m still picking the Wings.
Winner: Detroit in 6 games


So there you have it folks. The Hammer picks Detroit in a repeat of last year's finals. Personally, I think this might be Pittsburgh's year. They've got a ton of talent, and they earned their stripes in last year's finals. I'm not rooting against the Hammer's club mind you. I just think that when you combine Crosby and Malkin's talent with the experience they got last year, they're going to be tough to beat.

That's all for this week. I hope you all have a fun and safe weekend. I'm back on Monday with another Mailbag and hopefully we'll be peeking at some picks next week as well.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

5-27-09: Twins/Sox RGC

Hello again everybody...

Hope you all had a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. Mine was quite relaxing and lots of fun. Not *quite* as much fun as I'd hoped, but that couldn't be helped. I'll explain why.

As I promised last week, today you get the return of the Sports Take Running Game Commentary. I attended Game 1 of the 4-game series between the Twins and the Red Sox (whom I hate) on Monday. I took notes and put together the RGC to let you relive the experience with me.

Let's get to the gettin...

"It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes."
- Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001), English author, dramatist and musician


Adams is probably best known as the author of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. I haven't read it, but plenty of my friends swear by it. I have no idea if the quote is from the series or not. But it was sufficiently random enough to amuse me. So there you go.

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As I stated, today's column is my RGC from the Twins game versus the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). I hesitated to follow through with this idea, since if the Red Sox (whom I hate) beat the Twins, it could turn out rather tragically. Some of you might get a little worried once I started questioning the usefulness of there being life on this planet. But I decided to give it a go and hope for the best.

Let's see how it turned out, shall we?

Twins vs. Red Sox (whom I hate), May 25th, 2009

Pregame

- The seats we had were pretty good. Section 125, row 33, which turned out to be the row immediately in front of the press box. Fortunately Sid Hartman was sitting far enough away that there wasn't much chance of getting spilled on. Many of you won't get that joke, but the few that do are smiling right now, trust me.

- Two problems in the pregame: the burger I had tasted like it'd be cooked sometime during the Ford administration. And I realized once we sat down that I was quite literally surrounded by Red Sox (whom I hate) fans. I'm not sure which was worse, the guy two rows down who actually had a Red Sox (whom I hate) lawn gnome that he kept trying to get on camera, or the "I play softball, so that makes me a ballplayer" guy who was sitting directly in front of me. This could be a long game...

- The game pitted Francisco Liriano for the Twins versus Brad Penny for the Red Sox (whom I hate). Two line-up notes: Baby Jesus (aka Joe Mauer) is getting a day off, and David Ortiz (aka Big (steroid) Papi) is also getting a day off. Mauer has played something like 20 of the last 21 games and got hit by a pitch last night, so his absence is understandable. Papi can't hit sand falling off a camel lately, so his absence is also understandable.

Let's play ball!

Top of the First

- Our first look at 'Cisco on the hill. He fans Jacoby Ellsbury to start things off. Looking good.

- Then 2008 MVP Dustin Pedroia hits a duck fart (copyright Dan Gladden) into right field for a base hit. Not as good.

- 'Cisco comes back to get Kevin Youklis to fly out and Jason Bay to strike out, and strands that duck on the pond. Solid start.

Bottom of the First

- One other line-up note I missed. OF Denard Span isn't feeling well, so Carlos Gomez (aka Go-Go) gets the start in center and leads off the game for the Twins. Turns out Carlos managed to get himself stuck in a revolving door on the way into the park today, and banged his head bad enough to require two stitches to close a cut. I swear I'm not making this up. He cut his head going through a revolving door. That's it, for the rest of the day, we're calling him "Stitches".

- Stitches flies out to kick things off, and the Twins go quietly in the first.

Top of the Second

- 3B Mike Lowell leads off with a single and that's followed by a DH Rocco Baldelli double and suddenly I'm nervous for 'Cisco.

- A Varitek K, Bailey K and Lugo K later, the Twins are out of the inning and I'm back to feeling good about Liriano's chances.

Bottom of the Second

- DH Jason Kubel leads off with a fly-out. I know he had the flu or something last week, but it feels like he's tailed off quite a bit lately.

- RF Michael Cuddyer jumps on a Penny fastball and knocks it into the left field seats. Nice! 1-0 Twins. Cuddyer hit for the cycle (single, double, triple and home run in the same game) on Friday night. It took me .0002 seconds to copyright the term: "Cuddycyle". Be jealous.

- 3B Brian Busher strikes out and C Mike Redmond grounds out to end the inning.

Top of the Third

- CF Jacoby Ellsbury leads off with a single, but is promptly picked off by Francisco as he tries to steal second.

- 2B Dustin Pedroia singles. If this guy was on any other team, he'd be one of my favorite players. Talk about making the most of your abilities. Dammit, why does he have to be a Red Sox (whom I hate)?!

- 3B Kevin Youklis doubles sending Pedroia to third. Why are people booing? Oh god no... they're "Yooooooooook"-ing. Come on people! Not in the Dome! I'm ill.

- LF Jason Bay doubles in Pedroia and Yoooooooklis. I'm quickly reminded how much of Red Sox (whom I hate) Nation surrounds me. Let's see, a Taser couldn't neutralize them all... hrrrmmm...

- DH Mike Lowell singles in Bay and suddenly it's 3-1 Red Sox (whom I hate). Umm 'Cisco? Maybe you want to get somebody out here? I'm just sayin...

- Baldelli strikes out and Varitek flies out to end the inning. And kudos to Stitches on the Varitek fly out. Gomez sprinted back to the wall and crashed into it as he appeared to take a home run away from Varitek. I'm not 100% sure it would've cleared the wall, but even if it wouldn't have, it was still a stellar play by Stitches. 3-1 Red Sox (whom I hate) after two and a half.

Top of the Fourth

- After and uneventful bottom of the 3rd, 'Cisco gets two quick outs in the fourth. Things are good, right?

- Ellsbury singles. Not good. Pedroia singles. Dammit, he's good. Yoooooooklis doubles them both in. Crap, crap, crap, crap. It's 5-1 Sox (whom I hate), and that burger tastes really bad the second time around.

- Bay mercifully pops out to end the inning.

Top of the Fifth

- So why do I keep skipping the Twins' at-bats? I'm not going to make you suffer as I suffered. I like you people too much for that.

- Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey comes on for the Twins. Not a good outing for 'Cisco, but maybe the boys can rally behind Dickey! Wow, that sounded dirty.

- Lowell singles to lead off the inning and I'm audibly growling now.

- Baldelli and Varitek fly out. Okay, not as bad.

- Somebody named Jeff Bailey gets hit by a knuckleball and has the temerity to shoot Dickey a dirty look on his way to first. Okay, first of all, you're Jeff Bailey. Nobody knows who you are, so shut up. Secondly, you got hit by a knuckleball. My 5-year old nephew can hit harder than a knuckleball. So shut up and take your base, ya pansy.

- Lugo grounds into a fielder's choice, and Dickey gets out of the inning. It's still 5-1 Red Sox (whom I hate). Dammit.

Bottom of the 5th

- Buscher flies out to lead off the inning. I'm not saying Brian is a bad guy, but he's quickly becoming the leading candidate for the "What the hell is this guy doing on our roster" award. Not good.

- Redmond follows with a double. Okay boys, rally time!

- Delmon Young strikes out. Maybe not so much with the rally.

- I just noticed that Varitek is wearing catching gear with some sort of camouflage design on it. I know it's Memorial Day and all, and I don't want to seem disrespectful, but camo tools of ignorance? Really?! Yeesh.

- My brother's favorite player (sarcasm alert) Nick Punto grounds out to end the inning. Still 5-1 Sox (whom I hate).

Top of the Sixth

- Ellsbury grounds out.

- Pedroia rips a line drive to right-center, and charging out of nowhere to make a diving catch? That's right, Stitches strikes again! Maybe Gomez should bang his head every day, apparently it results in some impressive defense!

- Yoooooklis pops out to end the inning. Yes, it's still 5-1 Sox (whom I hate), and I'm sick of typing that. The 5-1 part, not the (whom I hate) mind you.

Bottom of the Sixth

- Stitches follows his amazing defense with a double and moves to third on a throwing error by Ellsbury. Yep, we need to bang Gomez's head every day before the game.

- The press box announces that today's attendance is 27, 636. I'd like to congratulate Twins fans on a solid number, only I know that the Nation has buoyed that stat. I'm vexed.

- At exactly 3pm central time, every Major League game in progress stops to honor our fallen veterans with a moment of remembrance on Memorial Day. Very cool.

- After a Tolbert K, Justin Morneau announces his presence with authority (copyright Nuke LaLoosh) and cranks a double to score Stitches. Okay, now it's rally time!

- Kubel follows with an RBI of his own, singling in Morneau. 5-3 Sox (whom I hate). We're back in it baby!

- That chases Penny from the game, and Ramon Ramirez enters to face the Cuddycycle. Cuddy grounds into a fielder's choice.

- Buscher grounds out to first and just like that, the rally is snuffed out.

Seventh Inning Stretch

- A 96-year-old former Marine strangles a cat to the tune of "God Bless America" and nobody cares. Thanks for your service, sir.

Top of the Eighth

- Somebody named Jeff Bailey exacts his revenge for being hit by cranking an R.A. Dickey fastball out to left field for a home run. Should've hit him with another knuckler. Putz.

- Lugo and Ellsbury fly out. Pedroia grounds out. First easy out he's produced all day. Dammit he's good!

- 6-3 Red Sox (whom I hate) and the Twins are running out of chances.

Bottom of the Eighth

- Hideki Okajima comes in to pitch to Stitches. And the music guy plays Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."?! A Japanese pitcher facing a batter from the Dominican, and you play the Boss?! The music guy either has a heightened sense of irony, or he's just plain not paying attention. Stitches flies out.

- Tolbert follows with a pop out. And then Morneau is called out on strikes on a pitch that might have been able to see the strike zone from where it passed the plate. Apparently the home plate umpire doesn't want to lose his reservation at Murray's.

- Still 6-3 Sox (whom I hate). I have to say, as annoying as the Nation has been during this game, I expected far worse. I have no idea what that portends. Am I softening? Nope, I still hate them.

Top of the Ninth

- Here go the communists. I'll never understand why people pay for nine innings and only stay for eight. Their choice I guess, but I hope the Twins come back in the 9th and screw them!

- Yooooklis strikes out looking. Make-up call? Perhaps...

- Bay and Lowell single back to back and I'm worried again.

- J.D. Drew comes on to hit for Baldelli and flies out to right. A Varitek ground-out later and we're out of the inning. Still 6-3 Red Sox (whom I hate).

Bottom of the Ninth

- Red Sox (whom I hate) closer Jonathan Papelbon is on to pitch. He might be the most hateable human being on the planet. Okay, you're right, Bin Laden and Jong-il are worse. How about the most hateable human being in the Western Hemisphere? I can live with that.

- Kubel leads off with a single. Yes! Rally-time again! Suck on that Paps!

- Cuddy strikes out looking. Dammit. Murray's called and they're definitely not holding that table!

- Brian Buscher steps to the dish. I know Baby Jesus is taking a day off, but wouldn't this be a good time for him to pinch-hit? Wait a minute. Who's that in the on-deck circle? It's a bird, it's a plane, IT'S THE BABY JESUS! Of course! Ron Gardenhire officially knows more than I do. Give Buscher a chance to get on and then Mauer can tie it! Well, unless Buscher grounds into a double play. Wait, why did I just think that?! I have to go punish my brain! Buscher flies out to center. Why is he on the roster again?

- Baby Jesus time. Well he can't tie it. BUT HE CAN STILL HIT A HOME RUN! Mauer crushes a Papelbon heater over the wall in right-center. I can't officially promote him to Adult Jesus until the All-Star break, but damn this is impressive! 6-5 Red Sox (whom I hate). Come on boys. We can do this!

- Delmon Young sees fastball and hits fastball. Deep to center. Way back, way back, caught on the warning track. Dammit. Ballgame. Sox (whom I hate) win 6-5.

Postgame

- It's hard to be too upset about the loss when we got to see greatness in the bottom of the ninth. And though it pains me to give them credit, the Nation wasn't nearly as annoying as they could've been.

- Does a better starting pitching performance give the Twins a win? Who knows. But the boys didn't give up and fought back to make it a nail-biter in the end. That's pretty much all you can ask.


So there's your Sports Take Running Game Commentary. Hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did. Or perhaps even a little more, since the sting of a loss to the Red Sox (whom I hate) still lingers.

That's all for today ladies and gents. I'm back on Friday with your usual heaping helping of DFTU goodness.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

5-22-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Hope you're enjoying your Friday. I'm writing from the home offices today because I managed to wrangle a couple of days off and turned Memorial Day weekend in to a mini-vacation!

But it's no vacation from you, my loyal readers. Well, mostly not anyway. The plans as currently constituted call for the enjoyment of some day baseball on Monday. So it's doubtful I'll have anything for you then. But an RGC based on that game is entirely a possibility, so it's not a total loss for you! Stay tuned!

Today it's time for your weekly dose of DFTU. Lots to talk about, so off we go...

"To err is human; to forgive, infrequent."
- Franklin P. Adams (1881 - 1960), American columnist


Ahhh, sarcasm. My old friend. All the same, I hope you'll forgive me taking the Monday holiday off! I'll make it up to you, I swear!

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It's that time once again. You've yearned for it. You've had the itch and been unable to scratch it. (Who have you been hanging around anyway?!) But now it's here. It's time for...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update:

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 19-23, in 3rd place in the AL Central and 5.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

Here was my quote from last week: "The Yanks have owned the Twins of late, so this series makes me nervous."

If you didn't understand what I meant then, do you understand it now?

Four games in New York turned into 4 losses, with 3 of them being of the "walk-off" variety for the Bombers; two of those in extra innings.

I have no idea why traveling to Gotham does such a mind-job on the Twins, but it clearly does. And unfortunately, the hangover lasted through the first two games in Chicago. The Twins ended up 1-6 on their road trip, and are clearly glad to be back in the friendly confines of the Metrodome.

That one win is worth talking about. In case you missed it, the Twins beat the White Sox 20-1 yesterday. No, that's not a typo. The Twins scored 20 runs on 20 hits. And in one of those little statistical oddities, yesterday's outburst meant that even though the Twins lost 6 0f 7 on the road, they actually outscored their opponents over the course of those 7 games.

I hate to keep singling him out, but Joe Mauer has been nothing short of sensational. He went 3 for 4 yesterday, with a homer (of the Grand Slam variety), 2 runs scored and 6 RBI. He's in the midst of a 14 game hitting streak. For the season now, he's hitting .417 with 8 homers and 24 RBI.

Furthermore, he's one homer away from tying his season total from last year, and is well over a quarter of the way to tying his RBI total... and he missed the entire month of April! I've been contemplating that fact since yesterday and still can't quite get my head around it. I've asked several people if there's ever been a player to miss the first month of the season and wind up winning the MVP. No one could think of any, but they universally agree that Mauer's on pace to do just that.

Look at the numbers: .417 batting average, .500 on-base percentage, .819 slugging percentage and 1.319 OPS! Those are sick, sick, sick numbers. I can't reasonably expect him to keep up that pace, but as talented as this guy is, who knows where he'll wind up?!

Let me just say it plainly. Right now, if you took a snap-shot of this moment in the season, Joe Mauer's the best player in baseball.

I know that sounds like hyperbole, but think about it. He plays arguably the most important position on the field. A position where defense is so key that teams will often allow their catcher to be sub-par offensively, so long as he's rock solid defensively. And I dare you to name a better defensive catcher in the league right now. Offensively, he's put up eye-popping numbers since his return. And if there was one weakness in his game, it was his lack of power. Well he's still hitting for average, and in the 3 weeks since his return, he's already moved into second place on the team for round-trippers.

Look, by the end of the season, will I be able to say he's the best player in the game? Maybe not. But right now, if you had to start a team with one player, is there anybody who brings more to the table than Baby Jesus?

(And quite frankly, if he keeps going this way, don't we have to promote him to Adult Jesus?)

The Twins' reward for their 20-run outburst yesterday? Hosting the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers for 3 over the weekend. Milwaukee's 26-15, having won 8 of their last 10. I said at the beginning of the year that I expected the Crew to take a step backwards because of their pitching. Instead, the pitching's outperformed anyone's expectations and the Crew are leading the NL Central by 2 games over the almost-as-surprising Cardinals.

Thankfully for the Twins, they miss Milwaukee Ace Yovanni Gallardo who pitched Wednesday night and will take the hill again on Monday. Tonight, Kevin Slowey (5-1, 4.50) assumes the mound for the Twins, squaring off against Manny Parra (3-4, 4.57). Tomorrow, it's Anthony Swarzak making his MLB debut for Minnesota versus Braden Looper (4-2, 4.26). And the finale on Sunday will be contested between Scott Baker (1-5, 6.98) and Dave Bush (3-0, 3.74). And that one's on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, so you can all tune in and catch the goodness!

After the conclusion of the first round of the "War on 94", the Twins host the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) for four games. That's the Memorial Day tilt I was talking about attending. Let's just say it'll either be the most celebratory RGC ever, or the most depressing. Either way, it ought to be damned entertaining!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 17-24, in 4th place in the NL West, and 11.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

I think the most remarkable thing about those numbers is that Colorado's actually worse! It's only a half-game mind you, but still!

Arizona's actually managed to go 5-5 in their last 10. Though when you're this far back, how good is "treading water" really? They've also managed to win 2 in a row in Miami. Which is no small feat, given the wildly varying weather conditions they've been subject to.

By the way, did anybody see those games? Or even highlights? Did you see all those empty seats at (I can't believe I'm going to type this) LandShark Stadium?! Jimmy Buffet Enterprises bought the naming rights to the stadium and named it after his LandShark Lager brand. I swear, I'm not making any of this up. Why he'd bother, I don't know, since it seems like there's nobody there to be marketed to. Thankfully the Marlins are getting a new ballpark. At least that way, if nobody shows, we don't have to have our retinas burned out by those neon orange empty seats.

But I digress...

The Snakes are still having all kinds of problems scoring runs (they're a -25 in run differential), but their pitching's hanging on to "middle-of-the-pack" numbers. Unfortunately, they reside in the same division as the team which leads the league in pitching and has a +74 run differential. Add those factors together and you get yourself a tidy lil' 11.5-game deficit.

Look, winning the division is all but out the window. At this point, Arizona's main focus has to be righting the ship. Things have clearly gone in the tank, and firing manager Bob Melvin hasn't done a whole lot to turn things around. That doesn't mean it was a bad idea. But whatever new manager A.J. Hinch's "vision" for the team is, it's going to take a while to achieve it.

I've talked in the past about the D'backs getting back to basics. And I still think that's the best way to turn things around. Forget about wins and losses for now (and looking at that record, why wouldn't you?), and use each game as an opportunity to work on things. Playing better defense, sacrificing to move runners over, hitting the other way to get them in. These are the traits that ultimately lead to winning baseball games. Focus on the small stuff, do that right, and do that right repeatedly, and the wins will come.

There's still a lot of baseball left to be played. And that means a lot of opportunities to start playing better baseball.

Tonight the Snakes start a 3-game inter-league series with the Oakland A's (oof, is there anyone east of the Rockies who'll be watching this series?!). After that Arizona finally returns home, facing the Padres for 3 starting Monday. These are winnable games D'backs fans. Let's hope the boys put a positive streak together!

(Wow, so that's how optimism feels?)

That's all for today. Like I said, probably no column on Monday. But I'll be back on Wednesday for sure, hopefully with a RGC for you!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

5-20-09: Mailbag & Links

Hello again everybody...

Somebody flipped the switch from May to July here in Minnesota. The forecast for yesterday was for highs in the mid-80's and we ended up setting a record high at 97. Woops.

Did I ever mention how glad I am that I gave up on the meteorology bit?

Today we get low 90's and gale-force winds. If you're not familiar with the "wind tunnel effect" in downtown Minneapolis, let's just say it's noticeable on a relatively calm day. On a day like today where the airport's measuring the current wind speed at 25 mph with gusts up to 46 mph, walking around downtown means taking risks with your life. For those of you who own small dogs, taking them for a walk today would turn into flying a canine kite in short order.

And thanks to the ceaseless construction downtown, the "wind-tunnel effect" turns into the "sand-based involuntary exfoliation effect", which is nice. And the grit left behind in your mouth doesn't have any distinctive flavor, so that's helpful. I just feel bad for people without glasses. I got stuff in my eyes as it is. Those poor schmucks have to really be suffering!

So does all this talk about my trials and travails getting into work mean I don't have much of a column today? Could be. After all, I haven't written it yet!

But I'll tell you what I know. I've been getting emails from you my loyal readers with links to stories relevant to the blog. So I've decided to start posting them here on the blog and tacking on a few thoughts of my own. Plus today I've got another edition of the Mailbag. So let's get to it!

"No man ever listened himself out of a job."
- Calvin Coolidge (1872 - 1933), 30th President of the United States


Yes, I'm responsible for 95% of the "talking" on the blog. But I like to think that I "listen" to you, my dear readers, as often as I can. And if I can incorporate your responses into my columns, all the better!

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First up today, we dip into the Sports Take Mailbag:

Today's question comes from Cathy in Maple Grove:

"Hi Dan,
I have a question for you. The other night, about midnight, there was a grand slam home run. Good way to end a long game! But they kept calling it a 'walk off' grand slam. What does the 'walk off' part mean? Love the blog! Keep it up!"


Thanks for the kind words Cathy.

For those of you not following the Twins all that closely, Cathy's referencing the Twins/Tigers tilt from May 14th when Joe Crede won the game for the Twins in the bottom of the 13th inning.

Simply put, a "walk off" play is any offensive play that ends a game. In Joe's case, he hit that home run, and his team "walked off" the field with the win.

Most of the time games are ended by the defense. A final fly out, ground out, strike out, etc. But if a home team breaks a tie in the bottom of the ninth (or in extra innings) or comes from behind in said situation to win the game, it's generally going to be on a "walk off" play.

Usually these plays are followed by a mobbing of the player who scored the winning run, or the player who got the winning hit, or often both. Once said player is mobbed, they're usually slapped on the head as a form of celebration. If you watch closely, a player who's just hit a walk-off home run will usually flip off their batting helmet as they approach the waiting mob at home plate. That's because their teammates will often slap their heads so hard that the helmet will slide down and cause more damage than it actually prevents.

(Aside: They're not brain surgeons people, they're ball players. These are the same people who think that a shaving-cream-pie-to-the-face or covering a guy's underwear with peanut butter is the height of comedy.)

But if they win it in the bottom of the 9th or the bottom of an extra-inning, wouldn't that always be a "walk off" play, Dan?

Excellent question readers!

No, not necessarily. Allow me to paint you a picture:

Say it's the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded and the meat-head on the mound walks in the winning run. That wouldn't be considered a "walk off walk" because the pitcher was the one causing the run to be scored. The batter was only involved insofar as taking the pitch. Not really an offensive play, so the "walk off" tag generally isn't used.

Likewise, passed balls, wild pitches and errors usually don't earn the "walk off" label.

Singles, doubles, triples, home runs and sacrifice flies are the plays that usually get "walk off" slapped on to them when they end a game.

So why do these plays earn their own label?

Mostly because only home teams can have "walk off"plays. If road teams take a lead in extra innings, they still have to get three outs in the bottom half to win the game. So the only way a team can "walk off" with a win is if they're at home. That means the home crowd has a chance to go crazy when their team wins on one of those plays. And when you have an exciting finish, and a crazy crowd, labels like "walk off" get created.

I hope that answers your question Cathy. Thanks again for contributing to the Mailbag. Remember, if you want your question answered, send an email to: dcook93@yahoo.com. There's no such thing as a dumb question, but some questions do allow me to be more entertaining than others!

Finally today a couple of Links for you:

Mary in Plymouth sent in a link to this article on Twins catcher Mike Redmond.

Red Dog doesn't get the press that Joe Mauer, aka Baby Jesus, gets. But in a lot of ways, he's just as important to the Twins' success. And because it's a City Pages article, the author gets plenty of room to spell that out. I enjoyed it a lot.

Josh in Shoreview sent along this link from Scott Miller of CBS Sportsline.com. Scott's a former Minneapolis guy, not to mention a fantastic writer, so I always enjoy his work. Josh sent this particular article to me in response to my lamentations over the struggles of the Twins' bullpen.

Basically the article says that bullpens everywhere are struggling. So I guess I shouldn't feel quite so bad. Although that series in New York was enough to test anyone's patience.

To whit, it just crossed the wire that the Twins have placed reliever Craig Breslow on the waiver wire, where he's been claimed by the Oakland A's. Considering the Twins got him via waivers from the Cleveland Indians, I guess that's an appropriate way for Breslow to exit stage left.

(Get it? He's a southpaw? That was for you Lon!).

The Twins had already called up beefy right-handed reliever Sean Henn from AAA Rochester to take the spot opened by starter Glen Perkins' trip to the disabled list. So in response to Breslow's departure, the Twins have called up right-handed starter Anthony Swarzak who's compiled a 3-4 record with a 2.25 ERA. He'll take what would've been Perkins' next start on Saturday.

So check those links out. I promise, they're good reading. If you've got a link you'd like to share, you can send an email to: dcook93@yahoo.com.

That's all for today. Make sure to check back on Friday for your weekly dose of DFTU. You know you've got the fever, I've got your cure (and it's got nothing to do with a cowbell).

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

5-18-09: Preakness 134 Thoughts

Hello again everybody...

Hope you all had a good weekend. Mine was definitely a mixed bag. The Sports Take Preakness Streak is officially in effect. For the second consecutive year, I've given you, my dear readers, the winner of the Preakness Stakes. No, it wasn't a tough call (and truth be told, due to her low odds, I didn't bet her to win - and thanks to Mine That Bird, I missed on my exacta), but a winner is a winner is a chicken dinner!

On the baseball side of things? Oof. I'm trying desperately to convince myself that the pain of the Twins' 3 straight losses in New York is mitigated by the fact that all 3 were well-played, quality ballgames.

So far, I've been unsuccessful.

I'll get to the Twins later in the week. But today, it's my 20/20 hindsight on Preakness 134. Let's talk about it...

"Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book."
- Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794), English historian and Member of Parliament


Gibbon exaggerates just a touch. The author of "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" attended Oxford for a spell, so unless he was sculling the entire time, I'm guessing he picked up a tip or two on the "arts of composition".

Still, I feel a certain kinship with him, as I've said much the same about myself in terms of writing this column. I enjoy doing it. And several people have told me that they enjoy my work. But when it comes down to it, I really haven't the foggiest idea what I'm doing, and am just winging it 3 days a week for your reading pleasure!

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Speaking of things I know just enough about to be dangerous, Preakness 134 is in the books and it's time to discuss.

She did it.

Rachael Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness defeating a field of 12 colts. The last time a filly did that in a Triple Crown race was in 2007 when Rags to Riches won the Belmont. The last time a filly did that in the Preakness was in 1924 when Nellie Morse showed the boys how it was done.

Ultimately, RA's win shows that sometimes races go to form. Sometimes you can look at the past performances and determine who the best horse in the race is and then watch that horse win. Sure, her low odds meant that the payout was low (she paid $5.60 to a $2 win wager, as opposed to the $103.20 that Mine That Bird payed to a $2 win wager in the Derby), but if you feel strong about the favorite winning the race, that allows you to focus on finding the right composition of horses in your exactas and trifectas and perhaps find some value there. (The exacta paid $39.20 to a $2 bet, and the tri paid $216.20 to a $2 bet - definitely some value in those bets.)

Which brings us to the second place finisher in Preakness 134: Mine That Bird. And that also brings us to another edition of The Official Sports Take Apology.

I'd like to take this opportunity to officially apologize for disrespecting Mine That Bird in my Preakness Preview column. It's rare that a horse can put together that type of resume prior to the Derby and then somehow step up and perform at a consistently high level amongst the elite competition in the Triple Crown races. But apparently Mine That Bird is that kind of horse.

And if it wasn't for the wide trip he got around the final turn, it's possible that he might have won the Preakness and be in line for a Triple Crown shot. If you watch a replay of the race, MTB is clearly gaining on Rachael Alexandra as they cross the finish line.

As impressive as RA's effort was, she got her ideal trip. MTB didn't. It almost makes his second place finish more impressive. But in the end it's a bottom-line business, and RA did win the race. And she deserves all the credit in the world for that effort.

The finish of Preakness 134 does set up an interesting scenario going forward. I've said it before, and I'll stand by it: the best thing that could happen to horse racing is for a horse to win the Triple Crown. That's obviously out the window for 2009.

(Aside: Sort of. If we've created the Tiger Slam to describe what Tiger Woods did in winning 4 consecutive Majors, even though they weren't all in the same calendar year, then can't we create the Rachael Crown to describe what RA could potentially do in winning the Kentucky Oaks (the filly version of the Derby), the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes? No, it's not technically a Triple Crown, but it's still damned impressive.)

But perhaps the second best thing that could happen to horse racing would be for two quality horses to battle it out in a rubber match at the Belmont. MTB has won a Triple Crown race, and RA has won a Triple Crown race. So let's match 'em up again at the Belmont and see who the best of the best really is. That would get some non-traditional horse racing fans excited and get them out to the track, right?

MTB's connections have already said he'll be pointed at the Belmont. And barring some unforeseen injury, he'll be in the field in New York. RA on the other hand, is in wait-and-see mode. Her new owner Jess Jackson seems like the kind of guy who would be thrilled by the prospect of a mano-e-filly showdown between MTB and RA at the Belmont. But so far all he and trainer Steve Ausmussen have said is that RA looked good coming out of the Preakness and that they'll consult with each other after a few days and a breeze or two and then make a decision.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "Breeze" - basically it's horse calisthenics. It's not a full timed workout. Instead it's a chance for the horse to get on the track, run around a little and stretch out their muscles.)

The fans want to see it. MTB's trainer Chip Woolley has indicated that he'd like to see it. Hopefully Rachael Alexandra returns to form quickly and everybody gets what they want!

So there you have it. All I do is give you Preakness winners! At least for the last two years anyway. We'll see if I can extend the streak next year!

That's all for today. Tune in on Wednesday when a question I got last week brings us the return of the Sports Take-tionary!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

5-15-09: DFTU & Hammer's Picks III

Hello again everybody...

Once again we've made it to the finish line. And it couldn't come any sooner for yours truly. Those sweet, sweet 48 hours of freedom are well-earned this week. Well, technically, I'm working the remote from Canterbury tomorrow, but that's not really work. It's more like making money for me to bet with!

Lots to get to today. The NHL Conference Finals are set after two dramatic Game 7's last night. One of those wins sets up what I like to call: WCCO Hockey Armageddon. Two of the most passionate hockey fans in the building are Red Wings and Blackhawks fans respectively. So far I haven't seen any gloves dropped, nor any eyes blackened, but then again, the series hasn't started yet. A friendly wager has been made and I can only hope that the two of them stay on the high road for the duration of the series.

But it could get ugly!

Never the less, the Hammer has come through with another round of predictions. If the first round was painful due to San Jose's loss, the second round rubbed some salt in the wound with Washington's. But the Hammer will not be denied! Get ready for his Conference Finals thoughts.

But first it's this week's version of the DFTU. One team's hanging in there. Another team's on the verge of collapse. I'll break it down...

"When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer 'Present' or 'Not guilty.'"
- Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919), 26th President of the United States


"We told you about waterboarding." "No, you told me it wasn't being used." "You're a liar." "Your pants are on fire."

Forget the Senate, Teddy's quote applies to the whole damned congress!

But that's a rant for another day.

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For now, it's time once again for everybody's favorite segment. You know it. You love it. You can't imagine your life without it. It's time for...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 18-17, tied for first place in the AL Central and mere percentage points behind the Detroit Tigers.

Now that's a home-stand! 5-1 vs. the Mariners and the Tigers. They weren't all pretty, but if you want to be a playoff team, sometimes you have to win some ugly games.

Joe Crede was the star of the last two games as he hit a walk-off grand slam in the 13th on Wednesday night, and a game-winning bloop single in the 7th on Thursday afternoon. Not a bad couple of days. If this guy's starting to lock in, that's dangerous for the rest of the Central.

Meanwhile, Joe Mauer has been nothing short of sensational since his return from the disabled list. In the 12 games he's played since he came back, he's hitting .455, slugging .795, has an OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) of 1.342 and has 4 home runs and 14 RBI. Those are just sick numbers.

But they don't tell the whole story. You want to know how valuable Baby Jesus is to the Twins? While he was hurt, the Twins averaged 4.23 runs per game. Since he's come back? 6.17. Almost two full runs per game. Not all of that is directly attributable to Mauer. He can only score one run at a time without guys on the bases ahead of him. But still, it's a dramatic example of his value to the Twins. Think they might want to get cracking on that contract extension soon? I think so!

There are certainly still flaws with the Twins. The bullpen is still not in good shape. The reason some of those wins during the home stand were so dramatic is that there are very few guys in the Twins' pen that can actually get guys out on a regular basis. I'd like to dismiss those problems by continuing to say it's early and things will sort themselves out. But we're mid-way through May and Memorial Day (the traditional quarter-pole of the MLB season) is quickly bearing down on us, so I'm not sure those arguments hold.

The Twins clearly have the talent to be a playoff contender. But if they don't act to shore up that bullpen, I'm not sure they'll get there. Whether that means looking to the minors (there are a couple of kids at AA New Britain that look intriguing), or looking outside the organization (they've got depth in the infield and outfield that's eminently movable), I'm not sure. Both of those options have their pitfalls, but the only option that's worse than those is doing nothing. So far general manager Bill Smith hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with any of his moves. It may very well be time for him to step up and show what he's got.

It's a big weekend for the Twins as they head to the Bronx to visit the new Yankee Stadium for the first time. And it's a 4-gamer at that. The Yanks have owned the Twins of late, so this series makes me nervous. But the boys are playing well as they head to Gotham, so hopefully their pitching won't get psyched out. For those of you outside of Minnesota, you get a chance to see one of those games as Monday night's tilt will be broadcast on ESPN. Check your local listings.

After the marathon in New York, the Twins head to Chicago for three and then head back home for the War on 94 as Milwaukee makes it's annual sojourn to the Metrodome. Bring it on Wisconsin!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 13-22, in last place in the AL West and 10.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This is going from "this might get ugly" to "we might have to put them down" in a hurry.

I wrote last week that there was no way to predict how a team is going to react to a managerial change. So far, all that's been noticeable with the Snakes is a distinct lack of any reaction. They were bad prior to Bob Melvin's firing, and they're just as bad under A.J. Hinch.

I'd love to blame this on injuries - and there are several of note - but a lot of teams are dealing with injuries and still contending. Hell, the Dodgers just lost their #1 hitter and are still 6-4 in their last 10.

Instead, if we're going to point the finger of blame, it's got to go towards the line-up, both offensively and defensively, as well as the bullpen. Outside of Dan Haren, the starting pitching hasn't been more than average. But considering the support they've been getting - or rather the lack there of - I'm willing to give the starters a pass.

As was famously said in "The Natural":

"Losing is a disease... as contagious as polio... as contagious as syphilis... as contagious as bubonic plague... infecting one, but attacking all."

The trick is finding the cure. And the difficulty in finding that cure is why managers and general managers get paid gobs of money. How do you get a team that's not hitting to hit? How do you get a team that's not playing defense to play defense?

Maybe it's just a matter of going back to fundamentals. Forget about swinging for the moon. Just get the guy over and get him in. Forget about the sparkling defensive plays. Just keep the ball in front of you and deny the base-runner the extra base. Forget about striking everybody out. Just get some ground balls.

Getting guys with incentive-laden contracts to buy into that is a trick. But again, that's why managers get paid big money and I don't!

The Snakes are kicking off a big road trip tonight as they play 3 in Hotlanta before heading to Miami for 4 with the Fish. Then it's back to the coast for 3 inter league games against Oakland. Maybe the long road-trip will help shake things loose for the boys. God knows they need something!

Okay, that's all for the DFTU. Up next, it's time for the Hammer's Conference Finals Preview. Hang on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, the Hammer's officially on a Cup Run. Oh, and hide your women and children... his playoff beard is in full effect!

I give you... the Hammer:

And then there were four. We have reached the conference finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs and we have seen some great action.

Washington & Pittsburgh lived up to its expectations for six games. Chicago continued its renaissance by advancing to the conference finals. Boston fought back from 3-1 down to even their series against Carolina only to lose game 7 in overtime and Anaheim & Detroit went toe to toe in what looked to be more like a 15 round title fight instead of a best of seven series. Well I have given you my predictions for the 1st & 2nd rounds. I figure I might as well give you my Conference Finals predictions. Last round I went 1-3 although I did get Detroit right so I feel really good about that. Let’s see how I do this round.


Eastern Conference Finals: Carolina vs. Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first team to lose in the Stanley Cup finals and reach the Conference Finals the next year since the Detroit Red Wings did in 1996. Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin have been as good this post-season as they were last season and Marc-Andre Fleury has played great in goal for the Penguins. Meanwhile Carolina has lived up to their nickname of the “Cardiac Canes” winning Game 7 against New Jersey by scoring two goals in 1:40 and against Boston by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7. Goalie Cam Ward continues play like he did in 2006 when he led Carolina to the Stanley Cup. One thing to watch in this series is Carolina Centre Eric Staal facing off against his brother Pittsburgh Centre Jordan Staal. (Ed.'s Note: Hammer's use of the Canadian spelling of "Centre" is his idea, not mine. But in the spirit of fairness, I've left it as originally written.) Kind of gives new meaning to the term Sibling Rivalry. Talent wise the Penguins are the better team. However Carolina has found a way to win time and again this post-season. I have a feeling they will find a way to do it again.

Pick: Carolina in seven games


Western Conference Finals: Chicago vs. Detroit

The Chicago BlackHawks have advanced to the Western conference for the 1st time since 1995. Congratulations, your reward is the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. This is a meeting of two of the Original Six teams. The last time two Original Six teams met this late in the post-season was in 1995 when, you guessed it, Chicago played Detroit. Patrick Kane & Jonathan Toews have been better than advertised for the BlackHawks. Nikolai Khabibulin is playing as well as he did in 2004 when he lead Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup and Chicago’s blue line has been terrific this post-season. Detroit comes into this series after playing the toughest series I have ever seen them win dispatching Anaheim in seven games. Pavel Datsyuk & Marian Hossa have been quiet for the most part but Detroit’s role players have stepped up and provided the scoring the Red Wings have needed. Their defense has been as good as usual and Chris Osgood is solid in net despite what his critics might say. It has been a great season for the BlackHawks and their future looks very bright. This series they will see how far they have come. Unfortunately Detroit has too much talent for Chicago and they will show the BlackHawks how far they have yet to go.

Pick: Red Wings in 5


So there are the Hammer's predictions. As much as I hate to mess with him when he's in Playoff Mode, I think it's safe to say you can book a Chicago/Pittsburgh Finals! (Oh, he's gonna crush me for that. But the record is the record Hammer!)

That's all for this week ladies and gents. Have a wonderful weekend. Don't forget to check out the Preakness on Saturday around 5:30pm as Mine That Bird tries to duplicate the improbable. I'll be back on Monday with Preakness Thoughts and whatever else tweaked me over the weekend!

Until then, thanks for reading.

Wednesday

5-13-09: Preakness 134

Hello again everybody...

It's a weird Wednesday here in Minneapolis. It's overcast and humid and feels for all the world like it's going to rain. Yet when I got up this morning, the National Weather Service had removed any chance of rain from the forecast. They've since put a 20% chance back in, but if you walk around outside, it feels like a whole hell of a lot more than 20%.

This is amongst the many reasons I wasn't able to complete my meteorology major in college. Sure, not being able to handle the physics involved was a bigger part of it. But what really derailed me was the knowledge that for all the math and physics, meteorology still has a significant amount of coin-flipping involved. Granted, people have made a whole mess of money via said coin-flipping (I'm looking at you, Paul Douglas). But in the end it was more than I could handle.

So I ended up working in radio whilst writing a sports column for free. Who's the smart one now?! Wait... don't answer that.

Today's column takes us back to the Sport of Kings. The 134th running of the Preakness Stakes takes place at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, on Saturday. Sure, the post draw isn't til later this afternoon, but I already know who I'm picking. And Friesan Fire, you're not it! Who is the lucky pick? Read on and find out!

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
- Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931), American inventor and businessman


Fans of the "National Treasure" movies will remember this quote as "I've just found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb". I'm not sure which version is correct, but I've always liked the point of the quote which is: perspective is everything.

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And it's with that in mind that I begin to preview Preakness 134. Sure I could focus on the breaking of my 3-year Kentucky Derby winner streak. But I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to start a new streak with Preakness Stakes winners!

Last year, for the first time, I correctly picked the winner of the Preakness. Now, that's not necessarily something to brag about, since picking Big Brown in that race wasn't difficult to do. But a winner's a winner, and I think the winner of Preakness 134 is equally obvious. So let the new streak begin!

First of all, let's look at who's coming back from the Kentucky Derby:

Flying Private: Finished dead last in the Derby. Why is he running in the Preakness? I have no idea. But D. Wayne Lukas is his trainer, and he knows infinitely more than I do.

Friesan Fire: Finished second to last in the Derby. In defense of my pick, he got stepped on early in the race and was bleeding by the time he made it back to the paddock. Apparently the injury has healed enough to run him in the Preakness. There are even some handicappers that are getting sucked back into picking him. I'm not one of them. Once you dog me like that, I'm not trusting you again any time soon!

General Quarters: Finished 10th in the Derby. I didn't like him going into the Derby because he didn't have a triple-digit speed figure and he'd already bounced once.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "Bounce" - when a horse runs great in one race, but puts forth a sub-par effort in their next race, they're said to have "bounced".)

He's just not a horse I have any faith in.

Mine That Bird: Won the Derby. If you missed my "Derby Thoughts" column, I'll summarize: the stars aligned for this horse on Derby Saturday, and he has no shot in the Preakness. The Triple Crown sentimentalists will pick him. But I won't.

Musket Man: Finished 3rd in the Derby. I liked him as a long-shot to hit the board and he did. I don't like him to win in the Preakness any more than in the Derby, but he's got to be a contender in any exacta or trifecta picks.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "Exacta": picking the first and second place finishers in order. "Trifecta": picking the first, second and third place finishers in order.)

Papa Clem: Finished 4th in the Derby. I didn't like this horse much headed into the Derby because I thought he was a candidate to bounce. Well, he didn't. And for anybody lucky enough to hit the Super, he was a savvy pick.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "Super/Superfecta": picking the first, second, third and fourth place finisher in order.)

Pioneer of the Nile: Finished 2nd in the Derby. This is Dark Star's horse. He hit the exacta in the Derby by betting ALL over PoN and PoN over ALL. It cost him about $72 to make the two bets, but it won him about $3100. Not bad. PoN has a shot in the Preakness, but I can't pick him here either. You're foolish not to include him in exactas/trifectas/superfectas, but he's not my pick to win it.

So if I'm not picking any of the Derby horses to win the Preakness, is there some mysterious bomber headed for the Preakness that nobody's heard of?

Nope. Big Drama, Luv Gov, Take the Points, Terrain, and Tone it Down are all decent enough horses, but they don't excite me enough to pick them.

For the love of God Dan, would you just give us the pick already?!

You people have no patience. Seriously, chill.

The winner of Preakness 134 is going to be the same horse that won Kentucky Oaks 135: Rachel Alexandra.

So if this horse is so good, why wasn't she in the Derby? There's a process by which horses are "nominated" for the Triple Crown races. I have no clue how it works, and I really should've researched it for this column. But I'm at work people. There's only so much time I have to write this sucker! The point is, Rachel Alexandra wasn't nominated for the Triple Crown, so it would've cost her owners $200k to enter the Derby. They saw no need to do that when they had a lock on the Oaks. But about a week ago, she was sold to a new owner who thinks that the $100k posting fee for the Preakness is a worthwhile investment, so now we get to see how she performs against the boys.

We almost didn't though. Preakness rules state that the field is limited to 14 horses (as opposed to the Derby's 20). And strict preference is given to horses who've been nominated over those who haven't. What that meant is that if 14 nominated horses entered the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra wouldn't be allowed in the field no matter how willing her new owner was to pay the fee.

That brings us to the owner of Mine That Bird, Mark Allen. Allen is a part owner of another horse, Indy Express, who was nominated for the Triple Crown but didn't have enough Graded Stakes earnings to make his way into the Derby.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! Graded Stakes: the highest level of horse races are referred to as "Graded Stakes". There are 3 levels of GS races: G1, G2, and G3. G1 being the highest rated of the 3. All three Triple Crown races are considered G1 races.)

But due to the number of drop-outs from the Derby to the Preakness, Indy Express had a chance to enter. His entry would've capped the field at 14, forcing Rachel Alexandra out of the race. It's hard to blame Allen for considering the move. It's going to be tough enough for his colt to win the race anyway, bringing in a potential super horse nearly eliminates Mine That Bird's chances. There's also the jockey issue. Calvin Borel rode both Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird over Derby weekend, but since he can't ride both in the same race, he's announced he'll be on RA in the Preakness. Unless Allen had forced RA out of the race, then he'd have been available to ride MTB again.

Ultimately, what was in the best interest of the sport won out. A couple of days ago, Allen announced that he wouldn't be entering IE in the Preakness, opening the door for RA to get in.

As great as a Triple Crown winner would be, the likelihood of MTB being that horse is minuscule at best. What horse racing fans really want to see is the best horses competing against each other. And after her Oaks dominance, there's no question that RA is amongst the best 3 year olds in the country.

The Post Draw for the Preakness comes up this afternoon, after which they'll announce the Morning Line odds.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! Morning Line Odds: the initial odds on field of horses for a given race. Those odds change between the time they're issued and post time based on the amount of money bet on each horse. Ultimately, a winning bettor receives a payoff based on what the odds on their horse were at post time, instead of the Morning Line. But the Morning Line still gives you a fairly good idea who's likely to win the race.)

My guess is that RA will be a clear favorite at the morning line at somewhere around 3-1. And she'll only get bet down from there. As for MTB? If you liked him in the Derby (and if you did, please check your medication), you'll get another good price on him in the Preakness. My guess is he opens somewhere between 15-1 and 20-1.

(Ed.'s Note: It's worse than I thought. RA was made the favorite at only 8-5. To put it in perspective, my guess of 3-1 translates to 15-5, so the odds are only slightly more than half as good as I predicted. And somehow they've made MTB second-favorite at 6-1. That's a horrible overlay (odds being lower than they ought to be).)

I'm not sure they're be any value in betting RA to win, but I might try to put together an exacta ticket with her over some combination of Musket Man and another bomber or two and see if I can't get lucky.

If you're in Minneapolis on Saturday and find yourself with nothing to do, WCCO Radio will be broadcasting live from Canterbury Park from 4-6pm on Saturday covering the Preakness. Live racing starts at 1:30pm, so come out early and enjoy a day at the Park!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Friday with another heaping helping of DFTU for you to digest on the way to your weekend!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

5-11-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Hope your weekend was good. I had a pretty damned decent one myself. I raised my record at Twins games this year to 3-1 by attending Saturday night's 9-6 win over the Mariners at the Metrodome. It wasn't my kind of game, but I went with my brother and nephew, which helped to make it more fun that it might have been otherwise. Making at-bat by at-bat predictions with a 5 year old might sound like a recipe for craziness, but when he's the first one to get one right, and it comes on an at-bat from his favorite player, it's pretty damned fun!

This is one of those Mondays where there's a lot to mention, but none of it causes me to go on a full-column length rant. When that happens, it's Notes time! Let's get to it...

"If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it."
- Pierre Callois


I can't seem to find any reliable information as to who this guy is. But I take issue with his premise. I put tomfoolery into my computer three times a week, and so far, I haven't had any problem finding people willing to criticize it. Fortunately, I'm happy to receive that criticism, since I think it serves to make me a better writer. And since the whole point of writing the blog is to engage people, mission accomplished!

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Here are some weekend Notes for you...

One steroid user leaves, another one comes back... I talked about Manny on Friday, so I think you know where I stand on that. As an interesting juxtaposition, as Manny began his 50 game suspension, A-Roid returned from his hip surgery.

Friday night, Alex Rodriguez made his first appearance for the Yankees this season. And on the first pitch he saw? Home run. That's it. The Yankees are winning it all! Oh, wait. He went 1-10 after that at-bat? Maybe not so much on the World Series bit.

Thanks to the Manny-ness of it all, there wasn't the avalanche of steroid-related media attention surrounding A-Roid's return that you might have expected. But that doesn't mean his return's going to spark the Yanks to the division lead. The Yankees have a lot of problems outside of A-Roid. Their bullpen is a mess. All the more so since it appears Mariano Rivera may have lost it. And their starting pitching is a long ways from being settled.

Oh, and one last Manny note? Dodger owner Frank McCourt has said publicly (because why wouldn't you want clubhouse business conducted publicly) that he wants Manny Ramirez to address his teammates.

Why? Exactly what purpose does this serve other than to make McCourt look like he's a "tough love" kind of guy? So Manny comes into the clubhouse and says what? Remember, he hasn't admitted to anything other than using a substance for a "personal medical issue". What's he going to say? "Sorry guys, there was this gal on the last road-trip. We were having dinner and all and suddenly I realized that the third base coach was waving me in, only I wasn't going to be able to make it. That's when I knew I had to get me some HCG!"

Come on. This is another dumb publicity stunt by an arrogant owner. Frank, I know you feel dumb paying this clown $25 million, not to mention being on the hook for another $20 million if the guy exercises his option for next year. But this "come apologize to your teammates" demand doesn't make you look any smarter.

You want to make a statement? You want to show the world you're going to be tough on people? Tell Manny, "thanks but no thanks". Tell him to stay home and you'll call him about Spring Training in 2010. Yes, his contract's guaranteed and you have to pay him either way. But telling him you'd rather play the rest of the way without him actually says something.

I know it'll never happen, but I'd certainly respect that move a lot more this "calling Manny to the Principal's office" nonsense.

Evan Longoria, Albert Pujols, Zack Greinke and Johan Santana are all better than you... In the case of some of us, that should be fairly obvious. But when you look at the numbers these guys are putting up, it's fairly eye-popping.

Longoria is threatening to become a legit Triple Crown contender in the American League. He's tied for 4th in hitting at .358. He's second in the AL with 11 home runs (and second on his own team as fellow Ray Carlos Pena leads the AL with 13 dingers... how are these guys only 15-18?!). But his most impressive stat is his RBI total: 44. To put that in perspective, he's got 10 more than his nearest AL competitor, and 11 more than the National League leader. Not impressive enough? Do the extrapolation. He's got 44 RBI in 31 games. His team's played 33. So if he keeps up that pace over the last 129 games (at his current rate, he'd play in 121 of those), that means he'd end up the season with somewhere in the neighborhood of 216 RBI. Hack Wilson owns the single season record with 191 in the 1930 season. That means Longoria would eclipse Wilson by a full 25 RBI. Is he likely to maintain that pace? Probably not. But it's still a damned impressive start.

Pujols is attempting a Triple Crown of his own in the National League. He's hitting a robust .330. Unfortunately, that's only good for 12th in the NL. That'll change. These days, finishing a season over .330 is usually good enough to win you a batting title. Albert does lead the other two triple crown categories. He's got 12 home runs (one more than than Adam Dunn of the Nats) and 33 RBI (one more than Jorge Cantu of the Marlins). Pujols' numbers aren't getting the same buzz that Longoria's are, but I think that's because we've become a bit desensitized. We've grown spoiled enough to expect these kinds of numbers from Pujols. It's like Lindsey Lohan doing something insane. We've grown to expect that. But if Anne Hathaway publicly claimed she was dating women and got busted every other day for drunk driving, that'd generate a lot more talk!

Zack Greinke is just sick. He's tied for the league lead with 6 wins. With pitchers the number of actual wins isn't as important as the number of times he puts his team in position to get those wins. Since AL pitchers don't hit, they can't really affect whether their team scores enough to win. But if he holds the opponents down often enough, the wins will come. And boy are they in Greinke's case. As impressive as his 6 wins are, it's his ERA that has jaws dropping. He leads the majors with a 0.51 ERA. The nearest competitor in the AL is Erik Bedard of Seattle with a 2.53. That's over a 2 run per 9 inning difference! And Greinke's going for the pitching version of the Triple Crown as he leads the AL with 59 strikeouts. An unbelievable start to the season for a guy who 3 years ago sat out most of the season with an anxiety disorder.

Johan Santana is trying to match Greinke's start. Again, using the Lohan metaphor, he's not getting the same attention because we've come to expect numbers like this from Johan, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. His ERA is a minuscule 0.91. He's got more competition in that category than Greinke does, with 3 other NL pitchers holding ERA's less than 2.00. But to be below a 1.00 after 6 starts is damned impressive. Johan's tied for second in the NL with 4 wins (one less than Chad Billingsley's 5). And he's 3rd in the NL with 54 strikeouts (4 less than Tim Lincecum's 58).

So could we have 4 Triple Crown winners? Probably not. But these four guys are out to amazing starts and should be a must-watch any time you get a chance to see them! (In that vein, Santana's pitching for the Mets tonight on ESPN at 6pm central... check him out!)

And finally...

The Twins are too damned nice... There was an excellent article by ESPN.com's Tim Kurkjian over the weekend about Michael Cuddyer and the way he symbolizes the "Twins Way" of playing baseball.

I certainly don't want to knock the "Twins Way", but it seems to me that one of the things this club lacks is a killer instinct.

At the game on Saturday, I mentioned to my brother that when the Twins had Felix Hernandez in trouble early on, they needed to go ahead and drop the hammer. Saturday night they came through. But Sunday, when they had Erik Bedard in trouble early on, they didn't. Nick Blackburn came through with 7 shutout innings for the Twins, but it wasn't enough because the Twins' offense only managed 2 runs against Bedard, when they could easily have touched him for 5 or 6.

Considering the struggles that the Twins bullpen has had early on this year, the offense can't afford to leave that many runs on the bases. Especially against a pitcher as good as Bedard. You don't get that many chances to put a whipping on a guy like that, you can't afford to let them pass when you do.

So how does a ball club develop that "killer instinct"? I'm not entirely sure I can answer that. If you look at teams that have it, it seems like there's one of their star players who's just plain ornery. I hate the Red Sox's Kevin Youklis, but if he were a Twin, he'd be one of my favorites. Yes, he gets a little too over the top with the emotional outbursts in the dugout from time to time. But on a team of nice guys, it might help to have someone with that kind of edge. Someone to bark at the fellas when another chance to score some runs is slipping through their fingers.

It's a tough balance. You don't want to fundamentally change the chemistry that's made the Twins as successful as they've been. I'd just like to see it tweaked a bit so I don't have to watch more games like Sunday's.

There's your notes for a Monday. Please feel free to add a comment with any of your thoughts below.

I'll be back on Wednesday. The second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown is coming up on Saturday. I may have to hold off predictions again til Friday depending on the draw. But I've already got a pretty good idea who I'm picking. And since that's the case, I may just jump into the previewing on Wednesday. We shall see!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

5-8-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again, we've made it to the end of the week. Not always the most minor of accomplishments. But we did it. It's done. Bring on the weekend!

And because it's Friday, that means it's DFTU time. And what a Thursday it was for one of the DFT's. An opponent busted for PED's, and a manager getting fired. That's one helluva 24 hour period! I'll discuss.

Incidentally, I've recently tested positive for caffeine and acetaminophen. They were taken for personal medical issues and not specifically to enhance my column-writing. I've been advised not to say anything more about that usage for now. I'd like to apologize to Dodger fans and the McCourt family for ever suggesting that they re-sign Manny Ramirez. I know everybody in L.A. is disappointed. So am I.

"I have just returned from Boston. It is the only sane thing to do if you find yourself up there."
- Fred Allen (1894 - 1956), American comedian


Okay, L.A.'s the trouble spot today, but how could I resist this cheap shot at Boston. Generally, I have no trouble with the city itself, but this was just too perfect.

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You've waited all week for it. Yesterday's events have you on the edge of your seat. You'll have to wait no longer! It's time for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 13-16, in 4th place in the AL Central and 5 games behind the Kansas City Royals.

Sorry, you'll have to get through the Twins news before we hit the big stuff.

And considering how the Twins have played of late, you might want to skim right over this section. I wouldn't blame you. It pains me to write it.

Where do I even begin? They've dropped 3 in a row and 5 of their last 6. Their starting pitching is still struggling to find a rhythm and the bullpen's not helping much at all. The offense is still unsettled even with the return of Baby Jesus. In short, they're not playing well at all.

I'm trying to keep myself from leaping on the panic button. It's too early in the year, and the Twins traditionally start slow. That doesn't excuse what's going on, it's only a banal attempt to explain it.

Perhaps the most disappointing development this week was the decision to send 2B Alexi Casilla down to AAA Rochester. Don't get me wrong, I agree whole-heartedly with the move. I'm just disappointed that Alexi put them in the position where they had to make it.

Casilla has been struggling at the plate all year. That's not a sin. It happens to a lot of players. But with the Twins, what keeps you in the Big Leagues is not allowing those struggles to affect your effort.

I heard Michael Jordan say once that he felt he'd be a success at whatever he did because he knew there were always two things a person could control: their attitude and their effort. In baseball, effort is a noticeable thing. You can see if a guy runs out his groundouts. You can see if he's focused on his defense and making the correct plays. If you can't get a hit, that sucks, but there are a lot of other ways you can help a team. And if you play for the Twins, they expect you to do those things even if you're not hitting.

Unfortunately for Alexi, he allowed his struggles at the plate to affect the effort he was putting out in the rest of his game. On Monday, Casilla was asked to sacrifice bunt. He popped the ball up in the air, and instead of running it out and forcing the defense to make a play, he stopped and hung his head, allowing the Tigers to make an easy double-play. Sure, they'd likely have completed the twin killing anyway, but as they say, you never assume a double-play. That means you run out every ball and force the defense to get you out. You don't just flat give up and hand them two outs.

That's not the only example of Casilla's lack of effort, but I think it was the one that tipped the scales against him. So now Alexi gets to see if he can get his head straightened out as a Rochester Red Wing. Good luck Alexi!

In the mean time, the Twins have called up utility infielder Matt Tolbert. Tolbert's a nice player and was actually the last guy cut in Spring Training. He's not going to win any batting titles. In fact, he was hitting .260 at Rochester before the call up. But Tolbert's always been known as an effort guy. Maybe he won't break the OPS meter, but he'll give you everything he's got, every play of the game.

And that's exactly the point. Alexi wasn't doing that. Tolbert will. I really do hope Alexi gets things figured out. But until he does, Tolbert's not a bad fill-in.

The Twins have returned home after a rough 4-game road trip and will kick off a 3-game series against Seattle tonight. After a mid-week 3-gamer at home versus Detroit, they head out to *gulp* the Bronx for 4 games against the Bombers. More on that next week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 12-17 and in 4th place in the NL West, 8.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

Okay, on to the big stuff.

First up, Manny. Manny, Manny, Manny. L.A. OF Manny Ramirez has tested positive for a substance banned under MLB's joint drug prevention and treatment policy.

The story, as reported from various sources, is that Manny was prescribed HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) by a doctor for a "personal medical issue". Unfortunately HCG is clearly defined as a banned substance by Major League Baseball, so when Manny tested positive, he was in violation of their policy and suspended for 50 games.

HCG is a female fertility drug which is sometimes prescribed to men as treatment for erectile dysfunction (i.e. the "personal medical issue"). That's in a world where drugs are never used for anything other then their prescribed intention. But that's not the world we live in. In the world we live in HCG is taken by steroid users after finishing a cycle, to boost their testosterone levels which are artificially depressed by the steroid usage.

Is it possible that Manny just couldn't get the soldier to salute and the doctor signed off on HCG rather than Viagra or Cialis? Yes, that's possible. It's also possible that Bill Simmons will be hired as the next GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I'll become an NBA fan again.

But I wouldn't hold your breath.

I have no doubt that Manny and his agents are trying to lay the ground work for that spin by citing that "personal medical issue" in his prepared statement.

(Aside: What are the odds Manny's even read much less wrote that statement? 200-1 against? sounds about right to me.)

But given the culture of baseball over the last decade and a half, the far more likely scenario is that the HCG was used in relation to steroids. Yet another display of blatant disrespect towards the game by a guy who's made a career out of spitting in baseball's eye and then flashing that doofus smile of his and being forgiven by people who just want to see him hit.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy!

The second big issue is the firing of Arizona manager Bob Melvin.

This one's tough. I realize that the Manager of the Year award might be the most meaningless award in all of sports. It's impossible to really measure, and generally just goes to the guy who's team exceeded his team's mediocre expectations.

That being said, Melvin did win the award in 2007. And now he's out of a job. Did he forget how to manage in a year a two months? Probably not. But when your team's hitting .222 through the middle of May, something's got to give.

There's two ways to look at this. On the one hand, this could be an indication of chaos within the management structure of the Diamondbacks. Former president Jeff Mooraad is now the owner of the San Diego Padres. And I'm not entirely sure that hole he left behind has been entirely filled. So perhaps this ruckus is indicative of a lack of a focused vision within the Arizona front office.

Not only was Melvin fired, but so was hitting coach Rick Schuh. And coupled with those firings, pitching coach Bryan Price resigned. So this is as big a field staff change as you could have mid-season. That's pretty chaotic.

On the other hand, you could say that D'backs management felt that there's enough talent on this team to compete, and they don't want to give up on this season. So you make a change now, early in the year, and hope that new skipper A.J. Hinch can get things turned around. Hinch was formerly the Diamondbacks minor league coordinator. The last time a guy in his position was promoted to field manager mid-season was in 1979 when Dallas Green took over the Phillies. They won the World Series in 1980.

I'm not saying that's what'll happen to Arizona, but it's an interesting note.

In the end, I'm not sure the D'backs' struggles were Bob's fault. But you can't fire the players mid-stream, so if you're going to make a move, this was it. While Melvin was always regarded as a low-key, unexciteable skipper, Hinch is purported to be the opposite. Maybe he'll bring some fire to the club. Maybe he'll find ways to get guys going that Melvin couldn't. Maybe players will see Melvin get fired and realize that if they don't get it in gear, they could be moved in the off-season.

It's always difficult to predict what impact a managerial change will have on a team. I just hope that of the two theories I outlined earlier, the facts tend towards the latter. I hope this team pulls together and takes advantage of the fact that the Dodgers just lost their best hitter for nearly a third of the season.

Like everything else in baseball, we'll just have to wait and see!

The Hinch era kicks off tonight as the Snakes host the worst team in baseball, the Washington Nationals. After that it's three at home versus Cincinnati before heading out to Atlanta next weekend.

That's all for this week folks. Yes, it was a bit on the long side, but there was a lot to talk about!

Come back on Monday. I'll have a recap of the biggest stories from the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!