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.


  1. Hi Dan,
    I have a question for you.
    The other night, about midnight, there was a grand slam homerun. 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!
    Cathy in Maple Grove

  2. Sounds like fodder for another "Sports Take-tionary" column.

    Unless someone spoils it by posting the definition in the comments.

    But to be clear, it'll be far more entertaining if they resist that urge and allow me to write about it next week!

  3. I think this is you finally finding someone with a worse prediction record than you.