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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!