Monday

6-29-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Back to the mill we go. Hope your weekend was a restful one. With the holiday upcoming, I doubt next weekend will be!

My weekend was fairly mundane until I babysat my nephew for a bit yesterday. He's an active lad, which isn't really my default mode, but he's adorable, so I try. Of late, he's become a big fan of the "Rocky" movies. I suspect his father had something to do with it, since Mark's been a big Rocky fan dating back to his teenage years.

The nephew also owns a pair of Batman boxing gloves. Now, I'm as big a Batman fan as you'll find, but whomever thought it was a good idea to buy a 5-year-old boxing gloves needs to reassess their thought process. Eventually, the nephew ended up with the right-hand glove, and I ended up with the left. In case you can't already see where this is going, I'll continue. Somehow the nephew "forgot" that he only had the right-hand glove on and decided to throw a left jab. After all, Rocky punches with two hands right?

Needless to say, I caught said jab right in the mush. Now, he's only five, so it's not like I'm missing any chicklets or anything. But it certainly enough to stun me for a moment. We called it a win for him by TKO, and that was the end of our boxing for the day.

Yup, the Uncle gig is definitely the way to go for me!

So yes, it was an eventful weekend. And not just in the "nephew assaults uncle" department! So today will be another Monday Notes column about the various things that the weekend brought us.

Let's do this thing!

"If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day."
- John A. Wheeler (1911-2008), American theoretical physicist


Strange? How about the series of thoughts that lead someone to decide, "You know? I think the best thing to buy a 5-year-old is pugilistic paraphernalia!" THAT'S strange.

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Equally strange is the weird, wacky world of sports. That said, I bring you...

Monday Notes

The NBA had a draft...
I talked about it last week. It's the one time of year that the NBA threatens to capture my interest. Fortunately, the Timberwolves once again found a way to cause me to immediately lose said interest.

So thank you David Kahn for drafting 3 point guards. Thank you for trading two starters away to draft Ricky Rubio who has said quite plainly that he'd rather stay in Spain than play in Minnesota. Thank you for then drafting the guy you said you *really* wanted all along. Because there's no better way to make a guy think you want him, then to draft him after you draft the kid that's publicly spurned you. Thank you for then drafting Ty Lawson and promptly trading him to Denver for a protected first round pick that you may not get to use for 3 years.

Thank you for screwing up an already screwed-up organization. Just when you think the Wolves couldn't be any worse, ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Kahn.

Oof.

As usual, the only good thing to come out of the NBA Draft was Bill Simmons' Draft Diary. Always a solid read.

The NHL had a draft... I don't think the Wild screwed themselves up. But the NHL draft is a lot like the MLB draft in that you're probably not going to see these kids for a few years, so it's hard to tell how much better your organization really got.

But the NHL proved, once again, that's it's determined to be a second-tier sport. Where do I start?

The first round was on Versus, which is a network that maybe 65% of the country actually gets on their regular cable. I know that if my folks would have wanted to see the draft in Phoenix, they'd have needed to add the extra sports tier to get Versus. The rest of the draft was on NHL Network. I know exactly one person who get the NHL Network. And he was probably watching the draft, so the NHL has that going for them.

Then there's the fact that the coverage of the draft wasn't even done by Versus. Yes, it was carried on their network, but the coverage was actually provided by Canada's TSN. Think of it as the Canadian ESPN. Now, it might be argued that TSN is better situated to cover hockey than Versus is, since hockey is Canada's national pastime. But to me, that just says that the NHL has done a putrid job developing a major US television partner.

Next on my list of complaints would be the time between picks. The NBA gave each team 5 minutes between picks in their first round. This seemed to be plenty of time for teams to make their phone calls, get their card to the podium, and produce a ball cap for David Stern to hand the lucky draftee. It kept things moving and finished the first round in a reasonable amount of time. Yes, that's me complimenting the NBA. Don't get used to it.

The NHL on the other hand, took like 10 minutes between each pick. And that was just the clock-time. Then there's the time it takes to get the 6-10 team officials up on the stage. Then at least 3 of them apparently had to make some sort of "appropriate comments" before the actual pick was announced. Then we had to sit and watch as the draftee hugged the 10-12 family members that came with them. Hard to complain about that. You only get drafted once right?

The problem is, they were situated halfway across the freaking arena. Every other major draft has a green room adjacent to the stage, so the draft picks can get up there, take their pictures and move on quickly. Not the NHL. The NHL draft picks half to walk halfway across the arena to get up on the stage, shake hands with 16 people, take pictures, and then head down to the TSN set for an interview... presuming they speak English.

The bottom line is that it took entirely too long to get through the first round, and I imagine most people bailed as soon as their team made their pick.

If you're a league struggling to make themselves relevant, wouldn't you want to make your draft as entertaining as possible? Apparently, if you're the NHL, not so much.

The Twins still own the National League... but not to the degree they did in the past.

Interleague play is in the books, and the Twins went 12-6 over those 18 games. Included in there was a 5-1 record against the Milwaukee Brewers. There's no real reason for me to point that out, other than to rub it in a bit to my good friends to the East. Trust me, they'd do the same to me!

Unfortunately for the Twins, the 1st place Detroit Tigers went 10-8 over their interleague schedule, sot he Twins remain 4 games back in the AL Central.

I can't tell you why the Twins always put up such good numbers against the NL. But it's one of the main reasons why I don't want to see interleague play end any time soon!

The Diamondbacks suck something awful... (copyright Patches O'Houlihan).

Yesterday's 12-8 loss to the LAAAGOCRCUSPE pretty much sums things up. 4 errors in the game, 3 of those coming in the 5th inning alone.

And at least 2 of those weren't close plays that didn't get made. They weren't disputable. They weren't tough hops. They were flat-out brain farts by Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton.

Reynolds isn't a natural first baseman, so I can almost forgive the ball he flat-out dropped. Except it wasn't a tough throw by any means. He simply wasn't concentrating, and took his eye off the ball.

Justin Upton is a natural outfielder, so the ball he took his eyes off of is just plain inexcusable.

But even with all that atrocious defense and bullpen work, the D'backs still made a game of it. Scoring 5 runs in the 6th inning made it a 1-run game before LAAAGOCRCUSPE added three more to win by a comfortable 4-run margin.

I'm not taking them off my "Favorite Teams" list. It takes more than one rough season to accomplish that. But I'm tempted to suggest that they blow this roster up and start over. Clearly this team's mind-set is not where it needs to be. And since firing their manager accomplished exactly nothing, the next step is to start shopping players around. There are pieces on this team that have value. And it's time to start making some phone calls to see what you can get for them.

Attendance figures be damned. This team isn't going anywhere anyway. It's time to get people excited about the future. Hopefully...

And on that down note, I'm going to put a bow on this for today.

Come back on Wednesday for the bi-weekly Peek at the Picks column.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

6-26-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

So how was your day yesterday?

Mine was just a touch hectic. The first couple of shows I work were all set to talk a little bit about the the passing of Farrah Fawcett, and then move on to other things. Well, we managed that in the first show. Not so much in the second.

The thing about my job is that you're always in the present. There isn't really any time to set things up ahead of time, because if you take time out to do that, then whatever is on the air right now gets mucked up. So when big-time breaking news happens, whatever plan there was goes right out the window and you end up doing what I like to call “radio by the seat of your pants”.

So when the news about Michael Jackson hit yesterday, we immediately had to toss the manual out the window and start figuring out what we were doing one segment at a time. It's not something I want to do on a regular basis, but there is a certain adrenaline rush to it.

Yesterday's news was different than other breaking news stories though. On the one hand, you had the pop culture icon to end all pop culture icons meeting an untimely demise. So the first instinct is to go into “solemn, respectful retrospective” mode. But on the other hand, you can't just flat ignore the oddness and potential criminality that marred the later years of his life. Finding the appropriate path between those two courses isn't easy. I think our new afternoon host, Michele Tafoya, did a heck of a job navigating those waters. I'm just glad I didn't have to do it!

So to say the least, yesterday wasn't boring.

But that was yesterday, and this is today. And today's Friday, thank God. So it's time for our weekly ritual. It's time for all the loyal Sports Take readers to gather around the camp fire and settle in to listen to your own personal sports shaman to tell you a little story he likes to call... the DFTU.

I'm here for you like that!

"Most men are within a finger's breadth of being mad."
- Diogenes the Cynic (412 BC - 323 BC), Greek philosopher


Especially when your two favorite baseball teams can't seem to get out of their own way!

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Which brings us to everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 37-37, in second place in the AL Central and 5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

I was optimistic coming into this last week. The Tigers were struggling and the Twins seemed on the verge of going on a significant roll.

Fast-forward to today, and the exact opposite has happened. The Tigers are the team on a roll, winners of 7 in a row. Meanwhile, the Twins have resumed their "treading water" ways. They're 5-5 in their last 10. Mixed in there are series wins against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, as well as a series loss to Houston.

This would be the spot where I'd include a note from Thursday's game from a certain loyal reader in Milwaukee, but I think the Twins domination of the Crew has him a little bummed. I can't blame him. If I was friends with someone writing a Yankee update, I'd be down in the dauber over the Twins' performance against them too.

(Enough with the back-handed consolation? Okay... moving on.)

It's been a frustrating week, because the Twins are good enough that they shouldn't be losing a series to the Astros, and they should've actually swept the Brewers. Nick Blackburn threw his second straight complete game in the only loss to Milwaukee. And it was a couple of unusual defensive miscues that cost the Twins the game.

So how can I be grumbling about a series win? Because if you want to be a contender, then sooner or later you've got to rip off 8 wins in 10 games, or 10 in 12. Something like that. You've got to put some distance between yourself and your competitors. Much like what Detroit's done.

Now, 5 games is far from insurmountable. And with all the games left to be played between the Twins and the Tigers, the Twins are far from out of it.

But as a Twins fan, I keep sitting here waiting for them to hit a hot streak. Yet, even with the better starting pitching and Baby Jesus doing his best Ted Williams impersonation, they've yet to have that kind of streak.

.500's not awful, especially when compared to the team I'm about to talk about. But it's not going to get you in the playoffs either. And that has to be the Twins' goal this year.

Next up for Minnesota is a 3-game series in St. Louis. If you haven't seen the new Busch Stadium, make sure you take a peek at one of these games if you can. It's a beautiful ball park in a quintessential baseball town. After that series, the Twins take a short jaunt over to Kansas City for three with the Royals before returning home to take on the Tigers.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 30-43, in last place in the NL West and 17 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

If you want to know what the Snakes' season's been like in microcosm, all you have to do is look at last night's game. Texas jumped out to a 6-2 lead, but Arizona didn't give up. A run in the sixth, another one in the seventh, and two more in the eighth pulled them even.

After Arizona wasted a couple of chances in extras, Texas threw up a 3-spot in the 12th. There are a lot of teams that would roll over and lay down in the bottom half after that happened. But the D'backs still had enough fight in them to put up 2 in the bottom half before running out of outs.

That's been the D'backs' season. Close, but no cigar. For the most part, they're not getting blown out. But they have so little margin for error, that even the smallest hiccup often costs them a game.

It's hard to talk about them sometimes, because there are only so many ways I can come up with to say: they're bad.

So instead, I'm going to flesh out today's column with a rant about a team in their division. Actually a specific player on that team.

Manny Ramirez.

Can someone tell me how the hell a guy who's been suspended for 50 games by MLB brass is allowed to play in a minor league game? I mean seriously, a rehab stint while you're still technically under suspension? What kind of message does that send?

Okay, I get that it's a "major league" suspension, and that it doesn't necessarily extend to minor league games. But if you're really trying to send a message about the use of performance enhancing drugs, then having Manny getting a ton of press with the Albuquerque Isotopes undermines your effort.

"Sure, he can't play with the Dodgers, but look, it's Manny in a minor league game! Look at all the kids getting his autograph! Isn't it great that this minor league owner is going to make a ton of money off of Manny's presence?"

No, it's not great. If you're suspended, then you should be suspended. Major league, minor league, Mexican league, beer league, I don't care. If you can't play, then you can't play. If the Dodgers want him to play some minor league games to get ready to come back, then when his 50-game banishment is done, let him go play in Albuquerque. But to have him playing while technically under suspension creates the perception that the suspension is rather meaningless.

He's not getting paid for these games, so there's no question that the suspension is still hitting him in the wallet. But Manny's never been terribly concerned about money as anything other than a status symbol. There are many stories of reporters seeing un-cashed paychecks sitting in Manny's locker for weeks at a time. Clearly, the guy isn't hurting for cash.

But now he gets to be back in the limelight, appearing on Sportscenter, and reveling in the adoration of fans in New Mexico who don't usually get to see a star of his stature.

Nice job MLB. You really showed him who's boss!

What a joke.

Rant, fin.

Back to Arizona. The D'backs are home to take on LAAAGOCRCUSPE over the weekend, then it's time to hit the road again as they travel to Cincinnati and Colorado.

That's all for this week folks. Hope you have a fantastic weekend. I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you all.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

6-24-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

You know the usual routine... Midweek time... All downhill from here... I'm not feeling the cliches today. Maybe it's the dreary weather. Maybe it's the fact that the Baby Jesus' average has finally slipped below .400. Whatever. I'm just not feeling the witty banter.

To whit, today's column is another quick-hits Notes column. I've got several things to rant about. So let's get to it!

"It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety."
- Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992), American author and professor of biochemistry


I think this one pretty much speaks for itself. Be straight with people. It'll pay off for you.

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Fortunately for you, my dear readers, I'm always straight about what I'm thinking. And that's why today, I'm bringing you some...

Notes

The Twins own the Brewers... I know, I know, several of you just sputtered something about the Sports Take Whammy, but I waited until the Twins had guaranteed themselves a season series win over the Crew before I said it.

The Twins are now 4-0 vs. the Brewers this year, with 2 games yet to be played. Nick Blackburn (6-2, 3.09) squares off against Braden Looper (5-4, 4.31) tonight. And Scott Baker (4-6, 5.22) takes on somebody named Mike Burns (0-0, 0.00) on Thursday afternoon to finish off the series. Both match-ups favor the Twins.

(Aside: Regular ST reader David in Milwaukee says he's going to be in attendance on Thursday afternoon - bummer he couldn't get a better pitching match-up. I'm hoping to get some kind of brief report on what he saw. Not a full-on RGC mind you, but I'm hoping for something to pass along to you.)

So is the Twins' ownership of Milwaukee just a fluke? Probably. The teams have been so evenly matched over the years, and the Twins have been so mediocre this year, that it's hard to believe that they cause any kind of fear or psychological discomfort to the Brewers.

Whatever it is, it's a bright spot for those of us on the Western side of the border. Oh, and by the way Wisconsinites? We're stealing your quarterback too. And before you get too uppity about it taking a former Packer to get the Vikings over the top, consider what it says about your franchise if you gave up on a guy who end up getting Minnesota to the promised land!

Baby Jesus earns an SI cover, and promptly drops below .400... The SI jinx strikes again!

Joe Mauer is on this week's Sports Illustrated cover (on news stands today, in homes tomorrow). When that news reached Twins fans, there was a collective intake of breath. It's been claimed over the years that there exists a "SI Jinx". Meaning that when a player appears on the cover, he/she is either subsequently injured or falls off in performance. So when it was announced that Mauer was going to be on the cover, naturally Twins fans started crossing their fingers.

So I decided to do a little background research. The "Jinx" goes all the way back to the first SI cover in in 1954 which featured Milwaukee Braves star Eddie Matthews. Prior to Matthews' appearance on the SI Cover, the Braves were in first place. After his appearance, he hurt his hand, missed seven games. That caused the Braves to slide out of first place and eventually lose out to the Giants for the NL Pennant.

According to a 2002 interview, SI had published 2400 covers to that point, and 37.2 percent of the time, something negative happened to said subject. So more often than not, nothing happens. But if you take a sociological view of things, 37.2 percent is more than enough to take notice of a "trend".

SI folks will point to Michael Jordan as the anti-example of the "Jinx". He appeared on the cover 51 times prior to that interview I referenced. What they won't tell you is that one of those covers came as a result of his divorce. And I'm also willing to bet there was one surrounding his father's death, as well as his departure from the NBA to try and play baseball. Maybe the covers didn't "Jinx" him per se. But not all 51 covers were positive things.

Look, when it comes to sports, and pretty much life in general, I believe in these sorts of things. I think there are jinxes. I think there are whammies. I believe in magambo. I believe in superstitions. I don't use the phrase "no hitter" while a pitcher's making a run at one. I admire anyone who grows a playoff beard while their hockey team's in the playoffs (if mine wasn't so pathetic, and my team made the playoffs once in a while, I'd try it myself). If a team I'm rooting for is in a slump, I'll either wear a jersey, or not wear their jersey to try and change up the luck.

That may sound silly, but you can't prove that it doesn't have an effect. And until you can, I'm going to stay in "better safe than sorry" mode, thank you.

So I'm not going to panic over Mauer's SI cover just yet. I didn't think he had a chance to stay over .400 anyway. But if his fall-off becomes precipitous, or if there's some sort of injury that befalls him, I'll be trying to reverse-curse SI in a big way!

Don't look now, but the Timberwolves are threatening to become interesting... What?! The NBA?! But I hate the NBA!

That's true, but the one time a year where it starts to intrigue me is around the Draft, which comes your way Thursday night.

Yesterday, we learned that the T-Wolves had traded Randy Foye (otherwise known as: Not Brandon Roy) and Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards for the #5 pick in tomorrow night's Draft and 3 players I've never heard of. That gives the Wolves 4 first-round picks tomorrow night, including the 5th and 6th picks overall.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. Seems to me that they're setting themselves up to try and move up into one of the top 3 picks in the first round. Whether that's to get UConn's 7-3 prodigy Hasheem Thabeet, or Spain's Ricky Rubio is tough to say. But either way, I doubt we've heard the last of the Wolves' movement.

So why do I care? In terms of what happens after, I don't. But I do like a good sports puzzle. Trying to observe the moves that teams make and decipher what their big-picture game plan is. This is a tough thing to do, even under the best of circumstances, because it assumes that the folks ultimately making the decisions know what the hell they're doing. We've received no such assurances from the new regime with the Wolves, so making such assumptions is dangerous.

But for the same reason folks enjoy fantasy sports, it's fun to mentally place yourself in the war room and try to figure out what's coming. So in that sense I'm looking forward to tomorrow night. After that, I'll go right back to hating the NBA.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford takes a love trip to Argentina... Yeah, this one has nothing to do with sports, but it's hitting the wire hard at the moment, and it's just ridiculous enough for me to comment on it.

Argentina? Really? You couldn't find a gal a little closer to run around on your wife with?

Maybe he figured that if it was off-continent, it didn't count.

And how the hell does he figure he's not going to get caught? I know he told the staff he was going "hiking in the Appalachians" (which sounds like a good euphemism to me... hey Bob, what are you doing Friday night? I'm going "hiking in the Appalachians"... if ya know what I mean!) - and I'm amazed that clever bit of obfuscation didn't work - but he doesn't think people are going to check in on him at some point?

Speaking of oddities, what's the connection between potential 2012 Republican Presidential candidates, and cheating on their wives? First the Senator from Nevada, and now this guy. But I wonder if the Nevada Senator really counts. If your state's most populous city is Las Vegas, isn't a little dalliance sort of expected? Seriously, I can see that guy getting re-elected, no problem.

By the way if I was Minnesota First Lady, Mary Pawlenty, I might keep my eyes peeled. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Okay, that's a good spot to wrap this up. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Make sure to check back on Friday for your weekly fill of DFTU!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

6-22-09: Top 5 Managers

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another work-week. I hope your weekend was a good one. As far as I know, everybody involved in the Trench Extravaganza managed to survive it without any major injuries. A few jammed fingers and several sore muscles are par for the course, and are nothing some ice and Advil can't fix. All in all a very fun time.

Sunday wasn't quite as profitable at the Track, but it's hard not to have fun while you're there!

So I had a solid weekend and as I said, I hope yours was good too!

Speaking of good weekends, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa won his 2500th game as a big league skipper. That puts him 3rd on the all-time list behind only legends Connie Mack and John McGraw. And that got me to thinking... if I ran a ball club, who'd be the top 5 guys I'd target to manage my team, assuming everyone was available? I'll discuss...

Let's shake off the weekend rust and get after this thing!

"I am no more humble than my talents require."
- Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972), American pianist, composer, author, comedian, and actor


My talent level? Most people, including me, would agree that it's entirely average. My humility level? That's going to depend on who you ask.

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On the other hand, you'll find all kinds of agreement about Tony LaRussa's humility level. Let's just say you'd have to have a sizable chart to measure it.

But you can't argue with his success. 2500 wins as a manager is outstanding. Think about it. 100-win seasons are rare. And you'd have to pile up 25 of those to get to where Tony is today.

So, as I mentioned earlier, that got me thinking about ranking the current managers. At least to a point where I can bring you a Top 5 list. My criteria were rather subjective. I basically sat down and thought, "if I were running a team, who would I want managing it?"

Here's what I came up with:

1. Bobby Cox: 2359 wins, 5 pennants, 1 World Series title

Currently with the Atlanta Braves, Cox's 29-year managerial career includes a 4-year run with the Toronto Blue Jays. Often older managers have trouble relating to younger players. Culturally, they just can't connect. But Cox seems to be one of the exceptions to that rule.

He's been as consistent as any manager in the game. Sure, LaRussa has more wins. But he's also worn out his welcome on two different teams, and he's currently testing the patience of a third. Cox seems to have a situation where he can stay in Atlanta as long as he likes.

What I like most about him is his ability to develop pitching. And pitching is the core of any team. It's true they've been down the last couple of years, but Atlanta was a veritable pitching factory for a long stretch of time. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Mark Wohlers, Mike Hampton, and now Jair Jurrjens have all had the best years of their careers under Cox's guidance.

I want my club to have a steady, experience hand at the wheel. Cox fits that mold as well as anyone.

2. Joe Torre: 2197 wins, 6 pennants and 4 World Series titles.

Speaking of steady, experienced hands, I give you Joe Torre.

There are those who would say that his success is due more to his landing the Yankee job in a timely manner. I'd counter that by pointing out that he guided the Dodgers to the playoffs last year, and has them sitting atop the NL West with the best record in the big leagues this year.

What he proved in New York is that he was capable of taking a locker room full of various ethnicities, cultures and egos and meld them into a functioning unit. And that skill is more important than ever today. Today's successful manager has to not only be able to get his team to be fundamentally sound, he has to be able to do it in English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Okay, Torre doesn't speak all those languages, but my point is, that he has had to figure out a way to communicate what he wants with those language barriers in tact.

Winning 4 World Series titles in New York is not easy. Sure you've got more tools in your toolbox. But you've also got exponentially more back-seat drivers telling you how you should be using them.

Torre's patient, measured approach is exactly the kind of leadership I'd want on my club.

3. Tony LaRussa: 2500 wins, 5 pennants, 2 World Series titles.

Yeah, I sorta ripped him earlier, but 2500 wins is 2500 wins.

The knock on LaRussa is that while his baseball IQ is higher than most, it's not as high as he thinks he is. This was the guy who thought batting his pitcher 8th was a great strategy. Re-inventing the wheel anyone? Let's just say, it didn't work.

The main reason I'd want LaRussa steering my ship, is because he brings Dave Duncan with him as pitching coach. Duncan has revived more pitching careers than Quentin Tarantino has acting careers. His most recent reclamation job was on former Twin, Kyle Lohse. Lohse has had some injury trouble last year, but quite literally saved his career with a fantastic year last year.

Jeff Weaver's only consistent year was with St. Louis under Duncan's guidance. And if you go back to LaRussa's days in Oakland, Duncan took a washed-up starter by the name of Dennis Eckersley and helped turn him into a Hall of Fame closer.

I'll live with LaRussa's "I'm a genius, just ask me" moments if it gets me Duncan as part of the deal.

4. Jim Leyland: 1364 wins, 2 pennants, 1 World Series title

Leyland is the definition of "old school". He gives memorable quotes like, "Our guy was good, but their guy was better." And he's one of the few skippers who'll sneak up to the clubhouse for a quick heater between innings*.

(* - The Sports Take officially discourages the practice of smoking. Though management does wish that the government wasn't so restrictive about it. You want to tax the hell out of it? Go right ahead. But when you start telling people when and where they can or can't use what's still a legal product, it gets a little silly. Rant, fin.)

Plus, Leyland's melt-downs are iconic. While not quite as volatile as the guy coming up at #5, Leyleand definitely gets his money's worth. What's best about them is their timing. Leyland doesn't just go out there to go crazy for no reason. Every melt-down is calculated for effect. Whether it's to light a fire under his club, or to keep one of his players from getting themselves run out of the game, each time Leyland gets tossed, he's got a plan.

If you want to know how good this guy is, consider the fact that he got Pittsburgh to the NL Championship Series and lost on a dramatic play by the Braves (and Bobby Cox), and his World Series title came while he managed the Florida Freaking Marlins. If you can have success with those two franchises, you can skipper my club any day.

5. Ron Gardenhire: 657 wins, 0 pennants, 0 World Series title

I can picture my buddy Josh rolling his eyes and muttering something involving the word "homer" as he reads this.

And while I'll admit freely that I'm a Twins fan, and a fan of the work that Gardy's done with the club, I believe there are at least 25 or so teams out there that'd love to have him at the helm.

With limited resources, and more than his fair share of injuries, all Gardenhire's done is guided his club to 3 division titles. And there hasn't been a year with him at the helm where the Twins haven't been in contention.

I once wrote a bit calling him the "MacGyver" of managers, because of the number of times he's had to string together line-ups with paper clips and chewing gum, and yet he always finds a way to stay competitive.

Granted, he'll need to push a team over the top and get himself a pennant and a World Series title before he'll be considered amongst the greats in Twins history (TK has two of each), and confirm my confidence in putting him on this list.

If you want a team that plays fundamentally sound baseball, you could do a lot worse than Ron Gardenhire.

So there you have it. Those are my Top 5. Anybody want to argue about somebody I've left off the list? Scroll down and attach a comment. I'd love to hear it.

That's all for today. I'm back on Wednesday with more Sports Take goodness for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

6.19-09: DFTU

-Hello again everybody...

We're mere hours away from another weekend. And of course, it's not just any weekend, it's Father's Day weekend. And for yours truly, that means two things.

First, it means the annual Trench Extravaganza at my buddy's house tomorrow. If a bunch of nearly-middle-aged men playing dodgeball is slightly disconcerting, then watching them play a version of dodgeball which decreases the number of projectiles, but increases the number of directions one can be targeted from, might be worse, or maybe it's better. Whatever. We have fun with it. And over the years, we've managed to refrain from getting anybody seriously injured. That's got to be worth something, right?

More importantly, this weekend is a time for all of us kids to pay homage to our fathers. I'm terribly lucky to have the father I have, and I don't mind saying so. Mostly because I think it's the truth. But partly because I find myself becoming more and more like him as each year goes by, and the only way I can keep that from scaring the hell out of me, is to emphasize all the ways in which that's not such a bad thing.

So Happy Father's Day, Dad! Thanks for everything you've done for me over the years. I hope the card got there on time. If it didn't, don't worry. It'll still get there before Mark's does! (I can say that because I know he doesn't read the blog!)

But before we get to the weekend, we still have Friday to contend with. And regular readers know that Fridays equal DFTU time!

So let's get to the gettin'!

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862), American author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist.


I suppose you could say that there's a certain amount of vanity involved in any published writing. After all, why are any of us really interested in what anyone else has to say, no matter how much living they've done at all?

For me, I balance the vanity of my writing, and the natural ego boost I get from the compliments some of you are nice enough to pass along to me, by freely admitting that I have no formal training, and only a smidgen of natural ability when it comes to writing. It's something I do because I enjoy the process. And the fact that any of you wish to take the time to read what I've written is the ultimate icing on an otherwise average cake.

So basically, I'm saying thank you. I don't really understand why you're reading this. But I appreciate the hell out of the fact that you are!

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Okay. Enough of the introspection. Let's get to the updating!

That's right. You've waited all week for it. Now you get your just reward. It's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment..

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 34-34, in second place in the AL Central, and two games behind the Detroit Tigers.

The road trip wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but not as horrible as it could've been. 5-5 isn't great, but considering their record on the road prior to that, I'll take it.

They've since finished off a series win against the Pirates. I could argue that the Pirates are a team that maybe the Twins should've swept. Especially considering that the games were in the Dome. But it's awfully tough to be upset about a series victory. And you certainly can't win 'em all, right?

Another number that's encouraging is the Twins run differential. ESPN.com has that stat as part of its standings page. And I'm not sure why other sites don't. Having a positive run differential doesn't always translate to success, and likewise, a negative RD doesn't mean you're doomed to failure either. Hell, I think the Diamondbacks won a division a few years back with a negative RD. But there certainly are trends, and right now the Twins are tied with the Tigers with the best RD in the Central division. Mind you, Minnesota's +19 is a far cry from Boston's (whom I hate) +65 and the Dodgers' +82. But right now, they're not competing with those teams for a playoff spot. And of the teams they are competing with, they're as good as anybody.

Hitting's only part of the game though. And unfortunately for people like me, pitching often gets short-changed. Did you know that Nick Blackburn's complete game for the Twins yesterday was the first by a Twins starting pitcher all year? I did. Scott Baker took a game into the ninth not all that long ago, but couldn't close it out.

Blackburn has quietly become the Twins most reliable starter. He's 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.56 doesn't knock you over and his WHIP of 1.254 is pretty average. But what pitching fans like me appreciate is that when you send Nick to the mound, you can pretty much pencil in 7 innings of solid pitching. If you play good defense behind a guy like that and get any hitting at all, you're going to win more games than not.

And as improved as the starting pitching has been of late, the bullpen has quietly settled itself into a serviceable unit. Don't look now, but Matt Guerrier has 3 wins and a 3.03 ERA. Between him and Jose Mijares, the 8th inning is pretty much set. And I can't say enough about the job R.A. Dickey has done in the long-reliever role. It's not the most glamorous spot on a ball club, but if you can find a guy to soak up innings when your starters flame out, so as not to burn up the rest of the bullpen, that's an invaluable thing. Dickey's been that guy and more for the Twins this year. That's hard for me to say, given that I ripped the guy heartily for his 4 wild pitches in one inning as an opposing player last year. But I give credit where credit's due, so a tip of the cap to R.A.

The Twins continue inter-league play tonight as they start a weekend series against Houston at the Metrodome. Then it's round 2 of the "War on 94" as the Twins head to Milwaukee to see if the Brewers can actually win a game against their next-door rivals. After that, it's off to St. Louis for three.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 29-38, in the cellar of the NL West and 15 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

When the best thing you can say about your club is, "Hey, Brandon Webb's almost ready to start throwing again", that means you're having a rough year. Unfortunately for Arizona fans, that news was immediately followed by, "whoops, Webb had another setback and is headed back to Phoenix to get his shoulder reexamined." See? Told you it was a rough year.

Interestingly, the D'backs are the reverse of the Twins in that they actually have a better road record than home record. I guess the confines of Chase Field aren't as friendly as Arizona fans might prefer. That's probably just a statistical anomaly since they've played far more games at home than on the road. But when you're breaking down a bad team, numbers like that jump out at you.

This week's positive news is that the D'backs finally won a series, taking two of three from the Royals. You have to go back to Memorial Day weekend to find the last time that happened. So maybe inter-league play agrees with the Snakes like it does with the Twins.

Dan Haren's continuing his quest to be "the best pitcher who has no chance to win the Cy Young because the rest of his team sucks the bag". He's won three straight starts, including a complete game victory over the Astros where he was given the option of coming out in the ninth. And by "given the option", I mean that the pitching coach headed over in the direction of Haren prior to the ninth and was given a look that said, "if you try to take me out of this game, you might want to check your car for explosive devices before you drive home tonight". And given the performance of the D'backs bullpen, who can blame him?

Mark Reynolds and Steven Drew are trying to get the Arizona offense turned around. And Justin Upton's found some consistency and leads the team with a .314 batting average. But there's a long way to go. Remember that Run Differential statistic I broke out with the Twins? Yeah, the D'backs are a -29. That's a right sight better than San Diego's -71. (Good lord... -71?! Stay classy San Diego!) And perhaps that's why the Snakes are threatening to climb out of the cellar.

God, I feel like Harry Doyle in "Major League":

"In case you haven't noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven't, the Indians have managed to win a few ball games, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar."

But I'm not giving up. The division title may be out of reach, but that doesn't mean that the season isn't salvageable. First up, getting out of the cellar. After that, put the Rockies in the rear-view mirror. It won't be easy, but it can be done. And we've got to have something to look forward to, right?!

Arizona's in Seattle for a weekend series before they get to head back home for more inter-league goodness as they host the Rangers and the Angels for three a piece.

That's it for this week ladies and germs. I'll be back on Monday, hopefully in good health, with whatever fires me up over the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

6-17-09: 2009 Peek at the Picks, Vol. 2

Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump-Day to you all. And I mean that in the cleanest way possible. When I got into work today, I found out we had a little woopsie on the air earlier today. Apparently, you have to be really careful when you start extrapolating verbs from the term "Twitter". I won't go any further than that, but suffice it to say, keep your vowels to "i's" or "e's" when you're using that word.

It's been two weeks since the first edition of the 2009 Peek at the Picks, so I figure it's high time to revisit things. Has my percentage via the Sports Take Kelley Formula improved? Am I at least on the right track? Are Detroit and Houston still screwing me?

Let's find out!

"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
- Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790), author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.


Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of Ben. This quote leaped out at me after yesterday's news that Sammy Sosa was, in addition to A-Roid, on the list of 104 baseball players who flunked the now infamous 2003 drug tests.

I'm not going to make this a column-long rant about steroids and other PED's. Let me just say this: for the love of all that's holy, release the entire freaking list already. Dropping one name here or there doesn't accomplish anything. Give us all of the names. Let us have our couple weeks of ear-splitting outrage. And then let us move on. But this version of Chinese water torture has to stop.

Rant fin.

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Time for Volume 2 of the 2009 Peek at the Picks. For those of you who missed the first edition a couple of weeks ago here's the link which explains the Sports Take Kelley Formula.

So let's get to the formulating!

AL East:

Dan's Picks: Boston (whom I hate), Tampa, New York, Baltimore, Toronto

Current Standings: Boston (whom I hate), New York (-2), Tampa (-5), Toronto (-5), Baltimore (-12)

Kelley Formula Results: 15 of a possible 20 points.

Analysis: Picked up a couple of points here with a small resurgence from Tampa. Toronto's headed south, and I'm still thinking that they may move Roy Halladay before the deadline. That could make things very interesting. And how strange is it that Boston (whom I hate) is 8-0 versus the Yankees, yet the Yankees are only 2 games back. That bodes fairly well for the Bombers. It pains me to pimp the Yanks like that, but yes, I hate Boston that much.

AL Central:

Dan's Picks: Minnesota, Cleveland, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit

Current Standings: Detroit, Minnesota (-2), Chicago (-4), Kansas City (-4.5), Cleveland (-6.5)

Kelley Formula Results: 10 of a possible 20 points.

Analysis: No change from Vol. 1. Detroit's hanging in there. But they've had a rash of injuries to the back end of their starting rotation, so the time is ripe for Minnesota to surge and take control of the division. And fortunately for Twins fans, it's inter-league time, where Minnesota traditionally dominates. Chicago can't figure out if they're in it or not, so while Kansas City has slumped, there's still a good shot for them to finish 3rd. Cleveland keeps saying, "as soon as we get healthy, we'll be in the race". I've got a news flash for Tribe fans: no you won't.

AL West:

Dan's Picks:
LAAAGOCRCUSPE, Texas, Seattle, Oakland

Current Standings: Texas, LAAAGOCRCUSPE (-2), Seattle (-5.5), Oakland (-9)

Kelley Formula Results: 14 of a possible 16 points

Analysis: Also no change from Volume 1. Texas lost Josh Hamilton to injury, and Vicente Padilla is just a tweak or two away from going full-on "Milton Bradley Crazy". So they're vulnerable. But LAAAGOCRCUSPE can't seem to generate much in the way of momentum. Seattle is what Seattle is. And Oakland sucks. Just like I told you they would. As certain readers point out, I'm not right as often as I'd like, so I'm going to highlight when I am!

NL East:

Dan's Picks: Phliadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Florida, Washington

Current Standings: Philadelphia, New York (-3), Florida (-6), Atlanta (-6.5), Washington (-20)

Kelley Formula Results: 18 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: Lost a couple of points here when the Marlins creeped ahead of the Braves. Actually, I think it was more about the Braves slumping, than the Marlins surging. Apparently acquiring Nate McClouth from the Pirates wasn't the boon the Braves were hoping for. And no, that's not a typo. Washington actually is 20 games out already. There's been rumblings for a week that they're going to fire manager Manny Acta, but they've yet to pull the trigger. That's right. Things are so bad in our Nation's Capital that they can't even fire their manager correctly! The Met's are in trouble. Injuries happen to everybody, but some teams are better positioned to deal with them. It won't surprise me a bit if Philly runs away and hides sooner or later.

NL Central:

Dan's Picks: Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh

Current Standings: Milwaukee, St. Louis (-1), Cincinnati (-3), Chicago (-3.5), Pittsburgh (-5.5), Houston (-5.5)

Kelley Formula Results: 11 of a possible 24 points.

Analysis: This division is going to kill me for the rest of the year. The Cubs aren't out of it, but they aren't showing a whole lot of life either. I was as happy as anyone to see the Twins take it to them over the weekend. But it's not a good sign for the Cubs when an opposing player gets "M-V-P" chants in their ballpark. Milwaukee is still clinging to first. With that starting rotation, I have no idea how, but they're doing it. Cincinnati's hanging around within striking distance. There's a lot of young talent on that team. I don't know how long they can hang in there, but the longer they do, the more dangerous they become. Houston's where I really blew it, as several people pointed out after I made the pick. They were right, I was wrong. Moving on...

NL West:

Dan's Picks: L.A. Dodgers, Arizona, San Francisco, Colorado, San Diego

Current Standings: L.A., San Francisco (-8.5), Colorado (-11.5), San Diego (-14), Arizona (-16)

Kelley Formula Results: 14 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: It's bad enough when one team kills a division for you. It's worse when that team is one of your favorites. It's looking more and more like the ceiling for the D'backs this year is third place. I'm not saying they'll get there. But I'm fairly certain they won't finish any higher than that. Don't look now, but it's less than a month til Manny returns to L.A. And presuming he doesn't blow up the clubhouse chemistry (my guess: he won't), L.A. may be up by 15 games come trade deadline time.

Total:

Combined Kelley Formula Results: 82 of a possible 120 points (68.3%)

Last Week's CKFR: 81 of a possible 120 points (67.5%)

Last Year's CKFR: 86 of a possible 120 points (71.7%)

Analysis: That's right, I gained a whole point over the last two weeks. I was hoping to be ahead of last-year's pace by now, but there's still hope. I'm now up to three correct division leaders, and if Minnesota gets on a roll, that'll be four sooner than later.

The two Central divisions are still killing me, but the Eastern divisions are making up for that. That leaves the Western divisions to sort out how I end up. The NL West may be a lost cause. But I still have a lot of hope for LAAAGOCRCUSPE in the AL.

So there you have it. The second volume of the 2009 Peek at the Picks. The important thing to remember is the needle moved in the right direction. Even if that movement was as minimal as it gets.

That's all for today. Check back on Friday for your weekly dose of DFTU-age. The Twins are feasting on some Pirates pitching. Let's see where they stand come Friday!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

6-15-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

I'm back at the mill after a fun and relaxing weekend. Got to chill some on Saturday and then had a great time visiting with some extended family yesterday. I feel rested, refreshed and ready to go.

Wait, let me check this email from one of the bosses...

...

...

Why is there life on this planet?!

I'm only joking of course... well, mostly. But I really am in a good mood, which is rare for a Monday, so I'm gonna cling to it like a Titanic survivor to a deck chair! Speaking of which, have any of you seen that display at the Science Museum yet? Sounds kind of interesting. I'm curious to hear a first-hand review.

Okay, enough pre-ambling. There's not a lot going on today. Literally. There are all of two games on the Major League docket tonight. It's one of those little scheduling quirks that happens every now and then. So today's column will be a series of notes on stuff that's happened over the weekend.

Let's do this.

"Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use."
- Wendell Johnson


The only "Wendell Johnson" I could find was a doctor of psychology who did a lot of work on stuttering. I suppose he could be the author of this quote. But I don't know, so I don't want to quote him directly. Whoever said it, it's solid advice for any writer. Dealing in absolutes is always dangerous business. If you want a karmic backlash, go ahead and use "always" and "never" to your heart's content. Me? I'm going to try and avoid them from here on out... well as much as is reasonably possible anyway!

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Time for some Notes...

The Penguins win the Cup... I'm sure I lost at least one reader right there. Sorry Hammer. Friday night, Sidney Crosby validated all the hype over his young career by becoming the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup in NHL history.

I'm happy for Sid. I'm happy for the Penguins - whom until rather recently were in danger of being moved or folded (see Phoenix? you're not a lost cause yet...). And I'm thrilled that I didn't put the whammy on Pittsburgh by picking them to win the series.

I picked the Pens because I thought their loss in last year's Finals provided them with the experience they needed to come back this year and win the whole thing. Teams as young as Pittsburgh often need to get there and fail before they really understand what it takes to win it all.

That being said, after the Red Wings destroyed the Pens in Game 5, I figured Pittsburgh was cooked. So I guess you could say there were several reversals of the Sports Take Whammy over the course of the series.

Whether I had anything to do with altering the magambo or not, congrats go out to the Penguins on a hard-fought victory, and well earned Stanley Cup.

Oh, and I have no idea if the Hammer is going to be writing a NHL wrap-up or not. He's taking this loss pretty tough. If he does, I'll be sure to pass it along. But it might take a bit for him to get over the thought of his beloved Red Wings being Cup-less.

The Lakers won the NBA Finals... Blah, blah, blah...

Kobe won without Shaq... yadda, yadda, yadda... Phil Jackson won ring number 10... blah, blah, blah...

The Larry O'Brien trophy can't hold a candle to the Stanley Cup. And I don't give a crap about the NBA.

The Red Sox (whom I hate) own the Yankees... The Nation will love seeing these words (minus the "whom I hate") on my blog.

But the truth is the truth. The Red Sox (whom I hate) have now gone 8-0 in their season series against New York. And now the Yankees get to stew over that until August, when they next get a shot at Boston (whom I hate).

On any given night, you should be able to look at the two pitchers and have a reasonable idea of who's going to win a baseball game. But that's not the case with this series.

Thursday, New York had their ace, CC Sabathia, going against Boston's (whom I hate) 5th starter, Brad Penny. The Red Sox (whom I hate) still won 4-3. Go figure.

Sometimes teams just get in each other's heads. For instance, any team playing at home against the Twins seems to have an inherent advantage. And if you're talking about New York or Boston (whom I hate), that advantage gets dialed up at least a couple of notches.

I suppose I could try to put a positive spin on this and say, since I picked the Red Sox (whom I hate) to win the AL East, that their dominance over the Yankees has gone a long way towards making my prediction correct.

But seeing the Red Sox (whom I hate) dominate anyone just plain annoys me.

The Twins go 5-5 on their road trip... that's not great, but it could have been far worse.

And considering how woeful the Twins have been on the road over the course of this season, "it could have been worse" is actually a step in the right direction.

In fact, this latest trip has freed the Twins from the distinction of having the worst road record in the Major Leagues. Now, they have the 4th-worst road record. Hey, progress is progress folks!

Sadly, the Twins had a shot on Sunday to meet the 6-4 record I'd been hoping for. Unfortunately they ran into a tough left-handed starter in Ted Lilly. And despite Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau's stellar averages against lefties, both Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede were on the bench with various injuries. The Twins struggle as it is against solid lefties. You take those two right-handed sticks out of the line-up, and they're at a serious disadvantage.

If you're looking for positives, the Twins still kick ass in inter-league play. They're now 85-47 since 2002 when playing a team from the senior circuit. And at the risk of another round of the Sports Take Whammy, they're hosting Pittsburgh and Houston this week, there's a solid shot of that record improving. (How's that for hesitant optimism?!)

One last positive: the Twins starting pitching may finally be coming around. Scott Baker got a No-Decision yesterday, but it was his third-straight quality start. Hell, even Francisco Liriano has a streak of two-straight quality starts going. If the Twins starters are really coming around, just as Detroit's starters are stumbling a bit, first place could be considered to be squarely in the Twins' sights.

Finally, inter-league play is in full-effect... Can you believe that it's been around since 1997?!

When I heard that stat over the weekend, I did a serious double-take. 1997? 12 years? Really?! It doesn't seem like it's been that long. God am I getting old.

I'm not going to re-hash the whole "is inter-league play good or bad" debate, because I think that's pretty much been decided. The system is far from perfect. But the fans have clearly voted with their dollars. Attendance numbers are at their highest league-wide during inter-league play.

Sure, people aren't enthralled by a Tampa Bay/Colorado match-up. But neither are baseball fans at-large going to be on the edge of their seats over an Atlanta/Cincinnati 3-gamer. Meanwhile, the Mets/Yankees and Boston (whom I hate)/Philadelphia series from the weekend were all sell-outs. And this week's Cubs/White Sox series will pack them in.

People like inter-league play. Let's allow that to be the end of the debate, shall we?

And that seems like a nice place to end things for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with the latest Peek at the Picks column.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

6-12-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It's the end of another week, and I can officially say I'm fried. I won't bore you with the petty troubles of my job. I will point out for those of you that think, “hey, working in radio must be a sweet gig”, yes, it has moments where I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. But it's a job. And like any other job, there are politics, drama and annoying bosses which test one's patience and sanity. Suffice it to say that this week, those things have caught up with me, and I'm longing for a vacation.

But I'll have to settle for 48 hours of not wanting to liberally use a taser. I think I can be satisfied with that.

So no more negativity. It's Friday after all. And, as regular readers know by now, that means it's DFTU time! We're staring down the barrel of some serious inter-league play. How are the Twins and Diamondbacks set heading into it? I'll discuss.

Let's do this!

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."
- Plato (427 BC - 347 BC), Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.


I'll leave it to you to decide which end of that equation I fall on. And knowing my friends, it's a very good thing that I have no trouble with some self-deprecating humor!

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You've waited for it all week. I know there's somebody out there that's smiling in anticipation right now. Here it is. You're weekly dose. It's time for...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 30-32, in second place in the AL Central and four games behind the Detroit Tigers.

I've long said that one of the joys of baseball is that a 162-game season not only makes it a 6-month companion, but also means that you don't have to live and die with each game.

Sure it's exciting that each succeeding football game gets more important and pressure-packed. But on the other hand, it's also nice that during the baseball season, “there's always another game tomorrow”.

That being said, it's still amazing how 1/162nd of a team's season can have such an impact.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about the stomach-punch game the Twins endured yesterday.

Nick Blackburn pitched 7 innings of 3-hit, shut-out baseball. And over those 7 innings, he was staked to a 3-run lead. Then came the 8th inning. The game wasn't on TV, so I can't tell you exactly what went wrong. What I know is that approximately 7.3 nanoseconds after I'd posted, “Blackburn is dealing” on a Facebook thread, I looked down and it was 3-3. (Insert Lon's “Dan put the whammy on him” comment here.) I take full responsibility for the sudden turnaround. I know better than to mess with the baseball gods, and that line I posted on Facebook pokes them with a short stick every time.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the bullpen reverted to mid-May form and allowed the A's to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Okay, so that's just one game. What's the big deal, right? The big deal is that this was the road trip where the Twins had a chance to finally break their “we suck on the road” pattern. They'd started losing a series in Seattle, but had won two of the first three in Oakland and had a chance to go 3-1 in that series headed to face the Cubs over the weekend. But instead of that result, they ended up splitting the series, making them 3-4 on the trip so far, and in need of a sweep at Wrigley to have a winning trip.

They say that perception is everything. Imagine the difference in perception if they were 4-3 headed to Chicago, having won three in a row on the road. Instead, I'm praying the Twins can get two of three against the Cubs and manage to go 5-5 on the trip. That's possible, right? Right?!

One last Twins note before I touch on their upcoming schedule. Nick Punto just came off the disabled list (somewhere my brother is twitching and doesn't know why), forcing the Twins to make a roster move. That move turned out to be sending 2B Alexi Casilla back to AAA Rochester.

That'll get a lot of flak from Punto-haters out there. But people have to be reasonable. No, Nick isn't a Hall of Fame hitter. And he's never going to be. But when you're a mid-market team, you're not going to be able to afford .280+ hitters 1-9. It's just not realistic. But if your 9-hitter plays above-average defense, you live with his less than stellar average and understand that at least 18 other teams wish they had your problem.

Punto-haters will at least have a bone thrown their way, as it seems the hot-hitting Brendan Harris will see increased time at shortstop, while Punto slides over to play more second base. Defense is just as vital as hitting, people. Try to remember that.

As mentioned, the Twins are in Chicago today to kick off their June inter-league stretch against the Cubs. It's a day game in fact, so we're 0-0 in the bottom of the first as I type this. After this series, the Twins return home for 6 games against the Pirates and Astros. Time to make hay anyone?

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 26-35 and dead freaking last in the NL West, 14 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

I feel sorry for my Phoenix readers. This team's just downright hard to watch. It's gotten to the point now where even when Dan Haren's going to pitch, and you know you're going to get a solid starting performance, the only question is how the rest of the club is going to screw it up. That's a horrible way to go through a baseball season.

Arizona's 4-6 over their last ten games, so it's not like they've swooned their way into last-place. Rather, Colorado's on an 8-game winning streak that's moved them ahead of the Snakes.

I keep waiting for some sign that the team is starting to turn things around. One week, Justin Upton gets hot, and I think, "here it comes". Then, not so much. Currently, Stephen Drew has the hot hand. But it doesn't seem to be spreading to the rest of the club.

I don't know, Arizona fans. I really don't know what to tell you. I hate to say this season is lost, especially when there is a fair amount of talent on this team. Can anyone objectively say that Colorado has more talent than Arizona? I can't.

If they hadn't already pulled the trigger on a managerial change, I'd be saying that it might be time for that switch. But that's already been done. And the tricky part about firing the skipper as early as they did, is that they're stuck in a situation now where it hasn't changed anything, and now what do they do?

Sadly, I don't have an answer to that question. And apparently, neither does the Diamondback front office. It's frustrating for Arizona fans. This was supposed to be another competitive year. And when Manny got suspended for his "but I don't do steroids" PED-test, that should've thrown the door wide open.

But instead, Diamondback fans have this dreck to deal with. I wish I could be more positive for my Phoenix readers. But for today? I've got nothing for you.

Arizona's one of the two NL teams that isn't playing inter-league this weekend, as they host Houston for a 3-game set. Instead, they kick off their inter-league journey on Tuesday as they head to Kansas City for three, followed by a trip to Seattle for three more.

That's all for today folks. Wish I could end on a happier note, but it's "just get me to the weekend" mode today! Wait, I can end on a happier note! The Twins lead the Cubs 2-0 after three innings! (No whammy, no whammy, throwing salt over my shoulder, knocking on wood, no whammy...)

Check back on Monday for more Sports Take goodness. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

6-10-09: How Much Is He Worth?

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to Wednesday. You'd think after all this time, I'd run out of ways to complain about how much week there is left, and how I can't wait for the weekend. And perhaps the fact that I'm discussing the nature of my kvetching instead of actually whining about it means I have.

I doubt seriously that's the case, but for now, I'll just say: come on Saturday! Dan needs to relax!

Moving on...

Today's column is one that I've been pondering for a while. Twins fans know that Joe Mauer's contract is up at the end of 2010. Baseball fans know you don't want to let a star player enter the final season of his contract without some form of extension. So presuming the Twins are going to make a major push to get Mauer extended sometime between now and next year's Spring Training, what exactly is he worth? Obviously I can only surmise and speculate, but that's what you come here to read, right!?

Right?!

I thought so...

"I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally."
- W. C. Fields (1880 - 1946), American comedian, actor and juggler.


"Juggler"? Really? I had no idea. But I agree that it does make it a lot easier to treat everyone equally when you're down on humanity as a whole!

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Someone I'm not down on is Joe Mauer.

Going into last night's game against the A's, Joe was hitting .413 with 12 home runs and 35 RBI. His On-Base Percentage was .497. He's Slugging .786, which gives him an OPS of 1.282. And considering the ass-whipping the Twins laid on the A's, I'm guessing those numbers haven't gone down. I've gushed plenty in the past about how incredible those numbers are, especially given the fact that he missed the entire first month of the season with back trouble.

But today I want to gaze into the future a bit.

Here's what I know. One, Joe's contract is up after 2010. Two, the Twins want to sign him to an extension that ensures he plays the bulk of his prime in Minnesota. And three, to accomplish that they're going to have to pay him a ridiculous amount of money.

That hasn't always been the pattern with the Twins. Even back in the World Championships days, players took hefty "home town discounts" to stay in Minnesota. Kirby Puckett turned down a big offer from Boston, and spurned the White Sox advances to take less money and remain a Twin. Kent Hrbek also could've made more money elsewhere, but stayed in Minnesota.

Then you look at recent Twins free agents. Torii Hunter was allowed to leave after the Twins made a token offer that was blown out of the water by the Angels (and that's putting it mildly). And after Torii was allowed to walk, Johan Santana made it clear he had no desire to remain in Minnesota beyond his contract, which forced the Twins to make a trade which likely won't go down in the annals of legendary Twins successes.

So for the Twins to step up and lock Mauer into a deal which will keep him a Twin for the foreseeable future is somewhat out of character.

That being said, I don't doubt they'll do everything in their power to make it happen. So in essence it becomes a question of numbers. How long of a contract do they need to offer to entice Mauer to not test the free agent market, and at what price?

It's not as simple as it might sound. On the one hand, the Twins want to offer Mauer a deal that is satisfying enough to keep him from taking calls from New York or Boston (whom I hate). On the other hand, they don't want to lock themselves into an oppressive contract which could suck up an overly-large portion of their payroll with a guy who's had injury troubles in the past.

Like most things in life, it's a matter of finding the right balance. And that's what I'm attempting to do today.

To accomplish this, I decided first to look at the salaries of some catchers around the league.

The highest paid catcher in baseball is currently Jorge Posada for the Yankees at $13.1 million. Posada's a career .277 hitter with an average slugging percentage of .479. Numbers that Mauer crushes.

Ivan Rodriguez made $12.4 million from the Tigers last year, and averages .301 and .475. Jason Varitek made $10.4 million from the Red Sox (whom I hate) in 2008. He averages .262 and .441.

If we look to recent history for highly paid catchers, Mike Piazza's name comes to mind. He made $16 million in 2004-2005, when he averaged .260 and .450. That money was more about what he'd done previously, than what he did in those years obviously.

So given those numbers, and how they relate to what Mauer's projected to do, it's probably safe to set $15 million as an absolute minimum for what Mauer's contract would have to average.

But what about the maximum? A-Roid is the highest paid player in baseball, earning $33 million from the Yankees this year. That's absurd and obviously way out of the Twins' range. After Alex, it goes Manny ($23.9 million)*, Jeter ($21.6 million), Teixeira ($20.6 million), and Beltran ($19.2 million) to round out the top 5.

(*- Aside: So the top two earners in MLB have both been shrouded by steroid scandals in the last 5 months. Sometimes baseball is difficult to defend.)

Mark Teixera's deal set the market last year when he signed for 8 years and $180 million. And I think the $22.5 million that deal will average is probably a fair ceiling for Mauer.

So at minimum the deal should average $15 million and at maximum we'll say $23 million.

The next question is length. And this is where it gets really tricky.

Though no one who watched Mauer play three sports at Cretin-Derham Hall high school will question his fabulous athletic ability, they also have to admit that he's had some injury troubles since coming to the big leagues. And when you add in the fact that he's a catcher - the most physically taxing position on the field - you can understand why the Twins would be nervous to commit to a extra-long-term contract with him.

But clearly they'll have to overcome some of that hesitation, because the teams that would be after Mauer should he become a free agent will easily be offering 5, 6 and 7-year deals.

Going back to the Teixeira deal, Mark was 28 when he signed that 8-year deal. Mauer will be 27 in 2010 when his contract expires. Looking through the numbers of some of the great catchers in baseball, it looks like they peak in their late 20's to early 30's. So if a 5-year deal gets Mauer to 32, that's an easy minimum length to set.

When A-Roid signed that ridiculous contract with the Rangers, it was for 10 years. A 10-year deal for Mauer puts him at 37. That's probably too long to consider, but let's set it as the maximum anyway.

So the Twins have to be looking at offering a deal between 5-10 years for an average yearly salary of between $15 to $23 million per year.

Now that we've got those ranges, it's opinion time!

Were I Twins management, here's what I do. I dial up Joe's agent Ron Shapiro and say, "what's it going to take to get Joe locked in?"

Ron's not going to directly answer that question because he doesn't want to limit the possibilities, but at least it starts a dialogue.

Ultimately, I tell Ron, look, we can't spend what the Yankees and Red Sox (whom I hate) can, but here's what we're going to do.

We'll give Joe a couple of options. Here's a contract for 6 years and $120 million ($20 million per year). And here's a contract for 8 years and $144 million ($18 million per year). Does he want the higher average? Or the longer-term?

And then we see if Joe wants to be a career Twin or not.

Those numbers are astonishing I know. And the other consideration the Twins have to make is that whatever they sign Mauer for, they're going to have to pony up something similar for Justin Morneau when his deal expires in 2014.

But I still think they have to do it. Mauer is the face of the franchise. And deservedly so after he's seemingly made the leap from a high-average hitter with minimal power, to an all-around top-5 hitter. All the while being one of the top-3 defensive catchers in the league.

So what do you think Twins fans? Is that too much? Not enough? Feel free to add your thoughts below.

In the mean-time, keep watching the Baby Jesus. He's something special. Hopefully the Twins will keep him and pay him to stay that way!

That's all for today. I'm back on Friday with all the DFTU you can handle. The Twins are on the road, and the D'backs are struggling regardless of where they play. How much room is there on that ledge again? Find out Friday!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

6-8-09: Belmont Stakes 141 Thoughts

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back to the work week. The weekend, as always, was far too short. Fortunately, it felt short on a weekend where the weather blew hard core.

I'm sure the city of Seattle is a wonderful place and all, but if I wanted 55 and rain in June, I'd have moved there. Then again, I shouldn't complain I guess. I choose to live in a state where I risk below-zero temperatures for a third of the year. So what do I know?

Today I'm reviewing what happened in the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes. Once again I came within a neck of winning money, but whiffed. Worse, I steered my Mom into the wrong $14 bet. What can I say? Maybe I'm not the wonderful son I thought I was! I'll break down the race, and what I learned this Triple Crown season.

Ring the bell and we're off!

"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to."
- Granville Hicks (1901 - 1982), American Marxist novelist, literary critic, educator, and editor.


Set the "Marxism giving birth to Communism which censored as much as any political philosophy in history (see: China)" bit aside, and the sentiment is a solid one. Fortunately for you, my dear readers, I don't think I know more than anybody. Ergo, I can't really censor anything!

The 141st running of the Belmont Stakes is in the books, and I still haven't picked a Belmont winner correctly.

Sorry about that. And a special apology to my dear mother, who asked me to wager her $14 winnings from the casino on a winner. I dutifully put it on Mine That Bird. What can I tell you? She owes me $14.

I mentioned in the column on Friday that the length of the Belmont leads to odd results sometimes. And Saturday was no exception.

Let's start with the surprising fact that co-second-favorite Dunkirk shot out of the gate and went right to the lead. The conventional wisdom was that Dunkirk would stalk the pace sitting right behind a speedball like Miner's Escape and then attack down the stretch. But it didn't go that way.

And I think that's because Dunkirk's trainer, Todd Pletcher, was watching the early races at Belmont and saw what most everybody else was seeing. Namely that the track was running very fast and that if a horse could get loose on the lead, they often held on to win the race.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "loose": getting loose on the lead means that a horse gets out in front of the pack and puts enough distance between it and the rest of the horses that the competition basically gives up and the lead-horse cruises to an easy victory.)

Speed was winning big time at Belmont on Saturday, so it's my belief that Pletcher told his jockey to send Dunkirk to the front right out of the gate and see if they couldn't run away and hide from the pack. And it very nearly worked.

Miner's Escape challenged Dunkirk for that early lead, but didn't hang on for very long. But as he did in both the Derby and the Preakness, Mine That Bird had something to say about the outcome of the race. Calvin Borel, back on MTB after riding Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, gave MTB the go signal as they entered the last turn, and coming down the back-stretch it looked like MTB was primed to win the race.

But that's when the length of the Belmont Stakes jumped up and caught him.

If the Belmont had been run at a mile and a quarter, or a mile and three-sixteenths like the other two races, I think MTB very well could have won. But the back-stretch at Belmont is longer than those other two tracks, and I think MTB ran out of gas a bit.

Instead, MTB's half-brother, Summer Bird blew by both MTB and Dunkirk and won the race. Summer Bird was jockeyed by Kent Desormeaux, who was on Big Brown last year when he failed to win the Triple Crown. This year, Desormeaux had a horse who was better rested and got a better trip. He waited just a touch longer than Borel did to ask his horse, and the results were obvious. Summer Bird had more left in the tank and kicked in big-time after the final turn and blew by the game MTB and Dunkirk.

When I started handicapping the Belmont, I feared that kind of result, but I just couldn't figure out who was going to be the horse to come get MTB. To my credit, I gave you Summer Bird to use in your exotics. And it almost worked out spectacularly for me. I bet two exactas on Saturday. On the first one I had MTB finishing first and then needed one of 4 horses, including Summer Bird, to finish second. On the second one, I needed one of those same 4 horses to finish first, with MTB finishing second. That may seem contradictory, but strange things happen in horse racing, so it's often smart to back yourself up with your pick finishing second, just in case. And had MTB held off Dunkirk, that strategy would've worked out swimmingly. Unfortunately for yours truly, I didn't give Dunkirk any credit, and it cost me. Coming down the stretch, I thought for sure he'd burn out and MTB would cruise to a second place finish. But I have to give Dunkirk credit, he came back and beat MTB for second by a neck.

So what did I learn this Triple Crown season?

First of all, this crop of three-year-olds might be the weakest I've seen since I started betting these races. That may seem like a convenient excuse, since I whiffed on all three races. But I know I'm far from alone in that regard.

Nobody saw MTB coming in the Derby. I said it at the time, and I remain firmly convinced. There's no way you could look at that horse's past performances and think that he had any kind of shot in the Derby. It was so convincing in fact, that I wrote an entire column outlining the special circumstances which I thought led to his win, and how they'd never come together like that again.

I was wrong. MTB proved me wrong in the Preakness by giving a dominant Rachel Alexandra a scare down the stretch. So much of a scare, that it played a role in Rachel not running in the Belmont. Her connections won't tell you that. But there's ample evidence that MTB's performance in the Preakness played a role in the decision not to run RA in the Belmont. And MTB confirmed my incorrectness with another solid finish in the Belmont.

But I think the fact that MTB was the only horse to hit the board in all three races - and more-over, he was the only one who was even close to accomplishing that - says a lot about the lack of talent in this years 3-year-old class.

Hopefully next year's field will be a little better. And the hope always lives that we'll break the now 31-year streak since we've had a Triple Crown winner.

So let's review: I broke my Kentucky Derby winner streak this year. That sucked. I completely whiffed on that race. Then I continued a 2-year streak of picking the Preakness winner. But because of the low odds, I didn't bet that horse to win, so I whiffed on that race too. That really sucked. Finally, I continued my woeful performance in the Belmont, missing on the winner, and losing out on one of my bets by a neck. That put a cap on the sucky year that was my Triple Crown season.

But don't fret for me! The gambling gods taketh, but they also giveth. Some friends of mine from Wisconsin were on their way through town yesterday and wanted to stop down at the track and wager on some races. Initially, I wasn't psyched about going down there two days in a row, but I hadn't seen them in a long time, so I figured what the hell, and I went. And thank heavens I did.

The first race I wagered on was the 5th event of the afternoon. It was a $15,000 Claiming race for 3-year-olds and up. Friendly Force was the Morning Line favorite at 2-1, and by post-time, he was joined by Not So Fast Festus at those odds as co-favorites. But there was a long shot by the name of Tugfire starting out of the 3-hole who I liked a little bit. He didn't have the same kind of speed numbers, but he was a closer (similarly styled to Mine That Bird) and in the early races, it looked like the track was favoring horses with a late kick coming from the back of the pack.

So even though he was 10-1 on the Morning Line, and his odds kept getting longer and longer as wagers were made, I thought he had a chance to hit the board. So I put the two favorites on top of Tugfire in a $5 exacta. More specifically, I needed either Friendly Force or Not So Fast Festus to win, and Tugfire to come second.

Tugfire hung in there in the early going, but when it came to the turn, he swung a lot wider than I would've liked, and I actually turned to my friends and said, "my 3 horse just died". Meanwhile, Not So Fast Festus broke away from the pack a bit and established a solid lead. He was trailed a couple lengths back by another long-shot, Corksapoppin, who one of my friends had bet to Show (finish 3rd), which would pay if the horse finished second as well. So I figured, at least she'd cash a little bit.

But then a funny thing happened. A horse came streaking from the back. It was too late to catch Not So Fast Festus, but the horse had a shot at catching Corksapoppin. I had just noticed it, but hadn't figured out which horse it was, when my buddy said, "isn't that your 3?" And upon closer inspection, it was Tugfire streaking towards the wire. Not So Fast Festus won handily,but it was a photo finish for second between Tugfire and Corksapoppin. Now, as it turned out, Tugfire went off at 27-1, so I knew that if he was determined to have finished second, it'd be a nice price. So I turned to the gal who had Corksapoppin and said, "no offense, but I really hope you lose this one." Being the savvy gal that she is, she agreed.

And the results of the photo showed...

Tugfire was your 2nd place finisher! The 6-3 exacta paid $36.50 to a $1 bet. And if you've stuck with the story at this point, you'll recall that I had made a $5 bet. Quick math time $36.50 x 5 = $182.50.

And just like that I'd wiped out all my losses from the Triple Crown races plus a solid chunk of profit.

So I'd like to take this moment to thank Scott Kosmo and Erica Thiess for getting me out to the Track on a day where I was walking around lucky and didn't even know it!

That's all for today folks. Hope you enjoyed my trials and travails as we wound our way through the Triple Crown season.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a column I've been tinkering with for a while. Hopefully it turns out as well in actuality, as it's seemed to be in my mind!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

6-5-09: Belmont Stakes Preview and DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've fooled the employment gods again! It doesn't look to be the greatest weekend weather-wise here in the upper Midwest, but I'll take 48 hours of early-Spring Seattle over working any time!

Of course, technically, I'll be working tomorrow as we're broadcasting live from Canterbury Park for the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes from New York. But as I've said in the past, that's not so much work as compensation for the wagers I'll be making on the race!

And that leads me to today's column. I have no streak what-so-ever when it comes to the Belmont. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever picked a Belmont winner correctly. That comes in part due to rooting for a Triple Crown winner rather than trying to be unbiased while handicapping the race. But it's also due to the unique nature of the Belmont: it's length. So I'll try to take all that into account and bring you my pick for Belmont 141.

Oh, and because it's a Friday, don't think you're getting out of here without your weekly dose of the DFTU!

Let's get to it!

"Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy."
- Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727), English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian


Most people remember Newton for his scientific exploits. But it's easy to forget that during his time, science and philosophy were considered equally worthy pursuits. People complain a lot these days about the over-specialization of kids in sports. Playing hockey or basketball year-round instead of playing a variety of sports throughout the year. Sure specializing may help develop specific skills, but it's theorized that kids lose out on being a well-rounded athlete, and maybe even a well-rounded person. Perhaps the same theory applies to academics who focus on a certain scientific pursuit rather than mixing in some form of philosophy and theology. I'm reminded of a line from Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" where one of the characters states that the island's scientists were so focused on whether they could do something, that they didn't stop to ask themselves if they should be doing it.

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None of which has anything to do with the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes. But I found it interesting!

Equally interesting is whether jockey Calvin Borel can become the first jockey in history to win all three Triple Crown race while riding two different mounts.

That's the drama we've been reduced to since the owner and trainer of Rachel Alexandra decided not to run the Preakness Stakes champion in the Belmont. It's unfortunate that we don't get to see a de facto rubber match between Rachel and Mine That Bird, but running three races in that period of time is stressful on any horse. And the last thing anyone wants to see is a horse getting hurt because it ran in a race it wasn't equipped to handle.

The Belmont is perhaps the toughest test of any of the 3 Triple Crown races. All the more so because it's the last of the 3. At a mile and a half, it's the longest of all three races, which means the pace is going to be completely different.

Think of sprinters who run the 100m and 200m dashes. It's not like you're going from the 100m to a marathon, but there's still a pace difference. You can't run the 200m at the same pace as the 100m, or you'll burn out too quickly. That's the same issue these horse will be facing. None of them has raced a mile and a half before, and it's entirely likely that none of them will ever race that far again. That makes it difficult to predict who'll handle that pace well and who won't.

But I've still got to try and find a winner, so let's run down the field and find out who I'm picking to win Belmont 141:

1 - Chocolate Candy (10-1)

Chocolate Candy's last race was the Kentucky Derby where he finished 5th to MTB by 13 lengths. That sounds like a huge deficit, but considering the run that MTB made at the end, Candy wasn't that far off the rest of the pack. He's not a horse that I think will win, but he could be useful in exactas and trifectas.

2 - Dunkirk (4-1)

Another horse that skipped the Preakness after running in the Derby. Coming off a huge performance in the Florida Derby, Dunkirk's effort in the Derby was a classic bounce. The question is, will the time off between the Derby and Belmont be enough to have him back on form? I tend to doubt it. He had nearly a month between the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and he's had 5 weeks between the Derby and the Belmont. Does one more week of rest make enough of a difference? I don't think so. I doubt I'll use him.

3 - Mr. Hot Stuff (15-1)

Yet another Derby entrant coming back for another Triple Crown shot. Mr. Hot Stuff wasn't so hot in the Derby finishing 15th. Nothing else he's done since leads me to believe he'll be any hotter in the Belmont. I'm tossing him.

4 - Summer Bird (12-1)

I gave you Musket Man as a long shot to hit the board in the Derby, and Summer Bird's going to fill that role for me in the Belmont. He's also coming off a so-so Derby where he finished 6th, but I like the fact that in every race prior to that, he was closing on the leader down the stretch. That'll be key with the longer distance the horses will have to run in the Belmont. I'll definitely be using him in exactas and trifectas.

5 - Luv Gov (20-1)

Our first non-Derby runner in the Belmont. Luv Gov finished 8th in the Preakness with a pretty decent speed figure. There's not a lot in his past to suggest that he'll hit the board in the Belmont, but he might be worth a look if you want to get really creative.

6 - Charitable Man (3-1)

The first horse in the field that hasn't run in either previous Triple Crown race. And yet, he's considered to be Mine That Bird's stiffest competition. That's based mainly off his above average effort in the Peter Pan Stakes on the 9th of May. But if you look through his history, his wins have come against fairly sub-par fields. I can't rate a horse highly if he hasn't beaten anybody. He may very well hit the board, but I think there's better value elsewhere, so I won't be using him.

7 - Mine That Bird (2-1)

Winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Place finisher in the Preakness Stakes, MTB is your Morning Line favorite in the Belmont. Given the superior performance of MTB in the last two Triple Crown races, how could you make any other horse the favorite? Obviously he's got to be on your ticket somewhere.

8 - Flying Private (12-1)

The only horse other than Mine That Bird that will run all three Triple Crown races. And I have no idea why. He had a horrible performance in the Derby, but finished 4th in the Preakness. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has forgotten more about horse racing than I'll ever know, but Flying Private's entry in this race just doesn't make much sense. He'll be tossed.

9 - Miner's Escape (15-1)

Winner of the Tessio Stakes (probably the second biggest race at Pimlico to the Preakness), this horse is still seriously outclassed by the rest of this field. I can't use him.

10 - Brave Victory (15-1)

No Triple Crown experience here either. BV finished second to Charitable Man in the Peter Pan with a decent, but not outstanding speed figure. He hasn't won since January at Gulfstream Park. And he didn't hit the board in any of his races until the Peter Pan (which to me, only further undermines any confidence one might have in Charitable Man). I won't be using him.

So you may have guessed it by now, but I'm finally on the Mine That Bird bandwagon. I dissed the horse in the Derby and doubly-dissed him in the Preakness. No more! I can't find any horse in this race that's shown better form coming into the Belmont and therefore MTB's my pick to win the race.

But since he's 2-1 on the Morning Line and will only get bet down from there, we'll have to look elsewhere for value. So I'll likely be putting an exacta ticket together with MTB winning and looking for Chocolate Candy, Summer Bird or Luv Gov to finish second.

Tune in tomorrow around 5:27 central time and see if I've started a Belmont streak!

That's all for the Belmont, but we're not done here on a Friday. The end of the week means your weekly dosage of DFTU goodness, so here it is:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 27-28 and in second place in the AL Central, 2.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

The good news? The Twins are 21-12 at home which is the best such record in the majors. The bad news? They're 6-16 on the road, which is the worst such mark in the majors. Go figure.

It's not like they lack for veteran leadership. It's not like their manager isn't experienced. The only area where they obviously lack a proven track record is in their starting staff. I've discussed their youth and inexperience previously, but it's the only plausible explanation that I can find for that startling home/road disparity.

But even that explanation is suspect. Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey are actually less experienced than Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, but they're the two most successful starters the Twins have so far. Baker's had a couple solid starts in a row, so hopefully he's getting things turned around. Liriano is approximately one more solid Anthony Swarzak start away from a trip to the bullpen when Glen Perkins comes back from the disabled list. Swarzak got shelled in his last outing (welcome to the big leagues rookie!), but that was bound to happen. We'll see how he adjusts in his next outing. Now that the advance scouts have a solid feel for him, he'll have to change things up to keep hitters off balance. If he accomplishes that, then the Twins have something. If not, well, we'll see.

The poor performance on the road is front and center as the Twins head out west for the start of a 10-game road trip that goes through Seattle, Oakland and finishes with the Cubs. If their record so far is a pattern, they'll go 3-7. But Seattle and Oakland are teams you ought to beat if you're going to be a true contender. 6-4 isn't an unfair expectation given the level of competition they're facing.

The test starts tonight in Seattle. Ichiro's working on a 27-game hitting streak. We'll see if that inspires Liriano to a better start! Late-night baseball Twins fans, don't miss it!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 23-31, in 4th place in the NL West, and 13 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

So what can you say about the 3-game series the Snakes just finished with the Dodgers? They win game one 3-2. Then they took a 5-1 lead in game two before the wheels came off. A 5-run bottom of the 8th for L.A. not only cost Dan Haren a win after another outstanding start from him, but it cost Arizona a series win. John Garland did his best in game three, but the Snakes' offense went dormant again and got shut out for a 1-0 loss.

Encouraging, stomach-punching, anti-climactic. If we were closer to the All Star break, I'd drop the "it's gonna be a loooong summer" line. But it's the first week of June and I just can't quite bring myself to do that yet.

The good news is that the Dodgers have started to slow down a bit, and even though they lead the division by 8 games over the Giants, I don't think the race is over yet. Perhaps that's cock-eye'd optimism on my part, but I'm just not going to crown them yet (copyright Denny Green).

All these injuries Arizona is dealing with have to turn around sooner or later right? Never give up D'back fans. Never... give... up!

Arizona's taking part in a 4-gamer at San Diego over the weekend before coming back to the friendly confines of Chase Field on Tuesday for series against San Francisco and Houston.

Okay, that's really all for this week. I promise.

But I'll be back on Monday with a review of Belmont 141 and comments on whatever else tweaked me over the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!