Friday

7-31-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again, we've made it. The weekend's nearly here. If anybody can explain to me how that could possibly be a bad thing, I'd love to hear it. Because to me, it's always good.

Lot's of DFTU to get to today. At least with one of the two clubs. So enough with the pre-ambling.

Let's do this...

"I write down everything I want to remember. That way, instead of spending a lot of time trying to remember what it is I wrote down, I spend the time looking for the paper I wrote it down on."
- Beryl Pfizer, former "Today Show" co-host


I can easily identify this. My short-term memory is famously awful. So I write a lot of notes to try and compensate. The trick is making sure to put the notes in a spot where you can easily see/find them again.

A lesser person might blame some sort of genetics for a condition like mine. But I'd never do such a thing!

Love you Mom!

«Read More...»


Moving on...

It's Friday. That means you've patiently waited all week. And now it's time for your reward. You know it... you love it... it's everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 52-50, in second place in the AL Central and 2 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

Today's the non-waiver trade deadline in MLB. And as usual, there's a last-minute flurry of deals. And the top two teams in the AL Central are no exception.

The first such deal announced this morning came in the form of the Tigers acquiring SP Jarrod Washburn from the Seattle Mariners.

I was mildly surprised to hear about this deal for a couple of reasons. One, Detroit's greatest need was hitting, not pitching. They've had a whale of a time scoring runs lately, so you'd think they'd be looking for another stick. You can never have too much pitching, so it's not like the deal will hurt them. But it also doesn't address their greatest need.

Two, I didn't think Seattle was going to move Washburn. The last two days, the Mariners have made moves to add talent. Why they'd trade for infield and bullpen help, and then trade one of their most reliable starters away, I'm not really sure?

But I was disappointed, because Washburn was a guy who I wanted the Twins to target. And for them to miss out on him, and then have him wind up with the team directly ahead of them in the division? That's not cool.

The Twins came back with a deal of their own this afternoon. They traded a minor league infielder and cash to the Oakland A's for SS Orlando Cabrera.

This was comparable to Detroit's deal in that it did nothing to address the team's greatest need. There's no question that the middle infield for the Twins has been disappointing this year, especially offensively. Cabrera's hitting .281 with 4 home runs and 41 RBI. So he'll be a slight upgrade offensively. Defensively, it's probably a push.

Look, it's not a bad deal. It'll help. But if I sound tepid about the deal, it's because it so clearly doesn't address the pitching problems they have. They needed either a veteran starter (see: Washburn) or some form of relief help (see: any of the relievers who've been traded over the last two days).

I know it's not easy to make a deal in this day and age without giving up too much. I know that it takes a ton of work to find the right fit for your team and the team you're trading with. I know that no deal is better than a bad deal.

But this move has all the earmarks of, "well at least we did something!" And ultimately, I'm not sure how much value that has.

Bottom line, we have to wait and see how it shakes out. If Cabrera locks down the 2-spot in the line-up, gets on base ahead of Mauer and Morneau and scores a ton of runs for the Twins, all while playing above-average defense, then it'll be a good deal. If he's just sort of "another guy", then not so much.

The only thing I can promise you is that I won't be watching the game tonight. Yes, "the streak" is still alive. Four games in a row I haven't watched. And four games in a row, the Twins have won. We'll see if we can make it five tonight!

The Twins open a 3-game series against LAAAGOCROCUSPE tonight before heading out on the road next week for a couple of intra-division series against Cleveland and Detroit.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 44-58, in fourth place in the NL West and 19 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

I guess you can say that the nice thing about one of your favorite clubs being in the crapper, is that it's hard for them to disappoint you any further.

At this point, Snakes fans know what they have and they know what they don't have. So when the news comes out yesterday that Brandon Webb had yet another set back with his shoulder, it's not exactly a "punch to the gut"-type moment.

(Aside: How many times can a guy really have a set-back? After a while, isn't there no more back to set?!)

Since the All-Star break, Arizona is 6-7. Right below the .500-mark where they've been all year. I told you before, at least this team is consistent. Consistently bad, yes. But again, you know what you're getting at this point.

Dan Haren lost his last start against the Phillies, but maintains a solid record at 10-6 and an impressive 2.19 ERA. I'm not sure 17 wins will get him a Cy Young, but if he keeps that ERA low enough, it might.

What's concerning, is that in his last two starts, he hasn't been able to get past the 5th inning. Most pitchers hit a "dead arm" period sometime in the second half. The good ones rebound eventually, and the great ones find a way to win even without their best stuff. I'm not sure that's what Haren's going through, but it wouldn't surprise me if it is. The trouble is, he has so little help around him, that I'm not sure how well he'll be able to fight through it.

But, as he's the best thing the D'backs have going right now, I sure hope he gets through it sooner than later. And it certainly doesn't get any easier for him as he takes on Johan Santana and the Mets in his next start on Monday.

The D'backs begin a 4-gamer with the Mets in New York tonight. Then next week they get something of a reprieve with series against Pittsburgh and Washington. Sure, they're on the road, but Arizona's hardly been any better at home than they've been on the road this year. So it's as good a shot to make hay as they can ask for.

That's going to do it for this week. Have a fun and safe weekend. I'll be back on Monday with more on the dawning of the Cabrera Era. That has a nice ring to it actually.

Can you tell I'm trying to talk myself into this? Oof.

Until Monday, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

7-29-09: Mock Mailbag

Hello again everybody...

I told you so.

I told you that I was holding back describing what I was going to write about today, because inevitably something comes up to blow whatever I had planned out of the water.

And yesterday, Mr. Favre did the honors.

But I'm not a die-hard NFL Fan, so I don't want to do an entire column on Favre. So instead I decided to add in a couple of ideas I had previously for today, toss in a complete rip-off of other writers who've used this bit before me, and present to you, the first ever Sports Take Mock Mailbag.

I have no idea if this bit will work or not, but you don't know until you try.

So let's give it a shot, shall we?

"He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it - namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain."
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", Chapter 2


"Difficult to obtain?" Yeah, I guess you could say Favre was difficult for the Vikings to obtain. and that leads me to...

«Read More...»


The first ever, Sports Take Mock Mailbag...

As always, none of the following emails were conceived, written, or sent by the individuals named. They're merely figments of my questionable imagination.

Sorry about that. But I never promised you anything, Minnesota!

B. Favre
Hattiesburg, MS


That's true Brett. You made no promises and you told us no lies.

But now I know what my friend in Milwaukee was trying to tell me all along. Getting excited for the potential arrival of this guy was a bad idea. Somehow, someway this was bound to turn out poorly.

And now it has. What a buzzkill.

I'm not a huge NFL fan as it is. I'll watch, but it's not necessarily appointment television for me.

(Aside: Except for Monday Night Football of course! I'd never miss the reporting of the finest sideline reporter in sports television today: Michele Tafoya! - she reads sometimes, and I'm not stupid.)

But had Favre signed with the Vikings, that would've created so many interesting story lines, that I'd be compelled to watch.

Now? Not so much.

All of that is predicated, of course, on the idea that this issue is actually decided. As a student of history, I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize his penchant for changing his mind on this subject.

I suspect that he really is done, since the given reason for his staying retired is a lack of belief in his ability to play a full season at a high enough level.

But that by no means precludes him from changing his mind. He's done it before. There's no reason to suspect that he might not do it again.

I hope not. But it's that sick, "not knowing" feeling that my buddy David warned me about. You were right David. You were right.


I'm available. Where can I send my resume?

M. Vick
Hampton Roads, VA


Yeah, um, Mike? Thanks, but we'll have our people call your people.

I was genuinely surprised by the number of people suggesting adding Vick after the news broke yesterday that Favre wasn't coming to Minnesota.

Really? I know that T-Jack and Sage don't get people all that excited. But do you really want to add a guy who was a mediocre passer prior to missing the last two seasons because he was in federal prison.

Italics don't do that justice. Let me try the caps lock: HE WAS IN FEDERAL PRISON.

Yeah, that's a little better.

I know that I argued that he should be reinstated and allowed the opportunity to sign with an NFL team. But I also noted that were I a NFL general manger, I wouldn't sign him. Not until he had played somewhere else (UFL, I'm looking at you) and show that he still has what it takes to succeed at the NFL level.

And he hasn't done anything of the sort. Plus, people have to remember, this guy is going to miss the first 6 games, regardless of his talent.

I just don't think it's worth the risk.


We've heard you're not watching, and we've won three in a row. We love our fans and all, but could we recommend some other fine prime time viewing?

The Home Nine
Minneapolis, MN


*Sigh*

Yes, it's true. I was so bummed about the terrible road trip the Twins were having that I didn't watch the Sunday game to try and change things up a bit. And they won.

So, being the superstitious guy that I am when it comes to baseball, I didn't watch again on Monday. And they won.

Two in a row doesn't make a streak, but I can't mess with the mojo when the boys are winning right. So I didn't watch again on Tuesday. And Mark Buehrle continued his perfect streak through the 5th inning, setting a new major league record of 45 straight batters retired before the Twins broke it up, tied the game and then took the lead in the next inning. And they won again.

So now it's Wednesday, and what can I do? I can't watch until they lose. I've even got friends getting in on the bit. A friend of mine is going to the game tonight, and because she's aware of the streak, she specifically asked me not to watch. I don't think she really believes in the bit, but she knows I do, and that's enough for her.

I think Crash Davis said it best (this quote has been edited to make it family audience friendly):

"If you believe you're playing well because you're [reading poetry with a fine, upstanding young lass], or because you're not [reading poetry with a fine, upstanding young lass], or because you wear women's underwear, then you ARE!"

I don't really think that my watching or not watching has anything to do with it. But given the .000000000001% chance that it does? That's just not a risk I'm willing to take.

So no worries fellas. I won't watch until you break the streak!


We're still here you know. We'd love to have you watching us!

The Other Home Nine
Phoenix, AZ


You're right fellas. I've been lax in keeping up with you. I try to tune in when Dan Haren starts, but even that's been tough as of late.

Let's be honest. You know you're done. I know you're done. And when the Twins are in a pennant chase, it's tough for me to pay a ton of attention to you.

It's not that I don't still love you guys, honest. But you play a style of baseball that's not terribly easy to watch.

Hang in there. I'll keep checking in on you now and again. And I'll peek at the scoreboard and standings on a daily basis.


Am I cooked?

J. Papelbon
Boston, MA


No Jon, you're not cooked. But it might help if you threw something other than a fastball once in a while. I know you think you can blow your gas by any hitter in the league, but sooner or later, big league hitters are going hit you if they can sit on one particular pitch.

Look, I'm biased. I don't like your team, and I especially don't like you. But when the biggest Red Sox (whom I hate) fan I know (@sportsguy33) tweets:

"I've never had a colonoscopy but it can't be worse than watching every 2009 Papelbon save chance. It just can't."

... then we know something's pretty wrong.

I can't tell you how to fix it. I'm not sure I would if I could. But no, you're not done. Not yet.


Am I cooked?

O. Minaya
Queens, NY


Yes, Omar. Yes you are.

It's bad enough that you've spent money like a drunken Madoff investor, and have gotten squat for results.

It's worse when your friend who you've hired as your VP of Player/Personnel goes into your AA-affiliate's locker room and challenges the entire team to a fight.

But you know you're done when at the press conference you call to announce the firing of that guy, you try to throw one of the beat writers, who covered the story, under the bus by implying that the beat writer is only reporting that story because he wants a job in your front office.

I don't know how long it's going to take Mets ownership to decide to hand you your pink slip. But as the Shawshank warden's sign said,

"His judgment cometh... and that right soon."


We're coming!

The 120 NCAA FBS Programs
120 Cities, USA


That's right!

It's almost time for the college football season to start. We're less than 30 days away from kickoff.

The overlap between baseball and college football is a weird time for me. It's almost more sports than I can handle. And that's saying something! Let's just say that I budget my time more during those two-plus months better than at any time during the year.

There's plenty to look forward to this year. The Gophers are opening a new stadium. Wisconsin visits 10/3, and you know I'll be there.

Michigan is likely to be better than last year, but they'll still be a 2nd-tier team in the Big Ten(11). And though that will annoy the Hammer, one of my favorite people, it'll make me smile just a little bit.

The debate about a playoff will rage once again. And yet millions of people will tune in to watch the BCS Championship Game.

And we might even see the triumphant return of Erin Andrews after the ridiculous incident she just had to endure. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not going to dignify it with an explanation. Suffice to say, it's something no one should have to deal with, and I'm rooting for her to get back on the sidelines and prove the haters wrong soon!)


So there's your first ever Sports Take Mock Mailbag. Hope you enjoyed it!

I'll be back on Friday with... something. Should be the usual Friday column, but as today proved, you just never know!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

7-27-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

I hope you had an excellent weekend. Mine was pretty relaxing all around. Other than one small project, I was able to invest in some serious R&R. And that's never a bad thing.

I debated a bit on what to do for today's column. I had one main point to talk about, but too many things were happening over the weekend to leave them all out. So at the risk of becoming overly formulaic, you're getting another Monday Notes column.

Enjoy!

"Speak when you are angry--and you will make the best speech you'll ever regret."
- Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988), educator and "hierarchiologist," best known to the general public for the formulation of the Peter Principle.


For those of you who've heard the term, but can't immediately recall the definition, the "Peter Principle" says that workers rise to the level of their incompetence. I'm sure all of you can think of one or two people who fit that particular definition.

But I like this quote of his as well. As someone who's temper has flared on occasion, it's a solid reminder that words said in anger may be witty, biting and even eloquent. But the temporary glee one might feel at the execution of an acerbic witticism is fleeting. The consequences may be long lasting.

I'm going to have to buy into that one of these days!

«Read More...»


Plenty to talk about from the weekend. Here are some...

Notes:

The Twins are back at home after an awful road trip... 4-6 may not sound like the worst record in the world, but the Twins' 10-game stretch through Texas and the West Coast was worse than the record might indicate.

I talked last week about how bad the Oakland series was. And I'd really rather not re-hash that. But the 4-game series with LAAAGOCROCUSPE over the weekend was nearly as dreadful. The Twins gave up 24 runs over those four games, once again highlighting their serious need for some pitching help.

The trade deadline hits on Friday. Based on the Twins' recent history, I don't have high hopes for any major deals. Perhaps they'll add an arm (or dare I dream "arms") to the bullpen. But I'd love to see them go out and get a Jarrod Washburn from Seattle to bolster their rotation. The two teams have discussed that name in the past, but to no avail.

And now some of the big names in the locker room are making some noise. Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and even Joe Mauer all gave quotes over the weekend indicating their desire for the front office to make a move to help the club down the stretch. That's not insignificant. When the guys who run your clubhouse start making noise, that affects the team on several levels.

First, it means that if a move isn't made, the whole team could fall into a funk that costs them any chance to be competitive.

Second, Joe Mauer's contract is up at the end of 2010. If you would like to convince him that Minnesota's the place to be for the rest of his career, making a move to make the team more competitive now might help. Not making a move might be a factor in convincing him to seek his fortunes elsewhere. It won't be the only factor, but if you're the club, and you have the ability to put a notch in the "stay in Minnesota" column, isn't it prudent to work that in your favor?

Hopefully the return to the friendly, bubble-roofed confines will spark a winning streak for the boys. Thanks the the woeful division in which they reside, they're still a long way from being out of the race.

Several Hall of Famers have called for the reinstatement of Pete Rose... pardon me while I vomit.

I'll admit that my feelings on this subject have mellowed over the years, but only moderately.

Five years ago, if you'd asked me, I'd have said that in no way, shape, or form should Rose ever be involved with baseball on any level whatsoever.

These days, I think I could live with putting Pete in the Hall of Fame, but I still don't want him anywhere near any big league franchise in any kind of meaningful role.

There's no question that his numbers as a player (4256 hits, .303 batting average, 1963 Rookie of the Year, 1973 MVP) warrant his election to the Hall. There's also no question that MLB created a rule preventing players on the Ineligible List from being elected to the Hall shortly after Rose was put on said list. MLB brass will deny it, but it's not hard to imagine that they didn't want the headache of Rose being put into the Hall while they were trying to convince people that he had violated baseball's cardinal rule: thou shalt not bet on baseball.

I think we're sufficiently beyond that point now. I'm certainly not going to advocate his election to the Hall. But I won't decry it if it should happen. And that's a very large "if". If the Commissioner re-instates Rose, he still has to be elected by the Veteran's Committee. That's not exactly a slam dunk, since, as you might guess, many of the folks on that committee are seriously old-school, and take gambling on the game very seriously.

But I'll re-iterate. Pete Rose should not, under any circumstances be allowed to take an active role with any Major League franchise. Gambling on the game while you're part of it is a direct assault on the integrity of the game. The rule says that if you bet on baseball, you're out. Period. There simply isn't any value in allowing a guy who violated that rule back into the game.

Put him in the Hall if you must. Just don't do so at the cost of further sullying the image of a game that's still struggling to put the PED mess behind it.

Brett Favre's decision is coming this week... probably... maybe... we think.

Oh hell, we have no freaking clue. He said a couple of weeks ago that he'd give the Vikings an answer by the open of training camp.

That promise, and $1.50 might get you a cup of coffee at your local diner.

What happens if he doesn't make an announcement by Friday? Us media folks will probably lose our minds for a couple of days, but in the big picture, not much will come of it. Until the Vikings play a regular-season game without Brett Favre in uniform, the door will remain open.

It's no secret that Brett's not a big fan of mini-camps and training camps. So it can't be an enormous surprise if he stalls for time, while avoiding the drudgery of practices which ultimately don't mean much to him.

That being said, the man said he'd have an answer before Friday, so Minnesota will give him a chance to come through on that promise. They also won't be stunned if he doesn't.

Personally, I'll be disappointed if he doesn't come here. I'm by no means a die-hard Vikings fan, and that's not going to change if they bring in Favre. But there's no question that his presence in purple would make the season infinitely more interesting.

We'll see what happens!

Sometimes sports and other interests wage war... and leave me in a quandary.

When the Wild's regular season schedule came out recently, I immediately looked for the dates when the New York Rangers (i.e. Marian Gaborik) and New Jersey Devils (i.e. Jacques Lemaire) were to visit the Xcel Energy Center.

When I saw that the Rangers were coming on October 30th, I immediately put in for the day off. When the biggest star in Wild history makes his return in an opponent's uniform, that's something I want to see.

Then life threw me a little curve ball.

It turns out that Lisa Hannigan's going to be playing a show at the Orpheum that same night.

Who the hell is Lisa Hannigan, and why should that affect my decision to go to the Wild game?

Put simply, she's an amazingly talented singer/songwriter who's album "Sea Sew" immediately took a spot on my "Top 5 albums I'd have to have if I were stranded on a desert island" list.

Still not sure? Click here and judge for yourself.

My friend Gary and I caught her at the Varsity Theater in February, and it was he who alerted me to the scheduled date in October.

So now what do I do? Hockey or music? Both are passions of mine. Both have singular significance. The 30th is Gabby's only visit this season. And who knows when my favorite Irish singer/songwriter will be back in town?

I can't do both. I have to choose. And if you ask me right now? I have no idea.

There'll be plenty of other hockey games to attend this season, but none with Gaborik and the Rangers. By the 30th, it will have been 8 months since Lisa was in town. There's no guarantee she'll be back before Gabby is.

I just don't know. Anyone care to give me some advice? I'll take it!

And finally, this just crossed the wire...

Michael Vick has been conditionally re-instated by the NFL... and it's the right call.

Details are sketchy at this point (the Commissioner has called a press conference for later this afternoon), but it sounds like he'll be forced to miss the first 4 or so games of the year. During that time, he'll be allowed to participate in team activities and practices, providing he can find someone to sign him.

If I were an NFL GM, I wouldn't do it. Not until he had participated with some other league and shown me that his skills and athleticism haven't deteriorated over the last two years.

But ultimately that's up to the 32 men who hold that job in the league. Ultimately, I think the NFL did the right thing in giving them the opportunity to make that decision.

So there you have it. All the Notes you could ever want.

I'll be back on Wednesday with... well I'm not going to tell you what's coming on Wednesday. Every time I do that, something comes up and I end up writing something completely different than what I intended. So I'll just say that I'll have something for you on Wednesday. How's that for a tease?!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

7-24-09: Perfection... and the DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the end of another week. That may sound repetitive to some of you, but I think it's an accomplishment that shouldn't be under-valued. Nothing's guaranteed in this life. So it seems to me that finding joy in simple things like the TGIF-ness of it all should be enjoyed and even celebrated!

One person who certainly isn't under-valuing life at the moment is White Sox Pitcher, Mark Buehrle. For only the 16th time in the modern era, a big-league pitcher performed perfectly.

It's one of my fondest hopes to one day be in attendance for a no-hitter. I came as close as I ever have this year when the Twins' Scott Baker threw 6 innings of no-hit baseball before he flamed out. But a perfect game? I dare not dream of it. Those are so rare, that I have to take some time to discuss Buehrle's history-making performance.

Then, of course, it's Friday, so that means the delayed, but never denied return of the DFTU!

So let's get after it!

"Machines take me by surprise with great frequency."
- Alan Turing (1912 - 1954), British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist.


Anyone who's ever struggled with a computer knows what Mr. Turing means. But I'd like to tweak this quote just a touch. I've watched a lot of baseball. And yet the game continues to surprise me with great frequency.

Legendary Tigers broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, once said that even when Detroit was lousy, he looked forward to going to the ball park every day because there was a good chance you'd see something you'd never seen before.

«Read More...»


And that leads me to...

Perfection. 27 up, and 27 down. No runs, no hits, no walks and no errors.

Only 16 times since the turn of the 20th century has a pitcher accomplished that feat. Before Thursday, the last man to achieve perfection was Randy Johnson who perfecto'd the Braves while pitching for the Diamondbacks on May 18, 2004. Prior to that, you have to go back to July 18, 1999 when David Cone dropped a little perfection on the then Montreal Expos.

Not only is that 5 years between perfect games, but do the math: 30 teams in the league and 162 games per team. That's 4860 chances per season for a pitcher to be perfect, and 24,300 chances over the 5-year period we've seen between the last 2 perfecto's. It's a stunning stat if you break it down like that.

Thursday, it was the White Sox's Mark Buehrle's turn to be perfect.

(By the way, “Buehrle” is uncommonly difficult to type and I think it just melted down my spell-checker.)

Buehrle threw 116 pitches on the way to denying the Tampa Bay Rays a base-runner. Mark was the star of the show, but it took an incredible defensive play by a member of his supporting cast, CF Dewayne Wise, to save it.

Rays OF Gabe Kapler hit a shot to left-center in the top of the 9th that was ticketed for the bleachers. Dewayne Wise had other ideas. Inserted for defensive purposes that very inning, Wise got on his horse, climbed the wall and robbed Kapler of his perfect-game-busting home run. Not only did Wise manage to snare the ball, but as he came down, he managed to hang on to it as the ball fell out of his glove.

If you haven't seen the catch, take a second, click here and enjoy one of the more clutch plays you'll ever see.

That's one of the wonders of baseball. You can have individual historical events combined with incredible team performances. It's not unique per-se, but I think it's something you see in baseball more than most other sports.

So congratulations to Buehrle on his entry into the record books (technically it's his second entry, since he threw a no-hitter in 2007). As much as it pains me to pay homage to a member of the White Sox, I'm such a fan of baseball history that I'm more than willing to do it. Kudos Mark, well done!

(Aside: This leads to the inevitable question, what if it had been a Red Sox (whom I hate) pitcher? Yes, even a Boston (whom I hate) pitcher would receive kudos from me for a no-hitter/perfect game. My dis-taste for everything Red Sox (whom I hate) doesn't over-ride my appreciation for baseball history. Baseball's long, rich history is part of what separates it from all other sports. And I'll take any and all chances to celebrate it. Okay, maybe not if it was Josh Beckett... he's just too much of a tool.)

That was Thursday, and this is Friday. That means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment. You've waited an extra week for it. The tension and anticipation is palpable. So I won't make you wait any longer. Here it is:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 48-48, in third place in the AL Central and 2.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox.

Where do I even start?

I guess we can go back to coming out of the All-Star break. The Twins went to Texas and took two out of three, and I was feeling pretty good. Sure they broke down late to lose out on a sweep, but they won another series on the road, so how could I complain?

Then came the trip to Oakland. The Monday Night Melt-Down was one of those games that could either be defining for a season, or just an odd foot-note. When you blow a 10-run lead, and then get screwed by an umpire as you try to score the tying run, it's going to be remembered in some form or fashion. At this point, I still have no idea whether that'll be a defining moment or an anomaly.

Based on the next night's game, I wanted to lean towards the latter. The Twins grinded-out an extra-inning victory and seemed to have put the MNMD behind them.

Then came Wednesday.

I don't know if it was a weird get-away day vibe, or if the clubhouse attendant spiked the Gatorade, but the Twins utterly failed to show up on Wednesday and got shelled.

So in total, they surrendered 32 runs to the second-worst team in the American League over a 3-game series. What on earth are Twins fans supposed to make of that? Is it just a fluke? The vagaries of playing baseball on the road? Or are they legitimately in trouble?

Then I look at last night. The Angels lead the AL West. They're a solid baseball team. Minnesota jumped out to a first-inning 3-0 lead, and extended it as the game went along. Then came the ninth inning. Joe Nathan had converted his last 20 save opportunities in a row. He's universally considered amongst the best closers in the game. Surely he'd come in and shut things down and get the Twins a psyche-improving win?

Not exactly.

Instead, Nathan gave up two runs allowing the Angels to tie the game before they ended up winning it off of Jesse Crain in the 10th.

That's three near-soul-crushing losses out of your last 4 games. That's tough to come back from.

Furthermore, the Twins' greatest weakness, relief pitching, has been laid bare for everyone to see.

What's most frustrating for me is the knowledge that simply saying, "they've got to make a trade", isn't going to fix it. The Twins aren't one player away. Hell, they're not even two players away. Realistically, they need three more solid arms in the bullpen, and probably another starting pitcher given the health troubles of Keven Slowey and Glen Perkins.

You don't just go out and get 4 guys off the trade market. Especially if you're the trade-averse Minnesota Twins.

I'm trying not to be despondent. A 5-game stretch (going back to game 3 in Texas) like that is still only approximately 1/32nd of your season. As the Hammer would famously say, "it's way too early to panic."

But I don't feel good. I don't feel good at all.

The Twins continue their 4-game series with the Angels tonight. Saturday's game is on Fox Network at 3:10pm central, so you out-of-market folks may have a chance to catch them. Trust me, they'll appreciate your support. Next week, they've back home with 3 against the White Sox and 3 more against LAAAGOCROCUSPE.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 41-55, in 4th place in the NL West and 20.5 games behind the LA Dodgers.

Is there any reason for me to keep counting how far back the D'backs are? I'm not sure.

As I've been saying for the last couple of weeks, the Snakes are in Fire-Sale mode. So far they've traded RP Tony Pena and 2B Filipe Lopez. RP Chad Qualls is supposedly on the block, as well as SP Doug Davis.

So the drama now for Arizona is how to keep trying to improve, not to mention keep the attention of your fan-base, while you're clearly trying to re-stock your organization with young talent?

I guess all you can do at this point is look for the small victories. They've already gotten out of the cellar, now holding a 4-game lead over the Padres.

Now it's a matter of trying to win series. They've got a win over Pittsburgh, now go get two more and win the series.

Then you try and win every game that Dan Haren pitches. Haren didn't have a good outing last night. His ERA ballooned up to a gaudy 2.14 (insert sarcasm here). But the D'backs came back and got him off the hook for the loss, and, in fact, won the game. If they can keep winning games for Haren, perhaps getting him within spitting distance of 20 wins, he's got a legitimate shot at a Cy Young award.

After that, all you can do is play out the string and hope the club is able to improve in the off-season. It's not much to root for, but sometimes it's the best you've got. Just ask the fine folks in Baltimore. They're well acquainted with the feeling.

Arizona continues their 4-gamer with the Pirates tonight. Next week it's 3 with the East-leading Phillies, and then 3 with the not-so-'mazin' Mets.

So there you have it. Not the most uplifting DFTU in history. But I do my damnedest to call it like it is.

Have a wonderful weekend, and I'll be back on Monday with thoughts on the weekend.

Until then, thanks for listening!

Wednesday

7-22-09: Ask the Next Question...

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the middle of another week. I'd talk about the weather, but I don't want to jinx it. Let's just say, at this rate, I'm in no rush to get to fall. And given my penchant for all things Autumnal, that's saying something!

Today's column has been percolating on the edges of my consciousness for a while, and was truly sparked by a conversation I had with a friend last night. So thanks go out to Frank for helping me put together the pieces of an idea to form a cogent thought. Or at least I hope it turns out to be cogent.

As the title implies, the basic point of the column is to ask sports fans to, "ask the next question". Don't be satisfied with a visceral, superficial gut-reaction. But think about implications and ramifications. Dig deeper and really try to understand what's going on. I suppose this could apply to life in general, but since you surfed the vast wastes of the Internet to read The Sports Take, I'll limit my discussion to sports.

Off we go...

"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."
- Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), 28th President of the United States


Again, many thanks to the people I've conversed with over the last few days. You've all played a role in helping me put this idea together. And for that matter, an early thanks for taking the time to read this. Without the intelligence of the folks who check out my thoughts, they wouldn't be half as good!

«Read More...»


"Ask the next question..."

So what am I talking about?

In today's cable news/talk radio/text message/Facebook/Twitter society, it seems like we've lost something. There's nothing wrong with these media. I find many of them supremely useful - or at least vastly entertaining. But the one thing they all have in common is that they encourage easy, immediate reactions instead of deeper discussion.

We see several prominent examples of this in sports.

You'll often hear fans complain about specific players. For the Twins, this usually takes the form of Nick Punto. Punto's not a high average, home-run hitter. He's just not. He's never going to be. He is a solid, veteran defensive presence. But that's not enough for some fans. So they do what's easy and say, "they ought to just get rid of that damned Punto!"

What you don't commonly hear is someone "ask the next question".

If you're going to get rid of Punto, then who do you bring up/in to replace him? The most common answer to this question is "anybody". But the last time I checked, there wasn't a player on the Twins 40-man roster, nor on the free agent/trade market named "anybody".

Managers and General Managers don't have the luxury of just saying "get rid of Punto". They have to ask that next question. Not only do they have to ask it, but they'd better have a damned good answer if they're going to pull the trigger on a roster move.

To further the baseball examples, look at the Twins game from Monday night. Minnesota blew a 12-2 lead and ended up trailing 14-13 going into the 9th inning. With two outs and runners at first and second, Oakland's pitcher threw a wild pitch. He threw it so wildly in fact, that Michael Cuddyer was able to score from second base.

Or he would have scored, had the home plate umpire not butchered the call. Replays clearly show that Cuddyer beat the tag, but the ump was in poor position and failed to see Michael's foot slide across home plate well ahead of the tag.

The immediate, easy reaction of many fans was, "the umpire cost Minnesota the game". But that fails to "ask the next question".

Can an umpire really be held responsible for a loss when your pitching staff blows a 10-run lead?!

It was an awful call. No question about that. And the call ended the game. So I don't blame people for having that initial reaction. But if you really want to understand baseball, you have to go beyond that.

There were dozens of chances for the Twins to either keep Oakland off the board, or add more runs onto their lead. They failed to do so. So if we say that the ump blew that call, then we also have to grant that it was the Twins who put their fate in a position to be decided by said call.

Let's go beyond baseball, and bring back a subject I brought up on Monday: Michael Vick.

The easy, immediate reaction is to say, "the NFL shouldn't re-instate him."

But that fails to "ask the next question".

As I stated on Monday, there can be no defense for what he did. It was horrific and inexcusable. So much so that he served 23 months in a federal prison. That's not insignificant.

But in this country we have a tradition of building up icons and then tearing them down. Vick was a rich and successful professional athlete. He's now bankrupt and uncertain as to whether he'll be able to continue his career.

And despite his having paid his debt, people want the NFL to continue to punish him.

So what's the next question? How about, "what does the NFL suspending him after he's already missed two of the prime years of his career really accomplish?"

He was in prison. But the NFL suspending him for more time is going to be what teaches him his lesson? That's going to be what teaches all the kids out there to not follow his example?

A NFL suspension is going to scare them straight more than a 23-month stay in the federal sneezer is? Really?!

So what does it accomplish?

Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better? Is it just about positive PR for the NFL? And are any of these reasons to prevent this guy from making a living in his chosen profession?

It's easy to say, "too bad, so sad, go dig ditches like the rest of us".

But is that really fair? Is that really justice?

Or are we just jealous of the money he stands to make, even after making a series of awful, criminal decisions?

I won't be surprised if the NFL refuses to reinstate Vick. And I won't feel terribly sorry for him if that's the way it plays out.

But I do think that we do ourselves, the game, and Vick a disservice by not taking the discussion beyond that initial, immediate reaction.

Sports are entertainment. They're not the end-all, be-all of life. Sometimes they should just be simple, entertaining distractions. But to me, they're infinitely more fun if you dig in and really try to understand why things are done the way they are.

It's easy to spout off simple opinions. But it's better to "ask the next question", and uncover some of the many layers of detail that comprise the beauty of sports.

I hope that made some sense. And more-over, I hope that when I challenge your opinions/reactions, you understand that I'm only trying to "ask the next question".

That's all for today. I'm back on Friday with the delayed, but never denied DFTU.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

7-20-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Let me begin today's column with an apology. Not an Official Sports Take Apology mind you, but an apology none the less.

Though I warned you that it might happen, I still want to apologize for not posting on Friday. As I feared/hoped, I found enough to keep me busy that I wasn't able to find the time to put up the usual Friday column. I know you DFTU fans out there are desperately disappointed. All three of you.

But never fear. Even though you won't get a full-fledged DFTU today, I've got some notes about my two favorite baseball clubs as well as a surprise note that I promise you won't see coming!

No dilly-dallying... let's do this.

"It is bad luck to be superstitious."
- Andrew W. Mathis


A cursory Google-search yielded no information as to who Andrew W. Mathis is. But the quote seemed awfully applicable, since over the summer, I'm mostly talking about baseball.

(Although, I'm starting to see more and more coverage of college football worming it's way into our sports consciousness, and I'm starting to get the itch for some gridiron goodness!)

Baseball is a game of superstitions. And as a baseball-nerd, I'm filled with superstitions about it. Yes, I'm the guy who changes up his wardrobe when his team is on a losing streak. Yes, I'm the guy who'll change where he's sitting in his living room if things seem to be going poorly in a big game. Yes, I'm the guy who won't allow anyone around him to use the word "no hitter" while one's in progress for fear of messing with the vibe.

No, I can't prove that any of this stuff really works. But neither can any of you prove that it doesn't. And I can't afford to take that chance!

«Read More...»


Enough with the magambo. Let's get to some...

Notes...

Something's wrong with the Baby Jesus... speaking of superstitions, apparently the "SI Jinx" and the "Homerun Derby Hangover" combined to put a whammy on Mauer over the weekend.

Joe was 1-for-the-series against Texas and included in there was a 0-6 day yesterday. 0-6?! Baby Jesus doesn't go 0-6. Ever.

Mauer's average is now down to .358. That's 5 points behind Ichiro for the league lead. That MVP award I wanted to give Joe last week? It's slipping away in a hurry.

Okay, okay, there's no reason to panic. One bad series does not a long-term slump make. But ever since it was announced that Mauer would be participating in the Derby, he hasn't been quite the same.

His swing is so simple, so natural, that I'm less worried about him breaking out of a slump than other Twins I might mention. But even if it's a shallow slump, it's still scary to see a phenom like Mauer not be able to buy a hit.

2B Filipe Lopez goes from the Diamondbacks to the Brewers... in exchange for minor leaguers Cole Gillespie (outfielder) and Roque Mercedes (right-handed pitcher).

Gillespie is a 3rd-year minor-leaguer who hit .349 in advanced A-ball this year before be promoted to AAA Nashville where he struggled to a .242 average with 7 HR and 27 RBI in 236 at-bats. Not mind-blowing numbers, but Gillespie was a guy the D'backs liked the year he got drafted, so clearly they think he's got upside.

Mercedes was playing for Milwuakee's advanced-A club in Brevard County (I have a ST spy there, hopefully he has some intelligence on the guy). He's been used exclusively out of the bullpen this year, compiling a 1-1 record with a 1.08 ERA in 29 appearances. His 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't knock you over, but it's not terrible.

Both of these guys are projects, and neither of them are going to help Arizona in the near future. But as I mentioned in the past, Arizona's going into "Fire Sale Mode". So any pieces they have that are of value to other clubs are going to be dealt in an effort to re-infuse the club with young talent. That doesn't bode well for Dan Haren in his quest for a Cy Young Award. But it's the reality of the situation.

As for Milwaukee, they get a solid second baseman to finally replace the hole left when Ricky Weeks got hurt. Plus they get a guy who can easily be inserted in the 2-hole in their line-up and be very productive. It certainly doesn't address the Brewers' most glaring need, starting pitching, but it's a solid move and they didn't have to give up a ton to get him.

Michael Vick is a free man... hide your pooches.

Okay, that was a cheap joke, but I think it's been long enough since the incident that it's not in poor taste.

The question that's being debated is whether or not he should be reinstated into the NFL. In my opinion, of course he should. The man made a series of extraordinarily poor decisions, for which he served his time and paid his debt. If you don't give him the opportunity to resume his career, where's the incentive for anybody else to take responsibility for their mistakes?

That being said, if I was an NFL GM, would I sign him? Of course not. There's no way he can spend that amount of time away from football and come back at the level he was at when he left (and that quality was debatable at the time). Why on earth would you want to take that PR risk when the upside is so questionable?

My guess is that Vick spends at least a year in this new UFL. It's set to be a new minor-league of pro football, and it should be a perfect place for him to show NFL GM's whether he still has the skills to compete or not.

But he should at least have his NFL eligibility re-instated. Yes, it was horrible what he did. But no, he shouldn't have his ability to make a living denied. The federal government made the point that what he did was wrong. The NFL gains nothing but a petty, vindictive image by trying to re-make that point. The guy paid his debt folks. It's time to move on.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is really, really good... and you should go see it!

I saw it twice this weekend. Yes, twice. I'm one of those people who wants to see movies multiple times to pick up details that you miss on the first viewing. And there are plenty to be had in this movie.

The "teenage love" story lines are done well enough that they don't get as tedious as you might think. And the climax (I won't describe the plot point for those of you who aren't familiar with the story - but those of you that are know what I'm talking about) is extraordinarily well done. If you get weepy during movies, pack a few tissues. I definitely got something in my eye during that scene. Funny how that happens.

The only criticisms of the movie I have are very minor ones. First off, there's no sense of resolution what-so-ever at the end of the film. That didn't bother me so much, since I'm familiar enough with the story, that it didn't feel like I was left hanging. My brother, on the other hand, was so agitated by the ending that he ran out and bought book 7 which he hadn't read yet, just to find out what happens. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. But if you were one of those people who were supremely annoyed by the ending of "Empire Strikes Back" and it's lack of resolution, then prepare yourself for a similar feeling at the end of this film.

The other criticism is hard to describe, because I don't want to give anything away. But the reveal of who the "Half Blood Prince" is, was kind of abrupt and lacked any kind of depth or explanation. I know that movies can't go into the kinds of detail that books can, but I think there was a little more they could have done with that.

Again, these are minor criticisms, and overall the film was absolutely worth seeing. I can't recommend it enough. If you liked "Order of the Phoenix", you'll enjoy "Half Blood Prince". But again, I can't stress enough, read the books first. It'll help. Trust me.

Told you that you wouldn't see that one coming!

That's it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more Sports Take goodness.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

7-15-09: 2009 All-Star Notes

Hello again everybody...

It's Friday!!!

Okay, I know it's not technically Friday, but since I have a 4-day weekend on-tap, it's my Friday.

As I mentioned on Monday, I still plan on blogging on Friday. Unless something comes up. Which is certainly possible, since I don't like to have set plans for long weekends like this. You just never know. And that's part of the fun.

So I'll apologize in advance if I don't come through on Friday. But for now, the idea is to blog as usual. We'll see!

Last night was the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis, and the night before brought us the annual Home Run Derby. It was a princely Derby, and the AL continued their All-Star dominance. I'll discuss...

"I have suffered a great deal from writers who have quoted this or that sentence of mine either out of its context or in juxtaposition to some incongruous matter which quite distorted my meaning , or destroyed it altogether."
- Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947), English mathematician who became a philosopher


I think what he's saying is that he doesn't like people that much... or something like that.

«Read More...»


So will you remember where you were when Prince Fielder won the 2009 Home Run Derby?

Right. Me neither.

I don't mean to be disparaging towards my friends in Wisconsin, but that wasn't exactly the dramatic outcome that MLB was hoping for. Ideally, they wanted Albert Pujols to win. Even going so far as to count a hit that a fan clearly reached over the wall to catch. I guess in the Derby that's a home run? Whether it was nerves, or just trying too hard, Albert couldn't get it done and bowed out after the second round.

If it couldn't be Albert, then MLB would've scripted it for native St. Louisian (Louisite? Louisi? Artist formerly known as being from St. Louis?), Ryan Howard. Howard grew up in St. Louis and attended Southwest Missouri State before signing professionally with the Phillies. Howard got into the second round fairly comfortably, but like Pujols wasn't able to advance to the Finals.

At that point it was down to Milwaukee's Prince Fielder and Texas' Nelson Cruz. Raise your hand if you knew who Nelson Cruz was prior to this Derby. Anyone? Anyone at all? Didn't think so. I saw the kid in Spring Training, and I still barely remembered him.

My feelings on Prince have been well documented in the blog. Nothing against his Brewer-ness, I'm just not a fan of him personally. But in the end he reigned supreme, so congratulations to him and Brewer fans everywhere.

But it got me to thinking. Last year's champ, Justin Morneau, had a less-than-stellar second half after his victory. And there's been rumblings over the years about guys wearing themselves out in that competition and having lousy second halves. So I decided to do a little research. Here are the first- and second-half splits for the last 10 Home Run Derby champions:

2008 - Justin Morneau
1st Half: .323, 14, 68
2nd half: .267, 9, 61

2007 - Vladimir Guerrero
1st Half: .325, 14, 75
2nd Half: .323, 13, 50

2006 - Ryan Howard
1st Half: .278, 28, 71
2nd Half: .355, 30, 78

2005 - Bobby Abreu
1st Half: .307, 18, 58
2nd Half: .260, 6, 44

2004 - Miguel Tejada
1st Half: .311, 15, 75
2nd Half: .311, 19, 75

2003 - Garrett Anderson
1st Half: .316, 22, 78
2nd Half: .313, 7, 38

2002 - Jason Giambi
1st Half: .318, 22, 71
2nd Half: .309, 19, 51

2001 - Luis Gonzalez
1st Half: .355, 35, 86
2nd Half: .290, 22, 56

2000 - Sammy Sosa
1st Half: .305, 23, 74
2nd Half: .338, 27, 64

1999 - Ken Griffey, Jr.
1st Half: .310, 29, 81
2nd Half: .255, 19, 53

So of these 10 champions, 7 of them had worse second halves than first halves. And of the 3 who either maintained, or improved their performance from the first half to the second half, 2 of them are known PED users (Sosa and Tejada). Of course, one of the guys who regressed in his second half is also a known PED user (Giambi).

And speaking of PED's, does anyone remember that Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs in 2001. 57?! I know he's got a rep as a "good guy", but when he hits 31 in 2000, and 57 in 2001 and doesn't hit more than 30 in any other year of his career, one starts to wonder.

Either way, a 70% clip over the last 10 years is statistically significant. If I really wanted to get into the numbers, I'd break down the first-half/second-half splits for all the participants of the Derbies. You could separate them by how deep they got in the Derby. You could separate them by known/suspected/non-PED users. You could have a field day with those numbers. Maybe if I get REALLY ambitious over my 4-day weekend. Maybe.

But as far as the winners go, the numbers clearly aren't in their favor. So if I was a Milwaukee fan, I'd be a touch worried about Prince. Especially since he was swinging out of his ever-loving shoes in the Derby. What are the odds he didn't pull a muscle or two there? I shudder to think.

As far as the All-Star game itself goes, it was the same ol', same ol'. The AL won 4-3, with Red Sox (whom I hate) closer Jonathan Papel-spaz getting the win, Minnesota's Joe Nathan getting a hold, and the Yankee's Mariano Rivera getting the save.

Papel-spaz gets a win, which Rivera saves. That's like an American nuclear (notice, only one "u" in nuclear) scientist sharing a Nobel Peace Prize with Kim Jong-Il. No? How about, that's like Jennifer Aniston sharing a Best Actress Oscar with Angelina Jolie. Better? It's like Terrell Owens sharing a MVP award with any quarterback he's ever played with. There we go. That's the one!

As for the rest of the players from my favorite teams...

Joe Mauer went 1-3 with a RBI double and a run scored. I was worried that all the stress of the Derby would get into Joe's head. I'm still a little worried, but he had a decent enough night last night to mitigate those fears somewhat.

Justin Morneau went 0-2. Not as good a game for Justin as last year's when he scored the game-winning run. But he was solid on defense at least.

Dan Haren pitched a scoreless fourth inning for the NL, giving up just one hit. I said it before, I'd have given Haren the start, but I'm biased like that. Lincecum gave up two runs in his two innings of work to start the game. Would Haren have done any better? Who knows? But I'd have given him the shot.

Justin Upton went 0-2 and was clearly just happy to be there. That has to be an overwhelming experience for a first-time All-Star. So I don't blame him for taking the collar.

Ultimately the game was harmless. At 2:31, it was downright fast-paced compared to recent games. There was only 1 error per side, so it was cleanly played. And in the end, the better team won. Sorry NL, but you're not there yet.

So the American League representative will have home-field advantage in the World Series. Like most purists, I hate that an exhibition game has this kind of meaning, but it's the rules, and they're not changing any time soon.

I can't imagine that there's one single person out there who says, "you know, I wouldn't have watched, but now that it determines home field for the championship series, I'm in!"

How much of the game did you guys watch? Are you only watching for your favorite players? Or are you genuinely interested in the game? I'd be curious to hear. Send me an email or attach a comment below.

That's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Friday (probably) with your usual dosage of DFTU goodness.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

7-13-09: 2009 Mid-Season Awards

Hello again everybody...

No complaints about Monday today. I mentioned it last week, but I'm on a 3-day work week this week, so today is really my Wednesday. Yes, I know it gets annoying to hear someone else talk about their vacation time while you're still stuck at work. But I can't help it. I've been looking forward to these four days off for weeks. And they can't come soon enough!

Now, just because I'm taking some days off the job doesn't mean I'm taking time off from the blog! At least, that's the plan anyway. Monday and Wednesday are solid. Friday, I'm listed as “probable”. As always, that's subject to change. But for now, I'm planning on bringing you a Friday column from the home office.

Seeing as we've reached the 2009 All-Star Break, today's column is focused on the unofficial midway point of the season. We passed the 81-game mark over a week ago, so officially the second half is already under way. But since there won't be any games to talk about for a few days, we'll call this the midway point and treat it as such.

The Home Run Derby heads your way tonight. I tried predicting who'd win it last year. Big mistake. All I'll say about it this year is that I hope it doesn't screw up Joe Mauer's swing. Beyond that, I have no clue. Pujols will get the biggest reaction obviously, and if he can keep his adrenaline under control, he's the odds-on favorite.

Instead of those predictions, today I'm going to focus on the mid-season awards. If I was voting today, who'd be the MVP's, Managers of the Year, Cy Young's and Rookies of the Year in each league?

Let's find out!

"Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good."
- Soren Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855), Danish philosopher and theologian


Moderation, as always, is the key to the usefulness of this quote. Certainly there is such a thing as too much idleness. A line which I push seemingly daily. But I still think this is a clever way of reminding us to pause and enjoy not having to do anything once in a while. Of course, I say that as a single guy with no kids, so I understand others have limitations.

«Read More...»


As I mentioned earlier, we've reached the unofficial mid-point of the 2009 MLB season. With that in mind here are some...

2009 Mid-Season Awards

AL MVP: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins

This might be the toughest award to pick of the whole slate. Normally, I wouldn't go for guys on 3rd-place teams, but if you look at the division leaders, there's no one player who's stats jump off the page from any of them. In absence of that, the door opens for guys like Mauer and Morneau. And quite frankly, you can flip a coin between them.

Mauer leads the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Morneau leads the league in total bases and appears in the top 5 in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS - the only player in the league to appear in the top 5 of all those categories.

Call me a homer if you want. If you can find a candidate with a better cumulative resume than these two guys, I'm happy to hear about it.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Honorable Mention: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

As difficult as it was to pick the AL MVP, it was absurdly simple to pick the NL winner.

Pujols leads the NL in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored, total bases, home runs, RBI, and walks. Oh, and he's in the top 5 in batting average.

Any questions? Didn't think so. It's a remarkable season for Pujols, and the fact that his club is on top of their division by 2.5 games is simply icing on the cake.

Regular readers know I'm not a huge fan of Milwaukee's Prince Fielder. But it's hard to deny his stats. He's second in the league in on-base percentage, OPS, total bases and RBI. He's third in the league in slugging percentage and walks. And he's top 5 in home runs. If he played in the AL, you could make a solid case for him as their MVP. But he plays in the same league as Albert and that relegates him to a solid second place.

AL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals

Honorable Mention: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

The Cy Young winners depend less on their team, outside of win totals, than MVP's do. Being the best pitcher in a league is fairly easy to determine from statistics. How "valuable" a player is, that's a little more subjective.

I fully intended to vote for Halladay in this category until I looked at the stats. Quite simply, I couldn't find any category where Halladay's stats bested Greinke's, except for strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Greinke leads the AL in ERA, complete games, and shutouts. He's second in WHIP, walks per 9 innings, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he's third in wins, strikeouts per 9 innings, and strikeouts. And all of that on a team that gives him minimal run support.

Halladay gets the honorable mention for now. I say that because Toronto's dangling him as trade bait. I'm dubious as to whether they'll actually move him. It would seem near to impossible to get fair value for him - just ask the Twins about what they got for Johan Santana. But if he does get moved, it seems most likely that he'd be moved to the National League, which would take him off the Cy Young list for the AL. If that happens, Detroit's Edwin Jackson would step in to challenge Greinke.

NL Cy Young: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks

Honorable Mention: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

Another toss up, this time between two deserving pitchers. And whereas MVP candidates are punished if their team is doing poorly, in this case, I give the nod to Haren precisely because his team is doing so poorly. When you compare the numbers, these two guys are relatively even, but I give the award to Haren because he has so much more to overcome.

Haren leads the league in ERA, WHIP, complete games, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he's top 5 in strikeouts, shut-outs and innings pitched. While he's technically tied for 6th with 9 wins, that's only 2 behind the league-leader, Colorado's Jason Marquis, and one behind the group tied at 10 which includes Lincecum.

Speaking of Lincecum, he leads the NL in strikeouts, strikeouts per 9 innings, shutouts and is tied for the lead for complete games with Haren. And he's top 5 in ERA, wins, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeout-to-walk ratio and home runs per 9 innings.

Lincecum gets the start in this year's All-Star game. And for that matter so does Halladay, so perhaps I've got my votes flip-flopped. But given what the guys I've voted for have to contend with in terms of support - or specifically the lack thereof - I think their cases are very compelling.

AL Rookie of the Year:
Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays

Honorable Mention: Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers

Porcello lept out of the gates as the leader for the RoY award. He's still 8-6 with a 4.14 ERA on a division-leading club. But he's lost two in a row, and hasn't gotten out of the 5th inning since June 12th. That's a bit of a fade.

Conversely, Romero started slowly, making only 5 starts over the months of April and May. But injuries forced him into the starting rotation in June, and he's gone 5-1 with two no-decisions since then. His ERA on the year is 3.00 which is good enough to land him in the top 10 of league-leaders.

Experts are still waiting for Orioles C Matt Wieters and Rays P David Price to step up and show the promise that made them the favorites to win the RoY award during the pre-season. If Porcello's numbers continue going south, they could get in the picture. But so far, Romero's the clear favorite.

National League Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves

Honorable Mention: Colby Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals

This award might be the one I feel least strongly about.

Hanson is 4-0 with a 2.85 ERA over 7 starts. Rasmus is hitting .278 with 11 home runs and 34 RBI.

Comparing pitchers to batters is a completely subjective thing. When in doubt, I lean towards pitching, because I feel that it's under-valued by common fans.

AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

Honorable Mention: Mike Scioscia, LAAGOCROCUSPE

Manager of the Year is the most subjective of all of these awards. There are two basic routes to get the award. One, you take a team that wasn't expected to do well, and significantly exceed those expectations. Two, you take a team that was expected to do well, and take them to the top of your league and MLB as a whole.

Leyland falls into the former category. Many pundits, yours truly included, predicted another below-average year from the Tigers. Instead, they have a 3.5-game lead at the break. And they've done so without any superstar performances offensively. In terms of pitching, Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson have both been outstanding, but the rest of the rotation has been average, and the bullpen is certainly shaky.

Given those criteria, credit has to go to the manager for pulling together a bunch of fairly average performers, and guiding them to a division lead.

Scioscia makes the list due to the obstacles his club has had to overcome. Everybody has to deal with injuries on some level, but it seems that the Angels have had more than their fair share over the last couple of years, especially in the pitching department. Add in the tragic death of Nick Adenhart at the beginning of this year, and it's truly remarkable that the Angels have a 1.5 game lead a the break. Again, a credit to their steady leadership in the form of Mike Scioscia.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, San Fancisco Giants

Honorable Mention: Tony LaRussa, St. Louis Cardinals & Joe Torre, L.A. Dodgers

Bochy also belongs to the "exceeds expectations" category. I think people thought the Giants would improve over their record last year. But I don't think they saw them as a serious playoff contender. At the break, the Giants trail the Dodgers by 7 games for the Western Division lead, but they lead the Wild Card race by two games.

Granted, Bochy has an amazing pitching staff to work with. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain might be the best one-two punch in the league. And a guy who only recently had come out of the bullpen, Jonathan Sanchez, just threw a no-hitter Friday night! But the Giants are certainly offensively challenged. So Bochy deserves a lot of credit for guiding them into playoff contention.

I gave two "honorable mentions" in this category because I couldn't decide between those two guys. LaRussa has Albert Pujols, and that always helps. But the rest of that line-up is barely major league-worthy. And while Chris Carpenter is a nice Ace to have - when he's healthy - the rest of that pitching staff isn't lighting the world on fire.

Torre on the other hand, falls into the latter category that I mentioned earlier: taking a team with high expectations to the top of the league. The Dodgers were a near universal pick to win the NL West. And clearly we're seeing why. But they've gone beyond playoff contention and now have the best record in either league. And they did so while their chief offensive weapon, Manny Ramirez, took a 50-game break for a PED problem. That they survived that stretch is credit enough to Torre. That they got through it and maintained the best record in baseball puts him squarely in MoY contention.

So there you have them ladies and gents. My 2009 mid-season awards. Have a beef? Think I left somebody out? Add a comment and let us all know!

That does it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with a wrap on all the All-Star festivities. And if there's time, perhaps even some predictions for the 2nd half? We'll see.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

7-10-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It's the end of another week... sort of. I'm working on Sunday. And between that and helping a friend move tomorrow, it's not a classic weekend for me. But I'm not the least bit upset about that because I've got a 3-day work week next week. So even thought I expect to blink and be right back here on Monday, that won't be such a bad thing.

It's also the last Friday before the All-Star break. Brandon Inge of the Tigers and Shane Victorino of the Philles were the winners of the Final Vote. I'm not surprised that my NL Vote, Mark Reynolds of the Diamondbacks, didn't get in. But I am fairly surprised that my AL Vote, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, didn't get in. The Final Vote is one of those things that's become difficult to predict, because so much of it depends on the marketing campaigns launched by the clubs with players involved.

In any case, congrats to those two guys. And don't be surprised to see a couple more names get added to the rosters as injuries prevent guys who were initially selected from competing.

But there'll be plenty of time to talk All-Star festivities next week. Today is Friday and that means it's time for your weekly heaping helping of DFTU.

Off we go...

"Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one."
- A. J. Liebling (1904 - 1963), American journalist


When Mr. Liebling died in 1963, he couldn't possibly imagine that 45 years later there would be such a thing as a "blog". Now everybody can own their own "press" and exercise the "freedom" that Leibling referred to. Of course, like all double-edged swords, the best thing about blogs is also the worst thing about blogs.

Since anyone can have them, there aren't any rules or ethics that people are confined by. Quite literally, I could write the most outrageous thing I could think of, without any real consequence. While I strive to back up my opinions with numbers and facts, I wouldn't lose my blog if I started spewing unsubstantiated rumors and tawdry lies. In the end, as with most things, it's up to the consumer to decide what's worth reading and what's not.

«Read More...»


Hopefully you think The Sports Take is worth reading. Especially on Fridays, because that means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 43-43, in third place in the AL Central, 4 games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers, and 1.5 games behind the second-place Chicago White Sox.

Damn those Yankees!

I hope you had in mind the "mind job" that I referenced the last time the Yankees and Twins squared off, because it was in full effect over the last three days. I don't know what it is that psyches out the Twins so much when they play the Bombers, but there's no question in my mind that if those two teams somehow meet in the playoffs, the Twins are screwed.

It was almost like New York was toying with the Twins. They beat them with small ball, they beat them with the long ball. They out-pitched them. They out-played them defensively. In short, there wasn't anything the Twins did that the Yankees didn't do better.

It was horribly frustrating.

But as I keep pointing out, there's always another game tomorrow. And fortunately for the Twins it's a meaningful one. There's simply no time to dwell on the butt-kicking they just took, because they're about to play three games against the club immediately in front of them in the standings.

Yes that's right, the Ozzie circus is coming to town. In a Twins/White Sox series, you're pretty much guaranteed a managerial melt-down. The only question is which manager will be first to blow his stack. Gardenhire generally only loses it due to poor umpiring. With Ozzie, it could be anything. A bad call, a good call he doesn't like, a dumb question from a reporter, or a change in A.J. Pierzynski's hair-coloring. It literally could be anything at all.

That's a big part of what makes this rivalry entertaining. Both teams play hard, and their talent-levels are even enough that the games are generally pretty fun to watch. I know I'm looking forward to the series, and I'm sure Twins fans will pack the Dome to try and get the home-nine off the schneid.

As mentioned, the Twins play the Sox this weekend, and then take 4 days off. Three for the traditional All-Star break. And one more because the schedule-makers are goofy. After that, it's time for a AL West road trip, starting in Texas one week from today.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 36-50, in fourth place in the NL West and 18.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

Hey! Look who's not in last place! Okay, they're just a half-game in front of the Padres, but 4th is 4th baby!

I'd be a lot more celebratory about that if it wasn't for last night. Prior to last night, the D'backs were on a 5-game winning streak (longer than any winning streak the Twins have put together this year interestingly enough). Prior to last night, the big "Mo" was in Arizona's corner. Prior to last night, the boys looked locked-in for the first time all year. Things were rolling.

Then came the Florida Freaking Marlins. At first, things were continuing just fine. Arizona jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Then came a Florida 3-spot in the 6th inning. The Fish tacked another run on in the 7th, and suddenly what was a blow-out was now looking like a save situation.

Until the 8th inning that is. In the 8th, the Marlins sent 14 batters to the plate while the Diamondbacks went through 3 relievers in an elusive attempt to get 3 outs. 14 batters, 10 runs, 8 hits and 2 errors later, it was 14-7 Marlins. Both teams played the last inning and a half in a state of shock. 14-7?! That's a Dolphins/Cardinals score for chrissakes!

That's one of those games that has the potential to derail all the momentum, all the good vibes, all the positivity the D'backs had finally managed to create. I say "potentially" only because there's a small part of me that thinks maybe Arizona will come out tonight and get right back on the horse.

The unbiased, objective part of me knows that the likelihood is that the club will be in "here we go again" mode, and Snakes fans will be right back to watching dreadful baseball.

But maybe that won't happen. Maybe the baseball gods will reboot the mojo for Arizona and they'll come out fired up after a stomach-punch loss like that. Maybe the guys will re-focus and come right back with a win against Florida tonight. Wait, what's the pitching match-up? Dan Haren vs. Ricky Nolasco? Yeah, the Snakes have a shot!

As you may have guessed, Arizona closes out the first half with three more against the Florida Freaking Marlins. They also get 4 days off for the break, and conveniently enough, start the 2nd half in St. Louis. I hope Haren and Upton get good hotel rooms in the Gateway City. They're going to be there for a while.

That's going to put a bow on things for today. Have a fantastic weekend and meet me back here on Monday, when I'll be talking Home Run Derby.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

7-8-09: 2009 Peek at the Picks, Vol. 3

Hello again everybody...

I'm a little grumpy today. I've wavered over the years between detesting the Yankees and grudgingly respecting their storied history. Today I hate them.

Not only did they drop a 10-2 job on the Twins last night, but they did so by playing small ball. The Bronx Bombers scored 10 runs and nary a one of them coming by way of the home run. Granted, Alex Rodriguez was robbed of a Grand Slam by Carlos Gomez, but as far as the box score is concerned that was merely a sacrifice fly.

Instead of the big flies, the Yankees bled out the Twins via a thousand small cuts. Take a walk here. Move them over on a base hit there. And bring them in with a sac fly. If the team with the highest payroll in baseball is going to start playing fundamentally sound, what chance do my boys have?!

Needless to say, it's not a game I'm going to remember fondly. But the beauty of baseball is that the Twins get to go back out and get after them again tonight. Hopefully Glen Perkins (make that Anthony Swarzak... apparently Perk has a fever) will have better luck than Scott Baker did. A.J. Burnett has pitched well for the Yanks lately. But at least he's right-handed, and that gives the Twins a better shot.

Speaking of shots, I have a shot at besting my Combined Kelley Formula Result from last year! So since it's been three weeks since I've checked in on my picks, it's time to do it today. That's right, it's Peek at the Picks time! Let's get to it!

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), British Prime Minister


I quote Sir Winston more often than anyone else. But can you blame me? The guy was a font of wit and witticism. That being said, I guess he'd label me a fanatic because I'm not changing my picks, and I'm sure as hell not changing the subject!

«Read More...»


With that, I give you the 2009 Peek at the Picks, Vol. 3!

AL East:

Current Standings: Boston (whom I hate), NY Yankees -1, Tampa Bay -5.5, Toronto -8, Baltimore -13.5

Dan's Picks: Boston, Tampa Bay, NY Yankees, Baltimore, Toronto

Kelley Formula Results: 16 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: Toronto has finally started the swoon that I predicted. To the point where their G.M. J.P Riccardi actually announced that perennial Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay, is available for the right price. Tampa keeps threatening to get in the race. But the Yankees are flat out better than I thought they'd be. I don't say that just because they've owned the Twins this year. Oh hell, yeah, that's exactly why I'm saying that. Curse you, New York. Curse you! And if I ever label Baltimore as "up and coming" as long as Peter Angelos owns the team again, you're free to slap me.

AL Central:

Current Standings: Detroit, Chicago White Sox -2, Minnesota -2.5, Kansas City -9, Cleveland -12.5

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

Kelley Formula Results: 9 of a possible 20 points

Analysis:
Detroit and Cleveland are killing me here. I'm still not sold on the Tigers as a division winner. Their pitching is okay, but sooner or later, something's going to haywire. It's got to! The White Sox have been hot of late, but since they're the poster children for baseball group therapy, I'm not as concerned about them. I've been waiting for the Twins to make their "run" for weeks now. They teased me a couple of times, but sooner or later they're going to run of 7 or 8 in a row and take hold of this thing. I firmly believe that. I shouldn't feel vindicated about Cleveland. I had no clue they'd be this bad. But I did disagree with those that said they'd win the division. And somehow I've managed to convince myself that I'm right, even though I picked them to finish second. It makes no sense, but there you go.

AL West:

Current Standings: LAAAGOCRCUSPE, Texas (tied), Seattle -3.5, Oakland -11

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

Kelley Formula Results: 15 of a possible 16 points.

Analysis: If the Angels had beaten the Rangers last night, I'd be sitting on 16 out of 16 here. Oh well. I'm impressed that Texas is hanging on this long. I suppose that the hottest of the Texas heat hasn't set in yet. And for some reason they're still trying to pretend that Vicente Padilla is a worthwhile major league pitcher. So I still fully expect the Angels to win the division. And probably rather comfortably. Oh, and to all those pundits that claimed Oakland would be competitive? I told you so!

NL East:

Current Standings: Philadelphia, Florida -2, Atlanta -4, NY Mets -4.5, Washington -19

Dan's Picks: Philadelphia, NY Mets, Atlanta, Florida, Washington

Kelley Formula Results: 16 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: Remember when I had this division nailed? Not so much anymore. The Mets have slumped and the Florida Freaking Marlins have just enough pitching to scare some people. The division title is the Phillies to take, but they've been fairly inconsistent as well. The only thing that you can count on in the NL East is the Nationals to suck. Anyone have a thought on how their going to screw up the Strasbourg signing? You know it'll happen. Boras is his agent. We've seen this movie before.

NL Central:

Current Standings: St. Louis, Milwaukee -2, Chicago Cubs -3, Cincinnati -3.5, Houston -4.5, Pittsburgh -7.5

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

Kelley Formula Results: 14 of a possible 24 points

Analysis: Suddenly my "Houston in 2nd" pick doesn't look quite as ludicrous as it did mere weeks ago. St. Louis is better than I thought, and I still can't figure out how. Yes, Albert Pujols might be the best baseball player on the planet, but the rest of that line-up doesn't seem like a division champ to me. Milwaukee is sitting on the edge of a knife. Ryan Braun pops off about the team needing a trade the other day and gets called to the Principal's office. We know Doug Melvin is capable of a big move. This is the guy that landed Sabathia last year. Do they have enough to make another move? My contacts in Milwaukee seem to think so. We'll see I guess.

NL West:

Current Standings: LA Dodgers, San Francisco -7, Colorado -9, San Diego -18, Arizona -18.5

Dan's Picks: LA, Arizona, San Francisco, Colorado, San Diego

Kelley Formula Results: 14 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: If one of my favorite teams wasn't sucking the bag so badly, I'd be in good shape here. LA's got this division in hand. And everybody else is only one slot off. But Arizona is horrible. And even though they only trail the Padres by a half-game, I have no reason to be confident that they'll climb out of the cellar. Especially now that they've gone into fire-sale mode and traded Tony Pena to the White Sox. If you're going to give up the ghost, Arizona management, can you at least try to not make teams in the AL Central better? Please? Thank you. Oh, and Manny still sucks.

Total:

Combined Kelley Formula Results: 84 of a possible 120 points (70%)

Vol. 2's CKFR: 82 of a possible 120 points (68.3%)

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

Analysis: Well, I'm not where I wanted to be yet, but things are moving in the right direction. If Minnesota can go on that run I keep asking for, that'd make a huge difference.

I've got 4 of the 6 division winners right so far. That's not too shabby.

If I could pick up a few points in those central divisions, I might have a shot at 80%! Okay, that might be a little high to aim. But I'm essentially an optimistic person.

And I almost typed that with a straight face!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Friday with your weekly dose of DFTU.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

7-6-09: All-Star Roster Break-down

Hello again everybody...

Hope you had a fun and safe 4th of July. The conditions were near to perfect for fireworks celebrations here in the upper Midwest. Hopefully you all had a similar chance to celebrate freedom and democracy.

And that's probably as close as I'm ever going to get to discussing politics here at The Sports Take.

Unless it's the politics of sports. I'm not saying there were politics involved in the selections of the All-Star rosters. In fact, the fans, players and coaches got it pretty close to right. Today I'll run down the rosters and compare them to my ballot from last week. A little compare, a little contrast... that's just how we roll.

Lame slang phrases aside... let's do this!

"All things are difficult before they are easy."
- Dr. Thomas Fuller (1654 - 1734), British physician, preacher, and intellectual


The best sayings are the simple ones, right? A little hard work and a little doggedness go a long way.

«Read More...»


Speaking of hard work and doggedness, it can fairly be said that the men who made the 2009 All-Star game did so through said traits. As I mentioned, the fans, players and coaches got it pretty close to correct.

Let's review:

American League

First Base:
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
ST Pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau got hosed just as I expected. Yes, he still made the team. But he should've been the starter. Tex is having a nice season, and I certainly don't dispute his making the team. But Morneau has more RBI, is hitting 40 points higher and has a higher OPS than Teixeira does. Seems pretty clear to me who the starter should be. I'd also like to point out that I correctly predicted Carlos Pena getting hosed as well. Kevin Youklis was chosen to be the 3rd first baseman on the roster, even though Pena was far more deserving. Carlos still has a shot in the Final Vote, but I'm not optimistic about his chances.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate)
ST Pick: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers

This is the one that the folks putting together the rosters got most wrong. Yes, Pedroia was last year's MVP. But that shouldn't make him an All-Star this year. He's hitting .285. Not bad. But he has only 35 RBI, and his OPS is a very average .811. Kinsler on the other hand, has 19 home runs and 51 RBI, and he mainly hits lead off! Aaron Hill is the only backup so far on the AL squad. Kinsler still has a shot if the fans vote him in as the 33rd player. I don't have a problem with Hill making the squad. I listed him as an honorable mention. But Kinsler should be there too. Hopefully the fans will correct their mis-step and put Kinsler on the squad.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
ST Pick: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

There will be those that accuse Jeter of getting in on reputation (much like I just accused Pedroia), but this time, Jeter's numbers back his reputation up. His .308 average, 9 homers and 32 RBI are as good as it gets amongst shortstops that have played the full season. Why do I qualify it like that? Because one of my honorable mentions made it as his backup. Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays (the real tragedy for Twins fans in that trade) has 100 less plate appearances than Jeter. But his numbers are still right there with Derek's. No complaints from me. These two guys should be there, and the right one is starting.

Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
ST Pick: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

No argument with the starter here either. Longoria's numbers clearly qualify him to be the starter. It's the back-up that makes me scratch my head. Michael Young of the Texas Rangers was selected as the back-up third baseman. On the one hand, I'm a fan of Young. He was asked for the second time in his career to change positions to make room for another talent. Initially, he moved from second to short to make room for Alfonso Soriano. Then this year he moved from short to third to make room for rookie Elvis Andrus. It's nice when a guy who's that selfless is rewarded. But other than having a higher average, I'm not sure what qualifies him to make the squad over Brandon Inge of the Tigers. Their OPS's are nearly even. But Inge has 9 more home runs and 19 more RBI. Inge is also on the Final Vote ballot, so he's got a shot to get in. But I think Kinsler's going to take that spot. Too bad for Brandon. He's certainly deserving.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
ST Picks: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Mauer may not have been the leading vote-getter in the AL (that title went to Jeter), but he was as big a no-brainer as anyone on the squad. The Baby Jesus may not be hitting .400 anymore. But .390 isn't anything to sneeze at. Mauer's still 5 plate appearances short of the necessary number to qualify for the league leadership. It looks like he'll get there either immediately prior to, or shortly after the All-Star break. I've also got no problem with the back-up. Cleveland's Victor Martinez will be spelling Mauer sometime around the 5th or 6th inning. Martinez is the token Indian on the squad. I mean nothing racial by that, mind you. He's just the only Cleveland player on the club!

Outfield: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate); Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
ST Picks: Torii Hunter, LAAAGOCRCUSPE; Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate); Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox

This is the second most screwed up spot. The only reason that second base was worse is because Kinsler wasn't put on the squad. Torii Hunter made the team, but the fact that he's not starting is a crime. I know people love what Josh Hamilton did in last year's Home Run Derby. But that's even a weaker reason to put him on the club than Pedroia's MVP. Thankfully, the fans were rewarded for their short-sightedness by learning that Hamilton won't be competing in this year's Derby thanks to the oblique injury that he's just coming back from. In fairness, I screwed this up too. I didn't have Ichiro on my ballot anywhere. The guy leading the league in hitting (at least until Mauer's PA's catch up)? Yeah, he belongs in the game.

Carl Crawford, TB; Curtis Granderson, Det; Adam Jones, Bal; and Ben Zobrist, TB, make up the rest of the outfield back-ups. No complaints there. At least none as large as Torii not starting. Come on people! How did you get that one wrong?!

Pitchers: Andrew Bailey, OAK; Josh Beckett, BOS; Mark Buehrle, CWS; Brian Fuentes, LAAAGOCRCUSPE; Zack Greinke, KC; Roy Halladay, TOR; Felix Hernandez, SEA; Edwin Jackson, DET; Joe Nathan, MIN; Jonathan Papelbon, BOS (whom I hate); Mariano Rivera, NYY; Justin Verlander, DET; Tim Wakefield, BOS (whom I hate)

I didn't make any picks on pitchers, because the fans don't get a vote. The only one that makes me scratch my head a bit is Felix Hernandez from Seattle. The numbers aren't bad: 8-3, 2.62. But I've seen him twice this year and I wasn't impressed either time. It's a minor complaint at most. If I was the skipper, Roy Halladay would get the start, though it won't surprise me if Joe Maddon gives Greinke the nod.

National League

First Base:
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
ST Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Pujols got more votes than any other player on either roster, and deservedly so. I told a colleague the other night that if I was any other first baseman in the NL, I'd make sure my All-Star bonus clause wasn't dependant on starting. As long as Pujols is healthy, he's the odds-on favorite to get the start. Pick a year, any year. But since this year's All-Star festivities are in St. Louis, this was a mortal lock.

Interestingly, the NL went with 3 first basemen as back-ups. Prince Fielder of Milwaukee was one of my honorable mentions, and deserves to make the squad. Adrian Gonzalez would seem to be the only Padre deserving (Heath Bell? Really?), so I get that one too. But I'm disappointed that they took Ryan Howard of Philadelphia over Todd Helton of Colorado. Helton has a higher average and OPS. And though he's got half as many homers as Howard, he only trails by 7 RBI. It's not that I'm against Howard making the team. I just think Helton's a touch more deserving.

Second Base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
ST Pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

No question this was the right call. Utley's the class of the second sackers in the NL. Again, one of my honorable mentions got squeezed for a back-up spot by a player who was put on the roster only because every team needs a representative. Orlando Hudson of the Dodgers absolutely deserved to make the squad. But Freddy Sanchez of the Pirates over Brandon Phillips of the Reds? Sanchez has a better average and OPS, but Phillips has 4 more homers and 20 more RBI. Numbers-wise Phillips has a slight edge. But since someone from the Pirates has to make the squad Sanchez gets the nod.

I've always been in favor of the "every club gets a representative" rule. The All-Star game is a celebration of baseball, and everybody should get to be involved. I just think that there should be some sort of allowance in a situation like this where the take a guy who's less deserving, so that someone from a bad team can make the squad. I'm not saying Sanchez shouldn't go. I just think they should add a spot so that Phillips can go too.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
ST Pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

Excellent work by the fans here. Ramirez is the best player most people aren't familiar with. It would've been easy for fans to vote in the better-known Miguel Tejada, but they got it right picking Ramirez. This guy is flat-out a superstar. Make sure you check him out a week from Tuesday. You won't be sorry. Tejada makes the club as the sole back-up. Can't complain about that either.

Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets
ST Pick: David Wright, NY Mets

What's funny about this pick is that Wright probably got less support in New York than he did anywhere else in the country. Why Mets fans are bitching about his lack of power, I don't know. He's doing everything else they could want him to. But that's New York for you. Ryan Zimmerman from Washington is the lone back-up. My other honorable mention, Mark Reynolds of Arizona made the Final Vote ballot. I fear he'll get aced out by OF Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. But maybe L.A.'s lazy reputation will give him a shot.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
ST Pick: Benjie Molina, San Francisco Giants

At least they got the last name right. I guess I can't complain about Yadi getting the start. A second Cardinal starting in St. Louis seems appropriate. But to take Brian McCann (admittely a ST Honorable Mention) over Bengie Molina seems off to me. And worse, Bengie didn't even make the Final Vote ballot. I couldn't be that far off here, could I? It's close stats-wise. I won't complain too loudly.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, NY Mets; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
ST Picks: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies

As much as it galls me to quote Meatloaf, two out of three really ain't bad. And Hawpe did make it as a back-up. Beltran's another "reputation" guy. He got a lot of votes in New York. Maybe all the people who were pissed at Wright voted for Beltran instead. I don't know. But I'd have picked him as a last-resort back-up and no higher.

Hunter Pence of Houston, and Justin Upton of Arizona are your other two backups. Pence over Lee as far as Astros go? Eh, it's a coin flip. We've seen Lee before, so maybe it's not so bad that a new face gets in there. Upton was a pleasant surprise. Obviously I thought he was deserving enough to make Honorable Mention. I just figured Kemp would ace him out, especially given the two teams' relative records (those shouldn't be a factor, but if you think they're not, see Pedroia, Dustin).

Pitchers: Heath Bell, SD; Chad Billingsley, LAD; Jonathan Broxton, LAD; Matt Cain, SF; Francisco Cordero, CIN; Ryan Franklin, STL; Dan Haren, ARI; Josh Johnson, FLA; Ted Lilly, CHC; Tim Lincecum, SF; Jason Marquis, COL; Francisco Rodriguez, NYM; Johan Santana, NYM

Again, playing skipper, I'd love to see Dan Haren get the start here. But I imagine that Charlie Manuel will go with Tim Lincecum. I suppose Santana would make some sense as well. But I think the reigning Cy Young winner has pitched well enough to earn the honor.

So there are your 2009 All-Stars. Make sure you go to www.mlb.com and vote for your Final Vote selections.

Personally, I think Ian Kinsler and Mark Reynolds are the way to go. But vote for whoever you like. That's the fun of it!

That's all for me today. I'm back on Wednesday with the delayed but never denied Peek at the Picks column. Don't miss it!

Until then, thanks for reading!