Hello again everybody...
Happy holiday weekend to you all. I'm going to assume a fair amount of you are reading this on Monday, since I wasn't clever enough to take today off like most of the rest of the employed world.
Actually, I can't say that. I was actually surprised at how many people are downtown working. There are enough of them that most of the shops and restaurants stayed open. Kudos to those fine, hard working folks that allowed me to get my Original Chicken Sandwich. Well done people!
That being said, I'm annoyed I didn't do the math and take today off. Fortunately, I have a couple of days off coming in a couple of weeks. I haven't worked on my birthday in ages, and I'm sure as hell not going to start this year!
So as long as I'm at work today, I'm going to crank out a column. And if most of you don't read it til Monday, so be it!
It's Friday, and you all know what that means. It starts with a D and ends with a U. You know the rest. So let's get to the getting!
"We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882), American educator and poet
I'm not sure if I should be encouraged or depressed by this quote. While it would seem to suggest that others base their judgments on past facts, while we base our own on optimistic thinking, I guess you could also take it to say that we're only limited by what we decide is impossible. Interesting stuff.
Also interesting is today's column. You've waited all week (and quite possibly over a holiday weekend) for it. And just because I value your readership (and because there's news), you're getting a little extra this week! So now... it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 41-39, in third place in the AL Central and 3 games behind the Detroit Tigers. They're also a half-game behind the Chicago White Sox, who've suddenly caught fire and won 5 in a row, for second place.
6-3 on the road.
I just want to let that one marinate for a moment... 6-3 on the road!
Okay, so the Kansas City series wasn't the most elegant series victory in the annals of baseball. But sometimes you have to win ugly. And from the sound of that Wednesday game (which wasn't on TV), it was about as ugly a win as you can get. Justin Morneau, Nick Punto and Mike Redmond all left the game after getting dinged up. The dings were minor enough that all three should be available tonight for the series opener with Detroit. But they were still enough to worry Twins fans a bit.
Kansas City aside, I want to go back to the St. Louis series for a moment. Can anyone possibly explain to me why teams still pitch to Albert Pujols? I mentioned this Wednesday in my All-Star Ballot column, but I don't think it can be stressed enough. This guy got maybe half a dozen pitches to hit in the Saturday game that the Cardinals won, and he hit two of them out of the park. I watched every at-bat of his on Sunday while looking through interlocked fingers. I was that scared.
If Joe Mauer's the Baby Jesus, Pujols has to be Baby John the Baptist or something.
So now the Twins are home for a 9-game home stand before the All-Star break. Up first are the division-leading Detroit Tigers. It's tough to call any series prior to the All-Star break a “must win”. But when you're behind by the three games, and you've got three at home against the team that's in first place, it's certainly an opportunity. A sweep might be a little much to ask. But two out of three would certainly send Detroit a message. Don't get too comfortable fellas, we're not out of this yet!
After that the Bombers come to town. Twins brass has to be a little annoyed that both home series against the Yankees and the Red Sox (whom I hate) are mid-week series. The Red Sox (whom I hate) came in on Memorial Day for a 4-game mid-week series. And now the Yankees are coming in after 4th of July weekend for a 3-game mid-week series. I'm sure those games will still sell well, but not as well as they would have over a weekend.
I hate to be one of those people who whine about the schedule, because I know how complicated the whole thing is. But they couldn't put the Red Sox (whom I hate) and the Yankees on weekends this year, and put off the mid-week series til next year? It won't matter when they come in once the Twins open Target Field. That'll sell out all year regardless of whom they're playing. But this year? Not so much. Oh well, I guess it's a minor complaint anyway.
Usually I wrap up the DFTU segments with a team's upcoming schedule... only I've pretty much covered that. So I'll just add that after the Yankees, the Twins host the White Sox for three immediately prior to the All-Star break. So 6 of the 9 upcoming games are against the teams directly ahead of the Twins in the standings.
Time to make a statement boys!
Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 31-48, in last place in the AL West and 19 games behind the L.A. Dodgers. Not only that, but they're now 3.5 games behind the San Diego Padres whom they'd need to pass to get out of the cellar.
When I saw that Arizona had lost 2-1 to the Reds in 10 innings yesterday, my reaction wasn't disappointment. It wasn't even frustration. It was literally, "yeah, that's about right!"
Close, but no cigar. That's been the Diamondbacks' season in a nutshell.
But when I looked it up, it was closer than I thought. Arizona's 10-15 (.400) in 1-run games this year. I expected that to be far worse. Even their record in blowout games isn't as horrible as I thought it would be. They're 9-12 (.429) when the run differential in the game is 5+ runs.
The most consistent statistic I could find about Arizona is how consistently bad they've been. The were 9-13 (.409) in April, 13-16 (.448) in May, 9-17 (.346) in June, and 0-2 (.000) so far in July. God that's depressing.
Here's the thing. If the D'backs were just terrible in one-run games, if they were just terrible in blowout games, if they were just bad at home, or just bad on the road, then you'd have something to look at and fix. If there was just one or two areas of the game that they needed to tweak, there could be some hope. But the problem is, they're just consistently bad.
The standings say they're a .400 team. The splits say they're a .400 team. No matter which way you slice it, they win two of 5 games on a consistent basis. Actually they've only won 2 in their last 10, but mark my words, they'll run off a 6 of 10 streak to balance that out. It's eerie how consistently bad they've been.
So where's the hope? How do you get through a season when it seems your club has no shot at being competitive?
There are two suggestions I have. One, adopt a second team. I did it, and having one of them be competitive is plenty enough to balance out the other one sucking the bag.
And two, realize that baseball is about more than just wins and losses. Ernie Harwell once said that the way you get through a tough season is to realize that every day you show up at a ballpark, you're likely to see something you've never seen before. Maybe it's just one play, maybe it's just one players performance. But even on a bad team, there's always something to look at.
For Arizona fans this year, it's the performance of Danny Haren. The question becomes, how good can a guy be on a team this bad? The guy has a 2.19 ERA, a O.809 WHIP, and a gaudy 7.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And yet his record stands at 7-5. He very well could set a mark for the pitcher with the worst win-loss record to ever win a Cy Young award. He'll have competition from the Lincecums and Santanas of the world, but I don't think anyone's running away and hiding with the award, which means he'll have a shot!
Arizona's in Denver to take on the Resurgent Rockies (copyright, me) for three games over the weekend. Then it's back home to host the Padres and the Florida Freaking Marlins for three and four respectively before hitting the All-Star break.
Minnesota Wild: Yes, here's your bonus section for this week.
There aren't any games to talk about, but Free Agency opened this past Wednesday and there were two moves that had a big effect on the Wild.
First, their loss. Marian Gaborik, the last member of the inaugural Wild squad, is a member of the Wild no more. In his eight seasons with the Wild, he scored 219 goals while tallying 218 assists for a total of 437 points. All three of those totals are records for the Wild. Not surprising given his talent and tenure.
But what he'll be best remembered for by many Wild fans is his total of 502 games played in those same 8 seasons. That works out to an average of nearly 63 games per season. That's far less than you'd like to have from your star player. And the mere 17 games he played in last year will leave an unfortunate taste in fans' mouths for a long time.
So how do I define the Gaborik era with the Wild? He's a tremendous talent who had some unfortunate injury issues. There are a lot of people who think he's soft. I guess I give him the benefit of the doubt in saying that he's had a persistent problem that's robbed him of his greatest advantage, his speed. And if it's true that his groin problems were caused by a hip issue, then it's hard to hold his injuries against him given that hip issue's recent diagnosis. If that diagnosis is correct, and the problem has finally been addressed, then I fully expect Gaborik to shine on the big stage in New York.
The bottom line is, I have no animosity towards the guy, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.
That brings us to move number two. About two and a half hours after we learned that Gaborik had signed with the Rangers, the Wild countered by signing Martin Havlat from the Blackhawks to a 6-year, $30 million contract, the richest in Wild history.
Like Gaborik, Havlat has played 8 seasons in the NHL. He's scored 169 career goals and 227 career assists for a total of 396 points. So he's not the offensive force that Gabork has been. Also like Gaborik, Havlat has has some injury issues over the course of his career. In those eight years, he's played only 470 games. That works out to an average of nearly 59 games per year.
So if Wild fans thought Gabby was soft, what are they to make of Havlat?
There are a couple of points here. Number one, Havlat's more of a two-way player than Gaborik was. Yes, Gabby scores more, but Marian won't ever been in danger of winning a Selke award (best defensive forward) any time soon.
Number two, Havlat played 81 games last year to Gaborik's 17. One might suggest that being in a contract year, Havlat had motivation to play though injuries he might have otherwise sat out with. I prefer to think that he's gotten his shoulder-issues sorted out. And now he's playing with something of a chip on his shoulder after feeling like he was treated poorly by Blackhawk management.
Havlat alone won't replace Gaborik's presence. But Wild GM Chuck Fletcher isn't done with his roster-tweaking. There's been all kinds of noise about the Wild pursuing free agent center Saku Koivu, older brother of Wild star Mikku Koivu. But that talk has cooled considerably over the last twenty-four hours. If that signing falls through, then Fletcher will have to scramble to fill that hole. Otherwise, I think it can be fairly said that the Wild have downgraded their talent.
Understand, with a new organizational philosophy, this year was bound to be a transitional year anyway. But management swears that their goal is to make the playoffs this year. So in order to achieve that, Fletcher will have to do some nifty roster-work to make up for the loss of Gaborik.
I'm looking forward to the Wild announcing their schedule in the next couple of weeks. Suddenly everybody will be watching to see if and when the Rangers come to town. Very interesting stuff!
So there you have it. A holiday bonus for your DFTU pleasure. I hope you enjoyed it.
That's it for me this week. I'll be right back in the saddle on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you.
Until then, thanks for reading!