11-13-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another Friday. Some weeks end, some begin, but I won't belabor the differences in work schedules.

Nope, Friday is a day to enjoy, whatever your work schedule.

Even if it is Friday the 13th!!!

(Cue the spooky music... I said CUE THE SPOOKY MUSIC!!! Good help is so hard to find these days.)

Unlucky coincidences of date and day of the week aside, Friday means your usual heaping helping of DFTU. And as I promised on Wednesday, you get a little extra helping of goodness this week!

So let's get to the gettin'!

”A man is not idle because he's absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”
- Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885), French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France.

So all the time I spend contemplating things whilst sprawled on my couch is actually labor?! And some of you thought me lazy... ha!

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Though Mr. Hugo might think it laborious, it gives me great pleasure to bring you... once again... everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 7-2, and their 4-2 record in the Big Ten has them in a tie for 3rd place in the conference. Nationally, they're rated (*) 20th by the BCS.

(*- The BCS doesn't produce “rankings”, it produces “ratings”. Yet another annoying part of a prodigiously flawed system.)

Last Saturday, Wisconsin defeated Indiana 31-28. The game wasn't exactly as close as that score would seem to indicate, since the Badgers held a 31-21 lead with time running out when Indiana got a garbage TD to cut it to three.

The game was a classic, grind-it-out road victory for the Badgers. The running game was strong. Wisconsin amassed 294 yards on the ground with John Clay accounting for 134 of them. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave the game with a concussion and his status for this week's game is uncertain. But freshman Montee Ball, who's seemingly passed Zach Brown on the depth chart, picked up the slack and toted the rock to the tune of 115 yards on the ground for the Badgers. It would seem Bucky has a competent back-up should Clay not be available Saturday.

Wisconsin's lone turnover came via the ground game again, however. Fortunately it wasn't as costly as some they've made in the past. I suppose I can't ask them to be perfect in that regard. But when your club's turned the ball over 5 and 6 times in previous games, any lax in ball-security makes you nervous.

The passing game was solid, if not spectacular. QB Scott Tolzien went 11-20 for 194 yards, 1 TD and no interceptions. That last stat being the key one. Tolzien's not going to win you games, but so long as he doesn't lose them outright, the Badgers have a shot.

Defensively, the Badgers were good, but not great. 28 points is a lot to give up to an opponent, but as I indicated earlier, 7 of them came with the game all but decided. Still, they'll have to step up their efforts to deal with Michigan's dual quarterback attack come Saturday.

Speaking of the Wolverines, here come the Maize and Blue to visit Camp Randall on Saturday. Michigan comes in with a 5-5 record, but they're only 1-5 in the Big Ten. After a promising start that included a last-second win over Notre Dame, Michigan has lost their last three in a row, two of them coming at the Big House.

Their offense can still put points on the board. Witness the 36 they put up against Purdue, the 28 they scored at Iowa, or the 36 they tallied against last week's Badger-opponent, Indiana.

But the Michigan defense has been downright dreadful. In those three successive losses, opponents haven't scored less than 35. In fact, in their last seven games, opposing offenses have scored less than 30 points only twice and one of those was Delaware State - not exactly Big Ten caliber.

Translation? This game is very winnable for Wisconsin, so long as they contain the Wolverine offense and win the turnover battle. Neither of those are a given obviously. But with the recent history of the two clubs, Wisconsin is a decided favorite (by 8.5 points at last check).

Kickoff is at 11am on Saturday. The game is on the Big Ten Network. Check your local listings.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 7-10-1, which is good for 15 points and last place in the Northwest Division.

I nearly wrote this column before last night's game, and part of me wishes I had. I could be a lot more positive about things if I hadn't waited until after the Tampa game.

Going in to last nights game, the Wild had won 4 of their last 5 and seemed to be putting things together. That remained the case as the Wild jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Lightning in Tampa.

But then a funny thing happened. The Bolts scored a power-play goal to get it to 3-2. And then late in the period after the Wild nearly scored what would have been a back-breaking goal, defenseman Marek Zidlicky took an awful penalty with less than two minutes remaining. That allowed Tampa to pull their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage which led to the game-tying goal with less than 20 seconds left.

We've seen it so many times in sports it almost seems cliché: the team that ties it up late, wins it in overtime. In last night's case, it was in a shootout, but that's really the same thing in the NHL these days.

So what should've been the Wild's 5th win in their last 6 games and a three-game winning streak, turned into an overtime loss in about 10 minutes. Talk about your buzz-kills.

If I want to remain positive about this team's progress, I guess I have to chalk that one up to growing pains. While the Wild had seemingly figure out how to stay aggressive for a full 60 minutes, they regressed in that regard last night. It was evident in the third period that they were hanging back a little bit, playing “not to lose” instead of to win.

Credit has to go to Tampa goalie Antero Niittymaki, who stopped 28 of the 31 shots the Wild directed his way, and added two more stops to help his team win in the shootout. While his teammates didn't give him much help, Niittymaki made several spectacular saves to keep his team within striking distance.

Lost in the disappointment of the loss was a highlight reel goal by the grizzled veteran Owen Nolan. It was an eye-popping effort. So much so, that I decided to include the video in the blog for your convenience:

Amazing stuff.

So the Wild are 1-1 on this East coast swing. Another win ensures a .500-trip. And both games remaining are quite winnable. In fact, the next week sets up for the Wild to do very well if they keep their effort up for 60 minutes a night.

Tonight they're in D.C. to play the Caps and superstar Alex Ovechkin. Seriously, if you haven't seen this guy play, make sure and catch this game. He's incredible. Then the Wild head to Carolina for a game with the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon. After that, Minnesota returns to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for games with Phoenix on Wednesday (I'll be in attendance) and the Islanders on Friday (I'll be working).

Finally today, I have an extra-special section of the DFTU to share with you. Several of you have emailed asking my opinions related to them, so I give you the...

Minnesota Twins: It's the off-season. There's no record to report.

But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to talk about.

First of all, “GoGo... we hardly knew you.” That's right, fan-favorite (though sometimes as a punching bag) Carlos Gomez has been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

My analysis? This is a pretty good deal for the Twins, and a potentially good deal for the Brewers. The Twins pick up Hardy who is a career .262 hitter and owns an All-Star appearance from 2007. Admittedly, Hardy wasn't very good last year, hitting only .229 in 400+ AB's. But he committed only 8 errors in over 470 chances last year and is considered a plus-defender.

The Twins hope he plugs into the #2 spot in their line-up to replace Orlando Cabrerra who'll be allowed to depart as a free-agent. Plus, Hardy is close with Joe Mauer, and it's hoped that putting J.J. in the same clubhouse as his supremely talented buddy will help bring his offense around.

As for the Brewers, they have the enigmatic, though far less-costly Gomez to deal with now. There's no question of Gomez's speed and defensive abilities. When he's able to get on base, he creates all kinds of havoc for opposing teams. It's the “getting on base” part he struggles with. His on-base percentage last year was a minuscule .287 thanks in no small part to the 22 walks he took in nearly 350 plate appearances. Gomez is a project at the plate to say the least. His strike-zone discipline is poor, and more often than not it looks like he's guessing what pitch is coming, rather than adjusting to how he's being pitched.

The plus for Milwaukee is that he comes cheap. And with Mike Cameron's salary coming off the books, as well as Hardy's contract being absorbed by the Twins, the Brewers now have a decent chunk of change to use in pursuit of a starting pitcher - probably their biggest need.

So all things considered, the trade looks to benefit both clubs. Minnesota probably got the better player, but Milwaukee got a player with potential and freed up some money they can use to fill other holes.

The second Twins-related subject to discuss is Joe Mauer's contract status. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported just the other day that the Twins have opened contract negotiations with the MVP-to-be. (That award will be announced on the 23rd, and I'll be shocked if Mauer's name's not on it.)

There exists plenty of speculation as to what the length and breadth of the contract will be, none of which is truly informed, so I won't bore you with it. (Instead, I'll refer you to this column where I've discussed such matters in the past.)

What's really important is that both sides keep those kinds of negotiations out of the media. Even as a member of said group (if tangentially so), I recognize the power of the media to blow things out of proportion. The best way for both the Twins and Mauer to get the right deal done is to do it behind closed doors. Once the ink is dry on the contract, they can talk all they like. But until then, the less I hear the better.

I've said it before, but I can't stress enough how important it is to have a deal done prior to Spring Training. A colleague asked me the other day, at what date would I start getting nervous about the chances of Mauer signing an extension? My response was: the winter meetings.

Baseball's executives are scheduled to meet in Indianapolis from December 7th through the 10th. These meetings are often where the biggest deals get done and/or announced. If the Twins think they're not going to be able to sign Mauer to an extension, then these meetings offer the best opportunity they'll have to trade him.

And no, I can't believe I just typed “trade him” and “Mauer” in the same sentence either. But that's truly the reality here. If the Twins can't get an extension done, and they don't trade Mauer, then the 2010 season will be marred by questions about his future. As the Twins hope to celebrate opening a new ballpark, the attention of the fans and media will all be on Joe's status. That's bad on so many levels, I shudder to consider them all.

So obviously, my greatest hope is that a deal gets done sooner than later, and we can put all this speculation to rest. The Twins have already gone out and made a move to improve their ball club, bringing in one of Joe's friends to play shortstop. That certainly helps them make the case that they're trying to build a championship-caliber team, something that Mauer has indicated he'll be looking for in making his decision.

Until that announcement comes, I'm hoping we don't hear much more.

That's about all I've got for today ladies and gents. Hope you enjoyed the extra-serving of DFTU!

I'll be back on Monday with more of the usual nonsense. Until then, thanks for reading!

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