7-2-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Happy Fourth of July weekend to you all. That's right, Independence Day is on Sunday, which makes Monday a federal holiday, and I'm fortunate to have that day off. That also means, no column on Monday.

I know, I know. I've been taking a lot of time off lately, both from work and the blog, but it's Summer and these things happen. I'm sure you all understand.

But before we can light up some fireworks, we've got to get ourselves Updated. Oh, and this week? You get a little extra! That's why you come here on a Friday, right?!

Let's get to it...

Right after the quote.

”A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not endured with patient resignation.”
- Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970), British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, socialist, pacifist and social critic

Mr. Russell and I would not have gotten along very well...

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It's Friday, so that means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 43-36, in first place in the AL Central and one game ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

First things first. Yes, Alfonso Marquez kicked that call at third last night something fierce. It was wrong. I think he knew it was wrong after he made it. And if he didn't, he knew it shortly after getting back to the dressing room and seeing the replay.

But I've said this loads of times, and I'll say it again: the true fan of the game knows that umpires don't individually decide games. Yes, they can contribute negatively towards an outcome, but unless your team plays a mistake-free game, blaming an umpire is a cop-out.

Last night, Jon Rauch blew a save. It wasn't horrible pitching. Carl Crawford - an All-Star - lined a pitch back up the middle for a base-hit, and Evan Longoria - another All-Star - turned on an inside pitch that was up a bit and fired it down the left-field line for a game-tying double. Badda-bing, badda-boom, there's a blown save. When you're running a guy like Rauch out there as your closer, you're going to have to live with good hitters getting to him now and then.

On the other hand, when your closer blows a save, to turn around and blame a subsequent bad call for costing you a game is disingenuous. If the closer does his job, Marquez is never put in a position to kick a call, and the Twins come away with a well-earned win.

Again, I'm not defending Marquez. He made a horrible call, and deserves to face league-discipline for it. But he didn't lose the game, folks. The Twins did.

Instead of focusing on that game however, I'd prefer to focus on the way the Twins took two of three from the Tigers earlier in the week. The boys were coming off a gawd-awful road-trip and dropped the first game of the series to fall out of first place for the first time since early-April.

But they rallied back and took the next two games behind surprisingly good performances by Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey to finish the series a game-and-a-half ahead of the Motor City Kitties.

That's the kind of attitude we've grown to know and love from the Twins. Hey, I loved the dominant form they showed early in the year as much as anybody. And I'm certainly not going to complain if they get back to that kind of play soon. But what's always drawn me to baseball is the heart, grit and determination required to grind out 162 games of a regular season. To understand that there are going to be high points and low points during a season, and that the key is to not let the low points drag on for too long.

The Twins have always been fantastic examples of not getting too high and not getting too low. The last couple of weeks have been prime examples.

All of that being said, the Twins have been treading water for a while now. Something's gotta give here eventually. It's clear that they need J.J. Hardy to get healthy along with a roster-move or two if they're going to get themselves firmly back in the driver's seat in the Central.

(Bill Smith? Are you listening? Cliff Lee. Please. I'm begging.)

The Twins continue their four-gamer against the Rays tonight with Scott Baker (6-7) taking the hill against Tampa's David Price (11-3). Tomorrow it's Francisco Liriano (6-6) opposing Wade Davis (5-9). And Sunday, the series wraps up with Nick Blackburn (7-5) facing James Shields (6-8). Should be a good series folks. Catch a game or two if you can!

Next week, the Twins head out on the road as they play three in Toronto starting Tuesday before heading to Detroit to take on the Tigers again.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 31-48, in last place in the NL West, and more games behind the San Diego Padres than I wish to print.

For the second year in a row, the Diamondbacks are shaking up their leadership, only this time it isn't just the manager given a pink-slip. Late last night, Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported that the Diamondbacks have fired both GM Josh Byrnes, and manager A.J. Hinch.

I'm not stunned by the decision. I am, however, slightly surprised at the timing.

Clearly the Diamondbacks have under-achieved in a season where some thought they might be contenders for a division title. But the breaks have all gone against them, and ownership has decided it's time for significant change.

With the trade deadline less than a month away though, pulling this trigger now puts whomever takes over at GM at a significant disadvantage. You're either going to have someone from within the organization treading water, or someone coming from the outside, who won't be familiar enough with the personnel to make competent deals. Either way, you limit the ability of your organization to maximize this yearly opportunity to improve itself.

(Late word is Jerry Dipoto will be the interim GM, and Kirk Gibson will be the interim manager.)

The bottom line is, this is a bad situation, and I'm not sure if it just got better or worse. I hope that ownership has a specific plan in mind, because if they made this move thinking they'll go forward conducting a search for new management, I fear that they'll have only extended this down-cycle for the D'backs.

So how does an Arizona fan get through the rest of the season given that there's so little to play for? I think there are a couple of options:

1. Pick another team - now, I'm not suggesting picking another NL team. That's too difficult to do given existing rivalries. But I don't think it'd be too tough to find an AL team to root for. Obviously I'm partial to the Twins (and you could do far worse than to pick them), but there are plenty of interesting clubs to root for.

The Texas Rangers are a fun young club, and they train in the Cactus League each spring. They've got a solid lead in the AL West and are on a hot-streak right now. Josh Hamilton has a back-story that makes him easy to root for. Elvis Andrus is an up and coming young shortstop. And they just made a trade for catcher Bengie Molina that will only improve their line-up.

Or maybe you could be partial to the L.A. Angels. They also train in the Cactus League, and they play games in the same time zone as the D'backs. Manager Mike Scioscia is one of the best in the business (not something Arizona fans are necessarily used to). Torii Hunter is a dynamic defender with a personality to match. And Jared Weaver is a solid ace with nasty stuff.

Perhaps you want to go full-on front runner and root for the Yankees? I can't advise such a move, but it's certainly an option. Especially since you just got to watch them come through town.

Just do me one favor. Don't root for the Red Sox (whom I hate). You're far too smart to do something so silly!

2. Start your college football prep now - I know, I know, it's early July. But think about it, fall camp is only a month or so away, and by the second day of September, we're playing football!

Sure it's sort of a lame-duck year since the Pac Ten and Big Ten are on the verge of expansion, but the Pac Ten is now a wide-open conference with USC locked up in NCAA-jail. 2010 should truly be the Wild Wild West!

If you're a Big Ten fan, you can spend the next few months designing your suggestion for a new Big Ten logo! There hasn't been an official announcement yet, but I'll be floored if Big Ten officials decide to change the name. If they hung onto it when they grew to an 11-team league, why would they ditch it just because they're expanding to 12? Plus, now they've got a cable network that they've branded with the Big Ten name. Okay, so there are 12 teams now. Everybody still knows what league you're talking about when you say “Big Ten”, so why risk reducing your brand-recognition with a new name?

Personally, I'd go with some sort of logo where instead of a shadowed “11” being visible between the “g”,the “T” and the “e”:

You figure out a logo where a “+” symbol resides between the “g” and the “T”. That way, even if there's further expansion of the league, you're covered!

(This idea is the sole property of ”Writing for the Cycle”. Any use, or re-use of this idea without the expressed written permission of ”Writing for the Cycle” management is strictly prohibited. Don't worry BTN folks, I'll sell the idea to you for a very reasonable price!)

If neither of those ideas appeal to you, I hate to say it, but you're in for a long summer!

The Diamondbacks kick off a three-game series tonight at home versus the Dodgers. Edwin Jackson (4-6) has his first start following the wackiest no-hitter you'll ever see. He threw 149 pitches on the way to an eight walk, one wild pitch, and one hit batter no-no. Because of the extra effort required to complete the no-hitter, the Diamondbacks pushed him back from a Wednesday start, to take the hill tonight against the Dodgers. Hiroki Kuroda (7-5) goes tonight for L.A. Tomorrow Rodrigo Lopez (4-6) squares off against Clayton Kershaw (7-3). And Sunday finds Dan Haren (7-6) on the hill for what could be one of his final starts in an Arizona uniform, facing Chad Billingsley (6-4).

After that, the Snakes welcome the Chicago Cubs to town for three. That series is followed by the Marlins coming to town for four starting next Thursday.

Minnesota Wild: It's the off-season, sure, but that doesn't mean we can't talk hockey!

Yesterday the NHL free agency period kicked off, and as usual contracts were flying around like crazy.

The Wild had a primary need, a play-making center - which they addressed - and a secondary need, a puck-moving defenseman - which they didn't.

Native Minnesotan Matt Cullen has become the newest member of the Wild, signing a 3-year, $10.5 million contract to play center. Cullen, a 12-year veteran, is considered a strong two-way center who'll improve the top two lines, and the power-play.

The Wild struggled mightily winning face-offs last season, and were downright brutal on the power-play at times, giving up a league-worst 13 short-handed goals-against. Cullen will help improve that immediately.

Defensively, former Devils defenseman Paul Martin was a target for the Wild, but ended up signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Martin's also a native Minnesotan, and had expressed some interest in returning home to continue his NHL career, but found a fairly ideal situation in Pittsburgh to contend far sooner for a Cup than he would have in Minnesota.

You win some, you lose some.

When you throw in winger Eric Nystrom signing a three-year deal, I'd say it was a fairly decent opening to the free agency period for the Wild.

For the best analysis of where the wild roster stands at the moment, check out Michael Russo's blog on the Star Tribune's website.

That's going to wrap things up for this week. Catch you next Wednesday.

Until then, having a wonderful (and safe) holiday weekend, and thanks for reading!

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