September 29, 2005

Link-O-Rama

  • FoxSports.com continues to do their best to make people forget all about ESPN.com. Not only does FoxSports.com have about 1% of the ads ESPN.com annoys its readers with on nearly every page -- seriously, in addition to popping up and playing video, the ads now have sound that you can't turn off -- their content is free while ESPN.com has nearly everything behind the "Insider" wall these days.

    And let's talk about the content. FoxSports.com features Ken Rosenthal and Dayn Perry as near-daily baseball columnists, and has now added Aaron Schatz and the rest of the boys over at Football Outsiders to anchor their NFL coverage. Oh, and FoxSports.com also runs "Daily Dose" columns from Yours Truly six days a week (which just might make me a little bit biased).

    Meanwhile, ESPN.com crashed my Internet Explorer three times in five minutes last night and three of their featured, front-page articles yesterday were written by Jason Whitlock, Scoop Jackson, and Skip Bayless.

  • Speaking of me and FoxSports.com, check out their 2005 MLB Playoffs and 2005 MLB World Series pages. Apparently it's All Gleeman, All the Time.
  • The Week in Waffle Crappers:

    * Jessica Alba says she'd be willing to do nude scenes in "an amazing story" and also reveals the same information that many extraordinarily attractive people mistakenly think is newsworthy:

    I'm actually OK with my body and the fact that I have curves and flaws.

    The people who tend to say that sort of stuff are a) the same people who have no discernible flaws, and b) own a body that everyone is "OK" with. That's like Albert Pujols saying, "You know, I'm OK with my approach at the plate and my yearly numbers." Meanwhile, Neifi Perez has bulimia.

    * I don't give Marisa Miller nearly enough credit for her waffle-crapping ability on this blog. Also, she looks way better in a Sacramento Kings jersey than Chris Webber ever did.

    * I have no idea who Rachel Nichols is, but she's really good looking.

  • Here's an entertaining look into the life of one of the world's most fascinating men.
  • While looking over the NFL betting lines for this week (I'm 6-2 since a rough Week 1), I was shocked to see that Sunday Night Football on ESPN features the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. The big question, of course, is why? What possible reason could there have been to schedule either of those teams for a primetime game in front of a national audience, let alone schedule a game between the two of them? I just don't get it, and the game being played in Mexico City literally couldn't matter less to me.

    Meanwhile, Sunday's earlier games include San Diego at New England, Indianapolis at Tennessee, Denver at Jacksonville, Minnesota at Atlanta, and Philadelphia at Kansas City. All of those games figured to be interesting when the schedule came out this offseason and all of them figure to be interesting now. In fact, the argument could be made that San Francisco at Arizona is the least interesting game on this week's schedule and perhaps even the least interesting game of the season.

  • It's only Friday, but I've already placed some (purely hypothetical) money on "Over 46.5" for St. Louis at New York. I realize it's very early in the season, but those two teams rank first and seventh in points scored per game and 19th and 26th in points allowed per game. It jumped out at me as soon as I looked over this week's lines, which probably means it'll end 10-7 or something.
  • Not that anyone cares, but my fantasy football team is 3-0 and leads the Baseball Think Factory League in points scored. And I started Daunte Culpepper at quarterback all three weeks.
  • I've decided that I must begin referring to Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan as "Shecky Souhan." I've long marveled at his amazing ability to crowbar endless streams of bad one-liners into his columns and John Bonnes mentioned last week that Souhan's recent work reminds him of old-school comedian Shecky Greene. It's a perfect fit. And by "perfect fit" I mean "somewhat insulting but not offensive enough to make me feel bad about using it."
  • A headline from ESPN.com earlier this week that made me laugh inappropriately: "Sharapova out of Open with chest injury." And no, I can't explain why that's funny, even to an immature doofus like me.
  • There have to be easier guys to start trouble with at three in the morning at a "small restaurant grill" than two-fifths of the Vikings' offensive line. Seriously, go hunt down Paul Edinger at White Castle or something and save yourself some pain.
  • As far as I can tell, Kevin Garnett has the best-looking wife in the NBA.
  • There's a new blog worth checking out called Minnesota Twins Talk, except it doesn't really appear to have much talk about the Twins. That's perfectly fine with me, of course. After all, this site used to be named "Aaron's Baseball Blog." Imagine that.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things About Momentum in the Postseason (by Dave Studeman)

    Today's Picks (110-99, +$865):
    Chicago (Buehrle) +155 over Cleveland (Millwood)
    Milwaukee (Davis) -110 over Pittsburgh (Perez)

    Saturday's Picks:
    Michigan +5.5 (-110) over Michigan State


    September 27, 2005

    Waiting for Kubel

    Patrick Reusse had a notes column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune that contained a couple interesting quotes on the Twins. Among them:

    "I asked how Kubel looked and one of our coaches told me, 'He's hitting so many over the fence we're running out of baseballs.'"

    - Twins farm director Jim Rantz, offering an update on injured outfielder Jason Kubel's batting practice sessions this month in Fort Myers, Fla.

    The best-case scenario for Jason Kubel's recovery from multiple knee injuries would have had him playing a few games with the Twins this month. Or at least that was the best-case scenario laid out when he first suffered the injuries last fall. Short of that, however, it sounds as if Kubel is coming along rather nicely. The increasingly frequent updates on his status in the local newspapers are optimistic and encouraging, and now it sounds like he is close to returning to game action.

    When a player goes down with a season-ending injury before the season even begins -- or before the offseason even begins, really -- it's pretty easy to just forget about him. But if you remember back to this time last year, Kubel was looking very good in a September callup, earning a spot on the postseason roster, and generally making a case for a big role with the Twins this season. Instead he won't get a single at-bat.

    The big question going forward is whether or not he can be at the same place come spring training that he was last fall. In other words, can he put himself in a position to convince the Twins that he's ready to play a big role in 2006? While this offseason will no doubt focus on who Terry Ryan can go out and get to improve the offense, either via free agency or trades, Kubel's status for next season is as important as any move the Twins can make.

    If he is healthy and plays like his minor-league numbers (and brief stint with the Twins) suggest he is capable of, it will be like an impact hitter falling into the Twins' laps. He wasn't in their plans at all for 2005, yet he could be one of the team's better hitters in 2006. Of course, as we've seen from Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, counting on top prospects living up to expectations immediately is often foolish, and doing so with someone who missed an entire season might be bordering on dumb.

    My hope is that the Twins can gain enough confidence in Kubel this winter that they are able to let Jacque Jones leave as a free agent. Jones has been wildly inconsistent this season and generally just not all that good, and his complete inability to hit left-handed pitching will continue to handicap the Twins as long as Ron Gardenhire is running things and unwilling to do something as simple as use platoons.

    Now, Kubel is a young left-handed hitter and thus should also be expected to struggle against southpaws, much like Morneau and Joe Mauer have this season. However, he'll do so while making the league minimum, compared to Jones' $5 million salary this season, and Gardenhire has actually shown a willingness to occasionally platoon young hitters. Plus, it'll be tough for Kubel to do worse than the .190/.241/.354 Jones has "hit" against lefties this season.

    If Kubel is healthy and can step into Jones' spot in the lineup and more or less replace his offense, it will go a long way towards allowing the Twins to improve at the plate. It'll be one less position to worry about and it'll be one less place where money is needed to get better. Can Kubel do that? Well, it was certainly in some doubt even before the injuries, so now it is a big question mark.

    Here's what Jones has done over the past two years:

    YEAR       G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    2004 151 .254 .315 .427 .742
    2005 137 .248 .320 .440 .761

    To me those numbers as highly replaceable and the fact that the Twins have spent about 8% of their payroll to get them is upsetting. Jones has been a below-average corner outfielder offensively in each of the past two seasons, providing a poor batting average, sub par on-base skills, and a mediocre slugging percentage.

    Even Morneau and Cuddyer, as disappointing as they've been, have essentially equaled Jones' production this season:

                         AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    Jacque Jones .248 .320 .440 .761
    Justin Morneau .238 .305 .436 .741
    Michael Cuddyer .257 .324 .421 .745

    Even if Kubel disappoints and puts together a season similar to the ones Morneau and Cuddyer have given the Twins this year, he'll still be close to Jones offensively. And if he happens to be one of the rare Twins hitting prospects who immediately lives up to the hype, he could very well become the second-best hitter on the team.

    Because, just in case you've completely forgotten about him, here's what Kubel did between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors last season:

      G     AVG     OBP     SLG    2B    HR    BB    SO    SB    RUN    RBI
    150 .347 .410 .573 44 24 59 68 17 106 107

    Let's just hope his knee heals as well as Mauer's.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Measuring Range (by David Gassko)
    - Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

    Today's Picks (108-99, +$665):
    Chicago (Contreras) -165 over Detroit (Douglass)

    Thursday's Picks:
    Chicago (Garcia) -160 over Detroit (Grilli)


    A Momentless Season

    Twice in the past couple weeks I've been asked to name the highlight of the Twins' 2005 season. And twice in the past couple weeks I've been unable to come up with a decent answer. I'm sure there have been plenty of exciting moments this season, but I'm just as sure that none of them stick out in my mind any more than the wide assortment of 2-1 losses and other, equally frustrating performances.

    The win over the White Sox back on August 24 was pretty damn exciting. Johan Santana and Freddy Garcia locked horns in a scoreless pitcher's duel before Jacque Jones broke up Garcia's no-hitter with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead. It was close to a perfect baseball game, with two great pitching performances and a clutch hit to decide the game in the late innings.

    Of course, the problem is that the win moved the Twins to within 8.5 games of the White Sox in the American League Central. While beating the White Sox is always fun -- the Twins' three-game sweep in Chicago a couple weeks earlier is also probably a season highlight -- it loses a little something when you could do it six or seven times in a row and still be a couple games back in the standings.

    Imagine getting up the nerve to tell the school bully that you won't give him your lunch money ... and then having him say, "Whatever, I'll make you pay double tomorrow." In seasons past, there was a feeling that every come-from-behind victory meant something significant and every pitcher's duel had something big riding on it. This year all of those feelings went out the window -- at least for me -- in about mid-July.

    For instance, Santana has had nearly as many brilliant starts this season as he did last year, but very few of them have carried the same sort of importance. I've become sort of numb to the myriad of 2-1 losses, and in the process have sadly numbed a bit to some of the positive aspects of the season as well.

    What's left is essentially a momentless season. It consists of a fair number of wins, but those are overshadowed by disappointment and frustration. Games like August 24, when one measly hit made all the difference, are lost among the many games when one measly hit could have made all the difference.

    And then there are games like last night's, which make you want to forget that there's a season going on at all. An all-too-familiar script played out against the Royals, as a punchless lineup made a rookie pitcher with a 7.34 ERA look like an All-Star and the team managed three lousy singles in a 5-0 loss to the worst club in baseball.

    So, let's hear it: What have been the best (or worst, if you must) moments of the Twins' 2005 season?

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Player-Seasonal Notation: 1893-1945 (by Steve Treder)

    Today's Picks (108-98, +$765):
    Kansas City (Hernandez) +250 over Minnesota (Santana)


    September 25, 2005

    The Little Things

    According to Jason Williams in Saturday's St. Paul Pioneer Press, we might as well get used to Jason Tyner:

    Jason Tyner is at least giving the Twins' front office something to think about in the offseason.

    In the lineup as the leadoff hitter and left fielder for the fourth consecutive game Friday against Chicago, Tyner continued to impress the Twins in his bid to win a 2006 roster spot. The September call-up led off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He is batting .300.

    While not a good player -- he's hit .259/.296/.302 in 257 big-league games and .303/.360/.353 in 514 Triple-A games -- Tyner wouldn't be the world's worst fifth outfielder. With that said, here's something from the same article that bugs me:

    Gardenhire likes that Tyner does little things well, such as running the bases, playing solid defense and executing bunts. The Twins' inability to execute fundamental plays is big reason why they will not make the playoffs.

    It doesn't surprise me at all that Ron Gardenhire likes how Tyner "does little things well." However, for Williams to write that not being able to do those things well is a "big reason why they will not make the playoffs" is a pretty questionable statement.

    The Twins rank dead last in the American League in runs scored. Is it because they haven't done a good job bunting, moving runners over, and taking the extra base? Sure, that would have helped. But when a team ranks 12th in on-base percentage, dead last in slugging percentage, and dead last in extra-base hits, can't we pretty safely conclude that they won't make the playoffs because they can't hit?

    That's like saying bad set design is a big reason why Jennifer Lopez's movies are horrible. Sure, it might be a factor on some level, but there are so many things in front of it on the list of stuff to fix that it shouldn't even be mentioned. The Twins could be the greatest team of all time at "doing the little things" and they'd still have trouble scoring more runs than the Royals this year.

    In fact, two categories the Twins rank relatively well in are stolen bases (fifth) and sacrifices (third). If a team ranks near the bottom in nearly everything having to do with hitting a baseball and near the top in running and bunting, is not doing the little things really a big reason for their disappointing season? Or perhaps is the team's focus on "doing the little things" a reason why they don't do the big things, like hit?

    * * * * *

    I almost feel bad for Joe Mays. From all accounts he appears to be a nice guy and a good teammate, except for the fact that he hasn't pitched effectively in four years. Yanked from the rotation in favor of Scott Baker earlier this season, Mays was given a chance to start in place of the injured Brad Radke Saturday against Chicago.

    Mays, who will become a free agent this offseason when the Twins decline his expensive option for 2006, sounded very excited about getting another chance to show that he can still pitch after a little time off for his surgically repaired arm:

    Hopefully I can go out there and get a couple of good starts. Looking toward the future, I get an opportunity to let everybody know that, with a little break, my arm is going to bounce back pretty good.

    And then Mays went out and got shelled by the White Sox, giving up six runs on nine hits in two innings. The loss dropped him to 6-10 with a 5.54 ERA on the year, including 1-7 with an 8.15 ERA since the All-Star break. He is scheduled to get one last start in place of Radke Thursday, but at this point it seems unlikely that Mays will get more than a spring-training invite from a team in need of a fifth starter for next season.

    * * * * *

    One of the problems with finding ways to improve the Twins' offense this offseason is that the team simply doesn't have much payroll room to work with. It's easy to find solutions when you can go out and sign a free-agent hitter or two, but as John Bonnes has shown a number of times over at Twins Territory, the Twins are essentially already maxed out in salary for next season.

    However, a recent article about the Royals in the Kansas City Star gives me a little optimism that perhaps Carl Pohlad will open up the wallet a bit this winter. Royals owner David Glass says that he will be able to increase Kansas City's payroll by about 35% because of the added revenue the team will receive from MLB. Here's a little of what he said:

    Because of the improving revenue picture in Major League Baseball we have more funds available to us. ... The opportunities are getting better, and that gives us some flexibility to go do some things that will allow us to put a competitive team on the field.

    Glass reportedly plans to add around $15 million to the Royals' payroll, taking it from about $37 million this season to somewhere in the $50-million range. A similar increase for the Twins would make a massive difference. Another $15 million could buy two impact hitters on the free agent market or allow the team to target someone like Alfonso Soriano in a trade. Even an extra $5-6 million could give general manager Terry Ryan significant room to maneuver with.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - And Down the Stretch They Come! (by Aaron Gleeman)

    Today's Picks (108-97, +$875):
    Kansas City +3 (-110) over Denver


    September 22, 2005

    Link-O-Rama

  • In honor of HBO finally coming to their senses and taking one of the worst shows in television history off the air, let's take a nice trip down memory lane with a couple things I've written about The Comeback ...

    June 24, 2005:

    HBO's new series, The Comeback, is horrible. The show has a similar feel to Curb Your Enthusiasm, except without any of the humor or wit. Whereas Larry David plays himself brilliantly, Lisa Kudrow is playing an over-the-top character who belongs in a bad Saturday Night Live sketch (which I'll admit is a bit redundant these days).

    I decided to give it a few weeks before judging the show, but each episode is like a long, drawn-out setup for a big joke with absolutely no payoff. It's a shame too, because the show's plot has a lot of potential if it weren't being done so horribly on every level.

    July 22, 2005:

    I watch The Comeback every week, despite the fact that I absolutely hate it and think it is by far the worst show HBO has put on in years. I literally complain outloud (to no one) about how horrible what I am watching is, which I'm fairly certain is sign of extreme insanity. The show is so bad that it actually angers me.

    I've been to funnier funerals, and in no way do I mean that as hyperbole.

  • The Week in Waffle Crappers:

    * Underrated Waffle Crapper Jessica Biel will reportedly get extremely naked in her upcoming movie, London. In addition to that -- which is more than enough to get me to see the movie -- IMDB.com lists one of my favorite comedians, Dane Cook, as one of Biel's co-stars. Wait, it gets even better. Cook's character? "Cockblocker." I haven't been this excited to see a movie since the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee video came out.

    * When's the last time you saw someone this cute buying Lactaid at the grocery store? I mean, besides never.

    * I know I've linked to this picture twice already, but I am seriously debating whether or not the entire blog should simply be devoted to it on an everyday basis.

  • Than Tibbetts, who is one of the nicest people I met while in the University of Minnesota's school of journalism, is now a bylined writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In looking at how Than's journalism career has gone thus far compared to how mine has(n't) gone, it should be fairly easy to conclude that good things happen to good people (assuming someone at the Minnesota Daily sees fit to give them a chance).
  • Oh, and just to clarify that last note: Yes, I'm still bitter.
  • I keep bookmarking new blogs to link to and then always forget to actually do it, so here are a few worth checking out: Talking Chop ... Rowland's Office ... The Roto Authority ... Baseball Esoterica.
  • I know this isn't exactly breaking news, but remember that whole thing about Fred Smoot and Chad Johnson jawing back and forth leading up to Sunday's Bengals-Vikings game? Has any piece of trash talking ever backfired more than that? Not only did Johnson catch a 70-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, he had a total of seven catches for 139 yards in the game and the Bengals won 37-8. Smoot should just STFU from here on out.
  • I don't really have anything witty to say here (shocking, I know), but this is just a really odd story. And here's the follow-up story, which is just as odd. You'd be drinking too if you had to call the Nebraska-Pittsburgh game.
  • Remember a few years ago, when that guy D'Angelo had a hit record and there was that video of him singing, naked from the waist up? Remember how that was a big deal and women were swooning over him? Well, now he's just another fat guy with an arrest record.
  • This is probably the only list of movies where The Devil's Rejects ranks #1. Also, I'm assuming no one has calculated where The Aristocrats ranks on the list yet.
  • Anyone who regularly reads Charlie Walters' column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press knows he puts forth an awful lot of questionable things under the guise of reporting rumors, but this statement from yesterday might take the cake:
    The only player considered untouchable when the Twins talk trades this offseason is pitcher Johan Santana.

    Because we all know no one in the organization thinks much of the team's catcher. From now on I'll be wearing this while I read Walters' columns.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Hall of Fame Intangibles (by John Brattain)
    - Stats, Science, Circumstance, and the Power of Language (by Dan Fox)

    Today's Picks (106-95, +$885):
    Minnesota (Lohse) +145 over Chicago (Contreras)

    Saturday's Picks:
    Purdue +3 (-110) over Minnesota

    Sunday's Picks:
    Tennessee +7 (-110) over St. Louis
    Cincinnati -3 (-110) over Chicago


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