September 22, 2006

Red Sox 6, Twins 0

They trailed the division-leading Tigers by a seemingly insurmountable 12 games at the All-Star break, yet as Luis Castillo stepped into the batter's box against Josh Beckett last night in Boston, everything was set up for the Twins to take over first place in the AL Central.

Detroit had blown a 3-0 lead about a half-hour earlier, losing 4-3 to Baltimore when Melvin Mora laced a two-run double down the left-field line in the bottom of the eighth inning. That loss dropped the Tigers into second place (by mere percentage points) for at least a few hours and the Twins had baseball's best pitcher, Johan Santana, taking the mound to claim first place for longer than that.

As perfect as the situation seemed, it wasn't meant to be. Santana served up a first-inning homer to David Ortiz, picked an unfortunate time to make his first error of the season defensively in the second inning, and staked the Red Sox to an early 4-0 lead. The Twins' lineup failed to get anything going against Beckett, who entered the game with a 5.02 ERA, and Boston coasted to a 6-0 victory.

If not for the circumstances, losing last night's game wouldn't be difficult to swallow. Taking two out of three at Fenway Park is anything but a negative and it gives the Twins five straight series wins. Plus, the White Sox have all but been eliminated from the playoff picture, meaning the Twins can go into the final 10 games with a postseason spot secured and a measly half-game deficit for the division crown.

Of course, the loss was difficult to swallow. The opportunity was there to overtake the Tigers and apply further pressure to their sinking ship, and it's always surprising when Santana pitches and the Twins don't win. What's shocking is that the Twins have now lost back-to-back Santana starts, although they at least put up a fight in the Santana-started extra-inning loss to the Indians last Friday.

By beating the Tigers at the Metrodome on September 10, the Twins improved to an amazing 26-5 in Santana's starts, compared to 57-54 with anyone else pitching. In the 10 games since then, the Twins are 0-2 in Santana's starts and 7-1 with anyone else pitching. Normally I'd say something about how odd that is, but it actually fits pretty well with the general theme of the Twins' incredibly odd season.

Santana being anything less than unbeatable will surely be cause for plenty of panic, even when it's just a two-start return to mortality, and whatever MVP chances he had likely vanished. However, his last two starts have been far from disastrous and considering the state of the rotation at this point, winning seven out of eight games with other starters on the mound is a huge positive.

Not sweeping the Red Sox combined with Santana's struggles kill the Twins' momentum a bit, but in both cases the bigger picture provides a better view. The Twins could only have dreamed about being in a virtual tie for first place in late September, they couldn't have even dreamed up a scenario where they had a postseason spot locked up with 10 games left, and the rotation is in great shape if Santana is suddenly the chief concern.

Some other notes from the Twins' 62nd loss of the season ...

  • Called up last week when Rochester was eliminated from the Triple-A playoffs, Glen Perkins made his major-league debut last night, tossing 1.1 scoreless innings in relief. After a great college career as the Gophers' ace, the Twins used the compensation pick they received for losing Eddie Guardado as a free agent the previous winter to select Perkins 22nd overall in the 2004 draft.

    The call-up to the big leagues was actually Perkins' second promotion this month, as he moved up to Triple-A after Matt Garza, Boof Bonser, and Scott Baker left Rochester for the Twins' rotation. Thrust into Rochester's rotation at playoff time, Perkins turned in back-to-back impressive outings, throwing six shutout innings in relief of a rehabbing Francisco Liriano on September 9 and following it up by striking out 10 batters over seven innings in a start last Thursday.

    A quick glance at Perkins' performance at Double-A reveals an ugly 4-11 record, but while a pitcher's record can be misleading in the majors, it borders on completely useless in the minors. In this case it overshadows the fact that Perkins pitched well at New Britain, tossing 117 innings with a 3.91 ERA and 131-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .243 batting average and 11 homers.

    Given Baker's struggles and the coaching staff's lack of patience with him, it's possible that Perkins could replace him for a start next week and may also be considered for the postseason roster as a second left-handed reliever. Regardless of what happens down the stretch, Perkins will likely be given a chance to earn a spot on the pitching staff coming out of spring training. Barring that, he could come up at midseason much like Bonser did this year.

    While Garza has a chance to develop into a No. 1 starter (if the Twins didn't already have Santana and Liriano), Perkins profiles more as a middle-of-the-rotation option. Aside from being a lefty, Perkins fits the same type of profile as Bonser and Baker, right down to the less-than-ideal fly-ball tendencies. The importance of young rotation depth has been on display this season, and with Garza, Bonser, Baker, Perkins, and Kevin Slowey the Twins are in great shape in that department for years to come.

  • Beckett and Keith Foulke combined to hand the Twins their 14th shutout of the season last night, which is a startling number that ties the team record set in 1990. I realize it sounds overly simplistic and blatantly obvious to put it this way, but that means the lineup has given the Twins zero chance to win in nine percent of their games this season.

    For all the talk about piranhas, the various MVP cases being made for Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, and Dick Bremer's misguided nightly proclamation that the Twins have "the best offense in the league" because of their lofty team batting average, that's pretty pathetic. When they actually manage to score a run, the Twins are 90-48 for a .652 winning percentage.

  • With the White Sox 5.5 games behind the Twins with only 10 games left, fans can safely focus their energy on rooting against the Tigers. Detroit's remaining schedule consists of a three-game road trip to Kansas City, followed by a six-game homestand against the Blue Jays and Royals. The Twins travel to Baltimore for three games and then come home to host the Royals (4) and White Sox (3).

    The Tigers have a slight edge in remaining opponents, but the overall difficulty is relatively similar. The Royals (27-38) and Orioles (26-37) have been equally bad since the All-Star break, while the White Sox (28-37) have actually been worse than the Blue Jays (31-33) in the second half. In other words, the AL Central title will go to whichever team can take care of business against two weak sets of opponents.

  • Last and least, I almost always take the weekends off from posting anything new here, but that will likely change at times for the next month or so. In other words, if you're looking for a way to kill a few minutes somewhere other than at work, feel free to stop by.

  • September 20, 2006

    Twins 8, Red Sox 2

    Torii Hunter is healthy, apparently.

    Watching Hunter go down in a heap of pain after fouling a ball off his left foot Tuesday night, I worried that he may have suffered yet another serious injury to an area that has cost him dozens of games over the past two years. I even went so far as to write that "losing him now would be a big blow to the Twins' World Series chances" and lament that "it'd be a real shame to lose him with two weeks left."

    False alarm.

    Hunter was back in the lineup last night, playing center field despite the fact that he could have easily swapped places with designated hitter Jason Tyner (that phrase just doesn't look right) and taken the night off defensively. Not only that, he looked as spry chasing down fly balls as he's looked in months and continued his recent power surge by smacking a three-run homer in the eighth inning that will go down as one of the biggest clutch hits of the Twins' season.

    In one night, Hunter responded to my various criticisms and worries about his defense, health, hitting, and performance in key situations. In doing so he kept the Twins a half-game behind the Tigers in the AL Central, erased the damage from David Ortiz's 50th homer of the year, and pushed the White Sox even further out of the postseason picture. It was one hell of a false alarm.

    During the 39 minutes between Juan Rincon getting the final out in Boston at 9:23 last night and Todd Jones getting the final out in Chicago at 10:02, the Twins were tied atop the AL Central. Unfortunately, the White Sox proved useless and eventually let the Tigers reclaim their half-game lead, but the Twins will once again try to take over first place tonight with Johan Santana on the mound.

    Some other notes from the Twins' 90th win of the season ...

  • As unlikely as it would have been even a month ago, Boof Bonser is now the Twins' No. 2 starter. With seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox last night, Bonser improved to 6-5 with a 4.36 ERA on the season. While those are solid numbers for a rookie, the real story is how Bonser has pitched since returning from a demotion to Triple-A:
                      GS      ERA       IP     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
    Pre-Demotion 7 5.30 35.2 27 12 9 .292
    Post-Demotion 9 3.74 53.0 49 10 6 .260

    The trip to Rochester and some talks with Rick Anderson convinced Bonser to throw strikes, and he's turned in eight straight starts without allowing more than three runs. In addition to cutting down on the walks, Bonser has boosted his strikeout rate to nearly one per inning and has done a much better job keeping the ball in the ballpark, although the long ball remains his biggest weakness (which Ortiz can now attest to).

    He's not a healthy Francisco Liriano or even an injured Brad Radke, but Bonser provides a lot more hope for the postseason rotation beyond Johan Santana than there once was. As of right now, I would guess that Ron Gardenhire would like to go with Santana in Game 1 of the ALDS, followed by Bonser and Carlos Silva. Of course, the actual playoff rotation depends upon whether the Twins need to win the last couple games of the year and whether Radke can be included, but Bonser's in either way.

  • Bonser isn't the only Twins player who has turned things around in the second half. Rondell White was perhaps the worst player in baseball prior to the All-Star break, posting a .182/.209/.215 hitting line that was almost unbelievable in its putridness. However, after going 2-for-3 with a double and a walk last night, White is now hitting .313/.350/.563 with seven homers and nine doubles in 36 second-half games.

    It's been difficult for White to shake the perception that he's struggling at the plate, both because his horrendous early-season performance remains singed in the minds of most Twins fans and because his overall numbers are still sub par. But while it may have taken three months' worth of historic and painful-to-watch out-making for something to click, White is now providing exactly the sort of offense the Twins thought they'd be getting when they signed him this winter.

  • I wonder what happened to all those people who argued to the bitter end that Juan Castro was a better defensive shortstop than Jason Bartlett. Did they all move to Cincinnati with Castro? Did they see Bartlett's two incredible plays deep in the hole last night? Do they still stubbornly think that Castro would have come anywhere close to making either play? I suppose the answer to all those questions is "who cares."
  • Justin Morneau followed up his amazing 5-for-5 game Tuesday night by going 1-for-4 with a walk and his 125th RBI of the year. Morneau failed to make up any ground on Ortiz for the league RBI lead thanks to Ortiz's homer, but he's on the verge of moving into second place in Twins history:

    YEAR RBI
    Harmon Killebrew 1969 140
    Harmon Killebrew 1962 126
    JUSTIN MORNEAU 2006 125
    Harmon Killebrew 1961 122
    Kirby Puckett 1988 121

    Morneau will surely pass Killebrew once, but it's unlikely that he has enough games remaining to drive in another 16 runs to claim the top spot. Incidentally, Michael Cuddyer notched his 101st RBI, which moves him past Rod Carew's MVP-winning 1977 campaign into a tie with Tony Oliva's 1969 season for 24th place on the all-time team leaderboard. Cuddyer needs another nine RBIs to move into the top 15 (Killebrew's 1966 season and Kirby Puckett's 1992 season are tied for 14th place with 110 RBIs).


  • September 19, 2006

    Twins 7, Red Sox 3

    On Monday I discussed who the Twins should be rooting for in this week's Tigers-White Sox series, concluding that rooting for the White Sox, as difficult as it may be, is the right move. After losing the first game of the series Monday night to fall 4.5 games behind the idle Twins for the Wild Card, Chicago came back with a blowout win over Detroit last night. Combined with the Twins' win over Boston, that closed the gap in the AL Central to a half-game.

    AL CENTRAL      W      L      GB          WILD CARD       W      L      GB
    Detroit 90 61 --- Minnesota 89 61 ---
    Minnesota 89 61 0.5 Chicago 85 66 4.5

    The above standings illustrate why rooting for the White Sox is the logical choice, because Chicago's playoff chances are so slim that splitting two games with Detroit does almost nothing for them. Or as I put it Monday: "It's exceedingly likely that the Twins will beat the White Sox for the Wild Card regardless of what they do against the Tigers this week." Meanwhile, Detroit splitting two games against Chicago has brought them to brink of coughing up what was once a 12-game lead.

    If Boof Bonser pitches the Twins to another win against the Red Sox tonight and the White Sox can once again beat the Tigers, the Twins will suddenly be leading the division with 11 games left to play. Even better, they will have taken that lead over Detroit while simultaneously remaining a huge favorite over Chicago for the Wild Card (should they slip from atop the division, of course). I said it Monday and I'll say it again: Go White Sox!

    Some other thoughts on the Twins' 89th win of the season ...

  • The story of the game is undoubtedly Justin Morneau, who responded to increasing MVP hype by going 5-for-5. Morneau drove in his 124th run of the year, closing to within five RBIs of David Ortiz for the AL lead, and pushed his batting average to .326. Remarkably, Morneau was batting .208 on May 1 and .244 on June 1. There are all sorts of ways to present Morneau's incredible turnaround depending on which start date you choose to begin counting from, so let's cover a couple versions.

    First up is what he's done starting with a two-homer, six-RBI game against the Rangers back on May 9:

      G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG       OPS     2B     HR     RBI
    116 498 .354 .408 .619 1.027 34 27 107

    Next is what he's done starting with a two-homer, five-RBI game against the Orioles back on June 9:

      G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG       OPS     2B     HR     RBI
    91 392 .378 .431 .654 1.085 28 22 86

    Morneau probably doesn't even need the start-date trickery, because he's batting .326/.381/.578 with 36 doubles, 33 homers, and 124 RBIs overall. Trying to determine who the deserving award winners are with nearly 10 percent of the season remaining is sort of silly and I'm not convinced that Morneau is the MVP of the Twins, much less of the league, but he's certainly got an argument for both. For a team that went nearly two decades without a true power hitter, it's been amazing to watch.

  • Speaking of power hitters, Torii Hunter launched his 27th homer of the season last night into the seats above the Green Monster. Hunter's recent power surge makes it possible that the Twins could actually have two 30-homer hitters this season after going 18 years without even one. Unfortunately, the homer was overshadowed by Hunter leaving the game with a potentially serious injury in the seventh inning.

    Hunter has had all kinds of problems with his left foot and ankle over the past two years, missing big chunks of games and seeing much of his range defensively disappear. Last night he fouled a ball off the foot and immediately crumbled to the ground. He then somehow talked Ron Gardenhire into letting him stay in the game despite looking like he could barely stand and miraculously drew a walk, but had to be removed after having trouble taking the field defensively for the next half-inning.


    I've been accused of being overly harsh on Hunter, which is odd given that I've done little beyond simply point out facts. A month ago I discussed how his offense hasn't been nearly as valuable as it appears because of poor hitting in key situations. That's changed some with his recent hot streak, but the point remains. I also had the gall to say Hunter's range in center field declined upon his return from a broken foot, which would seem to be both expected (given his injury) and blatantly obvious (given his play).

    With all that said, and regardless of what you think of Hunter or what you think I think of Hunter, losing him now would be a big blow to the Twins' World Series chances. He's provided an important power threat behind Morneau in the bottom half of the lineup, batting .289 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs in 50 second-half games, and may still be the Twins' best option defensively in center field. After all Hunter and the Twins have been through this season, it'd be a real shame to lose him with two weeks left.

  • I called Hunter's walk last night "miraculous" mostly because it came after he was hobbled, but it would have been noteworthy and unexpected even without the injury. While chatting with my RotoWorld colleague Rob Blackstien last night, he showed me the following numbers for Hunter:
                       G     BB     SO
    First Half 85 38 58
    Second Half 50 6 43

    Hunter's newfound plate discipline saw him draw 38 walks prior the All-Star break despite coming into this season with a career-high of 50 free passes. After years of swinging at everything, including far too many sliders in the dirt, Hunter was suddenly laying off borderline pitches, controlling the strike zone, and working counts. It was equal parts shocking and pleasant, because his undisciplined approach at the plate has always been Hunter's biggest weakness.

    Then, whether because he didn't like the modest .264 batting average his new approach produced or simply couldn't maintain it for an entire season, Hunter went right back to being the hacker he's always been. Actually, with six measly walks to go along with 43 strikeouts in 50 second-half games, Hunter is less disciplined now than ever. While that's not a good thing, the return to hacking has led to increased power and Hunter's overall production is actually up:

                      BB     SO      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    First Half 38 58 .264 .345 .443 .788
    Second Half 6 43 .289 .321 .536 .857

    For the long term, an approach that yields a 58-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost always going to be better than an approach that produces a 43-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Similarly, Hunter's first-half offense is likely more sustainable than his second-half offense because it's not so reliant upon a high batting average and homers in bunches (both things that tend to fluctuate wildly) to bring value to the table. On the other hand, it's tough to argue with Hunter's power display in the second half.

    Beyond that, it's certainly plausible that a slugging percentage-heavy hitter like "second-half Hunter" might be more useful to the Twins right now than another on-base percentage-heavy hitter like "first-half Hunter" would be. The lineup is now loaded with guys who work counts and get on base at good clips, but only Morneau, Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and perhaps Rondell White hit the ball out of the ballpark with any sort of regularity.


  • September 17, 2006

    Rooting for the Enemy

    In a season filled with strange twists and unexpected turns, this might just be the strangest and most unexpected: It may actually make sense for the Twins to root for the White Sox this week. Seriously.

    As the second-to-last week of the regular season gets underway, the Twins amazingly find themselves just one game behind the Tigers in the AL Central and four games ahead of the White Sox for the Wild Card. Those two teams begin a three-game series in Chicago tonight, which gives the Twins a great opportunity to ... well, do something. The question at this point is whether it's better to gain ground on the Tigers in the division or separation from the White Sox in the Wild Card race.

    AL CENTRAL      W      L      GB          WILD CARD       W      L      GB
    Detroit 89 60 --- Minnesota 88 61 ---
    Minnesota 88 61 1.0 Chicago 84 65 4.0

    In terms of simply making the playoffs above everything else, nothing beats the White Sox losing. The Twins hold a four-game lead over one legitimate opponent with two weeks left on the schedule, putting them in excellent position to make the postseason. However, if they can stretch that lead to five or six games by the end of the week, it's possible that the season-ending series against the White Sox at the Metrodome will be meaningless. In that sense, they should root for Detroit.

    On the other hand, if getting into the best possible position for a World Series run is the Twins' goal, overtaking the Tigers in the division remains crucial. As discussed here last week, winning the division would give the Twins homefield advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs and would also allow them to avoid the Yankees in favor of the seemingly more beatable A's in the first round. In that sense, they should root for Chicago.

    So, which is the better option? Assuming for a moment that you can get past the unpleasantness of cheering for the White Sox under any circumstances, your rooting interests for the series comes down to your personal preference for risk versus reward. Trying to outrun the Tigers in the division represents a bigger reward, but also carries a greater risk. Trying to stay ahead of the White Sox for the Wild Card represents a smaller reward, but might carry very little risk within a few days.

    I'm fairly risk-averse when it comes to baseball and life in general, but I think homefield advantage and a first-round date with the A's is worth fighting for. Plus, it's exceedingly likely that the Twins will beat the White Sox for the Wild Card regardless of what they do against the Tigers this week, whereas a Detroit sweep could go a long away toward locking up the division and putting that scenario out of reach. I can smell the Tigers' blood in the water and Johan & The Piranhas should pounce on them.

    Even if it means having to root for the White Sox.

    Meanwhile, by taking three out of four games in Cleveland, the Twins reached 88 wins on the season. That's not especially noteworthy, although it's the exact number of wins I predicted the Twins would end up with back in April. In fact, in previewing the Twins over at The Hardball Times, I wrote:

    Pitching will carry the Twins again and that may have been enough to win the division in the past, but this year it just means they'll be in the race. The Twins are a difficult team to predict because of their many question marks, but for the most part they look like an 88-win team that will need a number of things to break their way in order to outlast the White Sox, Indians, and Tigers in what should be a very competitive division race.

    In terms of one-paragraph excerpts of predictions made prior to the start of the season, that one looks pretty good. I was completely wrong about the Indians, but made up for it by guessing that the division would be extremely tough and the Tigers would be in contention. I also gave the Twins "a 30-percent chance to make the playoffs," which sounded insane in June and is now significantly lowballing their odds (which probably stand at around 90 percent, believe it or not).

    A 100-win season is not out of the question yet, although the Twins would have to either run the table or go 12-1 to get there. More doable is 95 wins, which would match the 1991 World Series team for the highest total since the Twins won back-to-back division titles (and 195 total games) in 1969 and 1970. In winning three straight division titles from 2002-2004, the Twins won 94, 90, and 92 games, and the team record is 102 wins in 1965.

    Having watched almost every inning of every game this year while chronicling it all here on a near-daily basis, it's very difficult for me to truly make sense of what the Twins are suddenly in a great position to accomplish. Not only is a 95-win season possible and perhaps even likely, I just spent a few hundred words debating whether they should be focused on winning the division or merely settle for a playoff berth however they can get it.

    And all this about a team that once sported a 25-33 record, had Tony Batista and Juan Castro playing every day, has lost Francisco Liriano, Brad Radke, and Shannon Stewart to major injuries, and gave the Tigers a dozen-game headstart. For much of the season I've thought about what could have been had the Twins not wasted time with Batista and Castro or not lost Liriano, but now it's definitely time to think about what can be.

    Oh, and go White Sox?

    September 15, 2006

    Link-O-Rama

  • MLB.com posted a video recap of the SABR convention, so if you've wondered about the baseball get-together I attend each summer, this is your chance. Featured prominently are Jim Bouton (in the beginning) and Hardball Times writer Steve Treder (in the middle), and at the 11:12 mark there's even a brief shot of me drinking Vodka while heckling people at the trivia contest (seriously, just don't blink).
  • The Philadelphia Daily News had a nice article about the owner of the greatest athletic performance I've ever witnessed in person, who also happens to be a great story and someone to root for.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the owner of several of the worst athletic performances I've ever witnessed in person was referred to by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a member of "the first family of Seattle sports."
  • For the 0.000000001 percent of you reading this right now who are curious, as of this morning I've lost 72 pounds since January 11.
  • Congrats to friend of AG.com Alex Belth, who recently got engaged to a girl who appears to have a significantly better swing than Tony Batista.
  • Another friend of AG.com, Tangotiger, launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans," which is always interesting. After going to his scouting database, enter in your personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis, and become part of a huge database of information and scouting reports compiled entirely by fans.

    If you've ever dreamed about being a scout, this is your chance. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then head to the Twins page and mark down what you think of Batista's aforementioned swing or Rondell White's never-should-be-mentioned arm.

  • The Washington Post had a fantastic article about former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins' off-field life. I once met a member of Hawkins' fan club and the person almost literally couldn't stop saying nice things about Hawkins, who is apparently incredibly friendly and outgoing with fans. It doesn't surprise me one bit to read the same sort of stuff in print.
  • Former ESPN.com "Daily Quickie" writer Dan Shanoff has started up a blog, and because he said something nice about me the other day I'm telling you to go check it out.
  • I'm sad, because Tony Pierce was apparently in Minnesota this week and we didn't consume tons of alcohol together while having a too-intense conversation about blogging.
  • Sometimes jokes about the Royals write themselves:
    Shortstop Angel Berroa was a late lineup scratch Tuesday after aggravating an injured left foot, apparently while walking through a Minneapolis shopping mall during Monday's open date.

    Asked to describe the injury, Angel Berroa said, "I was at the mall, just walking around, and today it's sore." That food court can be a real mine field, even for a finely tuned professional athlete.

  • There are an awful lot of interesting things about Latrell Sprewell's latest problem, but my favorite is that his boat is named after a horrible beer. You stay classy, Latrell.
  • Another of my football articles appeared on the front page of NBCSports.com this week.
  • I don't normally make a habit out of defending Ken Harrelson, but the idea that announcers can "jinx" a no-hitter by talking about it on the air is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.
  • One of my frequent targets of criticism is Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, whom I've taken to calling "Shecky" because of his tendency to litter columns with lame one-liners and forced "humor." Souhan is a decent writer when he's not desperately trying to be funny, and at times actually produces worthwhile columns, which inevitably leads to people questioning why I'm hard on him.

    Part of the reason I'm so sensitive to Souhan's hackiness is that I am, after all, also a hack. It's like "gaydar," except without all the homosexuality (see what I mean?). It's difficult to explain without examples, of course. Thankfully, Souhan wrote a few typical "Shecky" columns this week (one, two, three) about Brad Johnson and the Vikings. Some highlights (or lowlights):

    The Purple ... play in a division that could be thinner than Calista Flockhart.

    [...]

    Maybe it was the presence of Tom Cruise ... but Johnson looked so excited he could have jumped all over Oprah's couch. ... Johnson pumped his fist and screamed a few choice words toward the sky, and I don't think he was defending Brooke Shields to Cruise.

    [...]

    Williamson ... botched passes as if he had drawn butter from a Legal Seafood lobster on his hands.

    [...]

    The 'Skins have more problems than FEMA.

    [...]

    Wonderful to see my old friends Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes on the field before the game. By the way, put Cruise on the shoulders of 'Skins owner Danny Snyder, and they might be tall enough to get on the rides at Disney World.

    There's plenty more where those came from, but that's a solid sampling of Souhan's work. The mark of a true hack is the ability to combine woefully out-of-date pop culture references with incredibly cliched characterizations of players' skills and constant harping on the mere fact that a celebrity had something to do with the game.

    For instance, because Tom Cruise simply attended the game, Johnson "looked so excited he could have jumped all over Oprah's couch" and wasn't "defending Brooke Shields to Cruise" when he got worked up after throwing a touchdown. Really? That's funny? If it had been Mel Gibson watching the game, would the Redskins' defense have been "as sloppy as Gibson being pulled over by cops"?

    Beyond that, Souhan may want to come up with a different thin actress to use as the punchline for his skinny jokes in the future, because Ally McBeal was canceled nearly five years ago (five years!) and Calista Flockhart has essentially been out of show business since then. At least the FEMA reference was from this decade. Last but not least, calling a receiver "butter fingers" apparently never gets old.

    And if you think I'm being overly harsh on poor Souhan, just remember that Shecky himself wrote the following earlier this week in between telling the audience to tip their waitress and enjoy the veal:

    Anyone who wants to work in the public eye has to accept being a tin duck in a shooting gallery. Walk it off.

    Good advice from one of the better tin ducks around.

  • Continuing the trend of the New York Times giving the Twins a surprising amount of coverage, Pat Borzi penned a good piece about Francisco Liriano's injury. I wondered outloud here a couple weeks ago why the Times was giving the Twins so much coverage and Borzi actually e-mailed me with an answer: "Our baseball editor is interested in the Twins as a national story, especially since they may face the Yankees in the playoffs."

    It's nice having one of the best newspapers in the country print a well-written piece about the Twins every few weeks. I'm hopeful that the newspapers here won't start giving the same type of coverage to the Yankees down the stretch, because I don't think I could handle that. On the other hand, I'm sure Souhan has some great Alex Rodriguez jokes stored up.

  • Lastly, the latest news on Liriano's arm appears to be good, as an MRI taken Wednesday showed no new structural damage. Here's what Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune reported:
    Liriano's ulnar collateral ligament is still intact, [Terry] Ryan said, so the rookie All-Star won't need the reconstructive "Tommy John" surgery, which could have kept him from pitching again until 2008.

    Ryan said the team should know if Liriano, 22, needs less invasive arthroscopic surgery within a week.

    "We need to make sure what is wrong, fix it and get him ready for his future," Ryan said.

    As discussed yesterday, Tommy John surgery is quite common among great pitchers, but avoiding surgery is always positive. However, I'd still bet on Liriano needing some kind of surgery, and perhaps even Tommy John eventually, because it seems unlikely that "rest and rehab" will fix what ails him and avoiding surgery now only to have the problem flare up again next season doesn't fix anything.


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