Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins chose outfielder Byron Buxton with the second overall pick in the Major League draft Monday. Buxton has been a star at Appling County High School in Baxley, Ga.What did you think of the pick and what should the Twins, with five of the first 75 selections, be looking for in the draft?
-Dorr: You’d think they would be looking for pitching but they took a high school outfielder with the first pick before taking a high school pitcher at No. 32 and a college pitcher at No. 42. If you’re one of those draft gurus who thinks a team should take the best player, you might be happy with the Buxton pick. If you’re someone who thinks the team has a crying need for pitching, you might be disappointed. I know little about any of the first three picks and have to assume the team did its homework on Buxton, supposedly a five-tool player who, by the way, struck out 18 in the state high school title game in Georgia this year. Their first-round pick of high school outfielder Torii Hunter in 1993 didn’t look too good at the time but turned out pretty well. I guess we won’t know much about the picks for a few years, unless that college pitcher is ready in a year or two.
One note about the Twins: After Cole De Vries, an Eden Prairie product, pitched five shutout innings last Tuesday night, he was made fun of and ripped by Joe Schmit, a guy with a good reputation, and some other guy on the radio in the post-game show. The guy had just pitched five shutout innings, the Twins won, and his ERA after two starts was 2.70. The next morning, as I headed to a Twins game in which Francisco Liriano pitched six shutout innings (remember, columnist Pat Reusse had predicted that De Vries and Liriano wouldn’t give the team a total of eight innings), two other guys whose names I don’t know did the same on the same station, basically saying De Vries didn’t belong in the Major Leagues. Never, in six decades of following baseball, have I heard someone get ripped like that after pitching five shutout innings at that level. I have no idea what those guys were thinking, and I’m not sure they did either. Oh yes, De Vries got the win Monday night of this week.
-Marxhausen: Even with the talent of Bryon Buxton on the board, I was a little surprised that they did not haul in a starting pitcher. Buxton had not come across any of my scouting reports until the draft show mentioned him as a high prospect. This 18-year-old is said to have blazing speed, getting clocked at 3.8 seconds from home to first. That is faster than current Minnesota outfielder Ben Revere. The talent this young star has was supposedly too good to pass up for the second overall pick. The Twins need to touch up the starting pitching and relief pitching as well as most of the infield positions. At this point no one should be guaranteed a spot on the Twins and the team should be open to picking up whomever it can to help it win.
-Larson: Buxton looks like a good pick. Really though, this team needs help nearly everywhere. The Twins haven’t had much luck with their top picks in recent years, with injuries taking a toll. The team puts a lot of thought and time into preparing for the draft and maybe this year it will hit the jackpot. As Luther points out, fans likely won’t know for a few years. Byron Buxton does have a nice ring to it.
•Question: With the baseball season about one-third over, pick a team in each league that has been the most disappointing.
-Dorr: That’s an easy one in the American League – Detroit. The Tigers, with the addition of Prince Fielder, were expected to cruise to the Central Division championship and here they are four games under .500 and six games in back of the division-leading White Sox. Even Justin Verlander has lost three consecutive starts for the first time in four years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers still win the division but now they’ll have to work for it. In the National League it has to be Philadelphia, another team many thought would have an easy path to the division title. The Phillies are in last place but one game over .500 and only 2 1/2 games out in the National League East, the best division in the NL. It’s not like they’re out of the race and, if they get healthy, that pitching staff could take them to the top.
-Marxhausen: Naturally, the Twins have been my most disappointing team in the American League. There was not too much hype going into this season because of what happened last season and the horrible record, but there is much optimism going into each season and the Twins nearly squashed that optimism in the first couple weeks. The starting pitching, the lack of batting at key times and the inexperience of players has been obvious for the Twins and resulted in their terrible start. In the National League it is a toss up between San Diego and the Chicago Cubs. It’s not only due to the fact that they are currently tied for the worst record in the National league, but also the fact that they have a worse record than the Twins.
-Larson: A couple of weeks ago my choice would’ve been the Los Angeles Angels. But, as Albert Pujols began to pick up the pace, so did the Angels who, as of Sunday, had won eight of their last 10 games and moved to within four and one-half games of Texas. Detroit has been the biggest flop. I thought the Tigers would have the Central Division wrapped up by Labor Day. Not so, although I still think they will win the division.
Philadelphia has been the biggest disappointment in the NL. The Phillies, picked to breeze to the NL Central title have been an example of inconsistency. One night it’s the hitting that lets the team down, the next it’s the pitching. But, despite that, they could still end up breezing to a division title.
•Question: Now pick a team in each league that’s been the biggest pleasant surprise.
-Dorr: Baltimore in the American League and Washington in the National League. The Orioles are in a tie with Tampa Bay for the AL East lead and have gotten great pitching, while leading both leagues in home runs for part of that time. Their shortstop, former Twin J.J. Hardy, has 10 homers while hitting in the No. 2 slot and the team ERA is also near the top. The Nationals, with 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper hitting 5 homers since being called up, are in a three-way tie with Miami and the Mets for first in the East and are also getting enough hitting to go with a young pitching staff that has been one of the best in baseball. I won’t be surprised if Baltimore and Washington drop off the pace but they’ve been pleasant surprises so far. The season, so far, has been very interesting because some of the favorites are down in the standings and teams like Baltimore, Washington, the White Sox, Pittsburgh and Cleveland have done surprisingly well.
-Marxhausen: I don’t know if basketball great Magic Johnson brought real magic to Los Angeles baseball when he became part owner, but the Dodgers are on fire this season. Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp and A.J. Ellis are leading the Dodgers and the explosion behind this incredible start to the season. Instead of being afraid to play the Yankees this season, if I was in the American League, I would be afraid to play the Rangers, who are even better than anticipated. The Rangers have been crushing the ball this year and have been dominating opposing teams.
-Larson: Cleveland has been the biggest surprise in the AL, although after losing two of three to the Twins the Indians are 3-7 in their last 10 games. Injuries have cooled the team off following its hot start.
Washington is the biggest pleasant surprise in the NL but don’t expect the Nationals to stay on top very long. Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and the New York Mets will start to wear Washington out.
•Question: I’ll Have Another will bid for the Triple Crown Saturday at the Belmont Stakes. Yes, or no, will he win? If he wins, how will he rank among Triple Crown winners?
-Dorr: If he wins he’ll be one of the few horses to accomplish that feat but likely won’t be ranked among the top horses that have done it. I’ll be surprised if he wins but I’m already surprised that he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. So many horses have come close the past two decades without winning the final race. But maybe the field of horses this year isn’t as good as usual. I’m hoping for a Triple Crown winner.
-Marxhausen: It’s going to be really tough to complete the Triple Crown and I still feel that there are better horses with better odds that will finish in front of I’ll Have Another. The Triple Crown has not been won since 1978. In 2006 I thought Barbaro was one of the fastest, most elegant horses on the track. He was up for the Triple Crown and had some of the most ridiculous betting odds because he dominated so much. He broke his leg and the grasp for the Triple Crown was out of reach again. If I’ll Have Another wins he will be known as the horse that finally broke the streak. Since there has not been a Triple Crown won since 1978, I would say it has to put him near the top of Triple Crown winners.
-Larson: Have you ever used one of those nasal strips that are supposed to aid your breathing when you’re sleeping? The ones I’ve used have never worked. I’ll Have Another wore a specially-designed nasal strip at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Stewards at the Belmont have decided not to allow the nasal strips. Will that be a factor? I’ll Have Another probably hasn’t been the best or fastest horse at the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, but he’s found a way to win. He will do it again Saturday. And, that should rank him in the upper half of Triple Crown champions.
•Question: Tiger Woods won the Memorial golf tournament Sunday at Dublin, Ohio. The victory, sparked by a late charge, tied Woods with Jack Nicklaus for most PGA career victories, 73. Were you impressed with Woods and do you think he’s getting his game back?
-Dorr: Saw very little of the tournament and don’t know if Woods was scrambling to make pars as has been the case the past couple years. A late chip shot that went in the hole apparently led to the victory and that’s quite a feat. Let’s see how he does the next few weeks before saying that he has his game back.
-Marxhausen: I was much impressed with how Tiger soared back into the mix and put himself back in contention. He had been doing well but would bogey or misplay a ball as soon as he would make ground towards the No. 1 spot. He finished really strong against Rory Sabbatini and Andres Romero. Woods made some amazing shots, especially his shot on 16 to make it for birdie. I think it was impeccable timing and with the U.S. Open only 10 days away, Tiger wanted to make another push to show that he can finish when he has to. I wouldn’t say that he is getting his game back, but rather he is swinging more fluently and he is getting comfortable about being back on the green.
-Larson: Jack Nicklaus called Woods’ 50-foot flop shot that went into the cup for a birdie on the 16th hole “the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen” Sunday. That’s incredible praise from a golfing legend. Woods’ competitive nature reappeared Sunday but can he maintain that fire? We will get an indication at the U.S. Open June 14-17 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Woods’ performance Sunday gives me a reason to tune into that one.
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