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 just wrapped up a home stand with Kansas City and are off to Detroit for a four-game series. What are your latest thoughts on the Twins?
-Dorr: Someone I know who follows the Twins might have summed up things succinctly the week before last when he said it would be good if the Central Division leader would run off 10 wins in a row and put Twins fans out of their misery as far as thinking the team could get back in the race. Three times last month – once early, once at the beginning of interleague play and then the Monday before last when the team took two out of three at Cincinnati and opened the White Sox series with a win to be only 7 1/2 games out of first – there were glimmers of hope. And in Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Kansas City the Twins displayed power (4 homers), speed (7 stolen bases), good defense and good starting pitching. And then they added four homers in the Sunday win. But there so many question marks to think seriously of a chance to win the division. For example, why is Chris Parmelee on the roster? Nothing against him but the Twins called him up four weeks ago and he’s had 16 at-bats in that time, a time when Justin Morneau struggled mightily and Parmelee still sat on the bench. Morneau has 1 homer in his last 31 games (113 at-bats) after hitting 9 in his first 113 at-bats. And how can you hope to contend when you have both Ben Revere and Denard Span in the lineup? They are, basically, the same player, neither of whom has power. Revere is a little faster and Span has a better arm, although that doesn’t take much. They have 3 homers and 31 RBIs between them. Revere has improved as a hitter and he can make great catches. But letting both Jason Kubel (19 doubles, 11 homers, 50 RBIs) and Michael Cuddyer (24 doubles, 12 homers, 49 RBIs, 8 stolen bases) go was a horrible move. There have been some nice surprises, such as pitchers Scott Diamond and Jerad Burton, and certainly Trevor Plouffe (14 homers), who had a great month of June and began July with two more homers Sunday. And the team was 14-13 last month, as even Francisco Liriano showed flashes of his old form. I sincerely hope the next three months are better than the first three, and I will remain a loyal fan. But there are still so many question marks.
-Marxhausen: Well if the little victories count for anything, the Twins are starting to make some waves. Winning three of four against Kansas City showed that the team is trying to look better and show that it can be competitive. Trevor Plouffe should be inspiration enough for everybody. Out of 200 at-bats he has 18 home runs after struggling last season in AAA Rochester. Joe Mauer is at the plate with a key eye and newcomer Josh Willingham is a bright spot for a team with a poor record. The bats are coming on strong and the Tigers will be true testament to see if the Twins can consistently play with a tough, talented team.
-Larson: This season was predictable a long time ago. The Twins had a collection of No. 4 starting pitchers (at best)when the last out of the 2011 season was made and they had a collection of No. 4 starters (at best) when the first out of the 2012 season was made. Terry Ryan should’ve seen this pitching mess coming when he returned as general manager but he either ignored it or was told to ignore it.
It’s rare when the Wild and Timberwolves can steal page 1 sports coverage from the Twins in June/early July but that happened. And, the Vikings open camp in a few weeks.
The Twins will continue to struggle. I’m comfortable with my prediction of 100 losses.
•Question: The NCAA has approved a Division I college football playoff to determine a national champion, starting with the 2014 season. The playoff will involve the top four ranked teams, with the semifinal games being played as part of the major bowl games schedule. The semifinal winners will advance to the national title game about 10 days later. What are your thoughts?
-Dorr: I’ve never been in favor of a playoff system and, although I haven’t read or watched anything about this proposal, I’m not in favor. My reason is that there isn’t time to have a complete playoff and that the finalists will be determined by a people making choices, not teams playing to determine who gets there. People have long called for a playoff system and I imagine this one will make them happy. But I won’t spend much time watching to see what happens.
-Marxhausen: For all those people who finally wanted a playoff system they got one. Doesn’t sound like the ultimate playoff system some were hoping for but this way they can keep all the sponsored bowl games. I don’t like the current system of the bowl games, but I don’t think this playoff system can really determine an ultimate winner. Now, instead of the argument about if the best two teams made it to the championship game, the argument is going to whether the best four teams made it into the playoffs. No matter what the system, there will always be criticism. In 2014 though, the competition for the first team to win under the new format will make for an exciting couple games.
-Larson: It’s about time the NCAA made the move. It’s surprising, given the amount of additional revenue and national attention the playoff games will generate, the NCAA didn’t come up with a plan years ago. One change I’d make would be to start the playoffs after the bowl games are complete. Judging who the top four teams are would be more credible and it might allow a Boise State or TCU to sneak into the picture. Some would complain that it adds another game to the season but Division II and Division III schools have been playing an expanded playoff schedule for many years.
The format the NCAA has decided on will ensure that the usual powerhouses (Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, Southern Cal, Oregon, etc.) will continue to dominate. Pick your top 10-15 teams at the start of the season and it’s a near certainty that four of those will be in the playoff. So, the rich will get richer as prep recruits continue to flock to the teams most likely to be in the national playoffs.
The playoff may be a good thing for our Golden Gophers, who are already trying to avoid playing any school close to being a powerhouse on their non-conference schedule. Let’s be honest. The Gophers aren’t going to be contending for a national playoff spot anytime soon, probably never. Because strength-of-schedule will play a big part in determining the playoff teams, the powerhouses likely won’t be knocking on Minnesota’s door.
That will leave things wide open for the Gophers to bid for those minor bowl games and achieve that 6-5 “bowl-eligible” record. Especially if Minnesota can continue to add schools to the schedule like New Hampshire and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, both on this season’s schedule, to future schedules. And, any bowl game is better than no bowl game, right?
•Question: The Minnesota Timberwolves traded their first round pick (No. 18, overall) in the NBA draft to the Houston Rockets for 6-foot-8 swingman Chase Budinger and a European prospect who may never play in the NBA. Budinger was drafted 44th overall in 2009 and over three seasons he’s averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for Houston. Was this a good move for the Timberwolves?
-Dorr: I paid little attention to the draft and am not sure who the Wolves could have gotten instead of Budinger. I’m told there wasn’t much available at the 18th spot and it seems as though coach Rick Adelman wants veterans on the team instead of rookies, or, at least, rookies who wouldn’t add much to the team for a year or two. I have no idea if it was a good move or not and I think we’ll have to wait until the next season to see if it works out or not. I have to assume the 66-year-old Adelman knows what he’s doing. He probably doesn’t want to wait around to get wins.
-Marxhausen: This move for the Timberwolves was essential in moving forward for filling in the holes around the team. The Timberwolves were lacking a wingman who could shoot from the perimeter. Budinger is not the one-on-one player who will be able to take it to the hole and score off the dribble, but he knows how to get in the open passing lane so that he can knock down that long three. He is a great role player who can come off the bench and spark a team by knocking down open shots. Trading the pick was not detrimental to the team because the Timberwolves need to start building around the talent they have. I hope that this is not the last move the Timberwolves make this offseason. Swingman Jamal Crawford, who has a great three-point stroke, is still available and could provide another veteran shooter. I do not think that Budinger is the last piece of the puzzle to push the Timberwolves into the playoffs but it is a good start.
-Larson: It was a good move. The Timberwolves are trying to sell fans the premise that the team will be a playoff contender next season and the addition of Budinger adds more to that goal than adding any rookie who would’ve been available with the 18th pick. Budinger looks like the outside shooter coach Rick Adelman is seeking. It was rumored that the Wolves were shopping last year’s top draft pick (No. 2, overall) forward Derrick Williams prior to and during the draft. That’s a surprise. Williams, a standout at Arizona, had a timid rookie season (8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds) but it may be a little early to give up on him. It doesn’t look like Adelman wants to be part of a 3-4 year building plan and that’s good.
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