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 traded third baseman Danny Valencia to Boston Sunday, with the Twins receiving 21-year-old outfielder Jeremias Pineda, who’s playing in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Minnesota also called up infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the team’s touted addition during the 2011 off-season. Was it time to deal the sometimes edgy Valencia and is it time to make a decision on Nishioka?
-Dorr: It’s no big deal to lose Valencia, although I might have waited until Trevor Plouffe came off the DL. Nishioka? The Twins spent $5.3 million just to get the rights to sign him and then gave him a $9.25 million contract. He’s been a bust and hasn’t been anything special in AAA ball. Maybe they want to get a look at him the next eight weeks, or maybe they are just attempting to wipe some of that egg off the team’s face. I think they should just get rid of him and admit the mistake. His two errors and 0-for-5 night Monday didn’t make things look any better.
-Marxhausen: Coming into this season, Danny Valencia was a lock at the third base position and seemed to have a permanent spot there as long as he was able to keep up his success at the plate and limit his errors in the field. Lack of performance forced the Twins to switch players and Trevor Plouffe is looking at making third base his new permanent home. Valencia has potential to be a regular starter in MLB, so the trade value was there. Nishioka broke his fibula only a week into his MLB career and has never bounced back to his hitting form. Just like Valencia and Plouffe, the Twins are giving Nishioka another chance to prove himself and be a regular on the Twins. The Twins are clearing off hefty contracts by moving players who have lost their value to the team.
-Larson: I was never sold on Valencia but he did appear to have a lock on third base heading into this season. The Twins maintain they have their “way” of playing and Valencia never seemed to fit that mold, whatever it is. It appears Minnesota received another long-shot prospect in the deal. Watch for the Twins to also put the disappointing Nishioka on waivers…but who’s going to bite on that?
•Question: The Twins won three of four in Boston and nearly pulled out a sweep Sunday. What was impressive in the series? And, does Minnesota, 14 games under .500 heading into a series in Cleveland, appear capable enough to push to, or close to, the .500 mark before the end of the season?
-Dorr: Most impressive was the starting pitching, as it had been for nine games preceding the 6-4 loss on Sunday. In those nine games the team was 7-2, with a couple tough losses, and the starters had an ERA of about 2.20 in those games. The Twins won those games in Boston without any help from Josh Willingham. Even if the Twins went 30-24 (.556) in their final 54 games they would still be eight games short of a .500 season so it doesn’t appear likely they’ll get there. But, if the good pitching continues, they’ll be a lot more competitive. The team is over .500 since late May and has also scored more runs in the last 11 games than any team in the majors. Hey, anything is possible and I offer proof of that by noting that former Twin Lew Ford is now Baltimore’s regular left fielder. By the way, isn’t it strange that, for a team criticized for not having anyone in AAA Rochester that could help, pitchers Deduno, Diamond, Fien and De Vries are 16-8 with a combined ERA of 3.00?
-Marxhausen: The Twins are very capable of winning multiple games in a row. They have the talent and the competitiveness to put some streaks together. But, consistency is a problem. The Twins still have two months left in the season and are talented enough to keep it interesting for their fans. However, they will not come close to the .500 mark.
-Larson: Luther is right on in pointing out that starting pitching is the big reason for the Twins’ recent improved play. And, the offense has showed some consistency.
Here’s a scary fact, though. The 2011 Twins, who lost 99 games, had two more victories at this point of the season than the 2012 team has. Last year’s team went into a tailspin over the final two months and the current Twins don’t appear to be headed in that direction. But, don’t look for this team to come close to playing .500 ball the rest of the way – it simply isn’t good enough.
•Question: Would you say the play of the U.S. women’s basketball team has overshadowed the play of the U.S. men’s basketball team so far at the London Summer Olympics?
-Dorr: I’ve seen only a few minutes of two of the women’s games and haven’t seen one minute of any of the men’s games. The women have had a lot of easy games and the men, the way it sounds, have been coasting. I guess you might say the women have been more impressive to this point but this week the men’s team may get serious and even start playing defense.
-Marxhausen: I wouldn’t say that either team’s play has overshadowed the other, but rather both are playing very well. With the exception of the men’s team’s 99-95 win over Lithuania, both teams have crushed their opponents and made victory look like a walk in the park. The closest anyone came to the women’s victory margin was Croatia at 25 points. Both teams are advancing and are not only playing at a high level, but also playing at that high-level with other high-profile individual players. These players can still play amazingly well together as a team, even when individual performances are glorified in the U.S.
-Larson: So far, I’ve enjoyed the women’s games more. But, that may change as the teams enter the medal round. Minnesota native and current Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen has been fun to watch as she’s provided the women’s team with a spark when it needed it.
•Question: There’s been some bantering back and forth between members of the 1992 men’s Olympic “Dream Team” basketball team and the current team competing in London. The 1992 team included the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley while the 2012 squad includes superstars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. In a seven-game series against each other, with the 1992 team in its 1992 form, which team wins?
-Dorr: Since I haven’t seen this year’s team play, that’s a hard question to answer. I don’t remember who the centers were on the 1992 team, nor do I know who the centers are this year. The three players mentioned on each of the teams are all great players so, if the teams played, it might come down to who the other players are. Most people that I’ve heard comment about the two teams say that the 1992 team would win. I’m not so sure. But then, I haven’t seen this team play and I don’t know who the complementary players were then or are now, other than Kevin Love.
-Marxhausen: The reason that this is even debatable is because of the physicality and fast pace that the 2012 squad shows. The new age of NBA basketball is characterized by how fast you can run down the court and throw up an alley-oop or how much you can break down your defender one-on-one. There is something to be said about the team-style that the 1992 team played when it won gold. It knew how to break down any defense and dominate through technique and basketball IQ. Other than James, Bryant and Durant, no one on the 2012 team would have been cinch for a spot on the 1992 roster. Starting lineups aside, the 1992 team had much more talent coming off the bench and played more fluently, too. A seven-game series would end in five or six games, with the 1992 team dominating because no matter who the 2012 team puts on the floor, the 1992 team would be able to put any number of players on the floor to counter that player.
-Larson: Logan is right, the 1992 Dream Team would win this series in six, maybe even five games. In addition to Jordan, Bird, Johnson and Barkley, the ‘92 team included the likes of Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin and former Timberwolves top pick, Christian Laettner, the lone player on the roster who wasn’t at, or near, the peak of his career. Ewing and Robinson would pave the way for a 2-1 edge in rebounds. The current team is a great one. The 1992 squad was is the greatest ever.
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