Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins finished the first one-third of their season with a 25-29 record. Here’s your chance to rant or rave (or both) about the team as it heads into June in third place in the Central Division, just four and one-half games behind first-place Detroit.
-Dorr: I think a little of both are in order. When I looked up at the scoreboard Saturday at Target Field during the third inning of the rallying 5-4 win over Seattle, I saw these averages: .332 (Mauer), .267 (surprisingly Florimon, although he struck out three times that day), and .225, .210, .217, .232, .083, .163 and .213. The offense has been terrible, although against lowly Milwaukee and Seattle the team did better. When the dust cleared Sunday and the team had won 7 of its last 9, the team average was a horrible .245. But I think that will get better. Last week I had done some research and found that ex-Twins Kyle Lohse, Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis (5 straight wins) were all doing well. It makes me wonder a bit about the Twins pitching philosophy and/or coach. I know manager Gardenhire didn’t like Lohse, Slowey and Garza. But why give away power arms like Liriano and Garza? And why has Marquis done so well at San Diego, a not-very-good team? The Twins have played a third of their season and if you project current stats times three, you find Justin Morneau with 102 RBIs (and only 6 homers) and Joe Mauer with only 56 RBIs. Josh Willingham would have 87 RBIs and Ryan Doumit 84 (he started slowly last year also). Kevin Correia would have 15 wins (I’d take that) and Scott Diamond 12. But before I get excited about the team again let’s see how they do against last-place Kansas City (23-31) and struggling Washington (28-29) this week. We should rave about the defense by shortstop Florimon and second baseman Brian Dozier. They have been great and are turning double plays better than most teams. I’m optimistic at this point but another long losing streak would cancel that optimism. One more thing: I have criticized the team for not spending more money. But where has that gotten the Angels and the Dodgers,with two of the highest payrolls in baseball? Maybe that’s not the way to go. Maybe you have to build within.
-Marxhausen: After one-third of the season, observers can find plenty to rant or rave about the team’s successes or failures. As a team, the biggest rave that Twins players and fans should be upset over is the 10-game losing streak they fell into in the middle of May. A positive for the team would be winning seven of the nine after experiencing that long losing streak to pull closer to a .500 record and close to only four-and-a-half games out of first in the Central Division. Individually, the players could cite Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond for putting up decent numbers for a starting pitcher as well as Glen Perkins pitching solid as the Twins’ closer, leading the team with 33 strikeouts. Fans can criticize the lack of hitting. As of now, the only starting Twins batter over .300 is Joe Mauer. On the bright side the Twins are not contending for the worst spot in the league and are doing better than the experts predicted.
-Larson: With the Twins just four and one-half games out of first place after one-third of the season, how can anyone be a Gloomy Gus? I can. As I wrote several weeks ago, this team is set up for long losing streaks. At that time the Twins were hovering near .500 before going into that 10-game losing streak. To their credit they bounced back and defeated some lousy teams. The Twins of 2011 and 2012 would not have done that. But, there are long losing streaks and short winning streaks in this team’s future. The Twins are not a very good team. There are too many weak spots in their lineup, on the mound and at the plate.
Did you see the ending of last Saturday’s win over Seattle? Ryan Doumit’s two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Twins a 5-4 victory. A nice win set up by a wild Seattle pitcher who couldn’t find the plate. Seconds after the winning run scored Twins players mobbed Doumit, hooting and hollering like a bunch of school boys. Later, Doumit was drenched with Gatorade. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hey fellows, you didn’t win the division title. You didn’t win the World Series. Heck, you didn’t even reach the .500 mark. It was embarrassing to watch. Pats on the back at home plate and some handshakes would have been appropriate.
-Johnson: Recently, my wife and I took our annual trip to watch the Twins play at a different Major League ball park. This year, we went to Detroit to watch two games at Comerica Park (lost 6-0 and 6-1). On the way home, we caught the first game at Miller Park in Milwaukee (won 6-3). This is the seventh stadium we’ve visited the past three summers. Because there are few Twins fans in attendance, Twins players are very willing to sign autographs and chat at visiting parks. Their actions and mannerisms before the game and in between innings say a lot about who they are. After our trip, some of my new favorites are Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll. Among the half dozen or so players we talked to, these two struck me as extremely great people. Not only are these two friendly but both of them were the first ones on the field warming up and stretching in each of the three games we attended. I hope their work ethic pays off and we can find them as integral pieces of the Twins’ future success. After the first one-third of the season, I think the Twins have both highs and lows ahead. The low points will continue to be inconsistent pitching performances but the high points may be watching a future star or two who will begin to shine. One of these stars will be center fielder Aaron Hicks. Although it has taken him quite a while to get going, he is improving each game. He has shown glimmers of Torii Hunter. The other prospect, whose road to the big leagues is quite remarkable, is Caleb Thielbar. He has yet to allow a run in six appearances. You can consider the season a success if the Twins break .500.
•Question: The Miami Heat faces the San Antonio Spurs in the finals of the NBA Playoffs. Who’s your pick to win the title and why? And, who would you like to see win the playoffs?
-Dorr: Until Monday night I hadn’t seen one minute of the NBA playoffs but I tuned in for a few minutes of the one-sided Pacers-Heat game that was uninteresting to watch.. So I don’t know much about any of the teams and who has been playing well. If the Pacers had beaten Miami I would have been hoping for a Pacers win in the finals. As it is, I would like to see the Spurs win the playoffs but I imagine the Heat will be favored. And if they are favored, it will be because of LeBron James. I’ve seen way less of him than I did Michael Jordan but some think James is the best player ever. I’ll pick Miami because of James.
-Marxhausen: If the Heat start out winning against the Spurs, critics will say that it was because the Spurs had so much layoff time in between the Western Conference finals and the NBA Championship Series. I would not agree with that claim. I see the Heat coming out strong against the Spurs because they are younger, faster and have the league’s best player. The Miami Heat struggled to close out the Pacers because Indiana matched up better with Miami than the Spurs do and was able to keep the same fast pace that the Heat lives by. LeBron James will need help from the other two of the Heat’s big three, just like Tony Parker will need the other two of the Spurs’ big three to help contribute. It will be a challenging series but the Heat will win in seven games.
-Larson: LeBron James was Miami’s lone consistent weapon in the first six games against the Indiana Pacers. Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen showed up Monday night in the Game 7 win. James is spectacular enough to be the deciding factor in any one game. Can the aging Spurs hold him to three victories in the finals. That’s a tough challenge, but I’ll go with San Antonio in seven games, with Spurs guard Tony Parker being named MVP.
-Johnson: It would be hard to pick against the Heat. With a team full of superstars like the Miami has, it is surprising it didn’t close the door on the Pacers sooner. It has arguably four future hall-of-famers in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen. If Miami can play together, which it has shown it can, it is the favorite to win the finals. I tend to like underdogs, so I will root for the aging Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.