Ask the Sportswriters

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.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Houston Texans 27-13 in their first pre-season game Friday night at the Metrodome. Usually, not much is revealed in the exhibition opener, but did you note anything about the Vikings in that game?

-Dorr: Not a thing in the few second-half minutes I watched. Missed the first half but thought it was ridiculous to play your starting quarterback for only a couple plays. It’s not like he’s a veteran with nothing to prove. The Vikings did the same thing with Tarvaris Jackson and I thought it was unfair to him. In the few minutes I saw I knew none of the players who were on the field. I made me wonder how much longer NFL teams think they can charge full price for games with no regulars playing. Others agree – there were thousands and thousands of empty seats.

-Marxhausen: On paper, the Vikings have all their ducks in a row, but this paper is written in pencil and anybody can get erased. The depth chart is a finicky system and has to be revised countless times during the pre-season to give more opportunities to the players who haven’t proven themselves yet. In the Vikings’ first pre-season game there were a variety of players playing every position except punter and kicker. The Vikings put five running backs on the field, showing that maybe Toby Gerhart is not locked into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Fifteen different players were targeted at wide receiver, without No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings playing. Truth of the matter is that nobody is safe at the moment. Everyone has got to fight for their spot and then prove it all season long.

-Larson:  Like Luther, I wondered why coach Leslie Frazier had quarterback Christian Ponder in for just one series. Either play him for at least a couple of series or don’t play him at all. New back-up quarterback Matt Cassel didn’t look as good as his stats (12-19, 212 yards, 1 TD) indicated. Minnesota’s defense allowed Houston to convert 9 of 15 third-down plays, a longtime  problem for the team. Rookie receiver/kick-returner Cordarrelle Patterson was exciting and the team appears to have depth at wide receiver. The outcome didn’t matter as both teams kept many of their top players on the sidelines. The second game, Friday at Buffalo, should reveal more.

-Johnson: I missed the pre-season opener for the Vikings but I heard it wasn’t much of a game.  I read Christian Ponder only took a few snaps, Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen didn’t even dress, and most of the other starters didn’t see much of the field. I think the first pre-season game is to just get the rest of the team on the field and into the routine of a game.  The next three pre-season games are to audition for back-up roles on the team and perhaps a starting job or two.  Those may be more interesting games to watch.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Twins won three of four games in Chicago this past weekend and showed some home run punch. The team has gradually been improving its record. What are your thoughts on the team’s play the past couple of weeks? Also, what did you think of the trade that sent infielder Jamey Carroll to Kansas City?

-Dorr: The Twins are 8-3 in their last 11 games and 16-10 in their last 26. That’s a marked improvement. The home run explosion last weekend was hard to figure out, proving once more that baseball is easily the hardest game to predict. Who would have guessed the Twins would become the first team EVER in Major League history to score 19 runs in a 4-game series and have all the runs score on home runs? They’d laugh you out of Las Vegas if you tried to make such a bet. Even more unbelievable, the Twins went 3-1 in Chicago while getting hits only 3 times out of 37 with runners in scoring position. That’s almost unheard of, even for a bad team.  And then on Monday night in the 3-0 win over contending Cleveland, all three runs came again on homers (all 22 runs in 5 games). Justin Morneau hit .175 in July and had 5 RBIs. Already, in the first 11 days of August, he had 14 RBIs, 6 homers and a lofty slugging percentage of .779. More than anything, the pitching has been decent and that’s why the team is winning more. And Brian Dozier, after his homer Monday, has extra-base hits in 7 straight games, only one short of the team record held by Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Carroll? Great guy, great professional, a credit to the game. But the Twins, in their current predicament, didn’t need a 39-year-old infielder taking time away from younger infielders. Hope he does well for the red-hot Royals.

-Marxhausen: My thoughts on the “success” the team is having meets only my pre-season expectations of the struggling ball club. In my eyes they are a .500 team and shouldn’t give up because they are out of the pennant race. The players need to come to work and do their job. That is all that is expected and with the talent the Twins have, they are at least a .500 team. The trade of Carroll seemed more like a professional courtesy than just trimming a salary to save money. Carroll helped the Twins and was a contributor in the field. He has moved into that veteran leadership role that can rub off on the young Kansas City Royals and can possibly help them push into the playoffs.

-Larson:  Even die hard Twins fans should realize this team isn’t the Bronx Bombers and this recent power surge was a fluke and will soon go away. A veteran sports reporter once told me the best teams and worst teams provide the best stories and here’s a case of a bad team providing a nice story. Overall, the Twins have been playing better. And, maybe, they can avoid another 90-loss season. Luther was among a crowd of over 30,000 Monday night, so interest in the team appears to still be there.

Carroll was a good team player but not worth a roster spot for the rest of another lost season.

-Johnson:  Yes, the Twins have shown some power over the last few games.  However, they hit these home runs off of a terrible Chicago White Sox pitching staff.  The White Sox are one of the three worst teams in baseball.  I’ll take Minnesota’s recent success with a grain of salt.  I’d like to think optimistically that the Twins have finally found some power in their lineup but I know this recent surge is temporary and will fade soon.  What would please me more is to see the team’s starting rotation begin to show consistency.  If guys like Deduno, Gibson, Albers, and Correia can win 4, 5 or 6 more games each, then the Twins can begin next season with some momentum and some sense of a reliable starting rotation.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to gary.larson@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 208 N Rum River Drive Princeton, MN 55371. Or comment online.

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