Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Breaking Down the Contenders

Might Make the Playoffs, Not Much Else
Pittsburgh Pirates
Of all the teams on this list, the Bucs have had the least big of a deal made out of them. They were a game below .500 at the all star break, struggling to stay afloat in a tough NL Central. Then when McCutchen go injured on August 11th, I expected them to slowly fade out of the race. But as of right now, they're 4.5 games up on the Brewers for the second wild card spot despite not having a winning streak over four games all season.
Oakland Athletics
I feel awful for A's fans. Their team's been terrible since gutting their farm system* at the trade deadline for reasons having nothing to do with the players they acquired. Derek Norris and Brandon Moss have both seen their batting averages plummet while Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have both forgotten how to pitch, with their ERAs rising in the second half of the year from 2.79 to 4.07 for Gray and 2.38 to 5.49 for Kazmir. There should be an ESPY for biggest second half collapse. I wouldn't be able to wait to find out if it was them or the Indiana Pacers.
*Keep in mind, they gave up prized shortstop Addison Russell as part of the Samardzjia deal.
Seattle Mariners
Why aren't more people talking about Robinson Cano as an MVP candidate? He and Fernando Rodney were their only big acquisitions and they've already won 12 more games this year as last year with eight to play. Wait, I can answer that question, Felix Hernandez has an ERA almost a full point lower than last year and is leading the AL in that (2.07), WHIP, (0.912) and has a FIP of 2.54. The Mariners are 21-11 when he pitches and 62-60 when he doesn't. But still, something needs to be said about Cano. What he's done for the M's can't be measured in stats, he's energized the entire lineup and made the Mariners winners.
Kansas City Royals
If you're not rooting for the Royals, you're either a Mariners fan, a Tigers fan, or a jerk. They haven't made the playoffs since 1985 and have only made it seven times in their history. George Brett is the only player in their history with more that 50 WAR. Do you get the idea? Dayton Moore is an underrated GM, getting bargains on scrappy infielders Omar Infante and Nori Aoki in the offseason. There's only problem: Alex Gordon is one of the least likeable stars in the league. Whenever he misplays a ball in the outfields, he always half-asses it going back to retrieve it, not a very good wrinkle into the scrappy underdog narrative.
Surprisingly Scary
San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey's having the quietest great year in a long time. His batting line is .310/.363/.489 with a 143 OPS+. Madison Baumgarner's been fantastic, as usual, there really isn't much to say about the Giants. They're the most nondescript contender.
Baltimore Orioles
I'm trying to think of what an Orioles' fan's reaction would be if someone told them last year that Chris Davis was hitting .196 and  Manny Machado and Matt Wieters played a combined 108 games. Whatever it would be, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be, "That's Ok, I'm sure an outfielder whose played on four teams in eight years will step up and set career highs in every category," That's Steve Pearce. He's hitting .297 with 20 homers or, three more than he had hit the rest of his career. What's more impressive is that he's doing it with a BABIP only slightly above his career average at .320.
Detroit Tigers
We live in a bizarre world where Justin Verlander and David Price have been the two worst pitchers in their team's rotation. Couple that with Anibal Sanchez on the DL and the Doug Fister swindling in the offseason and a team that just a few weeks ago was considered stockpiled with pitching suddenly looking at just two reliable starters unless Price picks it up.
The Contenders
Washington Nationals
The most balanced team in the league got even better when Bryce Harper woke up from his hibernation, hitting seven of his 13 homers in the last month, but it's their pitching that puts them apart. None of their starters have ERAs over 3.75 and, thumbing their collective nose at stat geeks, they're great despite having only two pitchers in the top 40 for strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers always have to be included in this conversation just because of the Kershaw-Grienke two headed monster in their rotation, but I'm not sold on them. Puig still needs to mature and not overthink it in the postseason. You can't forget about last year in the NLCS when he went 5-22 with 10 strikeouts. Then again, they might not need him as much this year as last. Dee Gordon's finally put it all together, hitting .292 with his usual blazing speed, and third baseman Justin Turner has been another pleasant surprise, with a .333/.399/.465 batting line in 103 games.
Los Angeles Angels
Josh Hamilton's turned his terrible contract into a slightly less terrible contract, Pujols is still playing fine, their pitching is just good enough and Trout's slapping up another great year. As for the last point, it got me thinking. Right now, Trout's hitting .289 with a .377 OBP, and 14 stolen bases. None of those are anything to turn your nose up at but is it OK to be disappointed about it? They're all career lows by quite a bit and he also has a career high for strikeouts. That's all I'm going to say because this subject definitely deserves its own column.
St. Louis Cardinals
Stupid Cardinals. Every year just when you think they're out of it they pull of a stretch like a few weeks ago when Peter Bourjos woke up they won ten of 11 games and made themselves World Series contenders again. Great, now we get three more weeks of reminders that the Cardinals exist.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ron Washington, the Texas Rangers and the Season from Hell

     Right now the Rangers are 54-89. Last year they were 91-72. Here's what happened.
     We'll start by going back to November 20th, 2013. That day the Rangers pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of the offseason by sending longtime Ranger and fan favorite Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Fielder was coming off of a disappointing season by his standards, but he was moving from one of the least hitter-friendly parks to one of the most, and Kinsler had been an average player the last few years. They also signed on base machine Shin-Soo Choo from the Reds to play left field and help set the table for Fielder and third baseman Adrian Beltre. Lots of people (including me) had them making the playoffs this year. The reason that isn't happening, in a nutshell is that everything that possibly could went wrong.
     Choo sprained his ankle about three weeks into the season and wasn't the same the rest of the season, hitting .242/.340/.374 before being shut down a few weeks ago with a bone spur in his elbow. Making it even worse, the man he replaced, Nelson Cruz is currently leading the league in homers at 39. Of course, Choo did a lot better than Fielder, who played just 42 games, hitting .247 with three homers before being shelved for the season in May. By then, the Rangers' once imposing lineup had been gutted, leaving Beltre and center fielder Leonys Martin as the only players with one base percentages over the league average of .315.
     In injuries didn't stop at the offense. Yu Darvish had a good year but injuries cut his season short as well. Derek Holland had to have knee surgery after injuring it in the offseason while playing with his dog. Another starter, Colby Lewis was hampered by injuries in 2013 and hasn't been the same player this year. However, his problems aren't just injuries.
     In telling if a pitcher is lucky or unlucky, a good barometer is his opponent batting average on balls in play. If it's significantly higher in one season than it is the rest of his career, there's a decent chance he got unlucky, and more hitters were blooping balls in or hitting seeing eye singles. This year Lewis's ERA ballooned from 3.43 in 2012 to 5.29. Sure enough, his opponent BABIP is .348, astronomical compared to his career average of .303.
     Another difference between Lewis of 2012 and 2014 is that he doesn't mix up his pitches as often. At the beginning of his career he relied on his fastball a lot, throwing it around 60-65 percent of the time. After a stint in Japan, he came back to the Rangers and began dialing back the heat. His percentage of fastballs dipped into the low 50s while his curveball, slider and changeup went up. Now he's back to where he was before. His fastball percentage is up over 7% from last year, going from 54.6 to 61.8. He needs to get back to what made him so successful before.
     Another problem: An extreme lack of power. Beltre leads the team in homers with 18, followed by Choo with 13, then Robinson Churinos with 11. They're also 22nd in the league in slugging percentage at .372.
     Finally, just a few weeks ago, when things couldn't get any worse, manager since 2007 Ron Washington resigned, jumping off the ship just before it sank. The only way this season could have been any worse for Texas would be if one of their top prospects got injured again to make it 1 1/2 years of not developing. Oh, wait, never mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week Two Picks

The pick: Dolphins
We know that the Giants are terrible, but the Lions still looked pretty good on Monday. The Panthers are a big regression candidate and I'm still not sure Newton's good to go.
The pick: Lions
The pick: Saints
Man, did Matt Ryan look good last week. The Falcons are back. Ryan's the most fun QB in the league to watch in the last two minutes. Nobody looks less fazed. On the other side of the ball, Desmond Trufant can keep A.J. Green in check. Although I'm a huge Andy Dalton fan. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of him for the money he's getting, but people like to ignore the fact that he brought the Bengals to the playoffs four times. (In other words, three more times than every quarterback picked ahead of him) Don't give up on him.
The pick: Falcons
The pick: Cowboys
The pick: Jaguars
Sigh.... This was going to be the year. The defense looked good for the first time since about 2009, Bridgewater looked good, Smith was healthy, and it all came back to AD. Now, barring some miracle of him only getting suspended a few games it's over. Goodell was humiliated over the result of the Ray Rice fiasco, he's going to want to come down hard to Peterson to reassert his dominance. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to wander into traffic.
The pick: Patriots
The pick: Cardinals
The pick: Seahawks
The pick: Bucs
If you read my picks from last week, you'll know how I feel about the Chiefs. Now they're shorthanded. Peyton had a field day last week against the Colts. Now he's facing a defense without Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito. I would feel sorry for Chiefs fans, but as a Vikings fan I'm incapable of feeling sorry for any team.
The pick: Broncos
The pick: Packers
The pick: Texans
The pick: Niners
Everyone's been talking about the Eagles amazing comeback all week. Here's what nobody mentions: It was against the Jaguars. It was impressive but not to the extent that anybody should take them over Andrew Luck and the Colts looking for their first win of the season. This one's easy.
The pick: Colts

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Night Pick

Ravens vs Steelers
Ok, I know the game has already started, but I swear, I haven't been watching it at all and don't even know what the score is. Anyway, the Ravens' Bernard Pierce anchored running game isn't scaring anyone, allowing the Steelers to key on a usually shaky anyway Joe Flacco. And that's without mentioning all the distractions they've had all week. I'll save my thoughts on the Ray Rice fiasco for a column in a few days. I'll say it right now, Baltimore isn't coming anywhere near a playoff spot this season unless Pierce finds a magic potion that turns him into the mid 90s Barry Sanders. Flacco needs a good running game for him to succeed, since he already throws too many interceptions, this is an easy pick.
The pick: Steelers

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week one Picks

Alright, I've got my picks right below here, and while I'm predicting all the games, I'm only going to focus on six per week, the Vikings game and five interesting matchups. If you want me to explain any of the other games just shoot me an E-mail telling me what an idiot I am and I'll print it next week and respond to it. Here are this week's picks.
The pick: Bears
The pick: Steelers
I a big fan of Joe Flacco,I think he'll have a breakout year this year, but I don't see the Ravens going anywhere with such a lack of a running game. This week their running back is Bernard Pierce, and even when Rice get's back they won't be much improved considering how awful he was last year and the way karma works.
The Pick: Bengals
The Pick: Washington
The pick: Eagles
I'm not a huge fan of the Chiefs. They started off last year 9-0 before going 2-5 the rest of the way and ending their season of one of the worst playoff losses of all time. On top of that, of their 11 wins, they beat exactly one team over .500 (the Eagles in week three) and their opponents in wins had a combined record of 59-117. This year they face an infinitely tougher schedule, including a four game stretch of Denver-Miami-New England-San Francisco.
However, as much as I hate the Chiefs this year, I hate the Titans even more. I'm not a Jake Locker believer, this team just isn't very good in any aspect.
The pick: Chiefs
The pick: Patriots
I had the Vikes winning this game before Bradford went down. Now I have them winning by a lot. As I said last week, Matt Cassel is an average quarterback, he won't take a team out of a game, which is a huge improvement from some QBs of recent years.
The pick: Vikings
The Saints have one of the top three quarterbacks in the league along with the best tight end in the league who became one of my favorite players this preseason by defiantly dunking through the goalposts after touchdowns. On the other side of the ball New Orleans added safety Jairus Byrd to help shore up the secondary.
The Falcons had a year to forget last season, going 4-12, but they've done well for too long and Matt Ryan in too good for that to happen again. They're not Super Bowl contenders, but 11 wins wouldn't be crazy. I gotta go with the Saints in this one, though. The Falcons best season was when the Saints were crippled by the repercussions of the Bounty Scandal. New Orleans is just the better team here.
The pick: Saints
The pick: Jets
The pick: Panthers
Kaepernick's going to pick apart the atrocious Dallas defense. I don't have any doubt about that. Romo's better than people give him credit for, but I just can't see him being able to keep up this this dynamic Niner offense.
The pick: 49ers
I thought longer than a lot of people would've about this game. Obviously there's Manning on one side of the coin, but on the other hand Andrew Luck is terrifying in any big game, whether it's him  carving up a good Broncos D last year, or making the incredible throw to T.Y. (don't call me Ty) Hilton against the Chiefs in the playoffs last year. Ultimately I don't have the guts to go against a Peyton Manning with a bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl last year. I'll go with the Broncos, but it's close.
The pick: Broncos
The pick: Lions
The pick: Chargers
Record this year: 1-0

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday Night Prediction-Week One

Ok, here's the deal: I'm going to predict the Thursday night game every week at about this time, and wait until Friday or Saturday to make the rest of my picks.
Seahawks over Packers
I made this pick 90% out of actual thought, 10% out of spite. Thinking about that made me think, What do Packers fans think of the Vikings? Obviously all of us hate Green Bay, but Packer fans seem more concerned with the Bears than the Vikings. So can they have a rivalry with both, or is their attitude more like, "Oh, that's cute. The Vikings think they're our rivals," If you have a friend who's a Packers fan, (which you shouldn't and if you do you should ditch him immediately) ask him about that.
As for the actual game, I think it'll be relatively close most of the time, but in the end I have to go with Seattle just because of how much better on D they are and the advantage they have of playing at home. While the Packers get a slight edge on offense, all the Hawks need to do is get one turnover to swing the advantage.
The pick: Seahawks

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vikings Season Preview

Yo, Adrian!
There are three sure things in life: Death, taxes and Adrian Peterson being great. He's not going to repeat 2012 any time soon, when he dragged a team with a spotty QB, no deep receiving threats, Percy Harvin deciding to take most of the year off and an average defense into the playoffs, but you can mark him down for over at least 1,300 yards with ten touchdowns just like any other year.
Cassel was respectable in his nine games last year, posting a 60% completion percentage and throwing more touchdowns (11) than picks (9). He'll be a solid gap filler.
Now here's a reason to be excited. While Johnny Manziel has been busy flipping people off and receiving attention, there hasn't been any doubt who the better quarterback's been so far. After his rocky first start in Oakland, Bridgewater hasn't had any problems other than having a first name that starts with T, making Paul Allen think he should refer to every game he plays as "Teddy take ____" It gets annoying fast. The last few games he looked poised the entire time. He has a great touch on his throws, he doesn't get spooked from the pocket whenever he sees a different jersey like Ponder and the Vikings got him with the 32nd pick because scouts ignored all that at Louisville and decided he wasn't good because he didn't do well in a situation that's somewhat like a football game. I'm feeling optimistic.
The Defense
The Vikings rewarded Everson Griffin with a five year, 42.5 million dollar contract for a very good performance in a short amount of time. The best athlete comparison I can come up with is Eduardo Escobar. For the last few years he raked at the plate, but the Twins weren't sure he could play full time. It's the same situation with Griffin. He's had 17.5 sacks in the last three years in limited playing time behind Allen. Let's hope it works out as well as Escobar. The other big defensive move was signing Captain Munnerlyn. He brings some much needed aggression to a secondary that could be way too passive last year, but most importantly, he allows me to regularly write the words, "Captain Munnerlyn."
Worst Case scenario
Cassel struggles in the tough early part of the schedule, followed by him being replaced by Bridgewater, who isn't ready and has his confidence killed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball a shaky secondary continues to cough up big leads and have an inability to cover anyone, as they take a step back on a promising end of last year and go 5-11.
Best case scenario
Griffin has the year Spielman's expecting him to, Bridgewater eventually steps in for Cassel and has a good rookie season, Peterson has his typical great year, Jerome Simpson gets his head on straight after his suspension, Patterson continues being Harvin without the baggage and the Vikes sneak into the playoffs at 10-6.
Prediction: I'll say 8-8, narrowly missing the playoffs. It won't be great, but it'll be a huge step forward.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Twins Week in Review: August 23rd-30th

Reasons to be happy
1. Schafer
Our Fuld of the last month is hitting .324 with his usual track star mentality on the base paths. I was going to say more but then I decided to not pretend I care. This has been the worst week of the season, he's not coming back next year. One hot streak means nothing.
2. Santana
3. Vargas
I'm grouping the only two reasons this season hasn't been a total disaster this year together. If this seems lazy that's because it is. Those two, Gibson and maybe Hughes are the only reasons for optimism all of this year. Arcia regressed, Hicks didn't do anything, Buxton and Sano were injured, Mauer's on the downslope and Nolasco's been a colossal disappointment. I'm seriously considering locking myself in a closet for the last month of the season.
Reasons to be frustrated
1. Suzuki
He's in a massive slump right now, not looking like the guy at the beginning of the season with a .313 average on balls in play. He hit .241 in August, hitting his low point in an 0-6 game against the Tigers... in which the Twins scored 20 runs as a team.
2. May
You can't put into words how awful May's been. Whenever he's pitching I'm just waiting for the inevitable meltdown to come. Take his second start for example: He cruised through the first four innings, then in the fifth he got the first two guys out, before this sequence: Walk, Walk, Walk, single, single, Royals up four nothing. He's like a guy at a poker table: You never know when his luck is going to run out. Every night in my daily prayers to the baseball gods I ask them to not turn May into the next Nolasco. Hey, speaking of that awful overpaid free agent bust...
3. Nolasco
Continues to exist.
Random Thought of the Week
The A's, going into full desperation mode, acquired Adam Dunn a few days ago. Really, how desperate do you have to be to give up anything for him? I'd say he's bad against righties (batting .232) but that would imply he's better against lefties, or even that he's not arguably the worst hitter in the league against southpaws. (.105) With runners in scoring position he's hitting .226, throw two outs into that equation and it drops to .209. I could spit out these stats all day. Be excited for your savior, A's fans.
Dan Gladden Stupidity Moment of the Week
In which we look at something moronic Dan Gladden said while announcing Twins games
We've got another Danny ego-check. On Tuesday, he was telling Provus about how he took batting practice with the team. Nothing much there, but then we went on for, this isn't an exaggeration, five minutes about how impressed Dozier and the rest of the team was. By the way he described it, you would have thought he could've played that night. Sometimes I think he forgets he was a career .270 hitter.