Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Saturday, March 21, 2015

March Madness Questions

What's the biggest storyline?
Kentucky's quest for a perfect season. The most surprising part of this is the fact that people don't seem to be making a big deal out of this. Sure, they played a relatively easy schedule, (four other SEC teams made it, Arkansas is the only other one above a nine seed) but there's a reason no teams have gone undefeated since 1976. You have to be ready to play every game, if you're flat once it's over. I was the number one Wichita State defender last year, and regardless of what happens in the tournament, Kentucky's a great team. That said, I'm rooting for the Wildcats to lose. I don't want Coach Cal's strategy to work, it's much more fun to watch and root for someone like Wisconsin. Everyone there's staying all four years and with that comes a bond with the players and students. In Wisconsin, the players go to the same classes, go to the same parties, maybe even live in the same dorms. They're one of them. In Kentucky there's a joylessness about the whole process. For most of the players, they're just there until they can go to the NBA, after the tournament they'll probably stop going to classes and if they don't win it all they'll just be forgotten by all the spoiled fans, who will patiently wait until the next crop of McDonald's All Americans come in. Sounds like a blast.
What's a possible upset?
Kansas has a history of gagging in March. Wichita State has a history of knocking big names out. You know what to do. Beyond history, I'm not sold of this Kansas team. They can get too passive at times, Ellis's knee concerns me, and there's  no telling what will happen with Cliff Alexander. Teams like that don't tend to last long in the tournament.
Who's a sleeper Final Four team?
I'm going to say Utah for two reasons. On Thursday they survived a Stephen F Austin team showing a lot of upset potential with their best player, Delon Wright going 2-7 from the field. Wright's too good to play like that the entire tournament and Jacob Poetel played very well, posting an 18-9 with five blocks. Another reason is their region. Iowa State's out, I don't completely trust Gonzaga and Duke is one of the most overrated teams in the country, completely undeserving of a number one seed. They lost to Notre Dame not once but twice during the regular season. There's also a serious depth issue with Duke. They only have eight players. What happens if Okafor gets into foul trouble? Marshall Plumlee is the only other center on the team. There's just too much that can go wrong.
Who can take down Kentucky?
Plenty of teams can, but there are two that have a much  better chance than anyone else: Virginia and Arizona. We'll start with Arizona. The Wildcats are the only team in the country who can match up with Kentucky. Stanley Johnson matches up well with either of the Harrison twin, and Rondae Hollis Jefferson can slow down Karl-Anthony Towns. T.J. McConnell is one of the better point guards in the country, if everything goes right, they can pull it out.
Arizona has the personnel to beat Kentucky, but Virginia has the system. You beat Kentucky by slowing it down and grinding it out, which is exactly how you beat Kentucky. With all the attention Kentucky's gotten, Virginia might have the best D in the country.  It's a defensive struggle, the Hoo's pack line defense limits Kentucky's fast break opportunities before Justin Anderson makes some big shots and ends the Wildcats' quest at perfection. That's not inconceivable, right? Please?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Twins Preview

Was Torii Hunter a good signing?
I'm going to say yes. Obviously he has his flaws, (fielding, getting on base) but the biggest complaint I've heard about him is that he'll take up space and keep younger players from getting opportunities. My response to that: Who cares? We had a freaking shortstop in center field last year. The only big outfield prospect who will need a lot of time this year is Aaron Hicks, and he'll get that chance. Meanwhile, Hunter is already injecting life into what had become a disconcertingly dull clubhouse in the last few years through his constant chatter and leadership.
What about Evrin Santana?
This one I'm not so sure about. The Twins just gave four years to a guy who had a 3.95 ERA last year in the National league. To be fair, his FIP was much smaller at 3.39, but I'm still not a huge fan of this.
Who's the fifth starter?
Our options are May, Meyer and Pelfrey. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being Pelfrey just because Ryan seems to have a man crush on him. Remember, he gave him a two year extension after 2013 when he had gone 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA. He might give him one of those captains C's Jason Varitek wore. I wouldn't rule anything out at this point.
It should be May though. He's already 25 and this is probably either his last or second to last chance. He needs the experience.
What's up with those new jerseys?
Beats me. I thought the Twins' old duds were looking a little stale, but I'm going to miss the pinstripes for sure. I like them attempting to put gold into the color scheme, it adds some pop but it doesn't make sense unless they put it other places too. We'll see.
Will Aaron Hicks put it together this season?
I won't say he puts it together, but I can see him definitely taking a major step forward. I've written this before, but Hicks is a fantastic player everywhere in the hitting aspect. He's a good fielder, base runner and his best quality is his plate discipline, posting an above league average .341 on base percentage last year. He also swung at just 19% of pitches outside the strike zone, good for 12th lowest in the majors so he doesn't need to have an incredibly high batting average to be effective, like Brian Dozier. Most of his struggles have been against lefties, (.178/.300/.212 last year vs. .278/.410/.382 against righties) so I'd like to see him and Arcia (.198/.261/.313 vs. righties last year) platoon in right sometime in the future.
What prospects could we see this year?
We're definitely seeing the two big pitchers, Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer. Berrios got rocked in his brief time in AAA last year, but he has too good of stuff for that to continue, boasting a decent command and excellent curveball. Meyer is different, relying on a fastball that often reaches the upper 90s but still needs to work on his control. He also has spent time in AAA but played well, posting an ERA of 3.52. Then there's Sano. He was supposed to be up late last season before Tommy John surgery derailed his season. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes up in September this season, possibly earlier if he plays really well.
Can Nolasco be as bad as he was last year?
Unfortunately yes. As hard as it would be to recreate a 5.38 ERA and being such a petulant a-hole that all the fans hate you. In an earlier draft of this I had a long and complicated theory of why he didn't do well last year. But then I realized there was a bigger question: Are we sure Nolasco was ever even very good? After 2008 he had exactly one season with an ERA+ over 100. That was 2013 when it was 101. And even that season he had the advantage of spending part of it in the graveyard of a ballpark of Dodger Stadium. He's still under contract until 2018. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
How many games do the Twins win this year?
I'll say 80. The offense isn't a question. With Dozier, Mauer, Arcia and Plouffe they'll score more than enough runs. As I mentioned above, I'm not as high on Ervin Santana as some are, but he'll be better than he was last year, he'll adjust to not being the same physically as he was a few years ago, Hughes will be Hughes, even if he gets the fifth starter job out of spring training, Pelfrey will probably only have it for a month or less. Overall this adds up to a decent team, which considering the last few years is a huge step forward.