Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Hodge Podge

-The more post-draft news that comes out, the more the Foye pick smells like McHale. Even Sid Hartman knows it.
There is no doubt Wolves coach Dwane Casey favored taking Brandon Roy of Washington, a player he knew personally and watched a lot during his time as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics.
But Foye was Kevin McHale's choice.

GM’s and coaches disagree all the time. When one of the parties has a track talent, it is more troubling. For his part, Foye is pretty versatile and played in a loaded Big East conference.

-The Wolves must decide today to resign guard Bracey Wright or let him walk. Excluding Marcus Banks, the team already has six guards under contract, including heavy contracts for Troy Hudson, Trenton Hassell and Marko “Albatross” Jaric. Maybe they'll resign Wright so he can lead the D-League in scoring for the second straight year.

-Drafting Craig Smith in the second round was a good choice. It’s about time the Timberwolves realized that 2nd round picks are eligible to play in the NBA. Smith wais an excellent rebounder in college and should make the team. He could fill free agent Justin Reed’s role off the bench.

-Their other second rounder Loukas Mavrokefalidis was a nice move too. He is big and can develop for a year or two in Greece. It’s much better to take a chance on a big man project in the late second round than an unathletic, one-dimensional guard like past drafts(Louis Bullock, Blake Stepp, Igor Rakocevic).

-Several articles this week were written concerning the Twins’ hot streak. The carbon copy tone was how befuddling it was that the Twins can’t make up any ground on Chicago and Detroit. It’s pretty simple. Interleague play. AL Central teams are not playing each other, reducing the chance of head-to-head games where the Twins can rapidly gain ground. The AL is destroying the NL in interleague play. There is no question the Twins are playing better since June 8th. There is also no question that the majority of their opponents, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Chicago (Cubs) are not playing well. While sweeping the Red Sox and Dodgers is impressive, the Twins are basically winning games and series they should win. There is still time left.

-Charley Walters and Torii Hunter think Morneau should be an All-Star. He’s having a good year, but come on. He’s third or fourth among AL 1B in OPS, SLG and RC. Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko and Kevin Youkilis are better arguments than Morneau. And that’s not including DH’s with superior numbers like David Ortiz, Jim Thome and Travis Hafner that deserve spots.

Mauer, Santana, Liriano and Nathan all deserve All-Star spots. Only Mauer and Santana will probably be picked. Liriano is a rookie who began the year in middle relief. Nathan doesn’t have a lot of saves, and since many people consider the save the measuring stick for relievers, he has no chance. Compared to other closers, his other numbers are fantastic.

The Twins proved they are able to dump creaky veterans. So why is Ruben Sierra still in the lineup? Is this some kind of consolation for Ron Gardenhire to soothe his pain over losing Juan Castro? Sierra was a feared hitter four years ago. The fact he can switch hit only means he can poorly from both sides of the plate.
His splits for the last three years:
As RHB .235/.281/.407
As LHB .261/.314/.434

He is a mediocre hitter as a lefty and horrible as a righty. A better idea is to have Mike Redman face Lefties and Kubel DH versus righties. Once Shannon Stewart gets back, jettison both Sierra and Rondell White. That way they have room for another pitcher like Pat Neshek or Scott Baker.

-Speaking of White. Wasn’t Terry Ryan’s grand plan to have White DH to alleviate injuries? Well after hanging out with Mr. Mendoza for the first third of the season, Rondell is hurt.

-What’s eating Jim Souhan this week?
Today’s column, Souhan writes about Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. And he mentions he went to Torino twice. As if we would forget.

-The sign of a slow day in sports: When your paper has 700 words to commit to Randy Moss opening a smoothie store.
His favorite was the Caribbean Blend, made with lime sherbet, raspberry juice, strawberries and bananas.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I leave the house for 2 hours and this is what happens?

After following the first 15 picks of the NBA draft, I left the house feeling good about the Wolves picking Brandon Roy. Next to Adam Morrison, Roy has the best chance to play immediately and win the R.O.Y. The Wolves pick, I thought, was solid and the best option at number six. As a topper, Northwest divison rival Portland tried to align the stars and acquire Roy with the seventh pick. It’s a nice little barb at the direct competition.

Then later, the Timberwolves hit Undo and essentially served Roy to Portland for G Randy Foye and cash. Both players are NBA ready and will see time right away. Personal opinion aside, it’s hard to tell who will end up the better player. The issue is not Foye versus Roye, both make sense for the Wolves.

The issue is what the Wolves could have done. The Blazers grand scheme included two trades in the hopes of selecting LaMarcus Aldridge at 2 and Roy at 7. After securing Aldridge, everything hinged on Roy slipping to number 7. Otherwise Blazers management, no strangers to public embarrassments, would be left standing in their Underoos.

Once Roy was picked by the Wolves, they held the advantage. Without Roy, the Blazers looked like fools that lost a big gamble. A good GM might recognize this and extract something valuable from Portland. The Blazers owned the 30 and 31 picks in the draft, and further, didn’t have the roster space to draft someone. Instead the Wolves settle on a swap for cash. Not cash that adds additional cap space. Merely cash for spending on advertising or jet fuel, or Kevin McHale's retirement party (it's soon right?).

As for Roy versus Foye. It will be interesting to see becomes the better player. It is possible that one turns into a superior player that haunts the other franchise for the next five years. Wolves fans better hope it’s Foye.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

2006 NBA Draft Quasi-Live Blog

1. Toronto Raptors-Andrea Bargnani: He could be Roberto Begnini for all we know. The fact that Bargnani’s former coach is now on Toronto’s staff invites the chance that objectivity is absent. Despite Euros like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol that have panned, there is always the question about toughness and how accurate the scouting reports are for Europeans. For every Nowitzki or Gasol there are two Maciej Lampes and Martin Muursepps. From the Raptors’ point of view, he can’t be worse than 2004 pick Rafael Araujo.

2. Chicago Bulls-LaMarcus Aldridge: Apparently the Bulls will get Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa from the Blazers for this pick. Many believe Aldridge has the most potential in this draft. He put up good numbers as a sophomore at Texas (15.2ppg 9.2rpg). He is only 237 lbs so he might end up as a power forward. Doesn't make as much sense for the Blazers unless they are dumping Zach Randolph.

3. Charlotte Bobcats-Adam Morrison: The Stache is instantly the Rookie of the Year favorite. Often compared to Larry Bird or Kiki Vandeweghe. A better comparison is a more intense version of Richard Hamilton. He works hard to get open and then can get his shot off from anywhere. He should immediately start for the Bobcats.

4. Portland Trailblazers-Tyrus Thomas: He reminds me of Tyson Chandler. People have said his defense will get him on the court while his offense catches up. What if it never does? There is certainly a place for a shotblocker and rebounder in the NBA. Drafting a one-dimensional player in the lottery is much tougher to swallow. Will be traded to the Bulls and I'm not sure why the Bulls want him.

5. Atlanta Hawks-Shelden Williams: Apparently promised by the Hawks. Like Thomas he could play right away, but lacks offense. He was a four year starter at Duke, but was never dominant. He is in the Dale Davis, Kurt Thomas mold. If you want a hint to his career, Colin Cowherd loves Shelden Williams. Poor Shel.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves-Brandon Roy: A Grant Hill clone, in a good way. He is smooth and does everything pretty well, but not exceptional anywhere. He can play three positions and might become a lock-down defender. With Rashad McCants injured, he has a shot at starting soon. If McCants returns, Ricky Davis could(should?) be gone. He should change the pronunciation to the French-Canadian variety a la Patrick Woua.

7. Boston Celtics (for Portland)-Randy Foye: Foye is a good shooter and solidly built. The Blazers really wanted Roy here. They will trade Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff for this pick, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau. Considering the other pieces in this puzzle, the Blazers better hope Foye is a star. Otherwise they are just rearranging point guards and swapping salary cap junk.

8. Houston Rockets-Rudy Gay: A similar path to Donyell Marshall. For his first two years at UConn Marshall was an underachieving small forward with loads of talent. With his skinny build he looked like he was lazy. Same stroy with Gay. It’s a shame Gay didn’t stay around for his junior year. That said, Houston gets a projected top three talent at number 8. Whether he becomes a star or solid NBA player is another story.

9. Golden St Warriors-Patrick O'Bryant: Ay, the 7' leprechaun found his pot o' gold. Actually the 7' center from Blaine was one of the players that climbed the board during March Madness. He's well built at 260lbs and is a good shot blocker. The Warriors have a history of drafting busts at the post (Todd Fuller, Adonal Foyle, Andres Biedrins), which means they just keep trying. If Foyle is your starting center you'd keep trying too.

10. Seattle Supersonics-Saer Sene: Just like the Warriors, the Sonics continuosly try, and fail, to find a solid post player. It's always a crapshoot drafting centers, let alone in a draft considered weak at the position.'s scouting report on Sene: "
a raw unknown with size". Which means the difference between Sene and me is 14". I can almost hear Guile from the Street Fighter games saying "SONIC BUST!"

11. Orlando Magic-JJ Redick: The most hated man in college basketball. He can shoot really well, and that's about it. He is a less athletic Rex Chapman. He will probably play for 10 years and come off the bench in the right spot and drill threes. People are concerned with his bad back, I guess I'm more concerned that he isn't the 11th best player in the draft.

12. NOOCH(aka the team that plays in two states not next to each other):Hilton Armstrong: The third center drafted with no business being in the lottery. Armstrong barely played until this year at UConn. He blocks shots...and he blocks shots. Again I defer to's scouting report: "He might not be a great player, but he looks solid". BJ or Louis Armstrong might be better players.

13. Philadelphia 76ers-Thabo Sefolasha: The Sixers might trade Allen Iverson and with their pick they use it on someone who might stay in Europe next year. With Ronnie Brewer, Rodney Carney, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams all available it is suprising. Maybe not to brilliant geniuses like Chad Ford or Ric Bucher, but I'm surprised.

14. Utah Jazz-Ronnie Brewer: He was a productive college player for all three seasons at Arkansas. He's big and athletic and is unselfish. Next to Brandon Roy he is the most versatile guard. He should fit well in Utah's backcourt with Deron Williams.

Well that's all the lottery picks, so it's a good stopping point. I don't pretend to know if Marcus Vinicius is better than Kevin Pittsnogle and most people don't care. Maybe Stevin A. Smith will yell who is better.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

NBA Draft thoughts

-When the NBA enacted a minimum age it was believed that draft would feature more NBA ready players. Funny, High schooler Greg Oden would still be the consensus number one. As it is, the number one will probably still be a project. Either unknown Italian Andrea Bargnani or unknown prior to March, Tyrus Thomas, will be drafted number one. So much for drafting finished products. Check back in two or three years and the talent pool will be deeper.

-This year features more trade rumors than past years. This probably means that not much will happen. It makes sense too. The draft does not have anyone that is a certain star. Why would a team trade a proven player for a speculative pick? Where do the rumors come from anyway? The only teams wanting to trade are the ones wanting to get rid of their draft pick; not the worst idea this year.

-It will take more than Tyson Chandler, Ben Gordon and the number 2 pick for Kevin Garnett. The odds are better for Mike Maruska to be drafted than Garnett getting traded.

-Every year someone gets a promise from a team. It's so eighth-grade dance. This year it is apparently Atlanta checking the yes box and passing the note to Sheldon Williams. Two weeks ago, Williams wasn't projected as a top ten pick. Suddenly he's a top five pick. Considering the Hawks roster consists almost exclusively of small forwards, maybe telling a tough big man he's cute isn't the worst thing.

-The Bobcats “hired” Michael Jordan to have veto power on all player moves. So coach/GM Bernie Bickerstaff and his staff have worked for the past year on a long-term plan for the franchise. Then two weeks ago he is potentially torpedoed by the man who drafted Kwame Brown. Maybe Jordan learned from his mistakes in Washington and will not be as involved as some people think. I can’t see it working.

-Draft the Stache. The Portland sports radio station is running a campaign and website to draft Adam Morrison. It makes sense. The Blazers desperately need positive publicity, not to mention someone that can shoot. Many believe The ‘Stache is the closest thing to a star in this draft. He already has a fan base in the Northwest. His stripped down. “I just want to play basketball” attitude is refreshing. This is especially appreciated in a town used to its stars saying things like “CTC” or worse “Not Guilty”.

-What will the Wolves do? They have needs at several positions. Rashad McCants’ 2007 is in serious doubt, Marcus Banks might leave as a free agent and Kevin Garnett simply wants, and deserves, more supporting talent. By the time the Wolves are on the clock at number six the decision should be made for Minnesota. They should take the best available player among Adam Morrison, Brandon Roy, Randy Foye, LaMarcus Aldridge Rudy Gay or Rodney Carney. And hope it’s not Rudy Gay.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Trading Torii

The identity of the early 2000’s Twins was Torii Hunter. The young Twins were known for their defense and hustle and the Gold Gloved Hunter was the energetic, easy going icon of these teams. He was an All-Star in 2002 hitting .289/.334/.524 with 29 home runs and 94 RBI, plus daily highlights in the field. Entering his prime at 27 it appeared Hunter’s numbers could still improve. The Twins agreed, signing him to a long-term contract running through 2007.

Four years later everyone is still waiting for a season comparable to 2002. This leaves the Twins no choice but to trade Hunter this summer. While many still consider Hunter the face of the Twins, it is time for the Twins to move on.

Let’s start with this. Hunter’s option next year is $12million. For that kind of money, you better be paying a perennial All-Star. At worst, he’d better be your best player. Hunter is neither. And it’s not close.

There is plenty to appreciate about Hunter. He plays hard everyday, is an exceptional fielder, and when hot is a pretty good power hitter. He is also a pretty good guy. For all of these positives, they do not add up to $12million.

His career line is .267/.321/.458, 23HR and 88RBI. This year he is hitting .264/.340/.421 with 11HR and 41RBI. His stellar 2002 season is the exception. Excluding 2002, when his OPS was 100 points above the league average, his career totals are (.262/.317/.445). Hunter’s line looks pretty mediocre.

The fact that he is one of the highest paid outfielders in the league only makes it worse. In 2006 he doesn’t rank in the top 25 in any offensive category among outfielders.
Rank among outfielders:
Avg .263 (48th)
OBP .340 (40th)
SLG .421 (46th)
OPS .761(45rd)
HR 11 (T-27th)
RBI 41 (T-27th)

He currently has a lower slugging percentage than Dave Roberts. For a player often called the Face of the Franchise, his numbers do not prove it. Hunter is one of the four or five best fielding outfielders, but that can not excuse his lack of offense, and especially power. If he doesn’t deliver on the field, the fielding excellence and intangibles do not matter.

On top of his poor numbers, there are other reasons to trade Hunter. He is 30 and it is not a young 30. One of the reasons he is popular is his effort and recklessness in the field. It is also the reason that last year’s ankle injury will not be the last. He also has a tendency for sloppy play and poor decision making.

The Twins must trade him this summer, because they can’t afford to lose him for nothing. They also can’t afford to keep him under his current contract or sign him to an extension. It’s doubtful that Hunter is willing to take less money here, so the only option is trading him. (by the way, Jim Souhan believes not only should the Twins sign him, but sign him for Johnny Damon-like money)

With Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer in place, the Twins are getting power from the corner outfielders. This soothes the ache to have power in centerfield. Lew Ford or a less expensive veteran could fill in for Hunter at much cheaper cost, without greatly hurting the lineup. Or put another way, an underproductive-inexpensive player is preferred to an underproductive-expensive player.

Before Hunter begins cleaning out his locker, there are several obstacles. One hurdle is finding a willing destination for Hunter. The Yankees make sense, but they do not have many prospects to trade. Aside from Steinbrenner, few owners will get excited to trade for an overpriced potential free agent. The White Sox apparently are interested, but they are in the Central. Hunter is attractive to teams needing a centerfielder, but the Twins still shouldn’t expect much in return. A prospect or two may be the best offer.

The other issue is the public perception of trading a high profile player. After finally securing a new stadium, the move will look like a firesale to many people. No doubt, this is a financially driven move, but this is not a firesale either. Hunter is no longer vital to the Twins’ long term success. Trading him is for the long term health of the franchise. With Hunter, Shannon Stewart, Rondell White and Kyle Lohse all expendable, the Twins can save nearly $23million. This is money that can be spent on locking up players like Cuddyer, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. It can also be used to find Hunter’s replacement and a regular third baseman.

Regardless of how responsible the move truly is, there will still be fans and possibly politicians that perceive it as the Twins being cheap or greedy. The reality is the new stadium is three or four years away. If the Twins spend above their means now is foolish. It would be like a college sophomore buying a new car in anticipation of a good job after graduating.

Hunter will be missed. He plays hard, is entertaining and was one of the big pieces in the Twins’ resurrection. But now is not the time to get emotional for the Twins or fans. The future is too bright without him.
It is fitting that one of Hunter’s constant gripes is how often the roster turns over. He misses his old teammates like Dougie, Eddie, Jacque and AJ (funny he never mentions Cristian, Luis or Joe Mays). Well Torii, prepare to join them.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Give it a Rest: Local Twins Coverage

How many times can the local beat writers rehash the same stories? Everyone knows that the Twins have not had a player hit 30 home runs since 1987. Yet, seemingly anytime a player hits more than two homeruns in a series it is big news. It’s about as newsworthy as saying the Twins are a small market team or that Scottie Graham was a pharmacist prior to playing in the NFL. It shouldn’t continually be a big deal. It is definitely an indictment on the Twins’ inability to produce power hitters. But the constant reminders are unnecessary. It will truly be bad if the Star Tribune has a daily capsule following Justin Morneau’s ascent on 30.

On a side note, why must every recap of a game featuring a grand slam be titled to include “slam”, “grand” or “powered”? How about something like Twins Salami Red Sox? Now that’s a good headline.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Adios Ba-Teet-sta

Tony Batista was a man,
The Twins imported from Japan,
TR promised pop and power,
Maybe to hit behind young Joe Mauer,

With a strange and funky stance,
Who barely fit in baseball pants,
Homer Simpson’s body with Marge’s skill
Fans knew he was over the hill

Far from the Colossus of Clout,
More aptly named an easy out,
Hands of concrete with feet of mud,
Tony Batista: not a stud.

One fine June day after a win,
Tony found out that Bartlett was in,
One more request before you go,
Help Juan and Rondell find the way to the do’.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The More You Know…

With the NFL returning to NBC, it is the perfect time to have NFL players shoot some PSA spots. Sure the classic United Way spots are great, but it's time to directly address our youth.

Kellen Winslow and Ben Roethlisberger for Motorcycle safety.
(Winslow) “Motorcycles are a lot of fun, especially high speed Japanese racing bikes. What I’m trying to say is you should probably start on a Vespa and work your way up. I guess helmets are a good idea, but the bottom line to make sure your contract is guaranteed.” (Cut to a grinning Big Ben, toothless and bloody.)

Ricky Manning for Embracing diversity.
“People are different and that’s cool. Everyone has a right to not get their ass kicked…Unless that fool has a laptop. I mean what a nerd. He was probably using his laptop to play WarCraft or write programs in C++. That dude had it coming….So like I was saying, everyone is special”.

Sean Taylor for Handgun Control.
“If you’re going to carry a handgun, keep it out of sight. If some dudes want to fight, don’t pull the handgun. If you have already pulled a handgun on someone, plead no contest to lesser charges.”

Winston Justice for Pellet Gun Safety
“Pellet guns can be a lot of fun. But if it gets you kicked off the football team, it will probably affect your draft status.”

Ricky Williams and Onterrio Smith for drug abuse
(Williams) “There are people out there who won’t understand you because you’re a free spirit.”
(Smith) “Some people will question your need for a Whizzinator.”
(Williams) “When people say ‘you are wasting your talent’ and ‘drugs are a dead end’, you tell them you’re going to Canada.”

Terrell Owens for Teamwork and Success
“Life is a lot like football. If you think you’re better than others, say so. If you feel you are underpaid, do sit-ups in your driveway. Sure things can get rough, but in the end someone will still pay you.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup 06 Preview

I began the idea for a World Cup preview with a slight fear that I’d be considered insensitive and not funny. While the not funny part still applies, Pioneer Press' Tom Powers’ tasteless article on Monday assured me I was on safe ground.

Even if you are not a soccer fan, an event held every four years that is the biggest sporting event in the World is worthy of your casual attention. To help out, here is a cheat sheet of what to look for beginning on Friday. An asterisk denotes the top two advancing teams from each group. The odds replace FIFA’s rankings, which are very inaccurate.

Group A:
*Germany-The host Germans surprised many in 2002 by making the final game. This time they are very young and it is unknown how skilled. If they don't advance, Jurgen Klinsmann might be exiled to California. One questionable decision was choosing goalie Jens Lehman over 2002 star Oliver Kahn.
Key players: Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski
Odds: 8/1

*Costa Rica-Their nickname is the Ticos. It’s good enough for me to send them through to the second round.
Key Player: Paolo Wanchope
Odds: 500/1

Poland- Poland scored a lot in qualifying, but a goalie scored on them in their last warmup match.
Key player: Maciej Zurwaski
Odds: 150/1

Ecuador-If Ecuador can find a stadium in Germany 10,000 ft above sea level, they are in business. Otherwise they’re done very early.
Key Player-Ulises De La Cruz
Odds: 125/1

Group B:
*England-They always have premier talent, but never fulfill insane expectations. Star striker Wayne Rooney has a fractured foot and will miss at least the first two games. If Rooney returns and they get good goalkeeping, they could be sound.
Key Players-Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry
Odds: 13/2

*Sweden-Unlike England, the Swedes tend to overachieve in most World Cups. Their offense is very good and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a star.

Key Players-Ibrahimovic, Freddie Ljunberg, Henrik Larsson

Paraguay-Traditionally the team is predicated on strong defense and boring offense. They are an emerging South American power behind Brazil and Argentina. Will challenge Sweden or a sluggish England to advance.
Key Player: Roque Santa Cruz
Odds: 200/1

Trinidad&Tobago-Making the World Cup is a huge achievement for the Caribbean nation the size of Delaware with a population of one million. With British ties, the England game might be fun. How can you not cheer for them?
Key Player-Dwight Yorke
Odds: 2000/1

Group C:
*Ivory Coast-An African nation has made the second round each Cup since 1990. The Elephants field many European based players, but are in the toughest group in the tourney.
Key Players: Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue
Odds: 80/1

*Netherlands-The Dutch always boast great talent but sometimes chemistry gets in the way. This team is younger, but still very talented. A serious contender for their first Jules Rimet trophy.
Key Players: Ruud Van Nistelroy, Arjen Robben,
Odds: 16/1

Argentina-Anything less than a World Cup trophy is considered disappointment to Argentines. They have too much talent to make it work up front and that will be their downfall.
Key Players: Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme,
Odds: 7/1

Serbia/Mont: They play good defense and beat Spain in qualifying. The Group of Death is too much for the Serbians, the Montenegrans or their combined talents.
Key Player: Dejan Stankovic
Odds: 80/1

Group D:
Portugal-They played well in Euro 2004, but were a flop in the 2002 WC. Should win the group, barring ill-timed red cards.
Key Players: Pauleta, Cristiano Ronaldo
Odds: 25/1

Iran-I raaan, I ran so far away. Lame joke aside, they will be tougher than expected with several players that play in the Bundesliga.
Key player: Rashidi Karimi
Odds: 250/1

Mexico-Mexico has plenty of talent, but has not played well in Cup friendlies. It is an easy draw, but their first game versus Iran will decide their lot.
Key Players: Jared Borgetti, Rafael Marquez, Oswaldo Sanchez
Odds: 40/1

Angola-Formerly colonized by Portugual, it will make for a spirited match. Rivalry aside, the Angolans do not pose much of a threat.
Key Player: Lebo Lebo, Akwa
Odds: 500/1

Group E
*Czech Rep-The Czechs are slightly banged up heading to Germany, but are primed for a deep run. They have world class talent front to back, including keeper Peter Cech.
Key Players: Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky, Peter Cech,
Odds: 33/1

*Italy-The Azzurri are always a favorite, but this year is a little different. A widespread match-fixing scandal in Italy has things quite scrambled. The Italians still have immense talent and should advance, but injuries and distractions could take a toll. If they can’t win the group they will get Brazil in round 2.
Key Players: Gigi Buffon, Francesco Totti, Luca Toni,
Odds: 10/1

USA- Like 2002, they can make the second round if everything goes right. Placed in Group E is not a good sign. The US will need to find consistent offense from somewhere.
Key Players: Demarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu
Odds: 100/1

Ghana-The Black Stars have a very good midfield that will also be asked to score goals. It is a young and rising team, but it will be very tough to advance from this group.
Key Players: Joseph Appiah, Michael Essien
Odds: 150/1

Group F:
*Brazil-Brazil is everyone’s favorite to win it all. They could field two or three squads for the World Cup. Ronaldinho is the World’s best player and he leads a ridiculously potent offense. The defense is good, but can be beaten. Only one South American team has won the World Cup in Europe (Brazil 1958).
Key Players: Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka,

*Croatia-A very good defensive team that can also score. Their star Dada Prso also has a terrible ponytail.
Key Players: Igor Tudor, Dada Prso, Darjo Srna

Japan- Japan is coached by Brazil legend Zico and that's about it. At least they’re the reigning World Baseball Classic champs.
Key player: Hidetoshi Nakata

Austrailia- The Aussies are called the Socceroos which sounds delicious. Guus Hiddink is a good coach, but not enough talent to pass Croatia.
Key Player: Harry Kewell

Group G:
*South Korea-Made the Semifinals in 2002 as host, but it will be tougher this time. Midfielder Ji-Sung Park is beginning to emerge at Manchester United and will be required to organize the Koreans.
Key Players: Ji-Sung Park, Ahn Jung-Hwan.
Odds: 2501

*Togo-Togo may be the lowest ranked team in the tourney, maybe they're the George Mason of soccer. A total longshot, but they do have a threatening goal scorer in Abdeyor.
Key Player-Emmanuel Abdeyor
Odds: 400/1

France- France disappointed in '02, losing in the first round and not scoring. Now they are all four years older, which should work out well.
Key Players: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet
Odds: 12/1

Switzerland-A younger team that hasn’t been to the WC since 1994. In a weak group they have a fair chance to make the knockout rounds.
Key Players: Hakan Yakin, Alexander Frei
Odds: 125/1

Group H:
*Spain-Spain is the Michigan Wolverines football of FIFA: Limitless talent, but always underachieves. This group is very weak and when Spain is rolling can be explosive.
Key Players: Iker Casillas, Raul, Fernando Torres, Carlos Puyol
Odds: 12/1

*Ukraine: The first World Cup for Ukraine. Everything starts and ends with forward Andrei Shevchenko. He should carry them to the second round. A very good candidate for a surprise run.
Key player: Shevchenko
Odds: 66/1

Saudi Arabia-The Saudis make every World Cup due to their weak draw in Asia. They have a chance to give up a lot of goals.
Key Player: Sami Al-Jaber
Odds: 400/1

Tunisia-At least they’re better than Saudi Arabia, but no where near Spain or Ukraine.
Key Player: Dos Santos
Odds: 200/1

Final Four: Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, England.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Give It a Rest: Spelling Bee Coverage

The National Spelling Bee used to be a daytime sports novelty on ESPN. The fact that it is now on ABC in prime-time is pretty amazing. I have no problem with that. It showcases 13 year olds that work very hard to be smarter than most people will ever be. For that they deserve all the attention. Whether people truly watch the event out of apprecitaion or mockery is unknown.

Along with the rise of the Spelling Bee is the rise of radio hosts and writers that continually think it's clever to write about the event. has five articles on the subject. Most act like they discovered this oddity. The mocking comparisons to real athletes and sports cliches fly haphazardly through Bristol, CT's bandwidth. Performing a fake spelling bee stopped being cute and clever long ago .

Another day has the same effect: April Fool's day. Every year someone tries to play a joke. Every year said person thinks they invented the April Fool's prank. This year it was MSNBC's laughably poor writer Mike Celizic writing about Matt Leinart joining a ballet troupe instead of the NFL.

Enough already. It's not original. Worse, it's not funny.

The Twins Youth Yo-Yo

If the Twins think they are in a pennant race they are fooling themselves. The Twins are closer in the standings to the Royals than the Central leading Tigers. One third of the season is already washed away. Small changes can be made to ensure the remainder is not.

A 9-15 start in April was dismissed to their tough schedule. A 16-12 May does not foster great optimism for the summer. It is very apparent this team is inconsistent, flawed in fundamentals, and lacking an overall plan.

No magic bullet will heal their 2006 season. Instead of all the micromanaging, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan need to start thinking about the big picture. Return the inept veterans to the scrap heap and give consistent playing time to people with a shot at playing in the majors in 2008.

It is time for a moderate youth movement. This is vastly different than a Florida Marlins fire sale. Nothing that drastic. This isn’t a call to trade Johan Santana and Joe Mauer. Some simple tweaking and a wise trade or two will leave the Twins in much better shape now and for the future.

The key to the Twins’ recent run has been the ability to regenerate through youth. The organization still has excellent depth, but the pipeline is getting clogged for many of the future starters. By choosing veterans like Tony Batista, Juan Castro and Rondell White, they risk stunting the growth of younger, potentially more productive players who rot on the bench or get held back in Rochester.

Exhibit A is Jason Kubel. Considering he missed all of 2005 with a knee injury, where he should have started the year is up to debate. The minors probably would have allowed Kubel to shake the rust from his swing and gain confidence in his leg strength. Instead he has already been shuttled to Rochester and back in the first two months. It does him no good to shuttle back and forth and wait for inconsistent appearances.

The Gardener himself agreed, saying Kubel is worried about being demoted with every at-bat. How in the world would that seed get planted in his head? Because the Twins feel a dodgy, fragile veteran like Ruben Sierra is somehow better for this team.

Look at Michael Cuddyer for a success story. He is finally playing one position everyday and is producing (.295/367/.576 7HR). Yes, he had 400 AB’s last year and had sub par numbers. Look at his game log and see he was shuttled among four positions and, excluding two stretches in the summer, rarely played everyday. One other thing about Cuddyer, often considered a disappointment last year. His 2005 numbers (.263/.330/.422) at third base are better than his replacement Batista (.250/.308/.417).

This habitual yo-yo with young players extends to pitchers too. Rookie Scott Baker is next in line. With an ERA above 6.00, he is obviously struggling. Their alternative is bringing veteran Carlos Silva from the bullpen. Silva would come from the bullpen because he was demoted there two weeks ago for having too many meatballs on his menu. Baker has pitched well in spots and obviously is struggling now. Keep in mind he is basically a rookie.

Silva is a proven major league starter. If he has corrected his sinker, then there is no problem returning him to the rotation. The puzzling part is demoting Baker instead of keeping him in the bullpen. He gets strikeouts and minimizes walks, exactly what the Twins want in pitchers. Right now he is giving up too many hits, especially home runs. It seems better to work on this in the majors, under the eye of pitching coach Rick Anderson, than in Rochester against lesser hitting. And this doesn’t even address the possibility of screwing with Baker’s confidence as he heads to the minors.

The Twins have ten series until the All-Star Break. Barring a major turnaround, especially offensively, the Twins will still trail in the Division race by double digits. At that point, if not earlier, it is time to start playing young players. If not, the Twins will be in a worse predicament at the end of the year.