Let’s take a quick look at how our beloved sports teams are faring as of late.
Twins: Don’t look now, but the Twins are in first place. I know there is still 99.9999999% of the baseball season left to play, but it’s hard not to be enthused by what the Twinkies have done so far. Instead of rolling over and settling in to the basement right from the outset, they have won their first two series, both of which were against playoff teams.
As expected, the lineup has been creating plenty of offense, getting solid contributions from Morneau, Willingham, Doumit, Plouffe, and Parmelee. But most of these hitters, along with Mauer and Hicks, have batting averages which are well below what they are capable of. Once these guys start getting on base at their usual clip the Twins will score even more runs, and dare I say they will likely be a top 5 offensive team. Before we start planning the ticker tape parade though, we do need to take a look at the pitching.
Also as expected, the pitching staff has not been great, however they also haven’t been awful. Newcomers Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey have all looked above serviceable in their first handful of starts, and while none of them will stir visions of Cy Young, it is entirely reasonable to expect a decent amount of quality starts out of them. When Scott Diamond—the Twins’ best starter last season—returns, the staff will be that much stronger. And if Kyle Gibson can return to health and regain his top prospect status, then this rotation might be able to surprise a lot of naysayers. Given there is no true ace, asking for a division title out of this patchwork crew is a bit much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Twins are playing meaningful baseball into September.
If these starters can eat up gobs of innings they will be turning the game over to a rapidly improving bullpen. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton are growing into a top closer/setup man combo capable of making plenty of bats miss, and Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, and Brian Duensing have been good so far. If these guys continue to embrace their roles and pitch well, this could be one of the better bullpens in the AL.
Overall, a lot of things need to go right and keep going right if the Twins are to have any chance at postseason play. But so far they are hinting that a resurgence may be building. At the very least they are showing they will be competitive this season and that tuning your radio into them will make cleaning our your garage a much less painful experience.
Wolves: Although 9 out of 10 doctors recommend watching the T-Wolves as a remedy for insomnia, they have played better as of late, going 4-2 with an astounding win over Oklahoma City. This improvement in play is telling us a few things.
1. Ricky Rubio can be the point guard on a championship team. He can take ordinary players and make them markedly better with pinpoint passes leading to easy baskets. He also captured his first career triple double this year and has been close several other times. A treat to watch.
2. Nikola Pekovic can be the big man on a championship caliber team. It is no surprise that the Wolves compete with most teams when he is healthy and clubbing fools down low.
3. Guys like Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko, and Dante Cunningham can be serviceable role players on a championship team. They provide quality minutes and do the dirty work needed to buoy the team.
4. Kevin Love is badly needed by this team. While the aforementioned components are valuable, the Wolves must have a superstar. Love is that superstar—when he plays like he did last season. Coming into next season K-Love needs to be healthy, in a team-oriented mindset, and most of all, quiet. No more yelling at teammates or bitching to the media about moves by team management.
With Love back in the fold this Wolves team should be a playoff team next season (assuming they can stay healthy, a big if). As they build chemistry and add another piece or two (and subtract David Kahn as GM while adding Flip Saunders) they can and will be a very good team. Lebron James and Kevin Durant may have to suffer a serious knee injury or two before the Wolves entertain any notions of winning a title, but at the very least the T-Pups should give us playoff excitement next spring.
Wild: After their hot streak, the Wild stumbled to three straight losses before winning an important one in Columbus last night. Injuries to Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley have not helped, but youngsters Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund are picking up the slack.
The addition of Jason Pominville was excellent. He joins Parise and Koivu on the top line to form one of the league’s best trios. These guys will continue to gel over the last ten games of the season and by playoff time they should be giving opposing teams nightmares.
The Wild are now in 6th place and 6 points above the last playoff team. They have some tough games coming up, including one versus Chicago tomorrow night, but now is the time to prove they belong and finish strong heading into the playoffs.
We’ll see how this plays out but I fully expect the Wild to step up and wreak havoc in the playoffs. No matter how they perform this season, we must not forget that the Wild are building for the long term, and while any playoff success will be sweet, this team is young and coming together. Once they increase their familiarity with each other and the young guys graduate to legitimate NHL players, this team will be very good for a very long time.
Gopher hoops: Although I wanted Flip Saunders as the next coach, Richard Pitino is a nice hire. He has coached under his father and Billy Donovan, both college coaching living legends. He vastly improved a crappy Florida International team in one season and is known to be an aggressive recruiter. This is all great news, but Ricky P needs to be able to land two of the the Big Three high school prospects currently finishing their junior years if he wants to make a similar success 180 in the Big Ten.
Given the travesty that Tubby Smith turned this team into the past few seasons, anything would have been an improvement. But the Gophers have hired a young, hungry coach who has the pedigree and connections to do something special at the U. Of course Pitino will bolt for the next bigger and better job, but as long as he has success, he can leave the program more attractive than when he took over. This is what we fans must hope for first, as if this program is ever going to be a “destination job” and keep a top coach, it has to begin that climb to respectability.
NCAA Hockey: I don’t know a lot about the St. Cloud State Huskies, but I do see former MN high school stars Drew Leblanc, Ben Hanowski, and Joey Benik putting up points. It’s great to see these guys get their chance at the Frozen Four and although I won’t be going as crazy as I would were the Bulldogs in it, I will nonetheless be rooting for them to bring more hardware back to the State of Hockey. Make it happen boys!