Kluwe’s gone, Flip’s back, the Wild are on life support, and the Twins wore deep trenches into the basepaths while reveling in an orgiastic slugfest at Fenway last night. We’ll cover these topics and more in today’s MN Sports Round Up.
Wild: Our favorite pucksters gave us reason to hope after the Game 3 victory. They outhit and outplayed the Blackhawks for most of the game, which caused many a fan to entertain the notion that the team was turning a corner. Alas, after the spanking the Wild took in Game 4, it is apparent no corner has been turned. Now the Wild find themselves down 3-1, with their only hope being a three game winning streak against the best team in the league, with two of those wins coming on the road. Yikes.
At this point, you’d have better luck finding a left-handed albino unicorn than finding a Wild fan who believes they can rattle off three straight wins to take this series. Sure, it’s possible the Wild could do it, but it also possible that Gisele Bundchen will leave Tom Brady for me, although both scenarios are highly, highly, highly unlikely.
There are those who do believe a Minnesota miracle is possible, and they point to the 2003 Wild team that roared back from a 3-1deficit to beat an outstanding Colorado team. These hopeful hayseeds do have a point, but I just can’t envision it happening this season. I sense no resurgence about to burst forth, what with all of our goalies either being injured or inexperienced, Mikko Koivu putting David Copperfield to shame with his playoff disappearing act, and the fact that the depth of our defensive corps is what you would find in your average Holiday Inn kiddie pool.
I vividly recall that magical run in 2003. The intensity and excitement of watching your team make a deep run in the NHL playoffs is unmatched, and I desperately want it to happen this season. But it just doesn’t appear this is the year. I hope I am wrong.
Twins: With last nights delicious 15-8 crushing of the snooty Red Sox, the Twins have taken 2 of 3 in Fenway, with a chance to take the series tonight. Most Red Sox and Yankee fans think of the Twins as either a joke or as their own AAAA farm team, and they usually treat the Twins in much the same way an outdoor cat treats a mortally wounded chipmunk: they like to bat it around cruelly as the overmatched rodent twitches and chirps helplessly while in the midst of its death throes. You may call this melodrama, but I call it a reason to hate these big market bullies and their bloated payrolls. (Hey MLB, how about a salary cap?)
So yes, I do take extra delight in any success the Twinkies find in the northeast. And the Twins, now at 15-15 and only 3.5 games out of first, have got some of us fans toying with the idea that we may get to watch some meaningful baseball in September. This won’t be an easy task, however, as the Tigers are beginning to assert themselves and now lead the league in run differential, the Indians have been on a tear, and even the lowly Royals continue to hang in 2nd place. Passing all three of these teams is hard to imagine, but just as the Wild have shown a magic streak in the past, so have the Twins.
But for any such miracle to materialize, the lineup must continue to crank out runs such as they have recently (26 in the last 3 games). Aaron Hicks must get his average above .200, Justin Morneau must learn to hit homers again, and Joe Mauer must continue to rack up the doubles, and not just singles all the time. And the starting pitching, which has been showing some signs of life, must be better. Scott Diamond and Kevin Correia have both been good so far and Mike Pelfrey has been better as of late, so if Vance Worley ever extracts his head from his buttocks and a fifth starter ever emerges (Let’s go Kyle Gibson!), the Twins will be at least a .500 team.
These are a lot of ifs, but this team is on the rise (they had nowhere to go but up) and there is plenty of talent down on the farm, so we do have reasons to be excited, maybe not for this season, but soon.
Vikings: While many media outlets made a mountain out of the Chris Kluwe release, it really was nothing more than a mole hill, and a small one at that. I don’t think it was Kluwe’s outspoken advocacy of gay marriage that earned him a pink slip, I think it was a combination of factors.
1. The Ray Guy incident: Kluwe put a handwritten “Vote Ray Guy” patch on his jersey during a game, with the purpose being to draw attention to the fact that no punter is in the Hall of Fame. Kluwe paid a $5,000 fine for this stunt and ruffled feathers amongst Vikings brass in the process.
2. Being so active with his band, Tripping Icarus: I have never listed to Kluwe’s band, so I can’t say if they soar like Led Zeppelin or crash like a zeppelin made of lead. The quality of their songwriting and musicianship is likely equally as moot to Vikings’ management, as what they saw was a player showing a lot of effort and commitment into something else other than football. Right or wrong, this is not the mark of a “company man” in the NFL, as these teams demand full attention at all times. It’s all about perception and the message being sent. Kluwe’s mistake was not subordinating his musical aspirations to his punting duties. Once again, it may not be right, but it’s what the bosses expect, so sound judgement behooves you to fall in line, especially when you are paid $1.5 million to swing your leg 3 or 4 times a week.
3. The Gay Marriage debate: For the record, I am all for gay marriage. Homosexuals have every right to be just as miserable as all the heterosexuals currently trapped in the Turkish prison that is legal marriage. (I jest.) Thus I have no problem with the content of Kluwe’s messages, but I think it was the manner in which they were delivered that was a strike against him. Once again he was putting a seemingly significant amount of energy into something other than football. Yes, it was in the name of justice and civil rights, but it’s not what the team pays him to do.
4. On-field performance: I feel this is the ultimate reason for Kluwe’s release. Simply put, he was mediocre last season. If he had been punting up to the high standards he set in previous seasons, the Vikings would have tolerated all of the extraneous miscellany Kluwe toted around with him. But when the on-field performance was lagging, one could reasonably question, deservedly so or not, whether the energy he directed into his off-field endeavors would be better used by being channeled into improving his punting. I am guessing this is exactly what Vikings’ management wondered also.
So the mixture of Kluwe’s uninspiring performance, relatively high salary, and highly visible involvement in non-football related activities created a recipe for release. Just like Icarus, Chris Kluwe flew too close to the sun (i.e., the bright lights of media popularity) which caused him to crash and burn. But unlike Icarus, Kluwe’s fall won’t be fatal, as he should have no problem catching on with another team. (His placeholding skills are also valuable.) I wish him good luck.
Timberwolves: Now that the Flip Saunders hire is official, there is reason for even more optimism for Wolves fans. David Kahn apparently graduated summa cum laude from the Doug Risebrough School of Terrible Drafting, so to know he will no longer be botching high picks is a relief. Flip knows the NBA, has had solid success as a coach, and will have a much better chance of creating a culture of success at Target Center.
The Wolves have some legit pieces (Love, Rubio, Pekovic), and an excellent coach (Adelman, who I expect to return). If Flip can apply a generous heaping of sycophantic salve to Kevin Love’s easily bruised ago, then K-Love may not bolt for L.A. in a couple of years and decide to stay and make a run with the Wolves. A trade will not bring back anywhere near the value of Love, so keeping him should be Flip’s top priority, not to mention keeping Love will go along way in keeping Rubio.
The Wolves will have to add more pieces beyond their current quality role-players (Shved, Kirilenko, Budinger, Cunningham), and they will have to find a way to get Derrick Williams to blossom (or trade him). But I have canyon-loads more faith in Flip’s ability to do this than I did in Kahn’s. I am excited to see where this goes and next season should be a fun one.
Summary: Things are looking up in the long-term for all of the MN sports teams. Yes, it is the future, so by definition it is just a thought in our heads and not a tangible reality, but at least it gives us success-starved fans hope that in the not too distant future a title of some type might actually find its way to the Land of 10,000 Still Frozen in Mid-May Lakes.