This season, the Twins have more blown leads -- 18 -- than they have wins -- 17. Worse: eight of those 18 blown leads have come after being up after seven innings. They have the worst run differential in the American League by more than 50 runs (-91). They have scored the fewest runs, and given up the most runs, in the American League. They have yet to win a three-game series.
Let me try this: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there... with Ricky Rubio in a Wolves uniform!"
When Gophers coach Tubby Smith told the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman in Sunday's paper, "I'm not going anywhere… I'm going to finish my career here," my first thought was: why would Arkansas, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina State want a soon-to-be 60-year old whose worst professional stretch came this year? My second thought: did Sid hear Tubby correctly? For sake of this blog, I'll assume yes.
Fact: against everyone in the Big Ten except Iowa, Smith is 26-40. He also has yet to do what former coach Dan Monson could: finish a conference season in the top 4.
Opinion: the program is in far better shape than when he took it over, and to think that the "U" could do better is foolish (Flip Saunders hasn't recruited since the mid-80's).
It's just time to realize that Smith has had a really bad year. Not only did he miss out on top-flight recruit Cory Joseph (Texas), but he also swung-and-missed on Trevor Releford (Alabama), Ricky Kreklow (Missouri), and Alex Kirk (New Mexico). The freshmen he brought in who played – Mo Walker, Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin, and Maverick Ahanmisi - might have promising futures, but did little this season.
Center Colton Iverson regressed, while center Ralph Sampson III and forward Rodney Williams Jr. didn't improve.
Smith struggled mightily to design plays in clutch situations, failed to find the right balance countless times with his substitution patterns, and couldn't keep Devoe Joseph interested enough to not transfer.
If this blog sounds a bit negative, it is. By the end of Smith's fourth year, I expected at least one NCAA tournament win. But I also realize that a) the Gophers were two injuries - Al Nolen and Walker - from likely becoming the first team in program history to make three consecutive NCAA tournaments, and b) Smith is still a capable coach, in spite of what many have suggested in the last few weeks.
Maybe this season will rejuvenate Smith. Based on recent recruiting trips to California, Tennessee, and Illinois (more than normal over a two week stretch in-season), maybe the fire still burns; maybe he's not here just to collect large paychecks and allow his son, Saul, to work alongside him.
So... let me make sure I have this right: Gophers' center Ralph Sampson III couldn't grab a key rebound with 30 seconds left against Michigan State on Tuesday night because of, what, all the snow this week? Would it be too much to ask him to walk across the street to lift weights with 10+ inches of snow on the ground?
There are rumblings that Gophers' coach Tubby Smith badly wants a practice facility; that he quietly wishes that "The Barn" would be replaced; and that North Carolina State and/or Georgia Tech will call soon. But what about evidence that he's getting better at designing plays; that more guys than not improve under him; or that he has some semblance of an offense?
I am not yet ready to offer Colorado State's Tim Miles his dream job, or to beg Flip Saunders to come back home. Despite a 26-37 Big Ten record against all schools not named "Iowa," I will not be calling for Tubby's head like some misguided souls on Twitter. I am only slightly bothered by Tuesday night's collapse; the worst in Smith's three-plus years here. I just want some accountability.
“I can’t say enough about our lack of ball-handling,” said Smith after their sixth loss in the last eight games. “We’ve been doing ball-handling work in practice, trying to be strong. But I guess we have to do more of it.”
Tubby on forward Trevor Mbakwe: "He's got to learn to post up and hold his seal."
Just once, I would love to hear him say, "I did a poor job of preparing my team, and could've done a better job in-game." Smith was said to be very soft-spoken and short with his responses. Why do you suppose that is? This year is not all his fault, but to suggest that he is blameless is asinine. That's why, just once, I would like to hear him accept some responsibility.
Reality: Tubby is having a bad year coaching. It's hard to remember any key play out of a timeout even appearing as if it had a chance to succeed.
The Gophers have three consecutive single-elimination games. Win them all -- which is possible -- and Smith will likely accomplish what none of his predecessors could: take the Gophers to three straight NCAA tournaments. According to the Big Ten Network, the entire conference has just four non-conference wins vs the RPI Top 25. Two of them belong to the Gophers: North Carolina (11) and West Virginia (21). But slip just once, and a below-.500 Big Ten record will produce a date with the National Invitational Tournament.
Maybe at that point Smith would accept blame for failing in a college basketball season where more teams than ever -- 68 -- make the only tournament that matters.
I really wanted to blog the absurdity of Iowa fans taking a picture with the Insight Bowl trophy this weekend or the impossible feat that director Adam McKay pulled off with "Step Brothers" -- making a movie with Will Ferrell unwatchable.
Instead, I will focus on the Twins and a trade idea.
It was a simple question via my Twitter account (@DarrenWolfson): Who says no to this trade: pitcher Francisco Liriano, outfielder Ben Revere, and prospects Chris Parmelee (1B) and Adrian Salcedo (P) to Arizona for outfielder Justin Upton?
Some of the 38 responses:
According to Aaron Gleeman, only six players in the last 50 years -- Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Conigliaro, Boog Powell, and Cesar Cedeno -- have gotten at least 1,500 plate appearances by age 23 and posted a higher OPS than Upton.
He can run, hit for power, make good pitchers look ordinary, and play Gold Glove-caliber defense. He also has a team-friendly contract that runs through 2015. Why Arizona discussed him in trade talks at the winter meetings makes about as much sense as Lady Gaga's alien-like egg costume at the Grammy Awards.
Adding, or even slightly overpaying, for Upton is a no-brainer for any team. So why not put together a package for him headlined by Liriano? This basic idea is how Twins general manager Bill Smith should be thinking when talking with teams.
For reasons mostly unknown, two reports last week -- the Star Tribune and 1500espn.com -- indicate that Liriano is not in the Twins' long-term plans. Talking to one baseball insider this weekend, there is concern among many organizations that Liriano's violent delivery will eventually catch-up to him again. The Twins probably feel the same way, plus Liriano isn't exactly Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay on the dedication scale.
Being two years away from free agency, Liriano's trade value will never be higher. Personally, I would keep him for myriad reasons, mostly because he is the only Twins' starter with electric stuff. Everyone else gets by on guts and guile. Scott Baker occasionally teases us, but not enough to move Liriano for two or three B+ prospects. But if a trade of Liriano is inevitable, Smith should stay away from a package of minor-leaguers, no matter how tantalizing they are. Move Liriano for an already-established player. If Smith has to sweeten the offer with his own prospects, then he should.