Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could keep lies from conquering the minds of the weak. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.
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Take it from someone who was 5-foot-1 as a high school sophomore and 5-foot-9 as a senior. Sometimes it feels good to be average.
Can the Twins keep going? Will we be 6-foot-5 someday? Maybe ... and no.
Here's a quick look at what has helped the Twins return to decency:
1) They are currently 15th in MLB in runs scored. That's squarely in the middle of the pack. Last year they were 16th. Two years ago, they were 25th. So as we know, the offense was OK last year. The pitching was horrendous. And this year, the offense has still been decent -- particularly in key spots, where the Twins are 10th in BA and 14th in slugging with RISP (as opposed to 14th and 23rd overall).
2) How much better is the pitching? Well, the Twins are still 24th in team ERA, but with a not-so-terrible 4.25 mark. It was 4.77 at the finish a year ago. Half an earned run per game means a ton. The troubling thing is Minnesota's starters are still very near the bottom of baseball with a 5.18 ERA after being next-to-last a year ago at 5.40. Much of that has to do with two-thirds of the revamped rotation (Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey) having bloated ERAs. History suggests they will be better than they have been. History also suggests a comedown for Kevin Correia, but overall the Twins' starters should inch more toward the middle of the pack (or at least the low 20s) as the year goes on.
3) Thanks primarily to timely hits, Justin Morneau is on pace for 114 RBI. That figures to change since his power numbers aren't that great, but production from Morneau is huge. Ryan Doumit and Aaron Hicks figure to produce more than they have; Morneau and Oswaldo Arcia will likely dip. Nobody else is absurdly above or below a reasonable pace. Translation: the offense should be able to sustain middle-of-the-pack standards.
So if the offense is middle of the pack and the pitching starts moving closer to the middle of the pack -- with starters faring better and eating up more innings to spare an already taxed bullpen -- we're left with defense. The Twins have made 18 errors, sixth-fewest in the AL. They were a bottom-half team a year ago in terms of this simple metric, and at least that quick glance suggests the fielding is more like average than bad.
Decent offense, decent pitching, decent defense. It adds up to a decent record -- which, again, feels a lot better when you've been down than when you've been up.
But it is a little startling to see that Mauer has 29 strikeouts in 31 Twins games this year -- a pace to whiff 151 times this season.
It's startling because Mauer has been such a good contact hitter in his career and is praised for his plate discipline/batting eye. He struck out 88 times last season, a career-high. Before that, he'd never K'd more than 64 times in a season.
He's been particularly strikeout-happy lately, going down on strikes 13 times in his last eight games. But like we said, Mauer has hit safely in all eight, batting .364 with a 1.007 OPS in that span.
During five hitless games before that, an 0-for-19 stretch, he struck out just twice.
These numbers make little sense, yet here they are. So don't be surprised if you're at Target Field this weekend and you see a Mauer strikeout -- and a couple of hits.
Unlimited space means the chance to get lost within words, and we're of the mind that the Ortiz piece might have been twice as good at half the length. Maybe that's just a guy with print roots talking. Maybe not.
In any event, there are some moments of interest and clarity, particularly if you are a Twins fan and/or an Ortiz fan.
First, a description of the small-ball Twins during the late 1990s/2000s, when Ortiz was trying to break into the league and subsequently thriving in Boston:
Ortiz began his professional career in the Mariners organization, but he had the misfortune to be dealt to the Twins after his first season in A-ball. The Twins have long had an odd way of doing things; I don't think it's unfair to say that they have spent a good chunk of the present millennium avoiding power hitters and, since they heyday of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano ended, strikeout pitchers. The policy seems foolish to the point of perversity, but you can't say that the Twins weren't successful with it until recently: from 2002 through 2010 they won the AL Central six times.
Still, they presently rank 14th in the American League in isolated power (slugging percentage - on-base percentage), a position they have held five other times since 2000 -- their highest ranking this century has been sixth; they have never been more than .005 above the league average. As such, they didn't quite know what to make of Ortiz, a dead-pull power hitter.
Avoiding power hitters might be a bit much, and the description of Ortiz as a dead-pull power hitter is also a bit off. But the phrase "didn't quite know what to make of Ortiz" is an apt way to describe the Ortiz era here.
Later, we get to Ortiz defending himself in the wake of Shaughnessy's column:
"Yesterday, the guy came to see me and asked some questions about steroids, and when you see the writing, it basically focuses on the fact that I'm Dominican and that many Dominicans have been caught using steroids. And what about the Americans?" Ortiz said.
"If you're from the Middle East, because there are some people there who put bombs and terrorize civilians, I have to see you like that, as well? If you are a white American, I have to call you a racist because white Americans were in the Ku Klux Klan?"
Whether you believe Ortiz or not, the logical fallacy he exposes -- and which Goldman notes -- is notable. A player like him is operating in a no-win situation in 2013. If he fails. he's off the juice. If he's on a hot streak, he must be juicing again. After years of PED saturation, we are in guilty-until-proven-innocent mode.
As Minnesota's four major men's pro sports teams hit rock bottom as a collective in 2011 -- none of them made the playoffs, and none were particularly close in the end -- we wondered which would be the next of the bunch to make the playoffs.
Now that we are into May of 2013, the times are better. The Vikings and Wild have made the playoffs since that query. The Timberwolves at least have the makings of a nucleus that could challenge for a spot. The Twins have already moved the needle from hopeless to functional and are a few more prospects and Oswaldo Arcia blasts away from being downright intriguing.
As such, we revisit the question with the bar set higher: What will be the next of the four to WIN a playoff series (or, in the Vikings' case, a game)?
This is a bit of a dare-we-dream proposition, considering that from the time immediately after Randy Moss' disgusting act at Lambeau until this very moment -- a span of more than eight calendar years -- the Vikings' playoff victory following the 2009 season is the only example of postseason advancement among the four. But why shouldn't we dream big? Let's set some percentages:
Vikings: 40 percent. A 10-win team added a batch of talent through the draft, found a receiver in Greg Jennings and a functional backup QB who can start if needed in Matt Cassel. A return trip to the postseason is not a lock, but you don't have to squint too much to see it, either. And once there, the NFL is the easiest to advance since it's a one-game proposition. Get a couple of bounces, and the Vikings are the winner.
Wild: 35 percent. Cornerstone players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter aren't going anywhere for a LONG time, while more young reinforcements are on the way to join the likes of Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker. A lot of new components were pulled together in a slapdash 48-game season. Minnesota faltered in the final month, or it would have won the division and had a much better chance of advancing. But at least the Wild made the playoffs. Still, there are questions galore. Will Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher be back? What will the Wild do at the goalie spot? And will they thrive playing in a tougher realigned division next season? That said, more than half the NHL teams make the playoffs, and seeding often means little once you get there -- unless you have to play a team like Chicago. The Wild took a step this year and could very well take another next year.
Twins: 15 percent. It's probably not happening this year, even with the team's improvement. Even 2014 might be early. But if the Wild and Vikings don't win soon, the Twins will be primed to make a push starting in 2015.
Wolves: 10 percent. Even if the Wolves get the shooting guard they so desperately need ... and get a fully healthy and engaged Kevin Love back ... the West is loaded and could remain that way for a while. Five teams won at least 56 games in the West this year. The Wolves should set their sights on a return to .500 and then start wondering about the playoffs and next steps.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments. But please: Limit this to the four teams mentioned. Of course the Lynx have a great chance of advancing this year. Other pro teams here have won playoff games in the eight-year span as well. But for our purposes, we are dealing with the Wild, Vikings, Twins and Wolves.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tried to downplay his dust-up with Aaron Hicks last night, calling it a "teachable moment" and telling reporters that he and Hicks are now heroes on the Internet because of it.
Well, in case you missed it, it all started when Hicks snagged a fly ball on the run and casually flipped it to Brian Dozier straight out of his glove. Technically, if the ball had hit the ground during that flip, it could have been ruled a non-out. No such thing happened, but the play still drew the manager's ire.
But don't just take our word for it. CBSSports.com has an excellent series of GIFs that tell the story to perfection.
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