Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Nice to see Erik Haula not only in the lineup, but dressing in an actual locker today. No longer is he sitting under the occupancy sign and in front of a brick wall.
Haula will bring speed to the Wild's lineup, and I'm guessing that if Mike Yeo was willing to pick him to replace the injured Justin Fontaine, that Haula's conditioning and practice intensity have improved of late.
Sometimes Wild coach Mike Yeo is very forthcoming about the way the game is played, and I loved the way he broke down the Wild's philosophy when attacking the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are excellent at breaking out after blocked shots or rebounds. So how does the Wild adapt to that?
Here's Yeo at length on the subject from this morning:
``One, you have to make sure that when you have an oportunity to shoot the puck you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots, which leads to a lt of blocks, and obviously those blocks they’re in a pretty good structure and position where they can coutner attack from that.
It’s the recognition. We still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all of s sudden be afraid to shoot pucks, we have to make sure we’re getting pucks there and if we do get it by then then quite often we’ve seen a few pictures already where we’re in behind them and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little bit quicker and do get it to the net.
``If that’s not there the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it, that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game, we didn’t’ have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up, we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there.''
Yeo was also asked about the closeness of many of his players.
Yeo: ``Obviously as a coach you try to learn as much as you can what builds teams. Certainly we try to do anything we can as far as the team0-building. First and foremost it’s about bringing eh right people into your organization. But nothing builds a team the way that winning does. As we’ve started to win some more games, players start to recognize and they look across the lockerroom and see a guy who is doing everything he can to help you and your cause, those are the things that build a team for sure. We’ve got good people and we’ve got good people pulling for each other.''
I also liked his answer to a question about Matt Dumba's enthusiasm. Dumba has been full of life during practices here.
Yeo: ``I think that’s a really really important quality. Quite often there’s such emotion and with emotion comes tension and obviously frustration at times, at the complete other end of the spectrum. The ability to enjoy what we’re in right now, to me that’s crucial, and obviously we all have big plans of what we’d like to do here, but the bottom line is you have to enjoy what you’re doing ,and you have to enjoy the competition and you have to enjoy the hard parts. It’s something that we try to stress – that’s what makes it great right now. Enjoy the pressures and enjoy the difficulties and the battles through the course of the game, because in the game overcoming that stuff is what makes it so great.
When the Twins started 1-6, guess what? Fans were angry, because this felt like the same ol' mediocre team.
Since then, the Twins are 11-6 even without their two primary free agent signees the last two seasons, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco.
Paul Molitor should be commended for providing calm when this team needed it. Players are raving about his demeanor. I also think Torii Hunter's ability to remain positive while he and the team were struggling has played a role.
On SouhanUnfiltered.com, Michael Russo and I previewed the series in our last podcast. Next one: 2 p.m. Tuesday at The Liffey, across from the Xcel Energy Center, with Wild owner Craig Leipold. Free Guinnesses and prizes to people who show up.
I'm at the Xcel Energy Center for Game 4. I picked the Wild to win in seven. Now I'm picking them in six. I think they win tonight, something like 3-1. The Wild seems stunningly confident of their ability to not only win the series but withstand the Blues' physical play, and you hear a lot of subtle digs at coach Ken Hitchcock from the Blues' lockerroom. If the Wild withstands the expected early, physical, assault, I think they win this one.
A reader asked me an interesting question the other day: If Andrew Wiggins, coming off one not-so-great college season, can come into the NBA and play as well as he did as a rookie, why couldn't Byron Buxton join the Twins now and learn how to hit major-league pitching while in the majors?
Having covered baseball for 22 years and having heard the usual explanations so often, I hadn't really reexamined the issue from this perspective. It's a great question. My answer?
Good NBA players are intelligent, but basketball is an athletic and activity sport. If you possess great athletic ability, as Wiggins does, it should show up over 48 minutes of constant activity. If you can dribble past and jump higher than opponents, your advantages are going to show up, as Wiggins' did.
Buxton is comparable to Wiggins when it comes to fielding. He has tremendous speed, tremendous range, the bravery to challenge fences and an exceptional arm. Those advantages would show up in the big-leagues, even if he has more to learn.
Hitting is different. Buxton would spend about four minutes a day taking major-league at-bats. The rest of the time he would be thinking about hitting, and if he got off to a slow start - probable, since he's not even hitting AA pitching yet - he would have an immense amount of time to analyze and over-analyze his swing, his approach, his pitch selection.
I've seen good big-league hitters tie themselves in knots with overanalysis. If Buxton, or any rookie, got caught in that trap, it could set him back months and damage his confidence, at least temporarily.
So while I'm in favor of calling up Buxton because of his fielding and speed, I don't think it's reasonable to think that his exceptional athletic ability would make his transition to hitting big-league pitching easier. Offensively, it would be best to bring him up when he's hot and confident.
The reason I wrote that the Twins should consider bringing him up soon is that I think he will start hitting AA pitching soon, and that may be the right time to give this team a real centerfielder.
Latest 3 podcasts at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Strib basketball writer Jerry Zgoda, Minnesota United FC defender Brian Kallman and Strib hockey writer Michael Russo. Next: Me and Russo from St. Louis on Friday afternoon before Game 5.
This is one of my favorite weeks of the year - covering the beginning of baseball season and The Masters.
Got to Augusta just in time for the aftermath of a shower. The forecasts are for intermittent showers all week, which should benefit long, high-ball hitters. So, yes, you should pick Rory McIlroy to win if you're in an office pool.
One of the first things I saw on the course today was a marshall cautioning a ``patron'' not to run. The ``patron'' - that's what Augusta National calls fans - turned and said to the marshall, ``Sorry, bro'.''
At The Masters, you may not carry a cell phone, run or lay down.
This is the rare case when I believe there are too few rules in play.
``Patrons'' should be ejected for using the following words:
-Bra' (not the garment, the Valley Boy/hipster pronunciation of ``Bro''
-You da man
The first time I saw Tyus Jones play, he was in eighth grade and starting at point guard for Apple Valley High. He spent most of the game throwing brilliant passes, but his team fell behind in the fourth quarter. I was about to ask the person next to me if he could shoot, when he started taking, and maknig, three-pointers, leading Apple Valley to a comeback victory.
Last night, in the national title game, Jones looked like exactly the same player.
If he declares for the draft, Jones would probably go in the middle of the first round.
I'd like to see him stay in college, become more of a focal point in Duke's offense, and get a little stronger. I could see him developing into a player with the same skill set as Steph Curry.
Now, that's a little ambitious. Curry is one of the best players in the NBA. But Jones reminds me of him, and at the least should be a quality point guard in the NBA.
Twins fans: You're not allowed to lament an Opening Day loss in which the Twins played a clean game.
You are allowed to lament the following:
-Santana's suspension putting pressure on the rest of the rotation.
-Santana's suspension placing more stress on an unproven group of middle relievers.
-Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson trying to play centerfield and produce offensively.
I'll be filing at least two stories a day all week at The Masters to the paper and Startribune.com.
I also just uploaded my latest podcast to SouhanUnfiltered.com: Former Twins manager Tom Kelly on Molitor, his stroke, broadcasting and spring training. Plus some old-time baseball stories.
Fort Myers, Fla.
Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said he got ``emotional'' on Wednesday afternoon, when talking with old Gopher teammate Paul Molitor about managing each other in the Twins' first game of spring training.
Molitor said, ``It was fun, especially once I got into the flow of the game.''
It was Molitor's first game as a manager. ``I was out there flashing signs the whole game, which is different,'' he said. ``Once I settled in, it was really enjoyable.''
The Twins used to open play against local Edison College. Then, because of the relationship between Ron Gardenhire and the Concordia staff, Concordia visited, even it for a scrimmage on the back fields.
Playing the Gophers is an upgrade in all sorts of ways. It gives more Minnesotans reason to visit Fort Myers. It pairs two famous Gophers - Molitor and Twins closer Glen Perkins - against their old school and their friend Anderson. It gives them a college opponent with high-end talent.
Some observations on the game, a 3-1 Twins victory:
-Perkins was fired up, saying he had more adrenaline than he's ever had in early March before. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning.
-MIguel Sano has tremendous bat speed. But we knew that. What was impressive was his foot speed. He stole a base and looked a little like a defensive end running a stunt when he steamed around second base.
-Byron Buxton hit doubles in his first two at-bats. The first was a hustle double on sinking liner to right-center. The left was a pulled shot down the leftfield line.
Molitor did address a mistake Buxton made, pulling Buxton aside after he scored on Kennys Vargas' two-out double in the first. Buxton coasted home, creating the possibility that if Vargas had been thrown out at second, Buxton may have crossed the plate too late for the run to count. ``He broke down a little early,'' Molitor said. ``You can't do that in that situation.''
-I felt sorry for the kids who had to face Michael Tonkin in the ninth. Tonkin has very good stuff, and it's time for him to be on the big-league staff.
-Watching Vargas take batting practice before the game, he responded well when asked to react to situations. Asked to foil an imaginary shift, he hit line drives the other way. Asked to advance runners, he produced ground balls to the right side.
-The Twins wil run something close to their ``A'' lineup out tomorrow in the true home opener against Boston at Hammond Stadium.
-My last 3 podcasts from spring training: Dave St. Peter, Eddie Guardado, Torii Hunter, all at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Fort Myers, Fla.
I use my column to delve into meaty topics. Here, I'll hit you with quick observations after a few days in Fort Myers:
1. Torii Hunter, as I wrote this morning, loves being a leader. He spends lots of time talking to Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks at their adjacent lockers, and pulls hitters out of the cage on the back field to offer tips. One thing he emphasizes is ``loading'' weight onto the back leg to generate power.
2. With Hunter and Guardado back as full-time employees, the clubhouse, deathly quiet for most of the last four springs, is suddenly loud. You hear lots of laughter. Both go out of their way to engage young players.
3. Twins manager Paul Molitor said of pitching prospect Jose Berrios, ``He's 20 going on 35.'' Berrios is remarkably fit and polished. He has great stuff. He could rise quickly in the organization.
4. This might mean nothing, but Mike Pelfrey looks like he's throwing hard in bullpen sessions. He could fit into the staff as a fifth starter, long man or short reliever. Twins general manager Terry Ryan calls him ``a wonderful guy,'' and appreciates that Pelfrey wants to make good on his contract.
5. When Ricky Nolasco arrived as the Twins' primary free-agent signing last year, he quickly gave the impression that he didn't want to do a lot of extracurricalars. He didn't like giving interviews. He didn't seem to work out hard. He didn't seem to connect with teammates.
Ervin Santana is the opposite. He gets to the clubhouse early, stays late, is friendly to all. His reputation as a likeable professional is holding true so far.
6. In the old days (when I was a beat writer), Latin American players were known for either having visa difficulty or inventing visa difficulty, and often weren't around at the beginning of spring training.
The Twins' Latin American players blow apart that stereotype. They're all in camp, and they're among the most avid and enthusiastic workers. Danny Santana in particular has impressed the Twins with his professionalism and attitude.
7. Torii Hunter spent part of the morning laying flat on his back in the clubhouse, trying to catch his breath. He took Buxton to the Twins' training hill by the minor-league fields for sprint-hill work. Buxton, an exceptional athlete, said the workout was draining.
8. I thought I was being clever, asking second baseman Brian Dozier about Paul Molitor's attention to detail. Turns out he's been asked that ``a dozen times.'' But he still gave me a great answer, which I'll use in an upcoming column.
Today at 2:30 I'm doing a live podcast with Star Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo at SouhanUnfiltered.com (or Souhan-Unfiltered on IHeartradio). You can listen live or later.
On Friday, I'll begin a series of podcasts with key Twins figures.
Thanks for reading, and listening.
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