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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Today's LPR

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 2, 2011 - 9:30 AM

Today's LPR, my Local Power Rankings of revenue sports, sees little change. For good reason.

1. Minnesota Wild

While most local sports fans were reveling in the Gopher basketball team beating a mediocre, unranked opponent at home, the most impressive victory on Wednesday night was the Wild coming back from a 2-0 deficit in Edmonton to win in a shootout.

Now the Wild needs to survive a stretch of the schedule in which 20 of its 29 games are on the road. They won't have the best record in the West at the end of that stretch, but if they can remain in the middle of the playoff pack, they'll be set up well for the stretch run.

Mike Yeo has got to be the coach of the year in the NHL right now, and Chuck Fletcher has to be among the leading candidates for executive of the year, given that his trades improved the Wild's prospects for the future as well as improved the team this year.

2. Golden Gopher hockey

Time for this team to prove it's not going to fade away like so many other Lucia products. They've proven they have plenty of talent; now they have to show some grit.

3. Golden Gopher basketball

Nice win on Wednesday, but the level of cheerleading among local media members is a bit embarrassing. It's our job to put things into context, not do backflips over every victory. Yes, there were positives, like Julian Welch playing well at the point and Elliott Eliason showing great court-sense, and Rodney Williams looking comfortable at power forward.

Here's the proper context, though: Tubby Smith has beaten highly-ranked teams from Louisville and North Carolina during the non-conference schedule during his tenure at Minnesota, and those victories did not catapult his team to great heights. Beating Virginia Tech at home doesn't prove a whole lot more than this team can beat Virginia Tech at home.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

I don't like to see arena workers losing paychecks, so I can't be thrilled that the NBA went through a lockout and will play a shortened season. But from a selfish standpoint, this is perfect. Early-season NBA games can be horrid and meaningless. Now we get a 66-game season that will really get rolling right about the time football wraps up, and any winning streak the Wolves can muster could actually make a difference in the standings.

I'm most intrigued not by Ricky Rubio, but by how Rick Adelman will coach a bunch of players with a certain amount of skill but no real idea of how to play the game.

5. Minnesota Twins

Terry Ryan, Wayne Krivsky and Gene Glynn are all good hires, and Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were good, subtle, acquisitions. But the pitching staff is a mess, and without Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel the outfield will be, too.

I'm highly intrigued to see if Ryan make a bold move or merely hopes for improvement within the current roster.

6. Golden Gopher football

They haven't lost in, like, two weeks. Is that some sort of record?

7. Minnesota Vikings

I wrote about Leslie Frazier and the Vikings' front office for the Sunday paper. If you really care about this team, all you should be hoping for now is positive developments in the stadium chase, a healthy end of the season for players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and the highest-possible draft pick.

In other words, lose, baby, lose.

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A follow-up to my column today on the ills of high-profile college coaching: I prefer pro sports to college sports. Pro sports are inherently honest. You win or you get fired. You produce or you get cut. No one is pretending to be Mother Teresa. I admire high school and small-college coaches who obviously aren't in it for the money, who actually do have a positive effect on their kids and sometimes their communities.

Only in large-revenue college athletics do you have the disconnect of rich, domineering coaches who, when they lose, want to tell you that they're molders of young men. Only in large-revenue college athletics on insular campuses could men like Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine be able to use the auspices of a program to lure victims, and not get caught.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today for my regular appearance on Reusse & Mackey, then I'm filling in for Joe Soucheray on Garage Logic on the same station from 3-6. I'll also be on Tom Pelissero's show at about 6:15.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

Enjoy the weekend.

 

Late Tuesday post after Twins avoid 100 losses

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 27, 2011 - 10:44 PM

Rene Tosoni hit a grand slam on Tuesday night. He said it was his first grand slam in pro ball.

``I don't even know if I hit one in high school,'' he said.

Since Sunday, in Cleveland, when a fan yelled in a very quiet ballpark ``Tosoni you (stink),'' Tosoni has two homers and six RBI.

The Twins beat KC, 7-4. My three takeaways from the game:

1. Ben Revere has competed like a madman all season regardless of his team's situation. He made a couple more fine running catches in leftfield, one while running into the low wall in foul territory. The guy is fearless.

He also ran through a stop sign and got thrown out trying for an inside the park home run, which is a bad play, but at least there is no lack of effort or intensity with this guy.

He also throws better when playing left field, because he's not in such a rush to get rid of the ball. He tends to bobble grounders hit to center because he's so worried about getting the ball back to the infield quickly. Then again, he would have caught the long drive to center that Denard Span missed.

Span smashed into the wall and told Twins offiicials that he felt shaken up on the play. I'm doubting he'll play in the finale. Now the Twins have to hope that one play doesn't set back his winter recovery from concussion symptoms.

2. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire praised starting pitcher Anthony Swarzak, who has been the anti-Slowey this year. He's taken the ball whenever it has been offered, and has pitched in various roles without complaint. Gardenhire wants him on the staff next year. He could start or relieve depending on the rest of the rotation's health.

3. Trevor Plouffe continues to hit, and make errors. He threw wildly to first again on Tuesday, and also missed a throw to second while trying to make a quick tag. He's playing like a guy who wants to be the DH next year, but the Twins will need DH for all of their injured/battered players who need a day off from their position.

Also, heard that the Twins told Chris Parmalee that he doesn't need to play winter ball this year because he's gotten so many at-bats in the majors, and that the Twins definitely want to see outfield prospect Joe Benson play winter ball so he can face more breaking pitches. Benson has been very vulnerable to breaking balls.

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Sorry I'm going to miss the farewell ceremony for John Gordon on Wednesday at Target Field.

I've spent a lot of time with Gordo since I started covering the Twins in 1993. He's a wonderful man and I'll miss him.

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I will be covering the Lynx on the road in the WNBA Finals. They'll face Atlanta, and I'm not just tweaking the other sports teams in town when I say that the Lynx are the most entertaining sporting option we have these days. If you haven't checked them out, I recommend watching a game. They get up and down the floor, share the ball, and score almost at will.

I would expect them to beat Atlanta in four games. (It's a five-game series, two home, two away, fifth game at home.)

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Yes, I'll miss Ozzie Guillen. I also think his act grew old and it was time for him to move.

While he was funny and accessible, he also became obsessively self-referential. Ask Ozzie a question about anything, and he'd make himself the subject.

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Wrote about Bill Smith's biggest deals for the Wednesday paper.

In short, I believe he needs another evaluator on the front office. Compare the trades Terry Ryan made during the last seven or eight years in the office to the trades Smith made in his first four years, and you see a sharp dropoff in savvy.

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As awful as the Vikings have been, I wouldn't be shocked to see them win their next two games, at Kansas City and against Arizona at home.

I would like to see Chrisitan Ponder starting at quarterback on Sunday, but McNabb could buy himself some time just by winning two winnable games.

Which would be a shame. The Vikings aren't going anywhere with McNabb. They might as well start evaluating Ponder. Or, if Ponder isn't ready, wouldn't you rather see Joe Webb? I've been told by people in the NFL that Webb doesn't project to be a starter in the league, but he's entertaining and fearless.

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I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, right after I cover the Rick Adelman press conference. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Twins get swept in Milwaukee

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: June 26, 2011 - 5:59 PM

I'll write about this more in the Monday paper, but let's just say, for now, that Joe Mauer let his teammates down.

Not only did he not volunteer to play first base on Sunday, with the Twins fielding a weaker-than-3.2 beer lineup. He didn't even take ground balls at first this week, knowing that Justin Morneau is going to be out until at least August, and that injuries to so many outfielders will keep Michael Cuddyer from playing first base every day.

-Remember when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were healthy and at the top of their games? I'm still not sure they were more entertaining than the Brewers' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

Braun's sweet, stylish righthanded swing stands in perfect contrast to Fielder's violent cut. Fielder is on a classic contract surge right now, knowing he'll be a free agent this winter, and Braun hit a not-so-bad pitch from Carl Pavano so hard on Sunday that, when the ball bounced back onto the field. Braun couldn't tell whether it had hit the outfield wall or the wall beyond.

If the Brewers can revive third baseman Casey McGehee, they will be very tough to pitch to. As it is, Rickie Weeks, Braun and Fielder are three of the most talented players in baseball, and have combined for 50 home runs.

-I'm not particularly disturbed that the Twins went 1-5 on this road trip. I figured they would go 2-4, and that 3-3 would be a triumph, since they were playing two good teams on the road without Morneau.

What's more troubling is that they reverted to their sloppy ways. Alexi Casilla made a lazy error, Tsuyoshi Nishioka failed to catch a perfect throw to the base on a pickoff, and the middle infielders failed to keep Ryan Braun close to second base, giving him an easy steal of third.

When Ron Gardenhire visited the mound after that play, you could see him heatedly correcting his infielders.

While we all seize on such details, the reality is this: If you looked at the lineups before each of the Brewers games, you'd pick the Brewers to win. They're a much better team right now. The Twins' miracle run of 15 victories in 17 games was just that, a miracle made possible by exceptional starting pitching.

After three games with the Dodgers, the Twins will face Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and the White sox for 10 games. They're going to have to start beating good teams to remain in the race, and to do so, they could use Mauer at first base when he's unable to catch.

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 and 6:15 on Monday.

 

Twins lose fourth straight, lose another player, plus other random thoughts

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: June 25, 2011 - 10:26 PM
I spoke with two former Twins in the Brewers' clubhouse tonight, after the Brewers won, 11-1, to give the Twins their fourth straight loss.
LaTroy Hawkins said the way Delmon Young jammed his foot against the base of the leftfield wall, he wouldn't be surprised if Young has a more serious injury than the Twins suspect.
The Twins said Young has a sprained ankle, and Young said he doesn't think the injury is serious, but let's see if further tests reveal more.
And Carlos Gomez told me he wasn't trying to show up Francisco Liriano after hitting a long home run, even though Gomez tapped his helmet when rounding third.
``I felt good and excited about it,'' Gomez said. ``They know it's nothing personal about it, especially when I have my best friend on the mound, Liriano. He's one of my best friends. And it's tough when you face your best friend, but tha'ts your job.''
Gomez also told me that his recent struggles haven't changed his opinion that he'll someday be a big-league No. 3 hitter.
``Believe it,'' he said. ``I always work every day for the future. I"m not seeing that I'm a leadoff hitter, because I'm not going to be able to run all my life. I have 220 pounds and I think they know I can hit a home run, but this is the last ability you get. I'm 25 years old, I'm going to still learn how to hit, and when I get my approach right, I think I'm going to be a 3-hole hitter.''
For now, Gomez is sharing centerfield with Nyjer Morgan.
 
-While I'm intrigued by the Wolves' talent, wouldn't they be far more exciting if, instead of taking Wes Johnson, they had taken DeMarcus Cousins?
A lineup of Cousins at center, Kevin Love at power forward and Derrick Williams at small forward would be dynamic. Teams would have to consider doubling Cousins, an excellent passer, and Williams, if Williams is as explosive as I expect him to be. Love could hit open jumpers and crash the boards. Ricky Rubio wouldn't have to launch his broken jump shot often playing with those guys, and the Wolves would simply need to add a good shooting guard (and a real coach) to be competitive pretty quickly.
 
-Joe Nathan pitched the bottom of the eighth. His fastball looked straight and was coming it at 91 and 92 mph, and his breaking pitches didn't show a lot of bite. It turns out this is going to be for him what it is for just about everyone else, a year of getting used to pitching again after having Tommy John surgery.
If the Twins can stay close enough to the division leaders to justify trading for help, a righthanded power reliever is going to be at the top of their list.
While we would have considered the loss of Justin Morneau and Delmon Young devastating at the beginning of the season, neither has produced much this year.
So let's call the Twins' ideal lineup for mid-summer this: Denard Span in left, Casilla at 2b, Mauer at catcher, Cuddyer at first, Kubel in right, Valencia at third, Thome at dh, Revere in center and Nishioka or Tolbert at short.
That's not a powerful lineup, but it could be good enough if the Twins' starting pitchers dominate.
 
-The Twins scored eight runs in the first inning of the first game on the road trip. They've scored seven in the 35 innings since.
 
-Nishioka is raising real concerns. He has a terrible approach at the plate. He doesn't keep his legs under him, which is an approach that works for only one person on the planet, Ichiro. He's miles from being a productive big-league hitter.
-Liriano mentioned after the game that he didn't think the pitch he threw to Gomez was the right choice. Another shot at Mauer's pitch-calling?
 
-Upcoming: I'll be in the MIller Park press box for the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk tomorrow, from 9:30-noon on 1500ESPN. We're hoping to feature Derrick Williams, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and Milwaukee radio host Drew Olson as guests.
-My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.
 

Joe Nathan eyes a homecoming

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: April 7, 2011 - 1:36 PM

My Q&A with Joe Nathan (I also wrote about Nathan and Morneau returning to Target Field for the Friday paper, and startribune.com): 

Q: How will you commemorate your return to Target Field, where you’ve never actually pitched?

JN: I’m just going to throw that dirt (that he scooped from the Metrodome mound after the Twins’ last game there) on the mound when I get back.

Nothing formal, just toss it on there when we head out for BP. Nothing too exciting.

Q: Will this be your biggest Opening Day?

JN: I think they’re all exciting. You’re always excited to get back. Just for myself, to get a chance to play on that field, is exciting. I got a chance to watch a lot of games there. To get a chance to step out onto that field and play is going to be pretty cool. I’ve been away for the fans for a while now. That will be special.

Q: How many full games did you watch last year?

JN: Not a lot. Not a lot in the dugout, at least. I was probably out in the dugout through a lot of games, through the fifth or sixth inning. Then I headed in to get cleaned up and see the rest on TV. Or I just got out of there, depending on if my wife wanted to do something, like have dinner with the kids.

It really depended on each day and how long I was at the field each day, getting my workouts in.

Q: Will it be difficult to control your emotions during your first save opportunity at Target Field?

JN: I think so. Getting a couple of chances on the road here and getting out there, I think that helps. I’m always pretty high-energy out there as it is, at least inside. So the adrenaline, I’m sure is going to be a high, but it always is.

Q: Does it help having two saves already?

JN: I think saves are great, I’m glad I was able to help us get some wins at the end and hold on to a win that almost got away from us.

It helps, but I also still know I have a little ways to go to get back to where I want to be. I’m happy with where I am, but I know I still have some things to do.

But as far as the confidence, I think every time out there, the more I can get some guys out pitching like this, I think it will help. It’s almost like I’m learning how to trick guys as opposed to just saying, 'Here it is, hit it.’

I’m getting away from that with the fastball that I have now. It’s a lot more dangerous to say 'Here it is, hit it,’ when it’s coming in at 90, 91 miles an hour. That’s the postive in this, maybe I learn to pitch a little better with what I have now, so when I get the fastball back - and I’m confident it will come back, hopefully sooner rather than later - that will make me a better pitcher.

Q: Do you think you’ll get all of your velocity back?

JN: I’m looking for where it was. I’d love to be pitching around 94, hitting 95, 96 occasionally. That would be great...

If history proves correct, I’ll get back there. Some guys get stronger. I don’t believe that’s the case with me. I think each case is different, but a lot of guys go from not doing a whiole lot to being forced to do a lot (physically) during their rehab process, so that’s how they get stronger.

For me, I’m just looking to get back to where I was. I find it’s a lot easier to pitch there than where I am now.

Hopefully, this all helps in the long run. A lot of times you learn more from your losses, your struggles, than when things are going well.

Q: Will the same song play when you run in from the bullpen - "Stand Up And Shout."

A: Absolutely. We switched over the second part of it, though, the song that plays when that song ends/ I told them to throw in a little Kid Rock, "Bawitdaba."

Q: Just how emotional will you be when you hear that song?

JN: It’s going to be exciting. I think that’s when I’ve really got to control my energy and try not to get too hyped up, because I’m sure the first time I go out there and hear that song, I can get a little over-amped. I have a lot of adrenaline, already. I won’t need any more.

 

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