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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Walked Augusta National today. Saw a lot of salmon-colored shorts, pink-striped seersucker shorts, and heard this:
``Is that real grass?''
Yes, yes it is. That is real grass.
Picking the winner of a golf tournament has been silly since the days when it was reasonable to pick Tiger Woods against the field, but here are the golfers I think have the best chance to wear the green jacket (which does not go well with seersucker shorts):
-Rory McIlroy, the subject of my Thursday column, is the easy pick, for all the right reasons. He can hit a high and far, he can work the ball, he can putt, and he knows how to win under pressure. He has to be the favorite.
-Jordan Spieth: Playing well, contended last year at The Masters, great putter, wants to be great.
-Dustin Johnson: Seems to have straightened out his personal life, hits it as well as anyone on tour. The big question: Can he think his way around a course that will challenge your decision-making?
-Bubba Watson: The course is perfect for his game, but I can't believe he's going to become one of the rare players to repeat at The Masters.
-Jason Day: He's approaching best-player-to-never-win-a-major territory. Can he putt well enough on these tricky greens?
-Henrik Stenson: Had the flu all week. Can't imagine him having the stamina necessary to win.
Yes ,this course requires stamina. While golfers get picked on for not being great athletes in term of cardiovascular capabilities, walking 72 holes up and down hills under intense mental and emotional pressure will wear anyone out.
This is a beautiful course. It is also a challenging walk.
The Twins are 0-2. They lost to a great pitcher on Monday in a clean game. They looked horrible in a horrible game on Wednesday. They have yet to score.
Now, I believe the suspension of Ervin Santana had an emotional impact on the team, and also forced Ricky Nolasco, who should be a fourth starter, to take the ball in game 2. I believe Santana's suspension takes this team from having a chance to win 80-plus games to probably winning 76-78.
Outfield defense and bullpen depth are both concerns that played out poorly today.
-No team's fate is determined after two games. The '91 Twins were lousy for two weeks, and that turned out OK. If this were an NFL season, we'd be in the middle of the first quarter.
-This team finished seventh in the big leagues in runs last year largely because of contributions from Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas, who will be in the big leagues all year. Santana can hit. Dozier can hit. Mauer, when healthy, can hit. Vargas can hit. Plouffe has been relatively productive the last three years. Hunter should be fine. Arcia is a question mark but has lots of talent. Buxton and Sano could be in the majors by midseason.
I think the Twins will have to make a change in centerfield, and the bullpen will be a work in progress. But this team should score runs, and anybody who panics after two games should be watching a different sport.
In my latest podcast, Doug Mientkiewicz tells some stories I've never heard before, including what Terry Ryan said to him and Ron Gardenhire during a private and emotional meeting, all at SouhanUnfiltered.com
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.
The first of 162 games is more symbolic than meaningful, but there were a couple of things that stood out in the Twins' 4-0 loss at Detroit on Monday:
-Danny Santana has tremendous range at shortstop. He easily caught what could have been a difficult popup in short right, and he made another difficult play - ranging far right on a ground ball and throwing out a runner at third - look routine.
-Jordan Schafer better play Target Field's angles better than he played Comerica Park's. He leaped into the wall on a home run he had no chance to catch, and he slammed into the wall on a fly that he maybe should have caught.
-David Price was very good, but I thought the key moments in the game were not results of his dominance. Yoenis Cespedes' robbery of what should have been a Kurt Suzuki home run and Ian Kinsler's robbery of what might have been a double or triple for Santana allowed Price to work stress-free, and...
-Home plate umpire Joe West has to ask for help on the check-swing call on which he rung up Torii Hunter. Kennys Vargas against Joe Nathan with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth could have been very interesting.
-Hunter was still steamed long after the game. He wanted to win this one badly.
I'm headed to Georgia for The Masters. Still trying to determine how to handle podcasts from down there, but I will be updating the SouhanUnfiltered.com site soon.
Notes and thoughts from Opening Day in Detroit…
-Great to see Hall of Fame baseball writer Tom Gage in the press box. Tom covered the Tigers a full-time beat writer for 36 years, and was elected the winner of the 2015 J.G. Spink Award, presented annually to a sportswriter for ``meritorious contributions to baseball writing’’ during the National Baseball Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown this summer.
The Detroit News took Gage off the beat this year, which is stupid for all of the obvious reasons, but also stupid because the paper could have gotten great PR out of Gage covering the Tigers during the summer of his induction. Tom hooked on with FSDetroit.com. He’s sitting right in front of me during batting practice. Tom is a wonderful guy and a wonderful writer, and it’s sad to think there was ever a chance he might have missed opening day.
-Now that Ervin Santana is suspended, here are my keys for Twins’ overachievement in 2015:
I expect Danny Santana, Brian Dozier, Kennys Vargas, Kurt Suzuki, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer have to quality seasons. The swing players in the everyday lineup for me are Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia and whoever plays in center.
Arcia put on a show during batting practice, and he is a great variable. He has the power to hit 30 home runs. He has the potential to strike out 150 times, compile a low on-base percentage and be well below average in left field. If he does the former, the Twins’ lineup could be remarkably productive. If he does the latter, there middle of the order could become easy to pitch to.
As for centerfield, let’s be honest: The Twins are waiting for Byron Buxton. Until he arrives, the position will be somewhere between a project and a mess.
-When the Twins return home next week, you’ve got to watch Eddie Guardado hitting grounders during fielding practice. Good thing he was a pitcher.
--Trevor Plouffe is 28. He has less than four years of service time.He is making $4.8 million this year. He has been slightly disappointing as a big-leaguer. If he can improve slightly in the field and produce more runs this year, he very soon could make himself a bargain.
He has hit 24 homers in a season. He has hit 40 doubles. He has driven in 80 runs. He’s capable of having a big season. If that’s ever going to happen, I would think it would be this year, under Paul Molitor.
-If it were up to me, I’d bat Joe Mauer second and Brian Dozier third. Mauer has a higher on-base percentage and better bat control. Dozier has more power.
-By August, here’s what I hope the lineup looks like: Santana ss, Byron Buxton cf, Mauer 1b, Dozier 2b, Vargas 1b, Miguel Sano 3b, Hunter rf, Plouffe/Arcia lf, Suzuki/Pinto c.
-I wasn’t too worried about the Twins’ bullpen until the Santana suspension. Now I think an inexperienced group of middle relievers could be overexposed. Molitor has talked about using Glen Perkins for a few extra outs. He may need to pitch three innings a day.
-Watch Ricky Nolasco on Wednesday. He has a tendency to fall off the mound to the left during his motion, which robs him of power and causes his fastball to rise in the zone. If he’s falling to the left in the early innings, things could get ugly.
-Schafer’s career on-base percentage is .311. His career slugging percentage is .310. He’ll have to hit a lot of singles and steal a lot of bases to be a worthwhile player. It is the worst in a series of bad signs that Aaron Hicks couldn’t beat out this guy.
-Phil Miller and I will be providing lots of coverage from Comerica Park today. Please check in to startribune.com for all of the stuff.
-The Twins should be allowed to sue Ervin Santana. He signed four-year contract for four years and $55 million. He will be unable to pitch the first half of this season. If his past success was due to performance-enhancing drugs, he may be unable to pitch to the standards that earned him this contract. At some point, teams have to start holding players more accountable for their actions.
On my way to Detroit for the Twins opener, and feeling like this team has gone from mildly promising to ominous since Ervin Santana's suspension was announced.
The suspension means that Terry Ryan's new plan to improve the Twins rotation has failed.
Time to go back to Plan A.
The pieces to Plan A are still in place. It's just that one of them isn't very impressive, and the other two are at best delayed.
Ryan's original plan to upgrade the Twins rotation was to trade cente rfielders for young pitching. He sent Ben Revere and Denard Span to the East Coast for Vance Worley, Trevor May and Alex Meyer. When Worley failed, he found himself signing Ricky Nolasco.
Worley was awful. Nolasco was awful. Now that Santana has been revealed as a cheat, Ryan needs the remaining two pieces in his original plan to succeed.
Meyer and May could be the key to the season.
A rotation featuring Tommy MIllone and Mike Pelfrey is not optimal. Given the unliklihood that both will be competent, Phil Hughes will repeat his breakout performance of last year, and Nolasco will be more than a fourth starter, eventually the Twins will probably have to turn to Meyer and May eventually to save their rotation.
That's fitting, in a way. Ryan correctly finds free agency to be a high-risk approach to team building. He built his reputation and the Twins roster from 1998-2007 with excellent trades. If Meyer and May produce, he will again have helped a bad team improve with astute trades.
If Meyer and May don't deliver, then this will be another lost season, and the Twins' wave of excellent position-playing prospects may arrive in the big leagues to find that the pitching isn't good enough to win, no matter how well they play.
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