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.
Find him on Twitter
Today is one of the two saddest day of the sports calendar. Today and Wednesday are the only two days of the summer that there are no Major League Baseball games available to us, and the only two days of the entire year on which there are no major sports leagues competing.
What's worse is that while the All-Star game used to captivate me, and the home-run hitting contest used to fascinate me, we have reached a point where neither is worth watching.
This spring, I went out to dinner with a bunch of writers. We were surrounded by big-screen TVs. We had our choice of the NBA, hockey and an old home-run hitting contest featuring our favorite steroid-ridden sluggers.
We couldn't take our eyes off the home-run derby.
Tonight, we will witness the worst of both worlds: A home-run hitting contest without stars, without steroids, and with Chris Berman.
Baseball needs to cancel this event. It's long, boring and filled with Bermanisms, the mindless utterings of an announcer who doesn't like or know baseball. Berman needs to take his shtick back-back-back-back-back to the NFL, the league that he admitted, in the new ESPN book, that he bends over backwards, forwards and sideways to please.
Without steroids, the home-run hitting contest is worthwhile only as a means of placating people who want to buy tickets to the All-Star game and can't find or afford them. It's become bad TV.
But it's better TV than the actual All-Star game. If Michael Cuddyer weren't participating tomorrow night, I probably wouldn't watch.
Last year, 82 players got to call themselves All-Stars because of all of the injuries and defections from the roster. This year, the number rose to 84, including Derek Jeter, who was healthy enough to get five hits the other day but didn't feel like flying to Phoenix.
I've heard the excuse that these players want to rest so they can help their teams down the stretch, or that they need to heal minor injuries, but the reality is that many of the players pulled out because they're so rich and pampered that a chartered flight to Phoenix, where they will be feted and celebrated, is too much of a hassle for them.
Post-steroid baseball is an interesting game on a daily basis, but it lacks the cartoon-character figures we found so compelling. The best slugger in the game is Jose Bautista, who is the least-interesting and most-suspicious guys to ever hit 50 homers. The starting pitchers are Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver. Both are fine hurlers. Both are more interesting in the context of the regular-season than as beacons of their leagues.
Baseball used to have the only All-Star game that emulated meaningful games. The NBA, NHL and NFL don't play defense in their All-Star games they way they do in real games. Baseball was different. Every pitcher, fielder and batter wanted to perform his best, and the games yielded matchups that couldn't be seen at any other time.
Now many of the best players in the game don't even bother to show up. So why should we?
-I'll be running Joe Anderson's show tonight from 6-7 on 1500espn, talking baseball, soccer and serial TV.
I'm in Milwaukee for the Twins' series. Before the game, the Twins announced that Justin Morneau will be out until at least August. He'll undergo surgery on his neck to repair a herniated disc that is causing pain and numbness in his left arm.
We all know that the Twins have been decimated by injuries. Let's spin this story forward in two ways:
1. Gardenhire said Mauer is taking grounders in case the Twins need him to play another position with Morneau out. This can only be good. This lineup's lack of run production is catching up to it this week. Mauer needs to be in the lineup every day, one way or another. And in a National League city, with the DH not available, he should be available to play first base.
2. Once again Michael Cuddyer becomes invaluable. He's helped carry this team all month, and now he'll be needed at first, DH and in rightfield, and we know he's willing to play every day, and play with pain, and attempt to lead this team.
I didn't think there was any chance of Cuddyer re-signing with the Twins, but it's such a good marriage, both sides should strive to find a way. He's the kind of guy who should play with one franchise his entire career. He's smart enough to know the grass isn't greener elsewhere, and the Twins' entire organization values him.
And if you didn't think there was a place for him to play next year, well, the Twins can't assume Morneau is going to play 150 games at first base next season. Cuddyer would again be the perfect combination first baseman/outfielder for this team.
-Yes, I liked David Kahn's draft on Thursday night. But you knew there had to be another layer of intrigue, and here it is: There are reports (from Draftexpress.com) that Tanguy Ngombo of Qatar is 27, not 21, and is too old to be eligible for the draft.
That would be a blow to a front office that has been touting its international scouting.
What's really fascinating is that if you spell his name backwards, you get Yugnat Obmogn.
-Jose Mijares continues to be a major disappointment. Or maybe we just expected too much from him.
The guy has a career 2.73 ERA, and yet you can't trust him.
-Spoke with former Twin LaTroy Hawkins, one of my favorites, before the game. He underwent shoulder surgery last year, and has allowed just one run this season. His ERA is 0.47.
``I'm sticking around, trying to get some guys out,'' he said with a smile. ``Surgery was tough. Missing a lot of last year was tough. But I couldn't be mad. I went a long time without having surgery.
``I think the hardest part is rehab. Rehab sucks. I mean, rehab sucks. It threw mjy whole offseason out of whack.
``But you know what, you go through it and it makes you stronger and makes you appreciate your talent. It's not like I didn't take care of myself the first time, but you do take extra steps to give yourself a second chance to play the game.''
-Twins lose, 4-3. Key moment is Ron Gardenhire's decision to take Scott Baker out and have Mijares pitch to lefty Prince Fielder, one of baseball best and hottest hitters.
Fielders kills righthanders, but he also hits well against lefties.
My default position on this remains the same: I favor the Twins' starters, who have been the key to their turnaround, staying in the game as long as they can. I would much rather have Baker decide the game than Mijares. In any situation. Against any batter.
-My Milwaukee colleagues tell me that Delmon Young worked out at Miller Park for the Brewers when he was eligible for the draft in which the Rays took him first overall.
They said he put on the best power hitting display they've ever seen from an 18-year-old, bashing homers to all fields. Then the Brewers told him he could hit in the first group of batting practice, with the scrubs, and he insisted on hitting with sluggers like Richie Sexson. And he put them to shame.
Which is another reminder that Young should spend more at-bats trying to knock down a scoreboard and fewer trying to bloop a single to right.
-Upcoming: We're aiming for Wolves and Twins guests on Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday, following the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30 on 1500ESPN. Also, Milwaukee radio star Drew Olson will join us to talk Brewers, Packers, Bucks, etc.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
The Twins are the best last-place team in baseball. There, I said it.
That, and other observations about the Twins' recent surge, are the subject of my Monday column. The numbers are against them, but it seems foolish to completely write off a team with a great history of comebacks that plays in a mediocre division.
The Twins have won nine of 11, and their starters have an ERA of 1.96 since June 2. The struggling White Sox come to town, then a lousy San Diego team, and the Twins should start getting key players back from the disabled list almost daily by mid-week.
Michael Cuddyer has five doubles, five homers and 18 RBI in his last 26 games. Alexi Casilla is hitting .337 since May 15. I don't know whether their recent success is sustainable, but I like watching Ben Revere and Casilla at the top of the order. Revere has to stay not just in the big leagues, but in the lineup, even after Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer and Jim Thome return.
You can't simply bench Delmon Young. He's swung much better in the last week, and he's too talented to write off this season. But Revere can spell the other outfielders and be a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. There's no reason to force Span or Kubel to play every day as they come off injuries while Revere's around.
I also believe that Rene Rivera has passed Drew Butera as the backup catcher. Rivera isn't a great hitter, either, but he is a very good defensive catcher and signal-caller, and at least he takes a good hack at the ball.
-My buddy Mike McCollow invited me to his buddy's basement this weekend to see Damon Dotson sing and play guitar. I highly recommend him. Great voice. He plays locally, and you can check him out at DamonDotson.com.
-Had Yahoo's great NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday Sports Talk. He downplayed expectations on Ricky Rubio, and when I asked if I had been too hard on David Kahn, Woj said, ``No.''
Also spoke with Twins president Dave St. Peter, who hinted that the Twins could be looking at some changes in their scouting operation. Personally, I think they need to take a hard look at their minor-league system. Too often I see (or hear of) guys getting called to the big leagues who haven't addressed their flaws (like Trevor Plouffe's throwing) or have not been taught some basics.
-I enjoyed covering the Lynx's home opener, and then they build a three-game winning streak and beat the defending champs and...take nine days off?
Bad timing. I do think this is going to be a good, entertaining, team, though.
-One thing I've heard from the Twins' clubhouse is that neither the staff nor his veteran teammates want Joe Mauer to return, catch a couple of games, and then start taking days off. They all want to see this guy be a workhorse the rest of the season. Be a workhorse, or find another way to stay in the lineup.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 on Monday, and all week. We'll run Sunday Sports Talk (also on 1500espn) from Target Field again next week.
Thursday night, I watched the Twins and Rangers from the press box, while watching the A's and White Sox on my Ipad, while tracking the NBA game on espn.com, and then got to the Twins' clubhouse in time to ignore Michael Cuddyer's post-game interview while watching the NBA finals on one of the big-screen TVs that hang over the players' lockers.
So, for a moment, Alexi Casilla trumped LeBron James.
Even if this stretch of competent baseball winds up meaning nothing, you had to sense, if you were at Target Field last night, that seeing Alexi Casilla drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth, then run to first with his right fist in the air, brought back a lot of memories.
As horrid as this team has played for most of the season, this is the same manager, coaching staff and system that has produced three of the greatest comebacks in franchise history in the last eight years. The Twins were buried at the All-Star break in 2003, in early June in 2006 and by a few games in the waning days of the 2009 season, and won the division all three times.
If you care about math at all, you'd have to write this team off. They're 11 games out of first in mid-June, and 10 games behind a loaded Detroit team, and most of their quality players remain on the disabled list, and their bullpen, whatever its recent results, remains a tire fire.
If you looked at any other team this far out this far into the season, you'd write them off. Nobody would take Houston or the Cubs seriously in this situation.
And yet, the Twins are making themselves compelling once again, even though they have the second-worst record in baseball.
If you want to spend the summer watching meaningful baseball, this is wonderful news. If you think the Twins' farm system needs help, this is dicey. The worst-case scenario here is that the Twins play well enough to prevent them from trading for prospects in July, and yet not well enough to truly contend for a playoff spot.
Let's not overlook the business of baseball, though. The Twins will be much more willing to carry a hefty payroll next spring if they sell a lot of tickets this summer. You'd like to see the Target Field honeymoon last for more than a year and a couple of months. With Ben Revere and Casilla playing like latter-day piranhas, at least the Twins are making us watch right now.
-I want to believe that Ricky Rubio will be a decent NBA player, but he's stinking it up in Spain right now, and while he stinks it up, the Wolves continue to fail to make a decision on Kurt Rambis.
I want to believe that this group has some chance of making the Wolves competent, but I just don't think there's anybody in a decision-making position in the organization who can make a good decision. How can the status of their coach remain undecided this close to the draft? How can Rambis have a chance to keep his job after the way he coached the last two years?
-I love that Billy Beane fired manager Bob Geren today. Here's a guy who pretends that managers don't matter, and yet he fires his manager before the movie ``Moneyball'' can make it into theaters. Will the release of the movie be delayed until the A's are out of last place? Will theaters even exist then?
-Only caught a bit of the NBA game, but saw enough to catch LeBron doing what he so often does: Putting up an impressive stat line without making big shots down the stretch.
I picked Miami in seven games, and I'm sticking with that. My guess is that these tremendous playoffs, this tremendous Finals, will culminate with James taking the game-winning shot. Despite lots of evidence suggesting otherwise, I'm guessing he makes it.
Of course, I wrote that before I saw this statistic from ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter: ``Dirk Nowitzki has now outscored LeBron James 52-11'' in the fourth quarter this series, including 8-2 on Thursdahy night.
-Wrote about Joe Mauer for the Friday paper. I'm not sure I've ever heard so much criticism of a popular local athlete of great accomplishment who hasn't broken any laws or called out any teammates. Mauer simply has given people reason to believe that he's putting his own personal comfort over the needs of his team. In the sports world, that's a bigger crime than a DUI.
-Had a chance to speak with Leslie Frazier this morning while working on an upcoming story. I've had the opportunity to have a couple of lengthy talks with him, and I can see why he'd be so good with players and fellow coaches. He's one of those guys who has ``It,'' that combination of confidence, charisma and friendliness that compels people to follow.
-I'm passing on a note I received from Harmon Killebrew's longtime PR rep Molly Mulvehill Steinke:
``Although the Kwik Trip Harmon Killebrew Classic is sold out, there is still a chance for the public to honor Harmon on his 75th Birthday.
Picked up on this debate on Twitter last night: Should we blame Delmon Young's error or the Twins' bats for their 1-0 loss at Cleveland?
Both are culpable, of course. But while all teams and hitters will have a bad night, and sometimes will simply be overmatched by a good or hot pitcher, all Major League leftfielders should be capable (and interested in) bending over to pick up a bouncing baseball.
I saw someone defend Young because he smashed a double. That is missing the point.
A year after generating hope that he could become an MVP-type player, Young has been an embarrassment this season. He's played horribly in the field and has produced a stat line that would make Matt Tolbert giggle.
I'm not a big fan of the stat OPS for precise measurement of offensive capability, but it does provide a good snapshot into a player's performance.
Consider these OPS totals:
Alexi Casilla: .653
Rene Rivera: .620.
Matt Tolbert: .578.
Delmon Young: .534.
The Twins are getting no offensive production out of a player whose fielding has suggested that he can be valuable only if he is an exceptional offensive player. If you're determined to prove via your fielding that you are nothing but a designated hitter, you might want to get a few hits.
The biggest, strongest Twin now has six extra-base hits in 151 at-bats.
At this point, my chosen outfield for the 2012 Twins would be Ben Revere in left, Denard Span in center and Jason Kubel in right, with the hope that Joe Benson makes a push to be a contributor or the first player called up in case of injury.
Now the Twins have to hope Young can at least play well enough to bring value in a trade.
And while he's here, Young should at least be moved to leftfield. He has a strong arm and limited range. That would make him a perfect fit for right field at Target Field.
-A new report alleges that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor made $40,000 autographing memorabilia. I hope he saved some of the money.
Pryor is skipping his senior year at OSU to enter the draft. His problem is, he's not a very good quarterback, and he won't be a good pro quarterback, and he's not gifted enough to make a living at another position.
I don't blame college athletes for wanting to make a little money while they're generating tens of millions of dollars for their schools. I just hope for Pryor's sake he has positioned himself to make a living outside of football.
-It's interesting that the Golden State Warriors hired Mark Jackson shortly after hiring Jerry West as a consultant. When Jackson was a Wolves' candidate, I kept hearing from my NBA people that Jackson had a terrible reputation as a selfish player and clubhouse lawyer, and that the Wolves were lucky they didn't hire him.
Now Jackson will take over a skilled team that plays almost no defense. Is he really the right man to fix that problem? I tend to doubt it.
-It's fascinating that lame-duck Wolves coach Kurt Rambis is now trying to publicly position himself to return, considering the disdain with which he treated everyone in or near the Wolves organization last year.
If he comes back, I hope he does so with some class. I've had more than a few people in the Wolves' organization tell me that he is the worst, most arrogant guy with whom they've ever worked. I don't think he coached well enough to deserve to return, but there has to be a good basketball brain hidden somewhere behind all that unearned smugness. Who knows? Maybe coming close to getting fired would be enough to jolt him into the right mindset for coaching a young team.
I'd still rather see Dwane Casey or Sam Mitchell running this team.
-I covered the Lynx home opener on Sunday, and I thought it was a good time. The atmosphere felt different than most sporting events, and I kept trying to figure out exactly what was different.
Then it hit me: I didn't sense any anger from the stands. Usually when you attend a pro sporting, or a major-college revenue sporting event, there is an undercurrent of angst and anger. Particularly at basketball games, you hear fans cursing the refs and opponents.
The people at the Lynx game just seemed happy to be there, happy to support their team. The Lynx players seemed unified and gregarious.
I think this is going to be a really good team, and while most people in my business mock the Lynx and the WNBA, I would love to see them make a run at a championship and give us all reason to pay more attention.
-LeBron James remains a mystery. He's the best player in the game in part because of his unselfishness and passing ability, but it is so strange to see the best player in the game content to let other people dominate the ball at the end of close games.
James was incredibly passive last night, and that's one big reason why the Mavs won Game 4. I'm still picking the Heat in seven games, but if the Heat had played with a little more intelligent and and intensity at the end of Games 2 and 4, it might already be over.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today, as long as the Twins' game ends in time. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Tom Pelissero and I are starting to make plans for Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn. We'll run the show from the St. Thomas Mobile Press Box outside Target Field.
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