Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where the experts don’t know how much I love free tacos. Let’s get to it:
*While reading plenty about the Vikings in the last few days, including some pretty optimistic projections from a lot of national media members — most SI.com writers have the Vikings going to the playoffs, while CBS Sports’ Will Brinson says Super Bowl, homeboy — I became curious about just how different or the same this Vikings team is from the 2018 version.
The takeaway after studying the Vikings’ Week 1 depth chart in 2018 vs. 2019? It’s a nearly identical top end of the offensive and defensive roster with one big exception: offensive line.
Nine of the 11 defensive players listed as starters on the Vikings’ first depth chart in 2019 are the same as they were a year ago at this time. The only differences: Shamar Stephen replaces Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle and Anthony Harris replaces Andrew Sendejo as a Week 1 safety.
Every offensive skill position player is the same: Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. But the offensive line has four changes out of five spots, accounting for 67 percent of the new starters on the entire offense and defense from last year to this year.
Riley Reiff is still a starting tackle, but last year’s Vikings had Tom Compton, Brett Jones, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill also listed with the first team on the Week 1 depth chart. This year, those four have been replaced by Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline and Brian O’Neill.
It makes sense. A 2018 season that went awry had multiple culprits, but poor offensive line play was very high on the list. If the Vikings were right that A) the rest of the starting 22 didn’t need much tweaking and B) The four new players on the offensive line constitute a significant upgrade and not just a reshuffling, then this has a good chance to be a playoff team and I might owe two guys some tacos. If not? Free tacos could be mine.
*Phil Miller and I talked at length on Thursday’s latest Twins Insider podcast about Jose Berrios’ ongoing struggles.
But if you’re looking for any sliver of hope, it’s this: Berrios went through a similar funk during the same time frame last season, posting a 5.67 ERA in seven starts spanning from July 29 to Sept. 1. The Twins gave him extra rest in September, with Berrios either having five or six days off between each start, and he rebounded with three strong outings out in his last four.
The Twins are in a playoff race this season, which they weren’t a year ago. But they have more than enough pitchers to do the same thing with Berrios this year, particularly if they can expand their division lead, in order to try to get him sorted out in time for October.
*The Twins were 15-5 between the time Sam Dyson returned from the injured list Aug. 13 and the time he was sent back to Minneapolis from Boston on Wednesday to have his arm checked out again. He had a 2.53 ERA in 10 appearances in that 20-game span, and the bullpen seemed to immediately make sense and stabilize. It wasn’t all Dyson, of course, but the Twins had better hope this is precautionary and minor as Derek Falvey suggests.