Bottom of the order makes its last stand

While most Minnesota Twins cynics think it’s unlikely the team will make a move prior to Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the players at the bottom of the Twins’ order had its final push in a "bizarro world" type of Twins win Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox.

While the heart of the Twins order – Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede – combined to go 1-for-17, the Twins bottom-feeders – Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla – had three hits and created all of the Twins runs, with the help of leadoff hitter Denard Span.

All of the Twins runs were either scored or driven in by Span, Gomez, Punto and Casilla except for the run scored by Crede to put the Twins in front 3-2, and that was on a single by Casilla.

More importantly for the veterans on this team, who expressed their frustrations with the front office in a recent Star Tribune story, the Twins find themselves at 52-50. That’s good for second place in the AL Central, two games behind Detroit.

The three-game sweep of Chicago should increase the likelihood of the Twins trading for a veteran before Friday, likely at the expense of playing time for Casilla and Punto.

Pittsburgh dealt infielder Freddy Sanchez to San Francisco on Wednesday. Toronto’s Marco Scutaro and Oakland’s Orlando Cabrera reportedly are available for the right price.

Will the Twins make a move? I got a hunch that Cabrera will be acquired by Friday, though I’d prefer to see Scutaro. Cabrera’s defense has really deteriorated, according to his FanGraphs page. Here’s a story on the matter.

Scutaro is more versatile, allowing the Twins to leave Brendan Harris at shortstop. And Scutaro has at least been an average to above-average defender who can draw a walk. And yes, Toronto has bullpen arms – Jason Frasor or Brandon League – that I would assume could be had for the right price too.

The thought of a Cabrera-Harris middle-infield combo scares me. That’s a duo really lacking in range on a team that prides itself on defense.

We’ll see on Friday. I feel like the trade deadline is my own little Brett Favre drama. I guess I’m guilty too.

The end of Favre drama? Doubtful.

I’m happy to say that this blog hasn’t acknowledged the Brett Favre saga for quite some time. But with news Tuesday that Favre won’t be coming out of retirement to join the Minnesota Vikings, there’s actually some substance to talk about.

It’s really been a long time since the Favre rumors started. The Minnesota Twins have had a lot of bad infielders, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have drafted a lot of point guards since the Favre talk began.

And I don’t think it will end.

Yeah, it will quiet down some from where it was. But this is the NFL we’re talking about. And when Week 2 or 3 rolls around, and the Vikings starting QB – whether it be Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson or John David Booty or Jim McMahon or Spergon Wynn - is struggling, the Favre talk will pick up again.

But hopefully now that it’s been put to rest for a little while, those obsessed with the saga can return to their normal lives. Go out for a walk. Play catch with your kids.

Sarcasm aside, what do I think this all means for the Vikings? Not much.

This is a league built on parity. Almost any team in the league could go 12-4 or 4-12, and it wouldn’t be a huge shock. That’s what makes every single season exciting, whether you’re a fan in San Francisco or Chicago or Charlotte. Stay relatively healthy, and you’ve got a chance.

The difference between Favre and Rosenfels or Jackson is marginal, and you could argue whether it’s marginally better or worse, really.

But one thing’s for sure: The Vikings would be best served to put this to rest and not let it linger. It’s pretty obvious from the quotes of Vikings players lately that many of them really expected this to happen. They don’t need this hanging over their team the whole season.

Royals to try to convert shortstop into pitcher

The Kansas City Royals are trying to make lemonade out of lemons a pitcher out of a shortstop.

Light-hitting shortstop Tony Pena Jr. will try his luck as a pitcher, according to the Kansas City Star.

This seems like a desperate ploy, the kind of thing George Costanza might concoct during the episode where he’s trying to get fired from the Yankees to take a job with Mets.

You gotta give the Royals credit. They’re nothing if not creative.

But their grand plan does have some practicality.

Pena actually did toss a scoreless inning in mop-up duty last season, striking out Ivan Rodriguez in the process. You can view the video here.

I guess if you’re the Royals, then, "Hey, why not?"

Orlando Cabrera rumors pick up steam

I saw ESPN’s Peter Gammons on TV today. He seems to feel that the Minnesota Twins acquiring Oakland A’s shortstop Orlando Cabrera makes too much sense.

I’m just not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, Cabrera is an upgrade over what the Twins have. But on the other hand, that’s only because the bar has been set so low by Twins middle infielders this year it would be hard for him to not be an improvement.

Would I rather have Toronto’s (and 2006 Twins-killing postseason hero) Marco Scutaro or Pittsburgh’s Freddy Sanchez? Definitely. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they gave up a low-level prospect for Cabrera, who is enjoying a red-hot July.

And if it meant improving the bullpen by getting Oakland reliever Michael Wuertz too, well, that would definitely help.

Twins players sound frustrated

Saw this story on the Star Tribune’s site late tonight. Sounds like frustration from previous seasons of no action at the trade deadline is starting to mount for veterans Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.

Also on the Trib’s site, whether you like him or you hate him, GM Bill Smith is working hard, according to Sid Hartman. I’m sure that will make you feel better.

Critical time for Twins franchise

The Minnesota Twins’ current slump – having lost four in a row and six of their last seven – could be really costly for reasons going beyond this season.

Joe Mauer‘s contract with the Twins expires after the 2010 season. I’m not just interested in what happens; I’m obsessed.

How could I not be? After seeing how things went down with Johan Santana a couple years ago, the Twins can’t go down this road again.

I’m not saying that Mauer will get traded in the next week or at any time, really. That would be a public-relations nightmare to trade him prior to Target Field opening.

But if you read between the lines in Jim Souhan’s outstanding feature on Mauer that ran sometime around the All-Star break, Justin Morneau definitely hints that it’s important the front office shows that it’s committed to winning now if it wants to keep Mauer past 2010.

Here’s an excerpt:

Morneau said Mauer’s decision whether to re-sign with the Twins will be affected by the front office’s aggressiveness, either during the offseason or at the trading deadline.

"We’ve been so close at the deadline so many times," Morneau said. "If he feels like we’re content being that team that is just good enough not to lose, but everybody is going to have to have a career year for us to scrape into the playoffs, I think that’s going to affect his decision a lot.

"It’s frustrating going out every day and hearing that ‘We want to win a World Series,’ and then not seeing more aggressiveness. I think something like that is going to affect his decision more than the value of the contract. We’ve already got all the money we’re ever going to need."

"Isn’t that why you play?" Mauer said. "To win championships? If I hit .250 and we won the World Series, I’d be happier than anyone."

While the Twins remain in the interest, I really wonder whether or not it’s even worth it for them to make a trade-deadline deal in the coming days to improve this team. The way things are going, where do you start? Another reliever? Infield help? An outfielder?

But as Morneau said, Mauer’s going to have all the money he’ll ever need no matter what happens. It pains me to think this organization squandered things back in 2006 when it had five of the premier players in baseball: Morneau, Mauer, Santana, Joe Nathan and Torii Hunter. The Twins big addition to that group was Phil Nevin. They didn’t exactly mortgage the future with that one.

Two of them are gone, and another year of inactivity by the front office may lead to losing the most popular one of them all.

For one day, I put the AL Central race aside

It was hard not to get caught up in Mark Buehrle‘s perfect game.

The Chicago White Sox pitcher did not allow a Tampa Bay Rays hitter to reach base, becoming just the 18th pitcher in big league history to throw a perfect game.

We got teased earlier this year when Jonathan Sanchez threw a near-perfect game, tossing nine no-hit innings. But an error ruined that perfect-o.

This time around, a great defensive play kept it alive.

I’m not embarrassed to say that I yelled, "Oh my God!" when DeWayne Wise made that highlight reel catch to rob a homer for the first out of the ninth inning. Wise leaped and reached his arm above the wall to glove a fly ball off the bat of Gabe Kapler, but after colliding with the wall, the ball started to slip out of Wise’s glove. On his way down, he caught the ball with his bare hand to preserve the perfect game.

It was an incredible play and an incredible game.

I know as a Minnesotan, it’s not right to cheer for the White Sox. The AL Central race is tight, and even though the Twins aren’t making things easy on themselves, I shouldn’t get behind a Sox player.

But let’s face it. I’m a sucker for baseball history. I appreciate the unlikelihood of a perfect game and the number of things that have to go right for that to happen. Major League Baseball has been around – in some capacity – for 140 years, and there’s been only 18 perfect games now. That’s really something.

So, for one day, I put the AL Central race aside and enjoyed another chapter in baseball history.

2nd pro football league can survive on smaller scale

I got lost on the Web tonight looking around for information on the United Football League, which is planning to have its inaugural season this year.

Pro football leagues have tried to compete with the NFL. Most would be considered failures.

The league made news earlier this week when former Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman said he would play in the UFL this season, which is scheduled to start in early October.

There are four teams for the UFL’s first season, with more planned in 2010 and later. The head coaches: Dennis Green, Jim Haslett, Ted Cottrell and Jim Fassel.

Among the players drafted: Brooks Bollinger, Chris Perry, Jermaine Wiggins, Ronnie Cruz, Ken Dorsey, Rien Long, Mike Doss, Adam Archuleta and LaBrandon Toefield. There’s always the question of how many of these guys will actually play in this league, but if you can’t get in the NFL, there’s always a possibility.

So far, I’m intrigued. I have no delusions of grandeur for the league. Nothing can or will compete with the NFL. But let’s see where this goes.

The seven-game schedules and the October start make sense for a minor league. No former NFL player is going to want to get knocked around for 16 games. Seven games is enough time for a player to make an impression, though. And with an October start, a league could get some of those guys who come up just short of NFL roster spots, and a Thanksgiving finish gives those players time to latch on in "The Big Show."

The key is to not compete with the NFL but still offer a viable product (got it, XFL?). Serve as a minor league, not a major joke.

Twins manage to bounce back

I’m still in shock from Monday’s game, but it’s worth noting the Minnesota Twins did pick up a victory Tuesday night in 10 innings against the Oakland A’s.

It’s hard not to still dwell on Monday’s loss, though. It was just so crazy.

  • First, the Twins managed to score 13 runs in a game. The Twins haven’t scored more than 13 runs in a game since May 13.
  • Then, of course, you have the fact that the A’s rallied from 10 runs down, the most they’ve ever come back from since moving to Oakland.
  • And finally, Michael Cuddyer called out for the game’s final out when he was clearly safe after sliding across home plate.

I think you just chalk it up as "one of those nights" and move on. But it was disappointing, especially Nick Blackburn giving up 13 hits in five innings to a poor American League offense in a pitcher-friendly ballpark when at one time his team had spotted him a 10-run lead.

And the bullpen … well, no one is less enthused about Bobby Keppel pitching in tight spots than I am. His walk rate this season and throughout his major league career is not indicative of someone with a 2.25 ERA so far this year, and that’s after Monday’s carnage.

Where have you gone, Mike Trombley?

Wolves get Richardson … and so much more

I’ve been away for the last few days at my high school reunion. It’s an odd feeling to see a group of people that you haven’t seen for 10 years, many of which you probably won’t see again for another 10 years. You don’t really get that anywhere else in life.

Anyway, much has happened while I was away, including some breaking news today.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, according to Yahoo Sports, have acquired guard/forward Quentin Richardson from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for guard Sebastian Telfair and forwards Craig Smith and Mark Madsen.

I like this trade – don’t love it, but like it – for a number of reasons:

  • Salary cap space. Only in the NBA are expiring bad contracts so valuable. Richardson recently exercised his nearly $10 million player option for this season, but he will be a free agent prior to the 2010-11 season. The Wolves could be players in free agency next offseason.
  • Shooting guard depth. Other than first-round pick Wayne Ellington, the Wolves have no other shooting guards on their roster. Richardson’s not a game-changing player, but he is 29 years old and has experience. Hopefully, he understands this is a rebuilding team and doesn’t feel the need to take a tremendous amount of shots. The Wolves can’t lose sight of developing their younger players. 
  • What was given up? Telfair? Madsen? Hardly two players the Wolves will miss. And while I like Smith, he’s of little value to a team that has Kevin Love and Al Jefferson already at power forward.

In short, the Wolves didn’t exactly turn lemons into lemonade by getting Richardson. But I doubt many fans will sour on the move.

And if you’re former NDSU point guard Ben Woodside, the loss of Telfair might even help your chances of making this team too.

Twins sign 2B Grudzielanek

The Minnesota Twins probably have pulled the plug on any Freddy Sanchez trade rumors by signing veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to a minor league deal.

Grudzielanek hasn’t played in the big leagues since last season with Kansas City. He’s known as a solid player with over 2,000 career hits and a good glove.

Assuming the 39-year-old is still in good shape, he could help the Twins in a few weeks if Alexi Casilla can’t carry his weight at the big league level. Heck, if Casilla could HIT his weight, that would be an improvement.

Shaq pays tribute to the "King of Pop"

I was hearing on the radio on the way back to Fargo-Moorhead about this video tribute that NBA players Shaquille O’Neal and Damon Jones had made in honor of Michael Jackson.

Well, here it is. And it’s great. It’s a remake the knife fight in "Beat it." I absolutely love the slow-motion stuff in it. So funny.

I just never tire of Shaq’s act. I was a big fan of his growing up. He seems to have a pretty good sense of humor.

More YouTube! Video of the 1957 Fargo tornado

After hearing the news of the death of former Forum photographer Cal Olson – famous for his photos of the 1957 Fargo F5 tornado – I went to YouTube to see what I could find this morning. Hadn’t gotten around to posting it until now.

Here’s a clip of the footage from that day, when our city was hit by Mother Nature’s devastation. The quality of the video does improve as it goes.