Showalter’s national anthem reaction at Twins game makes the rounds

As it’s been pointed out, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter has heard a lot of national anthems. But at the same time, I’m sure cameras have panned to him a time or two while it’s been performed over the years, too.

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop him Wednesday night from appearing to utter the phrase, “What the $%#@,” while it was being played during the Orioles’ home game against the Minnesota Twins.

I noticed it on the Twins telecast and was wondering if any video would surface online. Sure enough it has (tip of the hat to Big League Stew).

Looks like another video that won’t embed. The link to it is below.

http://www.twitvid.com/VLDEH

Kevin Love was awesome, but most improved player?

I got to admit I’m pretty surprised by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love getting the NBA’s Most Improved Player award Thursday.

Let me start by saying a couple things:

  • Love had an outstanding season. He was the NBA’s best rebounder, and he had a well-rounded game that was often overshadowed by his rebounding prowess. This post should by no means diminish his accomplishments. In fact, I’m trying to elevate his stats from a year ago.
  • The Most Improved Player award is the least prestigious award ever created in major pro sports.

So having said that, it’s not a huge deal. My question is this: Did Love really “improve” this year, or was he already outstanding last year and simply was the beneficiary of more playing time?

I would argue the latter. Love averaged 7 more minutes per game this season than last year. And there was a small spike in his per 48 minutes stats. He shot slightly better from the floor and really improved on long-distance shooting. But to me, the gains he made can’t really be that of the league’s most improved player, can it?

Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge was second in the voting. He’s another guy that doesn’t quite fit the billing as far as I’m concerned. He was already great last year.

Just seems like there had to be someone who had like a 10 points per game jump from a year ago. But congrats to Love.

Vikings schedule tough on road, but easier at home

First, a radio plug. I’ll make my weekly appearance on Dizzo’s Den at 6:30 tonight on 970-AM WDAY and wday.com to talk some Minnesota Twins baseball. Give us a call at 293-9000 if you’d like to voice your opinion.

The Minnesota Vikings’ 2011 schedule was released on Tuesday. Yet doubt remains as to whether or not there will be a season due to the NFL lockout.

At this point, I still feel pretty confident there will be a season. The NFL is smart enough to know what would happen if players were locked out and games were missed. This league has made huge financial gains decade after decade, getting to the point now where the release of the schedule is televised on ESPN or ESPN2. They can’t give that up.

But anyway, onto the schedule. I couldn’t help but notice last night that the Vikings benefit from being a non-playoff team last year with their home schedule. Beyond divisional opponents, they host Oakland, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Denver and New Orleans. Some respectable teams, but the Saints were the only heavy hitter last year.

The road schedule is another matter. At Atlanta. At San Diego. At Kansas City. Tough games there. (Also at Carolina and Washington … not so tough on paper right now).

For me, the one thing I took notice of was the Vikings hosting the Chicago Bears on the final weekend of the regular season. Kind of a bummer for this Bears fan, who doesn’t like to travel great distances in the winter months. I did so last year for the TCF Bank Stadium game. I might have to again, though I’m holding out hope I can persuade my Vikings-loving brother to make the road trip to Chicago for Vikings-Bears in October.

Illnesses add to Twins’ disarray

The Minnesota Twins were last in the major leagues in runs entering Tuesday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. And having Justin Morneau and Delmon Young out wasn’t going to help.

Morneau and Young both missed the 11-0 loss to the O’s with flu-like symptoms. And with Joe Mauer on the disabled list due to a viral infection, the Twins lineup wasn’t very potent looking on paper, and that stood firm throughout the game.

After the loss, the Twins find themselves already six games behind first-place Cleveland, which loss to Kansas City on Tuesday night.

This really does look like a team in turmoil. Jim Hoey looked good pitching the eighth inning of Monday’s win against the O’s, but I gotta believe the Twins would have preferred to ease him into his Minnesota debut in a situation that wasn’t as tight as a one-run lead late in the game. You got to give Hoey a lot of credit though. He looked good as he tries to shake that “wild arm” reputation he carried with him to this organization in the offseason trade.

But where else can they turn? Joe Nathan asked out of the closer’s job, which he probably should never have had to begin with considering this is his first year back from Tommy John surgery.

When all of the other right-handed relief options beyond new closer Matt Capps fail, sometimes the person a manager trusts the most is the one they know the least about.

This kind of uncertainty is why I think that while it is early in the year, a lot will have to go right to transform the Twins into the look of a playoff team.

Moving on without Mauer

The Minnesota Twins enter Friday’s game against Tampa Bay with a 4-8 record, having blown a ninth-inning and 10th-inning lead in Thursday’s loss to the struggling Rays.

And after the game, it was announced that catcher Joe Mauer is going on the 15-day disabled list.

What more can go wrong?

So now it’s up to Drew Butera and Steve Holm – who played about 50 games for the San Francisco Giants from 2008-09 – to replace Mauer. But it doesn’t stop there.

Mauer was the team’s second – but best – option in the No. 2 spot of the batting order. He took over in that role after Tsuyoshi Nishioka injured his leg about a week ago.

WDAY’s Dom Izzo and I discussed the Twins struggles on the radio Wednesday. Izzo asked me if I thought it was too early to hit the panic button. I said it was, and I still think that way. But I’m guessing that panic button is within arm’s reach for a lot of fans right now.

You wonder how the Twins will respond to not just Mauer’s loss but last night’s effort, in which the team’s “two closers” – Matt Capps and Joe Nathan – each blew late-inning leads. The offense was struggling with the 2009 AL MVP in the lineup.

At some point, someone – Jim Thome, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, you name it – will have to put the offense on his back, get hot for a week, and see if anyone else follows.

Wolves’ “talent” is nice, but not if it can’t be translated to wins

I keep hearing about all of this “talent” that the Minnesota Timberwolves have. Yet the season wrapped up Wednesday, and they find themselves with the worst record in the NBA.

David Kahn, who will remain as president of the Timberwolves, emphasized throughout his media session Wednesday morning that the team has got talent. When you read the quotes that came from his media session, you get the sense head coach Kurt Rambis won’t be back next season.

Fan

Fans with paper bags on their heads are better than no fans at all these days for the Timberwolves. Associated Press photo

On paper, there are some good pieces. Kevin Love is certainly one of the best players at his position. I thought the Wolves made nice moves in getting Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph while giving up very little. Problem is all three of these guys play the same position, or at least should be.

Shortly after Kahn was hired, he said it was all about accumulating assets no matter the position. And I agree that’s the right approach. But at some point, those assets need to be used in order to make this a watchable if not contending team.

My guess is Rambis will take the fall soon and be fired. But by letting go of the coach, the pressure will be on Kahn to not only find the right guy, but also to find the right group of players to get this franchise going in the right direction. And that direction can be measured in the only category that fans care about: wins.

Wolves can put themselves in position for No. 1 pick tonight

This is what it’s come to for basketball fans in these parts. My guess is all of you are rooting against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight.

The Wolves can lock up the worst record in the NBA if they drop their season finale against the Houston Rockets. Minnesota has a one-game edge (not sure if “edge” is the best word here) on Cleveland for the NBA’s worst record. A Cavaliers victory would also lock up the worst record for the Wolves.

That’s significant because it would mean Minnesota would have the best chance of landing the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. The Wolves have never picked higher than third, and could pick no worse than fourth if they nab the top draft lottery spot.

Not much has gone right for the Wolves. A loss tonight and some luck – or simply avoiding bad luck - in the draft lottery could change.

Not too many positives for Twins start, but there’s hope

It seems the anticipation and optimism for opening day a couple weeks ago was quickly replaced by restlessness and frustration. What is going on with the Minnesota Twins?

The Twins are tied for last with Detroit at 3-6 in the AL Central in this young season. Nine games is nothing really. Almost every team in the big leagues will go through a nine-game stretch this year where it loses six of those games. Just so happens the Twins – and surprisingly, the Tigers too – are doing that to start the year.

There has been no shortage of close games this year. Minnesota had played in six straight one-run games – going 3-3 – heading into Sunday’s game, which ended as a two-run loss to Oakland.

Twins fans need a little hope, so here’s a couple of notes about the team that should cheer you up:

  • Great run from the rotation. Scott Baker did not look good Sunday. But the last starts made by Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn were good if not great. Duensing had early struggles against the Yankees but settled down before going seven innings. Pavano was outstanding in eight innings Friday against Oakland. And Blackburn is the one guy in the rotation who has put two straight spectacular outings together, and he might have been the biggest question mark coming into the season.
  • Some bullpen guys have stepped up. Jose Mijares has been a little wild (four walks) in five outings, but he’s given up just one hit and no runs. Glen Perkins has looked very good as another lefty in the ‘pen, allowing two hits and a walk in four innings. Every one of Joe Nathan‘s outings has looked better than the previous. Matt Capps has been outstanding. And Kevin Slowey was pitching pretty well before landing on the disabled list.
  • Hitters will come around. The one thing the Twins just haven’t done consistently this season is hit and score runs. But they will. If there was one thing I had no doubt about coming into the year, it’s that the Twins will hit. Jason Kubel and Denard Span are the only two Twins hitting .260 or better. Justin Morneau is at .258 and the rest of the regulars – including “Golden” Joe Mauer – are hitting under .235. That, obviously, won’t continue all season long.

It’s a long season, and Monday’s off day probably couldn’t come soon enough.

Richards’ firing shows Wild could be feeling sense of urgency

I got to say – as a sometimes casual observor of the Minnesota Wild – that I didn’t expect to see the coach get fired one day after the season ended.

But that’s what happened today. The Minnesota Wild fired head coach Todd Richards, less than 24 hours after the Wild won their season finale 5-3 against Dallas to eliminate the Stars from playoff contention.

That was the only thing the Wild were playing for yesterday, having been eliminated from the playoff chase a while back.

Richards coached the team for only two seasons. And in all honesty, they were a pretty forgettable two years. He was given the task of turning the defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire clubs into more potent offensively driven teams. But the Wild finished 26th among 30 NHL teams in goals scored this season.

The Wild just wrapped up their 11th season. They have sold out the Xcel Energy Center in seemingly every game of their existence. Despite the lackluster on-ice results, fans love going to the “X”.

At work last week, I said, “It’s really amazing what’s going on with the Wild. When the Wolves stink, people just don’t go. The Wild have done nothing, yet fans around here love them. I don’t get it.”

Some of it has to do with the arena. Comparing the “X” to the Target Center is like comparing Target Field to the Metrodome, or comparing Joe Mauer to catchers of Twins past, like Marcus Jensen or Matt Walbeck. One is top-of-line, while the other is merely big league.

I just wonder if giving Richards only two years is a sign that Wild management might be wondering if the honeymoon with fans could end soon. Or will it ever end? Will fans eventually grow frustrated with having seen just three playoff appearances in 11 years despite generating huge amounts of revenue for the franchise and quit going to the “X” or turn off their TVs? I really don’t know.

Don’t worry: Mauer to catch home opener Friday

The postponement of the Minnesota Twins game last night against the New York Yankees created an interesting dilemma for manager Ron Gardenhire on Friday.

Gardenhire has said that backup catcher Drew Butera will catch Pavano this season in an effort to rest former AL MVP Joe Mauer. That was the plan on Wednesday night, when Pavano was scheduled to pitch.

But the postponement forced the Twins to make Pavano their starter on Friday. Francisco Liriano remains the starter today, which was his scheduled day to start. Friday, of course, is the Twins’ home opener.

Would Gardy really consider starting Butera for the team’s home opener? Apparently he was. But Twins fans can no longer worry. Gardy told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Mauer will start Friday behind the plate.

Gardy said that he hopes the decision will hold back fans from booing him too much. Smart move on his part.