MLB not offering much in terms of playoff chase this year

The Twin Cities market isn’t the only place where pennant fever has not taken over.

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees play for the 87th time this season tonight … OK, maybe not that many times. Just feels that way when every one of the games is on national TV (tonight, it’s on MLB Network).

Network execs can likely pump up the fact that it’s the two teams with the best records in the American League. But what does this series really mean? Both teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs. The Red Sox are up 1.5 games on New York in the AL East, but the Yankees hold a 7.5-game lead in the wild-card race.

A glance at each division shows there isn’t much in terms of an exciting pennant chase. Things can always heat up, of course. But right now, the closest 1-2 battle in a division is in the AL West, where Texas holds a 3.5-game lead over the L.A. Angels. In every other division, the lead is at least five games.

Even the wild-card races are absurd. Aside from the Yanks’ lead, Atlanta has a nine – yes, nine! – game lead over San Francisco on the NL side.

Fantasy football preview: A numbers game at running back

If you want to test the depth of your football knowledge, join a 16-team fantasy football league.

I completed my league’s draft last weekend, then another 10-team PPR league on Saturday. That’s it for me. Three leagues is more than I can handle.

Here are the rosters for those two teams:

16-team league (I had 16th pick): QB Sam Bradford, QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Jahvid Best, RB Felix Jones, RB James Starks, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Robert Meachem, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Jonathan Baldwin, TE Owen Daniels, TE Jared Cook, K Billy Cundiff, D New York Giants.

Yes, I am a Chicago Bears fan. But I can't resist the potential of Green Bay Packers RB James Starks. Associated Press photo

10-team PPR league (I had 8th pick): QB Michael Vick, QB Kyle Orton, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Ryan Mathews, RB James Starks, RB C.J. Spiller, RB Ronnie Brown, RB Javon Ringer, WR Roddy White, WR Wes Welker, WR Austin Collie, WR Chad Ochocinco, WR Mike Sims-Walker, TE Antonio Gates, K Robbie Gould, D Pittsburgh Steelers

By looking at those teams, it’s not too hard to find two players that I consider to be bargains: James Starks and Ronnie Brown.

My philosophy this year is to go quantity at running back. In my 16-teamer, I didn’t have much choice. When your first pick is 16th, you’re better off loading up on top-tier receivers in my opinion. If I’m not getting those top-tier running backs (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy), I’d prefer to just wait on that position. I have just as much faith in Knowshon Moreno and Felix Jones having breakout years as I do that Darren McFadden is going to repeat the season he had in 2010.

My belief too is that wide receiver lacks depth just as much as running back does. I want upper-tier players, no matter the position. Again, in a 16-teamer, that can be difficult picking 16th. There were literally 30 picks between my back-to-back choices, so I did miss runs on certain positions, notably tight end (though I’m comfortable with Daniels).

Looking for value? Here are some names of guys I like more than most.

QB Matthew Stafford: His NFL career has been marred by injury. I get it. But I think Stafford and the Detroit Lions will finally take that next step this season. I missed out on Stafford in both my leagues, in the first one by just one pick, and in the second one because I drafted Vick. Stafford lacks a reliable running game (though I have hopes for Jahvid Best) and has great receiving weapons in Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, plus Best out of the backfield.

QB Josh Freeman: I’m a big fan of QBs that can run. So if you miss out on Vick and Aaron Rodgers, don’t worry. Freeman is likely still there for you. The thing about Freeman is that he’s got a good arm, too, and a couple of nice weapons with Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams.

RB Knowshon Moreno: Will Moreno finally live up to those lofty expecations this year? I think he will. With head coach Josh McDaniels gone, my guess is the Denver Broncos will be much more of a run-oriented offense.

RB Felix Jones: I think this is another post-hype guy. Problem is that he’s having such a good preseason that hype is building again. He averages 5.3 yards per carry in his career. Touchdowns have evaded him, but there isn’t much in terms of competition for those TDs in Dallas now that Marion Barber is gone.

RB James Starks: Don’t know if you caught the news out of Green Bay, but it doesn’t sound like the Packers are feeling real good about Ryan Grant. The running back – who missed almost the entire season last year – took a paycut in order to be guaranteed $2.5 million. And he’s been quiet in the preseason. Meanwhile, Starks had a strong postseason as the Packers won the Super Bowl last year. I’ll take Starks.

RB Ronnie Brown: Another guy worth a flyer late. It’s always tempting to take a chance on a rookie in the 12th, 13th and 14th rounds. But here’s the thing with Brown: Worst-case scenario, he’s probably the goal-line option for Philly. Best-case scenario: If LeSean McCoy gets hurt, he’s the No. 1 back for one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. I got him in the 12th round of my 16-team league and was ecstatic.

WR Austin Collie: Hard to believe he is undervalued, but he sure seems to be. Yeah, I know, he’s a No. 3 receiver on his own team. But the guy played nine games last season, and in that time he had 649 yards and eight touchdowns. At that pace, he would have monster numbers over 16 games. Obviously, his value is tied heavily to Peyton Manning being healthy.

WR Lee Evans: Even I can’t believe I’m writing this. I just like the move out of Buffalo and to Baltimore, which at the very least has a bona fide QB in Joe Flacco, plus Evans will have Anquan Boldin garnering plenty of attention from the opposing defense. Call this a gut feeling.

TE Owen Daniels: I actually think there is depth at the tight end position this year. I got Daniels in my 16-team league as the eighth tight end off the board. He’s been injured a lot (though Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley carry injury concerns of their own), but when healthy he’s been one of the game’s elite over the last two years. He had more than 500 yards and five touchdowns in just eight games in 2009. And after a slow and injury-plagued start last season, he finished with 271 yards and two TDs in his final four games.

TE Aaron Hernandez: I know Rob Gronkowski’s 10 TD catches are eye-catching, but I think Hernandez is a better bet to repeat his season from a year ago, when he hauled in 563 yards and six TDs. I wouldn’t want Hernandez as my starter, but he could elevate himself to that point.

And if you’re in a really deep league like my 16-teamer, here are some deep sleepers that I like in terms of value (as in, don’t draft these guys in the first eight rounds):

QB Colt McCoy, Browns
RB Ben Tate, Texans
RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
RB Alex Green, Packers
WR Denarius Moore, Raiders
WR Eric Decker, Broncos
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Chiefs
TE Lance Kendricks, Rams

Thome deserves better than this team

How much more unwatchable can the Minnesota Twins season get?

The Twins lost their third straight game to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. A loss Thursday would mean the Twins were swept in a four-game series at home against the team with the worst record in the American League.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, reports surfaced that both Jim Thome and Jason Kubel were claimed off trade waivers by unknown teams. The Twins have 48 hours to negotiate a trade with the team that claimed either player, waive the player or pull the player off waivers.

Reports had the Chicago White Sox putting a claim on Thome. It’s unlikely any team with a worse record would have claimed him, meaning the White Sox likely may have won the claim.

That would be unfortunate for Thome, as the White Sox are a below-.500 team that’s in the hunt in the AL Central only because no team has run away with the division. It would have been nice to see Thome go to a team with a much better chance at a playoff berth, as the 40-year-old is still searching for his first World Series title.

I know one thing: If Thome wants out of Minnesota, I hope the Twins accomodate.

This has been an absolutely pathetic display of baseball over the last few days. I have a couple of colleagues who attended two of the games as paying customers, and I feel sorry for them and anyone else who had forked over money to go to games in this series. This team is really lost. Granted, the pitching has been bad, and with this rotation, that’s going to happen. But as someone who watches a lot of baseball, it’s inconsistent fundamentals and execution that bother me.

Just a couple more weeks until the NFL’s regular season kicks off.

NY Times writer raises Maris Hall question

Fargo isn’t the only place full of people that think Roger Maris should be a Hall of Famer.

The former Fargo Shanley standout that broke Babe Ruth‘s single-season home run record in 1961 was recently the subject of a column by the New York Times’ George Vescey.

Vescey – whose blog post on the subject is available here - wondered whether or not Maris should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He ultimately concluded that he didn’t think so.

But many of his readers did, and they let their opinions be known to him.

It’s definitely a two-sided topic, and both sides can be quite vocal.

As for me? I really don’t know. I’ll put it this way: In my book, he’s not a Hall of Famer. However, do I think he could get elected? Yeah, actually. I do.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Veterans Committee elected someone that surprised me. Guys like Joe Gordon and Bill Mazeroski certainly had their share of detractors, and those are just some of the recent inductees courtesy of the Veterans Committee.

So if you twisted my arm, I’d say that I do think Maris one day will get elected. His 61 homers in a single season, his back-to-back MVP awards and his seven World Series appearances in the 1960s will be enough as far as the Veterans Committee is concerned. I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to make a decision like that.

Twins entering full-blown sellers mode

With the team’s most intriguing 2011 storyline out of the way, the Minnesota Twins are now ready to focus on 2012.

It was one week ago that Minnesota traded Delmon Young to Detroit for a pair of minor leaguers. Now today, we learn that designated hitter Jim Thome and outfielder Jason Kubel are being put through trade waivers.

This isn’t really a big story … at least not yet. It’s a pretty common procedure for teams not in contention to do this, especially with guys about to enter free agency. If the Twins don’t like a trade offer received from the team that claims either guy, they can reject it and move on like nothing happened.

From the Twins’ perspective, with Thome having reached the 600 homer milestone, there’s not much reason to keep either Thome or Kubel for the rest of the season. It’s unlikely either player returns for 2012.

I’m with Reusse

Speaking of the 2012 season, I caught Pat Reusse‘s column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday. And I agree with Reusse belief that re-signing Michael Cuddyer in the offseason will hinder the team’s ability to bolster a rotation in dire need of an ace.

Also, not to beat a dead horse here, but this might not be the best time to try to re-sign Cuddyer. He’ll be 33 on opening day and coming off his first All-Star selection. It’s not a career year, but the Twins would be buying into a player who is easily enjoying one of the best three seasons in his 11-year career. You know how I feel about buying low and selling high (if not, see my posts on Young or Wilson Ramos).

Big fantasy football draft over

My 16-team fantasy football league’s draft took place on Sunday. By virtue of winning the title last year (insert pat on the back here), I had the 16th pick. Brutal spot. WR Roddy White nearly feel to me. He got nabbed at 15.

But I nevertheless opted to go heavy on receivers early, feeling that the running backs I get in the third and fourth rounds are just as bound to have good years as the ones in the second round are to repeat their seasons (i.e. McFadden, Hillis). My QB spot suffered for this strategy though.

Anyway, next week when my second and final league’s draft is over, I plan to post some players I like and don’t like.

Here’s my starting lineup for the 16-teamer: QB Sam Bradford, RB Jahvid Best, RB Felix Jones, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Owen Daniels, K Billy Cundiff, DEF New York Giants.

Wolves do the right thing with Fargo game

When times are tough, a goodwill tour never hurts.

It was announced Thursday that Fargo will host a Minnesota Timberwolves exhibition game. An event that once occurred every two or three years, the Wolves haven’t played in the Fargodome in nine years. Minnesota also announced a preseason game in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Forget the jokes about the state of the Wolves. And let’s forget for a second that an NBA lockout threatens the October game. The Wolves coming to Fargo is a pretty cool thing.

It’s the one opportunity fans in this area have to see a major pro sports team without leaving town. The Minnesota Twins won’t be scheduling exhibition games here. Nor will the Minnesota Vikings or Minnesota Wild. The Wolves are the only team that will, and really the only team that can.

And it makes sense for the Wolves. They’ve been flat-out terrible for the last few years. It’s a gesture by a team with dwindling attendance that could use fans no matter where it can find them.

And even though they’re bad, it’s still Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio coming to Fargo. There’s intrigue there. I am looking forward to it.

Dumping of Delmon is latest in disturbing trend

After spending a week in the Twin Cities, I was pretty much out of the loop when I pulled into Fargo-Moorhead on Monday.

Upon returning home, I’ll admit I was awfully surprised to find out that the Twins had traded outfielder Delmon Young to Detroit earlier in the day.

It’s not so much that it didn’t make sense to me. I get it. If Detroit tenders him a contract, Young will likely make $6 or $7 million next season in his final year before free agency, and he certainly hasn’t put up the kind of stats that should garner such a salary.

I was surprised in that the Twins have seemed so reluctant to raise the white flag on the season. They’re obviously out of the AL Central race. But in my opinion, they’ve been out of it for awhile.

Unfortunately for the Twins, it was too little, too late with the Young trade. Hindsight is 20-20, but many were clamoring for the Twins to deal Young following his breakout season last year, in which he hit 21 homers and drove in more than 100 runs. His defense is such a liability that I believe he has to constantly put up stats like he did in 2010 just to make him a contributor to a big league team.

The Twins kept Young going into this season. And with Young hitting just .266 with three homers heading into Monday, the Twins managed to get only two minor league pitchers for him. And all things considered, they’re probably lucky to get anything, considering he might be non-tendered after this season and become a free agent.

The bigger concern for Twins fans should be that, once again, Minnesota traded a player when his value had bottomed out. That doesn’t work with the stock market, and it sure doesn’t work with baseball. It happened when the Twins traded struggling top prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington last year, and it happened again with Young this year.

Thome comparisons to Jeter are ridiculous

Can we just let Jim Thome enjoy a Jim Thome moment, without bringing up the name of Derek Jeter?

I guess I’m guilty too by writing this post.

Thome blasted career home runs No. 599 and 600 in back-to-back at-bats on Monday night as the Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers.

And it wasn’t long after the second homer when baseball fans and pundits started comparing Thome’s milestone blast to Jeter’s milestone 3,000th hit just more than a month ago.

Is Thome’s 600th homer a bigger deal than Jeter’s 3,000th hit? Why did Jeter get more attention than Thome? Yada yada yada.

My answer is: Who cares? What Thome did was awesome. It’s only been done by seven other players in major league history. He needed the second-fewest at-bats (Babe Ruth) to get to 600 homers. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The 600th homer and Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame induction are the two highlights from what has been otherwise a disappointing Twins season. Twins fans have a right to celebrate that. But I’d prefer that baseball observers not bother trying to compare Thome’s achievement to Jeter’s. It’s a pointless endeavor.

The fifth annual ballpark tour ends

To my loyal readers out there, I appreciate the both of you sticking with me during my vacation from work.

I do plan to post from time to time as I try to use up some PTO before the busy football season arrives. I was out of town the previous few days for what has become an annual summer event: Taking in a different Major League Baseball stadium.

Dating back to 2007, I’ve gone to Fenway Park (Boston), Safeco Field (Seattle), Miller Park (Milwaukee), U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago), Wrigley Field (Chicago), Busch Stadium (St. Louis) and Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City), mostly going with some friends from high school.

This year, a co-worker and I drove – yes, drove! – to Denver to check out Coors Field. We attended the Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was an interesting trip, for more reasons than the ballpark. Our path to Denver took us through parts of South Dakota and Nebraska, which in my opinion might be more desolate than North Dakota. If you’ve ever been on Highway 83 in Nebraska, you know what I’m talking about. We spent three hours on that highway on the way back to Fargo, and only once did we pass a car, and no car ever passed us.

True story: At one point on Highway 83, I turned on the radio to AM and went looking for some sports chatter. I found one station and one station only, and it was a sports show in which the host was discussing the Nebraska Cornhuskers in great detail. One station, and it’s Huskers football! How’s that for cliche?

We went through North Platte, Neb., which for you fantasy football wonks out there is the hometown of one of my team’s heroes last year in Danny Woodhead. I was expecting to see some signs celebrating the fact that he’s from there, but I never did. C’mon North Platte! Give Woodhead some cred!

As far as Coors Field goes, it’s quite a stadium, considering it was built right at the start of the ballpark boom in this country. The interior reminded me of Safeco, though that’s mostly due to the color scheme (lots of green everywhere). But if I had to compare it to one park, I would go with Busch Stadium, especially due to the brick exterior.

The food options were good. Had a bratwurst one day, and got a burger at Helton’s (yes, named for Todd Helton) Burger Shack the other day. Recommend them both. For a MLB stadium, the prices seemed very reasonable.

We sat about 18 rows up near third base for one game, then about 18 rows up near first base for the other. Seats were great, but the upper deck (complete with mile-high seating) looked quite a ways from the action. I’m guessing Target Field’s upper-deck seating is closer.

The games were pretty exciting. Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick dominated on Tuesday night, and Philly took another game Wednesday with Roy Halladay on the mound. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard hit three homers in the two games, and Helton hit one on Wednesday.

If I had to rank Coors Field among the nine active parks I’ve been to, it would wind up somewhere in the middle. Of course, Fenway and Wrigley are atop my list. Target Field ranks pretty high, as does Busch. But somewhere after that, I’d place the Rockies park.

Can’t wait until next year. There’s been some discussion among my friends about a trip including some combo of Pittsburgh, Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland. That would be fun.

A few photos: