Is Gardenhire on the hot seat?

According to one newspaper columnist, Minnesota Twins camp seems just a little too quiet this year. I suppose a 99-loss season in the rearview mirror will do that to a team.

The Twins front office didn’t take those struggles lightly, parting ways with general manager Bill Smithjust one year removed from back-to-back AL Central division titles.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Associated Press photo

So what would another bad season mean for the Twins? Could manager Ron Gardenhire be the next to go?

It’s a fair question. About a month ago, ESPN’s David Schoenfield put Gardy in his list of five managers on the hot seat. And the Twins’ brass showed last year that they’re not afraid to make a quick reaction, which is something they weren’t exactly known for prior to Smith’s dismissal.

Gardenhire has much more of a track record than Smith, having sprinkled in six division titles in his 10 seasons at the helm. But the playoff success just hasn’t been there, and an increased concerns about the team’s lack of fundamentals could put management’s focus on Gardenhire if the team comes up short again in 2012.

I think it will take more than just another bad year from the Twins for Gardenhire to get canned. But then again, if you had asked me that same question about Smith a year ago, I wouldn’t have seen that coming either.

What if every team didn’t qualify for section/district playoffs?

I feel like I ask myself that question every year: What if teams had to qualify for the section/district playoffs in Minnesota and North Dakota high schools?

I pose the question after seeing some of the scores coming in from Minnesota high school hockey tonight in first-round games, and recalling some of the scores from North Dakota district boys basketball earlier in the month.

Point being that playoff appearances, just like anything at that level of sports,  should be fun for the kids. But when you see some of the scores from these 1 vs. 8 and 2 vs. 7 games, is that really fun?

You’d like to think in sports that anything can happen, but the odds of most of these teams pulling off an upset are so unlikely that I just wonder if everyone isn’t better served by eliminating the first round. In fact, often times these teams don’t meet until the playoffs, in all likelihood because both sides know that there is a hefty talent split between them.

That would add more intrigue to the regular season. Imagine if, for example, only four teams qualified for the section playoffs in Minnesota Class 1A or 2A Section 8 boys hockey. It would be quite a mad rush for those teams to try to land spots in the top four.

I suppose the downside to that would be that players on last-place teams wouldn’t have much to play for late in the regular season.

Just a topic I thought I’d toss out there. Interested in hearing some responses.

Powered by Jet fuel

The Minnesota state hockey tournament doesn’t hit the Xcel Energy Center for another month. But last night’s bi-partisan crowd that took in the Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild game sure gave the game a bit of a neutral-ice kind of feel.

I was among the more than 19,000 that took in last night’s game. And it did not disappoint, even though neither team is enjoying a strong season.

Great atmosphere. Great food. And a great game, one that saw the Jets control the action for the first two periods before the Wild finally woke up in the third. Neither team could break a 3-3 tie in overtime, with the Jets nabbing a shootout victory.

Estimates this morning are that about 5,000 to 6,000 Jets fans were in attendance in St. Paul. The ones sitting and standing near where I was said that it was simply easier and cheaper for them to get tickets to the game in St. Paul. So they hopped into cars - many more hopped into buses – and made the trek to the Twin Cities.

You could count on one hand the number of Wild games I’ve attended. But for the diehards in attendance, it had to be a little strange when their “Let’s go Wild!” chants were answered with “Go Jets go!” Throughout the third period, it was pretty constant. “Let’s go Wild! Go Jets go! Let’s go Wild! …”

It all just left me wondering this: How did these two markets ever lose NHL teams? Of course, we all know the obvious reasons. Lack of new arenas. Lack of corporate support.

And it’s important to remember too that this is the Jets’ first season back in Winnipeg after 15 years without the NHL. The shine will wear off to some degree as time passes. But last night’s Jets fan base – like the Wild’s base – was intense.

The atmosphere left plenty of hope for the possible development of a rivalry between the two. And that showed on the ice too, where there were words exchanged and a third-period fight too. If and when realignment does happen, this should continue to be a fun series of games to attend in the future.

Randy Moss wants back in, but does any team want Randy?

When we last saw Randy Moss, he was standing near an NFL sideline wearing a Tennessee Titans uniform that just didn’t look right on him.

And he was standing near that sideline A LOT in 2010. After being traded from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings, a failed four-game stint in the Twin Cities landed Moss in Tennessee. In all three stops, he made very little impact.

All told, the all-world wide receiver struggled at age 33. And after turning 35 years old Monday, Moss said he wants to revive his NFL career after a year away from the game.

Moss’ 2010 season was a mess. Here are the stats: Three teams, 16 games, 28 catches, 393 receiving yards.

I’m not surprised to hear Randy “I play when I want to play” Moss want to get back ino the NFL lifestyle. But I’m left wondering if any team will take a chance on him.

Let’s face it: The average shelf life of an NFL player just isn’t that long. On any given year, the oldest receiver in the NFL – at least in the post-Jerry Rice NFL – is 37 or 38 years old. Moss is approaching that age, and it has now been three years since he was a relevant NFL player in 2009.

So before you order your “Randy’s back” T-shirts, let’s see if any team is ready to open its doors to him.

Revere can play, but offensive expectations should be tempered

I had a short debate this weekend with one of my co-workers (if you guessed it was Tom Mix, then you be right!) over the prospects of Joe Benson making the Minnesota Twins roster this spring.

Benson has the tools. He has power. He has speed. But he struggled in his September call-up with the team.

Anyway, the debate quickly shifted to Ben Revere, who grabbed headlines and attention with his glove.

All too often I hear baseball fans say that the Twins would be wise to move Denard Span, who has been the subject of trade rumors with the Washington Nationals dating all the way back to last summer. And I can understand the sentiment. Having two starters – Justin Morneau being the other – battling concussions at the same time puts a club on thin ice before a game has even been played.

Like many Twins last year, Span did not enjoy a particularly strong 2011. His OBP – the primary measuring stick for a leadoff hitter – was at .328, pushing his career total to .361. But Revere’s was only .310 last season. That’s not a huge drop from Span’s number last season but a massive drop from his career number.

Even if we’re not going to discuss Span, the idea that Revere is ready to assume the leadoff spot in the batting order is risky at best.

But his defense is no joke. The highlight-reel plays are great. Strictly in terms of the numbers, Revere was a premier defensive outfielder last year. FanGraphs lists his UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) last season at 14.4 (zero is considered average). Among outfielders with at least 900 innings played, he ranks behind only fellow speedsters Brett Gardner (29.5) and Jacoby Ellsbury (15.7).

In short, the pitch-to-contact rotation needs Revere playing. But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would be best advised to place the youngster in the No. 9 spot and cross his fingers on Span’s health. This could be the worst possible time to consider moving Span anyway, assuming the Nats are even remotely still interested.

Linsanity hits the Twin Cities tonight

Unless you’ve been living beneath a rather sizable rock, you’ve probably heard all about Jeremy Lin.

The New York Knicks guard‘s story has swallowed the NBA over the last week, as he’s gone from reserve afterthought to superstar in the league’s biggest market. After being buried on the Knicks bench, he has led the Knicks to four straight victories, scoring at least 23 points in each game and tallying 38 in Friday’s win against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jeremy Lin

Here’s what we know about Lin:

  • First signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 by Golden State.
  • Played his college ball at Harvard.
  • Averaged 2.6 points per game in 29 games with the Warriors in 2010-11. He was cut loose following the season.
  • After spending much of this season either in the NBDL or glued to a Knicks courtside folding chair, he has been given at least 35 minutes in each of the last four games and has responded.

I’ve seen and heard plenty of people comparing Lin’s story to that of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. But I think a better comparison to a QB if one had to be made would be to Tony Romo

Part of what fascinates people about Lin is that he came out of nowhere. While Tebow was stuck in the depths of the QB depth chart for the Broncos early last season, he was still a household name. And while Tebow’s Broncos won when he took over at QB, the individual success he had was not without debate.

Romo, on the other hand, was a backup QB for the Dallas Cowboys (the NFL’s glamour team, much like the Knicks once were in the NBA). He was undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, and few NFL fans knew much about him prior to the 2006 season.

After replacing a struggling Drew Bledsoe during a loss to the New York Giants that season, Romo led the Cowboys to five victories in their next six five games, including a five-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Bucs on national TV for Thanksgiving.

How will the Lin story go? My guess is much like Romo’s has gone.

Lin is undoubtedly a good player that belongs in the NBA. But he’s not without flaws. He’s committed 16 turnovers in his last three games, and while it’s a limited number of attempts, his 3-point percentage is at a modest 20 for his career. Guards that turn the ball over and struggle with outside shooting better be able to make plays off the dribble, and so far, Lin’s doing that.

So if you got tickets at the Target Center tonight, enjoy the ride!

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Florida ball is around the corner

Pitchers and catchers report for spring training for the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. Can you believe it’s that time of year already?

The Minnesota Twins battery mates aren’t scheduled to arrive in Fort Myers, Fla., until a week from Saturday.

Associated Press photo

I figure the team is pretty much done making offseason moves, so I figured I’d post what players in camp should be frontrunners for jobs. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also recently stated what he expects to be his starting lineup in 2012 (health permitting with this group, of course).

Projected lineup (via Gardy)
Denard Span, CF
Jamey Carroll, SS
Joe Mauer, C
Justin Morneau, 1B
Josh Willingham, RF
Ryan Doumit, DH
Danny Valencia, 3B
Alexi Casilla, 2B
Ben Revere, LF

Projected bench (only four since Gardy loves opening with a 12-man pitching staff)
C Drew Butera
IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka
1B Chris Parmelee
OF Rene Tosoni

Starting rotation
RH Carl Pavano
LH Francisco Liriano
RH Scott Baker
RH Nick Blackburn
RH Jason Marquis

Bullpen
RH Matt Capps (closer)
LH Glen Perkins
RH Joel Zumaya
LH Brian Duensing
RH Alex Burnett
RH Lester Oliveros
RH Anthony Swarzak

Anyone I missed? The bullpen jobs are largely up for grabs. Other notable relievers in camp are right-handers Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Gray, Jason Bulger, Jared Burton and Casey Fien and left-hander Matt Maloney.

Love says suspension is warranted

The Minnesota Timberwolves will be suffering from a bit of “Love loss” the next couple of nights.

Star forward Kevin Love was suspended for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games after stepping on the chest and face of Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola.

The incident was just the latest sign of chippy play between the two players. And Love in particular has been involved in a number of physical plays this year.

But after watching the video, I was surprised Love got two games. It didn’t appear to be blatantly intentional. Love proclaimed his innocence following the Saturday game, but wasn’t exactly doing so in today’s story about the incident, calling the suspension “warranted”.

Love is averaging 25 points and 13.7 rebounds (2nd in the NBA) per game this season. The Wolves are a surprising 12-12 this season.

Super Bowl day-after thoughts

I’m still riding a post-Super Bowl high today, even if my belly is telling me I downed too much nacho cheese last night.

I noticed this morning on social media that one of my friends thought last night’s Super Bowl was dull and that he went to bed before the game ended. I can’t help but feel sorry for him. Don’t worry, blog readers. I made sure to give him plenty of grief.

The game was close throughout and the finish was fantastic, with the New York Giants pulling out a four-point victory against the New England Patriots.

A few thoughts:

  • While his catch will likely not live on the way that David Tyree‘s did, you could argue Mario Manningham‘s catch was more impressive. There was an element of luck to Tyree’s famous grab in the Super Bowl a few years ago. Manningham’s catch on the Giants’ winning drive was pure skill.
  • People need to lighten up on Wes Welker for not making that catch that went off of his hands in the fourth quarter that could have helped the Patriots preserve a victory. That was a tough play. Could he have made the catch? Of course. He’s a Pro Bowl receiver. But that’s no gimme.
  • The Super Bowl win does mean a lot for Eli Manning and his legacy. But two championships to older brother Peyton‘s one does not make Eli a better player over the course of their careers. When I hear people even suggest that, you realize how much this society can be a victim of the moment. Don’t forget how great of a player Peyton Manning was (and is, if he can come back healthy). When you stack up the numbers during their careers, it’s not even close. It’s just that the Colts haven’t had the playoff success that the Giants have had.
  • Any Vikings fans thinking down the road to a Super Bowl in Minneapolis if a stadium deal can be approved? The thought crossed my mind. The Twin Cities hosted a Super Bowl two decades ago. Would be pretty cool if it returned.

It’s the Super Bowl, homeboy!

“Super Bowl, homeboy!” Say what you want about Randy Moss, but he was always good for a quote, wasn’t he?

The Super Bowl kicks off in a few hours. Some watch the big game for commercials. Others for the halftime show. And there are actually some people watching just because they like football. Crazy, huh?

The Super Bowl marks, in my opinion, the end of a fun sports season too. When you think about it, we enter into a real sports lull until March Madness (although MLB pitchers and catchers report for spring training in a couple of weeks).

My prediction for the game? Patriots 31, Giants 27.

This is a great matchup of two teams with some big-time weapons on offense and questionable defenses. I’ve gone back and forth on what team I think will win. Ultimately, I just don’t want to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Finally, I leave you with a halftime show from years past. In fact, it was 10 years ago that U2 played the Super Bowl, the first of which to occur after 9/11. Fantastic performance. When I see the names of the  victims scrolling behind the band, it still gives me chills.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVBLNxKVjb8