Tag Archives: Justin Morneau

Winnersville, USA — Well That Did Not Last Long

All of the major Minnesota sports teams (Vikings [only just], Twins [Morneau showing his MVP form], Lynx [Minny’s best squad] were victorious this past weekend. The border rival Packers got dominated at home by Alex Smith. No seriously, that Alex Smith. Heck, even the not so major squads managed a victory — yeah, I am looking at you Gophers football. Even though you did not lose to Oregon State (another shout out to Sconnie sports), you have to beat a real college squad for me to get too excited.

Augustus and the Lynx saw their winning streak snapped, but they are still the most dominant squad in town in their respective league.

The weekend’s success continued into Monday night as the Twins pounded their neighbors in the cellar, Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately, the run of Ws could not continue. The Twinks were embarrassed last night — promising rookie Scott Diamond was lit up like promising rookies sometimes are. And, the WNBA powerhouse Lynx took a night and did their best 2010 Timberwolves impression, solid offense, but no defense, in a loss to Chicago.

But, a 9 to 1 drubbing and the end of a winning streak might just be the dose of reality Minnesota fans needed.

Sure, the Vikes won a thriller on Sunday. They are the new darlings around town. Apologies to Messers Parise and Suter, you have to be playing for us to count you. But it took a seriously miraculous series at the end of game — Ponder moving the offense down the field quickly for a game tying 55 yard FG by Blair “Thunder Leg” Walsh — to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Fresh off  a win like that, the fan in me wants to guzzle the Ponder Kool-Aid….okay….that did not come out right….never mind….let’s move on….anyway, I want to believe we are witnessing his “jump” to the next level. This is the heady, stud QB we heard all about. He finally has the weapons he never had at FSU. And, he has a sturdy enough line that he is not being pressured like a Harvard hoopster in a government class. Unfortunately, the cynic in me, the one that has been Brett Favre’d, Gary Anderson’d, Morriss’d, and Denny Green’d, is yelling not to get my hopes.

A buddy of mine put it perfectly, when talking about the Vikes’ win, he said that after the DIII legend embarrassed Chris Cook for what looked like the game winning TD, he was in disbelief. Not surprise,  just disbelief. That is a perfect assessment of where we are at as fans. Vikings fans have been conditioned to expect the let-down, so when it happens, it is not a shock. It is a coping mechanism. Psychology 101. So instead of surprise, there is only the disbelief at how the squad managed to give away the game.

Maybe this year’s team is going to be different. The fan in me wants to believe it is.

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The Maturation Of The Ax Man

The list of successful Canadian baseball players is not a long one. Joey Votto and Justin Morneau are probably the most well-known contemporaries. Larry Walker and Fergie Jenkins are the more recognizable names from days gone by. Overall, Canada is definitely more known for producing talent that can perform on the ice, rather than the baseball diamond.

Tastes in foreign entertainment aside, Ax Man has been as consistent and reliable as the Secret Service. This was a guy who did not miss.

That being said, for the last three years, Crew supporters have had the privilege of watching a relatively unknown Canuck, John Berton Axford, lock down the ninth inning like the Secret Servi…well…you get the idea. Axford has basically dominated since arriving on the scene. He earned his first save in 2009. He notched 24 of them in 2010, grabbing the Brewer’s closer role, and never looking back. The Ax Man was officially born.

In 2011, the Ax Man took his act to a whole other level. He has always had the Rollie Fingers wanna-be moustache.  But, unlike other imposters, he actually has shown the skills to match it. And, as his hair grew, it almost seemed like he was the modern day Sampson, shrinking his ERA and converting save after save. Ax Man started a streak that would run to 49, only falling last week in a wacky game against those lovable losers, the Cubs.  During that streak, the Crew was spoiled by Ax Man’s consistency. When you have a good closer, it is easy to forget how nerve-racking the 9th inning can be (just ask a Twins fan how it is working out since Joe Nathan departed and Fat…I mean….Matt Capps took over).

Though, what might truly be the best thing about Ax Man is the understated way in which he has gone about dominating the National League. I mean, even this guy’s intro music, “New Noise” is from underground punk rocker, Refused. Nothing about this guy is flashy. But, his numbers scream dominance and, a less grounded individual (thank you for those Canadian sensibilities) would let it go to his head.

And, even though the compensation for most MLB closers is significantly inflated. Having a reliable and steady presence to handle 9th inning duties is a luxury to be enjoyed. Just ask the Yankees. When the great Mariano Rivera went down a couple weeks ago shagging fly balls, he was replaced by the talented, though unproven, David Robertson. In Robertson’s second save opportunity, he promptly gave up 4 runs and blew a game against divisional rival Tampa Bay.

Not sure if it is the hair, the moustache, or just his overall swagger, but, the Ax Man definitely has IT.

The Crew are fortunate not to have to worry about that. They have a guy who has IT. IT. Talked about often. Rarely properly defined. IT is that intangible that only a select few relievers have to draw upon when their back is up against the wall. Call it swagger, call it irrational confidence, Crew fans call it Ax Man. The good ones, the ones you know who have IT, usually have a snarl on their face when they take the mound. Almost a, “wait, you think you can hit me??” attitude. Ax Man has been snarling at hitters for two plus years and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Now, does that mean Ax Man is never going to blow another game? Absolutely not. In fact, Ax admitted as much, quite hilariously I might add, in a self-deprecating letter to the media announcing his wife’s delivery of their second child (turned out to be false alarm). However, amateur comedy and psychoanalytical skills aside, Ax is a luxury that Crew supporters should enjoy. There are only a select few teams that have 9th inning guys as reliable as the Ax Man. It is easy to take that kind of consistency for granted. Personally, I am going to try to sit back and enjoy the ride.

#KeepTheFaith

Going into yesterday’s series with the Seattle Mariners, your Minnesota Twins were 6 – 18. Not only are they sporting the worst record in baseball, but they are also fresh off an absolute drubbing at the hands of the ABC Angels of California (and maybe Nevada if the money was right), capped off by Jared Weaver’s masterpiece no-hitter.

On Thursday, Twins President Dave St. Peter tweeted that Twins fans should just #KeepTheFaith. Keep the faith. Oh David. Dictionary.com’s primary definition of faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing. Let’s break that down.

Perhaps David should lay off the email machine for a while. Or, maybe get a twittering lesson from his 13 year old.

If Mr. St. Peter is suggesting that we are supposed to have confidence in or trust in Twins management, then I would politely ask him to provide even a morsel of evidence supporting the fact that greener pastures are .on the way. He might be looking for awhile. The Twins starting pitching staff currently boasts an ERA just north of 7.00. Its offense, on the other hand, is scoring only a tick or two higher than 3.5 runs a game. And, unlike last year’s squad, which was decimated by injuries, this year’s team has been relatively healthy (minus Morneau’s recent wrist scare). There is no evidence to suggest that this particular squad is going to bounce back or return to respectability. The “Hunt for 100” (losses) seems like a very attainable goal at this point.

Now, some big league ball clubs have uber-prospects in their minor league system that can ride to a club’s rescue – think – Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, etc. Unfortunately, the closest thing the Twins have to an uber-prospect is on a strict regiment of rubber ball squeezing in his attempt to return from Tommy John surgery. Kyle, we do wish you the best. Your return cannot come fast enough.

Apologies to Joe Benson’s family, but, I am not sure he is equipped to handle the role of savior. The mop does not inspire confidence.

So, with Joe “Dirt” Benson being the best the Twinks have to offer (see a description here), pardon us for being skeptical about our prospects for this year. We have no proof to believe otherwise.

But hang on, the secondary definition of faith is belief that is not based on proof. Well, perhaps David was on to something. At 6 – 18 and with a starting staff that might have a hard time challenging the current Gophers line-up, faith might be exactly what we need to have. But, with no uber-prospects less than three years away (sorry Miguel, you seem great, but you are still only 18), it is hard to believe a turnaround is on the way. So, keep the faith? I for one, am passing on that Kool-Aid. I am going to keep my fan card and weather the storm with the rest of Twins country. But, I am not happy about it. #TrustButVerify #DoubtIsFaith’sWiserOlderBrother.

Hope For Sale, Get Your Hope!!

If you missed Part 1 of BR’s reaction to the first weekend of the 2012 MLB season, you can find it here. Part 2 covers the western half of the BR rivalry. That is right, ladies and gentlemen, the Twin Cities finest purveyors of hope, your 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Even though the Twins’ record is markedly improved from when Part 1 was written, all is not well in house that Mauer built.

Not even the power (see $$$$) of the Mouse himself was enough to pen a happy ending for the Alberts' road trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The Twins are currently 2-4, fresh off two semi-dramatic wins at home over the Anaheim Alberts of Los Angeles, brought to you by Disney. No doubt, the recent wins were exciting. In fact, aside from the recent addition of excellent, local micro-brews like Fulton to Target Field taps, these wins were the most excitement this field has seen since Big Jim Thome stroked his 598th HR last August. But hey, don’t worry, we only have 320 months worth of payments left on that tab!!

In spite of those recent wins, this year’s team is ripe for savagery. It is almost too easy to point out that a team that was one of the worst, from a pitching perspective, did literally nothing to add to the strength of either the rotation or the bullpen. In fact, with the loss of former horse Joe Nathan, it is more reasonable to say that the Twins let one of the worst staffs in the league get worse. Add to that the recent news that staff “ace” (read into those quotes however you want to), Scott Baker, is going to have to undergo season ending elbow surgery and 2012 Twins pitching staff offers little in the way of inspiration.

In fact, to call the Twins’ staff a collection of 3s and 4s might be generous. The current stable of starters is: The Moustache, The Artist Formerly Known As The Franchise, Nick Blackburn, Someone Called Liam Hendricks, and Jason “That Is Right, I Am Your Marquis Free Agent Signing” Marquis. A generous projection would be an average ERA around 4.25 with 150+ innings from four out of the five. IF, and that is a Hrbowski sized if, the Twins can get those numbers from their starters, the offense might be able to keep them in some games.

Though, to call the 2012 Twins offense consistent or reliable would be a bold-faced lie. There is promise there, but that is about it. There are still more questions than a Tim Tebow new conference.

Twins fans are hoping the Baby Jesus embraces his role as Messiah and starts spraying balls into Target Field's cavernous gaps.

Messers Mauer and Morneau started the season off relatively well. Both have driven the ball and have had decent ABs during the first two series. But, neither one of them has ever had an issue producing when they are healthy. Their health is the key. Morneau (an admitted man-crush of this author), almost gives off a vibe of fragility when he digs in. Every AB is like playing hot potato with a pin-less grenade. He will rip a ball to the outfield and as he digs around first, you find yourself thinking things like, “Stay put!!”……”This is no time to be a hero!!”……”It is a marathon not a sprint” Then, as he is retreating to first, your competitive side pipes up, “Wait a minute, be man, stretch that thing out”…….”At least force a throw?!?” If this is what is going through the minds of most fans, it has to be 10X more difficult to reconcile that battle as a player. For years, you played the game one way, now, both Mauer and Morneau are having to learn how to manage those natural instincts.

Even though there is a serious concern as to whether the M&M boys really will melt under the lens of Minnesota fandom, other pieces in the line-up are looking promising. Free agent signee Josh Willingham is making Michael Cuddyer look like the poor man’s Josh Willingham, cranking 4 HRs to start the season and assuming the mantle of role model for young players. And, super rookie, Chris Parmelee has kept his hot streak from spring training alive.

All is not lost (yet) in the Land of 10,000 lakes. Even though things are likely going to have to go oh-so-right this year as often as they went oh-so-wrong last year for this squad to make any noise, spring has a funny way of giving fans amnesia. Hope is an easy beverage to consume on a beautiful, Minnesota spring day. Taking that into account, most of us do not need anything crazy like a deep playoff run, but, instead, we would be happy with a return to relevancy. As financiers of this fancy new park, at this point, it seems like little to ask for. Aww hell…..screw it……pass the hope.

AL Central Preview (With A Throwback Twist): Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of Border Rivals’ 2012 AL Central Preview, you can find it here.   Without further adieu (seriously, who likes adieu), lets get it on.

Minnesota Twins

The focus of Part 2 is on the other half of the Border Rivals rivalry. That is right, fresh off 99 losses, bi-lateral leg weakness, and concussion-like symptoms, ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Thome was in Minnesota just long enough to hit his 600th and win the fans' hearts (that lumberjack commercial was solid). Then, in line with the 2011 season, he was gone.

To say 2011 was a difficult season for Twins fans is like suggesting the recent Tibetan hunger strike was a couple monks dieting for a cause. Twins fans experienced the following (in no particular order): more than uni-lateral leg weakness (Mauer), a Hall of Fame milestone (Liriano’s no-hitter), a milestone for a Hall of Famer (Thome’s 600th HR), concussion-like symptoms (Morneau), additional concussion-like symptoms (Spansy), elbow pain (Baker), twisted ankle (Kubel), the departure of a Hall of Famer/fan favorite (Thome again), an appointment with Dr. James Andrews (Kyle Gibson), and a litany of other maladies and strange happenstances (remember, it hailed during a game in May), that made 2011 both memorable and oh-so-forgettable.

The success of this season hinges almost entirely on three things: Mauer and Morneau’s return to their MVP form, the health of the starting rotation, and the squad’s ability to play “Twins” baseball — defense, advancing the runner, and making the routine play.

Mauer and Morneau are both coming off their worst seasons as professionals. It was so bad that, on more than one occasion, both guys were hearing boo birds for the first time in their careers. Particularly for the Baby Jesus, the idea that THE hometown boy would get jeered by the hometown fans, is nigh on unthinkable.

This spring, the M&M boys have shown glimpses of their old form. Mauer is making solid contact, even if he is not hitting HRs, and Morneau is pulling the ball with authority to right field. Ultimately, the key to both men having successful seasons might be the same: managing their playing time. That burden falls on Manager Ron Gardenhire. It is not an enviable task, convincing superstar players to assume a reduced role. But, putting them on a platoon (Morneau with more time at DH and Mauer at 1B) will likely decide whether they return to their All-Star forms. If they play at that level, the Twins will feature a fairly solid line-up that will put runs on the board.

In terms of the starting rotation, Moonshot Scott Baker is already injured. He will start the year on the disable list. That is exactly what the Twins did not need. With Brian Duensing moving to the bullpen, an injury to the starting rotation means either Duensing gets stretched out, or, a call-up will have to occur. That being said, if this is the only set back the rotation experiences this season, that would be a win.

Fransisco Liriano has pitched well this spring, though, he has gotten hopes up before. If he even returns to even 75% of his 2006 form, the Twins staff will sneak up on some people. The stuff is there. It is the execution that has been the problem. The Twins also need steady performances from Nick Blackburn and veteran Carl Pavano, though, if betting were legal, those steady performances are more likely than Baker being healthy and Liriano being The Franchise again.

American businessman Jim Rohn said that success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. If the Twins are going to push for a playoff spot this season, they need to embody that quote.

As for the last key, defense and fundamental play, local football coach/legend, John Gagliardi, adapted a famous phrase from American businessman, Jim Rohn, and made it the Johnnie way: “Success is making the ordinary plays, extraordinarily well.” The Twins need to make sure that, defensively, they emulate that mantra. Free agent signing, Jamey Carroll, while not the sexy free agent acquisition that teams with a new stadium should be locking up, could be the engine that drives that “ordinary” approach. Carroll plays solid defense at both middle infield positions. That will be a nice change from last season.

Carroll also handles the bat well and could be a very effective #2 hitter in this line-up. The blockbuster signing of Josh Willingham gets the pulse racing to about the same degree as Carroll.  Though, he has hit in spacious ball parks before. And, even more importantly than his hitting, he is a veteran that could help fill the void left by the departure of Mr. Glue Guy, Michael Cuddyer. That void might be the most important intangible to this season’s success and Cuddyer’s departure cannot be overstated. The Twins are really going to miss him this year.

Baseball, like no other sport, requires that the locker-room have a cohesiveness to it. Unless someone steps up to lead this squad,  give them an identity, and bring them together, it could be another long summer for those at Target Field hoping to see something resembling a baseball game. Here’s hoping, for the sake of the rivalry series (so sue us, we are a little selfish), that someone assumes the mantle of Mr. Glue Guy.

Prediction:     78 wins. 3rd in the AL Central

All Is Quiet On The Midwestern Front

For the years following the Vikings collapse in the 2009 NFC Championship game, there has been little to get excited about in terms of the Minnesota sports scene.  The Lynx won the WNBA Championship last year and got a few pulses racing, but that has been about it.

Minnesota fans battled through bi-lateral leg weakness and concussion like symptoms, both on the diamond (Morneau) and the ice (PMB).  Then, in a seemingly meaningless game against the Washington Redskins, All-Pro/All-World running back Adrian Peterson suffered a serious knee injury.  The Vikes somehow ended up winning that game and ultimately costing themselves  the 2nd overall pick.  That 2nd overall pick was recently turned into a bounty of quality draft picks.

Ricky never looked back after leaving Europe and he made a lot of people look silly along the way.

Despite all that, the arrival of Ricky Rubio changed everything.  Suddenly there was something to pay attention to night in and night out.  The Wolves were regular contributors to ESPN’s Top 10 because of Rubio’s artistry with a basketball.

Not only was Rubio fun to watch, but, with time, the Wolves made a push for the Western Conference playoffs.  They strung together wins, both at home and on the road, against quality opponents.  Then, while attempting to make the fundamental basketball play we have come to expect from him, Ricky blew out his knee trying to take a charge against the Black Mamba.  Like we needed another reason to hate Kobe.  As Rubio limped around the court, you could just feel the season’s momentum evaporating.

A savvy local team could have filled this void.  A few teams had a chance to bring some excitement to their respective fan bases.  The Vikings were in the middle of free agency.  The Twins were wrapping up free agency and about to begin spring training.  And lastly, the Wolves were nearing the NBA trade deadline with pieces to move.

The Vikings have actually done less than nothing when it comes to free agency.  Let me explain.  They cut veteran influences like Steve Hutchinson and failed to replace that talent with anything resembling a sought-after talent.  In fact, not only were the Vikings not signing anyone to get the pulse racing (apologies to John Carlson’s mom — an average NFL TE coming off an injury does not count), but, they actually refrained from being involved in the discussion.  Seemingly all the big name free agents that would have excited fans and improved the squad, never seemed to be courted by the Winter Park brain trust.  This is even more peculiar considering the fact that said brain trust is holding the people of Minnesota hostage for a new stadium to the tune of $550 million.

Any time Ryan Doumit is one of your squad's major off-season acquisitions, you are rebuilding, not reloading.

Going into spring training, the Twins were reporting with recent signees Jamey Carrol, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Marquis.  Is there even any need to explain how much of snoozer it must be down in Fort Meyers right now?  Through the first week of spring training games, the whole roster, including minor leaguers, beer vendors, and ardent white-haired super fans, had one, no, seriously, one, extra base hit.  The only thing marquee about the Twins free agent signings is the fact that one of guys’ last names is a punny play on words.  After 99 losses last season and with all this stadium generated revenue, punny is not going to it.  Aren’t we past trying to dress up average major leaguers as these diamond-in-the-rough finds?

Making your way east a few blocks to the Target Center, you will find Wolves GM David Kahn working furiously on finishing his first Level 2 sudoku puzzle.  Other teams are calling the Wolves about their multiple trade pieces: Michael Beasley and Luke Ridnour.  But, don’t worry, Kahn is not going to take the bait.  Full fairness in savagery, the Wolves were at least mentioned in trying to flip Ridnour or Beasley into Jamal Crawford (who, by the way, would have been a great fit on this squad).  Though, considering both the principals in that deal, Portland and L.A., made moves for players who were not as good as the Wolves pieces, you have to think the sudoku got in the way.

Ultimately, it has been eerily quiet since Rubio’s anterior cruciate ligament decided to take a vacation.  One can only hope that both he and AP are able to fully recover and return to inspire their respective squads.  Considering the current state of affairs, we should hope for good weather this summer, at least then we can take advantage Minnesota’s remaining recreational gems: the golf courses.