Friday, August 17, 2007

Meeting Up With An Old Friend

To be totally honest, it's been a couple of years since I've paid close attention to the Vikings, for various reasons. Their "brand" of football isn't purely to blame, though it certainly made watching them on Sunday afternoons less compelling. But it's also been about the stage of life I'm in, and maybe moreso about the stage of life my entire group of friends is now in.

Twenty years ago, Sunday afternoons were comletely reserved for the guys, and that habit stayed with us into early marriages, in part because our wives were either interested in the game or at least understood that we were only going to be minimally available for those three hours. And if enough beer was consumed, mabye the 3-6 hours after that.

Kids, however, have no such interest or knowledge. These days a game is interrupted about 20 times, and any house that hosts needs to accomodate twice as many people as it used to. Add to that the increased responsibilities most of us have on the weekend and instead of watching 16 games per year in their entirety, I'm more likely to catch three.

But I think that might change this year. And so, it was more than a little anticipation I sat down on Friday night with a beer, my TV and a Tivo to reaquaint myself with an old friend. And I gotta say, I wasn't dissappointed.

You gotta remember, the Jets are a good team that plays in the AFC, which automatically makes them a better team than the Vikings going into this game. Add on that it's a game on the road, and in New York which can provide all kinds of delicious distractions, and a dominating first half is a real positive sign.

But the preseason is made for evealuating players, not teams, so let's jump into a some Thumbs Up and Thumbs Downs

Thumbs Up - Chad Greenway
The interception return for a touchdown was the play that most people will be talking about, but he made a play earlier in the quarter that I thought was more impressive. On another safety valve pass, Greenway sniffed it out from at least ten yards behind the line of scrimmage and made an open field tackle behind the line of scrimmage. I haven't seen a linebacker on the Vikings make that play in the 21st century. Please God, keep this kid healthy.

Thumbs Down - The rest of the linebackers
That may be a little harsh on EJ Henderson, who only embarassed himself once. On the other hand, I watched Ben Leber run himself out of position at least three times. Once, he managed to somehow make ten yards behind the line of scrimmage, on the opposite side of the field, at exactly the time that the running back was cutting back to where he should have been. I honestly don't know how he got out of position so quickly. I think he might have teleported.

Thumbs Up - Adrian Peterson
He showed us a spin, speed in running away from most of the defense, and the ability to deliver a blow - on his first play. Giggle.

Thumbs Down - Marcus James
Any pressure the Jets got came from the Vikings' right side, including the one that resulted in Bollinger's fumble. I was legitimately embarassed for James on the play.

Thumbs Up - Ray Edwards
I suspect he'll be called for approximately seven offside penalties this year - someone get that guy a decaf. On the other hand, hold that thought - two big plays behind the line of scrimmage and some consistent pressure from a defensive end is something this team desperately needs.

Thumbs Down - Alex Reyes
He's not kicking field goals, right? And he's not punting either? So his ONLY job is to kick it deep on kickoffs, right? Well, then, he should probably do that.

Thumbs Up - Aundrae Allison
First, I think he deserves some props for being the first person in the history of the world to spell Andre in a phonetically responsible way. And second, I just plain like a guy who takes a kick and runs it straight up the field. I don't care if he breaks a single tackle all year. I'm being totally serious.

Thumbs Down - Cedric Griffin
You know why they picked on you Cedric? Because you can't play physically. That's why.

Which means you can't just give the receiver ten yards and expect to tackle him before he gains a single yard after the catch. after the catch. On the touchdown play, I don't even blame Griffin much for missing the tackle. But he wasn't even in the camera's view from the beginning of that play until the receiver had the ball. He started ten yards back, then he backpedaled. The Vikings sent six guys at the QB and he didn't need to take even three steps back. He completed a nine yard pass doing nothing more than standing up and rifling the ball.

And that's enough for the night, and the weekend. We'll see you Monday, when we'll be back talking about the Twins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Touching Base

Hey everyone,

Sorry I haven't written much this week. Part of the reason is that I'm really struggling to the the Sept GameDay issue out the door, but it's also because there have been two unforeseen developments that have gobbled up time, Pac Man style.

1. I got an iPhone on Friday. I haven't found a time waster this impactful since, well, probably since blogging. I just love the damn thing but I spend the whole weekend learning all it's little secrets and battling AT&T to get it activated.

2. Flash Gordon was released on DVD last week. Words cannot express my delight at spending Tuesday night watching this with my kids. All you really need to know about it is that if you check out the page, the lead actor doesn't have a submitted picture. Nor does the lead actress. Or fully 2/3 of the cast.

And yet it was one of the most delightfully bad movies of my youth, and after watching it almost 30 years later, it's both better and worse than I remembered. I don't know how a movie with such terrible special effects, forced dialogue and automaton acting can still be so entertaining. Add all that to a soundtrack from Queen and you can almost come to the conclusion that they were trying to make another Rocky Horror Picture Show. And frankly, I think the theater dorks just beat the geeks to the punch on that one.

So anyway, I'm not writing baseball tonight. But by Monday I'll have the 2008 GM Cheat Sheet up on the site, so you can start working on next year's team.

You know, this was

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Zen, Fast Food and Third Base

I don't know exactly where this Zennish story comes from, because like most Americans, I like my Zen the way I like my fast food - quick, made to order and mostly forgetable. But the story goes something like this....

A kid is walking in the jungle and happens across a really hungry man-eating tiger looking for something quick, made to order, and mostly forgetable. The boy tries to run away but finds himself on the edge of a high, steep cliff. He quickly climbs down a couple feet on a vine, peering down at certain death both above and below, because he notices two new hungry tigers pacing at the bottom of the cliff.

And then the vine starts to slowly pull out of the cliff.

While frantically pondering his dilemna, he notices a small strawberry plant growing out of the cliff. It has one nearly perfect strawberry. And so, seconds before the vine gives way completely, he plucks it and pops it in his mouth and thinks "That is the most delicious strawberry I have ever tasted."

The lesson is, of course, unknowable, because otherwise they would just tell you the damn lesson instead of torturing both you and our little protagonist with this story. But it has something to do with getting what you can out of a hopeless situation, which brings us to third base and the Minnesota Twins.

The trade deadline passed without making any moves to upgrade that position, but the worse news is that there doesn't seem to be much hope in the offseason either. Here's a pretty good list of what you can expect to be available as far as third basemen go:

Yikes. If you don't get scared by that "AB" column, you should. There are a total of two regular third baseman on that list, but we might as well run through them all, starting at the bottom:

Abraham O Nunez is a 31-year-old utility player who fell into the job in Philly when David Bell left. He "broke through" back in 2005 when his OPS exceeded 700 (704 - but that exceeds 700) for the first time while replacing Scott Rolen in Cincinatti. The sad part is he might not even be available, as the Phillies do have an option on his contract.

Morgan Ensberg is also 31, and had great seasons in 2004 and 2005, positioning himself as a solid player for several years. (You shoulda signed that guaranteed long-term contract, Morgan). Last year, however, he hit .235 and this year he's just as bad, especially because he's also lost all plate discipline and power. Everything about his stats suggest he's done, and being designated for assignment by the lowly Astros would seem to verify it.

Since these guys are listed by OPS, 31-year-old Russel Branyan looks like a reasonable option. He's not. He's been on three teams this year, and he's hitting .197

Mike Lowell, on the other hand, is definitely going to be an option for someone. He's bounced back nicely from that slump two years ago that made eveyone wonder exactly what he had been putting in his body. He's 33 years old, and has hit for both average and power for the last two years. He'll also likely demand a four-year contract in excess of $12 million per year.

Mike Lamb has had a decent year, and a decent career so far as a platooning first baseman and third baseman. I suspect his at-bats have been limited because he struggles mightily against left-handed pitching. He's been hanging around in Houston for the last few years, and he missed being a free agent by just twelve days this year. He's positioned to either be the bargain of the offseason, or the guy that gets a contract much larger than anyone anticipates.

Alex Rodriguez deserves his own entry, and will likely get it this offseason. I think we can safely assume that his upcoming $25-30 million contract won't be with the Twins.

So there you have it. The two lions below are going to be getting money the Twins likely can't match. The four lions above don't have any full-time experience, and with the possible exception of Lamb, don't look like they're much of an improvement on Nick Punto or Brian Buscher.

And so we may need to forgive the Twins if this offseason doesn't produce the result we've all been looking for, and the Twins are force to stay with their in-house options. Instead we might want to prepare ourselves for the quick, forgetable solution, even if it isn't made to order.