Monday, September 26, 2005
NFL "EXPERT" Picks
Good Monday Morning! Today will be a pretty brief entry with a few thoughts and opinions on the weekend Minnesota Sports scene. Vikings win. Gophers win, and the Twins lose three! Tomorrow, I will be starting my Top 50 Twins prospect series. I hope to do ten a day, although I may do twenty tomorrow just so I can finish with my Top 10 on Friday. And then the Twins season finishes on Sunday, so I hope to do some closing Twins Thoughts next week. One of those days, I will post my "What's Next for the Twins?" posting. That will lead into a Discussion Question asking you about what the Twins team would look like if you were the team's GM for Friday. For those that haven't been around for more than a year, please be sure to keep reading the site even in the Twins offseason. There seems to frequently be something to write about the Twins or baseball in general throughout the offseason. I will comment on any Twins transactions, and link to articles on the team as I find them. I will also discuss the Vikings, the Timberwolves, maybe even the Wild if I get particularly bored. Who knows what I'll talk about from day to day, but I would also like to continue doing some Q&As with some Twins and their minor leaguers. In other words, please continue to check out the site throughout the winter.
By the way, congratulations to 27 year old Ashton Kutcher and 42 year old Demi Moore on their rumored marriage. If you have any questions or comments on any of these teams, or anything else, please e-mail me.
The Twins won the first game of this four game series against the White Sox, but after Santana's gem on Thursday, the playoff-bound White Sox took the final three games. You can give some credit to the Sox bats, but it was their pitching this weekend that dominated. Friday night, Jose Contreras gave up a run in his complete game win. He gave up six hits. On Saturday, Freddy Garcia gave up a run in eight innings. The Twins were only able to muster five hits. And yesterday, it got even worse. Mark Buehrle threw another complete game. He gave up a run and the Twins had just four hits.
Now is that a statement on the Sox pitchers or the Twins hitters, or both? Probably both. All three are very good pitchers, but the Twins offense is just so week. A look at some of the big offensive offenders of late and we see a number of players. Juan Castro was 0-11 in the series and is just 1-23 in his last seven games. Matthew LeCroy was 0-11 in his last three games, and just 1-16 in the four game series. Jason Bartlett is one for his last 17.
But it's not all negative. I mean, Lew Ford was 4-8 with two walks in the series. Joe Mauer has hit in 11 of his past 12 games. Jason Tyner has an eight game hitting streak. He pinch ran in the previous game, and had hits in three straight games before that. He is 13-40 (.325) in that stretch.
On Friday night, Kyle Lohse allowed a Jermaine Dye three-run homer in the first inning. He then went five more shutout innings. Travis Bowyer got the final four outs in that game, three on strikeouts. He was showing a pretty impressive changeup and his slider is not too bad either. In his past four outings, he has not allowed a run in 5.1 innings. He has struck out eight in that period. Overall, in 7.2 innings, he has allowed just five hits and a walk, and he has struck out nine. Terry Mulholland got two outs in the game. He has not allowed a running in his last 11 outings, covering 11 innings.
On Sunday, Francisco Liriano had one bad inning. He gave up three runs in the third, the big shot two-run homer by Paul Konerko. Overall, Liriano lasted six innings and gave up the four runs on just five hits. He walked three, but he struck out eight in the game. Again, just from listening on the radio, control of his fastball is his key! Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon each pitched a scoreless inning.
In Saturday's game, Joe Mays started in Brad Radke's place. He was shelled again. In just two innings, he allowed six earned runs on nine hits. I feel horribly for Mays. Yes, I may have bashed him and asked for him to be removed from the rotation long before it happened, but I don't wish him ill-will! You know, from all reports, Mays is a great guy. He's worked so hard to come back from Tommy John surgery and help the team. And for a little while early in the season, he really did do well. But it just never all came together and the last six weeks have been rough for him. In his previous five starts, Mays has thrown 22.2 innings and given up 46 hits and 26 earned runs. That's an ERA of 10.32. I do hope that he has a good offseason and can come back next year for some other team and show what we saw from him in 2001!
The Twins are at home for their final seven games, four against Kansas City and three against the Tigers. Here are the pitching matchups for the series against the Royals. It is not at all difficult to see why the Royals are playing so poorly. Just look at these pitchers, and their ERAs, WHIP's and opponent batting averages. Makes you wonder how Lima-Time stayed in the team's rotation all season, doesn't it? Of course, the Royals are such a mess. What are their other options?? The Twins will throw Scott Baker in game one tonight. Then the should-be Cy Young winner Johan Santana goes Tuesday. It will be interesting to see who pitches for the Twins on Thursday though.
Monday - 7:10 pm - Scott Baker (2-2, 3.16, 1.10, .224) vs JP Howell (2-5, 7.34, 1.68, .290)
Tuesday - 7:10 pm - Johan Santana (14-7, 2.98, 0.97, .212) vs Runelvys Hernandez (8-12, 5.40, 1.50, .273)
Wednesday - 7:10 pm - Kyle Lohse (9-13, 4.17, 1.41, .298) vs Jose Lima (6-16, 7.11, 1.69, .316)
Thursday - 7:10 pm - No pitching matchup given. It is Joe Mays' turn in the rotation, but after another horrible start, I doubt he would start. I would guess that Matt Guerrier will get this start, but we'll see.
Any thoughts on the Twins, White Sox, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, the playoffs or anything, please e-mail me.
Following their 42-35 overtime victory over #11 Purdue on Saturday afternoon, the Minnesota Gophers now find themselves with a 4-0 record and ranked 18th in the AP and 19th in the coaches poll. Purdue dropped to #22. This Saturday, the team will head to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, who are also 4-0.
What a game! The Gophers got off to a big lead and maintained it. However, they were unable to increase it. Then Purdue made their comeback and went ahead with just a few minutes to go. On the next drive, Gophers QB Bryan Cupito threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Along with the extra point, it gave the Boilermakers an eight point lead. I just kind of chuckled saying, here we go again. There was less than two minutes left and they had 65 yards to go. But Cupito found a way to do it, leading the team on a scoring drive that ended in a Matt Spaeth touchdown catch. Shockingly, on the two-point conversion, an option play was called. They never run that, and when he got the play, he went into the huddle and said, "You guys aren't going to believe what they just called!" But it somehow worked and the game went into overtime.
Purdue got the ball first and eventually scored a touchdown. The Gophers got the ball on the 25 and got a first down. But it took a 4th-and-goal from the 8 touchdown to send it to a 2nd overtime. I thought the Gophers had lost there. In the 2nd overtime, the Gophers really made quick work of it, with Gary Russell scoring on a run. Then Purdue got the ball and went four and out, and the Gophers had a big win!
Laurance Maroney was the story though. On the day, he rushed a career high 46 times for a career high 217 yards. Great numbers, but they are more impressive when you realize that the Purdue defense had only allowed an average of 16 total yards rushing in their first three games. Check out the Gophers Game Notes to see how Maroney is running up many of the Gophers all-time rushing lists. He is truly a great RB. Add to his rushing that he had five receptions for another 59 yards and returned two kickoffs for 54 yards! When Maroney would get a breather, Gary Russell came in. He had 16 carries for 75 yards and two TDs on the day! He also had three catches, one for a TD.
The problems with the Vikings team were plentiful in the first two weeks. Poor offensive line play. Too many big plays given up on defense. Too many turnovers on offense, particularly from the quarterback. Bad coaching decisions and management. Pretty much just name an area of the game and you can just count problems, well, except the punter.
Well, the Vikings were able to play a poor, enigmatic, displaced New Orleans Saints team yesterday, and they finally played like we may have assumed they would. It really all started out the right way with the opening kickoff. The Vikings kicked off and the Saints fumbled and the Vikings recovered. On the very next play, Daunte Culpepper hit Travis Taylor in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a lead. Taylor, who hadn't had a single touchdown in almost two years, collected his second of the game later in the first quarter on a 13 yard reception. The tables had turned. The Vikings had forced turnovers and been able to convert! Mid-way through the 2nd quarter, Culpepper hit 1st round pick Troy Williamson with a perfect pass for a 53 yard catch and run. It was Williamson's first TD catch. Anyway, of course in the fourth quarter, the Saints were allowed to cut the lead down to just eight points, but three consecutive Paul Edinger field goals put the game out of reach. The Vikings had their first win of the season.
Let's start with Daunte Culpepper. I know I kept hearing people talk about how Culpepper couldn't figure out the offense, or wasn't smart enough, and couldn't do this or couldn't do that. Yes, he had struggled in the first two games, but this is the same QB that would have been the NFL's MVP is not for Peyton Manning's insane season last year. So, it was good to see him get off to a good start. First pass was a touchdown, yes, but it was more than that. This week, when the pocket collapsed, Culpepper was much more willing to tuck the ball in and run with it rather than force it. On the day, Culpepper was an efficient 21-29 for 300 yards and three TDs. His passes looked crisp, the receivers made plays for him. Sure, he was sacked seven times and rushed others, but he did not turn the ball over at all. Hopefully this is the Daunte we see the rest of the way. Oh, and after the Williamson touchdown, we saw Daunte do "The Roll." First reaction was "Don't do that!!" But thinking about it, good for him. He's had to deal with a lot of negativity. The Roll is his way to have fun, and maybe relax. Confidence is a huge thing in the NFL, and that is a sign that he's getting his confidence back, so I have no problem with i!
Culpepper hit eight different receivers in the game. Williamson had three catches for 83 yards and showed his great speed. Marcus Robinson had two catches for 80 yards. Early in the game, he caught a ball for 68 yards. What that did was show the the team was willing to go deep. That opened up the middle, and it helped the running game. The Vikings actually threw the ball deep about five or six times, which is good, even when the pass is not completed. Jermaine Wiggins had six catches for 60 yards. Taylor had three catches for 40 yards and the two TDs.
It was good to see the Vikings pick a running back and stick with him throughout the game, and then actually let him run. Mewelde Moore got the start yesterday. He got 23 carries and rushed for 101 yards. I feel bad for Michael Bennett because I do think that he has a breakaway ability that very few have. However, in the type of offense the Vikings try to run, Moore is the better choice. He runs a little lower to the ground, and he is the one to force the contact, not the defender. Once in the open, Bennett is better, but over the course of a game, you need a grinder, and that is Mewelde.
But all of this was able to be done because of the improved play of the offensive line of the Vikings. Sure, right guard is still a big question mark, and Marques Johnson continues to get beaten handily, but the rest of the line is doing well. Also, it needs to be pointed out that although Jim Kleinsasser is not getting many catches, he is doing an excellent job, as he always has, at lead blocking and sealing off defenders. That sometimes goes unnoticed when Wiggins, who really doesn't block much, gets all the catches.
What about the defense? The played with some intensity yesterday. Darrion Scott, Keneche Udeze and Lance Johnstone each had a sack. The line was able to put a little bit of pressure on Aaron Brooks, but a lot of credit has to go to that defensive backfield. Antoine Winfield had the fumble recovery on the opening kickoff. He also had an interception that iced the game for the Vikings. Keith Newman had a great interception. He really played the ball perfectly. And finally, the other cornerback, Fred Smoot had a great game! He had four passes defensed. One in the end zone was incredible as he knocked the ball out of a receiver's hand on the way down. I particularly enjoyed that one because he put his hand up to his ear afterwards, coaxing the Metrodome crowd to cheer for him by yelling SMOOOOOOO... in the same way that Twins fans cheer for LEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWW!!
Oh, and the team's MVP through the first two weeks, punter Chris Kluwe, had another good week! In his five punts, he averaged 48.4 yards. It probably could have been more, but two of those kicks were downed inside the 20, and one was a touchback. His hang time is incredible! Paul Edinger was 3-3 on extra points and 4-5 from field goals. The one he missed... he probably makes that 99 out of 100 times, so I wasn't at all worried about that miss. Edinger has been in this league for a long time. He's nothing to worry about. Oh, and Koren Robinson returned kicks. His final return was for 46 yards!
Anyway, this was just one win, but it was a huge one! It would have been bad to start out 0-3 and have to head to Atlanta. I don't think that a loss could have been understated. However, with the Win, the Vikings are back in the NFC North race... with 13 games to go! I certainly am not going to say that all is well. It will be interesting to see how this win translates to next week. Will the team make big strides forward again? Will they correct the mistakes that they still made? But also, will that offensive line allow Daunte time to see the field and find an open receiver? Will receivers find their way open? Will Tice and Steve Loney continue to run consistently? This win was very nice, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. It will be interesting to see what happens in Week 4!
Any thoughts on the Vikings win yesterday? Are they about to start winning consistently, or did they just play a bad team? Is Daunte back? Are those DBs this good? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Vikings. What is going on?? E-mail me.
NFL "EXPERT" PICKS
It is certainly an interesting week. Heading into the Monday Night game, Trevor Born and Cory Hepola are leading our panel with 11 wins. However, they both picked the Broncos. So, if the Broncos win, they will both win with 12. HOWEVER, if the Chiefs win, all five that are currently at 10 correct picks will tie these two at 11, so we will have a six (or seven if you include the consensus of our panel) way tie! Could be interesting! Here is our current leaderboard for the Week, along with out overall standings through Sunday.
Final Standings Total Week 3 Over All Name Site
L Win% W L Win % Trevor Born Twins Junkie 11 2 84.6% 30 15 66.7% Cory Hepola KTVH-TV Sports 11 2 84.6% 29 16 64.4% SethSpeaks Panel 10 3 76.9% 26 18 57.8% Aaron Gleeman Aaron's BB Blog 10 3 76.9% 26 19 57.8% Ben Jacobs Hardball Times 10 3 76.9% 24 21 53.3% Will Young Will's Twins Blog 10 3 76.9% 24 21 53.3% Seth Stohs SethSpeaks.net 10 3 76.9% 28 17 62.2% Melissa Lien SethSpeaks.net 9 4 69.2% 26 19 57.8% Brent Hanson BrentNet 9 4 69.2% 24 21 53.3% Stick & Ball Guy Stick & Ball Guy 8 5 61.5% 24 21 53.3% Mike Brasel Fantasy FB Guru 8 5 61.5% 27 18 60.0% Kevin Slowey Twins Pitching Prospect 7 6 53.8% 19 26 42.2% Grant Balfour Twins Relief Pitcher 5 8 38.5% 23 22 51.1%
Looking at the selections of the 12 panelists, here is who the collective "We" think will win each game:
Atlanta @ Buffalo - Falcons 7-5
Cincinnati @ Chicago - Bengals 10-2
Jacksonville @ NY Jets - Jets 7-5
Oakland @ Philadelphia - Eagles 12-0
Tennessee @ St. Louis - Rams 11-1
Dallas @ San Francisco - Cowboys 11-1
Carolina @ Miami - Panthers 10-2
Cleveland @ Indianapolis - Colts 11-1
New Orleans @ Minnesota - Vikings 9-3
Tampa Bay @ Green Bay - Buccs 9-3
Arizona @ Seattle - Seahawks 10-2
NY Giants @ San Diego - Chargers 10-2
New England @ Pittsburgh - Steelers 10-2
Kansas City @ Denver - Chiefs 9-3
And on that note, I will call it a day and say, "Have a great week!" I certainly hope that you have found some things that were worth reading. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
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